Update on Citizenship Question on Census 2020

UPDATE:  The Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the decision to add the citizenship status question to Census 2020 on April 25, 2019.  Court watchers reported that oral argument lasted far longer than usual, with vigorous questioning of both sides.   A decision must be issued before the Court’s term ends on June 30th.  The government is slated to print the actual Census 2020 forms in July.

However, recent evidence emerged othat a G.O.P. strategist on redistricting was involved in advising the Trump administration’s transition team and the Department of Commerce to add the citizenship status question specifically in order to provide an electoral edge to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites. Attorneys notified the Supreme Court on May 30th about the new evidence, and arguments are scheduled in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first court to rule on the citizenship question, for June 5, 2019.

On April 5, 2019, a Federal District Court in Maryland became the third court to rule that the Department of Commerce cannot add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 decennial Census.

As we have written previously, the purpose of the decennial census is to measure the entire U.S. population, regardless of immigration status.  The census count is used to apportion congressional representation,  to inform the distribution of some federal funds, and is relied upon by the private sector as well.

The Maryland federal court’s decision joins those by federal courts in New York and California in blocking the government from adding the question to the census forms.   The administration has already appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral argument later in April, with a decision expected before the end of June 2019.

Immigrant-Dense Areas Better Off Economically

This piece in Bloomberg looks at data from states with high densities of immigrants compared to states with lower densities, and then examines factors such as personal spending and job creation.   It found that “states with the greatest concentration of immigrants create the most jobs and biggest increase in personal income. Where immigrants are relatively scarce, states generate the fewest jobs and smallest rise in income.”

The relationship between prosperity and immigrants — authorized or not — is definitive, according to data among the 20 largest states compiled by Bloomberg….

Strong regional economies with lots of jobs, high wages (sic) other advantages naturally attract migrants looking for opportunity. They then become an essential force in extending prosperity in the places that welcome them.

As Congress debates  bills to legalize those who came here as children or who have long held Temporary Protected Status, it’s nice to be reminded that  their passage would be a win not only for these immigrants, but also for the U.S. economy.



MeBIC’s Director Honored with “Access to Justice” Award

On May 29, 2019, MeBIC’s executive director Beth Stickney was honored to receive the 2019 Muskie “Access to Justice” Award.

The award recognized her current work with MeBIC to improve laws and policies to help attract and retain immigrants in Maine and to facilitate their ability to live and work to their fullest potential, and her prior work as the founding executive director of Maine’s Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

Beth spoke about the importance of immigrants to our past and future, and the need for everyone to work for systemic change, if our nation is ever to achieve the goal of justice  and equity for all.  You can read her remarks here.

Attendees at the dinner included Maine’s Governor Janet Mills, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, and Judge Kermit Lipez of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, among other legal and business leaders.   Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of MeBIC partner Coffee By Design and the 2018 honoree, presented Beth with the award.

Funds raised by the event help support the six principal civil legal aid providers in Maine, including the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Equal Justice, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

Bills to Provide Residency to DACA and TPS Holders Advance in the House

On May 22, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee voted to send legislation to the House floor that would provide a path to legal status for individuals with legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs.

A recent study finds that about 700 immigrants in Maine’s 1st District alone would be able to gain residency under these bills.*  It estimates that they currently contribute over $5 million in  federal and state tax payments, and have over $14 million in spending power annually.

H.R. 2820, The Dream Act of 2019, would provide a path to permanent residency, following an application process including background and security checks, for immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, including those who currently have DACA.*

H.R. 2821,  The American Promise Act of 2019, would allow most individuals who currently have TPS, after successful completion of background and security checks, to become permanent residents.*

These two bills together would benefit approximately 1 million individuals with DACA and TPS currently, who have only federal court injunctions standing between them and the loss of their permission to stay and work in the U.S. legally following the administration’s decision to rescind DACA and to terminate TPS.  The bills would also allow an estimated 1 million more immigrant young immigrant adults who came here as children  and are already part of our communities to apply for permanent residency.

The bills would also benefit U.S. employers and the economy.   The eligible individuals are already members of our communities, holding jobs, paying taxes, making payments on cars and homes.   By providing permanency to these individuals, Congress will ensure that they can remain part of our workforce and economy.  That is why business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and CEOs of some of the nation’s largest companies are solidly in support of providing them with a path to permanent residency.

MeBIC applauds the House for moving these bills forward.   It’s high time for Congress to get this done.   Contact MeBIC if you’d like to reach out to Maine’s Congressional delegation to urge their support.

* H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide permanency for DACA and TPS holders in a single bill, informs the study.  H.R. 2820 and H.R. 2821 taken together comprise the whole of H.R. 6, but for procedural reasons H.R. 6 was split into two for consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.   H.R. 6 is the bill that will advance to the House floor.  The study did not capture data for Maine’s District 2.

