Legislative Bulletin – Friday, October 2, 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

H.R. 8406

The Heroes Act

The bill is a revised and slimmed down version of House Democrat’s COVID-19 package proposal originally introduced and passed by the House in May. The bill authorizes $2.2 trillion for a variety of pandemic response priorities, approximately $1.2 trillion less than the original version of the bill.

The bill retains several provisions related to immigrants that were in the earlier version of the bill, including those that would provide access to COVID-19 testing and treatment for undocumented individuals, extend direct cash payments to taxpaying immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), and require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to consider the release of the immigrant detainees most vulnerable to the virus. The bill also includes provisions that would expedite the processing of immigrant and nonimmigrant healthcare worker visas and provide protections to undocumented immigrants in the essential workforce.

Sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-New York) (10 cosponsors – 10 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

9/29/2020 Introduced in the House of by Representative Lowey

9/29/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Appropriations, the Budget, and Ways and Means.

H.Res.1153

This House resolution condemns unwanted, unnecessary medical procedures — including partial and full hysterectomies — performed on immigrant women without their full, informed consent at the private, for-profit Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.

Sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) (224 cosponsors – 224 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

9/25/2020 Introduced in the House of by Representative Jayapal

9/25/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Energy and Commerce

10/1/2020 Passed/agreed to in House: On agreeing to the resolution Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 232-157 (Roll no. 217)

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session from Monday, October 5, 2020 to Friday, October 9, 2020.

The U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of Monday, October 5, 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 Proposes Further Reduction of Refugee Cap to 15,000 in FY 2021

On September 30, approximately 30 minutes before the statutory deadline, the Trump administration proposed a ceiling of 15,000 refugees for fiscal year (FY) 2021. The number marks a record low, 20% below the previous historically low limit of 18,000 set by the administration in FY 2020. A report to Congress of the proposed ceiling also included specifications on which refugees would be admitted under the 15,000 cap, limiting applicants to persons escaping religious persecution, Iraqis who assisted U.S. forces, and refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Cuba and Venezuela. This means that all refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa, the largest source of global forced migration, would be excluded from resettlement in FY 2021.

The administration justified the reduction in proposed refugee numbers by stating that it instead will be prioritizing asylum seekers at the Southwest border and already-resettled refugees in the United States who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration also said the reduced cap was designed to “prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans.”

Immigration advocates, faith leaders, and rights organizations have criticized the reduced ceiling and the administration’s rationale. The president of Bethany Christian Services, an organization which resettles refugee children, called the decision a “black eye on our history.” Elizabeth Neumann, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security said that, “the administration’s approach to refugees is not based on security. It has to do with the larger effort to keep out the other.”

Despite the 18,000 cap, only about 10,000 refugees were resettled in all of FY 2020 in part due to a COVID-19-related freeze on refugee admissions between March and June 2020.

Report: Immigrant Detainees Were Pressured into Unneeded Surgeries

According to a New York Times report on September 29, multiple women detained in a privately-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia were given unwanted and unnecessary gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies. The report was based on interviews with 16 women who had been detained at the Irwin County Detention Center and who were concerned about the care they received there. The report, which included a review of their cases by four board-certified gynecologists, concluded that Dr. Mahendra Amin, “consistently overstated” the need for surgical intervention in response to small or benign symptoms.

The report also noted that detainees were not able to properly consent to the procedures, and in some cases did not have access to a translator while in Dr. Amin’s care.

The report came amid ongoing investigations into a September 14 whistleblower complaint alleging that numerous detainees were subjected to medical negligence and neglect. One such investigation, conducted by the Mexican Foreign Ministry, identified another woman who was subject to a potentially nonconsensual gynecological surgical intervention at Irwin.

ICE Ramping Up Interior Enforcement and Planning Crackdown Against Sanctuary Jurisdictions, Reversing COVID-19 Pause

ICE officials have announced that the agency is resuming regular apprehension and detention services, reversing the temporary suspension on non-criminal enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, ICE had said it would focus its enforcement activities on individuals with criminal offenses. Unlike its prior announcement, ICE’s guidance does not provide exceptions about any immigrant population it would avoid arresting and detaining.

