Lawsuits Filed by Business Groups and Higher Education Challenge New Immigration Rules

On October 8, 2020, as this prior post explains, the administration issued new rules raising substantial new barriers to employers that want to petition for residency or for temporary work visas for talented foreign workers.  The rules dramatically increase the amount that foreign workers must be paid  to far exceed the prevailing wage, and also narrow the definition of “specialty occupation” to exclude whole swaths of historically eligible occupations.

On October 19, 2020, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, together with the National Association of Manufacturers, other associations and universities, including the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, California Institute of Technology, Cornell, Stanford and University of Southern California filed a lawsuit challenging the new rules issued by the Departments of Labor and of Homeland Security.

Another lawsuit was filed on October 16th by Purdue University, joined by other universities, tech companies and associations including the Information Technology Industry Council, challenging the Department of Labor’s rule impacting  the H-1B visa program.

Both lawsuits seek to enjoin application of the new rules, which broke with the norm by being issued as interim final rules, taking effect without providing the prior notice and a public comment period required for proposed rules.

The new rules will cause extreme disruption for employers and employees alike, since they apply not only to future, but also to  current professional level employees on H-1B visas or whom employers are sponsoring for employment-based permanent residency.

As the complaint in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lawsuit states,

These rules are extraordinary: If left unchecked, they would sever the employment relationship of hundreds of thousands of existing employees in the United States, and they would virtually foreclose the hiring of new individuals via the H-1B program. They would also gut EB-2 and EB-3 immigrant visas, which provide for employment-based permanent residence in the United States.

The complaint notes that H-1B professional workers

perform crucial services where U.S. labor markets lack capacity, boosting economic output and helping businesses grow. They meet essential needs in underserved communities; more than 10,000 physicians are employed each year via the H-1B program to provide medical services, many in remote areas. H-1B workers are critical members of U.S. higher education institutions, performing ground-breaking new research and educating thousands of American students. All this productivity, in turn, creates net new jobs for the domestic labor market. And H-1B visa holders inject ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and cultural diversity across the United States.

This summary holds true in Maine, where hundreds of H-1B visa holders are serving our communities in hospitals from York to Aroostook counties, working at Maine’s colleges and universities, and at leading innovation employers including IDEXX, JAX, Tyler Technologies, and WEX.

For more information about the extreme changes made by the new rules, the impact they will have, and the lawsuits challenging them, see these analyses in Forbes here, and here.

Dramatic Drops in Legal Immigration to U.S. in FY 2020

Fiscal year 2020 ended on September 30, 2020, and while complete data is not yet available, an analysis of governmental data through August 31, 2020 shows that legal immigration to the U.S. fell by 92 percent in the second half of the fiscal year.

The Cato Institute analysis compares the rate of immigration to historical rates and finds that

The 92 percent drop in the second half of FY 2020 is larger than the drop during any single year in American history—larger than the 73 percent decline in 1915 coinciding with the start of World War I, larger than the 70 percent decline in 1925 coinciding with Congress closing legal immigration from Europe, larger than the 63 percent declines in 1931, 1942, and 1918 following the onset of the Great Depression and U.S. entries into each world war.

The drop is not a necessary byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the administration has seized upon the pandemic to close the nation to entry of virtually all immigrants from abroad, and to most foreign workers (both actions leading to ongoing challenges in the federal courts), when less severe measures, such as requiring all new immigrants to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival could have sufficed.   The drop also springs from capping FY 2020 refugee resettlement at record lows and issuing regulations designed to slash immigration by immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, among other changes to the nation’s legal immigration framework that preceded the pandemic.

As the Cato Institute notes,

This historic slowdown is important for both the short‐​term and long‐​term economic growth of the United States. Fewer workers mean that jobs will take longer to fill and slow the economic recovery, and in coming years, fewer workers will support more retirees. If the United States remains closed long enough, it could push worldwide patterns of immigration away toward other countries with more welcoming policies.