Parsing the President’s Immigration Plan

On May 16, 2019, President Trump announced the outlines of the administration’s plan to overhaul our immigration laws.

There’s no question that the nation’s current immigration laws are in great need of thoughtful reform.  Unfortunately, the President’s plan would remake our immigration system in a way that betrays our nation’s immigration tradition and values, and also undermines our economy.

While details of the plan have yet to be released, the broad outlines of the plan closely mirror the RAISE Act, which the administration strongly endorsed when it was introduced in 2017.  As we described here, the RAISE Act attracted significant criticism that it would harm the U.S. economy, which needs not only PhD researchers and engineers, but also those willing and able to work at farms, factories, in the service sector, and everything in between.

The President’s most recent plan would create a new “merit” based system, favoring those who are already well-educated and financially well-off, and requiring that all immigrants already have English fluency.   It would slash our current immediate family immigration system, preventing permanent residents from petitioning for their spouses and children as current law allows, and no longer allowing U.S. citizens to be joined by their parents or their adult or married children.

The flaws in this proposal are legion, including its assumption that those who immigrate as immediate family  (the only kind of family member that current law allows)  don’t have “merit.”  Immediate family immigrants range from manual laborers to highly educated and experienced individuals and entrepreneurs, contributing at every level of our economy.  In addition, how many highly educated professionals will want to immigrate to the U.S. if they have to leave their adult children permanently behind, and will never be able to bring their parents?  (If the detailed plan mimics the RAISE Act, only the spouses and under-18 year old children of new  “merit” based immigrants could also immigrate.)

Moreover, the plan’s requirement  that immigrants already know English before immigrating goes against our country’s immigrant tradition and our values.   We have centuries of evidence showing that lack of English does not correlate to an inability to work hard and contribute to our communities and workforce.  (Had English fluency been a requirement for our forbears, many of us would not be here today.)  While many immigrants do have command of English before they immigrate, we have never made that a litmus test of suitability.

President Trump’s plan also excludes any path to permanent residency for the more than 1 million immigrants with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) who have only federal court injunctions standing between them and the loss of permission to stay and work in the U.S.  These individuals are long term members of our communities (for example, Hondurans have had TPS for more than 20 years now).  They participate in our workforce at rates higher than the native born, and are the parents of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizen children.   No serious immigration reform proposal can fail to include them, both from a humanitarian perspective, but also from an economic one.    These are working age individuals and our country needs every last one of them to stem our workforce shrinkage.

The President’s plan appears to be more of a political strategy than a good faith plan to improve our nation’s legal immigration system.  His willingness to negotiate with Congress will show whether the plan was offered in good faith or not.

Myth vs. Fact: Immigrants and Crime

A common refrain from those wanting to restricting immigration is to equate immigrants with crime.

While there is no question that since immigrants are humans, some immigrants commit crimes, we should no more conclude from that that immigrants have a propensity for criminality any more than we conclude that all white males are inclined to criminality because some white males are criminals.

Instead, we should look to data.  What does the data say?   Repeated studies have found that both undocumented and legal immigrants tend to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born U.S. citizens, and that areas that have experienced increases in their immigrant populations have seen corresponding decreases in overall crime rates.

Here is a survey of some of the studies that debunk the myths linking immigrants and crimes.


  • The Marshall Project examined in a May 2019 report whether there is a link between undocumented immigration and an increase in crime, and found that “growth in illegal immigration does not lead to higher local crime rates.”


  • Most states don’t record the immigration status of those convicted of crimes, but Texas does.   For that reason, the Cato Institute looked at Texas data when assessing whether there is a correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime.   Texas was also a prime study subject since it has one of the highest proportions of immigrants of any state in the U.S., at 17% of the state’s population.    The Cato institute reported that both legal and undocumented immigrants commit crimes, including violent crimes, at rates lower than native-born Texas residents.   As Cato’s commentary on its research notes;

Even in a Republican-governed border state like Texas with law enforcement officials very concerned about illegal immigration — and with a reputation for enforcing criminal laws to the hilt — illegal immigrants appear less crime-prone than natives.


  • A paper published in the May 2017 edition of Criminology found that increases in the size of the undocumented population do not increase violence and instead tend to correspond to decreased violent crime rates in communities.


  • A 2017 study looking at data from 1990-2014 in the American Journal of Public Health found that “Increased undocumented immigration was significantly associated with reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests, net of other factors. There was no significant relationship between increased undocumented immigration and DUI deaths.”


  •  A 2014 study in the Journal of Law and Economics, concludes that in communities where law enforcement officials notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about all persons arrested, there is no meaningful reduction in overall or violent crime rates in those communities.  This finding correlates to overall data finding that native born citizens are responsible for most crimes committed.


