MeBIC Letter to Congress on Recent Administration Policies

Much attention has rightly been paid to the recent “zero tolerance” and family separation, then family detention, policies implemented at the nation’s southern border.

However, these policies cannot be viewed in isolation.   Since the very first week of this Administration, executive orders, regulatory changes, rescission of prior policies, and priority shifts have resulted in this immigrant nation becoming more hostile both to immigrants who are already part of our communities, and to those who might have wished to, but have not yet, come to the U.S.

In previous posts, MeBIC has noted the disconnect between our country’s need for immigrants, and policies that result in driving immigrants away and create an “invisible wall.” While there are ample humanitarian and moral reasons to be concerned about the direction of the Administration’s immigration policies, there is equal reason to be alarmed about its impact on the U.S. economy.

MeBIC voiced its concerns in a recent letter to Maine’s Congressional delegation.   MeBIC’s director Beth Stickney also spoke at a rally in Portland that was part of a nationwide day of action on June 30, 2018 to urge our government to remember our immigrant heritage and our legal and moral obligation to allow those fleeing harm to have the opportunity to request safe haven in the U.S.

Immigrants of all kinds, whether coming to the U.S. to reunite with family, to work, or to be safe, such as the asylum seekers at our southern border, have built this country and will continue to do so, if we do not shut our doors to them.   As our population ages and our birth rates shrink, it is not just in their interest that we welcome them, but in our own.

House Votes Down Second Anti-Immigrant Bill

On June 27, 2018, the House of Representatives soundly rejected an anti-immigrant bill cloaked as a measure that would have provided relief to young adults whose legal status is in limbo following the Administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

H.R. 6136, the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018” was the second of two bills that Speaker Paul Ryan brought to the floor after having his hand forced by a bipartisan coalition of representatives that wanted a vote on DACA relief.   Unfortunately,  members of the House of Representatives tried to leverage the broad support for DACA relief as an opportunity to introduce a bill that would have funded the border wall, rolled back asylum protections,  decreased legal immigration, and pushed through other provisions to make the U.S. a more hostile environment for immigrants who already call this nation “home”, and to repel immigrants not yet here whom we need to keep this nation vibrant and prosperous.

Like its companion bill H.R. 4760 that would have exponentially reduced legal immigration at a time when unemployment is at a 17 year low nationwide and at a 40 year low in Maine, and when employers are clamoring for talent, H.R. 6136 went down to defeat (301 opposed to 121 in favor).

MeBIC applauds Rep. Chellie Pingree for voting against both of these anti-immigrant bills that would have harmed our economy and our standing in the world.   We are disappointed that Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted for both of them.

The result of the House leadership’s decision to allow votes only on these two immigration bills is that over 700,000 individuals with DACA status who are already fully participating in our communities and our economy are still living in limbo while they wait for Congress to pass, and President Trump to sign, a bill that will give them a path to permanent legal status.  Only federal court decisions that are still being litigated  stand between them and the loss of their work permission and their legal presence in the U.S.

We urge Congress to work urgently to pass legislation protecting those with DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who are on the cusp of being forced out of our communities and our workforce, that will not also contain a laundry list of poison pills as did both H.R. 4760 and H.R. 6136.

Supreme Court Upholds “Travel Ban 3.0”

In an extremely disappointing 5-4 ruling today, the Supreme Court let stand President Trump’s third Executive Order, commonly called “Travel Ban 3.0”.   For a brief description of Travel Ban 3.0, read this prior MeBIC post.

This means the Travel Ban will remain in effect until the Administration decides to end the ban, or remove individual countries from it.   It also means that using similar justification, the President can add more countries to the ban.

Seven countries are currently subject to the ban: Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.  With the exception of Venezuela, where the ban bars only some visitors with government connections from coming to the U.S., Travel Ban 3.0 bans visa issuance and entry of all intending immigrants who are citizens of the other six countries, unless they are granted a waiver, which is virtually impossible to get.