The administration continues to introduce changes that will cut even skills-based immigration, such as new interim final rules announced on October 8, 2020.   The administration’s hostility to immigration should give us all pause.

New Rules Raise Barriers to Employers’ Ability to Hire Global Talent

The Departments of Labor and  of Homeland Security, in an unusual move, issued two interim final rules on October 8, 2020 raising new barriers to employers who seek to gain H-1B visas for specialty occupation temporary professional workers, or who are petitioning for permanent residency for their foreign employees.  The administration estimates that the new H-1B rules will cost employers $4.3 billion over a decade, and result in at least a third fewer approvals annually of H-1B visa petitions.

The Department of Labor (DOL) rule, effective on October 8, 2020 and applicable to applications already filed and pending with the Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC) as well as to petitions filed on or after that date, substantially increases the amount that employers must pay the employees for whom they seek H-1B visas or permanent residency.   The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule, effective on December 7, 2020,  changes decades-long definitions of key terms applied in the H-1B visa context such as “specialty occupation”, “employer-employee relationship” and “worksite”,  to make fewer positions eligible for H-1B visas.  It also shortens the duration of  H-1B visas from 3 years to one year in some cases, and provides for increased worksite inspections of employers of H-1B visa holders.

This Forbes article provides a detailed analysis of the substantial changes made by these interim final rules.

Ordinarily, new rules are issued as proposals and do not take effect until the public has had the opportunity to comment on them, and the administration has been able to consider and sometimes make changes based on the comments.   It is striking that the administration chose to issue these changes as interim final rules, a mechanism to be used only in exceptional cases where urgency is required, a circumstance that doesn’t apply here, given that these changes have been in the works since at least 2017.  Should the November 2020 presidential election result in a new administration, it could simply jettison a proposed rule and never finalize it.   An interim final rule must go through a review process and will take much longer for a new administration to revoke.

The U.S. competes worldwide for the best and the brightest who contribute to innovation and a vibrant U.S. economy.   In Maine, hundreds of H-1B visa holders work in hospitals from York to Aroostook county, providing critically needed healthcare.  They also are employed in Maine’s universities and colleges, in our biotech and medical research facilities, in high tech and many other sectors.  In the past three years, over 100 Maine businesses have benefited from access to the global talent that the H-1B and permanent residency processes provide, benefiting Maine’s communities and economy as a whole.  

The new regulations are likely to result in many businesses nationwide choosing to offshore their employees or to locate offices in other countries such as Canada, doing more harm to the U.S. economy than good as the U.S. tries to emerge from the pandemic.

Public comments opposing the new rules will be due on November  9th (DOL rule) and December 7th (DHS rule).  MeBIC will be opposing both rules.

DV-2022 Lottery Registration Begins on October 7, 2020

Registration for the Diversity (DV) lottery for fiscal year 2022 will be open from noon (EST) on October 7, 2020 through noon (EST) on November 10, 2020.

The DV lottery allows foreign-born individuals, whether they are outside of or in the U.S., to apply for a chance to immigrate to the U.S.    A person who is selected next spring after registering this fall for the DV-2022 lottery will able to apply for permanent residency (the “green card”) at the start of FY 2022 on October 1, 2021.  S/he may be able to apply with USCIS, if s/he is already in the U.S. and is otherwise eligible, or else may apply with the State Department for an immigrant visa interview at the appropriate U.S. consulate abroad.   The person will undergo the usual medical exam and criminal and security background checks before being interviewed or approved to immigrate.

The lottery is pure luck.  But ordinarily, up to 50,000 people gain residency each year because they happened to be lucky. (In 2020, a Presidential Proclamation announced during the COVID-29 pandemic blocking entry of most immigrants, prevented over 30,000 DV-2021 lottery winners from immigrating.)

