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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, October 27, 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. 

Here’s a breakdown of the bulletin’s sections:

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

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

Mike Johnson Elected New House Speaker

On October 25, the House of Representatives voted to elect Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) as the new Speaker of the House. The final vote count was 220 votes for Johnson and 209 for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). 

Johnson was first elected to the House in 2016 after serving in the Louisiana legislature for nearly two years. His background is in constitutional law, and he is a member of the influential House Judiciary Committee

In office, Johnson has made concerning comments that have drawn connections to the “great replacement” theory, which argues that non-white immigrants are “invading” countries such as the United States in an international conspiracy to replace majority-white populations.

“These are the documented facts: We have a literal invasion of lawless masses flooding over our border from more than 160 countries,” Johnson said last year

Referring to Democrats, Johnson has also said, “This is the plan of our friends on this side — to turn all the illegals into voters.”

Migrant Encounters at U.S.-Mexico Border Remain High in September  

In September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 269,735 migrant encounters at the United States-Mexico border, 218,763 of which took place between ports of entry. 

The September numbers round out data for all of fiscal year 2023, which saw over 2.4 million migrant encounters at the southern border. Despite these high totals, there are signs of progress: nearly 430,000 of the encounters took place at ports of entry, through a safer, more orderly process than crossing the river or desert without authorization. 

September also marked the first month when Venezuelans were the most apprehended nationality crossing the border. Border Patrol encountered Venezuelan migrants 54,833 times last month, compared to 22,090 times in August. Yet initial reports indicate those numbers may be on the decline, as incidents of Venezuelans crossing unauthorized “have dropped 50 to 60 percent” since the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this month that the U.S. would resume direct repatriations to Venezuela. 

According to the Washington Post, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intends to remove “two to three planeloads” of Venezuelans back to their home country each week. 

Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s government is reportedly “weaponizing migration as a foreign policy,” allowing charter flights carrying 31,000 Haitians and 17,000 Cubans in recent months to fly to Nicaragua as a launchpad for the journey to the U.S. The flights cost thousands of dollars, and when migrants land in Managua, smugglers are waiting for them to continue onward.

Experts and critics believe that Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega will exploit the situation as a bargaining chip, to strong-arm the U.S. into potentially easing sanctions and pressure on his repressive regime. 

“Ortega is going to use this migration issue to say to the United States that we’re the ones in control,” Enrique Martínez, a spokesperson for Platform for Democratic Unity, told the Associated Press. “And if they want to stop this, they’re going to have to negotiate.”

On Nov. 3, President Joe Biden will host an “Americas” summit with other hemispheric leaders, in part to address the region’s challenges with large-scale migration. 

Mexico Hosts Summit Focused on Migration

On October 22, Mexico President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador hosted a summit focused on migration in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. The presidents of Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Honduras, and Colombia — plus diplomatic delegates from El Salvador, Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica — attended.

The summit resulted in the non-binding “Palenque Declaration,” which highlighted that climate change, as well as political and socioeconomic factors, are the main drivers of forced migration. The declaration also emphasized that unilateral sanctions on countries have adverse effects on vulnerable populations.

The ten participating countries adopted 14 commitments, which included strategies to respect, protect, and guarantee the human rights of migrants. The signatories also agreed to request that the U.S. stop economic sanctions on some of the region’s countries, and more generally to ask countries of destination for migration to expand their legal pathways. 

The declaration includes a provision to help Haiti recover its political and socioeconomic stability.

State and Local 

Texas Immigration and Border Bills Advance as the State Sues the Biden Administration Over Dangerous Razor Wire

On October 26, the Texas House of Representatives passed three bills related to immigration and border security, despite widespread concerns that the legislation would challenge Supreme Court precedent and the U.S. Constitution, potentially criminalize people for driving undocumented Texans to church or the doctor’s office, and fund more walls and controversial buoy barriers in the Rio Grande. 

Senate Bill 4 — which increases the mandatory minimum sentence for smuggling migrants or operating a stash house to ten years —advanced through the House and now goes to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for final approval. Advocates and Democrats have warned that the bill may affect neighbors or classmates who give their friends a ride to everyday activities. 

