Legislative Bulletin – Friday, September 27, 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

 S. J. Res. 54

A Joint Resolution Relating to a National Emergency Declared by the President on February 15, 2019

This resolution would terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration to build physical barriers along the Southern border.

Sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) (2 cosponsors – 1 Republican, 1 Democrat)

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

09/25/2019 Passed in the Senate by a 54 to 41 vote, with 11 Republicans joining 43 Democrats in support

09/26/2019 Passed in the House by a 236 to 174, with 11 Republicans joining 224 Democrats and one independent in support

H.R. 2203

Homeland Security Improvement Act

The bill establishes new oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by creating an ombudsman office to focus on border and immigration issues, forming a commission to investigate the treatment of migrants along the Southern border, and requiring Border Patrol agents to use body-worn cameras, among other provisions.

Sponsored by Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) (28 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 28 Democrats)

04/10/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Escobar

04/10/2019 Referred to the House Committees on Homeland Security, the Judiciary, and Ways and Means

07/17/2019 Passed in the House Committee on Homeland Security by a 16 to 13 vote

07/19/2019 Discharged by the House Committees on the Judiciary and Ways and Means

09/25/2019 Passed in the House by a 230 to 194 vote

H.R. 3525

U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening Standards Act

The bill directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop procedures to ensure adequate medical screenings for all migrants apprehended between ports of entry, including a priority on screening those who are under the age of 18.

Sponsored by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois) (21 cosponsors – o Republicans, 21 Democrats)

06/27/2018 Introduced in the House by Representative Underwood

06/27/2019 Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security

07/17/2019 Passed in the House Committee on Homeland Security by a voice vote

09/26/2019 Passed in the House by a 230 to 184 vote

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

09/26/2019 Passed in the Senate by an 81 to 16 vote

H.R. 4482

A Bill to Increase the Number of CBP Agriculture Specialists and Support Staff in the Office of Field Operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and for Other Purposes

Sponsored by Representative Filemon Vela (D-Texas) (5 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 5 Democrats)

09/24/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Vela

09/24/2019 Referred to the House Committees on Homeland Security and Agriculture

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess until Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

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

U.S. to Cap Refugee Admissions at 18,000 in FY 2020, Allow States and Localities to Block Refugee Resettlement

The Trump administration announced on September 26 that it plans to cap the U.S. intake of refugee to 18,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2020 and allow any states and localities to opt out of accepting refugees. The proposed refugee cap is 40 percent below the current cap of 30,000 in FY 2019 and down more than 80 percent from the 110,000 cap set in 2016. The planned FY 2020 refugee cap is seen as a victory for the administration’s immigration hard-liners, who were proposing significantly reducing the number of refugees allowed into the U.S.

Of the 18,000 refugee slots, the Trump administration plans to reserve 5,000 slots for people persecuted for their religion, 4,000 slots for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. military, and 1,500 slots for people from Central America. The remaining 7,500 refugee slots will be allocated for those who are seeking family unification and have been cleared for resettlement. The administration will no longer allocate slots based on specific regions of the world, except for Central America. The 18,000 cap is the lowest since the refugee program began in 1980. It comes as the number of refugees fleeing persecution and violence around the world is estimated to be at 71 million.

President Trump separately issued an executive order on September 26 permitting state and local governments to block refugees from settling in their communities. For the first time, the federal government will seek consent from state and local governments before resettling refugees. Under the executive order, both the state and local government must consent to refugee resettlement, potentially creating political fights between city governments and their state government. Advocates expressed concern that permitting states and localities to opt-out from refugee resettlement will have a deeply negative economic and fiscal impact in those communities, will complicate the federal government’s ability to set refugee policies at a national level, and will undermine the work of resettlement agencies. The executive order is likely to be challenged in court.

The refugee cap announcement prompted immediate criticism. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) stated that he is “disappointed to see that the Administration has once again decided to decrease the number of refugees we allow into our country” and noted that a bipartisan group of Senators support refugee resettlement. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) called the decision a “shameful abdication of America’s humanitarian leadership in the world.” The announcement also drew criticism from immigration, religious, and human rights groups.

While the Trump administration has argued that the refugee ceiling can be reduced because the U.S. provides other forms of protection and assistance, including processing a projected 350,000 asylum applications in FY 2020, advocates noted that the administration has made it increasingly difficult for asylum seekers to seek relief. The U.S. treats refugees and asylum seekers as distinct populations, with refugees receiving extensive screening and security vetting prior to becoming eligible for admittance.

