Skip to content

Legislative Bulletin — Thursday, August 24, 2023

Welcome to the National Immigration Forum’s weekly bulletin! Every Friday (or in this case, Thursday), our policy team rounds up key developments around immigration policy in Washington and across the country. The bulletin includes items on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as well as some coverage at the state and local levels. 

A note: as Congress goes on recess, the bulletin is taking a little breather, too. We’ll be back on Friday, September 8.

Here’s a breakdown of the bulletin’s sections:

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

Immigration policy is a dynamic field subject to constant change. Here, we summarize some of the most important recent developments in immigration policy on the federal, legal, state, and local levels. 

Content warning: This section sometimes includes events and information that can prove disturbing. 

Federal 

Unauthorized Crossings Increase in July, Biden Administration Seeks Supplemental Border Funding 

On August 10, the Biden administration asked Congress for supplemental funding to bolster its border- and immigration-related efforts, even as migrant encounters at the nation’s southern border have ticked upward after reaching a more than two-year low earlier this summer.

The emergency spending request would direct $2.65 billion to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), while also supporting other agencies’ migration assistance programs, child labor investigations, and immigration judge teams, Roll Call reported. But pro-immigration advocates have expressed concern that the package could “further fuel detention and enforcement-oriented programs at the border while leaving processing and humanitarian programs starved for funds.”

One of the most controversial provisions would reportedly allow the Biden administration to house migrant families in facilities where they could come and go during the day but would need to stay at night as they underwent a fast-track asylum and removal process, according to Axios

The proposal — which some have likened to family detention — comes as the number of families with kids crossing the southern border has increased dramatically in recent months. 

Families attempting to reach the United States, particularly between ports of entry, rose sharply in July, as did the number of children traveling unaccompanied. By contrast, data for single adults crossing unauthorized stayed relatively flat last month compared to June, a trend that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attributed to a recent policy shift toward expedited deportations (and other harsh, more immediate immigration consequences) targeting that population.

U.S. Border Patrol agents documented 132,652 migrant encounters between ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border in July, a roughly 33% increase from the month before — but still markedly lower than a year earlier, when the Title 42 public health order remained in place.

Overall migrant encounters at the southwest border — including at legal ports of entry — reached 183,503 last month, eclipsing June’s statistics by around 27%. Of those, nearly 45,000 people were processed after securing an appointment through the federal government’s CBP One phone app, representing the lion’s share of migrants who were able to access a port of entry. 

Meanwhile, CBP touted the arrival of more than 181,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who have come to the U.S. via the Biden administration’s parole processes for those four countries, all of which have been implemented in the last year. 

U.S. officials contend these programs — which require potential beneficiaries to find a U.S.-based sponsor willing to financially support them — have “significantly reduced irregular migration and denied smugglers the opportunity to exploit” would-be migrants, some of whom can now fly commercially to the U.S. instead of traveling by land to the border. But a lawsuit brought by 21 Republican-led states is challenging the legality of the successful new pathways in a federal district court in Texas this week, threatening their future. 

The parole processes are part of a larger approach by the Biden administration to try to offer people safer, more orderly avenues to make it stateside, in response to the many migrants who continue to risk increasingly perilous journeys to the southern border. 

Already, the number of people who have traversed the treacherous Darién Gap by foot in the first seven months of 2023 (likely on their way north) has matched the previous annual record of more than 250,000. The dangerous jungle connects South and Central America between Colombia and Panama and has recently become part of a highly trafficked route to the U.S. from places as far flung as Afghanistan and China, despite its lethal reputation

In a testament to the Darién’s brutality, a photo published in the New York Times earlier this week has garnered attention for its evocative depiction of an exhausted Venezuelan father unsure if he could keep pushing onward when faced by a steep hill. His 4-year-old daughter stares at him, worried. 

“Conditions in the Darién Gap are dire. Many people, including children, arrive in Panama traumatized, injured, due to the lethal nature of the terrain and the high rates of extortion and sexual violence they experience along the way,” said Marta Youth, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. 

