Cato: Restricting Access to Asylum and More Walls Likely to Lead to Increased Border Deaths

The Cato Institute has issued a new analysis of government data indicating that as more miles of wall were constructed along the U.S.-Mexico, there was an increase in deaths of those trying to seek safety or opportunity in the U.S.

The report notes that in recent years, deaths have declined as the population trying to enter the U.S. has increasingly been individuals fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  They have tended to seek out, rather than evade, Border Patrol officials to ask for asylum.

(T)he evidence indicates that border fences have made the journey far more dangerous—even deadly—and that asylum made the border safer.

In fact, asylum and other humanitarian relief programs appear to have already saved about 1,300 lives along the border since 2013. By contrast, increased enforcement—including the fence—appears to have resulted in about 4,600 more deaths from 1999 to 2019.

Given that the number of southern border apprehensions in recent years are far lower than they were for decades, and that the majority of the undocumented in the U.S. today entered the U.S. legally through airports and other ports of entry with temporary visas but failed to leave, the case for the border wall is thin.

Crafting meaningful immigration reforms that respect of our country’s tradition and legal obligation to offer protection to those seeking safety,  that meet the needs of employers and families, and that reduce processing backlogs which can stretch for years, would be far more effective than continued fighting over the wall.

Supreme Court Will Not Intervene Prematurely in DACA Litigation

On January 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the ongoing litigation over the administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.     This means that DACA holders will be able to keep their DACA status while lawsuits continue.

Multiple legal challenges of the administration’s decision to recind DACA were filed in four federal district courts.  In three of those cases, the courts partially blocked the government’s rescission, ordering DACA to continue during the ongoing litigation for those already holding that status.   The government appealed those decisions to the respective federal appellate courts.

In an unusual move, the administration also petitioned the Supreme Court to take up DACA, essentially asking to leapfrog over the appellate courts.   The Supreme Court’s decision allows the cases to continue running their course through the federal courts. It also means that the Supreme Court is unlikely to take up DACA before its next term in October 2019.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals already issued a decision affirming one lower court’s injunction against the government.  Maine was a plaintiff in that case.  Appeals in other circuits are still pending.

Litigation is not the path to real stability for those with DACA, however.    The Senate must press President Trump for a path to permanent residency for DACA holders.  The new House of Representatives is already on board.  The ball is in the Senate and President Trump’s court.


President Trump’s Proposal Falls Short

Since taking office, President Trump has rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and terminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.   Altogether, these measures would strip legal status from about 1.1 million immigrants who are in our workforce, schools and universities, and are contributing to our communities.

On Saturday, January 20, 2019, President Trump offered to end the government shutdown by exchanging a temporary, three year, restoration of legal status for DACA and TPS holders for the $5.7 billion he demands for a border wall that most in the U.S. oppose.   He also proposed creating  a system for immigrant youth from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who are afraid of gang violence to apply for U.S. protection from within their countries.  He neglected to mention that such a system already existed when he took office, and his administration ended it.

At best, this cannot be considered a serious, good faith offer.  At worst, it is cynical and cruel.  These 1.1 million people have long contributed to our nation.  For example, Hondurans have had TPS  for over twenty years.  Like them, DACA recipients are working and paying taxes, and many are pursuing college and graduate degrees.  We need all of these individuals to keep our aging communities vibrant and to shore up our shrinking labor force. They deserve an offer of a path to permanent legal status, not the uncertainty of a three year reprieve.  In addition, the economic costs to the U.S. if DACA and TPS holders cannot remain permanently are in the billions.

Moreover, President Trump said in late 2017 and early 2018 that he was willing to make a deal for permanent status for DACA holders in exchange for more border security.  When a bipartisan proposal with those elements was hammered out, President Trump moved the goalposts, refusing to sign any bill that didn’t include slashing immediate family immigration and eliminating the diversity lottery.

More than half of the current undocumented population entered the U.S. legally with visas and “overstayed”.  Constructing more border wall will do nothing to address that reality.  Congress cannot capitulate to the President’s demands .    Both sides instead need to negotiate real proposals for immigration reform.   This weekend’s offer was a non-starter.



DHS Removes Three Countries from H-2A and H-2B Seasonal Visa Eligibility

The Department of Homeland Security has determined that effective January 19, 2019, nationals of Ethiopia and the Philippines will no longer be eligible for H-2A and H-2B seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural visas, respectively.   Nationals of the Dominican Republic also will no longer be eligible for H-2B seasonal non-agricultural visas.

While this decision does not affect the status of individuals from these three countries who are currently in the U.S. on H-2A or H-2B visas, they will be unable to apply for extensions of their visas.  They also cannot change from one visa type to the prohibited visa category.

To see the 84 countries that are H-2A eligible, and the 81 countries with H-2B eligibility, read the notice here.


Bill to Legalize Farm Laborers Introduced

On January 17, 2019, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced H.R. 641,  An Act to improve agricultural job opportunities, benefits, and security for aliens in the United States and for other purposes.  Maine’s Representative Chellie Pingree is an original co-sponsor of the bill.

