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Immigration Politics Ticker

January 18, 2017

Donald Trump will be sworn as the 45th President of the United States this Friday. Last week, The Hill took a look at five areas that President-Elect Trump promised to act on in his first day, including immigration. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to deport undocumented immigrants and rescind President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. On the latter issue, Trump has softened his tone in recent weeks telling "Fox & Friends" that he understands DREAMers' predicament and pledged a 'firm' immigration plan, with 'a lot of heart.'

AILA will be monitoring any executive action throughout the weekend and will respond as necessary to immigration policy changes. For an in-depth look at what executive branch action Trump can unilaterally and immediately revoke, check out Congressional Research Service Legal Sidebar: With the Stroke of a Pen.

In other news, AILA, along with other immigrant and civil rights groups, announced the filing of a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL)and the Office of Inspector General, which urged a prompt and thorough investigation into allegations that asylum-seekers were denied entry to the United States at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border despite having asserted a fear of returning to their home countries. The complaint also requests CRCL to take immediate action and address this alarming new trend.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post delved deeper into the systemic denial of asylum seekers, sharing the stories of a few asylees, who have been turned away at the border. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told the Post that there has been "no policy change" affecting asylum procedures. The United States' asylum procedure adheres to international law, which allows people being persecuted to seek asylum.

AILA has also joined 13 organizations in requesting a hearing during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on measures taken by or at the request of the United States that impede access to asylum and interfere with the right to family life.

January 13, 2017

Yesterday, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the "Bar Removal of Immigrants who Dream and Grow the Economy," or BRIDGE Act, which would provide DACA-eligible individuals the chance to apply for "provisional protected presence," or temporary protection from deportation similar to that provided by DACA. Employment authorization would be granted after recipients pay a fee and pass stringent background checks. The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The House companion bill led by Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was introduced today, and is supported by Representatives Jeff Denham (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Carlos L. Curbelo (R-FL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Judy Chu (D-CA).

"We don't want [Trump] to overturn the executive order from the prior administration, which he could do," said Representative Coffman during a press conference, reported The Denver Post. "This certainly sends a strong message, not just to our congressional leadership but also to the incoming administration, that this is a very important program that needs to be preserved."

AILA supports the BRIDGE Act and urges members of Congress to pass it.

January 11, 2017

Two big confirmation hearings were held yesterday for critical cabinet positions in the next administration. The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first day of hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), nominee for Attorney General; and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing for General John F. Kelly, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

For Senator Sessions, immigration came up again and again yesterday. But due process hardly came up at all. AILA had some critical questions for the Senator going into this confirmation hearing. Here's some of what Senator Sessions said on immigration during his first hearing:

Proposed Muslim Ban: In December 2015, in response to Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-4 in favor of an amendment confirming that the U.S. should not block people from the entering the U.S. because of their religion. Senator Sessions was one of the "no" votes, and yesterday, Senator Leahy asked him why. I did not want to suggest that religion could not be a factor in vetting, Senator Sessions said. He confirmed that he does not support the idea of Muslims as a religious group being blocked from admission to the U.S. But later in the hearing, Senator Hirono asked again how religion could be a factor in the enhanced vetting he described. Senator Sessions clarified that religious views would be a factor "if their views encompass extremism" or "dangerous doctrines."

