Legislative Bulletin – Thursday, August 1, 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. 1494

Secure and Protect Act of 2019

The bill would modify the Flores Settlement Agreement to allow the federal government to detain migrant children for up to 100 days and would amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) to permit expedited deportations of unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) from noncontiguous countries. The bill also requires that asylum seekers apply for protection at refugee processing centers in Central America and Mexico, among other provisions.

Sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) (1 cosponsor – 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)

05/15/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Graham

05/15/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

08/01/2019 Marked up and passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee

H.R. 549

Venezuela TPS Act of 2019

This bill would allow Venezuela nationals in the U.S. to become eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Sponsored by Representative Darren Soto (D-Florida) (30 cosponsors – 3 Republicans, 27 Democrats)

01/15/2019 Introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Soto

01/15/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

05/22/2019 Passed the House Committee on the Judiciary by a 20 to 9 vote

07/23/2019 Failed to pass in the House on a motion suspend the rules and pass the bill (2/3 required) by a 268 to 154 vote

07/25/2019 Passed in the House by a 272 to 158 vote

07/30/2019 Motion in the Senate to move forward on the bill by unanimous consent blocked by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah)

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess until Monday, September 9, 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., Guatemala Reach “Safe Third Country” Agreement on Asylum Seekers

The U.S. and Guatemala announced an agreement on July 26 that would require asylum seekers who travel through Guatemala on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to first seek protection in Guatemala. White House officials called the deal a “safe third-country agreement,” although the Guatemalan government avoided use of the term. The agreement would generally make people from Honduras and El Salvador ineligible for asylum in the U.S. if they traveled through Guatemala and did not first apply for asylum there. Under the agreement, U.S. officials would be allowed to return those asylum seekers, except for unaccompanied children, to Guatemala. The agreement can be renewed after two years.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said on July 27 that the U.S. is still “working closely” with Guatemala to determine the implementation of the agreement, which may include a “phased implementation relying upon . . . what volume of protection seekers the Guatemalan system could process.” Before the agreement goes into effect, DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) must certify that Guatemala has a “full and fair” asylum system and is able to adequately protect asylum seekers. DHS officials also appeared to acknowledge in an internal memo that the agreement would need to be ratified by the Guatemalan Congress.

Critics of the agreement noted that Guatemala is not a safe place for asylum seekers and that it could potentially plunge Guatemala’s young democracy into a constitutional crisis. Immigration advocates also argued that Guatemala does not have the resources to offer a “safe nor fair and full” process to protect asylum seekers. The announcement of the agreement came after President Trump threatened to impose tariffs, taxes on remittances, and a travel ban on Guatemala if they country did not accept a “safe third country” pact with the U.S.

Following the announcement of the deal, on August 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Secure and Protect Act of 2019 (S. 1494) to overhaul the asylum process. The bill would modify the Flores Settlement Agreement to allow the federal government to detain migrant children for up to 100 days and would amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TPVRA) to permit expedited deportations of unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) from noncontiguous countries, among other provisions. The bill, which likely lacks Democratic support, may receive a vote on the Senate floor in September.

ACLU Says More than 900 Children Separated from Parents since June 2018

DHS personnel have separated 911 children from their parents since a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to curtail the practice in June 2018, according to a filing in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The average age of the separated children was nine, with 185 children being under the age of five.

Under a June 2018 court order issued by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, DHS maintains discretion to separate families if the parent is deemed a risk to the child. According to the ACLU, 678 of the child separations were because the parents had an alleged criminal history, such as drunken driving or gang affiliation, but only half of those cases indicated a conviction. The ACLU is contesting the reasoning behind a number of separations for minor alleged offenses, including traffic violations. The ACLU asked the federal judge to clarify if such separations are permitted.

The Trump administration increased the separation of families at the border in accordance with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of a “zero-tolerance policy” in April 2018, allowing the DOJ and DHS to criminally prosecute all individuals crossing the U.S. border without authorization. The zero-tolerance policy led to the separation of over 2,600 immigrant children from their families at the border. In June 2018, Judge Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction generally barring family separations going forward and requiring the Trump administration to reunite families that had already been separated.

Venezuela TPS Act Blocked in the Senate

The U.S. Senate failed to pass legislation on July 30 that would designate Venezuela for temporary protected status (TPS) after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected to move forward on the bill by unanimous consent. Lee argued more time was needed to review the legislation and offer amendments on the bill, which was introduced in February. The Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 (H.R. 549) would provide certain Venezuelan nationals with TPS, allowing them to stay in the U.S. with protection from deportation regardless of their current immigration status. The bill passed the House on July 25 by a 272 to 158 vote, with 39 Republicans joining all Democrats in support of the measure.

DHS typically grants TPS to eligible foreign-born individuals who are unable to return home safely due to conditions or circumstances preventing their country form adequately handling the return. In a July 11 letter, the Trump administration declined to designate Venezuela for TPS. Lawmakers argued that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s repressive regime prevents the safe return of Venezuelan nationals.

