From separating children from their parents at the United States’ southern border, to making it increasingly difficult for those fleeing harm to seek asylum, to virtually halting refugee resettlement, to supporting legislative initiatives gutting immediate family immigration, to implementing new immigration regulations that would substantially reduce legal immigration by those not already well-educated and well-off, there is one architect leading the construction of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies: Stephen Miller.
The Washington Post reports that Maine is the bellwether of a growing national crisis: as our population ages, the need for elder caregivers and healthcare providers increases, at the same time that our demographics are creating a shrinking workforce.
As the article notes:
The disconnect between Maine’s aging population and its need for young workers to care for that population is expected to be mirrored in states throughout the country over the coming decade, demographic experts say. And that’s especially true in states with populations with fewer immigrants, who are disproportionately represented in many occupations serving the elderly, statistics show.
In Maine, and the nation, unemployment continues to be low (at 3.7% nationwide and 3.2% in Maine). Immigration is part of the solution. Refugees and those seeking or granted asylum, and immediate family immigrants who work in every sector of the economy, from manual labor to highly skilled professions, are essential to preventing the acceleration of our country’s and Maine’s demographic decline.
This is not the time to cut legal immigration as the administration aims to do. The recently published final rule on “public charge” will do just that, by drastically reducing immediate family immigration, and will exacerbate our elder care labor shortage, as this piece in Forbes notes.
Rather, it’s the time to remake our federal immigration laws to eliminate backlogs and processing delays in order to facilitate immigration, and for Maine to embrace its ability to attract asylum seekers to settle in the state who will revitalize our communities and workforce.
Maine’s July 2019 unemployment rate was 3%, remaining below 4% for a record 43rd consecutive month. At the same time, the state’s population continues to age and our workforce continues to shrink, presenting challenges for economic growth. While Maine’s situation, as pointed out recently by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, is more dire than the rest of the nation, the entire country will face constraints posed by an aging population and low birth rates.
This is not a time to put new limits on legal immigration. However, the Trump Administration is doing just that through new rules affecting intending immigrants, and proposed reductions in refugee resettlement.
- New Public Charge Rule:
On August 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially issued a final rule that will result in dramatic reductions in immediate family immigration. A draft of the rule was released in October 2018, changing decades of interpretation of the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility. Despite over 250,000 comments opposing the draft rule, the final rule is substantially the same as the prior version, and is slated to take effect on October 15, 2019. An explanation of the key provisions and their impact can be found in this prior MeBIC post.
While the administration states that the rule will ensure that new immigrants don’t use public benefits, the draft and final rules’ lengthy preambles acknowledge that most immigrants have never received public benefits before immigrating, are ineligible for income support public benefits for their first five years of residency, and in general use benefits at similar or lower rates than native-born U.S. citizens. The unstated actual purpose of the rule is to reduce immediate family immigration, bypassing Congress, which has not backed the administration’s legislative efforts to achieve that goal.
Family immigration represents about 66% of all immigrants annually. Implementation of this rule is likely to halve immigration by immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and will have devastating effects for our aging communities and shrinking workforce. As explained here, this will result in a substantial reduction of new immigrants settling in Maine, when the state needs newcomers to stem the challenges resulting from its aging workforce and depopulation.
You can find further critiques of the new rule in this Wall Street Journal editorial and this commentary from the Cato Institute. This op-ed in the Portland Press Herald by MeBIC Board Member David Barber (in response to aspects of the proposed version of the rule, all of which remain in the final rule) is a reminder that new immigrants, regardless modest backgrounds and means, have long contributed to the fabric of the nation and will continue to do so in the future.
As of August 16, 2019, four lawsuits had been filed in the federal courts challenging the legality of the new rule and requesting that the government be enjoined from implementing it. The State of Maine is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits; you can read that complaint here.
