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 POLICY 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.
Afghans Join Historic Number of Migrants Traversing the Darién Gap
Since early 2022, over 3,600 Afghans have journeyed across Latin America, many of them enduring extortion, robbery, kidnapping, family separation, and other adversities in an effort to reach the United States.
Among this diverse and desperate group of asylum seekers, there have been engineers, doctors, a former women’s rights official, a body guard who protected First Lady Laura Bush and President Barack Obama, grandfathers, and a teenage girl with aspirations of becoming an astronaut. They have gotten hurt, collapsed from exhaustion, and prayed for the survival of others on their way through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle, often after their petitions for more orderly pathways to the U.S. never received a response.
“They [the Americans] left us behind,” an Afghan named Taiba told the New York Times. “Sometimes I think maybe God left all Afghans behind.”
“No one cares about us!” screamed an engineer named Ahmad, who had tried to apply for humanitarian parole in the U.S. years before making the dangerous trek north. “We have important people left in Afghanistan and no one cares!”
When Afghans have finally reached the U.S., they have been detained, lied to, expelled back to Mexico, charged with misdemeanors for crossing the border, and stranded between border fences, according to the New York Times.
And yet, even with the Biden administration’s new asylum restrictions in place, Afghans — and other migrants from across the globe — are continuing to set their sights on the U.S., with officials already presaging a potential record number of migrant crossings through the Darién Gap this year.
“My question is: How do we become Americans?” Nematullah Nikzad told the Los Angeles Times at a roadside camp in Mexico. “Under the Taliban, life is very hard for us now. We want to be Americans.”
Deportations, Returns Top 11,000 After Title 42’s End
In the week after the Title 42 public health order expired, over 11,000 migrants were deported or returned to Mexico and elsewhere as the Biden administration paired strict legal consequences with new asylum restrictions to try to deter people from crossing the U.S.’s southern border without authorization.
The highly publicized removals — documented through agency news releases and on social media — are part of a larger strategy to manage an increasingly hemispheric phenomenon of large-scale humanitarian migration, as people fleeing persecution, violence, climate-related disaster, and poverty turn to the U.S. for help.
Asylum officers conducted interviews with over 2,700 migrants in just a week, CBS News reported, even as a new final rule came into play severely limiting asylum eligibility — and as some people who expressed a fear of returning home continued to undergo expedited initial screenings while still in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
In addition, troubling reports indicate some asylum seekers are being turned away when they try to request asylum at a port of entry, where U.S. officials are telling them they must use the CBP One phone app to pre-schedule an appointment. Notably, such statements of policy on-the-ground directly contradict what others at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have said is protocol.
“We are not turning individuals away at our ports of entry,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Amid so much confusion, border apprehensions remain considerably lower than in the days ahead of the Title 42 policy’s end. Many migrants are choosing to wait in Mexico — sometimes in dangerous situations, or at shelters that are far above capacity — as they try to access one of the limited number of CBP One appointments each day to enter the U.S.
Others from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba who have already tried to cross the border are accepting “voluntary returns” to Mexico in hopes that they will be able to return stateside via CBP One or another pathway, without facing the five-year bar to re-entry that comes with removal.
Still others are turning to high-cost smugglers to get them past immigration authorities undetected, so they can avoid the hardline policies at the border and reach their final destination in the U.S.
Report: Demand for Biden Administration’s Parole Programs Tops 1.5 Million
On May 22, CBS News reported that over 1.5 million requests have been submitted in a matter of months by potential sponsors hoping to support Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Haitians trying to come to the U.S. legally through the Biden administration’s relatively new parole processes.
This outpouring of generosity from U.S.-based sponsors who are volunteering to financially back vulnerable migrants looking for safety and opportunity stateside underscores a major takeaway from the Forum’s latest polling, which found about two-thirds of registered voters believe that “it is important that the U.S. welcome and preserve essential protections for people fleeing persecution.”
But these humanitarian programs are capped at just 30,000 advance travel authorizations per month total, for all four nationalities — a drop in the bucket compared to the almost 12,000 applications DHS received on average daily by the end of April.
Internal DHS documents obtained by CBS News raised concerns that — given the significant backlogs and wait times that are now ensuing — the programs could lose some of their effectiveness as a more orderly alternative to migrants traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, unless the 30,000 monthly cap increases. Already, USCIS had announced changes to its review process for applications, so migrants would still retain hope that they might receive permission to come to the U.S. quickly.
DHS Announces its First Body Worn Camera Policy
On May 23, the Department of Homeland Security announced its first-ever department-wide policy on the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) for all its operational law enforcement agencies. According to the press release, this guideline—which was signed into effect on May 22 — details that BWCs will be used “for law enforcement interactions with the public in response to emergency calls, pre-planned arrests, or during execution of a search or seizure warrant or order.” The policy further specifies that agents are not permitted to wear BWC “for the sole purpose of recording individuals engaged in First Amendment activity.” Among the agencies subject to new rule will be U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to Mayorkas, the new DHS policy builds upon that order, stating that “our [DHS] ability to secure the homeland rests on public trust, which is built through accountability, transparency, and effectiveness in our law enforcement practices.” He added that “requiring the use of body-worn cameras by our law enforcement officers and agents is another important step DHS is making to bring our law enforcement to the forefront of innovation, and to further build public trust and confidence in the thousands of dedicated and professional law enforcement officers at DHS.”