In addition, according to a September 29 report in the Washington Post, the Trump administration is preparing an October immigration enforcement crackdown targeting so-called sanctuary jurisdictions. Citing unnamed administration officials, the report characterized the enforcement activity as “more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation,” intended to “amplify[ ]” key Trump campaign themes. The crackdown reportedly will initially target immigration violators in California, Philadelphia, and Denver.

Sanctuary jurisdictions are not defined under federal statute, but the term generally refers to state and localities that limit state and local officials’ involvement in federal immigration enforcement functions. Advocates and local officials argue that requiring local law enforcement to play a role in all federal immigration enforcement activities undermines public safety and community trust.

Chad Wolf’s Nomination Advances

On September 30, following a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) confirmation hearing, the committee voted along party lines to approve the nomination of current acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf to serve in the role officially. The 6-3 vote – with all Republicans on the committee voting for and all Democrats voting against – advanced Wolf’s nomination to the Senate floor, where a further debate over his record is likely to ensue.

During the HSGAC hearing, Wolf denied allegations that he instructed career officials to modify intelligence reports to match the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. He also faced tough questions surrounding several immigration-related issues, including his involvement in the “zero-tolerance” policy that led to the separation of hundreds of children from their families at the Southwest border.

Administration Ramps up Border Wall Construction Before Election

According to a September 29 report, the Trump administration is scrambling to complete construction of barriers along the Southwest border in advance of the November 3 election. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data suggests that the rate of construction on U.S.-Mexico border barriers has nearly doubled since the start of 2020, proceeding at a rate of almost two miles per day.

The acceleration in border barrier construction has been aided by the rollback of environmental protections on national forests, wildlife preserves, and other public lands under federal control. In September, Indigenous O’odham protestors temporarily halted progress at a construction site in Arizona, citing the destruction of sacred lands in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The administration has also faced challenges relating to private property rights and legal challenges to its diversion of defense funding to wall construction.

Legal

Federal Judge Blocks Fee Increases for Citizenship and Other Benefits

On September 29, a federal judge in California blocked major fee increases for citizenship and other immigration benefits three days before they were to take effect. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White issued a preliminary injunction blocking the fee increases after determining that the last two heads of DHS were likely appointed illegally, which meant the fee increases by DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were not legally implemented. The judge also ruled that the Trump administration “failed to adequately justify” the fee increases.

Echoing the findings of an August report by the Government Accountability Office, Judge White found Kevin McAleenan, successor to Kirstjen Neilsen, was improperly appointed acting secretary in April 2019. As a result, Chad Wolf, who became acting secretary after McAleenan resigned in November 2019, was also promoted out of order from his previous position. Judge White’s ruling also blocked the fee hikes on grounds that the Trump administration failed to justify its decision as required.

The fees were set to increase by an average of 20% on October 2, and the changes included a new fee for asylum applications. The fee to become a naturalized citizen was set to increase to $1,170 from $640. The new fee rule would also have largely eliminated fee waivers.

Judge Provides Relief for Some – But Not All – Diversity Visa Winners

As FY 2020 drew to a close on September 30, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to save an additional 9,095 diversity visas for FY 2020 lottery winners who had been vetted before being impacted by the administration’s ongoing freeze on visa issuances. Acknowledging the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta’s order declined requests to reserve diversity visas for approximately 30,500 additional lottery winners who did not complete vetting.

The Diversity Visa Immigrant Program, which is designed to allow additional immigration opportunities to people from countries with relatively low rates of immigration to the U.S., had been all but eliminated by President Trump’s proclamations suspending immigration in April and June 2020. The proclamations suspended the entrance of immigrants in many permanent and temporary immigration categories.