- Cuts to Refugee Admissions in FY 2020
Annual refugee resettlement ceilings, set each year by the President, have been slashed from former President Obama’s 110,000 number in FY 2017 to only 30,000 in FY 2019. For FY 2020, the administration is reportedly considering cutting refugee admissions to between zero and 10,000. This would be a complete abdication of our nation’s legal and moral obligations to offer protection to refugees at a time when there are a record 25.9 million individuals worldwide who have been forced to flee their home countries.
In addition, it is economically short-sighted. In Maine, refugee admissions are a fraction of what they were in FY 2016, when more than 650 refugees were resettled in the state. As of July 31, 2019, Maine had received 131 refugees for resettlement, with only two months remaining in this fiscal year.
Together, refugees and immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents comprise the bulk of immigrants making Maine their new home each year.
Further cuts to refugee admissions, combined with cuts to family immigration as a result of the public charge rule, would result in approximately 1000 fewer immigrants settling annually in Maine compared to FY 2016 numbers, likely leading to net population loss in the state.
The administration states it supports legal immigration. Its actions speak to the contrary, and if implemented, will damage Maine’s communities and economy, as well as the nation’s.
A Gallup poll conducted in July 2019 showed majority support for allowing Central Americans at the United States’ southern border into the U.S. to seek asylum.
Overall, 57% of respondents favored admitting the asylum seekers, up from 51% in December 2018. Republican support for admitting the asylum seekers increased by 10 percentage points, while Independent support grew by 6 points. Regardless of political affiliation, 75% of respondents felt that the situation on the border was a crisis or a major problem needing resolution.
You can see the poll results here.
Maine employers are starved for workers as low unemployment persists in the state.
Yet employers sometimes cut themselves off from immigrants in the workforce through errors made in job postings, during interviews, when communicating job offers, and, after hiring qualified candidates, during the I-9 employment verification process.
These mistakes may not only cost an employer a talented potential employee, but may also run afoul of federal nondiscrimination and employer sanctions laws.
MeBIC has created a two-page primer on hiring “do’s and don’ts”. This resource may help Maine’s employers tap into the broadest possible applicant pool, and avoid legal errors.
UPDATE: July 30, 2019:
Family Detention and Family Separations: The administration, in updates filed with the federal court that in June 2018 ordered the Department of Homeland Security to cease family separations and to reunite separated parents and children, has admitted that it has continued the family separations, taking more than 900 children away from the adult family members with whom they crossed the border, as this article in the New York Times explains.
On July 2, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a new report on Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley. This report follows on the heels of another report MeBIC from May 30, 2019, finding similar dangerous conditions in several other detention centers on the southern border.
In response to the concerns raised in the OIG’s July report, the Department of Homeland Security, at Appendix A of the report, cites to the overwhelming number of individuals crossing the border, noting that multiple months of more than 100,000 arrivals was “overwhelming the ability of the Federal Government to respond.”
Yet, the government has decades of experience in dealing with similar numbers of individuals arriving over the southern border, without it devolving into a similar detention crisis. Customs and Border Protection data shows that from 1983 through 2006, in all but 5 of those years, more than a million people were apprehended on the southern border annually. During 9 of those years, apprehensions averaged in excess of 100,000 per month. (Border crossings fell dramatically in 2007 and subsequent years due to the recession, which yielded sharp drops in Mexican border crossers.)
As this analysis from the Cato Institute points out, the current detention crisis is one of the government’s own making. Conditions on the southern border do not have to be this bad. Query whether this is the result of incompetence, negligence, or malevolence.
Despite being in the news constantly, understanding what is happening on the southern border can be challenging.
The administration cites crisis levels of people crossing the border, yet in historic terms, until the 2007 recession, border officials had for decades handled about 100,000 people crossing the border monthly. The difference is that most of them were Mexicans crossing alone – some fleeing persecution, but most simply seeking work to support their families. Now, the majority are families from Central America fleeing dangerous conditions and seeking asylum and safe haven in the U.S., a right provided under both U.S. and international law.