The U.S. government has collaborated with regional partners in an effort to forcefully deter migration through the Darién in recent months, by supporting the deployment of around 3,880 security forces and over 271,000 pounds of equipment, the Miami Herald reported

Federal officials have also provided around $18 million in humanitarian aid to the Panamanian government for migrants who cross the jungle, and the Biden administration has launched new Safe Mobility Offices in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala where people can learn about lawful immigration pathways to the U.S. while still closer to home. 

Widespread Abuse Reported in Immigration Detention, Even As Biden Administration Expands Reliance on For-Profit Private Prison Companies 

On August 16, NPR published a bombshell investigation into racist abuse, medical negligence, staff misconduct, unsanitary conditions, and other serious issues at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities across the country. 

The investigation was bolstered by over 1,600 pages of inspection reports by experts who looked into 26 facilities between 2017 and 2019 for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties — a trove of documents that NPR won access to through the courts. 

Many of ICE’s facilities are run by for-profit private prison companies, such as GEO Group and CoreCivic, which have long been plagued by allegations of abuse. 

The inspection reports speak for themselves: 

“The medical devices used to look into the ears and eyes (Otoscope and Ophthalmoscope) were dusty and grimy,” an inspector wrote of the West Texas Detention Facility, “… and a dead roach was also found on the counter.”

“One detainee was found to be human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive but was not told about the diagnosis. Other examples include detainees who were found to be hypothyroid or diabetic who did not receive care or received inadequate care,” an inspector wrote about the Aurora ICE Processing Center, which has an average current daily population of 671. “Any of these findings alone can be considered an ‘Immediate Jeopardy’ according to the Center[s] for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and can lead to the closure of large health systems.”

“Examples of mistreatment include a Sergeant entering the female unit and greeting the female detainees by yelling, ‘Hello a**holes and [derogatory expletive],’” an inspector wrote of Orange County Jail. “Both male and female detainees reported that staff yell at them as a normal course of business and make racist comments. One staff even sings ‘ICE, ICE Baby’ when working in the unit. Multiple staff make comments such as, if detainees do not like the treatment, they should not have come to our country.”

A White House spokesperson noted that “these reports concern conditions in the prior Administration” and said in a statement that “President Biden continues to support moving away from the use of private detention facilities in the immigration detention system.”

But Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Prison Project, said that “if anything, conditions have probably gotten worse” in recent years. 

By the end of the Trump administration in January 2020, a whopping 81% of people in ICE detention were in facilities owned or operated by private prison corporations, according to the ACLU. By July 2023, that number had swelled to 90.8% of detainees in ICE custody under the Biden administration. 

 As of August 13, over 30,000 people were in ICE detention. More than 62% had no criminal record, and many others had only minor offenses, such as traffic violations.

“Immigration detention is not punishment. Immigration detention is supposed to serve no other purpose than to ensure a person appears in immigration court and can be deported if necessary,” Emma Winger, a staff attorney with the American Immigration Council, wrote in a recent column. 

“It should never, under any circumstances, be a place of widespread abuse and medical neglect. Where the vast majority of immigrants show up to court on their own, there is no legitimate explanation for  investing in detention facilities that endanger the health, safety, and fundamentally, the lives of immigrants.”

Biden Administration Expands Temporary Protection for Ukraine and Sudan, Updates Family Reunification Parole Processes for Cubans and Haitians

On August 18, the Biden administration announced extensions and redesignations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people from Ukraine and Sudan, a policy decision that has made an estimated 166,700 more Ukrainians and 2,750 more Sudanese potentially eligible for deportation protections and work authorization. 

People from Ukraine and Sudan who have resided in the U.S. since August 16 may now qualify for TPS, an immigration benefit that has no explicit pathway to citizenship but does allow those from crisis-stricken countries to remain stateside short-term, without fear of removal and with the ability to legally work. 

In addition, roughly 26,000 Ukrainians and 1,200 Sudanese who already have TPS may be able to retain it through at least April 19, 2025, and Ukrainian and Sudanese students on F-1 visas will receive special relief to ask for employment authorization, work more hours while in school, and reduce their course load.

