ICYMI – Southern Border Updates-June 2019

There are daily reports in the mainstream media on developments at the southern border, including the conditions in which children are being detained, the President’s threats of mass deportations, later postponed, negotiations in Congress on a funding package for humanitarian aid at the border, and protests against companies like Wayfair and Bank of America for doing business with centers where immigrant children are detained.  And of course, the southern border has felt much closer to Maine in recent weeks given the recent arrival in Portland of asylum seekers predominantly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Here are a few items from June that you might have missed:

  • On Detaining Immigrant Children

You need to know what I saw” – Blog by Immigration Law Professor Bill Ong Hing, on an official monitoring visit under the Flores v. Reno lawsuit settlement in which the government agreed to standards governing detention of children.  June 27, 2019.

Geronimo and the Japanese were imprisoned there.  Now Fort Sill will hold migrant children again, sparking protests“,  Washington Post, June 23, 2019.

Trump administration still separating hundreds of migrant children at the border through often questionable claims of danger“, detailing a case of a 4 year old separated for months from her father, Houston Chronicle, June 22, 2019.

Trump administration cancels English classes, soccer, legal aid for unaccompanied child migrants in U.S. shelters“,  Washington  Post, June 7, 2019.

  • On Legal Challenges to the Administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocol” (MPP) Policy that Forces Non-Mexican Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico.

Amicus (“Friend of the Court”) legal brief filed on June 26, 2019 by the Union representing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Officers supporting the Plaintiff’s challenge that the MPP is a violation of U.S. and International Law.

Few migrants seeking U.S. asylum successfully claim fear of waiting in Mexico“, finding that only about 1% of Central American asylum seekers have not been pushed back into Mexico since the MPP policy began, Reuters, June 28, 2019.

  • Office of Inspector General Reports on Immigration Detention Conditions

Management Alert -DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding Among Single Adults at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center “(Redacted), report following unannounced spot inspections to five Customs and Border Protection holding facilities, that found dangerous overcrowding and immigrants being held for far longer than legal limits allow, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, May 30, 2019.

Concerns about Detainee Treatment and Care at Four Detention Facilities“,  report following unannounced spot inspections to four detention facilities holding  ICE detainees (who are in civil, not criminal, detention) finding serious, and some egregious, violations of ICE detention standards,  Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, June 3, 2019.

 

 

 

Supreme Court Will Review Legality of DACA Rescission

On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court announced that in its next term that begins in October, it will consolidate and hear the government’s appeal of three cases that have blocked the administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Nearly 800,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children, many of whom can recall no other home besides the U.S., currently have DACA.  Their ability to remain and work in the U.S. has continued solely due to federal court injunctions since the administration’s rescission announcement on September 5, 2017.  If they cannot remain, not only they and their families will suffer, but the U.S. economy will be damaged as well.   A recent report by MeBIC coalition partner New American Economy notes that in 2017, nearly 94% of DACA holders were employed, while others were students not yet in the workforce.  DACA holders contributed over $4 billion in federal, state and local taxes, and had over $19 billion in spending power that year.

The fate of DACA holders should not be in the hands of the courts.  It is high time for Congress to get legislation across the finish line that would provide a path to permanent residency for those with DACA.

The House recently passed H.R. 6, the  American Dream and Promise Act of 2019.   The U.S. public overwhelmingly supports a path to permanent status for DACA holders and the so-called Dreamers, as does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the CEOs of some of the U.S.’s largest companies.

With a decision on DACA now due from the Supreme Court in its next term, Congress should act before the Supreme Court does and render the case moot by passing the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 by veto proof majorities in both chambers.

Supreme Court sends Census 2020 Citizenship Question Case Back to Lower Court

Today the Supreme Court ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s stated rationale for adding a citizenship question to the upcoming decennial Census 2020 was a pretext, and sent the case back to the federal district court in New York for further proceedings.

