Legislative Bulletin – Friday, September 20, 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. 4378

Continuing Appropriations Act of 2020, and Health Extenders Act of 2019

This bill funds the federal government at the current spending levels from October 1, 2019, the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2020, through November 21, 2019.

Sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-New York) (0 cosponsors)

09/18/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Lowey

09/18/2019 Referred to the House Committees on Appropriations and on the Budget

09/19/2019 Passed in the House by a 301 to 123 vote

H.R. 4383

A Bill to Ensure that Unclaimed Money Recovered at Airport Security Checkpoints is Transferred to a Fund for Certain Border Security Activities, And for Other Purposes

Sponsored by Representative Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) (0 cosponsors)

09/18/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Crawford

09/18/2019 Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security

H.R. 4390

Remove Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act

The bill would remove certain minor cases of marijuana use, possession, and distribution from the current list of offenses that result in grounds of inadmissibility and removal.

Sponsored by Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) (21 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 21 Democrats)

09/18/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Lujan

09/18/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

S. 386

Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019

The bill would remove per-country caps for employment-based green cards. It would also increase the per-country caps for family-sponsored green cards from seven percent to 15 percent. The House companion bill is H.R. 1044.

Sponsored by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) (34 cosponsors – 19 Republicans, 15 Democrats)

02/07/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Lee

06/27/2019 Motion in the Senate to move forward on the bill by unanimous consent blocked by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)

09/19/2019 Motion in the Senate to move forward on an amended version of the bill by unanimous consent blocked by Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia)

S. 2482

Protect American Values Act

This bill would prohibit the Trump administration from using federal funds to implement its new public charge rule, which allows federal officials to reject immigrants applying for a green card, an immigrant visa, or a temporary visa if they are deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance.

Sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) (27 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 27 Democrats)

09/17/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Hirono

09/17/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 2507

Canadian Snowbirds Act

The bill would allow certain Canadian citizens to stay in the United States for up to eight months each year, two months longer than is currently allowed.

Sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) (1 cosponsor – 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)

09/18/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Rubio

09/18/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in session on the week of Monday, September 23, 2019.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Executive Session: 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: Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. (Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions)

Location: 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Oversight of the Trump Administration’s Muslim Ban

Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. (Joint Hearing by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations)

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses:

Panel I

Todd Hoffman, Executive Director, Admissions and Passenger Programs, Office of Field Operations (OFO), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Elizabeth Neumann, Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy, Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Edward Ramotowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Panel II

Abdollah Dehzangi, Baltimore, MD

Ismail Ahmed Hezam Alghazali, Brooklyn, NY

Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director, Muslim Advocates

Andrew R. Arthur, Resident Fellow in Law and Policy, Center for Immigration Studies

The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention

Date: Thursday, September 26, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. (House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship)

Location: TBD

Witnesses: TBD

Oversight of ICE Detention Facilities: Is DHS Doing Enough?

Date: Thursday, September 26, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. (House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, and Accountability)

Location: 310 Cannon House Office Building

Witnesses:

Tae Johnson, Assistant Director, Custody Management, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Peter Mina, Deputy Officer for Programs and Compliance, Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Jenni Nakamoto, President, The Nakamoto Group, LLC

Diana Shaw, Assistant Inspector General for Special Reviews and Evaluations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Interior Department to Transfer Public Lands as Trump Administration Plans for 500 Miles of New Border Barriers

The Department of the Interior announced on September 18 that it is transferring more than 560 acres of public land along the Southern border to construct about 70 miles of physical barriers. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is expected to transfer jurisdiction of the public lands to the U.S. Army, which will use them to construct new border barriers. The public lands being transferred include 301 acres in Arizona, 213 acres in New Mexico and 44 acres in California. An official in the Department of the Interior said the department has previously transferred public lands to other federal agencies on an emergency basis, though never for a border construction project. The transfer will become effective when it is published in the Federal Register during the week of Monday, September 23, 2019.

In addition, the Trump administration is reportedly planning to complete at least 509 miles of new border barriers by the end of 2020, according to internal documents reported on by the Washington Post. The cost is expected to total $18.4 billion, which averages more than $36 million per mile. The documents also indicate that the federal government would need to acquire private property, either by purchases or eminent domain, to construct nearly 200 miles of the proposed barrier.

