Legislative Bulletin – Friday, September 25, 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. 8337

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, and Other Extensions Act

This short-term continuing resolution would extend government funding for 10 weeks to avoid a government shutdown. Relevant to immigration, the bill includes the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act (H.R. 8089), which would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to use funding accrued via premium processing fees for adjducation and naturalization services, including addressing petition backlogs.

Sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-New York)

09/22/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Lowey

09/22/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Appropriations and on the Budget.

09/22/2020 Passed the House by a Vote of 359 – 57

09/22/2020 Received in the Senate

S. 4686

Legacies of War Recognition and Unexploded Ordnance Removal Act

The bill would authorize funding for humanitarian assistance programs in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The bill also recognizes the role refugee and immigrant communities from these countries played in defending the U.S. Armed Forces during conflict in Southeast Asia.

Sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) (0 cosponsors)

09/24/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Baldwin

09/24/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session from Wednesday, September 30, 2020 to Friday, October 2, 2020.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, September 29, 2020 to Friday, October 2, 2020.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Investigations Continue Concerning Allegations of Medical Misconduct in Georgia Immigration Detention Facility

Several ongoing investigations are continuing to examine the  September 14 whistleblower complaint that alleged that immigrants detained in privately-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Irwin, Georgia were subject to medical negligence and neglect. The complaint alleged that numerous detained women were subject to unwanted hysterectomies, improper medical procedures, and were not properly protected from the spread of COVID-19.

On September 16, a group of 173 House Democrats sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) demanding an investigation into the allegations. In a hearing on September 24, acting secretary of DHS Chad Wolf confirmed that OIG was “on the ground” in Georgia investigating the claims. In addition, the Foreign Secretary of Mexico said on September 22 that the Mexican government, in their own investigation, has interviewed six women who were allegedly mistreated in the Irwin facility and subsequently deported.

An Associated Press report from September 22 found that at least eight detained women since 2017 had been referred to see the physician under investigation for gynecological procedures. That report indicated that only two women were specifically referred to the hospital for hysterectomies, but the hospital did not respond to questions about whether the doctor ever performed hysterectomies where the women were initially referred for other reasons. In light of the allegations, ICE confirmed that it has stopped referring migrants to the physician, who reportedly was not a board certified OB-GYN.

Senate Holds Nomination Hearing for Acting Secretary of Homeland Security

On September 23, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held a confirmation hearing for the acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf to serve in the role officially.

Committee members pressed Wolf on two recent whistleblower complaints filed against the agency, one alleging medical mistreatment of women detained in an ICE detention facility in Georgia, and the other accusing Wolf and other top officials at DHS of misleading Congress and the public on intelligence, including to garner support for broader border and asylum restrictions. Wolf responded that the agency was in the midst of an ongoing investigation regarding the first complaint, and called claims made by the latter one, “patently false.”

Wolf was also asked to respond to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that he had been unlawfully appointed as Acting Secretary and was currently serving illegally. Wolf disputed the GAOs claim, which has been supported by a federal judge in Maryland. Democratic members of the committee also probed Wolf on his role in the separation of families at the U.S-Mexico border in the summer of 2018.

Former Officials Urge Increase to Refugee Resettlement Amid Silence from Administration

On September 24, a bipartisan group of seven former officials who led the U.S. refugee admissions program in past administrations sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging a “substantial increase” in refugee admissions. The officials join lawmakers, religious leaders, and resettlement agencies in calling for an increase to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 cap, which set a ceiling of just 18,000 refugees to be resettled, the lowest cap since the resettlement system was established. The low ceiling has not yet been met by the administration, which has resettled only about 10,000 refugees in FY 2020 thus far.

The administration is required to consult with Congress and announce a decision on the FY 2021 cap before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, but no such consultation has been scheduled. According to a September 10 report, the administration is considering postponing  FY 2021 refugee admissions or further cutting them.

Trump Administration Reinstates Public Charge Rule

Following a federal court decision on September 11, the Trump administration will begin to retroactively apply its public charge rule to green card applications. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the previous nationwide injunction on the rule that was imposed in July. The injunction had been issued by a lower court judge who found that the policy was discouraging residents from seeking medical treatment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While USCIS had published an alert assuring that medical treatment related to COVID-19 would not result in the denial of status under the public charge rule, advocates expressed concerns that immigrants would still be discouraged from obtaining needed benefits for which they are eligible.

Under the rule, any immigrant receiving certain public benefits for more than 12 months within any three-year period is considered a “public charge,” and more likely to be denied a green card. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, applications and petitions postmarked or submitted as of February 24, 2020 will be considered under the public charge rule, but applications filed and approved after the injunction was imposed earlier this year will not be re-adjudicated.

