Legislative Bulletin — Thursday, August 5, 2021

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. 4812

Border Health Security Act

The bill would ensure coordination with Canada and Mexico on issues related to public health and facilitate the cross-border policies needed to mitigate the negative impacts of future public health crises. It will also provide health grants to address infectious disease testing, primary care, and maternal health.

Sponsored by Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) (7 cosponsors — 6 Democrats, 1 Republican)

07/29/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Escobar

07/29/2021 Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Foreign Affairs

H.R. 4896

Reimbursing Agriculture Producers for Immigration Damages (RAPID) Act

The bill would reimburse farmers and ranchers for damages stemming from unauthorized immigration, including livestock loss, crop loss and damage, damage to perimeter fences, damage to physical structures, and property loss/damage.

Sponsored by Representative August Pfluger (R-Texas) (3 cosponsors— 2 Democrats, 1 Republican)

07/30/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Pfluger

07/30/2021 Referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Oversight and Reform

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, August 9, 2021.

The U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of Monday, August 9, 2021.

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

Democrats Prepare to Move Forward with Reconciliation, Including Immigration, after Passage of Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

This week, the U.S. Senate continued negotiations of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Senate Democrats are hoping to move in tandem with a broader budget reconciliation effort that may include significant immigration reforms. As the bill moved toward final passage, some Republican critics of the bill sought to introduce various immigration-related amendments to the legislation, including amendments related to border wall construction and e-Verify.

Following the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package, Democratic Senate leadership intends to advance a separate, $3.5 trillion plan under budget reconciliation rules, which would allow them to enact additional priorities with only a simple majority. Provided the relevant provisions pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian, Democratic leaders intend to include several noteworthy immigration provisions in the reconciliation bill, including permanent protections for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and other essential workers, including farmworkers, as well as funding for border security and infrastructure at ports of entry. Democratic leaders intend to pass a budget resolution recommending spending and revenue levels this month, representing the first step of the two-stage reconciliation process. Following a truncated August recess, they plan to pass the second step – a spending bill making specific policy changes consistent with the budget resolution.

Biden Administration Extends Title 42 as Border Arrests Remain High

On August 2, the Biden administration officially extended the use of Title 42, a pandemic-era Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule which allows Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately expel almost everyone arriving at the border, including those seeking humanitarian protection. The administration had reportedly been considering rolling back the use of Title 42 entirely as soon as the end of July. However, the recent spike of the COVID-19 cases related to the more contagious Delta variant compelled the CDC to extend the order.

Critics maintain that Title 42 “has been employed less to protect public health than as a politically defensible way to limit immigration.” Hence, after months of negotiations, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other organizations, said they would move forward with a lawsuit against the administration to completely lift the public health order for migrant families.

The CDC’s decision to extend Title 42 comes as arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border are at the highest level in decades. According to an August 2 CNN report, preliminary CBP data indicates that in July—a month where attempted border crossings usually decline due to high temperatures—the agency apprehended more than 176,000 people, which would represent the highest number of July arrests since 2000.

Responding to the influx, the Biden administration indicated that it will be ramping up the vaccination of migrants taken into custody. Under the new plan, DHS would vaccinate migrants soon after they enter the U.S. and before they are processed by CBP. Until now, only a limited number of migrants who were detained in longer-term facilities had received the vaccine. The vaccination plan, however, currently does not include migrants who are turned back to Mexico under Title 42.

State Department Creates P-2 Refugee Status Eligibility for Certain Afghan Nationals

On August 2, the U.S. Department of State announced a Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status designation for Afghan nationals who work or worked for U.S. or allied forces or the U.S. government during the war, but who otherwise do not qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).

In addition, the P-2 designation will protect Afghans who were employed in Afghanistan by U.S.-based media organizations, or by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supported through a U.S. government grant. The designation will allow the Biden administration to resettle thousands of additional Afghan allies—who may be at risk from the Taliban due to their U.S. affiliation—in the United States.

The P-2 designation comes with caveats that may limit the number of people who can benefit. In order to seek relief as P-2 refugees, applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin an adjudication process that may a year or more in a third country. Currently, the U.S. is not taking action to facilitate the departures of potential P-2 refugees or to support their stays in the third countries. Nor does the P-2 designation apply to Afghans working for U.S.-based NGOs who do not operate under federal grants or to other at-risk groups of Afghans, like religious minorities.

The administration’s P-2 designation came days after the first round of Afghan translators—who helped American soldiers and diplomats in Afghanistan—landed in the United States to be housed at Fort Lee, a U.S. Army base in Virginia. The relocation flight was part of Operation Allies Refuge, a program designed by the Biden administration to process Afghans seeking SIVs in a timely and safe manner as they continue their visa processes outside of Afghanistan. The United States is in final talks to temporarily house additional Afghan nationals and their families at U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait. Those talks are believed to pertain to SIV applicants, and not to P-2 applicants.

HHS Inspector General Launches Review into Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children at Fort Bliss

On August 2, following whistleblower complaints about the care of migrant children at the Fort Bliss emergency intake site, the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would be reviewing conditions at the facility. Last month, two federal workers reported troubling conditions at the Texas facility, highlighting that unaccompanied migrant minors were placed under the care of contractors with no Spanish language skills or prior experience providing child care. The complaint claimed children were not regularly provided with clean bedding and clothing, were not properly supervised, and were ignored when showing signs of medical and mental health care needs.

The facility at Fort Bliss is the largest of the emergency intake sites close to the southern border. One whistleblower who previously visited the facility claimed children told him they felt like they were in prison. The HHS Office of the Inspector General stated that it will analyze interviews, make on-site observations at Fort Bliss, and will take appropriate action if violations of law or HHS policies are found.