As we’ve written  previously, experts both inside and outside of the Census Bureau have no doubt that adding a citizenship question to Census 2020 will result in an undercount of the U.S. population, and the stakes in this case are high – affecting representation in Congress, federal funding apportionment, and business decisions.

The Commerce Department has stated repeatedly that it must begin printing the actual Census 2020 questionnaires in July 2019.  If that is a hard deadline, the clock may simply run out on the government’s ability to add the citizenship question to Census 2020.  But others have stated that October is the hard deadline, and in any case, the controversy will continue, unless the government decides no longer to pursue adding the question.

You can find a brief summary of the interesting case history and the ruling at SCOTUS Blog.

 

Maine State Legislature – End of Session Update

The 2019 State Legislature recessed on June 20, 2019.  While not every bill that MeBIC supported was enacted, overall, it was an extremely positive session in terms of passage of bills that will help Maine welcome and integrate immigrants.  MeBIC testified on fifteen bills during the legislative session.   Here’s a review of the bills that were MeBIC’s highest priorities.


SUCCESSES:

Bills enacted:

  • LD 1841:  Resolve, Directing the Commissioner of Profesional and Financial Regulation to Create a Working Group to Study Barriers to Credentialing.   Many of Maine’s immigrants are highly educated but work at jobs far beneath their education and experience level because their foreign credentials are not recognized by their fields’ licensing boards. This bill creates a working group to study barriers to the credentialing of those with foreign education and skills.  It instructs the Commission to make recommendations to reduce barriers, and to propose legislation, if appropriate, to the Committee on Innovation, Development Economic Advancement and Business (IDEA) by February 15, 2020.   MeBIC supported this initiative, originally introduced in two separate bills, LD 532 and LD 769.  You can learn more about these bills here.

 

  • LD 1685:  An Act To Facilitate Entry of Immigrants into the Workforce.  Many immigrants eligible to apply for permanent legal status in the U.S. must wait months to get their initial work permits, and without an income, cannot afford to take initial steps that would improve their work readiness once they receive their work authorization, such as having their foreign credentials evaluated or translated at a cost of hundreds of dollars.   LD 1685 creates a new Foreign Credentialing and Skills Recognition Revolving Loan Program administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, to pay specified costs since traditional loans aren’t available to these individuals, so they can get into better, higher paying jobs once they get their work permits.   MeBIC proposed and was the lead organization supporting this legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kristen Cloutier, of Lewiston.  It will take effect on September 1, 2019.  You can read more details about the bill in this post, and read MeBIC’s testimony here.

 

  • LD 1596:  An Act to Enhance the Long-term Stability of Certain At-Risk Youth.    This bill will help an estimated 10 to 30 noncitizen youth annually who are at-risk due to the death of, or abuse, neglect or abandonment by at least one parent, to gain state court protections, and provide them with a path towards permanent residency and stability.   These youth are already here in Maine and their potential, and ability to contribute and be part of our workforce, is thwarted without the ability to get permanent residency.  This bill remedies that.  MeBIC was an active member of a coalition supporting this bill, sponsored by Rep. Donna Bailey.  It will take effect on September 1, 2019.  Learn more about the bill here.

 

  • LD 1475:  An Act to Eliminate Racial Profiling in Maine.   This bill aims to reduce the occurrence of racial and bias-based profiling that people of color, including immigrants, experience in Maine.  It would mandate policies, training, and development of data collection methods aimed at eliminating profiling by law enforcement in Maine. You can learn more here about MeBIC’s reasons for supporting this bill, and read MeBIC’s testimony here.  It will take effect on September 1, 2019.

 

  • LD 777:  An Act to Create a Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Maine Tribal Populations.    This bill will convene public and private stakeholders to do research and propose solutions to improve equity and justice for historically disadvantaged populations in Maine, with immigrants also included in its scope.   You can learn more here about  this bill.

