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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, May 19, 2023

Welcome to the National Immigration Forum’s weekly bulletin! Every Friday, our policy team rounds up key developments around immigration policy in Washington and across the country. The bulletin includes items on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as well as some coverage at the state and local levels. 

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

Immigration policy is a dynamic field subject to constant change. Here, we summarize some of the most important recent developments in immigration policy on the federal, legal, state, and local levels. 

Content warning: This section sometimes includes events and information that can prove disturbing. 

Federal 

Relative Border Calm Lingers Days After Title 42 Ends, While Pressure on Mexico Deepens 

This week, the number of migrant crossings has dropped precipitously at the United States-Mexico border, with agents recording fewer than 4,000 daily encounters on Monday and Tuesday — compared to over 10,000 on some of the days leading up to the end of the Title 42 public health order.  

This significant decline comes as migrants try to navigate a shifting policy landscape, where new rules — including a federal regulation that severely restricts asylum — could jeopardize their chances at a life in the U.S. 

Amid confusion and fear about what the Biden administration’s border plans mean in practice, some migrants are choosing to wait in Mexico and apply for a limited number of appointments to reach the U.S. through the CBP One phone app each day. 

“We hear a lot of rumors — that there’s an endless line to get in, that some people are getting in, some people are being deported. We really don’t know exactly what is going on. Right now, seems best to wait,” Venezuelan Cleven Ismael Peraza told the Los Angeles Times. 

But in Mexico, a deepening humanitarian crisis is unfolding as migrants intent on reaching the U.S. endure squalid conditions across the border. In recent weeks, the number of migrants congregated in Matamoros — across from Brownsville — has leapt to over 6,000, from about 700. At a camp there, people struggle to get more than one meal a day, and human waste flows from overwhelmed port-a-potties.

Ernesto Roja, a Venezuelan shopkeeper trying to afford care for his 6-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, recently had his tent at the camp inundated in a rainstorm. After that, the phone he was using to try to secure an appointment through the CBP One app stopped working.

“How can I go back to Venezuela? I don’t have a peso,” Roja told the Washington Post.  

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements warned earlier this week that — like Roja — a record number of people could cross through the perilous Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama this year, following a six-fold increase in crossings during early-2023. 

“The reasons that people have picked up their families and lives to try to rebuild elsewhere have not changed,” Clements told Reuters

Senate Votes to Block Biden Administration Public Charge Rule

On May 17, the Senate voted 50-47 to block the Biden administration’s rule clarifying which noncitizens should be deemed a “public charge” — an executive policy largely meant to restore decades of precedent after Trump-era restrictions aimed to further curtail access to legal pathways for lower-income, would-be immigrants. 

Two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Jon Tester (Montana) — joined Republicans in supporting the resolution, which would revert to previous guidance on who constitutes a potential “public charge.”

To move forward, the joint resolution would need to pass the U.S. House of Representatives as well. Then, it would head to the White House, where President Joe Biden has already promised a veto

Changes to the public charge standard — which has serious consequences, often rendering noncitizens ineligible for legal visas — became a hot-button issue under the Trump administration. Significant backlash ensued after Ken Cuccinelli, then the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), famously rewrote the Statue of Liberty’s celebrated credo as “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

Meanwhile, research suggests that news of the Trump administration’s “public charge” restrictions had sweeping chilling effects on immigrant populations and mixed-status families, who feared that accessing much-needed health care and nutritional benefits would negatively affect their futures in the U.S. 

8-Year-Old Girl, Unaccompanied Teen Die in U.S. Care

On May 17, an 8-year-old girl died after suffering a medical emergency while she and her family were in Border Patrol custody.  

Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez was born in Panama and had a heart condition, CBS News reported. She, her parents, and her two brothers were being processed at a border station in Harlingen, Texas, when the tragedy occurred.

Hers represents the first known death of a migrant child in Border Patrol custody during the Biden administration, and there have also been a number of recent fatalities in Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) custody. 

Last week, Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza — a 17-year-old from Honduras — died in an HHS shelter for unaccompanied migrant kids. 

“No one tells me anything. The anguish is killing me,” his mother Norma Saraí Espinoza Maradiaga told the Associated Press. “They say they are awaiting the autopsy results and don’t give me any other answer.”

Another migrant child who was “medically fragile” died in HHS custody in March, according to CBS News

USCIS Changes Processes for Parole Programs Amid High Demand

On May 17, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tweaked its review process amid high demand for parole programs that allow Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans to find a U.S.-based sponsor and reach safety in the U.S. 

The parole processes created by the Biden administration let up to 30,000 people come to the U.S. each month — but the number of supporters applying for those available slots “is significantly higher,” per USCIS. So now, the agency will select about half of the monthly total of applications at random, while the rest will be adjudicated on a first-come, first-served basis.

These changes underscore the high demand for immigration pathways to the U.S. from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela — even ones with significant barriers, including affording commercial air travel, obtaining a passport, and finding a U.S.-based sponsor for financial support. Despite the parole processes’ numerical limitations, they have been presented as a more orderly alternative to the uncapped right to seek asylum. 

The announcement comes even as the parole programs themselves are being challenged by Republican-led states in a federal court in Texas.

CBP Releases April 2023 Border Numbers, Encounters Increased 10%

On May 17, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released border encounter numbers for April 2023 that showed a 10% increase from the previous month in overall encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border. The figure comes amid reports that there was an increase in daily border crossing numbers leading up to the end of the Title 42 public health order.

