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.