Maine’s most recent asylum seekers from Africa who arrived in Portland in June also crossed over the southern border. Some waited in Mexico for over 3 months before they were processed at the border post, as a result of “metering,” where only a few people are allowed to request asylum each day. Due to dangerous conditions in Mexico, others gave up after waiting about two months to be able to enter through the border post, and crossed over the Rio Grande where they turned themselves in to border patrol officers and requested asylum, as both U.S. and international law allows.
The administration’s actions in response to the increased numbers of families seeking asylum are being challenged in the courts. They include the “remain in Mexico” policy, ironically named the “Migrant Protection Protocols” despite the fact that Central Americans and others face many dangers while waiting in Mexico for the date when they can have their “credible fear” interview that will determine if they can apply for asylum in the U.S.
Another new policy proposed on July, but quickly blocked by one federal court soon after a separate federal court would have allowed it to be carried out while its legality is litigated, would have the administration rejecting asylum applications by persons who have passed through any country that was a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention or the 1967 Protocol providing standards of protection for those fleeing persecution. Mexico and all Central American countries that asylum seekers pass through have signed or acceded to these international covenants, but that does not mean they are safe.
The most recent administration policy was announced on July 26th, when the U.S. and Guatemala signed an agreement to require those seeking asylum in the U.S. to be forced to apply in Guatemala. As the article below points out, it is not clear that this would apply only to those who cross through Guatemala on their way to trying to enter the U.S. through the southern border. The agreement will be challenged in U.S. courts, and the Guatemalan Supreme Court has already ruled that it would require legislative approval to take effect.
Also on July 26th, the Supreme Court lifted an injunction blocking the administration’s diversion $2.5 billion of Department of Defense funds to build sections of southern border wall, while litigation over the legality of that diversion continues.
Here are a few recent resources that you may have missed that might deepen your understanding of how the administration is reshaping the U.S. response to those who seek protection from harm.
- Article in Just Security about the U.S.-Guatemala agreement.
- Post in Immigration Impact describing injunction of administration’s July 15th policy to deny asylum to most asylum seekers who pass through other countries en route to the U.S.
- Commentary by the Cato Institute pointing out flaws in the administration’s newest policy making individuals who passed through third countries on their way to the southern border ineligible for asylum.
- Graphic from the Wall Street Journal explaining how individuals are processed at the U.S. southern border.
- Description of how “metering” at the southern border plays out.
- Op-Ed by a career asylum officer describing how the administration’s new policies betray our legal and moral obligations to fairly hear the claims of those seeking protection in the U.S.
- Article in Texas Monthly that describes some of the challenges African migrants, like those who are now in Portland, encountered before and after reaching the southern border.
- Op-ed on Fox News about the detrimental impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow border wall construction to proceed on the southern border.
As we’ve noted previously, while the U.S. raises obstacles delaying or preventing professional and specialized talent from getting visas to work in or immigrate to the U.S., Canada is smoothing the way and beginning to reap the benefits.
Time recently published an in-depth look at this. Some takeaways:
– “The United States allows about 140,000 immigrant skilled workers to become permanent residents annually; Canada, a country with one-tenth of the population, welcomed 160,000 skilled workers on the track to permanent residency in 2017 and hopes to get that number to nearly 200,000 by 2021.”
– One international recruiting company “has 70,000 skilled tech workers looking to relocate to Canada and Europe; it does not help these people go to the United States because the process is too difficult.”
– Economic research suggests that “every high-paying tech job created in an economy results in five more openings.”
– “While 95% of global start-up and venture capital activity took place in the United States in the mid-1990s, today it’s about half.”
One point in the article merits clarification. It notes that the administration supports high-skilled immigration and to that end has backed the RAISE Act that would create a points-based system. However, the RAISE Act would not increase from current law the total number of high skilled employment visas available, and has several poison pills that would discourage many high skilled individuals from immigrating to the U.S., such as those with families having to leave behind any children who are 18 or older.