A person who is in the U.S. on a work permit, such as an asylum seeker, who entered the U.S. legally and has never violated her/his status, can register for the lottery and if selected, may be able to get her/his green card through the lottery without having to leave the U.S..   Registering for the lottery doesn’t adversely affect a person’s current status or any other applications already pending with USCIS.

Individuals in the U.S. who have been out of status should talk with an immigration lawyer before bothering to apply, since time out of status may make it impossible to get a green card, even if selected in the lottery.

Eligibility requirements for the DV-2022 lottery include:

  • Not being from one of the ineligible countries (see list in the announcement), or having a spouse or parents from one of the eligible countries;
  • Having completed high/secondary school in the U.S. or abroad (a G.E.D. is not sufficient); or
  • Having worked for at least two years of the previous five years in a skilled trade, which is one that takes at least two years to become qualified in it.

There is no minimum age requirement, although people under 18 may not qualify if they haven’t yet met the education or skills requirement.

Applicants must have a valid, unexpired passport at the time of registering for the DV lottery. As a practical matter, this may make it impossible for many people to apply, whether they are already here in the U.S. or are abroad, because they may be unable to get a passport in time, or at all.

An individual may only submit ONE lottery application.  If more than one is submitted, the person will be disqualified.  However, spouses can include each other, giving them two chances to be selected (but each spouse must meet the eligibility requirements).  All children who are unmarried and under 21 must be included on the registration application in order to be allowed to immigrate if their parent is selected in the lottery.

Employers in Maine with employees currently working with work permits, such as asylum seekers, should encourage their employees to get additional information about eligibility to register for the lottery.  While it’s a long shot, many asylum seekers have won the lottery in the past and gained residency through it while their asylum cases remained stuck in processing backlogs.

Note that lottery registration is FREE.  Instructions and the application form are posted on the State Department’s website.  Those signing up for the lottery from inside the U.S. should avoid any website that asks for a fee to register, and also avoid people who are not lawyers or authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide immigration law assistance, who ask for money to “help” with a lottery application.  Unauthorized practice of law is illegal in most states, including in Maine.

MeBIC is available to come and talk with employees at Maine businesses and nonprofits to help them understand the lottery and whether it may or may not be worth it for them to register.  Contact MeBIC for more information.

 

Budget Bill Expands “Premium Processing” of Immigration Applications

On October 1, 2020, H.R. 8337, the Continuing Appropriations Act 2021 became law, to fund U.S. governmental operations through the end of 2020.

The bill included language amending the immigration laws to allow for the expansion of “premium processing” of petitions filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Premium processing has enabled employers to pay a premium over and above the regular filing fees, in order to get faster processing of immigration petitions for foreign workers.

The new premium processing law included in the budget bill will increase the premium processing fee to $2500 per petition in many cases, but caps the fee at $1500 for employers seeking speedier processing of petitions for H-2B seasonal non-agricultural employees, and for religious workers.

The law also expands the types of petitions where premium processing can be used, and opens up the door for USCIS to allow for premium processing of any type of immigration petition or application, including immediate family petitions.  Premium processing has to date been limited to employment based petitions.

USCIS has not yet announced when it will begin implementing these changes.  A more detailed explanation of the new law can be found in this analysis in Forbes

Court Blocks President’s Ban on Entry of Foreign Workers

In an important win against executive overreach and for the economy, on October 1, 2020, a federal  court blocked the administration’s latest ban on entry targeting most temporary foreign workers.  The injunction applies only to the plaintiff companies and associations, and to those associations’ members.  Those are:  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, TechNet, and Intrax, Inc.  While it’s not a nationwide injunction, it’s a critically important ruling that paves the way for future lawsuits against the ban.

On June 24, 2020, a Presidential Proclamation took effect banning entry into the U.S. through the end of 2020, with potential for extensions, of most temporary foreign workers, including H-1B specialized knowledge professionals (unless working in healthcare positions), L-1 employees of multinational companies, H-2B seasonal non-agricultural workers (unless working in food supply chain jobs), and J-1 cultural exchange visa holders who work in positions varying from au pairs to summer camp counselors and more.