Report: Poor Medical Conditions in ICE Detention Facilities as Seventh Detainee Dies of COVID-19

On September 21, the House Committee on Homeland Security released a report which decried poor medical care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. The report, which included an investigation of eight detention facilities “insufficient hygiene and cleaning, failing to track positive cases among contract workers, and not having sufficient personnel protective equipment (PPE).”

Also on September 21, a 62-year old man died of COVID-19 while being held in ICE custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. The man, Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, was immunocompromised and suffered from kidney disease, diabetes, lymphoma and hypertension. Due to his chronic illnesses, a judge had previously ordered his release from prison due to the outsized risk posed by the coronavirus. He was subsequently transferred to ICE custody to be processed for deportation, where he contracted the virus. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, approximately 20% of detainees in the Stewart facility had tested positive for COVID-19 at the time he was transferred.

Chavez-Alvarez is the third detainee to die in the Stewart Detention Facility this fiscal year and the seventh ICE detainee to die from COVID-19.

In addition, on September 25, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform published a separate staff report following a year-long investigation into for-profit immigration detention facilities. The report highlighted several additional detainee deaths linked to inadequate medical treatment in for-profit detention facilities.

Administration Proposes Restrictions on International Students

On September 25, the Trump administration published a proposed rule that would change the expiration timeline for international student visas from a “duration of status” model to a “maximum period of authorized stay” model. The change would effectively impose a time limit on student visas, as the duration of status model allows student’s more flexibility as long as they are enrolled and pursuing studies. The proposal could 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.

The proposed rule also limits the duration of certain student visas to two years, including for prospective students from countries with a greater than 10% visa overstay rate and for natives of Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Higher education advocates questioned the need for the proposed change. A representative for the American Council on Education said, “the question I think everyone’s asking [is] as other countries are making it easier to study, why is the United States making it harder?”

Legal

Federal Judge Orders DHS to Release Records of COVID-19 in ICE Detention Facilities

On September 23, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered DHS to release records regarding COVID-19 outbreaks at two immigration detention centers and all land ports of entry and Border Patrol stations in California. The facilities must release the records to a legal aid organization that filed the lawsuit in June under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Seven FOIA requests were made to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), ICE and DHS for medical files of detainees who reported COVID or flu-like symptoms, or who had been tested or diagnosed with COVID-19. The plaintiffs also requested records on the precautions the facilities took to handle the pandemic, information on hunger strikes within the facilities, and the number of detainees who were taken to the hospital, tested positive for the virus, placed in solitary confinement, or granted parole. The suit argued that the information would allow the public to clearly understand “the extent and nature of the crisis occurring within the detention centers.”

The facilities in question have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, one of the two detention centers involved in the suit, had the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any detention facility nationwide.

Diversity Visa Winners Struggle to Gain Status Despite Court Victory

According to a court filing on September 21, the administration has issued just 1,009 diversity visas since a federal judge ordered the government to resume issuances of the visas on September 4.

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 application, interview, and visa issuance 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 (September 30), they lose all access to their visa and are no longer authorized for a green card.

Approximately 12,000 winners of the diversity visa lottery had already been issued visas before the proclamations went into effect, meaning that 43,000 were still waiting to be issued their visas when the federal judge ordered the government resume issuances in early September.

But with the September 30 deadline looming, over 40,000 diversity visa lottery winners have yet to be issued their visas. After a September 22 hearing to determine why so few visas have been issued, the judge is considering attempting to extend the deadline so lottery winners do not lose out on status.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG): Review of CBP’s Major Cybersecurity Incident during a 2019 Biometric Pilot, September 21, 2020

The report details the susceptibility of DHS data to cyber-attacks following an incident in May 2019. The incident involved a private subcontractor that was under contract to work on CBP facial recognition pilot program. When the subcontractor transferred copies of biometric data, including personally identifiable information such as traveler photos, to its own network they were exposed to a cyberattack. As a result, more than 184,000 traveler images from the CBP facial recognition pilot program were exposed, and at least 19 of the images were then posted online. The OIG recommended that DHS implement USB device restrictions and enhance encryption methods at all existing Biometric Entry-Exit program locations. It also recommended that DHS create a plan to asses third-party equipment, such as private company servers, hosting biometric data collected by DHS.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Public Charge Regulation Summary

This summary provides an overview of the Trump administration’s final rule that would redefine the meaning of the legal term “public charge.” Under the new, broadened definition of “public charge,” immigrants applying for a green card, an immigrant visa, or a temporary visa may be rejected if they have previously accessed or are deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance.

Review of the Supreme Court’s 2019-2020 Immigration Cases

This resource provides key takeaways and additional context on the Supreme Court’s nine immigration-related rulings in its 2019-20 term. The resource details the mixed outcome of these cases, including high profile victories for immigrants and advocates, as well as decisions posing threats to immigrants.

Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement

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

* * *

*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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