Legislative Bulletin – Friday, September 13, 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

H.R.4272

TPS for Victims of Hurricane Dorian Act of 2019

This bill would designate the Bahamas for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), protecting Bahamians currently in the U.S. from deportation.

Sponsored by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-New York) (23 cosponsors – 23 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

09/10/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Clarke

09/10/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R.4276

Border Officers Utilization for National Defense (BOUND) Act of 2019

The bill would set minimum staffing levels for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers stationed at ports of entry along the northern border. This is a companion bill to S. 2444.

Sponsored by Representative Brian Higgins (D-New York) (5 cosponsors – 3 Democrats, 2 Republicans)

09/10/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Higgins

09/10/2019 Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security

H.R. 4319

Immigrant Witness and Victim Protection Act

The bill would eliminate the U Visa cap of 10,000 visas per year, institute a statutory timeline for applicants to receive work authorization, and prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from apprehending or detaining undocumented immigrants with pending applications for protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Sponsored by Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-California) (35 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 35 Democrats)

09/12/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Panetta

09/12/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

S. 2444

Border Officers Utilization for National Defense (BOUND) Act of 2019

The bill would set minimum staffing levels for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers stationed at ports of entry along the northern border. This bill is a companion bill to H.R. 4276.

Sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) (3 cosponsors – 3 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

09/09/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Schumer

09/09/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

S. 2450

A Bill to Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to Limit the Grounds of Deportability for Certain Relatives of Members of the Armed Forces and Veterans, and for Other Purposes

This bill would limit the grounds of deportability for a spouse, widow or widower, parent, child, or sibling of members of the Armed Forces and veterans. The bill does not apply to an individual who has been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors that are not significant.

Sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) (0 cosponsors)

09/10/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Booker

09/10/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session on the week of Monday, September 16, 2019.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, September 17, 2019 to Friday, September 20, 2019.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Oversight Hearing: Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody

Date: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. (House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies)

Location: 2358-C Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses:

Jonathan Hayes, Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Ann Maxwell, Assistant Inspector General, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Jonathan White, Commander, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Nomination of Eugene Scalia to Serve as Secretary of Labor

The Secretary of Labor oversees workforce development initiatives for all Americans, including some immigrants.

Date: Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. (Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions)

Location: 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Witness:

Eugene Scalia, Nominee to Serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Legal

Supreme Court Allows Third-Country Asylum Ban to Move Forward

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an unsigned order on September 11 that allows the Trump administration to fully implement an interim final rule that bars most migrants traveling to the U.S. Southern border by land from seeking asylum. The decision allows the Trump administration to implement the rule while lower courts review legal challenges to the policy, a process that could take more than one year to conclude. Under the rule, migrants will be required to apply and be denied asylum in one of the countries they pass through before seeking asylum in the U.S.

The Supreme Court’s order, which is a single paragraph, did not include a legal rationale for allowing the rule to move forward. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filed a dissent, stating that the rule “seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution.” Advocates also criticized the court’s order, arguing it will allow the government to reject nearly all Central American asylum seekers and put their lives in danger at the hands of cartels. President Trump praised the order, tweeting that it was a “BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!” A White House spokesperson said the court’s order will help “build on the progress we’ve made addressing the crisis at our southern border.”

On September 9, two days before the Supreme Court issued its order, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar restored a nationwide injunction that blocked the interim final rule from going into effect. Judge Tigar found that the administration’s rule likely was inconsistent with statutory requirements set by congress. Judge Tigar also noted that refugees would be at risk of violence if they were forced to seek asylum in Mexico. In addition, Judge Tigar found the government circumvented legal requirements to provide public notice and comment for the rule. The Supreme Court’s order effectively blocks Judge Tigar’s injunction.

Government Opens Tent Courts Along the Border for “Remain in Mexico” Asylum Cases

The Trump administration opened tent courts in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas on September 10 and 11 for immigration court proceedings under the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which is also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Asylum seekers whose cases are heard in the tent courts are expected to be connected through videoconference to an immigration judge in another part of the country. Government officials said the tent courts will generally be closed to the public, including news media, because they are on secure government property. In contrast, established immigration courts across the U.S. are usually open to the public.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, which represents U.S. immigration judges, said barring public access to the tent courts “highlights another glaring reason why the immigration courts have been deprived of key characteristics of what it means to be a court in the United States.” Immigration advocates and lawyers also said the videoconference process will likely cause delays and result in inadequate communication that may negatively impact the cases made by asylum seekers.