H.R. 641 would provide a path to permanent legal status for farm workers, whether they have worked here on H-2A temporary agricultural visas, or are undocumented.  Pew Research Center estimates that immigrants make up about half of all farm workers, and 26% of farm workers are undocumented.

Farmers have experienced shortages of laborers for years, causing them to lose crops and money, including in Maine.  Even with increased wages, native born U.S. citizens don’t flock to farm work.

H.R. 641 would allow existing farm workers, regardless of their immigration status, to get a “blue card”, after passing background and security checks and a rigorous application process.   The blue card would allow them to live and work legally in the United States for up to 8 years.  If they perform a prescribed amount of farm work during those years, they could gain permanent residency following another rigorous application process and further background and security checks.

This bill would benefit workers, who can come out of the shadows, and farm operations and the economy.   It remains to be seen how it will move through Congress.

Canadian Government Moves to Aggressively Increase Immigration

Canada suffers from the same demographic challenges as the U.S. – an aging workforce and declining birth rates resulting in a shrinking talent and labor pool.  However, Canada’s strategy for solving this challenge is radically different from the Trump Administration’s approach.

In its 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration,  Canada’s Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) sets out its goal to admit more than 1 million immigrants from 2019 through 2021.   New immigrants just in those three years would represent 3% of Canada’s 37 million population.

As we’ve noted previously, Canada has also reformed its immigration system so that international students who receive advanced degrees from Canadian universities have an accelerated path to permanent status in Canada.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been taking steps to curtail legal immigration that are expected to continue.  Time will tell which approach to immigration, Canada’s or the U.S.’s, is the most economically sound.  However, economic leaders in the U.S. have been sounding the alarm that the U.S. has chosen the wrong path.

Polls Show Most Mainers, and Most Americans, Oppose the Border Wall and the Shutdown

A recent poll of voters in seven states, including Maine, found that a majority of voters oppose the border wall, and disagree with the government shut down over its funding.

Over 60% of Mainers polled oppose the shutdown and would support Congress voting to fund the government without providing wall funding.  Over 60% of Mainers polled would also oppose President Trump declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall.

The recent survey’s results are in line with multiple polls of the issue in recent months, with majorities  nationwide  consistently disagreeing that the U.S. needs the border wall.  A plurality agree that the U.S. needs more immigrants, not fewer, and strong majorities believe that the U.S. should allow undocumented immigrants to have a path to legal status.

Polls indicate that Mainers and the U.S. public in general are far more sensible about immigration policy than those who are holding the government hostage over the border wall.

Unpacking the President’s Border Wall Speech

President Trump made his first ever Oval Office speech to argue for 1000 miles of physical wall on the southern border.

A good fact check analysis by PBS of the speech can be found here.

More to the point, the speech downplayed the very real human rights crisis precipitated by the administration’s own changes in how it handles people arriving at the southern border seeking asylum.   Under longstanding U.S. and international laws, those fleeing violence and persecution can apply for asylum regardless of whether they present themselves at, or enter without inspection between, ports of entry.  By “metering” the number of people who can apply at the border, creating weeks-long waits, and by deciding to forcibly separate and then to detain families and children, the administration has created a humanitarian and human rights debacle that a border wall will not solve.

Just a fraction of the $5.7 billion that President Trump seeks for the wall, if spent on more asylum officers and immigration judges, would lessen the backlogs in processing asylum claims that can last for years.  And directing some of those funds to the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, if tactically and transparently deployed, could help improve the conditions that are forcing people to flee for their safety and survival.

MeBIC agrees with this cogent response by the Center for Migration Studies.  From a human rights and an economic perspective, this administration should be spending taxpayer dollars on meaningful immigration law reforms, not on a border wall.



Portland Office of Economic Opportunity Launches New Plan and Website

The City of Portland’s Office of Economic Opportunity has concluded a year-long effort to develop a plan to ensure Portland’s continued “welcome-ability” and to help area immigrants reach their full potential through city efforts to foster their civic, economic and social inclusion .  You can read the plan here.

The effort, in collaboration with the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, and supported by a Gateways for Growth challenge grant backed by MeBIC partner New American Economy and Welcoming America, has also resulted in a new website where immigrants in Portland can find resources and employers and immigrants can connect.

Portland is an increasingly diverse city, attracting  immigrants who are vital to Portland’s social fabric, and to its population and economic growth, as highlighted in this report.    MeBIC applauds the City’s efforts to be a more valuable resource for the newcomers who represent the future of Portland, and Maine.


U.S. Chamber of Commerce Opposes Shutdown, Supports Solution for DACA and TPS holders

In a letter to Congress, on January 8, 2019 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged Congress and the administration to end the shutdown and enact legislation to provide needed immigration reforms that enjoy broad support.

Specifically, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified the need for meaningful reforms to a broken immigration system as the real imperative that needs to be addressed.   Its letter urged passage of legislation to  permanently legalize the over one million immigrants on the cusp of losing their work permits and right to remain in the U.S. due to the administration’s decisions to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans , Nepalis, Nicaraguans, and Sudanese, about 250,000 of whom have lived legally in the U.S. for over 20 years.   Right now, only federal court injunctions are blocking the administration’s actions that would strip them of their status.