The Trump administration has so far transferred about $6 billion to construct more than 200 miles of barriers along the Southern border. The DoD informed Congress on September 3 that it will divert $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build 175 miles of border barriers. The DoD has also diverted $2.5 billion from the department’s counter-drug efforts to construct more than 100 miles of border barriers. The DoD is requesting that Congress “backfill” the money in question.

On September 16, the DoD revealed in a court filing that it is no longer moving forward on three border barrier projects in California and Arizona. The DoD originally authorized construction of an additional 20 miles of border barriers, lighting and other border infrastructure by using funds redirected from the department’s counter-drug efforts. The DoD ultimately determined that the counter-drug funds would no longer be able to cover the full costs of the additional projects, prompting the department to withdraw from those projects on September 13.

On September 18, President Trump toured border barriers in the San Diego area, calling them a “world-class security system” that “will [make it] virtually impossible to come over illegally.”

USCIS Resumes Consideration of Non-Military Deferred Action Requests

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on September 19 that it will resume consideration of non-military deferred action requests, including medical deferred action for immigrants undergoing lifesaving medical treatments or who have family members that are undergoing such treatments. USCIS said it is resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests at the direction of DHS acting-Secretary Kevin McAleenan and will process applications on a “discretionary, case-by-case basis.” Grants of deferred action provide protection from deportation in two-year increments and the ability to work legally in the U.S., with no path to permanent legal status.

This action reverses a decision announced by USCIS on August 23 that, effective August 7, the agency stopped accepting and adjudicating all non-military applications for deferred action, including medical deferred action. After intense public criticism, USCIS said on September 2 it would reopen all cases that were pending as of August 7, but as before would no longer accept or consider new applications received after August 7. On September 11, the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing on the agency’s decision to end the use of medical deferred action. USCIS announced on September 19 it would fully reverse the initial restrictions.

Advocates noted that the restrictions on deferred action were implemented as a blanket policy, without consideration of the significant health effects it would have on children and adults dependent on medical deferred action. The sudden policy change, which was implemented without a public announcement from USCIS, left many immigrants and their families suddenly facing deportation and an end to medical treatment in the U.S.

U.S. and El Salvador Reach Asylum “Cooperation” Agreement

The Trump administration announced on September 20 that it reached an “asylum cooperation agreement” with the government of El Salvador that could allow the U.S. to block asylum seekers who pass through El Salvador from entering the U.S. to request protection. Under the agreement, asylum seekers from countries like Nicaragua and Cuba who pass through El Salvador on their way to the U.S. will be returned to seek protection in El Salvador. As part of the plan, the U.S. will reportedly help build an asylum system in El Salvador and other countries in Central America. The U.S. reached a similar agreement with Guatemala in August, but it has yet to be implemented.

U.S. government officials reportedly insisted that the agreement does not amount to a “safe third country” deal, though it effectively accomplishes many of the same objectives. El Salvador remains among the world’s most dangerous countries, with one of the world’s highest homicide rates. A Human Rights Watch report states that gangs exercise territorial control and extort residents in communities across the country, often forcibly recruiting children and subjecting vulnerable populations to sex trafficking.

The announcement comes as the Trump administration defends its use of tent courts along the Southern border for immigration court proceedings under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Government officials said the tent courts will generally be closed to the public, including news media, because they are on secure government property. Immigration advocates and lawyers criticized the opening of the tent courts, with one immigration lawyer representing migrants in hearings in the tent courts calling it a “complete farce of due process.”

At least 42,000 migrants are waiting along the border in Mexico for their immigration court hearings, facing dire conditions and dangerous situations. Reports indicate that migrants have died or almost drowned attempting to enter the U.S. without documentation after they were returned to Mexico to wait after requesting asylum in the U.S.