The stated reason for the entry ban was to reduce job competition until the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic-induced downturn.   Citing ample evidence that contrary to the Presidential Proclamation’s premise, foreign workers have a positive impact on jobs and the economy, the plaintiff companies and associations challenged the legality of the ban and asked the court to block it.

Siding with the plaintiffs, the court summarized their evidence that the entry ban

will result in the disruption of business operations, interference with existing employees, the closing of open positions, the furlough or laying off of employees, substantial pay cuts, threatened loss of prospective customers, shutting down of entire programs, inability to make capital investments, and the likelihood that some businesses or cultural programs will have to cease operations altogether.

The court found that the President exceeded his authority,  stating that

there must be some measure of constraint on Presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context, an area within clear legislative prerogative.

The injunction means that U.S, Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department must resume processing employer petitions and nonimmigrant visa applications for temporary foreign workers who would be employed by the named plaintiffs and their member businesses, while the litigation challenging the President’s ban continues.

While the case is not yet over, the ruling was an important win for the economy.

 

Administration Reduces Refugee Resettlement Cap Again

The President has announced that the administration will cap refugee resettlement for FY 2021 (October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021) at 15,000 refugees.

This continues the fourth straight year of the administration’s stranglehold on refugee resettlement, with the prior caps set by the President at 45,000, then 30,000, and then 18,000 for the just-ended 2020 fiscal year.  But while final FY 2020 figures were not available at this writing, as of September 25th, only 10,892 individuals had actually been resettled here, the lowest number since at least 1975.   Only 40 refugees were resettled in Maine in FY2020.   In comparison, in FY 2016, the U.S. resettled 84,994 refugees, with about 650 resettled in Maine.

In the past three years, the U.S. has abdicated its moral and legal obligation under both U.S. and international law to provide safe haven to those forced to flee their homes, and has gone from being a world leader in refugee resettlement to resettling fewer than all other resettlement countries combined.

The record low refugee cap cannot be seen in a vacuum.   As this Wall Street Journal article (paywall) notes:

Mr. Trump has made restricting refugee admissions a key piece of his broader effort to reduce nearly all forms of immigration. He has said the program might allow terrorists to enter the country, though refugees face more security checks than other immigrants.

He has also said that refugees are a drain on public resources, despite the positive economic impact refugees have on the country, as well as the social contributions they make to their communities nationwide.

Given the record nearly 80 million people (or 1 of every 97 humans) who are permanently displaced and in need of resettlement worldwide, and Maine’s and the nation’s aging demographics and shrinking workforce, the administration’s decision to turn its backs on refugees represents a moral, human rights, and also an economic failure.

 

 

 

Federal Court Blocks October 2nd Immigration Fee Increases

A federal court has blocked a new rule due to take effect on October 2, 2020 that would increase the filing fees for many immigration applications.   The ruling applies nationwide, and means that the fees, and access to fee waivers for low-income individuals, will remain unchanged while the litigation challenging the fee rule is ongoing.

The new fee rule would raise the filing fees for many of the most common immigration applications, including for naturalization to U.S. citizenship, work permits, and permanent residency.  Also, for the first time ever, the fee rule would have the U.S. join only three other countries in the world requiring asylum seekers to pay to request asylum, and would also make asylum seekers pay $550 when finally eligible, a full year after requesting asylum, to apply for a work permit in order to support themselves.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs had raised serious questions about the legality of the new fee rule and had shown a likelihood that they would prevail in their arguments that the rule was invalid due to arbitrary and capricious reasoning backing the fee increases, and because the rule was issued by Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and his Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Kenneth Cuccinelli, who both had been found to not be legally installed in their positions.

There is little doubt that the government will appeal.