Maine has a large population of immigrants from Somalia, as well as many immigrants from Iran and Syria.   This is a huge blow particularly to these members of our Maine communities.   With the Travel Ban remaining in place, permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens originally from the targeted countries have no idea when their immediate family members for whom they have already petitioned or hoped to petition, including their spouses, parents, children, and  siblings, will be able to join them here in the U.S.

This will also impact Maine employers who hoped to help talented professional-level workers from the targeted countries gain temporary working visas or residency in order to bring their talent onto their staff.

The Supreme Court, in its decision, essentially held that while it’s not legal for the Administration to discriminate in visa issuance (visas that are used to present at entry), it is legal for the Administration to discriminate based on nationality in deciding who will be allowed actually to enter the U.S.   The Court’s majority failed to find that the Travel Ban should be blocked due to unconstitutional animus against Muslims, though the dissenting justices disagreed. This summary provides more details about the majority’s holding and the two dissenting opinions.

We should call on Maine’s Congressional delegation to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate this possibility in the future.

Maine needs immigrants, and immigrants need their families.  Our Mainers from Somalia, Iran and Syria should not be forced to choose between living in the U.S. and being together with their immediate family members.

 

H-2B Filing Season for FY 2019 begins on July 3, 2018

Employers seeking H-2B temporary, non-agricultural seasonal worker visas for jobs starting in the first half of fiscal year 2019 (October 1, 2018 to March 30, 2019) can file their Temporary Labor Certification Applications with the Chicago National Processing Center beginning at 12:00 a.m. EST on July 3, 2018.

Because Congress provided for an increase in the number H-2B visas only for the current fiscal year, once again, only 33,000 H-2B visas will be available for the first half of FY2019.

It remains to be seen how many applications will be filed and how quickly the 33,000 visa cap will be reached.   As noted previously, receipt of applications will be recorded by the millisecond, to avoid a lottery and to instead process applications in the order received.   If past is prologue, we expect the 33,000 visas to be quickly exhausted.    USCIS publishes updates on the cap count here.  Stay tuned.

 

Recent Polls Show Broad Bipartisan Support for Immigration

A recently released June Gallup poll shows strong support for immigration to the U.S., despite pervasive rhetoric from the Administration that would indicate otherwise.

The June poll found that 75% of the U.S. public thinks immigration is good for the country, with the number increasing to 84% when the question was modified to specify “legal immigration” instead of just  “immigration”.  Only 19% of respondents disagreed, a figure that declined to 13% when the question asked about “legal immigration.”

Eighty percent of those identifying as Republicans or leaning Republican, and 92% of Democrats or leaning Democrat saw immigration as positive for the country.

Furthermore, strong bipartisan majorities stated that immigration should remain at its current levels or should increase.  Only a minority felt we should decrease the number of immigrants coming to the U.S.

A June Quinnipiac poll drilled down on specific issues and found that a strong majority (79%) favors providing a path to citizenship for those at risk of losing protections following the the Administration’s recision of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including 61% of Republicans and 94% of Democrats.   Sixty-eight percent of those polled favored allowing undocumented immigrants generally to stay in the U.S. and have a path to citizenship, with another 9% saying they should be able to stay but not get citizenship.   Fifty-eight percent oppose building a wall on our southern border, albeit with a sharp divide among Republicans (77% support the wall) and Democrats (91% oppose the wall), and 66% oppose separating children from their parents who have crossed the border.  Similar to the Gallup poll, strong majorities (79%) felt that legal immigration overall should either remain at its current level or increase, including 68% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats.

The polling results above are closely mirrored in other  recent polls conducted by CBS, Pew Research Center, and CNN that are collected here.

Collectively, the  polls indicate a vast disconnect between the Administration’s stance on immigration and the mainstream public’s views.   The Administration’s immigration positions cater to a minority of the country that wants to turn its back on our immigrant heritage, and our centuries-long track record of immigrants – regardless of whether they came seeking refuge, or to reunite with families, or to work – bringing new energy, creativity and productivity to our communities and our economy.