U.S. Reaches Asylum Cooperation Agreement with Honduras

The Trump administration announced on September 25 that it reached an agreement with Honduras that could allow the U.S. to block asylum seekers who pass through Honduras from seeking protection in the U.S. The U.S. agreement with Honduras is largely identical to an agreement signed on September 20 with El Salvador. Under both agreements, asylum seekers from “extra regional” countries like Cuba, Haiti and several African nations who pass through Honduras or El Salvador on their way to the U.S. will be returned to seek protection in Honduras or El Salvador, depending on which country they have passed through. As part of the plan, the U.S. has pledged to help build an asylum system in Honduras and El Salvador. The U.S. previously reached a similar agreement with Guatemala in August, which was recently approved by Guatemala’s constitutional court, allowing implementation to move forward.

Under safe third country agreements, such as the agreement between the U.S. and Canada, the “safe third country” must be safe and have working asylum systems. Advocates have noted that Northern Triangle countries do not meet these criteria, even as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reportedly reviewing a draft interim final rule that would give it wide-ranging authority to implement any future “safe third country agreements,” potentially even where these criteria have not been met.  While the U.S. government has insisted that the agreements with Honduras and El Salvador do not technically constitute “safe third country” agreements, they effectively accomplish many of the same objectives. Honduras and El Salvador are some of the world’s most dangerous countries, with high homicide and crime rates and dysfunctional asylum systems.

Separately, the Trump administration also announced on September 23 that it will either detain or return nearly all migrant families who attempt to enter along the Southern border. The policy change, which becomes effective on the week of Monday, September 30, 2019, is an expansion of the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the Remain in Mexico policy. Under the new set of policies, families would generally be ineligible to be released in the interior of the U.S. while awaiting their immigration court hearings. Families not seeking asylum will be summarily deported in most cases. Families seeking asylum will be sent back to Mexico under MPP. An estimated 47,000 asylum seekers are currently waiting in Mexico for their U.S. immigration court hearing, a number that is expected to grow. These asylum seekers face dire conditions and dangerous situations as they wait along Mexico’s Northern border.

Congress Votes to Block President Trump’s Emergency Declaration on Border Security

For the second time this year, Congress passed a joint resolution to terminate President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to construct physical barriers along the Southern border. The Senate passed the joint resolution on September 25 in a 54 to 41 vote, with 11 Republicans joining all Senate Democrats in support. The House followed suit on September 27, voting to pass the joint resolution by a 236 to 174 vote, with 11 Republicans joining 224 Democrats and one independent in support. President Trump is expected to veto the resolution.

Congress passed a similar joint resolution back in March by a 59 to 41 vote in the Senate and a 245 to 182 vote in the House, but it was vetoed by President Trump. Concern over the emergency declaration increased in early September after reports emerged that the Trump administration was transferring up to $3.6 billion from military construction projects to fund the border barrier effort. Under the National Emergencies Act, Senate Democrats are able to force votes on a joint resolution to terminate the emergency declaration every six months. The measure is not subject to filibuster in the Senate, but can be vetoed by the president. President Trump has indicated he will veto the measure.

The House also passed the Homeland Security Improvement Act (H.R. 2203) on September 25 by a mostly party-line 230 to 194 vote. The bill establishes new oversight mechanisms for DHS by creating an ombudsman office to focus on border and immigration issues. In addition, on September 26, the House passed the U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening Standards Act (H.R. 3525) by a 230 to 184 vote. The bill directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop procedures to ensure adequate medical screenings for all migrants apprehended between ports of entry.

Congress Passes Short-Term CR, President Trump Expected to Sign Bill

The Senate passed a short-term spending bill on September 26 by an 81 to 16 vote to fund the federal government at the current spending levels through November 21, 2019, sending the measure to President Trump for his signature. The House previously passed the bill on September 19. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation.

The short-term spending measures provides congressional leaders two months to reach a full-year spending agreement for fiscal year (FY) 2020. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up a full-year spending bill for DHS that includes $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 have offered zero dollars for border barriers and plan to request additional restrictions, including fewer Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds. Congressional officials said the spending discussions, and the likelihood of an impasse over funding border barriers, could result in another short-term bill through the end of December or even a potential government shutdown.

