More Immigrants in Maine Can Now Apply for Commercial Driver’s Licenses

A wide array of noncitizens in Maine can now apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) or a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

A coalition including MeBIC, ACLU-Maine, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project,  Maine Equal Justice, Portland Adult Education, and SIGCO advocated with Maine’s  Secretary of State and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) that their interpretation of federal CDL regulations was too narrow.  Maine had been restricting CLPs and CDLs to only U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The Secretary of State’s office ultimately agreed.  Computer system updates made to accommodate the updated policy were completed by the BMV in September, 2019.  The change does not apply to hazardous material CDLs.

Maine has been facing a critical shortage of individuals with CDLs, affecting the ability of public transit systems, school districts, construction firms, trucking companies, and snow plow contractors, to name only a few, to get the drivers they need.   As a result of this change, now refugees, asylees, those with pending asylum applications, and anyone with an unexpired work permit, including individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),  among other noncitizens, can apply to get a CLP, or if they have the appropriate driving qualifications, a CDL.  They will also have to show that they reside in Maine.

With Maine’s unemployment rate below 3% as of August 2019, the ability of more of Maine’s immigrants to get CDLs and to choose a driving career will benefit employers and immigrants alike.


Remaking U.S. Immigration Policy – Think Tanks Weigh in

The turmoil in our immigration system stems from the vast mismatch between our outdated immigration laws and the nation’s current demographic, economic, and social landscapes.  Comprehensive immigration reform bills were on the table in 2006, 2007, and 2013 in Congress, but failed to pass.

Much of the media focus is on the administration’s actions directed at asylum seekers and those crossing the southern border.  However, less noticed is that through processing delays, soaring denial rates, increasingly restrictive procedures  and new regulations, the administration is taking the flawed immigration system and making it even worse.  The result is that just when birth rates are at record lows, when more workers are aging out of the labor force, and when job openings exceed unemployed individuals by more than 1.4  million (as of July 2019),  the administration is shutting the siphon on all forms of legal immigration (which includes asylum seekers).  The administration’s actions are exacerbating our growing demographic challenges, threatening our economy’s growth, and undermining our nation’s immigrant tradition and values.

Undoing the administration’s actions is critical, and passing laws such as  H.R. 6, The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which will prevent about 1.1 million DACA and Temporary Protected Status holders, most of whom are working, from being forced out of our country, and our economy, is one step towards improving our immigration laws.  But our laws need a complete, modernizing overhaul.

Several think tanks have weighed in recently on this.  The Migration Policy Institute has framed the terms of its analysis as it begins a deep dive into what direction future reforms should take.   MPI notes the high stakes if reforms are not made:

In the absence of a desperately needed overhaul, this critical policy arena will continue to be subject to wild swings from administration to administration that rely on broad uses of executive authority to accomplish goals that should be articulated by Congress.

The Cato Institute  has also recently laid out a framework that looks not only at reforms that would stem the crisis at the border but present a path to a  broad overhaul.

Both of these analyses help add context to the debate that needs to be had in Congress, once that body finally decides its time to improve our immigration system to match the country’s economic and demographic realities, and are worth a read.


Corporations Step Up to Recognize the Importance of Immigrants in the Workforce

Walmart and Chobani have co-founded the Corporate Roundtable for the New American Workforce, to encourage companies to devise and offer benefits that value their immigrant employees and will strengthen their immigrant workforce and immigrant integration, according to this item in Bloomberg Law.

Joined by corporations such as Ben & Jerry’s, Lyft, Marriott, Tyson Foods, and Uber, these companies are offering English classes, and also immigration legal aid to help with the citizenship application process.  Offering these benefits helps them both to attract and retain workers, in a tight labor market, and also recognizes the value of immigrants in the workforce.

The initiative has multiple goals, as the article notes:

(W)hile the Corporate Roundtable program’s main offerings are free legal aid to help with the naturalization process and English language classes, the initiative is also aimed at combating the view that helping immigrant workers reduces opportunities for the U.S.-born.

In Maine, LD 647, approved by the State Legislature in 2019 but needing to pass the finish line in 2020, would provide funds to help employers launch combined English and job skills classes at their worksites.  MeBIC and many of its coalition partners supported that legislation.  The Corporate Roundtable has drafted a  letter inviting businesses nationwide to commit to supporting similar efforts.  The letter states:

To: American Companies and Business Leaders

Since its foundation, the United States has been a home to immigrants, who come with dreams and in search of greater opportunities. These newcomers embody America’s identity and are important contributors of economic growth and social, civic, and cultural life.

As a collection of global companies and business leaders, we are grateful that 41 million immigrants from all over the world came to the United States to raise their families, seek an education, and contribute to our communities and companies. They represent one in six workers and help America remain economically strong in a globally competitive market.

Our labor force will only continue to grow and diversify.  The foreign born portion of the total U.S. working population increased from 13.1% in 2000 to 17.4% in 2018.[i] Due to the increase, we understand the necessity to support immigrant integration at work and in society. Through this support, we are helping newcomers more quickly contribute and better utilize their skills and talents, which benefits their families, employers, communities, and our economy.

We are pleased that these companies have supported immigrant integration through establishing company practices, offering worksite services, initiating pro-immigrant communications efforts and immigration policy advocacy. Specifically, some companies, like Walmart and NVIDIA, are helping their immigrant employees and family members with the naturalization process, while other companies, like Lyft and Chobani, have offered English classes to their workers.

We encourage all companies to support their diverse workforce by offering immigrant integration services at their workplaces, aiming to continue to create a welcoming environment for all newcomers and building communities where all can thrive.