Bills Carried Over to 2020

  • LD 647: An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents To Strengthen the Workforce.   This  bill was MeBIC’s top legislative priority, and we marshaled strong business support for it, including from many of MeBIC’s coalition partners, as described in this post.   The bill easily passed in both chambers, but it also had a high fiscal note.  Even after scaling back the bill’s scope, it became clear that getting the bill funded this session was too heavy of a lift.   The bill was carried over to next year, when we’ll try again to get it funded.

Bills Defeated

  • LD 1077:  An Act to Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents by Requiring the Use of the Federal Immigration Verification System.    This bill would have required all employers in Maine, whether public or private sector, to verify the employment authorization eligibility of new hires through  the federal E-Verify system in addition to using the I-9 employment authorization verification form.  This mandate would have unduly burdened smaller and seasonal employers.   Read MeBIC’s testimony providing more detail about why this bill deserved to be defeated.

 

  • LD 1449: An Act To Facilitate Compliance with Federal immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities.    This bill is of a genre known around the country as a “show me your papers” bill, and would have turned local law enforcement agencies into proxy immigration agents. The first state to enact such a law was Arizona, whose tourist industry and economy suffered a severe hit as tourists, conventions, and others boycotted the state.  Read more about why MeBIC opposed this bill in our testimony.

Poll: Public Sees Immigration as Positive, But Also as Pressing Issue

A June 2019 Gallup Poll finds that while 23% of the public view Immigration as the nation’s most pressing problem, 76% feel immigration is good for the country, and 65% think immigration should stay at current levels or be increased.   For the first time since Gallup has asked the question, a majority (55%) felt that immigrants help the economy, rather than hurt it.

While there were party line differences,  62% of Republicans joined the 87% of Democrats and 78% of independents who viewed immigration as good for the nation.  But when it comes to the economy, 60% of Republicans saw immigration as having a negative effect, while 72% of Democrats and 58% of independents viewed immigration’s impact as positive.

It’s no surprise that the public sees immigration as one of the nation’s most important problems, given the humanitarian crisis at the southern border playing out daily in the media.   But the fact that the public also views immigration positively would indicate that Congress should be able get support for reforming our broken immigration system, despite the topic being commonly played as a wedge issue.

You can read Gallup’s report on its poll here.

 

 

Untenable Backlogs for Immigrant Visas

The Cato Institute has issued a report  highlighting the backlogs to immigrate as immediate members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents’ families, or through employment.  The report underscores the urgent need to reform the U.S. immigration system.

While the time it takes for the government to process residency petitions has lengthened, this June 18, 2019 report focuses on the increases in wait times for an available visa after a petition has been approved, due to numerical limits on visas and to caps on recipients by country.

The analysis found that wait times generally had more than doubled between 1991 and 2018.  In 2018 only 2% of beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions saw no backlog, compared to 31% who did not have to wait in 1991.  In 2018, over 28% of those with approved petitions had to wait more than 10 years to reach the top of the wait list, with 41% waiting more than 5 years.  Certain categories, such as Mexican adult children or married Filipino offspring of  U.S. citizens, face wait times of more than 20 years before they will reach the top of the waitlist.   Citizens of India with masters or bachelors degrees  must wait far longer than a decade to get to the top of their employment based wait list.

Overall, 4.7 million prospective immigrants whose petitions have been approved are stuck in the backlogs waiting for their opportunity to take the final steps to become permanent residents of the U.S., with 83% of these in the family based categories, and 17% waiting to immigrate through employment.

As the report points out, wait times for those initiating the immigration process now, are likely to be substantially longer than backlogs already experienced by those for whom immigrant visa petitions were filed years ago.

To stem its growing workforce shortage caused by an aging population and low birthrates, the U.S. must overhaul its immigration laws so that legal immigrants don’t face years-long backlogs that keep families divided and employers uncertain about their ability to have the talent pool they need to remain competitive.

Read the report here.

 

Helping our Newest Asylum Seekers – An Investment in Maine’s Future

UPDATE re: How to help.  Donations of items are no longer requested at this time.  For volunteer opportunities and updates on other needs, see the United Way of Greater Portland’s volunteer opportunities page.