The tent courts were opened after the government’s quick implementation of “Remain in Mexico” overwhelmed established immigration courts along the Southern border. Under “Remain in Mexico,” an estimated 42,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait while their immigration court proceedings move forward in the U.S. Government officials said the tent courts will permit immigration judges to hear “Remain in Mexico” cases within weeks or months. However, the reassignment of immigration judges from across the U.S. to hear “Remain in Mexico” cases is expected to create delays in non-MPP immigration court cases, which are already severely backlogged.

Federal

Trump Administration Will Not Grant TPS Designation for The Bahamas

The Trump administration announced on September 11 that it does not plan to designate The Bahamas for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which would have protected thousands  of Bahamians currently in the U.S. from deportation. A White House official acknowledged that The Bahamas is “facing a humanitarian crisis” as a result of the Category 5 hurricane, but said the U.S. would help “support [The Bahamas] with aid and services. . . [and does] not plan to invoke Temporary Protected Status for those currently in the United States.” Advocates noted that the U.S. generally has granted TPS under these circumstances. TPS is granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to eligible foreign-born individuals in the U.S. who are unable to return home safely due to conditions or circumstances preventing their country from adequately handling their return. Bahamians seeking to enter the U.S. in the aftermath of the storm would not benefit from a TPS designation.

On September 9, DHS issued new guidance requiring Bahamians arriving in the U.S. by sea to enter with a U.S. visa. The new guidance resulted in dozens of Bahamian citizens being forced off a ferry headed to Florida. Before September 9, many Bahamians could travel to the U.S. without a visa by sea or air if they had a passport and evidence of a clean police record. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official in Miami later clarified the agency would handle individuals without a visa on a case-by-case basis, noting they have “administrative procedures . . . to ensure individuals are admissible.” Since Hurricane Dorian, an estimated 4,000 Bahamians have arrived in the U.S.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rick Scott (R-Florida) have expressed support for Bahamian citizens displaced by Hurricane Dorian, sending a September 4 letter to President Trump asking the administration to waive U.S. visa requirements for Bahamians with close relatives in the U.S.  However, on September 9, President Trump claimed The Bahamas had “tremendous problems” with permitting “very bad drug dealers” into their country. U.S. data shows that The Bahamas is minimally impacted by the narcotics trade.

White House Urges Mexico, Other Countries to Sign Safe Third Country Agreements

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly urged Mexico on September 10 to take additional steps to help stem the number of Central American migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border, including signing a “safe third country” agreement that would require Central American migrants seeking protection to request asylum in Mexico. The White House also reportedly directed DHS to secure “safe third country” agreements with Honduras and El Salvador by October 1. The White House proposals come despite a 65 percent drop in apprehensions along the Southern border over the past three months. In August, CBP apprehended about 51,000 migrants along the Southern border, down from 144,000 in May, the year’s record high.

Before meeting with Mexican officials on September 10, Pompeo acknowledged the recent decline in border apprehensions but said “there is still work to do, and we’re going to talk about how best we can jointly deliver that.” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, argued Mexico “has produced important results” and continues to oppose a “safe third country” agreement with U.S. Ebrard argued the U.S. and Mexico have already accomplished “90 percent” of the goals they outlined in early June. He also criticized CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan’s September 9 comments, in which Morgan said Mexican officials “need to do more” to stem the number of Central American migrants coming to the U.S.

Critics have noted that Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador are not appropriate candidates to enter into safe third country agreements because they not safe places for asylum seekers and are unable to provide protections or due process for those fleeing danger.The Trump administration reached a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala in July that would require asylum seekers who travel through Guatemala on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to first seek protection in that country. The newly-elected president of Guatemala  has voiced concerns about that agreement.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent order on September 11, 2019, allows the Trump administration to fully implement an interim final rule that bars most migrants traveling to the U.S. Southern border by land from seeking asylum, even in the absence of safe third country agreements with neighboring countries.

Kushner Meets with Senate Republicans to Discuss White House Immigration Plan

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner met with Senate Republicans on September 11 to discuss the White House’s 600-page immigration plan, which has been circulated to Senate Republican offices but has not been made public. Kushner reportedly told Senate Republicans in the meeting that the plan is a starting point and urged them to unite behind it. Kushner said the plan concentrates on two areas where most Republican lawmakers agree. The plan would reportedly change the legal immigration system to establish a merit-based process that gives preference to high-skilled workers rather than family-based migration. It also would reportedly increase border security resources.

After the meeting, a number of Republican Senators expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the plan. Senator Mike Braun (R-Indiana) noted there was no pushback to the plan but said it “can’t neglect some of the other issues” that are necessary to obtain bipartisan support in the Senate.  Namely, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that the plan does not include a solution for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. In addition, Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida) said he is “very supportive of DACA . . .[and] it’s important we include” Dreamers in an immigration package.