The U.S. Chamber also supports increased border security, but not a wall, which the majority of the U.S. public also oppose, according to multiple polls.

As another business lobbying group,, points out, the administration rejected multiple previous offers to increase border security, including funding for some additional border wall,  in exchange for legal status for DACA holders.  It’s now the administration’s obligation to end the shutdown and negotiate in good faith.   The economic and human costs of the shutdown and stalemate are too high.


Understanding the Southern Border

As we’ve written previously, the crisis at the border is not about an “invasion,” and not something a wall will solve.

Two recent commentaries, one in the New Yorker, and another by a former Customs and Border Patrol officer provide a deeper dive into the complexities of the situation and how the current administration’s actions have exacerbated the humanitarian and administrative crisis, and ponder the costs to the U.S. as a nation of approaches to border security that ignore those complexities.

They are both worth a read.

Ushering in the New Year with a Border Wall Shutdown

2019 is off to an inauspicious start, with a government shutdown over a manufactured crisis.

As MeBIC has written previously, government data shows apprehensions at the southern border in FY 2017 and FY 2018, whether between or at ports of entry, at less than half of the nearly or over one million apprehensions annually from fiscal years 1983 through 2006.    This is hardly an “invasion”, contrary to the administration’s characterizations.

Moreover, in FY 2018, more than 42% of those apprehended were families with minor children or unaccompanied minors.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data shows that nearly 97% of those families were from the  “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gang, domestic, and political violence are rampant, as were 67% of the unaccompanied minors, underscoring that these are people seeking protection, which international and U.S. law allows them to do.

In addition, as we’ve posted previously, studies reveal that the U.S.’s undocumented population is at its lowest level in over a decade, and various estimates are that those who entered legally with temporary visas and never left constitute more than 40% of that population, with the proportion of “overstayers” increasing in the past decade.  According to the administration’s own data, since 2007, each year the number of visa overstayers has exceeded the number of undocumented who entered without authorization.  The most recent full-year data available, for FY 2017,  shows over 700,000 people overstayed their visas, far eclipsing the 415,517 individuals apprehended at the southern border that year.

A border wall will do nothing to deter visa overstayers.  Nor will more physical barriers prevent those seeking safety, who have the legal right under both U.S. and international law to apply for asylum regardless of how or where they enter the country, from continuing to arrive based on their belief that the U.S. is a society that offers them hope and safe haven from violence and persecution.

Nor is a border wall the solution to the disfunction that has long existed in the U.S. immigration system, made more chaotic and cruel under the current administration.  President Trump’s willingness to keep the government shutdown going until he gets full funding for his border wall ironically is exacerbating the very real problems that exist.   For example, years-long backlogs in the immigration courts are made worse because the shutdown has furloughed most immigration judges.

With President Trump’s recent statement that the shutdown could last months or years,  despite bipartisan proposals to provide more funding for border security but not the full wall, 2019 is likely to be another challenging year for immigrants and immigration policy.




Projections for Immigration Developments in 2019

Forbes contributor Stuart Anderson discusses what we can expect on the immigration front from the Trump administration and the courts in 2019, and who knows, perhaps even from the new Congress.

As the article notes, much of the likely immigration activity will consist of  continued attacks by the administration on legal immigration, with negative repercussions for the U.S. economy.  His assessments and predictions are solid and worth a read.

2019 Summer Season H-2B Visa Cap Exceeded in Just Five Minutes

Employers with non-agricultural seasonal labor needs can petition for H-2B temporary worker visas, but with limited exceptions, only 66,000 visas are available annually, divided equally between the two halves of the federal fiscal year.   Demand for H-2B visas chronically outstrips the supply.  For two years running, Congress has increased the number of available H-2B visas, but these have been short term fixes that expired at the end of their respective fiscal years.

In the absence of a permanent meaningful increase in the number of H-2B visas, the government has tried varying approaches to deal with the excess demand.  After years of conducting a lottery, for FY 2019, the government instead launched a first-come first-served system based on the time stamp, up to the millisecond, for when each application was electronically filed with the Department of Labor’s iCERT portal.

For seasonal jobs beginning on or after April 1, 2019  through September 30, 2019, the first moment that an employer could initiate the process through the iCERT portal was at 12:00.00.000 a.m. on January 1, 2019.  Within minutes, the iCERT portal crashed due to the high volume of submissions.

On January 2, 2019, the Department of Labor announced that it received applications for over 97,800 seasonal positions via the iCERT portal within the first five minutes after it opened.

Many Maine employers vying for any of the 33,000 available H-2B visas to help meet their increased labor needs for the spring/summer 2019 season are likely to find themselves shut out.  Employers seeking details about which workers are cap-exempt can check here.

Congress should enact a permanent and substantial increase in the number of H-2B visas so that employers can look to the program as one that can be relied on to meet their seasonal labor needs.  With unemployment lower than 4% nationally and in Maine (where it has been below 4% for a record 36 months), there is no excuse for inaction.