Legislative Bulletin – Friday, November 20, 2020

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

S. 2174

The Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act

The bill would authorize the Attorney General to provide grants to various entities to report, process, and identify missing persons and unidentified remains. It would also provide for the implementation of up to 170 self-powered “rescue beacons” in isolated border regions to prevent migrant deaths.

Sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) (3 cosponsors – 2 Democrats, 1 Republican)

07/18/2019 Introduced by Senator Cornyn in the U.S. Senate

07/18/2019 Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

11/17/2020 Discharged from the Committee on the Judiciary by Unanimous Consent

11/17/2020 Passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of November 23, 2020.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Trump Administration Plans Additional Immigration Restrictions for End of Term

According to a CNN report on November 19, the Trump administration is planning to push through a number of additional immigration restrictions before the end of the term on January 20. Plans that have been accelerated to meet the deadline include further restrictions to the asylum system, the finalization of regulations restricting international students, and a new rule that proposes to deny work eligibility to those who have been released from immigration detention because they cannot be safely deported.

Concerning the asylum system, the report states that DHS is moving to carry out agreements with El Salvador and Honduras to fly would-be asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border to have their cases heard in those countries. A similar agreement was briefly in place with Guatemala but has been paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. DHS is also rushing to finalize a proposed rule published on September 25 that would make it more difficult and expensive for many international students to transition from one academic program to another or to take additional time to finish a degree.

On November 17, the administration also announced a proposed rule that would prevent most individuals with final orders of removal from accessing a work permit. The rule would affect the tens of thousands of individuals who have been ordered removable but are unable to be deported, including those who are allowed to remain in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons. According to its text, the intent of the proposed rule is to encourage individuals in these circumstances to self-deport, or to “obtain travel documents in a timely manner and depart the United States.”

President-elect Biden has said he plans to roll back many of the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions.

White House Refused 2019 Deal to Provide Mental Health Services to Migrant Families

According to an NBC News report on November 19, in October 2019 the Trump administration blocked an $8 million settlement agreement negotiated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide mental health services to migrant families that were separated at the border. The families set to receive assistance under the agreement were those that had been separated as a result of the administration’s 2018 zero-tolerance policy to prosecute all undocumented immigrants crossing the border. The policy resulted in the separation of more than 3,000 children from their parents in the summer of 2018.

In March 2020, six months after the White House refused the settlement, a judge ordered the government to provide the assistance and the nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies was awarded a $14 million contract to provide mental health services to the separated families.

According to the report, the decision to reject the settlement prevented a number of families from receiving treatment, as they had been deported during the six-month delay. Immigration advocates and mental health professionals have said the delay itself may have exacerbated the trauma that resulted from separation. A lawyer representing the families said that, “the longer the trauma goes unredressed, the more severe the consequences.” The executive director of Seneca noted that “when treatment is delayed, it may exacerbate and compound the trauma of separation.”

According to a November 9 report, 666 children remain separated from their parents as a result of administration policies at the border.

Administration Makes Citizenship Test Longer, More Complicated

On November 13, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would be altering the U.S. citizenship test to add a number of additional topics to study and requiring applicants to answer twice as many questions to pass. Currently, applicants must correctly answer 6 out of 10 questions drawn from a pool of 100 possible questions. The new test, which will be used for prospective citizens who apply after December 1, will require applicants to correctly answer 12 of 20 questions drawn from an increased pool of 128. The geography section in the previous test has been eliminated and technical questions about the U.S. government have been added, among other changes.

Immigration advocates and analysts have raised concerns that the new test will be more costly and time-consuming to implement and is designed to be more difficult for immigrants to pass. Others have noted the political nature of some of the alterations, including concerning the answer to the question: “Who does a U.S. Senator represent?” The provided correct answer has been changed from “All people of the state” to “Citizens from their state.”

Elderly applicants who have been lawful permanent residents for over 20 years will be able to take the shorter version. The citizenship test was last changed in 2008.