House Passes Short-Term Spending Bill, Senate Expected to Follow Suit

On September 19, the House passed a short-term spending bill by a 301 to 123 vote to fund the federal government at the current spending levels through November 21, 2019. The Senate is expected to follow suit and pass the measure before September 30, the end of fiscal year (FY) 2019. The spending bill does not appear to include anomalies for immigration enforcement, which can be used by agencies to increase spending in certain accounts.

The short-term spending measure gives congressional leaders two months to reach a full-year spending agreement for FY 2020. The discussion is expected to focus on funding for border barriers. Senate Republicans proposed using $5 billion in funds from domestic programs to construct barriers along the Southern border, as well as permitting $7 billion in military construction funds to be diverted to border projects. House Democrats said they plan to offer zero dollars for border barriers and plan to request additional restrictions, including fewer Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds. Congressional officials said the spending discussions could result in another short-term spending bill through the end of December or even a potential government shutdown.

White House Fires DHS General Counsel

On September 17, the White House reportedly fired John Mitnick, the general counsel for DHS. Mitnick’s firing is the most recent move by the Trump administration to overhaul DHS leadership following the removal of former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, public affairs assistant secretary Andrew Meehan, and several others. Mitnick will be replaced by Joseph Maher, the department’s principal deputy general counsel.

Mitnick, while legally representing DHS, sometimes disagreed with the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Last year, Mitnick reportedly opposed releasing migrants into so-called sanctuary cities, a move seen as retaliation by the Trump administration to jurisdictions that opposed his immigration agenda.

Legal

Immigration Court Backlog Surpasses More than One Million Cases

The number of cases pending in the U.S. immigration court system surpassed more than one million in August 2019, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. TRAC data shows that the number of pending cases has nearly doubled since President Trump took office in January 2017, when 542,000 immigration court cases were in the backlog.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the record-high backlog is due to the increase in Central American asylum seekers coming to the U.S. to request protection. However, advocates noted that the record growth is also due in part to increased immigration enforcement by the Trump administration, including a January 2017 executive order that effectively made every undocumented immigrant in the U.S. a priority for removal. In addition, the government shutdown in early 2018 resulted in the delay of more than 42,000 immigration court cases. With the immigration court backlog continuing to grow, wait-times for pending cases regularly extend two or more years. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), said the increased backlog, “shows that the immigration court is broken.”

The Trump administration also announced in May 2018 it would reopen more than 320,000 previously administratively closed cases. These cases have not been placed on the active caseload rolls for immigration judges. If added, then the backlog is estimated at 1.3 million cases.

DOJ Considers Charging Immigrants Nearly $1,000 to Appeal Deportation Cases  

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly considering a new regulation that would charge immigrants $975 to appeal an immigration judge’s ruling or $895 to request that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reopen or reconsider a case. If enacted, the fees would represent a substantial increase from the current fee of $110 for each request. A DOJ spokesperson stated that, “despite inflation and rising administrative costs . . . [the] fees have remained the same since 1986.” Advocates noted that the regulation would put the right to appeal beyond the reach of many immigrants, depriving them of due process in their deportation cases. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, there were about 30,000 immigration court appeals. Under the regulation, immigrants would still be allowed to apply for fee waivers.

The Trump administration has recently overhauled multiple aspects of the U.S. immigration court system. The changes include expanding the power of the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) to issue rulings on immigration appeals cases, requiring quotas on the number of cases immigration judges must complete each year, curtailing the ability of immigration judges to administratively close certain cases, restricting grants of asylum based on family ties and for victims of domestic violence or gang violence, and reopening thousands of previously closed cases.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There no immigration-related government reports published on the week of Monday, September 16, 2019.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Only in America: Fighting for Citizenship

This Only in America podcast episode commemorates Citizenship Day (September 17, 2019) by highlighting the story of Valdeta Mehanja, a MAVNI program recruit and Army Black Hawk pilot-in-training who is currently serving in the Alabama National Guard. Valdeta speaks about her time as a refugee from Kosovo living in Germany, her journey to the U.S. and military service, and what it was like to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization.

Naturalizations in the Military: A Recent Decline

This infographic illustrates the recent decline in military naturalizations as a result of the Trump administration’s policy changes that make it harder for military service members and veterans to naturalize.

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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