U.S. Border Patrol Agents Will Start Wearing Body-Worn Cameras

On August 4, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the agency will begin outfitting Border Patrol agents with body-worn cameras to better enhance its policing practices and reinforce trust and transparency. The policy is part of the agency’s new Incident-Driven Video Recording Systems program, which records and stores video and audio data to support the agency’s mission. The cameras are roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, and officers will wear them on the front of their uniforms. The cameras are expected to be rolled out in parts of Texas and New Mexico during the summer and expanded in the fall and winter to Arizona, California, and Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.

The National Immigration Forum praised the action as a positive step that will promote security, transparency, and accountability, benefitting CBP officers migrants alike. A 2015 National Immigration Forum report found that body cameras can increase transparency, decrease the number of complaints and assaults against officers, enhance public trust, and can help resolve disputes over misconduct.

Biden Administration Defers Removal of Hong Kong Residents for 18 months; Extends Registration Periods for TPS Applicants from Venezuela, Burma, and Syria

On August 5, President Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide an 18-month Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to Hong Kong residents presently in the United States. DED is an immigration benefit that allows certain individuals from designated countries and regions facing political or civic conflicts or natural disasters to temporarily remain in the United States. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that “the decision to offer safety and protection to these individuals was made based on the ongoing assault on democracy, and rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China.”

Also, on August 4, the Biden Administration extended the registration periods from 180 days to 18 months for first-time applicants of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from Venezuela, Burma, and Syria. The registration periods, which were to expire this fall, were extended by DHS in an effort to ensure that eligible applicants have an opportunity to obtain TPS, and to reduce operational burdens on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by spreading out applications over a larger period of time.

Now, the 18-month registration period of initial TPS for Syria runs from March 19, 2021, through September 30, 2022; the registration period of TPS for Venezuela runs from March 9, 2021, through September 9, 2022; and the registration period of TPS for Burma runs from May 25, 2021, through November 25, 2022.

Legal

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Gov. Abbott’s Directive on Stopping Vehicles Suspected of Transporting Migrants

On August 3, a federal judge blocked Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) Executive Order that ordered Texas state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting undocumented migrants. In issuing a temporary restraining order against the directive, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, determined that the federal government was “likely to prevail” on its argument that the Abbott directive improperly intruded on the federal government’s power to regulate immigration and enforce immigration laws.

The temporary restraining order will remain in place until; August 13, when Judge Cardone will consider granting a preliminary injunction, which would block the order for a longer period. In issuing the directive, Gov. Abbott cited the risk of COVID-19  She also highlighted that it “jeopardiz[es] the health and safety of non-citizens in federal custody, risk[s] the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbat[es] the spread of COVID-19.”

The Executive Order was issued amid growing concerns over an increase in COVID-19 cases in Texas related to the more contagious Delta variant. Critics raised concerns that the directive would lead to racial profiling and would interfere with the lawful transport of some migrants by Texas non-profit organizations, including those who partner with federal and local authorities.  Others characterized the Texas directive as “hypocritical” given Abbott’s opposition to other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including his ban on local mask ordinances, and characterized the executive order as an attempt to “scapegoat” immigrants for Texas’s COVID-19 policies.

Nominations & Personnel

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s Nomination to Lead ICE Advances in Senate Committee

On August 4, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs voted 7-6, along party lines, to favorably report Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s nomination to serve as the next U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director. In his July 15 confirmation hearing, Sheriff Gonzalez pledged to uphold the highest principles of law enforcement. He stressed that “the American dream relies upon the rule of law and a functioning legal immigration system.”

During the committee’s business meeting, Sheriff Gonzalez’s nomination was praised by Democrats while facing criticism by Republicans. Chairman Gary Peters (D-Michigan) said that Gonzalez “is a proven leader and dedicated law enforcement professional who has a deep commitment to the rule of law and understands the complex mission and challenges that ICE faces.” Republican members of the committee, led by Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) expressed skepticism over Gonzalez’s ability to lead the agency, arguing that  “on numerous occasions during his time as Sheriff, he criticized ICE.”

Sheriff Gonzalez—a grandson of immigrants—is a co-chair of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF), and his nomination has received praise from the National Immigration Forum and his fellow LEITF co-chairs, among others.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Congressional Research Service (CRS): The Law of Immigration Detention: A Brief Introduction, July 20, 2021

This “In Focus” fact sheet from the Congressional Research Service describes the legal framework for immigration detention. The Department of Homeland Security is authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to detain foreign nationals if they are subject to removal from the country. This report also describes the four primary INA provisions that shape immigration detention.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Addressing Increases in Migration at the Southern Border

This resource provides policy recommendations that would create more humane and efficient border processing, refocus on regional approaches that combat trafficking networks and address the root causes of migration, and enact practical border security fixes that address key remaining vulnerabilities.

Explainer: Budget Reconciliation and Immigration Reform

This resource explains the elements, rules, and history of the budget reconciliation process. Congressional Democrats are expected to try to use reconciliation to avoid a Senate filibuster and pass immigration reforms with a simple majority.

Body Cameras and CBP: Promoting Security, Transparency, and Accountability at Our Nation’s Border

This report examines the benefits of requiring body-worn cameras for all CBP agents and officers, as well as the privacy concerns for the public, agents, and officers related to implementing body cameras. It also addresses the barriers to the implementation of body-worn cameras at CBP. It concludes that the benefits of body-cameras to CBP and the public greatly outweigh any of the potential drawbacks.

* * *

* We will publish our next bulletin on Thursday, August 19, 2021. This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Arturo Castellanos-Canales, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Arturo can be reached at acastellanos@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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