Legislative Bulletin – Friday, May 31, 2019

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
GOVERNMENT REPORTS
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

There were no immigration-related bills introduced or considered during the week of Monday, May 27, 2019.

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, June 3, 2019.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, June 4, 2019 through Friday, June 7, 2019.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Subcommittee Markup of FY2020 Homeland Security Appropriations Act

Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 9a.m. (House Committee Appropriations, Homeland Security Subcommittee)

Location: 2008 Rayburn House Office Building

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Trump to Impose Five Percent Tariff on Mexican Imports, Seeking to Press Mexico to Block Central American Migrants Approaching U.S.-Mexico Border

On May 30, President Trump announced a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports effective June 10, in response to the elevated levels of Central American immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump warned Mexican leaders that unless they take appropriate steps to block Central American migrants from passing through Mexico on the way to the United States, the tariffs would gradually escalate to 25 percent by October 1, 2019. The White House, which cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as legal grounds for the action, did not lay out specific targets or criteria that would demonstrate compliance by Mexico.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to the announcement with a letter stating that Mexico did not want confrontation with the United States and called for dialogue. He reiterated that Mexico has been doing “as much as possible” to reduce the flow of Central Americans while ensuring that their human rights are not violated.

The announcement of the new tariff drew criticism from the business community and lawmakers from both parties, including some leading Senate Republicans. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) condemned the new tariff and said they were a misuse of presidential authority. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who previously served as U.S. Trade Representative, warned that the move could make it harder for the White House to win congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the administration’s newly negotiated update to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), one of the administration’s main legislative priorities.

The announcement of the new tariff followed reports that the administration was separately considering other significant actions to halt Central American migration, including a potential  proposal that would bar migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they resided in a third country prior to reaching the United States.

Trump Forces USCIS Director to Resign; Picks Cuccinelli as Likely Replacement

On May 24, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Lee Francis Cissna announced his resignation, following a request from President Trump. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-Virginia), who previously was under consideration for an alternative role advising the administration on immigration policy, is expected to be nominated to lead USCIS.

As Director of USCIS, Cissna worked to implement a series of policies that had the effect of restricting immigration, including broadening the authority of visa officers to deny visa applications and proposing a regulation that would prevent immigrants that have used certain public benefits from obtaining green cards. Cissna, who enjoyed strong support from leading restrictionist advocacy groups, faced mounting criticism from within the Trump administration who argued he moved too slowly in implementing key administration immigration policy goals.

Cuccinelli, who is expected to fill the vacancy after Cissna formally leaves on June 1, has expressed support for the controversial Arizona SB 1070 immigration law, called for an end to birthright citizenship,  and has called for a larger role for the U.S. military along the border. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) previously indicated opposition to Cuccinelli’s nomination for any role that requires Senate confirmation.

Trump Administration Flies Migrants from Border to Other Cities for Processing

The Trump administration started transporting migrants from border crossings to other locations for processing, as it faces backlogs at key border facilities.

With Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Rio Grande Valley, Texas and Yuma, Arizona at capacity, agents have been routinely transporting migrants to other locations in the southwestern United States. In order to satisfy the legal requirement that border-crossers be processed within 72 hours, CBP has been flying groups of migrants to San Diego, California and Del Rio, Texas for processing. Additional CBP facilities along the northern border, such as Detroit and Buffalo, are reportedly under consideration, but the administration has denied  reports about plans to send large groups of migrants to  South Florida.

Group Announces Construction of First Wall Segment from Private Donations, Faces Cease-and-Desist Letter from New Mexico City

We Build the Wall, a group that raised $22 million from a GoFundMe webpage to help build a border wall, announced on May 27 that it is close to completing its first stretch of privately constructed border barrier in Sunland, New Mexico. The group said it built the half-mile barrier segment on private property owned by a brick company. Stephen Bannon, former White House adviser and part of We Build the Wall’s leadership team, claimed barrier segment will connect two 21-mile segments of existing fencing. A CBP spokesperson said the project is “not connected” to the agency’s border security efforts. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a part of the We Build the Wall’s leadership team, said construction would cost between $6 million to $8 million and the group hoped to finish the project within the week.

On May 28, the city of Sunland Park, New Mexico announced it will be issuing a cease-and-desist letter to We Build the Wall because neither the group nor the private landowner submitted proper permits for wall construction. A city spokesperson said the group did not submit any site plans or recent surveys, and “built the structure without authority or any building permits from the city.” Kobach claimed the owner of the land went through the permitting process. A city spokesperson responded that the permit was picked up on May 24, returned incomplete and that site inspectors were turned away when they attempted to visit the property.

Disaster Relief Package in Limbo as Dispute over Border Funding Continues

A $19 billion disaster relief package, which provides emergency relief to states hit by hurricanes or affected by wildfires is in limbo due in part to ongoing disputes over funding to address Central American migration. While Senate negotiators agreed to consider the White House’s request for additional border security funds separately in June and came to a compromise over a longstanding dispute over aid to Puerto Rico, a handful of House Republicans raised objections to the package’s cost and its exclusion of certain border funding requests by the Trump administration.

The long-delayed disaster relief package, which was passed by the Senate in May, had been expected to pass by voice vote after the White House indicated that President Trump would sign the legislation The House will now vote on the bill when members return from recess in early June.