Proposed Rule Will Make U.S. Less Attractive to International Students

The administration continues its assault on legal immigration, this time through a proposed regulation issued on September 25, 2020 that would impose strict time limits on the duration that foreign students or “exchange visitors”, and international journalists are allowed to stay in the U.S.  Comments on the proposed rule are due by October 26, 2020.

For decades, international students and exchange visitors have been admitted for “duration of status.”  As long as they were complying with the terms of their visas, they could remain for the duration of their programs.   For example, an international student initially admitted to pursue a bachelor’s degree, who decides to continue on to get a master’s degree, and then to get doctorate, would remain in status for the entire time.  International journalists would remain in status for as long as their employment with the media outlet sending them to the U.S. lasts.

The proposed rule would  instead impose fixed time limits  so that, in the prior example, the foreign student coming to the U.S. for a bachelor’s degree would be limited to four years.  If the student decided to continue on to get a masters degree, the student would need to apply for an extension of stay, and would have to do so again to pursue her doctorate.  The rule would also limit the stays of foreign students from dozens of countries to only two years, even if the expected length of their program is four years. Countries subject to these stricter limits include Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, and also more than fifty countries whose international students or exchange visitors purportedly have “overstay” rates higher than 10 percent.   An independent analysis however, has found that the rule’s cited data on the overstays is inflated.

The proposed rule would also reduce the grace period that international students have after completion of their studies from 60 to only 30 days, making it harder for them to timely extend or change their visa status.

This rule will likely make the U.S. a less attractive destination for international students, who make up the majority of graduate students in the U.S. in STEM fields.  As a recent analysis points out, the proposed rule will not only increase the costs (and the paperwork involved) for international students, but by the administration’s own estimates, it will also add over 360,000 extension applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ workload annually, adding to processing backlogs and creating uncertainty and delays for students.

This regulation is being proposed after a federal court enjoined the administration’s attempt through a policy revision to make it easier for foreign students to fall out of status, which would have then delayed or made it impossible in some cases for them to continue further studies or to change status or gain permanent residency through work for a petitioning employer.

International students not only add diversity to the student bodies of U.S. colleges and universities at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but they comprise a critical component of the U.S.’s future workforce.   As the Business Roundtable said in a 2019 report, “International students are a key source of talent for companies in advanced Western economies.”

International students also provide a huge boost to the economy during their studies.   In the 2018-2019 academic year alone, international students contributed over $41 billion to the U.S. economy and  supported more than 458,000 jobs.  In Maine, they contributed over $51 million, and supported 421 jobs.

You can read a brief summary of the proposed rule’s changes here.  A full analysis of the impact of the proposed rule, and the flaws in the data on which the proposed changes are based, can be found here.

The U.S. has already experienced three years in a row of declining international student enrollments, while Canada has seen double digit increases during the same period.  In the global competition for international students and their talent, this new rule would put the U.S. at a further disadvantage.  MeBIC will be commenting to oppose this proposed rule.

 

Immigrant Share of U.S. Population is Plateauing

A recent analysis of data by the Cato Institute finds that the immigrant share of the U.S. population in 2019 failed to grow for the second straight year, and fell below Census Bureau’s projections.

The immigrant share of the U.S. population stayed steady in 2019 at 13.7%, the same as in 2018, and below the high points reached in 1880 and 1910, when immigrants were 14.8% and 14.7%, respectively, of the U.S. population.

Department of Homeland Security data indicates that the number of new permanent residents dropped by over 150,000 individuals, or nearly 13%, between FY 2016, and FY 2019.   The Cato Institute concludes that

it’s lower legal immigration and more immigrants leaving that is driving the decreases in immigrant population growth in the United States.

In a normal environment, immigration should have increased when unemployment reached historic lows. But the president’s anti‐​immigration policies made that impossible, increasing deportations and imposing many new regulations on legal immigration.

The Cato Institute also analyzed recent global data and found that the U.S.  ranks in the bottom third of wealthy nations for its foreign-born population share, and for the growth in that population during the past three years.