DACA and Immigration Reform: Some of the least responsive answers came on the subject of DACA. Early in the hearing, both Senators Graham and Durbin asked Senator Sessions a simple question: what would happen to the 800,000 Dreamers who have received DACA if DACA is suddenly rescinded? Here, Senator Sessions punted: it is the Attorney General's role to enforce the law, not to make it-the system overall is broken and Congress needs to fix it in a bipartisan way. The answer didn't satisfy Senator Durbin, who asked how Senator Sessions could possibly offer CIR as the solution when he had opposed every major bipartisan effort at immigration reform in the last decade. Senator Sessions pivoted to the need for prioritization: We're not able to seek out and remove everybody in country illegally, he said. Like President Obama, President-elect Trump has said those with criminal convictions should be a top priority. So let's fix this system in a bipartisan way, he suggested-and after the "lawlessness" has ended, enter into dialog about what to do about people been here a long time. When Senator Blumenthal raised concerns that it would violate fundamental fairness to use DACA recipients' confidential information for enforcement, Senator Sessions agreed that that cohort of individuals should not be a priority, but said any decision on that score would be for DHS, and he could not commit that the information would never be used. (He was not asked about the bills he sponsored in 2003 and 2015, for example, that would have made unlawful presence a crime-even for Dreamers.)

Abuse of the H-1B Visa System: Senator Grassley reiterated his call for an investigation in abuse of the H-1B program, expressing concern that firing a U.S. worker and replacing her with a cheaper foreign worker might be considered "de facto nationality based discrimination." Senator Sessions agreed that he believes this has been an abuse, and he was pleased to support Senator Grassley's legislation addressing it. It is wrong to think we are in a totally open world, he said, where any American with a job can be replaced by anyone in the world willing to take that job. We have borders, we have a commitment to our citizens. I would use such abilities as I have to address that, he stated.

Birthright Citizenship: Senator Hirono noted that people born here are U.S. citizens regardless of their parents' nationality-and she asked Senator Sessions if he believes there should be more required to be a US citizen. Far from providing a staunch and clear defense of the 14th amendment's principle of birthright citizenship, he left the door open on the question of whether Congress could change that without violating the Constitution. Under the current state of the law, it is accepted that those who are born here retain their citizenship, he said.

Due Process and Immigration Courts: There was hardly any discussion of due process for individuals facing removal. In fact, in 11 hours of testimony, only two questions even touched on the immigration courts. In response to one question regarding how the immigration courts would protect refugees, Senator Sessions deflected by saying that refugee admissions decisions were the purview of the State Department and the President, not the Department of Justice. In an answer to Senator Grassley's question about recent Board of Immigration Appeals decisions that had "gone too far," he suggested that he had not yet given much thought to whether or how an Attorney General could or would undo prior BIA decisions. Senator Coons did ask Senator Sessions about the need for legal counsel for children facing removal. His response was less than supportive. My understanding of the state of law is that the government cannot provide lawyers to "illegal immigrants," he said, and I don't believe it distinguishes between minors and adults. In general, I do not believe we can afford, nor should we undertake to provide free lawyers for everyone who comes in unlawfully, he continued, and Congress would need to decide what to do regarding children.

General Kelly's hearing was less contentious than Senator Sessions' hearing. Both sides of the aisle extended praise towards the General. He was introduced by Republican Sen. McCain, Democratic Sen. Carper, and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations. Gates praised General Kelly, calling him "one of the finest people I have ever known," also saying, "I would trust him with my life." Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, said the Senate committee had hit the "cabinet lottery," given Kelly's experience and openness to answering questions.

Border: As predicted General Kelly received a good amount of questions regarding the border. Sen. McCain specifically pressed on whether we need an actual physical wall lining the border. "A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job. It has to be a layered defense," General Kelly said, calling for more assistance from drones, sensors, and other technology. Sen. Hoeven questioned General Kelly on the best way to measure border security. While he did not have a direct answer as to "how border security can be measured," he expressed the importance of allowing the law enforcement officials at the border to do their job "according to the law" -hopefully he stands by the "according to the law" part of that statement and adds oversight and accountability into the picture.

Arriving Central Americans: When asked why people from Central America are trying to enter the U.S., General Kelly replied, "They, most of the time, don't come here for any other purpose except to have economic opportunity and to escape violence." As head of Southern Command, General Kelly has personally seen the violence suffered by many Central American. He recognized the "horrific levels of violence," especially in Honduras. He spoke of the need to foster economic development and an improved police force in Central and South America, and the need to reduce our country's demand on drugs, but never acknowledge the right to asylum for those fleeing from violence. Hopefully, that changes if he is confirmed.