DHS Announces 18-Month Extension of TPS for Syria

Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced on August 1 an extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria for 18 months. DHS stated that the decision to extend TPS for Syria was made after a review of conditions in the country, which include “ongoing armed conflict.” DHS decided not to redesignate TPS for Syria, which means that those who have recently arrived from Syria and may have the need for similar protections are not eligible to obtain TPS. The decision will permit the current 7,000 Syrian TPS beneficiaries to re-register for TPS and remain in the U.S. with work authorization until March 31, 2021.

DHS Removed a Question to Ask Asylum Seekers About Their Fear of Being Returned to Mexico

According to a report in Buzzfeed News, DHS officials scrapped a screening question that would have been provided  to asylum seekers to identify whether they had a fear of being returned to Mexico. The question, which would have been actively asked to migrants placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” was removed before the policy was finalized.

Under MPP, DHS returns certain asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration court cases proceed in the U.S. While asylum seekers can still express the specific fear of being returned to Mexico, immigration advocates argue that many asylum seekers are not aware they can express that fear or are too intimidated to bring it up. Immigration advocates criticized the decision to remove the screening question, with some noting it was a “deliberate, conscious decision . . . to create a presumption of no fear, and no interview, unless the individual affirmatively brought up such a fear on their own.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said the finalized process is legal and similar to other programs in place.

Pentagon Discharging MAVNI Recruits for Having Foreign Family Members

The Pentagon has reportedly discharged several foreign-born recruits who enlisted in the U.S. military through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program for having foreign family members and other foreign ties common to immigrants. According to reports, otherwise-qualified MAVNI recruits have been discharged for being the children of foreign parents and/or having family members who had served in foreign militaries years or decades ago.

The MAVNI program, which was put on hold in 2016, allowed more than 10,400 qualified noncitizens in the U.S. to enlist in the military if they had specialized medical or critical language skills, affording them an opportunity to obtain U.S. citizenship as a result of their military services. The Pentagon argued that the canceled enlistments and negative vetting results are necessary to avoid foreign influence, but acknowledged that none of the MAVNI recruits who later naturalized from the program have been charged with espionage-related activities. Immigration lawyers representing MAVNI recruits said the Pentagon is separating itself from recruits it needs due to speculative or seemingly benign information. In one case, a recruit born in India was separated from the U.S. military after their screening determined that family members “work for or have worked for the Indian army,” even though India and the U.S. are allies whose militaries share a defense relationship.

Legal

SCOTUS Allows Government to Use $2.5 Billion in Military Funds for Barrier Construction

The Supreme Court on July 26 lifted a lower court injunction blocking President Trump’s plan to transfer $2.5 billion in military construction funding to construct barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a 5-to-4 unsigned decision, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, permitting construction to begin as litigation continues over the Trump administration’s use of Department of Defense funds to build a border wall.

The decision comes after President Trump unilaterally decided to transfer the funds by declaring a national emergency along the Mexican border after Congress appropriated only a portion of the total funding he had sought. Following this executive action, two advocacy groups sued to stop the president’s plan to utilize money from military programs to build barriers along the Southern border. The federal courts have not yet ruled on the merits of the case, but ruled that the plaintiff advocacy groups did not have a legal right to challenge the policy. The Supreme Court ruling does not preclude others with stronger claims from suing over the same policy.

Attorney General Barr Issues Decision to Stop Asylum Claims Based on Persecuted Family Members

On July 29, attorney general William Barr issued a decision in Matter of L-E-A that would block asylum for people whose claims are based on their relationship to family members who have faced persecution.

Under U.S. law, an individual is eligible to claim asylum if they have suffered persecution, or have a credible fear of future persecution, based on “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Barr’s ruling overturned a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that found that membership in a family could count as membership in a social group. Barr argued that because “it will not have the kind of identifying characteristics that render the family socially distinct within the society in question,” family membership generally does not amount to “membership in a particular social group.” Immigration advocates criticized Barr’s decision, noting that it is the latest in a series of policy changes making it harder for individuals to claim asylum.

Under federal law, the attorney general has the ability to set immigration court precedents by referring himself cases from the BIA and issuing a ruling. Barr’s decision expands on a similar decision by former attorney general Jeff Sessions that found victims of domestic violence would no longer be considered members of a particular social group in immigration court.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published on the week of Monday, July 29, 2019.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Ali Noorani: High Court Ruling Allowing Border Wall to be Built with Pentagon Funds Will Worsen Border Crisis

This op-ed by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, comments on the Supreme Court decision permitting the Trump administration to begin constructing barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border using of $2.5 billion in Department of Defense (DoD) funds.

Bill Summary: Venezuela TPS Act

This is a bill summary of Reps. Darren Soto’s (D-Florida) and Mario Diaz-Balart’s (R-Florida) Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 (H.R. 549), which would designate Venezuela for temporary protected status (TPS) to allow certain Venezuelan nationals to stay in the U.S. regardless of their current immigration status.

Eminent Domain Along the Southern Border: Government Seizures of Private Property

This fact sheet provides an overview of eminent domain and how the federal government utilizes it to construct physical barriers, including fencing, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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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