Legislative Bulletin – Thursday, August 6, 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

S. 4370

Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act

The bill would render foreign nationals deportable and inadmissible if they are found to have violated laws preventing the export of certain goods, technology, or sensitive information, or if they violate laws related to economic espionage and the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets.

Sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) (1 cosponsor – 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

07/30/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Grassley

07/30/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in session the week of Monday, August 10, 2020. While members of Congress may return home while negotiations on a fourth COVID-19 relief package continue, both chambers intend to postpone the August recess until a deal is reached.

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

Negotiations Continue Over Fourth COVID-19 Package

The week of August 3, negotiations continued between Republicans, Democrats and the White House over a new coronavirus relief package. Relevant to immigration, lawmakers and advocates have pushed for a number of provisions that were omitted in the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, a proposed relief package from Senate Republicans that was released on July 27.

In a July 31 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 27 Senate Democrats urged further support for immigrants in the COVID-19 relief legislation. The letter called specifically for noncitizen taxpayers using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) to be included in future financial relief efforts and to be allowed to receive payments they were denied in the CARES Act, the previous major COVID-19 relief package. The letter noted that “immigrants are disproportionately working in essential jobs to keep Americans healthy, safe, fed, and poised for economic recovery.”

A number of Senate Republicans have also come forward in support of expanding eligibility for immigrant families to receive COVID-19 aid. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Steve Daines (R-Montana) have pressed for the inclusion of past or future COVID-19 financial relief to mixed-status families in which one spouse is undocumented or uses an ITIN number. According to recent polling released by the Center for American Progress, 63% of Americans support mixed-status families receiving COVID-19 relief, and 60% of Americans support allowing all ITIN filers to receive relief.

A bipartisan group of Senators have also renewed calls for the inclusion of the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act in the next relief package, a measure which would expedite processing of immigrant healthcare workers, currently in the green card backlog, to enable them to fill critical work shortages and participate in the COVID-19 response. The measure has been supported by the American Hospital Association, among other leading healthcare groups.

Negotiations are expected to extend into the week of August 10, with Democratic leadership continuing closed door talks with the White House and Republican members divided over whether to support any additional COVID-19 relief funding.

Report Reveals Limited Details on Clandestine Expulsions of Migrant Children

An August 4 report shed new light on the secretive expulsions conducted under a March 20 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule that has effectively closed the border to asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. The report notes that from April to June, ICE detained at least 240 children in hotels, including many under 6 years of age, refusing to provide family members or lawyers information concerning their whereabouts in an attempt to swiftly and quietly expel them. These detentions and expulsions continued even as thousands of beds remained open in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters, which are designed to care for unaccompanied migrant children.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border must be screened for trafficking and fear of persecution and immediately moved to ORR custody prior to placement with a sponsor or guardian. Under the CDC rule, ICE has instead contracted with a private security company called MVM Inc. to detain the children in hotels in Texas, Arizona and Florida before expelling them. The credentials of MVM staff, whom ICE refers to as “transportation specialists,” remain unclear.

Legal representatives have been unable to track the whereabouts of many children detained and expelled under the CDC rule. ICE last released data on the number of children affected in June, when it announced that 2,175 unaccompanied migrant children had been expelled under the rule. Governments in receiving countries have reported receiving only around 1,700 children. ICE has refused to release new or updated data or information on the whereabouts of the remaining children or any children which have been expelled since June.

In testimony on August 6, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting secretary Chad Wolf said that the hotel detentions were implemented because, “ORR was not able to take those [unaccompanied children] at that specific time.” This testimony has been disputed by advocates and reporters who suggest DHS has instead refused to transfer the children despite available space in ORR facilities.

Advocates have also called the contracting of MVM and use of secretive hotel detention a “shadow operation” which “flies in the face of the law.” They have noted that ICE is detaining children where “nobody can find them.” They allege that the practice violates the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which controls how the federal government must treat detained immigrant children.

 Broad Immigration Fee Changes to Go into Effect in October

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a plan to implement broad fee changes for petitions and applications for immigration benefits and status. The changes are set to go into effect on October 2. Overall, the plan would increase fees an average of 21%, although some fees increase more than 50% while others decrease. The changes include an 81% increase in citizenship application fees, which would rise to $1,160. Applications for asylum, which are currently free of charge, would come with a $50 fee under the plan. The increases generally track with a proposal initially published in November 2019, although an increase to work authorization for DACA recipients from that proposal has been removed in the updated plan, among other changes.

The fee increases may make it more difficult for low-income people to immigrate legally to the United States, with the rule also altering fee-waiver requirements to make fewer applicants eligible for waivers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Deputy Director of Policy Joseph Edlow has said that the new fees “are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system.”

With USCIS asserting it could face significant budget shortfalls arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the planned fee increases may also come with a potential 10% surcharge, which the agency has sought approval for to shore up its budget. Previously, USCIS had also requested $1.2 billion in supplemental emergency funding from Congress and announced plans for major furloughs in response to these expected shortfalls. However, as documented in a July 21 letter from Senators Pat Leahy (D-Vermont) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), recent financial projections indicate that the agency may actually end up with a surplus in the current fiscal year, leading to a  delay in the furloughs and raising questions about the need for the fee surcharge.

The asylum application fee will make the U.S. one of only four countries to charge for humanitarian protections. These new rules are the latest in a series of changes the Trump administration has made to the asylum system.