Muslim Databases and Surveillance: Sen. Gary Peters, Democrat from Michigan, highlighted the "great deal of fear" among Muslim Americans in this country and especially his state. He asked about the idea-one of Trump's proposals-of putting mosques under continuous surveillance and establishing Muslim databases. General Kelly said, "I don't think it's ever appropriate" to do those things. "I don't think it's ever appropriate to focus on something like religion as the only factor," General Kelly said. He stated that he doesn't agree with registering people based on religion or ethnic reasons.

DACA: The fieriest part of the hearing was when California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris grilled General Kelly on whether he wants to spend the DHS's limited resources on deporting children of undocumented immigrants who have spent their entire lives in the U.S. General Kelly noted that he will be required to enforce the law, but recognized the Department's limited resources and pointed out that "law-abiding individuals" of this sort "would not be at the top of the list" of priorities for deportation. General Kelly dodged the question of whether DACA recipients need to be concerned about their personal information, that they shared with the government when applying for deferred action, being shared with ICE. He stated that he would keep an open mind when looking at the topic of DACA confidentiality but he doesn't know where this next administration plans to take the program.

January 6, 2017

The 115th Congress has wrapped up its first week in session. Among the multiple bills introduced this week, there are two that relate to immigration.

First, on Wednesday, Representative Issa (R-CA) re-introduced the bi-partisan Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, H.R. 170, which seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to modify the definition of "exempt H-1B nonimmigrant." Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who has been critical of Issa's bill, told CNN she would introduce her own proposals to change to how permanent visas are awarded under the H-1B program.

On Thursday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Protect American Families Act (S.54). "The bill would prevent President-elect Trump from implementing a program that would discriminate against people by country of origin or nationality," AILA's Director of Advocacy Greg Chen told the Washington Post. The bill was also co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

Next week marks the beginning of Senate committee hearings to approve President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks. First up, on Tuesday, is Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) Attorney General nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. AILA submitted a statement to the Judiciary Committee, noting that Senator Sessions' record "raises serious concerns that he would be unwilling or unable to interpret the U.S. Constitution in a fair and neutral manner or exercise balanced judgment on immigration law," and calling upon the committee's members to ask probing questions of the senator before voting to confirm him.

AILA members are encouraged to also take action to ensure Senator Sessions is not confirmed unless he pledges to:

  • Uphold and defend the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship;
  • Ensure the immigration court system operates efficiently and is protected from political interference;
  • Stop abusive civil rights violations against immigrants like those committed by Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio; and
  • Adopt a humane policy regarding young people granted DACA and others who have lived in the United States for years who have families and jobs but do not have legal status.

(Check out Politico for a full rundown of upcoming hearings.)

January 3, 2017

Happy 115th Congress Day! Today, the new Congress gaveled in at noon. As expected, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) was reelected as Speaker of the House for the 2017-2018 Congressional term by a vote of 239 to 189. Last November, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was reelected as House Minority Leader. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) resumed his position as Senate Majority Leader, and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began his new role as the Senate Minority Leader. The Elected Official Directory in AILA's Advocacy Action Center has been updated to include the new members of Congress.

In other news, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a letter to lawmakers urged federal authorities against the use of DACA recipients' personal information for deportation purposes. President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail promised to rescind DACA. However, last month Trump told Time Magazine he would "work something out" for DREAMers.

More DACA news….
A Georgia Superior Court decision released today states that DACA recipients in Georgia qualify to pay in-state tuition. Fulton Superior Court Chief Judge Gail Tusan wrote in her ruling that the University System of Georgia officials are "hereby compelled to perform their duty in applying the federal definition of lawful presence as it relates to students who are DACA recipients and to grant them in-state tuition status." Congratulations to AILA Past President Charles Kuck for representing the ten DACA recipients in the lawsuit.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 15011390.