Weekly Immigration News: Border Blame and Other Pandemic Responses

Immigration woes continue at the border, compounding pre-existing problems with the US immigration system.

  • According to Politico, Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman blamed the recent arrivals at the border on the United States’ “personal capitalist interests,” which he claimed caused social, economic, and political instability in Central American countries. He stated that these disruptions, in turn, led to the rise of migration to the US. In his statement, Bowman also included a possible solution – “implement[ing] a 21st century Marshall Plan…to rebuild Central America.” It should be noted that, unlike the Republican opinion, Bowman did not pin the blame on President Joe Biden.
  • As of this Wednesday, the White House is not planning to renew an order signed by President Donald Trump, which stopped several work visa programs (specifically H-4B, L-1, H-1B, J-1, and H-2B visas) under COVID-19 cited restrictions. At the time of the policy enactment, former President Donald Trump argued that the economic effects of the coronavirus created less labor demand than labor supply, stating that Americans were “[competing] against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of [the American] economy.” Although President Biden did not rescind the Trump order once in office, he is currently waiting for the restrictions to expire, with no plans to renew the policy.
  • Despite this seeming departure from Trump-era immigration policies, the Biden White House is still utilizing Title 42, which uses the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to quickly remove immigrants from the United States.
  • As fewer immigrants being are detained and more immigrants are being released from detention centers to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, an NPR analysis revealed that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is paying over 1 million dollars for unused detention beds. Most of ICE’s facilities are not owned by the agency. Instead, ICE has to pay for around 29,000 beds per day under various contracts with private companies and local jails. This, in turn, has led to a large amount of wasted federal money, sparking debate about ICE’s detention contracts and the large number of detained immigrants that the agency normally has in custody. Earlier this year, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) published a report detailing ICE’s Trump-era contract changes, in which the agency drastically increased the minimum number of beds per day that they pay for. Moreover, the GAO added, “ICE has not taken a strategic approach to these decisions.” Biden has not yet addressed this issue.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, in ICE facilities like the one in Donna, Texas, more than 4,100 immigrants were staying under a tent complex even though the center can only house a maximum of 250 migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the migrants in custody had also been detained for longer than three days, much longer than the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) policy of 72 hours. 600 minors at the Donna center resided in pods meant to house 32 children with the youngest unaccompanied minors sleeping in a small alphabet play mat, creating a situation where social distancing measures could not be enforced. The HHS (Department of Health and Human Services), responsible for longer-term care of unaccompanied minors from the southern border, is currently attempting to find enough beds, open emergency housing shelters, and release the children to sponsor custody.
  • On April 1, the USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services) confirmed that it has returned to the form rejection criteria from before October 2019 for blank responses. Currently, the USCIS will not reject Form I-612, Form I-589, or Form I-918 even if the application has a blank space. It should be noted that the agency might still reject the forms or delay processing if the applicant doesn’t reply to questions about filing requirements, doesn’t answer required questions, or doesn’t include the necessary initial evidence. For more information about specific filing requirements, visit the USCIS website or look over the filing instructions on each form.
  • The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) issued a policy memo (PM 21-18) implementing a revised case flow processing model for certain non-detained cases with representation in immigration courts. EOIR concurrently cancelled PM 21-05. The memo is effective April 2, 2021. The memo “encourages parties in immigration court to resolve cases through written pleadings, stipulations, and joint motions” in order to create more efficiency in the system.
  • Finally, the USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services) will remove the word “alien” from its policy manual, a move that stems from the Biden administration’s efforts to use “more inclusive language” for immigrants. Instead, the USCIS will use “undocumented noncitizen” or “noncitizen” instead of the “illegal alien,” or “alien” in documents and USCIS communications.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos

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