The average wealthy country had a foreign‐​born population share of 30 percent, double the U.S. share. The United States similarly ranked 39th for per‐​capita increase in its foreign‐​born population from 2017 to 2019. Its population grew 0.27 percent from foreigners compared to an average of 1.8 percent for all wealthy countries.

The dramatic drop in refugee resettlement, and the bans on entry of most new immigrants  that have been in place since April 24, 2020 and will remain at least through December 31, 2020, are likely to cause an even steeper decline in new immigrants to the U.S. in FY 2020.

As the nation’s population becomes increasingly aged, with Maine at the unfortunate upper end of that curve, the trend of lower immigration does not bode well for the nation’s, and the state’s, demographic future if it is not reversed.

You can read the Cato Institute‘s analysis here.

 

COVID-19: September 2020 Immigration Agency Updates

Here’s an update on extensions issued in September 2020 of a few COVID-19 adaptations by various immigration agencies.  Click on the links to get the full details.

FY 2020 Refugee Resettlement at Record Lows

Every year, the Trump administration has  drastically reduced the number of refugees resettled in the U.S.  For FY 2020, it set the ceiling at 18,000,  effectively a rebuke to the promise of safe haven aspired to during the previous 40 years by the Refugee Act of 1980.  Since that bill’s enactment, the average ceiling set by presidents of both political parties has been about 95,000 per year.

The reality of resettlement during the current fiscal year is even more stark.  With only one month remaining in the fiscal year, as of  August 31, 2020, only 9,188 refugees had been resettled in the U.S, despite record-breaking numbers of refugees and displaced people around the world needing new homes.

Only 17 refugeee families, comprised of 38 individuals, have been resettled in Maine as of August 31st.  In FY 2016, the last full fiscal year of the prior administration, Maine resettled about 650 refugees.

Nationwide, the administration has resettled only 82,963 refugees since January 2017, fewer than the nearly 85,000 refugees who were admitted in FY 2016 alone.   The numbers clearly reveal this administration’s lack of commitment to providing protection to those experiencing humanitarian crises worldwide.

State Department Ordered to Process Immigrant Visas for FY 2020 Diversity Visa Winners

On April 22, 2020, a Presidential Proclamation suspended entry for 60 days of most new immigrants coming from abroad, purportedly to reduce job competition during the COVID-19 induced economic downturn.   On June 22, 2020, a further Presidential Proclamation extended that entry bar through December 31, 2020.

Following these proclamations, U.S. consulates refused to schedule visa interviews for intending immigrants, including those who had been selected in the FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery.

On September 4, 2020, a federal court ordered the State Department to schedule immigrant visa interviews for FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery winners, who will lose their ability to immigrate if they are not issued their visas by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020.   Immigrant visas are valid for travel for six months after issuance.  So, lottery winners issued  their immigrant visas by September 30th would be able to immigrate to the U.S. in early 2021 if the entry bar is not extended beyond the end of 2020.

Due to a quarantine order for nationals of certain countries, the State Department indicated it would not comply with the federal court’s order for Diversity Visa winners from those countries.  On September 14, 2020, the federal court amended its order to compel the State Department to process the immigrant visa applications of Diversity Lottery winners regardless of the quarantine order, since they would still be able to quarantine after receiving their immigrant visas.

The vast majority  (98%) of those eligible to immigrate following selection in the Diversity Visa lottery enter the U.S. from abroad after immigrant visa interviews at U.S. consulates in their home countries.  At the time of the September 4th court order, only 7,000 individuals had managed to immigrate through  the FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery, of the 50,000 visas available, largely due to COVID-19 related closures of U.S. consulates abroad.