Number of Immigrants Coming to the U.S. Falls to Lowest Level in a Decade  

The U.S. gained immigrants at the slowest pace in a decade, with a net increase of just 200,000 immigrants in 2018, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The number of immigrants coming to the U.S. in 2018 was down 478,000 (70 percent) from the year before, with the largest declines among people from Latin America and Asia. Experts said the slowdown is unusual during times of economic expansion and is likely linked to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. They said multiple policies, including the Trump administration’s rhetoric on immigration, cuts in refugee admissions, and new visa procedures that make the legal immigration process more onerous, likely played a role in the slowdown. The last time the net increase of immigrants decreased significantly was during the financial crisis in 2008. The immigrant share of the U.S. population in 2018 remained flat at 13.7 percent.

The slowdown comes as President Trump used his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24 to encourage countries to embrace a nationalist ideology and stop migration. President Trump said in the speech “[m]ass illegal migration is unfair, unsafe and unsustainable for everyone involved.”

Senate Confirms Eugene Scalia to Serve as Labor Secretary

On September 26, the Senate confirmed Eugene Scalia to serve as the Secretary of Labor. Scalia, a former official in the George W. Bush administration’s Labor Department and the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, succeeds former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who resigned in July. As Secretary of Labor, Scalia will oversee workforce development initiatives, including those that impact immigrants. The Senate voted to confirm Scalia in a party-line 53 to 44 vote.

Legal

Federal Judge Issues Tentative Ruling Against Long-Term Family Detention

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee issued a preliminary decision on September 27 rejecting the Trump administration’s final rule that would permit the indefinite detention of migrant families. The rule would have eliminated protections the federal government agreed to in the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement.  Gee reportedly indicated that the rule is inconsistent with the terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and it is not enough to terminate the settlement agreement. She is expected to issue a final ruling in the near future.

The final rule, published on August 23, would permit children to be held with their parents during the pendency of immigration proceedings, which take several months, if not longer. Under the Flores Settlement Agreement, children cannot be kept in immigration detention for longer than 20 days. The rule would also end existing Flores requirements that facilities holding immigrant children, including family detention facilities, be state-licensed, creating a new alternative federal licensing scheme. The Trump administration is proposing the rule under a 2001 stipulation to the Flores Settlement Agreement, which terminates the agreement following the promulgation of final regulations “implementing” the rule.

New York Attorney General, Brooklyn District Attorney Sue ICE on Courthouse Arrests

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D-New York) and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez filed two separate lawsuits on September 25 to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from arresting undocumented immigrants who appear in New York state and local courthouses on unrelated matters. James and Gonzalez argued that the presence of ICE officers in courthouses for civil immigration arrests is “unlawful and unconstitutional.” They also argue that courthouse arrests result in a chilling effect, discouraging immigrants from appearing in court as witnesses or complainants in crimes or civil litigation and thereby hurting the legal system. An ICE spokesperson said the agency rarely makes arrests in New York courthouses, but claimed when it does it is “often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE.” Data tallied by the Immigrant Defense Project shows that there were 202 reports of ICE arrests and sightings in New York state courthouses in 2018, compared with 11 in 2016.

State and Local

New Jersey AG Blocks 287(g) between ICE and County Jails

On September 27, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal released a directive blocking county jails in the state from entering into 287(g) agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Under 287(g), a local jurisdiction may enter into a written agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and then deputize select officers to investigate, arrest and detain noncitizens for violations of immigration law. A handful of sheriff’s departments in New Jersey have entered into such agreements with ICE under which corrections officers received special training to identify the immigration status of inmates and help carry out immigration enforcement functions. Supporters of 287(g) agreements argue the program is a useful force multiplier. Critics assert it is an inefficient use of limited law enforcement resources and undermines trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement.

In blocking the agreements, Grewal argued that recent 287(g) renewals by Monmouth and Cape May counties violated his 2018 Immigrant Trust Directive, which limit the type of assistance local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities in order to “strengthen trust between New Jersey law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities.”

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There no immigration-related government reports published on the week of Monday, September 23, 2019.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

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.

A Path to Public Safety: The Legal Questions Around Immigration Detainers

This report provides an overview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers and explains the legal complications that often prevent local law enforcement jurisdictions from honoring immigration detainers.

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

The 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.

Statement for the Record: “The Expansions and Troubling Use of ICE Detention”

This statement for the record expresses concern about increasing immigration detention levels and proposes utilizing alternatives to detention (ATDs) as a true substitute, in part to save taxpayer money.

* * *

*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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