Third Court Rules against Citizenship Question on Census 2020

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

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

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

Administration Worsens its Own Border “Crisis”

Update:  On April 4, 2019, President Trump walked back his threat to close the border, following criticism from Republican lawmakers and economic leaders alike, regarding the economic damage a closure would cause.

As we have written previously, the “crisis” at the U.S. southern border is real, but it is a humanitarian crisis of the administration’s own making.

Now the administration is proposing to make matters worse.

Just days after DHS Secretary Nielsen announced a new cooperation agreement with the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, President Trump threatened to withhold all foreign aid to those countries, an action that would exacerbate the conditions in those countries causing their citizens to flee to the U.S.  Additionally, President Trump is threatening to close the border, despite the nation’s obligation under U.S. and international law to allow those seeking safety to have the opportunity to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum (and despite the likely economic damage such a move would cause, as the Cato Institute describes).

Despite all of the administration’s deterrence efforts: making asylum seekers wait for weeks to be processed at border posts; separating children from their parents; increased use of detention; increased criminal prosecutions for illegal entry; and pushing non-Mexicans back into Mexico to wait for their asylum claims to be heard unless they can prove they’d be persecuted or tortured in Mexico, asylum seekers continue to arrive at our southern border.

Apprehensions year-to-date are higher than in the past two fiscal years, but are still far lower than the 1.64 million who crossed between border posts in 2000.  Indeed, from 1983 until 2007, there were only 5 years where fewer than 1 million individuals were apprehended.  Additionally, the make up of those arriving now differs markedly from the past.   In 2000, government data shows that over 1.61 million of those encountered between border posts were from Mexico, and fewer than 29,000 were from other countries.  In contrast, in FY 2018, 152,000 of those apprehended were from Mexico, while 244,000 were from other countries.  And those who arriving in FY 2019 continue the trend of recent years of being mostly families with children or unaccompanied minors seeking safety from gang and political violence.  Of over 318,000 individuals apprehended in the first 5 months of FY 2019, only about 50,000 were not families or unaccompanied minors.

These migrants continue to come despite the dangers of the journey, and the hardship that they may face when they reach the border because they fear for their lives or safety at home and are seeking safety here.

Instead of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, the  administration should change its focus from the border wall to boost funding for immigration judges and asylum adjudicators, in order to give those arriving at the southern border the due process they are legally and morally due.

Recent Reports Highlight Importance of Immigration to U.S. Economy and Need for Reforms

  • Market strategist and economist Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs, discussed a December 2018 Goldman Sachs research paper on economic disparities among various U.S. states.

As summarized in a March 27, 2019 interview, Cohen said that

One of the reasons our economy has been stronger and grown faster than the economies in Europe and Japan — and I’m comparing us to the developed economies — is because we have faster population growth. And we have faster population growth in large part because of immigration….

(L)arge cities in the US, in which some 30 percent of the population is made up of immigrants, “are doing extremely well,’ with a rise in jobs and income since 2009. This same prosperity has not been seen in the smaller towns and rural areas, where the immigrant population is under 5%

Cohen noted that she views with concern the current administration’s policies, which have led to a reduction in the issuance of visas for international students and for professional specialized knowledge works, as antithetical to economic growth.

The report notes how the H-1B visa program is out of sync with the needs of companies, and of international students and professional level talent who want to be able to work and stay in the U.S.


Congress should take heed of these reports and advance an agenda to modernize our immigration laws to retain our values, and our economic strength, as a country that welcomes immigrants.


USCIS to Authorize 30,000 Additional H-2B Visas in FY2019

As we’ve reported previously, in the omnibus spending bill enacted in February 2019, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue up to 69,320 additional H-2B seasonal non-agricultural worker visas to supplement the 33,000 H-2B visas available for positions beginning between April 1st and September 30th, 2019.

In FY 2017 and FY 2018, Congress authorized up to that same number of additional visas, but DHS only released an additional 15,000 visas instead.

For FY 2019, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen indicated on March 29, 2019 to several members of Congress that the administration  will issue 30,000 additional visas beyond the usual 33,000 summer season cap.  That falls 39,320 visas short of the number DHS could have issued under the Congressional fix, but is an improvement over the prior two fiscal years.