The court order requires the State Department to act on the remaining winners’ visa applications by September 30th.    On September 17, 2020, the State Department directed the U.S. consulates that have reopened following their COVID-19 shutdowns to comply with the court’s order and prioritize scheduling Diversity Visa winners for their immigrant visa interviews.  It’s doubtful that the State Department can process the remaining diversity immigrant visa applications in that time frame, and it appears that Diversity Visa winners in countries where the U.S. consulates have not fully reopened may be out of luck.

Thousands of lucky FY 2020 Diversity Visa winners are unfortunately likely to find that they were not so lucky after all, as their dreams of immigrating to the U.S. evaporate when the fiscal year ends at midnight of September 30th.  This will be a loss not only for them, but for the U.S., which will lose their future contributions to our communities and economy.

 

 

Appeals Court Rules Administration Can Terminate TPS for nearly 300,000 People

On September 14, 2020, a divided federal appeals court overturned a lower court’s nationwide injunction blocking the administration from ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.   Maine was one of 21 states that filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs’ challenge to the TPS termination effort.

TPS is offered to citizens of countries that the U.S. deems unsafe due to natural disasters, wars, civil conflict and instability, so that those already in the U.S. on the date that their country is designated for TPS can apply to remain and work here legally.  It is typically offered in 18 month increments, and has often been extended repeatedly.

Approximately 195,000 Salvadorans have had TPS since 2001, and more than 50% of them have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years.  As of 2018, they were parents of 192,000 U.S. citizen children.  Nicaraguans have had TPS since 1999, Haitians since 2010, and Sudan since 1997.

Maine has hundreds of individuals with TPS living and working throughout the state who are integral members of our communities and labor force who face being placed in removal proceedings in 2021 if this ruling stands.  The plaintiffs have indicated they will appeal the ruling, but these individuals, who have solid roots in the U.S. and in Maine, deserve a clear path to permanent residency that only Congress can provide.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act in June, 2019, which would provide that path to permanent residency for those with TPS and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status (DACA).   The Senate has never taken up the bill.  It is past time that it do so.

 

LD 647 Viewed as Priority to Improve Equity in Maine

Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations, created by 2019 legislation, just issued Recommendations to the Legislature regarding steps Maine’s Legislature should take to help eradicate the systemic racism that perpetuates racial and ethnic inequities and disparities.

The Permanent Commission’s mission is to “to examine racial disparities across all systems and to specifically work at improving the status and outcomes for the historically disadvantaged racial, Indigenous, and Maine tribal populations in the State.”  To guide the Legislature in crafting legislation that will help end the perpetuation of systemic racism and will instead advance equity, the Permanent Commission created a filtering tool as a lens to examine all proposed legislation, asking “10 questions aimed at determining how much potential a piece of legislation has to combat racial inequities, particularly systemic or structural inequities.”

As part of their work, the Permanent Commission, together with 55 members of the State Legislature, applied those filters to 454 pending bills.  This examination resulted in identifying 46 of these bills as priorities for passage, with 26 of those 46 recommended as their “Tier 1” top priorities for passage.

L.D. 647, An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents To Strengthen the Workforce, is one of the Permanent Commission’s Tier 1 bills.   L.D. 647 would increase the capacity of adult education programs to offer English as a Second Language classes, as well as combined ESL/Job Skills classes, both of which are broadly recognized as keys to Maine’s immigrants’ economic advancement and their ability to reach their full potential in the workforce.   The bill would also provide funding for Welcome Centers to help immigrants get into jobs commensurate with the education and experience they acquired abroad.

MeBIC helped draft L.D. 647 and was instrumental in achieving its successful passage in both chambers of Maine’s Legislature.  However, the bill was never finally enacted, as it awaited a vote on funding when the Legislature adjourned early due to the pandemic.

Since Maine’s Legislature  is unlikely to reconvene in 2020, L.D. 647 will need to be reintroduced in 2021.   MeBIC is gratified for the Permanent Commission’s endorsement of the bill as one of its top priorities, which may help the next iteration of the bill cross the finish line in 2021.