Across the country, the businesses and chambers of commerce are stepping up to oppose proposed legislation and administration policies that are aimed at pushing out immigrants who are already here, such as ending DACA and TPS for certain countries, which will force over a million members out of our communities and our workforce, or at reducing immigrant arrivals.    These measures will make our nation less diverse, vibrant and prosperous.  The poll results are an encouraging indicator that the majority of the public is likely to stand with businesses that speak out to oppose  anti-immigrant bills and policies.

 

 

Today’s DACA Vote: One Anti-immigrant Bill Down, One to Go

In response to a discharge petition to force a floor vote to protect young immigrants at risk of losing their status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, House Speaker Paul Ryan scheduled a vote today on two bills that purportedly would offer DACA holders a way to remain legally in the U.S.

One of them, Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s H.R. 4760 “Securing America’s Future Act of 2018” deservedly went down to defeat today when 41 Republicans joined all House Democrats to vote no.  Representative Bruce Poliquin voted in favor of H.R. 4760.

H.R. 4760 would have offered only temporary status with no path to permanent residency for the over 700,000 young adults with DACA, while massively overhauling our immigration system without any Congressional hearings or in-depth debate.  H.R. 4760 proposed slashing legal immigration by nearly 400,000 per year, and eliminated most immediate family immigration categories, while failing even to grandfather those immediate family members with approved immigrant visa petitions who have already been waiting for years in the backlog to immigrate.   As our nation’s labor pool shrinks, H.R. 4760 represented exactly the wrong direction for our immigration policy. This commentary from the Cato Institute describes some of the bill’s many flaws that rightly led to its defeat.

Voting on the second so-called “compromise” bill, H.R. 6136, the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018”, again sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte, was postpone  into next week.

H.R. 6136 should also be voted down. Among its many flaws, the Cato Institute estimates that it would cut legal immigration by 1.8 million people in the next twenty years – precisely the period when we need to fill the workforce ranks that baby boomers will be exiting.

Those with DACA do not want their futures to be at the expense of harmful reforms to the nation’s immigration laws. Both of Maine’s representatives should vote “no” on H.R. 6136.

 

Update on Administration’s “Zero Tolerance”/Family Separation Policy

Further update:  On June 26, 2018, a federal district court ordered the federal government to reunite the estimated 2600 minors in government custody who arrived with and were taken from their parents within 30 days of the order, or within 14 days for children under five years old.


On June 20, 2018, following widespread condemnation of the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy and the separation of children from their asylum seeking parents at our country’s southern border, President Trump signed an executive order stopping the family separations.

However, the Executive Order was a fig leaf, and not a real commitment to honoring our legal and moral obligation to protect asylum seekers and to safeguard families.

Instead, the Executive Order:

  • Reaffirms the “zero tolerance” policy.   The U.S. will continue to prosecute all who cross the border seeking asylum for the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized entry, rather than using its discretion to simply process them in the civil, immigration court system, as has been the normal procedure for decades under Democrat and Republican administrations alike.
  • Orders that families be detained together, rather than separately, but states that they can be detained indefinitely.    This violates the government’s agreement in the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement, reaffirmed by the federal court in 2015 and 2016, that detention, even when with a parent, is never healthy for a child, and that children must be released from immigration detention within 20 days to a responsible relative or guardian if unaccompanied, or together with her/his parent..
  • States that the administration will work to roll back the Flores v. Reno settlement to allow for indefinite detention of asylum seeking families and unaccompanied minors.
  • Again erroneously blames Congress for the family separation policy and states that the zero tolerance policy will continue “until and unless Congress directs otherwise”

Maine’s Congressional delegation needs to hear that this is not acceptable.   Congress must take the president up on his invitation, and direct an end to the “zero tolerance” policy that requires indiscriminate criminal prosecution of everyone crossing the border without permission, even asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers often have no ability to get passports from their home countries and so lack visas to enter the U.S. legally.   However, under U.S. and international law, people fleeing for their lives and safety have the right to apply for asylum regardless of their manner of entry.  The government should only criminally prosecute asylum seekers for unauthorized entry in extreme circumstances.