House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing on Revocation of Medical Deferred Action

The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing on September 11 on the Trump administration’s decision to end the use of medical deferred action for immigrants undergoing lifesaving medical treatments or who have family members that are undergoing such treatments. Officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) testified before the committee, but declined to answer a number of questions, citing a recent legal challenge to the policy. Lawmakers from both parties expressed sympathy with recipients of medical deferred action. Representative Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) said, “you don’t have a compassionate bone in your body if you’re not looking at this and saying, ‘We’ve got to address this. . . .We’re going to address this.” Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) noted the policy change was “life denying” and “stunningly harsh and cruel.”

The hearing was prompted by an August 23 USCIS announcement that, effective August 7, the agency stopped accepting and adjudicating applications for deferred action for non-military applicants. Following the announcement, 424 deferred action recipients received a letter noting they had 33 days to leave the country or face deportation. On September 2, USCIS said it will reopen all cases that were pending as of August 7. As before, it will no longer accept or consider new applications for non-military deferred action, and will reject all applications received after August 7.

On September 13, reports emerged that USCIS Policy and Strategy Chief Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, developed an internal memo on September 9 recommending that USCIS be stripped of its authority to provide deferred action, including for those with serious medical conditions. The memo argues that any expansion beyond a narrow reading of deferred action “runs counter to the president’s agenda to enforce our existing laws and potentially contrary to his goal of making sure aliens are self-sufficient.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Votes Down Amendments to Block Border Barrier Funding

On September 12, by a 15 to 16 vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected Democratic amendments to the Defense Department spending bill that would block the Trump administration from using military construction funds to build physical barriers along the Southern border without congressional approval. The committee also voted down a proposal to shift $3.6 billion from President Trump’s $5 billion request for border barrier funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020 to other domestic accounts. After the committee vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) said Democrats may filibuster the spending bill unless Senate Republicans agree to concessions on border barrier funding. Senator Schumer also noted that he plans to force a vote in the coming weeks to block President Trump’s emergency declaration on border security, arguing it would prevent the administration “from stealing military funding from their states to foot the bill for an expensive and ineffective wall he promised Mexico would pay for.”

Democratic lawmaker’s actions were prompted by a September 3, announcement the Trump administration will divert $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build 175 miles of barriers along the Southern border, transferring the funding from 127 military-construction projects in 23 states, three U.S. territories and overseas bases.

USCIS to Welcome More Than 34,000 New Americans for Citizenship Day

On September 13, USCIS announced that it plans to celebrate Citizenship Day and Constitution Day by naturalizing nearly 34,300 new Americans in 316 citizenship oath ceremonies across the country. Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS acting-director, said the ceremonies will “welcome thousands of new U.S. citizens who have assimilated, made a commitment to our great country, and have vowed to support the Constitution.” The citizenship ceremonies will take place between September 13 to September 23. Citizenship Day and Constitution Day are on September 17.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): U.S. Assistance to Mexico: State and USAID Allocated Over $700 Million to Support Criminal Justice, Border Security, and Related Efforts from Fiscal Year 2014 Through 2018 (September 10, 2019)

This GAO report examines about $723 million in funding and projects provided by the U.S. under the Merida Initiative from fiscal year (FY) 2014 to FY 2018, including funding and projects related to border security.

U.S. Government of Accountability Office (GAO): Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Review of Report on Agency Estimates of Foreign Nationals Unlawfully Residing in the U.S. (September 10, 2019)

This GAO report reviews a December 2018 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report to Congress that determined almost 12 million undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S. as of January 1, 2015. The report provides DHS with eight recommendations to improve its estimates of the undocumented population, including using more precise mortality estimates.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): DHS Border Barrier Funding (September 6, 2019)

This CRS report provides a comprehensive overview of federal investments in physical barriers along the Southern border based on data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), congressional documents and the Trump Administration’s efforts to increase funding for border barriers.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Expanded Expedited Removal: What It Means and What to Do

This “what to do” informational document discusses the implications of the new expanded expedited removal guidance and provides general guidance to the immigrant community.

Fact Sheet: Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

This fact sheet provides an overview of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), including the process for designating a country for TPS, who is eligible, how many individuals are currently granted TPS, and updated information on when current TPS designations expire.

Push or Pull Factors: What Drives Central American Migrants to the U.S.?

This paper examines whether migrants from the Northern Triangle countries in Central America come to the U.S. primarily because of “pull” factors or because of the “push” factors that motivate them to leave their countries of origin. The paper concludes that migrants from the Northern Triangle countries will continue to arrive at the U.S. border until socioeconomic and security issues in their home countries are adequately addressed.

* * *

*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Christian Penichet-Paul, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Manager, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Christian can be reached at cpenichetpaul@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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