Border Patrol Raids Humanitarian Aid Camp in Arizona Desert

On July 30, the U.S. Border Patrol raided a humanitarian aid outpost in southern Arizona used to provide water and medical assistance to migrants crossing the desert regions near the U.S.-Mexico border. The raid reportedly involved the use of drones and elite BORTAC agents, which are militarized Border Patrol tactical units normally deployed in high-risk raids of stash houses filled with drugs or weapons.

The humanitarian aid group which runs the outpost, No More Deaths, provides water and other resources to migrants in the Arizona borderlands, who face particularly dangerous conditions and excessive heat warnings during the summer months.

No More Deaths has alleged that the raid was retaliation for the group’s recent publication of Border Patrol emails that were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails noted the involvement of BORTAC units in a similar Border Patrol raid at the same location in 2017. The aid group had criticized the raid for violating a deal they had reportedly reached with federal officials several years ago in which the Border Patrol agreed not to disrupt humanitarian efforts.

Hundreds of migrants die each year attempting to cross the Arizona desert.

Legal

Appeals Court Blocks Public Charge Rule in Three States as Nationwide Injunction Remains in Place

On August 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit blocked the Trump Administration’s public charge rule, an effort to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants who have used or are deemed likely to use certain public benefits. The injunction is restricted to the Second Circuit, which is comprised of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

The public charge rule has been subjected to ongoing litigation since it was first announced in 2019. Immigration advocates have argued that the rule discourages immigrants from seeking necessary medical treatment or financial support for themselves and their families. In January 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the administration could move forward with implementation of the rule during litigation, lifting a nationwide preliminary injunction issued by the district court. In this most recent decision, the Second Circuit limited the scope of its injunction to the three northeastern states, noting that the Supreme Court had already lifted the preliminary injunction.

In a separate case on July 29, a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan issued a separate nationwide injunction on the public charge rule as it relates to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This injunction, which remains in place, was based on the specific possibility that the public charge rule could discourage residents from seeking medical care in the midst of the 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. Advocates have argued that the presence of the public charge rule, even with COVID-19 exceptions, could result in immigrant communities broadly refraining from accessing medical care during the pandemic out of fear they would lose out on access to status in the future.

Federal Judge Orders Federal Government to Provide Work Authorization for 75,000 Workers

On August 3, a federal judge in Ohio ordered USCIS to print backlogged employment authorization documents (EADs) for prospective workers within seven days. The agency currently had a backlog of 75,000 EADs for approved workers, after the agency terminated its contract with a third-party printing company, leaving it without capacity to print them itself. The agency had planned to hire additional employees to assume printing responsibilities, but had not yet done so due to budget shortfalls.

While the plaintiffs noted that USCIS previously printed and mailed EADs within 48 hours of approval, the agency argued that it does not have a legal obligation to print approved EADs within any specific timeframe. The judge ruled that the absence of a statutory timeline enables the court “to decide whether the delay was unreasonable” and subsequently ordered USCIS to provide the documents within seven days.

Labor Union Which Represents Federal Employees Files Brief Opposing Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” Policy

On August 3, a labor union which represents over 14,000 USCIS employees filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to DHS’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Since its implementation in 2019, MPP, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, has forced over 60,000 asylum seekers to stay in northern Mexico while awaiting adjudication of their asylum cases. The amicus brief states that the administration is systematically dismantling the U.S. asylum system and that this rule contravenes the American tradition of providing “refuge for the persecuted.” The brief argues that MPP is forcing USCIS employees to participate in “actions contrary to their oath to uphold our nation’s immigration laws” by forcing asylum seekers to shelter in dangerous border cities and migrant encampments.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, represents three Massachusetts families whose family members are stranded in Mexico due to MPP. It argues that the policy contravenes asylum law by forcing refugees to wait in locations where they will be persecuted.

In some instances, asylum seekers returned under MPP have been forced to wait in Mexico for over a year for their cases to be heard. Many of those subject to MPP have had their hearings delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many shelters housing waiting asylum seekers have closed during the virus’ spread. On July 10, Mexico confirmed that multiple individuals waiting in Matamoros, a large and crowded migrant camp on the border, have tested positive for COVID-19.

State and Local

New Jersey Allows Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Professional Licenses

On July 30, the New Jersey state legislature approved a bill which would allow immigrants, regardless of status, to apply for professional licenses necessary to work in certain professions and occupations in the state. Under the bill, workers regardless of immigration status will be able to apply for professional and occupational licenses in the state if they meet all other requirements. Governor Phil Murphy (D-New Jersey) is supportive of the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. A spokesman for Governor Murphy said that the governor “believes that immigrants are a critical part of the fabric of life in New Jersey, and that they should not face unnecessary barriers as they seek to participate in our society and economy.”

California, Nevada, and New Mexico have previously passed comparable legislation.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports the week of Monday, August 3, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act Safeguards Children

This blog post explains the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and how it protects unaccompanied alien children (UACs). It discusses proposals to change the TVPRA and how such modifications would hurt UACs.

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.

Mixed-Status Families Deserve COVID-19 Relief

In this video, National Immigration Forum President and CEO Ali Noorani discusses how millions of U.S. citizens who are part of mixed-status families have been cut out of COVID-19 financial relief, and describes why these families deserve to be included in the next legislative relief package.

* * *

*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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