Learn more about the recent asylum seekers below, and find more ways to help here .


In the past two weeks, about 300 asylum seekers, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have arrived in Portland after having entered the U.S. via the southern border.

These are not ordinary people.  They are people who not only had the courage to leave everything they knew and loved behind when conditions in their home countries threatened their lives and prospects, but also had the drive and determination to travel thousands of miles to South America and then thousands more, much of it on foot, to get to the U.S.   This was their destination because much of the world still views the U.S. as a country that offers freedom, democracy, safety, and opportunity.  Anyone who has made it this far is extraordinary, and will have much to contribute to their new chosen home.

As a longtime immigration lawyer, I was recently at the Expo, where the asylum seekers are temporarily sheltered.  I was volunteering with ILAP, Maine’s only nonprofit legal aid provider offering free asylum and other immigration law assistance, to provide legal information and triage the asylum seeker’s  immediate immigration law needs.   What I saw was heartening.

First, the outpouring of community support, from individuals, including many of Maine’s immigrants, organizations, and from state and city staff, is something of which Mainers can be proud.   This unexpected situation required all hands on deck, and the community has responded in kind.

Second, these asylum seeking individuals are all of working age, and can’t wait to become productive (even though federal law will prevent them from getting work permits for more than a half-year, unfortunately).   Individuals who arrived in the U.S. less than two weeks ago were already trying to learn English and were happy to practice the words they had learned so far as we spoke.  Many of them have school-age children who were playing, or sleeping, or eagerly trying to read donated children’s books.

These individuals are Maine’s future.  Maine’s population is aging, and our workforce is shrinking.  In every Maine county but two, there have been more deaths than births for several years running, and net population loss.  In Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, population is slightly up, or holding steady, due to the arrival of immigrants over the past two decades – immigrants just like these newest arrivals, who are both of working and childbearing age.

While Maine works hard to incentivize young adults to come to or stay in Maine through slick ad campaigns and promises of student loan forgiveness, immigrants are already coming, based on word of mouth of those who have come before them that Maine is welcoming, and safe, with good schools for their children. They bring vitality to our communities, growth to our workforce,  a new generation of Mainers to our schools, and a bright economic future.  They are Maine’s newest generation of workers, taxpayers, consumers, entrepreneurs, volunteers, neighbors, friends, family, and civically engaged citizens.

Nearly 90% of the job openings anticipated through 2024  in Maine will be due to baby boomers retiring.   Our labor shortage is already causing some businesses to hold steady or contract rather than grow, or to move out of state.   Whatever investment Maine puts into helping these asylum seekers in the short term is an investment in our long-term economic future.   Here’s how you can help in the short term. 

For the long-term, we must recognize that investing in these asylum seekers is not a Portland issue, but a statewide one.   We need to convene a big tent to discuss helping immigrants settle throughout Maine, where there are communities that are aging and shrinking and struggling to be reborn.  This big tent should include public and private partners, including state agencies, city governments, businesses and leaders such as chambers of commerce and economic development groups, nonprofit service providers, philanthropists, and immigrants.   Maine needs to tackle how to make sure that communities that want to welcome immigrants have the infrastructure to both attract, retain and integrate immigrants so that they, and as a result, their new communities, can succeed.  Portland is just many immigrants’ first stop, but it need not be their last.   The State and other communities should invest in immigrants as Portland and Lewiston have, and they’ll benefit, as have both Portland and Lewiston.

Contact MeBIC if you want to be a part of this discussion .

 

International Students to U.S. Face Delays, Denials

International students are an economic boon to the U.S. not only due to their tuition payments and spending during their studies, but also because they disproportionately make up our future potential workforce, in STEM fields as outlined in this previous post.

Yet the administration is delaying and denying issuance of F-1 student visas and of work permits for foreign students, damaging the U.S.’s talent pool and competitiveness.