CBP recorded 211,401 overall migrant encounters at the southern border in April 2023, compared to 191,956 in March 2023. This was a 10% decrease from April 2022 (235,785). Overall, 35% of individuals were processed for expulsion under Title 42 and the rest under Title 8. April was the last full month with the Title 42 policy in place.

Between ports of entry, the Border Patrol recorded 182,114 encounters, a 12% increase over March, which CBP called “typical.” Single adults accounted for 68% of the encounters between ports of entry. Still, there was a notable increase in the number of individuals in family units, which increased 41% in April (46,430) compared to March (32,840). Meanwhile, the number of unaccompanied children encountered between ports of entry decreased almost 7%, from 11,861 in March to 11,085 in April.

CBP also processed 28,738 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans through the parole programs for those countries established by the Biden administration. This is slightly under the 30,000 monthly cap for the new programs. In addition, through CBP One, more than 22,000 people were able to secure Title 42 exceptions last month at ports of entry, despite reports of widespread confusion and frustration with the app.

State and Local 

New York Officials Call for Federal Aid, Expedited Work Authorizations Amid Capacity Issues 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is calling on the federal government to provide additional aid and expedite employment authorization for asylum seekers in her state, as New York City increasingly becomes a destination for newcomers. 

“It would be a game changer. These individuals may need a month or so in assisted housing, but all of a sudden they get that job, they get legitimacy, and they can find a path out of the shadows,” she said. “I think that’s so critically important.”

As migrants arrive by the tens of thousands in one of the most expensive cities in the country, local officials have struggled to find enough square footage to house them safely, in accordance with local right-to-shelter rules. Many will now be funneled to midtown Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel, which is being repurposed as an intake center after shuttering amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

But others have been sent to school gymnasiums or suburbs, sparking protests and court actions from communities that do not want them there. And, amid these capacity issues, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has even floated the possibility of housing migrants in a closed prison.

For months now, these newcomers have expressed gratitude for the services they’re receiving — but also deep frustration that they face such long delays to work legally. In Congress, there’s bipartisan support for reforms that would allow asylum seekers like them to become eligible for work authorization more quickly, so they could provide for themselves and fill critical labor shortages across the country. 

Also in New York, state lawmakers are considering policies that would expand access to organ transplants for undocumented immigrants.

“It’s completely morally inconsistent that those who live here and work here — and are not only able to, but are encouraged to serve as organ donors — would not have access to lifesaving organs during their life if they need them,” Brendan Parent, a bioethicist at NYU Langone Health, told the New York Times

Sweeping Immigration Bill Advances in Texas, With More Criminal Penalties 

On May 18, a concerning immigration bill advanced to the full Texas Senate, after state lawmakers incorporated provisions to impose a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for human smugglers and establish criminal penalties against migrants who crossed into Texas outside of a port of entry. 

The proposed legislation — HB 7 — would also create a state border police force and otherwise ramp up state-based efforts to prove tough on irregular migration. It is seen by many as a direct challenge to court precedent that clearly regards immigration enforcement as a federal responsibility. 

The bill already cleared the Texas House last week. 

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

It can be challenging to keep up with the constant barrage of proposed legislation in Congress. So, every week, we round up new bills. This list includes federal legislative proposals that have recently been introduced and that are relevant to immigration policy. 

Please follow this link to find new relevant bills, as well as proposed legislation from past weeks. 

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will not be in session from Monday, May 22 through Friday, May 26, 2023. 

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, May 22 through Thursday, May 25, 2023.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington. 

The Biden Border Crisis: Part III

Date: May 23, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Judiciary Committee)

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: TBA

Fiscal Year 2024 Homeland Security and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Bills

Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Appropriations Committee)

Location: 2359 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Reports by bodies such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General provide invaluable information on immigration policy and practice. Here, we give brief summaries of new immigration-related reports, with links to the resources themselves in case you want to learn more. 

Congressional Research Service (CRS); U.S. Border Patrol Encounters at the Southwest Border: Fact Sheet; May 16, 2023

This report provides a top-level overview of operational changes and demographic shifts at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent history. 

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Justice; Released May 17, 2023

This letter makes recommendations on how the Department of Justice could improve its operations, with immigration courts as one area of focus.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

The Forum is constantly publishing new policy-focused resources that engage with some of the most topical issues around immigration today. Here are a few that are particularly relevant this week: 

Q&A: What to Know About the Biden Administration’s New Asylum Restrictions

This explainer provides an overview of the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule. It explains in simple terms what the rule does, how it will affect asylum seekers, and where it will interact with other border enforcement policies post-Title 42.

The Implications of the Biden Asylum Rule in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the Northern Triangle Nations

This paper analyzes the implications of the Biden asylum rule in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the Northern Triangle nations. It highlights that the asylum systems in these countries are already overstretched and underfunded. We argue that these countries do not represent efficient, functional, and viable alternatives for migrants to seek asylum.

Eliminating the Naturalization Backlog

This report provides a general overview and analysis of USCIS naturalization backlogs, looking at historic trends, contributing factors, and staffing levels, as well as examining USCIS’s record on responding to past backlogs. It concludes by providing proposals to make the processing of naturalization applications more efficient and setting a goal to reduce and eliminate the naturalization backlog.

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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Alexandra Villarreal, Policy and Advocacy Associate at the National Immigration Forum, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Alexandra can be reached at avillarreal@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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