New Court Ruling Against Government’s Rescission of DACA

As we’ve discussed previously, on September 5, 2017 the administration announced its rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Three federal courts in California, New York, and the District of Colombia all held that DACA’s rescission was unlawful, and blocked termination of DACA for those who already had it prior to the program’s rescission.  However, a federal court in Maryland ruled in favor of the government.

The DACA plaintiffs appealed the Maryland decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an order on May 17, 2019  finding that the administration’s action was arbitrary and capricious and vacating the lower court’s ruling.

There is no practical effect on DACA holders as a result of this latest decision, since injunctions from the California, New York and D.C. federal courts are still in effect, requiring USCIS to continue to accept DACA renewal applications.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the DACA litigation in January, so the soonest the  issue would reach that court would be after its next term begins in October 2019.   (UPDATE:  On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court turned down another request by the government to fast track consideration of the DACA decision in the Maryland case, making it impossible for the Supreme Court to hear the case prior to its next term).

Meanwhile, bills in Congress would  provide a path to permanent residency for DACA holders.  Let’s hope that Congress will act so that DACA holders can finally leave their legal limbo and have the stability that only permanent status will bring.

Report Shows Recent Increases in H-1B Visa Denials

A recent report based on an analysis of government data shows troubling increases in denials of H-1B visas, the leading avenue through which foreign-born professionals with specialized knowledge are able to legally work for U.S. employers who need their talent.

The report by the National Foundation for American Policy analyzed data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and found that denials of initial H-1B visa petitions quadrupled between FY 2015 and FY 2018, and in the first quarter of FY 2019 increased to 34% from 24% in FY 2018.

More concerning is the increase in denials of extensions for current H-1B visa employees.   H-1B visas are issued for terms of up to 3 years.    However, extensions are available, and are particularly critical  so that employers can retain their employees while they are on waiting lists for permanent residency that can be more than a decade long.

Normally, if there is no change in the employer or in the position held by the H-1B employee, extensions are routinely granted.  The NFAP data analysis found that  denials of H-1B visa extension applications tripled from 4% in FY 2016 to 12% in FY 2018, and in the first quarter of FY 2019, 18% of extension requests were denied.

This article in Wired provides a glimpse of the human toll of these spikes in denials on talented immigrants who have lived and worked here legally for years, buying homes, paying taxes, raising children here.

The impact on employers who will lose valuable employees, during a time of sustained low unemployment, and when there are a million more job openings than there are  job seekers is also significant.

As the report notes:

If the goal of the Trump administration is to make it much more difficult for well-educated foreign nationals to work in America in technical fields, then USCIS is accomplishing that goal. If the administration’s goals include more international students attending non-U.S. universities and making their careers someplace other than America, and for U.S. companies to transfer more work and plans for growth to Canada and elsewhere, then those goals are also being accomplished.

The increase in H-1B denials echoes a larger trend of increases in overall denials of applications for legal status and for naturalization to U.S. citizen by the current administration, as reported by the Cato Institute.

The recent changes in H-1B adjudications have occurred purely through administrative action, without input from Congress, or the notice and comment period normally required for substantive changes in interpretation of the immigration laws.  The changes are being legally challenged in the federal courts.  Stay tuned.


Immigration Denials at Highest Ever Rates

While the number of petitions and applications filed with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has declined during the Trump administration, the number of denials issued by USCIS has increased sharply.

Analyzing government data, the Cato Institute found that overall in the first quarter of FY 2019 the rate of denials was up 80% compared to the first quarter of FY 2017, the last quarter of the prior administration.  The data examined included every type of petition for nonimmigrant or immigrant status, but excluded applications for naturalization to U.S. citizenship, and renewal applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), programs that federal courts have prevented the administration from terminating.

The Cato analysis revealed that the increase in denial rates varied by application type, but affected them all,  from petitions for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, to employer petitions for H-1B visa professionals or for temporary seasonal workers, to applications for asylum, and for work permission by those with legal status here.

The Cato Institute’s takeaway?  “The ultimate goal of this administration is simple: less immigration—illegal or legal.”


National and State Data Highlight Need for Immigrants

Data released by the US Department of Labor on May 7, 2019 showed 7.5 million jobs open nationwide as of March 2019, and a shortfall of a million people seeking work.  As reported here, this represents the 11th straight month that the number of job openings greatly exceeded the number of job seekers.

In Maine, the state Department of Labor’s most recent unemployment rate of 3.3% for April 2019 sets a record 40th straight month of unemployment lower than 4.0%.

Meanwhile, in 2018, birth rates in the U.S. fell to their lowest level in 32 years, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System.

A recent VOX report looks at the need for workers across all sectors, including those that don’t require a college degree.