It would be unconscionable to deport someone back to Sudan or Ukraine at this time and against our interests as a country, so this is the right decision to make,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice. “This action can also be a model for how to proceed in protecting long-term immigrants who are deeply rooted in American communities.”

While immigration advocates generally welcomed the expansion of TPS for both nations, some underscored what they saw as the Biden administration’s disparate treatment toward people fleeing similarly egregious violence and instability elsewhere. 

“President Biden’s steps to prevent Ukrainians from coming to the border, shielding them from deportation, and giving them timely work authorization, is a powerful example of what more could be done right now for other populations including Venezuelans, Nicaraguans [and] Mauritanians,” said Andrea Flores, who previously worked for the administration. 

Earlier in August, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also announced updates to the Cuban and Haitian family reunification parole processes, including moving most of the process online. 

The family reunification parole processes are invitation-only pathways that allow Cubans and Haitians (as well as several other recently added nationalities) who have already been approved for the first steps to immigrate to the U.S. based on their family ties to reunite with their loved ones here while they await a green card. 

On top of increasing access through a secure online platform, the new changes will let Cubans and Haitians partake in the programs as long as they’re outside the U.S., even if they’re not physically present in their home countries. Federal officials also expanded eligibility for Haitians by nixing a previous cutoff date. 

“This modernization of the family reunification parole processes improves our ability to maintain the integrity of our vetting and screening standards, responds to important feedback from stakeholders in both the Cuban and Haitian communities, and ensures meaningful access – consistent with our values – for potential beneficiaries,” DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement. 

GOP Presidential Candidates Endorse Aggressive Border Policies, Use of Lethal Force at First Primary Debate

On August 23, eight candidates took the stage in Milwaukee for the first Republican primary debate of the 2024 presidential election, backing aggressive rhetoric and policies to deter migration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — the night’s frontrunner given the former president and candidate Donald Trump’s notable absence — said he would send troops to the southern border and deploy special forces to Mexico “on day one.” 

“When these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border, that is going to be the last thing they do. We are going to use force and leave them stone-cold dead,” DeSantis said. 

Notably, fentanyl is generally being smuggled to the U.S. from Mexico through official border crossings, usually by people legally allowed to travel across (many of whom are U.S. citizens). “Virtually none is seized from migrants seeking asylum,” according to NPR. 

Still, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson argued that “lethal force would be needed to protect the border,” while Sen. Tim Scott promised to complete a border wall. 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie advocated for a move toward universal detention of people who enter the U.S. without authorization, although he struck a friendlier tone on legal immigration, lauding “so many wonderful people from around the world who are waiting in line following the law to try to come here and pursue the American dream.” 

Before the debate, the National Immigration Forum’s CEO, Jennie Murray, noted that despite tough words from GOP politicians in recent years, many of the current Republican presidential candidates “have previously led on constructive immigration solutions.”

“By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans across the political spectrum would prefer a candidate who proposes border and immigration solutions over one who proposes harsh penalties on immigrant families and workers and speaks of migrants as a threat,” Murray wrote on LinkedIn

“So in the presidential primary debates, we’ll be looking for leadership from the candidates once again. And we know the majority of American voters, who support sensible and humane immigration solutions, will be doing the very same.”

Although Trump skipped the debate, Axios unveiled details of his 2025 immigration plan on Monday, which reportedly includes rejecting legal applicants for being “Marxists,” expanding on his “Muslim ban” concept to restrict entry for certain nationalities, trying to end birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants’ kids, and extending Texas’s potentially unlawful river barriers, among other policies. 

Legal 

Lawsuit Challenges Widespread ‘Turnbacks’ of Asylum Seekers at U.S. Ports of Entry 

On July 27, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, the American Immigration Council, and other co-counsels filed a legal challenge against the Biden administration’s use of “turnbacks” to block asylum seekers without CBP One appointments from accessing protection at U.S. ports of entry — a policy that attorneys say contradicts domestic law, the government’s own guidance, international obligations, and people’s due process rights. 