However, there is a catch.   According to the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association,  “the additional visas will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018).”  The additional visas will not be available until DHS issues a temporary final rule and has published it for public inspection.

The 33,000 usual H-2B visa cap for the second half of FY 2019  was reached on February 22, 2019.  Maine employers who depend on H-2B visas for their spring/summer seasonal worker needs should cross fingers that DHS will act quickly to make the additional visas available, and can check for updates on USCIS’s H-2B visa page.


Administration Extends Status for Certain Liberians

On March 28, 2019 President Trump announced that he would extend Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)  for Liberians through March 20, 2020.

DED is a discretionary remedy granted by presidents to offer protection to certain noncitizens in the U.S.

Most Liberians with DED have lived here for decades, having first been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in March 1991, and seesawing between alternating periods of DED and TPS since then.   In 2018, the President announced that DED for Liberians would end on March 31, 2019.

This extension notice is welcome news for Liberians with TPS, even if it came at the eleventh hour.  However, it only grants them a temporary reprieve, rather than the certainty of a path to legal status after decades of putting down roots, raising children, and contributing to our nation’s communities and workforce.  This Washington Post article puts a face on Liberian DED.

Bills have been introduced this month in both the House and Senate that would create an avenue towards permanent residency for these Liberians.  The bills would also benefit the more than 300,000 individuals who have had TPS for years, and the over 700,000 immigrant youth granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) whose status was terminated by the administration.  Presently only court orders are protecting DACA and TPS holders from losing their ability to live and work legally in the U.S.

With our shrinking workforce and birthrates nationally, and with unemployment in Maine remaining below 4% for more than three years, Maine’s Congressional delegation should make working to pass these bills a priority.


2019 State Legislation Update

The 129th Legislature is in full swing, with several bills introduced that would make Maine a more, or less, welcoming state for immigrants.   Here is a rundown of some of the bills that MeBIC is following so far.

Bills MeBIC supports:

  • LD  647, An Act to Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents to Strengthen the Workforce.

LD 647 is this session’s version of last session’s LD 1492, which passed both chambers but did not receive an appropriation.  LD 647 would provide funding to expand the availability statewide of adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, offer combined ESL and job training at worksites in public/private partnerships, expand the New Mainers Resource Center model operating in Portland into the Lewiston-Auburn area, and provide funds for planning grants for communities experiencing growing influxes of immigrants to assess services needed to help reduce brain waste and accelerate immigrant integration.

Lack of English fluency is one of the biggest barriers hindering immigrants from reaching their full potential in the workforce and in our communities. Maine’s immigrants want to improve their English, but often face daunting waiting lists to get into adult education ESL classes in Portland and Lewiston, or find that classes matching their level of English are simply not offered yet in communities whose immigrant populations have been growing recently, such Augusta, Bangor and Biddeford.  Moreover,  workplace-based contextualized ESL classes combined with job training, as proposed in the bill, not only make ESL classes more accessible, but also improve  workplace skills.  LD 647 would help lower barriers to immigrant integration, benefiting immigrants and Maine’s labor supply alike.

LD 647 does not yet have a hearing date scheduled.  You can read a brief summary here.

  • LD 532 and LD 769:  Addressing barriers to credentialing and licensure

Immigrants who gain their education and experience abroad often cannot practice their profession in Maine due to lack of recognition of their foreign credentials.   LD 532 addresses barriers to licensure faced by a broad range of individuals, including, but not limited to immigrants.  LD 769 is specifically about barriers faced by foreign-educated and trained individuals.

Both bills direct the Department of Professional and Financial Responsibility to study how to begin to eradicate unnecessary licensure requirements or to provide alternative pathways to licensure.

Maine’s immigrants are highly educated and skilled. Data derived from the U.S. Census shows that as of 2017, more immigrants in Maine have graduate degrees than do our native-born citizens (21.3% compared to 11.7%), and immigrants have bachelors degrees at virtually the same rate as native-born Mainers (19.4% compared to 20%).  Yet Maine’s immigrants have high rates of so-called “brain waste”, where they are underemployed, working at jobs that are far beneath their skill level.  Estimates are that in 2017, nearly a quarter (24.2%) of Maine’s foreign born population was underemployed.