House Bill 6, in turn, would direct another $1.5 billion to the state’s barriers, as Abbott builds his own wall along the Texas-Mexico border. But the most extreme bill is House Bill 4, which would create state offenses for crossing the border without authorization and go so far as to allow Texas peace officers to “remove” people back to Mexico. 

On Tuesday, the National Immigration Forum sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) asking them to oppose H.B. 4, which raises serious constitutional questions and would have significant human rights implications. 

The two Texas House bills will now go to the state Senate for consideration. 

Separately, Texas filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Tuesday, trying to stop federal agents from cutting through Texas’s razor wire along the border — which has reportedly made it more difficult for U.S. Border Patrol to reach migrants, and which has caused severe injuries. 

“By cutting Texas’s concertina wire, the federal government has not only illegally destroyed property owned by the State of Texas; it has also disrupted the State’s border security efforts, leaving gaps in Texas’s border barriers and damaging Texas’s ability to effectively deter illegal entry into its territory,” Texas argued in the complaint. 

Meanwhile, a retired veteran who worked security as part of Abbott’s bussing program has blown the whistle around “disgusting and inhuman” treatment onboard. 

David Dillard said that once the migrants are on a bus, they are not allowed to get off while still in Texas. There is only one bathroom, which overflows with human waste, dirty diapers, and used feminine products. 

Dillard was initially working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to let them know how many migrants were onboard, where they were going, and when they would get there. However, in August 2022, he and other contractors were told via email to stop speaking and coordinating with the NGOs. Dillard also said that he was instructed to stop migrants from using his Wi-Fi hotspot to figure out where they were. 

El Paso Set to Establish ID Card Program 

On October 24, the El Paso City Council, in a unanimous 8-0 vote, approved a program to implement local identification for El Paso residents.

The initiative will provide identification for people who cannot obtain a driver’s license or another form of state-issued ID, including formerly incarcerated, undocumented, and unhoused El Pasoans. 

Organizations can choose whether to take the city ID, but some agencies — such as the health department, the El Paso Police Department, and Park and Recreational Centers —  will accept it. 

The new cards — which will be free — are not meant to replace state or federal IDs and will not facilitate voting, driving, buying alcohol, or traveling. 

The program is expected to begin in Spring 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. 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 is expected to be in session from Monday, October 30 through Friday, November 3, 2023.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to be in session the week of Monday, October 30, 2023.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

A Review of the National Security Supplemental Request

Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2023 at 9:30 a.m. EST (Senate Appropriations)

Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building 106, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses:

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, Secretary, U.S. Department of State

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense

Threats to the Homeland

Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs)

Location: Senate Dirksen Building, SD-562, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses:

The Honorable Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The Honorable Christopher A. Wray, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice

The Honorable Christine Abizaid, Director, National Counterterrorism Center Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Hearings to examine the nominations of Harry Coker, Jr., of Kansas, to be National Cyber Director, Jeff Rezmovic, of Maryland, to be Chief Financial Officer, Department of Homeland Security, and Suzanne Elizabeth Summerlin, of Florida, to be General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority

Date: Thursday, November 2, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs)

Location: Senate Dirksen Building, SD-562, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses:

Harry Coker, Jr., to be National Cyber Director, Executive Office of the President

Jeff Rezmovic, to be Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Suzanne E. Summerlin, to be General Counsel, Federal Labor Relations Authority

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); Barriers Along the U.S. Border: Key Authorities and Recent Developments; Published October 23, 2023

This legal sidebar explores statutory authorizations for border barrier construction amid Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s waivers of federal statutes to build sections of border wall in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this month.

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: 

American Dream Employment Act: Bill Summary

This bill summary explores the American Dream Employment Act of 2023, which would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients to work in the U.S. Congress.

Illicit Fentanyl and Drug Smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico Border: An Overview

This paper gives a detailed overview of fentanyl and drug smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border, including the fact that “most illicit fentanyl encountered by CBP is smuggled through POEs [ports of entry].”

The Reasons Behind the Increased Migration from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua

This paper explores the reasons behind the increased migration from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. While irregular migration from these three countries ruled by autocratic governments is not new, the situation has worsened in recent years. Commonalities include domestic political crises, weakening economies, Covid-19, natural disasters, and strict U.S.-led economic sanctions. Facing precarious conditions and the threat of political persecution, a growing number of people from these nations have opted to seek safety in the United States.

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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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