Immigration Officials Told Not to Communicate with Biden Transition Team

According to a November 16 Buzzfeed News report, nearly a week after numerous news desks called the Presidential election for Joe Biden, a top ranking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official sent an email to employees at the agency telling them not to communicate with the President-elect’s transition team. The email stated that before officials can begin the transition process, an administrator for the General Services Administration must write a letter ascertaining the winner of the presidential election, which has not yet occurred.

The delay in the transition process has caused concern among officials at USCIS, in other agencies, and on the Biden transition team. It could hamper the incoming administration in its efforts to ensure a smooth transition and to implement its own priorities for the agency, including planned actions to roll back some of the immigration restrictions instituted during the Trump administration.

Legal

Federal Judge Restores DACA, Rules DHS Secretary Served Illegally

On November 14, a federal judge in New York ruled that acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf was improperly appointed to his position, invalidating new limitations Wolf placed on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in a July 28 memorandum. Issued after the U.S. Supreme Court permitted DACA to survive, the Wolf memo prevented DHS from accepting new DACA applications and only allowed existing DACA recipients to renew their protections for one year, rather than two years. The ruling will restore the DACA program to its status before September 2017, providing two years of protection to recipients and permitting new applications.

The court’s decision represents the fifth such ruling to invalidate a DHS immigration policy implemented under Acting Secretary Wolf as a result of his improper appointment. The rulings follow an August 14 Government Accountability Office report which found that Wolf was appointed unlawfully after former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen improperly amended the designated order of succession upon resigning in 2019.

On November 14, DHS attempted to correct the line of succession by having Pete Gaynor, the Senate-confirmed FEMA administrator, temporarily assume authority over the agency and reissue the order of succession.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 1.3 million U.S. residents are eligible for DACA

Judge Halts Summary Expulsions of Unaccompanied Children

On November 18, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. blocked the Trump administration from summarily deporting unaccompanied children without first allowing them to request humanitarian protection or properly screening them for signs of human trafficking. The judge ruled that the administration had not provided “scientific and technical” evidence to demonstrate that it had the authority to deport children without allowing them to apply for asylum or to be processed and cared for in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters.

The ruling concerns the summary deportation of children arriving at the border that has been occurring under an emergency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule issued in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration argued that this rule, issued under title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Service Act, gives DHS the authority to expel or deport any individual arriving at the border, regardless of whether they posed a particular risk for spreading the virus or were intending to seek asylum or another form of protection.

Over 13,000 unaccompanied children have been subject to these ‘Title 42” expulsions since March, including many who were detained secretively in private hotels prior to their deportation.

State and Local

Court Bars ICE Practice of Arresting Immigrants at Courthouses in Southern California

On November 17, a federal judge in California barred ICE agents from making immigration arrests in and around San Diego-area courthouses. The ruling granted a temporary restraining order blocking a 2018 directive that allowed immigration officers to make arrests in courthouses. The judge argued that the practice “deters parties and witnesses from coming to court, instills fear, and is inconsistent with the decorum of the court.”

Prior to the 2018, ICE only made arrests at or near courthouses in circumstances in which the individual was deemed a danger to national security or a risk to public safety. But the 2018 directive lead to a sharp increase in immigration arrests at courthouses, and a subsequent decline in court appearances by immigrant defendants.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG): Major Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security, November 10, 2020

This report issued by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) describes several management and performance challenges that DHS has faced in 2020. Among other issues, the agency has had difficulty performing effectively during COVID-19; ensuring proper financial management; and ensuring that information technology (IT) is supporting essential mission operations. The OIG found that the IT shortfalls contributed to DHS’s inability to properly track migrant families who had been detained and separated at the border. The report states that this has led to uncertainty as to how many families were separated during the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy in 2018.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fact Sheet: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

This resource provides information about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. It also describes how DACA recipients strengthen the United States and why Dreamers are still in need of a permanent solution.

Time to Naturalize

This infographic provides details about the current challenges related to naturalization and notes that cost of applying for naturalization may soon increase.

Bill Analysis: The Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act

This resource summarizes and provides context for the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, which would take steps to prevent migrant deaths on the Southwest border and help border counties and nonprofit organizations locate and identify missing migrants.

* * *

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

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