ICE Seeks to Begin DNA Testing at Seven Border Locations

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is seeking to carry out DNA testing at seven ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border to verify claims of familial relationships by migrants attempting to enter the United States. The agency is currently soliciting bids from contractors interested in implementing the program. The program envisions the use of a “Rapid DNA” testing procedure which involves comparing saliva swabs of migrants asserting a familial relationship. The procedure can produce results in about 90 minutes, on average. ICE has indicated that it intends to conduct 50,000 tests during the initial phase of the program with an option to conduct an additional 50,000 tests if the agency chooses to do so.

This program was preceded by a pilot DNA testing program that took place in May 2019 at two border locations. Prior to these programs, ICE relied solely on verbal statements and written documents in order to judge legitimacy of familial relationships among individuals approaching the border.

DHS claims that the initiative will help the agency identify cases in which adults travel with children who are not their own and fraudulently claim to be a family unit to avoid detention and deportation, including cases where children have been trafficked for this purpose. Immigration advocates previously opposed the pilot program, stressing the testing raises privacy and civil liberties concerns and noting that it places adopted children and step-children at risk of being separated from their parents and step-parents.

CBP Creates New Job to Assist Staff at Southern Border

As part of its effort to ease the burden of its agents who are tasked processing of migrants along the U.S. Southern border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created a new “Border Patrol Processing Coordinator” position. CBP claims that hiring additional personnel into this administrative position will allow the uniformed agents to spend more time in the field, performing enforcement duties, rather than taking care of the increasing number of migrant families approaching the border, which currently accounts for more than a half of their workload.

ORR Director Resigns Following Amid Family Reunification Criticism

On May 29, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced resignation of Scott Lloyd, director of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In his role at ORR, which is responsible for caring for refugees and unaccompanied immigrant children (UACs) entering the U.S., Lloyd came under fire for his agency’s slow progress in reunifying separated families. Lloyd’s resignation allegations of mismanaging efforts to reunite separated families and his previous congressional testimony that he did not warn HHS leaders about health risks associated with separating children from parents.

Legal

Federal Judge Halts Parts of Trump’s Border Wall Construction Plan

On May 24, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam issued a preliminary injunction blocking President Trump from using Department of Defense (DoD) funds for two border wall construction projects in Texas and Arizona. The ruling blocked the Trump Administration’s attempt to transfer $1 billion from existing Pentagon counter-drug funding to the wall expansion projects. The California federal court ruling determined that the Trump administration lacks the constitutional authority to re-appropriate funds to a project that Congress has previously declined to fund. The Trump administration has claimed that the wall construction projects are intended to safeguard national security in areas with high levels of drug smuggling. Several other cases involving the construction and funding of border wall projects are currently pending in multiple jurisdictions.

On May 29, the Trump Administration appealed the injunction and requested that Judge Gilliam allows construction of the wall projects to proceed while the appeal is considered. The administration has also asked that the district court render a decision on the appeal by June 5 and has filed a simultaneous appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

State & Local

Texas Secretary of State Resigns Following Lawsuits Over False Voter Fraud Accusations

With his confirmation in the Texas state Senate heading toward defeat, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley announced his resignation on May 27. Democratic leaders criticized Whitley, who was serving on a temporary basis while his nomination was pending, after his office released a flawed investigation of what it said were ineligible voters.

In January, Whitley claimed approximately 95,000 noncitizens in Texas were registered to vote and 58,000 had voted in one or two Texas elections. Whitley ordered counties to conduct “list maintenance activity,” which cancels the registration of individuals suspected of voter fraud. Within days, it became clear that the list compiled by the secretary of state’s office was wrong and thousands of individuals in the list were naturalized U.S. citizens eligible to vote, prompting a federal judge to call the efforts “ham-handed” and “threatening.”

Amid allegations that the investigation was an attempt to intimidate naturalized voters from voting, the investigation led to three federal lawsuits that were settled out of court. Under the settlement agreement, Whitley adopted a process that limited future investigations of voters and his office agreed to pay $450,000 in legal costs and fees.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Congressional Research Service (CRS): “Migrant Protection Protocols”: Legal Issues Related to DHS’s Plan to Require Arriving Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico, May 9, 2019 (by Ben Harrington and Hillel R. Smith)

This legal sidebar is an updated version of a previous report, examining legal issues related to DHS’ “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), a policy which requires certain asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while U.S. immigration courts consider their asylum cases.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Attorney General Rules that Unlawful Entrants Generally Must Remain Detained While Asylum Claims Are Considered, May 10, 2019 (by Hillel R. Smith)

This legal sidebar explores statutes and regulations governing expedited removal and the detention of immigrants in formal removal proceeding. It also discusses the impact of Attorney General William Barr’s ruling in the Matter of M-S, which made asylum seekers ineligible for release on bond.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Bill Summary: Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants

This is a summary of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, H.R. 1044, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas, and to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrant visas. The bill is aimed at clearing backlogs for skilled workers from large countries, allowing them to come to the United States to work and obtain permanent residence, along with their spouses and children.

Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019: Bill Summary

This is a summary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, H.R. 2731, which would provide U.S. citizenship to individuals born outside of the United States who were adopted as children by American parents.

Bill Summary:  Secure and Protect Act of 2019

This is a summary of Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R – South Carolina) Secure and Protect Act of 2019, S.1494, which would make the Flores Settlement Agreement that sets the current standards for detention of migrant children inapplicable, and thus allow for longer detention of children. It would also amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) to allow for expedited deportations of unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) from noncontiguous countries. In addition, the bill would require asylum seekers to apply for protections at refugee processing centers in Central America and Mexico, and the U.S. authorities to hire new immigration judges.

* * *

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

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