Texas Sues the Biden Administration Over Asylum Rule
On May 23, Texas filed suit against top officials in the Biden administration to block the new “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” final rule that has imposed significant restrictions on asylum eligibility.
The complaint — led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and filed in a federal court for the state’s western district — focuses on the federal regulation’s reliance on the CBP One phone app to control migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The plaintiff argues that by using the CBP One app to pre-schedule appointments for migrants to enter the country at a port of entry, members of the Biden administration are actively encouraging people without proper documentation or a legal pathway to come into the U.S.
And so — while immigration advocates raise alarms that the new asylum rule is far too restrictive, and while advocacy organizations have filed their own legal challenges against it – Texas is suing to try to stop the federal regulation from a completely disparate rationale that it is in fact too lenient.
“The Biden Administration’s attempt to manage the southern border by app does not meet even the lowest expectation of competency and runs afoul of the laws Congress passed to regulate immigration, and the Final Rule should be enjoined,” Texas’s complaint suggests.
State officials have requested that the court hold the final asylum rule unlawful and set it aside, issue a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting its implementation, and take other actions.
The federal regulation has been in effect since the end of the Title 42 policy, rendering migrants ineligible for asylum unless they meet a limited number of exceptions.
State and Local
Lawmakers in Texas Advance Concerning Bill Challenging Federal Immigration Enforcement Authority
On May 24, House Bill 7 — a sweeping immigration and border security proposal out of Texas — received final approval from the state Senate, after already passing the state House.
The bill would create a controversial state border police force that could challenge federal authority over immigration enforcement. It would impose a state crime on migrants who enter between ports of entry and create a new mandatory minimum of 10 years for human smuggling, according to the Texas Tribune. Plus, it would provide $100 million in funding for courts, security, detention centers, and other infrastructures.
Some of the Senate’s changes to the legislation rolled back protections that had been incorporated before passing the House. For example, the version out of the Senate allows the new border police to operate anywhere in Texas, compared to limitations in the House that had required permission from county commissioners in border communities for the unit to intervene there.
The Senate version also allows the border unit to employ both commissioned officers and noncommissioned workers, in contrast with an amendment in the House that had restricted participation in the new police force to licensed peace officers.
Lawmakers in the House can now either accept the Senate’s version of the bill or call a conference committee among both chambers’ lawmakers in an effort to find a compromise.
Illinois Bill Passes Allowing Dreamers to Become Police Officers
On May 19, both houses of the Illinois legislature passed a bipartisan supported bill (HB 3751) that enables Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to apply for city or county law enforcement jobs. The bill also allows them to purchase, carry, and possess a firearm following their employment.
This legislation responds to staffing shortages in police departments across the country and functions to expand the job market to DACA recipients—providing another opportunity for Dreamers to serve their local communities. The bill now advances to the desk of Governor JB Pritzker (D-Illinois) for signature. Once signed, it will become effective January 1, 2024.
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 here. 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 be in session from Tuesday, May 30 through Friday, June 2, 2023.
The U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of Monday, May 29, 2023.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington.
Securing the Nation: Modernizing DHS’s Mission-Critical Legacy IT Systems
Date: Wednesday, May 31 at 10:00 a.m. EST (Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs)
Location: SD-562, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Eric Hysen, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Charles R. Armstrong, Chief Information Officer, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Yemi Oshinnaiye, Chief Information Officer, Transportation Security Administration
Kevin Walsh, Director of Information Technology and Cybersecurity, U.S. Government Accountability Office
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.
DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG); DHS’ Fiscal Year 2022 Compliance with the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019; May 22, 2023
This report finds that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not comply with the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 during last fiscal year and offers recommendations.
DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG); Results of an Unannounced Inspection of Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Washington; May 22, 2023
This report details findings from an unannounced inspection of the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Washington. While the facility met certain standards, it failed to always respond in a timely manner to detainee grievances, at times did not store food safely, and had a large percentage of medical staff vacancies, among other concerns.
DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG); CBP Facilities in Vermont and New York Generally Met TEDS Standards, but Details to the Southwest Border Affected Morale, Recruitment, and Operations; May 23, 2023
This report details findings after unannounced inspections of seven U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities at the northern U.S. border. The facilities generally complied with the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS), but mandatory details of agents from the northern border to the southwest border had impacted operations.
Congressional Research Service (CRS); Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) Methodology for Temporary Employment of H-2A Nonimmigrants in the United States; May 23, 2023
This report explores the H-2A visa program, with a focus on how the Department of Labor calculates adverse effect wage rates for a variety of occupations.
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); DNA Collections: CBP Is Collecting Samples From Individuals in Custody, but Needs Better Data for Program Oversight; May 24, 2023
This report explores DNA collection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including obstacles that have prevented DNA collection for some individuals who would otherwise be subject.
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 DIGNITY Act: Bill Summary
This bill summary provides an overview of a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Florida), which couples heightened border security measures with legal pathways.
Statement for the Record U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on “The Biden Border Crisis: Part III” — May 23, 2023
This Statement for the Record explores the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a symptom of our country’s larger broken immigration system, with an eye toward solutions.
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.