State Department data shows that in FY 2018,  389,579 student visas were issued, a 22% decline from the 502, 214 visas issued in FY 2016.  Disproportionately affected were students from China and India, who experienced a 33%  and 31% decrease in student visa issuance, respectively, from FY 2016 to FY 2018.

Moreover, F-1 students are allowed to engage in Optional Practical Training, or OPT, in order to gain experience in their fields, benefiting them and the employers who hire them, alike.  International students who attain bachelors or post-graduate degrees in STEM fields can do post-curricular OPT for up to three years.   But as the New York Times recently reported, delays by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in processing students’ OPT work permit requests are causing many to lose positions that have been offered to them, while upending the employers who were counting on the OPT students to join their workforce.

Together with increases in requests for evidence, and delays and denials of student visas,  these developments are impacting colleges’ and universities’ ability to recruit and enroll international students.  As 29 presidents and chancellors of higher education institutions in New Jersey stated in a letter to their Congressional delegation,

Some of our schools have experienced decreases in foreign student enrollment and all of our schools have encountered an increasingly log-jammed immigration system that is impacting our ability to recruit, retain, and bring to our campuses foreign talent.

Simply put, as it becomes more difficult for foreign students and academics to study and work in the United States, many of them are turning to other options, weakening not just our individual institutions, but American higher education as a whole, and, by extension, our country’s global competitiveness.

This is another example of the continued disconnect between the needs of the U.S. economy and the adminstration’s management of U.S. immigration laws, belying the administration’s stated commitment to legal immigration even when the unemployment is  3.6%, and employers are struggling to find the talent they need.

 

 

 

 

 

Cap Reached for 30,000 Additional H-2B Visas for FY 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  (USCIS)  announced that it has received enough petitions to exhaust the 30,000 additional visas for returning H-2B seasonal non-agricultural workers for positions starting in the second half of FY 2019.

USCIS will return any cap-subject H-2B petitions it received after June 5, 2019, together with the filing fees, to the petitioning employers.  It will continue to accept petitions for H-2B positions not subject to the cap, as described here.

The 30,000 visas for returning H-2B workers were added to the usual 33,000 cap for the second half of the fiscal year as a result of a provision Congress included in the omnibus budget bill that ended the government shutdown in February 2019.   Under the Congressional fix, the administration could have authorized over 69,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of the fiscal year, but chose not to do so.

Year after year, the number of H-2B available visas has fallen far short of the demand. Congress needs to create a permanent fix to the H-2B program so that it can reliably serve Maine’s, and the nation’s, employers that have seasonal hiring needs.

U.S. Policies Making Skilled Immigration Harder is Benefiting Canada

A recent article highlights how changes in U.S. immigration policies since 2017 are causing both foreign-born specialized knowledge professionals and the U.S. corporations that need them to increasingly look to locate in Canada rather than the U.S.

(W)hile the US has made it more difficult to employ tech workers from abroad, Canada has streamlined its own tech immigration policies. In turn, Canada has become a technology hub. Recently a number of US tech companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, have expanded their offices in Canada.

The article notes that processing slowdowns and increased denials, evidenced in government data, make an already inadequate system that caps most H-1B professional specialized knowledge worker visas at 85,000 annually, even more unworkable both for employers, and for the talented foreign-born individuals who might want to work for them.

The article follows on the heels of another article highlighting the concerns of large corporations that U.S. immigration policies may make them less competitive globally.  While  they may may be able to solve their hiring problems by expanding their operations in Canada, smaller tech companies may not have that option.

Canada suffers from a similar aging population and shrinking workforce as  the United States (though on a much different scale), and has responded in recent years by aggressively opening its doors to immigrants, from refugees to international graduate students, to specialized knowledge workers.  It appears those efforts have begun to pay off for Canada,  as we’ve written about previously, resulting in record population growth and corresponding jobs growth in 2018.

The U.S. administration should reverse course and consider taking a page out of Canada’s playbook.