Maine needs every working-age individual in the state to be able to work to her or his highest and best potential.  MeBIC testified in favor of both LD 532 and LD 769.

Bills MeBIC opposes:

  • LD 1077, An Act To Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents by Requiring the Use of a Federal Immigration Verification System

This bill would require all Maine employers  to use the Federal E-Verify computer system in addition to the required use of the USCIS form I-9 to verify that new hires are authorized to work in the U.S.

E-Verify was created in 1996 and every attempt in Congress to mandate its use by all employers nationwide has failed, though federal contractors must use it.  Nationwide, according to the Cato Institute, only about 13.5% of all employers have enrolled in E-Verify, and only four states mandate its use by all employers.   E-Verify is particularly burdensome for smaller employers without dedicated human resources staff, especially if they have substantial seasonal hires.

MeBIC testified against LD 1077 at a hearing on March 27, 2019.  A work session on the bill is scheduled for April 3, 2019.   You can read more about why MeBIC opposes mandated use of E-Verify here.

  • LD 1449, An Act To Facilitate Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities

This bill is a solution in search of a problem.   There is no department of state government and no municipality in Maine that prevents cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but LD 1449 would prohibit such an action.  It would also authorize state and local employees to act as immigration agents, asking for immigration status of those they encounter.   As a practical matter, this bill will result in ethnic and racial profiling, and make Maine hostile territory for people of color, whether they are immigrants or native-born.

Other states that have tried to pass similar laws have faced strong corporate opposition since businesses want to operate in communities where a diverse workforce will feel welcome.  Arizona, one of the first states to pass a so-called “show me your papers” law, also experienced plummeting tourism revenues in response.

This bill would hurt Maine’s economy, sparking potential boycotts and dissuading people of color, whether native born or immigrants, from moving to Maine.   Maine needs immigrants, to keep population levels from shrinking and to have vibrant communities and a robust workforce.   LD 1449  sends exactly the wrong message.

MeBIC will oppose LD 1449 once a hearing date is scheduled.


Bills to Protect DACA/Dreamers, TPS and DED Holders Introduced in Senate

On March 26, 2019, two important bills were introduced in the Senate.

The Dream Act of 2019, introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham and Dick Durbin, would provide a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and for whom the U.S. is their only true home.   It would include those who currently hold Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) status, and those who have been unable to obtain DACA since the administration terminated the program in September 2017.  Polls consistently show that more than three-quarters of the U.S. public support allowing this population to apply for permanent status in the U.S., and in the past, there has also been bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

The  Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act would allow those who have lived, worked and put down roots in the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs, the majority of whom have lived here for at least 20 years, to apply for permanent residency.

Earlier in March, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 was introduced in the House of Representatives to provide an avenue towards permanent residency for these same populations.  Neither of the Senate bills has been printed as of this writing, so it’s too early to tell how closely the bills echo each other.

Over 1.1 million individuals currently have only court injunctions standing between them and the loss of their ability to live and work legally in the U.S. after the administration terminated DACA and determined that it would not extend TPS for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.  Maine has hundreds of DACA and TPS holders who are part of our communities and our workforce.

Legislation to finally eliminate their uncertainty and to provide eligible Dreamers, TPS and DED holders with a permanent future in the U.S. is the right thing to do from a humane and values perspective, and also for our economy.  Business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEOs from some of the nation’s largest companies, are on the same side as organized labor in supporting this effort.

Maine businesses should join them in urging Congress to get this done in 2019.




H-1B Filing Season for FY 2020 Starts April 1st

For businesses seeking to hire noncitizen professionals with specialized knowledge for positions starting on or after October 1, 2019, the opening day for filing their applications for H-1B temporary work visas begins, as usual, on April 1, 2019.

If past years are any guide, within a few days, the 65,000 cap for individuals with bachelors degrees, and the 20,000 cap for masters degree holders will be exceeded, and petitions that will advance will be selected by lottery.  While USCIS has designed a new process intended to remove the uncertainty that the lottery process causes employers and potential H-1B employees alike, it will not be applied until FY 2021.  However, other changes will take effect for FY 2020 that are likely to result in fewer H-1B petitions being approved for positions that don’t require a masters degree.