With the Biden administration increasingly relying on the federal government’s smartphone app, CBP One, to process migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, those challenging the “turnback” policy in Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Mayorkas contend that asylum seekers who are unable to secure an appointment virtually but still present at a port of entry are being unlawfully sent away by U.S. border officials. Plaintiffs include individual asylum seekers as well as the pro-immigrant nonprofits Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance. 

These “turnbacks” strand vulnerable populations in dangerous parts of Mexico, where they often face further threats, violence, persecution, or even death. In April, a family was turned away from the San Ysidro port of entry — despite the husband having been shot — because they did not have a CBP One appointment yet. In May, on the way to the Tijuana airport to try to escape to Canada, they were attacked again, and the two young children were forced to watch as their father died in front of them. 

“Refugees do not have the luxury of waiting on a CBP One appointment to save their lives, because many of them are being hunted all the way to the border. CBP’s refusal to process refugees who do not have a CBP One appointment will only push them to cross through the desert, where many of them will die, or will keep them trapped in Mexico, where many of them will also die,” Nicole Ramos, Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project director, said in a statement

“These deaths could be avoided by CBP following federal law and its own binding agency guidance, instead of externalizing its obligation to process refugees at the port of entry to a glitchy smartphone app that works only half of the time, and cannot be accessed by large swaths of the refugee community.”

For months, immigration advocates have criticized the app as dysfunctional and hard to access, given its reliance on the Internet, a smartphone, electricity, and other technologies that may prove difficult for the most vulnerable asylum seekers to find. 

From January through July, over 188,500 people have been able to schedule appointments to access ports of entry through CBP One. But the phone app has also been a source of great frustration for many asylum seekers, who have struggled to overcome confusing error messages and glitches — or who simply have not been able to afford replacement devices after theirs have been destroyed or stolen

“People are scraping together whatever money they have to buy smartphones, all for an app that does not work,” Angelo Guisado, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told The Guardian

Asylum seekers have asked for a preliminary injunction blocking the “turnback” policy while the case proceeds, so that all those who presented at a port of entry would have their asylum claims processed regardless of whether they had already secured a CBP One appointment. 

State and Local 

3-Year-Old Migrant Child Dies During Texas Gov. Abbott’s Busing Scheme 

On August 10, a 3-year-old migrant child named Jismary Alejandra Barboza González died in transit from Brownsville to Chicago as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) migrant busing scheme — the first announced fatality since the program’s inception last year. 

Jismary was traveling through southern Illinois when she seemingly suffered cardiac arrest, according to the Associated Press. The bus pulled over and paramedics tried to save her, but she died at a hospital. 

Jismary’s funeral took place on August 17 in Warsaw, Indiana. Autopsy results were inconclusive on her cause of death. 

“Every loss of life is a tragedy,” the Texas Division of Emergency Management — which Abbott has directed to charter the migrant buses — said in a statement.

Since April 2022, Texas has bused over 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers to left-leaning jurisdictions across the U.S., ostensibly to relieve pressure on the state’s border communities. Abbott has said his administration “will continue busing migrants to sanctuary cities until Biden does his job & secures the border,” despite widespread condemnation of the busing program as a crass political stunt. 

“You can’t use the migrants as political pawns. You still got to be accountable to taking care of them, especially if you’re transporting kids,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). 

On Monday night, a bus of 37 migrants — including 14 kids and an infant — arrived from Brownsville at Los Angeles’s Union Station, even as California braced for Tropical Storm Hilary’s torrential rain, road damage, and other safety threats from inclement weather. 

“It is evil to endanger the lives of vulnerable migrants by sending a bus with families and toddlers on board to a city that at the time was under an unprecedented tropical storm warning,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “As I stood with state and local leaders warning Angelenos to stay safe and brace themselves for the worst of the coming storm, the Governor of Texas sent families and toddlers straight for us on a path through extreme weather conditions.