Even in those rare cases, Congress should pass legislation directing the government to always apply the “best interest of the child” standard and to uphold constitutional principles protecting the sanctity of family unity, and mandating a presumption in favor of alternatives to detention (such as frequent check-ins with ICE, with or without payment of a cash bond, or electronic monitoring), rather than detention. Family detention should only be used if warranted due to specific and articulated reasons, with an opportunity for any detention decision to be immediately appealed to a judge or other independent fact-finder.

How we treat the most vulnerable and those seeking protection speaks volumes about who we are as a country. In the 1930s, we turned away Jews seeking protection. In the 1940s, we interned Japanese American families and Alaskan Aleut natives. We regret those decisions now.   Urge Maine’s delegation to make sure that we do not in the future look back at this moment with regret as one where we forgot our values and jeopardized human lives and liberty.

Family Separations are Inhumane. Do They Also Damage our Standing in the World?

See Update concerning President Trump’s 6/20/2018 Executive Order here.


By now you are well aware that the U.S. government is separating children from their parents who cross our southern border seeking asylum. In the past, these individuals typically were held together short term in “family detention centers” to be released to await their hearings in civil immigration courts after paying bond or with an ankle monitor, once they were found by immigration officials to have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries.

Attorney General Jeff Session’s April 2018 announcement that anyone entering the U.S. without permission (a misdemeanor federal crime when it is the first time) will be criminally prosecuted, set the stage for children being separated from their parents.   When parents are charged with a federal crime, rather than a civil immigration violation, they are detained in facilities for suspected criminals. The law prohibits their children being held with them.

Two points are unequivocably clear:

Ÿ–   The Attorney General’s new “zero tolerance” policy that results in separation of parents and children is a choice intended to deter asylum seekers coming from Central America as confirmed by various administration officials. While many in the administration, including President Trump, say the government must separate families, that is simply untrue. The government has the discretion to process asylum seekers in the civil immigration system without referring them to criminal prosecution, as indeed happened with the bulk of asylum-seeking families until the new zero tolerance policy was announced. Even when referring asylum-seeking parents for criminal prosecution, the government has the discretion to use alternatives to detention, such as electronic ankle monitors, so that parents and children can stay together.

—  “Democrats” are not to blame for the separation of children from their parents after crossing the border.   A bipartisan Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980 to carry out U.S. obligations under international law, and a humanitarian imperative, to allow those seeking safety from persecution in their home countries to apply for asylum.   The right to ask for asylum is the same regardless of a person’s manner of entry, whether through an airport or land port immigration inspection post, or across the U.S. border without permission; all have the legal right to apply for asylum in a civil proceeding before immigration authorities. There is no requirement to separate asylum seeking families under the immigration laws, and prosecuting asylum seekers for misdemeanor illegal entry does not eliminate their right to request asylum.

For a more detailed explanation of the administration’s policy shift, read this interview with Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service, now at the Migration Policy Institute.

Deservedly, the outcry domestically against forcibly taking children from their parents is growing, with a recent poll showing two-thirds of the public, as well as faith leaders, former First Ladies, and even the Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee in the House, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) opposed to the practice. On June 19, 2018, thirteen Republican senators, including Maine’s Susan Collins, joined the chorus, and asked the Attorney General to stop separating families under the “zero tolerance” policy.

As we challenge what this extreme immigration policy says about the current values of our country and the strength of our democracy, we must also worry about our standing in the world.  This is yet another move by the Administration that may be causing those abroad to question the U.S.’s direction, leadership in the world community, and its attitude towards immigrants and human rights.  The “zero tolerance” policy’s effects on families is not going unnoticed abroad, as this June 19th sampling of reporting from British, French, Italian, Spanish and German mainstream media demonstrate.