The trend of an aging workforce and not enough replacement workers continues, and will be exacerbated if our nation continues to strip immigrants legally here of their status, such as those with DACA and TPS, and to deny applications of those who qualify to immigrate legally.

The economic indicators all point to  the conclusion that our nation needs more immigrants, not less.  Policy makers in Washington D.C. should take heed.



30,000 Additional H-2B Visas for FY 2019 Now Available

The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor published a joint final rule in the Federal Register on May 8, 2019, launching the process for issuance of 30,000 additional seasonal non-agricultural H-2B visas for positions set to begin by September 30, 2019.  Employers can now file to request the additional visas.

The rule clarifies that the 30,000 additional FY 2019 H-2B visas will be available “for those American businesses that attest to a level of need such that, if they do not receive all of the workers under the cap increase, they are likely to suffer irreparable harm, in other words, suffer a permanent and severe financial loss…..In addition….employers may only request these supplemental visas for specified H-2B returning workers….who were issued H-2B visas or were otherwise granted  H-2B status in FY 2016, 2017, or 2018.

If past is prologue, demand will far exceed supply, triggering a lottery.  Last year, within 5 days after the Federal Register notice appeared, USCIS received petitions for over 29,000 H-2B visas and conducted a lottery to randomly select the petitions to process for the 15,000 additional H-2B visas.

While 30,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of FY2019  is an improvement over the 15,000 additional visas provided in the past few fiscal years, but as discussed here, the Department of Homeland Security could have issued up to 69,320 additional H-2B visas before the end of FY 2019 under the terms of the Congressional fix, but chose not to.

Congress needs to make a permanent fix to remove or substantially and permanently increase the H-2B visa cap so that Maine’s seasonal employers can have predictability when trying to meet their seasonal employment needs. 

For a variety of perspectives on the H-2B program in general and on the additional visas, see this article in the Wall Street Journal.

Series Looks at Importance of Immigrants to Maine’s Economy

Pine Tree Watch recently published, Help Wanted:  The Immigrant Opportunity, a three part series looking at the importance of immigrants to Maine’s economy.

The series included perspectives from MeBIC’s director Beth Stickney, as well as from many of MeBIC’s Board members and partners, including Carla Dickstein of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Dana Connors of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, John Dorrer, former director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information,  Ben Waxman of American Roots, and Brian Skoczenski of Ready Seafood, and highlights data from MeBIC partner the New American Economy, among other sources.

The bill also highlights several bills that MeBIC has helped craft or supported both in the last legislative session and in the current one.  However, Part 3 is not a full accounting of the bills we are working on.  You can find a more complete list here.

The series is a thoughtful, in-depth look at a complex issue of great importance to Maine and Maine’s economy.  It’s worth a read, through the links below.

Part 1:   Filling a Severe Gap

Part 2:   A Daunting Maze of Barriers

Part 3.   It’s Cost vs. Potential in the Debate over Making It Easier for Immigrants

Court Blocks New Policy Harmful to International Students and Exchange Visitors

As explained in this previous MeBIC post,  in August 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy upending over 20 years of prior policy regarding when those on F or M student visas, or on  J exchange visa holders, would begin to accrue unlawful presence.

On May 3, 2019, a Federal District Court  in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the new policy nationwide.   This is not the final ruling in the case, but prevents USCIS from applying the new policy while the case makes its way through the courts.

The August 2019 policy is extremely prejudicial to F and M student visa or J exchange visa holders, and can cost them the ability to stay in or return to the U.S., not only to their detriment but also to that of current or prospective employers, as explained here.

The litigation is ongoing.



Southern Border Updates

Barely a day goes by without some new development about the southern border.  In only the last few weeks:

  • The administration has requested an additional $4.5 billion in funds to help manage the border.
  • An unaccompanied Guatemalan teenager died in Department of Homeland Security custody.
  • The administration proposed making the U.S. an outlier regarding humanitarian protections for those fleeing persecution, by requiring asylum seekers to pay to apply for asylum, to pay for work permits, and to be ineligible for a work permit while their asylum cases are pending if they arrived at other than a port of entry.
  • A federal appeals court heard oral arguments in the government’s appeal of a lower court’s decision against the administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols”, also called the “Remain in Mexico” policy that pushes asylum seekers from Central American countries back into Mexico while they await a chance to explain why they are seeking asylum and fled their home countries. The administration reports that over 1600 asylum seekers have been pushed back into Mexico under the policy.
  • The Attorney General Barr issued a decision that would require asylum seekers who arrive between ports of entry to be detained during the entire period that they are pursuing their asylum claims, eliminating their current ability to ask to be bonded out.

And this list is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are a few items that you may have missed that might help you digest the substance and the impact of some of these developments.