“This is a despicable act beyond politics.”

Texas’s government is also under fire for its roughly 1,000-foot saw-blade-riddled, floating barrier near Eagle Pass that’s meant to block migrants from crossing the Rio Grande. A federal judge in Austin considered the Biden administration’s lawsuit challenging the buoys’ legality during a hearing on Tuesday, where a U.S. State Department official testified that the aggressive border enforcement tactic was causing high-level diplomatic issues with Mexico. 

A recent survey found that around 79% of the river barriers were in fact in Mexico, not in Texas. Since then, Texas has moved the barriers nearer to the U.S. out of what Abbott called an “abundance of caution,” although a consultant for the group that installed the buoys could not clarify how they had been able to drift into Mexican territory in the first place, despite their vast network of anchors. 

“An issue like this distracts from the binational agenda,” said Hillary Quam, the U.S.-Mexico border coordinator for the U.S. State Department. “Our concern is that Mexico will not be a willing partner on other issues.”

With closing arguments due Friday, U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra has promised a decision as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in southwest Texas, humanitarian water barrels for migrants and others who find themselves lost and dehydrated with nothing else to drink have mysteriously disappeared, even as the state endures stifling summer heat. 

“This better have not been malicious,” Ruben Garza, an investigator, told NBC News, “if we could have saved a life here.”

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

It can be challenging to keep up with the constant barrage of proposed legislation in Congress. So, every week, we round up new bills. This list includes federal legislative proposals that have recently been introduced and that are relevant to immigration policy. 

Please follow this link to find new relevant bills, as well as proposed legislation from past weeks.

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session during the week of Monday, August 28.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington. 

There are no relevant immigration-related hearings or markups announced for the week of Monday, August 28. 

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Reports by bodies such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General provide invaluable information on immigration policy and practice. Here, we give brief summaries of new immigration-related reports, with links to the resources themselves in case you want to learn more. 

Congressional Research Service (CRS); Immigration Options for Immigration Parolees; Published August 17, 2023

This report details the Biden administration’s special parole initiatives that have welcomed more than 350,000 people since 2021. It also explores potential temporary and permanent mechanisms through which parolees may be able to remain in the United States.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG); USCIS Has Generally Met Statutory Requirements to Adjudicate Asylum Applications from Paroled Afghan Evacuees; Published August 18, 2023

This report finds that the majority of the time, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) met statutory timelines for processing asylum applications from Afghans who came to the U.S. through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW). However, the number of asylum applications filed by Afghans in the OAW population was still minimal as of May 31, 2022, despite high approval rates for such applicants.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

The Forum is constantly publishing new policy-focused resources that engage with some of the most topical issues around immigration today. Here are a few that are particularly relevant this week: 

Bill Analysis: SEASONAL Act

This bill analysis explores the State Executive Authority for Seasonal Occupations Needing Additional Labor (SEASONAL) Act, S.2705, which would enable governors experiencing labor shortages in their states to petition the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) for supplemental H-2B nonimmigrant visas.

Explainer: What Are Safe Mobility Offices?

Read this explainer for information about what we know so far on how SMOs are being implemented in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia, and who may qualify to participate.  

Bill Analysis: The HIRE Act

This bill analysis explores the H-2 Improvements to Relieve Employers (HIRE) Act (H.R. 4708), which would reduce processing delays and streamline the H-2A and H-2B renewal processes.

* * *

*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Alexandra Villarreal, Policy and Advocacy Associate at the National Immigration Forum, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Alexandra can be reached at avillarreal@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

Learn More

Read more about Legislative Bulletin — Friday, July 28, 2023

Legislative Bulletin

Legislative Bulletin — Friday, July 28, 2023

Read more about Legislative Bulletin — Thursday, August 10, 2023

Legislative Bulletin

Legislative Bulletin — Thursday, August 10, 2023

Read more about Legislative Bulletin — Friday, June 21, 2024

Legislative Bulletin

Legislative Bulletin — Friday, June 21, 2024