Already, the U.S. has seen a slump in visitors and international graduate students  that may be related to the current administration’s immigration policies and rhetoric.  Will the U.S.’s descent into taking children from their parents drive more foreigners to look to countries other than the U.S. for their vacations, their graduate studies, and their work opportunities?  It is too early to tell, but at a time when our nation and Maine need more, rather than fewer immigrants to fill the ranks of our shrinking talent pool, the image of a heartless U.S. is likely unhelpful.

Senators King and Collins, and Representative Pingree, have all spoken out against the family separation policy.   As of this writing, Representative Poliquin has yet to make a formal statement, though he is on record voicing his opposition. Sen. King and Rep. Pingree have also co-sponsored bills in the Senate (S. 3036) and in the House (H.R. 5954) that would put safeguards in place to prevent taking children from their parents absent findings of abuse, neglect, or that they are victims of trafficking or are not in fact the parents’ children.

Maine employers should call on Maine’s Congressional delegation to pass stand-alone legislation urgently that will stop the wholesale, nondiscretionary removal of children from their parents in any immigration enforcement action. President Trump has signaled that he will only sign legislation that also includes drastic cuts to legal immigration and funding for the border wall.   Keeping immigrant families together, and preserving our country’s values should not be held hostage to the administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Stimulating Maine’s Economy

MaineBiz featured MeBIC Board Member Quang Nguyen in this June 11th article profiling several of the many immigrant entrepreneurs making their mark on Maine’s economy.

As we’ve noted previously, immigrants nationwide are highly entrepreneurial.  In Maine, MeBIC partner New American Economy found that as of 2010, the percentage of immigrants who are entrepreneurs exceeded their percentage of our population.  That year, immigrant owned businesses employed over 14,000 Maine residents while generating nearly $70 million in business income.

Maine, and our nation, need policies that will encourage immigrant entrepreneurialism.  The Administration is currently proposing to eliminate a regulation enabling certain immigrant entrepreneurs to launch their new ventures here in the U.S who otherwise could not do so.   We should be harnessing immigrant entrepreneurial energy, not pushing it out the door.  Contact MeBIC if you are interested in opposing this change by submitting a comment before the June 28th public comment period deadline.

 

Economic Reality and Immigration Policy Disconnect, a Recap

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released data confirming what employers already know through experience.   In April 2018, there were 6.7 million job openings nationwide, but only 6.1 million unemployed.   This dramatic 600,000 gap between available workers and job openings bears out December 2015 BLS projections that from 2014-2024, the economy would grow by 9.8 million jobs, while due to workers aging out of the workforce and declining birthrates, labor pool growth would fall far short of the need, at 7.9 million workers.

It couldn’t be more obvious. The U.S. cannot produce enough workers domestically even in the  long term unless birthrates turn around radically, and instead, they are dropping.  Our only realistic way to increase our labor supply is through immigration.  Yet this Administration’s policies are resulting in fewer, not more immigrants or temporary visa holders (who may become our future workers) arriving or remaining in the U.S.

To recap just some of the Administration’s actions or policies since January 2017 that MeBIC has highlighted previously and their labor force impact:

While it is too soon to quantify precisely the number of lost current or future workers resulting from some of the changes noted above, just the Administration’s decisions to rescind DACA and end TPS alone will strip the ability to work legally from over 1,000,000 individuals who are already part of our communities, exacerbating the growing U.S. labor force shortage.

Some in Congress wholeheartedly support this Administration’s harsh immigration actions, and support proposals to roll back both employment-based and immediate family immigration, at a time when our country needs more, not fewer people.

Without a 180 degree turn to become more welcoming both to immigrants already in the U.S. and to those who might want to come here from abroad, it’s hard to see how our economy can continue to grow.

National groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, MeBIC partner New American Economy, the Visit U.S. Coalition, and FWD.us, to name only a few, are working hard to push back against this Administration’s destructive immigration policies.  It’s incumbent on Maine’s business community to join them in relentlessly calling on Congress and the Administration to adopt policies and laws that will retain both immigrants who are already here but lack full resident status, and attract those still abroad.

Contact MeBIC if your Maine-based business wants to get involved.