The State Department had interpreted the proclamations to apply not just to the entrance of individuals, but also the issuance of their visas, which had an outsized effect on diversity visa recipients. Accessing a diversity visa is a multi-step process, which consists first of entering a computerized lottery which selects 55,000 individuals each year, and then a lengthy vetting and interview stage before lottery winners can finally receive their green cards. Lottery winners must act quickly, because if their visas are not issued by the end of the following fiscal year, they lose all access to their visa and are no longer authorized for a green card.

On September 4, Judge Mehta had ordered the administration to resume issuing diversity visas, but only 15,400 visas had been issued by the end of the month. Lawyers representing the lottery winners requested a delay of the September 30 deadline for 30,000 of the remaining visa winners, but the judge ruled that due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was only reasonable to extend the deadline for a fraction of the group.

Judge Partially Blocks Administration Ban on Temporary Worker Visas

On October 1, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s worker visa ban for employees of companies associated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and Technet. The order, which impacts H-1B and other work visas, provides relief to many workers affected by President Trump’s June 22 proclamation suspending immigration, which had banned the issuance of most permanent and temporary worker visas for those applying from outside the U.S. through December 31, 2020.

The judge ruled that the president is not afforded “unbridled authority to set domestic policy regarding employment of nonimmigrant foreigners,” and that “there must be some measure of constraint on Presidential authority” in an immigration context. The judge’s order only applies to business organizations which were listed as plaintiffs in the case.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG): CBP Did Not Adequately Oversee FY 2019 Appropriated Humanitarian Funding, September 28, 2020

This OIG report found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not adequately oversee the use of appropriated humanitarian funding. Rather than allocate FY 2019 taxpayer funds to meet migrants’ basic needs, as required, the report found that the U.S. Border Patrol approved purchases of non-necessities, like toner cartridges, fingerprint pads, and restraints. OIG determined that Border Patrol and CBP lacked adequate guidance or defined criteria for reimbursing consumables, preventing the agencies from using the funds as intended. Additionally, CBP relied on a single contracting officer’s representative, rather than onsite personnel, to oversee its medical contract.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Immigration: Public Charge, September 15, 2020

This CRS report provides an overview of the public charge rule. The report explained that under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a non-citizen may be denied admission into the United States if they are likely to become a “public charge,” meaning they would require the use of certain public services. The INA does not actually define the term “public charge,” and the standards for enforcement are set by government agency guidelines. Certain categories of non-citizens, such as refugees and asylees, are exempted from the public charge ground of inadmissibility. The Trump administration recently issued new regulations dramtically expanding who is considered to be a “public charge.”

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Asylum and Related Protections for Aliens Who Fear Gang and Domestic Violence, September 23, 2020

This CRS report is an update from a previous report published in 2018 explaining asylum protections for refugees fearing gang and domestic violence. Since the 2018 report, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia barred USCIS from implementing certain policies that were adopted after the Matter of A-B– decision that barred relief on gang and domestic violence claims. The court ruled that although gang and domestic violence claims generally fail to count for asylum eligibility, such incidents are not indicative of a “categorical ban” on these claims.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Expedited Removal of Aliens: An Introduction, September 23, 2020 

This CRS report is an overview of expedited removal, a streamlined process for certain recently arriving aliens who enter the United States without inspection under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Refugee Resettlement Factsheet

This fact sheet summarizes basic facts and statistics about refugee resettlement in the United States and describes the U.S. refugee screening process.

Where Did the Trump Administration get $13.7 billion to build barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border?

This infographic focuses on the Trump administration’s effort to fund the construction of barriers on the Southwest border. The infographic describes the various sources of funding used by the administration and the amount of new and replacement barriers that have been constructed.

Infographics on Coming USCIS Fee Changes

This resource is a landing page with resources on coming USCIS fee changes, which have recently been nationally enjoined by a federal judge in California. The resources include an infographic describing naturalization fee increases in English and Spanish and an infographic highlighting fee changes affecting immigrant workers and their families.

* * *

*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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