USCIS provides information about which positions are subject to or exempt from the cap, updated filing addresses, and updates on the H-1B cap count for FY 2020 here.

The H-1B cap and process are archaic and fail to meet the U.S.’s, and employers’ needs for talent in order to remain globally competitive.  Congress should make modernizing the laws a priority this legislative session.


MeBIC Applauds Republican Leaders Who Condemn State GOP’s Xenophobic Tweets

Amid public debate over a bill at the State Legislature that would eliminate philosophical and religious opt-outs from state vaccination requirements, the vice-chair of Maine’s GOP seized the opportunity to blame immigrants to Maine for the rise in illnesses that are vaccine-preventable, with a tweet on  the official party Twitter account.

This scapegoating of immigrants continues a theme perpetuated by Maine’s former governor Paul LePage, who without any factual basis, blamed immigrants for Hepatitis, the “Ziki fly” (sic), and other illnesses.

MeBIC applauds members of the Republican Party, such as Senator Dana Dow, and former Senator Roger Katz for speaking out against the ignorance and xenophobia that the vice-chair’s tweet represents.  But the Maine GOP has remained silent, and the tweet was still up on the Maine GOP’s Twitter feed as of this writing.

Immigrants are an asset.  Maine needs immigrants and their energy and talents to have vibrant communities and a strong workforce and economy.  If the Maine GOP wants the state to thrive, it should be tweeting messages to welcome, not to vilify, immigrants to Maine.

And the Maine GOP should not spread misinformation about immigrants and vaccinations in order to sow division.   A map of vaccination rates shows that public elementary schools in  Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Eliot, Greenville, Rangeley, and Winslow, among others, have far lower vaccination rates than those in towns with higher noncitizen populations such as Portland and Lewiston.

In reality, before gaining admission to the U.S., all immigrants and refugees are required to prove that they are up to date on all vaccinations recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control.  If not, they will be re-vaccinated, unless the vaccinations are medically contraindicated.  All children of asylum seekers and other noncitizens must show their vaccination records or receive vaccinations under the same terms as native-born Maine children before they can attend school.

The Maine GOP should take down its offensive and divisive tweet, and embrace the immigrants who are vital to Maine’s current and future prosperity, just as they were to Maine’s past.

Canada’s Pro-Immigration Policies Produce Record Population Growth in 2018

A Bloomberg article analyzing Canadian governmental data reports that 2018 was a banner year for immigration to Canada.   Canada welcomed over 321,000 immigrants and refugees in 2018, the largest influx since 1913.

As we’ve written previously, Canada faces the same demographic challenges as the U.S., with an aging workforce and low birthrates.  But Canada is tackling those challenges in part by aggressively modernizing its immigration laws, at the same time that the U.S. is making it harder for talent to come or stay legally in the U.S.   Immigrants now make up more than 20% of Canada’s population.

As the Bloomberg  article notes:

The increase in international migration…. has helped fuel a surge in employment — even amid sluggish indicators in other parts of the economy — since immigrants tend to be of working age.

The strong immigration numbers also make up for slower natural population growth. Canada’s natural population increase, or the number of births less deaths, fell to 103,176 in 2018, the lowest level since at least the late 1940s.

Canada has taken particular steps to welcome international students into its higher education and graduate programs, and reformed its laws to make it easier for them to remain permanently following graduation.  In a 2018 survey of international post-secondary students in Canada by the Canadian Bureau of International education, 75% of respondents stated that the ability to work in Canada after finishing their educations was essential or very important to their decision to choose to study in Canada, and  60% stated that they hoped to stay in Canada permanently.   Canada’s reputation as a tolerant and largely non-discriminatory country also was cited by 79% of respondents as a reason for choosing to study in Canada, and impressions that it is a safe country influenced 78% of them.

While the ranks of international students in Canada are increasing,  the number of international student F-1 visas issued by the U.S. decreased 23% in FY 2018 compared to FY 2016.   The impact of this decrease for the future of the U.S. economy, particularly because of international students’ high concentration in  STEM fields, cannot be understated, as discussed here.

The U.S. government’s immigration rhetoric and practices are increasingly nationalistic and unwelcoming to immigrants.  For a strong economy, we should change course and emulate our neighbor to the north.