Thank you.

Maine businesses can find other signatories and sign on to the letter here.  Businesses that want to help get LD 647 enacted in 2020 are encouraged to contact MeBIC.


Proposed Rule Will Further Delay Asylum Seekers’ Work Permits

The Administration has published a proposed rule to delay issuance of asylum seekers’ initial work permits.

By law, asylum seekers can’t apply for their first work permits sooner than 150 days after filing for asylum, but current longstanding regulations then require USCIS to make a decision on those applications within 30 days.  Because USCIS routinely failed to act that quickly, in 2018, a federal court ordered them to begin doing so.  The proposed rule would effectively nullify that court order and let USCIS to revert to longer processing times for issuing asylum seekers’ initial work permits.

The proposed rule defies economic reality.  In August 2019, the  national unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%.   In Maine, the unemployment rate in July 2019 was 3%, with 12 counties having rates below 3% (including Sagadahoc and Cumberland Counties at 1.7% and 1.9% respectively).  All of Maine’s counties had unemployment rates under 4%, compared to a year ago when five Maine counties had rates over 4%.  Nationally and in Maine, employers are clamoring for workers, and asylum seekers can help fill that need.

The proposed rule indicates that the Administration is well aware of this.   The proposed rule’s preamble states:

A portion of the impacts of this rule would also be borne by companies that would have hired the asylum applicants had they been in the labor market earlier but were unable to find available workers. These companies would incur a cost, as they would be losing the productivity and potential profits the asylum applicant would have provided had the asylum applicant been in the labor force earlier.

Moreover, the proposed rule acknowledges the economic cost to the asylum seekers themselves, in lost income, which in turn is income not spent in the the economy.    The  administration anticipates that work permit processing times will revert to the delays that preceded the 2018 court order, and estimates that

(t)he lost compensation to asylum applicants could range from $255.88 million to $774.76 million annually depending on the wages the asylum applicant would have earned.

The proposed rule recognizes that “USCIS could hire more officers” in order to more quickly process these work permit applications, but the Administration is choosing not to do so.  In addition, the preamble notes that the White House is contemplating eliminating in the future the ability for asylum seekers to get a work permit at all while their cases are pending, if they didn’t enter the U.S. through a border inspection post (such as the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive via the southern border, including the asylum seekers who arrived in Portland this summer).

Asylum seekers are allowed under federal and international law to seek safety in the U.S. regardless of how they enter the country.  Making it more difficult for them to get work authorization while their cases are in process not only forces them to rely on charity and robs them of dignity, but deprives our economy of their ability to contribute as workers and consumers.   We should be helping asylum seekers get their work permits more quickly, rather than less, as proposed legislation, introduced by Maine’s Rep. Chellie Pingree, would do.

Public comment on this proposed rule will be accepted through November 8, 2019.  Please contact MeBIC if your business would like assistance submitting a comment in opposition to this change.



Two Years on – DACA Holders Still Waiting for Permanent Solution

Two years ago today, on September 5, 2017, the administration announced that it was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected from removal and provided work permits to immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children before July 2012.  That decision placed over 700,000 immigrant young adults in legal limbo, unsure if they’ll be forced to leave the U.S, which for many is the only country they truly know.

Since then, multiple federal courts found the administration’s rationale for ending the program unlawful, and ordered the government to continue to renew DACA status.  No new applications have been accepted since September 5, 2017, however.

The Supreme Court will take up the administration’s appeal from those decisions in its upcoming term, with oral argument set for November 12, 2019.  In the meantime, DACA holders, who, despite their lack of permanent legal status, are students, employees, entrepreneurs, employers, community members, homeowners , consumers, volunteers and part of our society in every respect, do not know what their futures will hold.  Should they have to leave, our communities, and our economy will suffer.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide a path to permanent residency for DACA holders and those who have had Temporary Protected Status for years and decades, has passed in the House of Representatives.  On this second anniversary of DACA’s rescission, it is high time for the Senate to bring it to a vote and approve it as well.


Administration Increases Scrutiny of Social Media – Proposed Rule

On September 4, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule to add questions about individuals’ social media accounts and identifiers to a wide variety of immigration application forms, including for citizenship, refugee or asylee status,  and for permanent residency, as well as on the landing card for those arriving in the U.S. on temporary visas such as visitors and foreign students.

As we’ve written previously, this will lead to an increase in denials of these applications, and of entry to the U.S.    Denials could occur simply because a person omits a social media account that s/he set up but never or rarely used and later forgot about, or because someone who was friended posts content that shows up on a non-citizen’s feed that the government finds objectionable.

A  recent example of the latter was the denial of entry in August to an incoming Harvard University freshman from Lebanon, after U.S. border officials at the arrival airport reportedly disapproved of other people’s posts that showed up on the student’s social media feed, even though he himself had not written anything that they found questionable.   After media scrutiny and advocacy efforts, that decision was ultimately reversed and he was able to enter to begin his studies, but not every affected individual will attract the same level of attention to trigger a governmental about-face.

Governmental errors are also sure to occur, resulting in denials of visas, entry, or immigration status for those applying within the U.S., due to the government’s reported use of on-line translation platforms such as Google Translate when reviewing posts not written in English.  As this article highlights, even Google states that its platform is not a substitute for a human translator.

The Brennan Center for Justice has produced a report outlining the risks of increased social media scrutiny in the immigration context.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through November 4, 2019.   MeBIC  has submitted a comment in opposition.