Moreover, the administration’s actions speak louder than words: increased delays and denials of petitions for professional and high skilled workers, proposed elimination of employment authorization for spouses of these workers who are waiting in “green card” backlogs, and other measures all signal a more hostile attitude towards legal immigration of high skilled talent than the overtures that Canada is making.
Canada’s gain is the U.S.’s loss.
The administration announced on July 22, 2019 a dramatic expansion of a procedure called “Expedited Removal”. This policy has previously applied to immigrants encountered within 100 air miles of the border (which encompasses the entire state of Maine) who could not prove that they had been in the U.S. for more than 14 days.
Under the new policy, expedited removal now applies nationwide to anyone encountered by immigration authorities who cannot prove that they have been here for more than two years. The new policy took effect on the date of the notice’s publication on July 23, 2019.
Under expedited removal, immigration agents can summarily remove anyone they believe to lack legal status without due process and access to an immigration court hearing. Only if a person affirmatively cites a fear of returning to her home country are authorities supposed to pause the removal process and arrange for the person to be interviewed by an asylum officer.
This new policy will inevitably lead to native born U.S. citizens, who need not carry any proof of their immigration status and who are not in immigration databases, being erroneously swept up in the expedited removal process. It will also lead to increases in family separations, and to employers losing valuable employees and communities losing valued community members.
You can find a primer on expedited removal here.
Maine employers should advise their immigrant employees who have been in the U.S. for longer than two years to carry photocopies of multiple years of W-2s with them at all times, so that they can show their presence here for two years if they get stopped at a CBP checkpoint while driving in Maine, or have any other encounter with ICE.
The new policy’s legality is being challenged in the federal courts but is in effect as of this writing.
As the U.S. experiences persistent low unemployment and a shrinking workforce due to an aging population and declining birthrates, immigrants are critical to keeping a robust workforce and a growing economy.
But U.S. immigration laws are drastically out of date. Numerical limits, by category of immigrant and by country, on who can obtain permanent residency annually have led to untenable wait lists keeping millions of immigrants outside of the U.S. Growing government application processing backlogs that have worsened under the current administration are exacerbating the problem.
Two recent analyses highlight the extent and the impact of the quotas that keep immediate families separated and potential workers out of the U.S.. Both reports use government data to reach their findings. To be clear, these reports are looking at people whom U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (or its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service) have already approved as eligible to immigrate, but who are stuck on wait lists caused by numerical limits established by Congress decades ago.
- The vast majority of family-sponsored immigrants are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
- Plenty of “high-skilled immigrants” are also family-sponsored immigrants.
- Family-based immigration is the primary pathway to the United States from nearly every country.
- Although most family-sponsored immigrants nationwide came from Mexico, that’s not true for all states.
- There are nearly 4 million people waiting in line for a family-sponsored green card.
- The wait time for some family-sponsored immigrants could be more than 100 years.
- Even for people at the head of the green card line, the government is adding significant extra wait time.
- The spouses and children of some permanent residents have to wait years to live together in the United States.
- President Trump’s plan would drastically reduce family-sponsored immigration.
- America’s peer countries issue far more green cards, based on both family ties and economic needs.
The Cato Institute has released an analysis examining the waitlists in all immigrant categories, including both family and employment based. With those additional categories, the report finds that there are more than 5 million people waiting to immigrate in backlogs that have built up over decades. Some key findings:
- 28% of those who immigrated in 2018 had waited more than a decade, compared to 3% in 1991.
- Approximately 14% of those on the wait list in 2018 are likely to die before they reach the top.
- Certain countries are disproportionately affected, such as India for employment based immigration, and Mexico and the Philippines for family immigration.
The takeaway from both of these reports? As the Cato Institute summed it up:
During (the decades since Congress passed the current limits), the U.S. economy has doubled, and its population has grown by one-third. Entire new industries have formed that need workers. Congress should reform the antiquated quotas, enact a limit on wait times, and keep these pathways viable for legal immigrants in the 21st century.