Advocacy Update: 2019, the year in review and looking ahead in 2020

Blog by LSSNCA Advocacy Associate, John Murphy

Administration Sets Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Refugee Admissions cap at 18,000 …

In mid-October the Administration set the FY 2020 refugee admissions cap at 18,000 the lowest in the 40-year history of the program.  It is down from the previous year’s 30,000 and down from the FY 2018 cap of 45,000.  Under refugee law, the President, after consultation with Congress,  must annually set the admissions number.

These reductions are having an adverse effect on resettlement agencies, which are feeling pressure to maintain staffing levels despite a drop in resettlement as a result of smaller numbers.  These developments have led advocates to urge members of Congress to co-sponsor the Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enforcement Act (GRACE Act).  The House version, H. R. 2146, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has 88 cosponsors, while the Senate version, S. 1088 introduced by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) has 26 cosponsors.  The bills would require the President to set an annual ceiling of at least 95,000, the average annual amount throughout most of the program’s history.


Executive Order Seeks State and Local Concurrence in Refugee Resettlement…

In September 2018, the President issued an Executive Order “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement.”  The Order requires that refugees may only be resettled in jurisdictions in which both state and local governments have consented in writing to receive refugees under the State Department’s Reception and Replacement Program.  Thus far, only one state, Texas, has refused to give consent, and this despite several local elected officials within the Texas who have provided consent.  Nationwide, a total of 42 governors have given consent, 17 of whom are Republicans.  A total of 91 local elected officials have given their consent, while only two have refused.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), HIAS and Church World Service (CWS) have sued the federal government in U.S. District Court in Maryland, asserting that the Order is illegal under U.S. Immigration law.  A federal judge in that court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement of the Order.  The government is expected to appeal the ruling.

Administration Finalizes “Public Charge” Rule Penalizing Refugees who Seek Public Services … but Courts Block its Enforcement…*

The Administration finalized its Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) public charge rule in August 2019 for effect in October.  No sooner had the ink dried on the rule, which would have prescribed how the DHS will determine whether an immigrant applying for admission or an adjustment of status is ineligible for admission because he/she is likely to become a public charge (i.e. using public benefits such as Section 8 housing subsidies, TANF, federal, state or local cash assistance for themselves or a member of their family), than the issue landed in federal courts in New York, California and Washington State.  Each of these courts issued rulings temporarily blocking the Administration from enforcing the rule pending the full litigation of these cases.  Although the effect on LSSNCA clients will be limited to a chilling effect, it is imposing confusion in the mind of clients as to whether the rule applies to them.

Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Holders Included in Both FY 2019 and 2020 Appropriations Bills …

In the final FY 2019 Consolidated Appropriations bill passed in February following a 35-day shutdown of the federal government, Congress provided an additional 4,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visas, as requested by the Trump Administration.  The action came as supporters in Congress led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Drew Kinzinger (R-IL) organized congressional sign-on letters urging appropriators to include the amount.  A similar effort in the Senate was led by Se. Jean Shaheen (D-NH).  The FY 2019 allocation of 4,000 SIVs brought the total allocated since December 2014 to 18,500.  As of June 30, 2019 the Administration has issued 12,819 of the 18,500 allocated.  This failure to issues the full amount in a timely manner has frustrated many in Congress, and the FY 2019 Act placed quarterly reporting requirements on the Administration.  The FY 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act also contained an additional 4,000 Afghan SIVs.

The Administration Continues Reallocating Defense Funds for Border Wall Construction …

According to a report in The Washington Post, the Trump Administration plans again this year to divert previously appropriated funds for military construction and counter narcotics funds to continue funding a wall on the Southwest border.  This year, the Administration is planning to divert an additional $7.2 billion on top of FY 2019 $3.6 billion diverted to construct a total of 885 miles in border fencing.  The FY 2019 diversion was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the City of El Paso, TX and the Border Network for Human Rights.  A U.S. lower court block the Administration from diverting funds for that purpose.  However, that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals in New Orleans on the basis that plaintiffs lack standing to sue.  Building a wall on the Southern border was a principal pledge made by then-candidate Trump during the Presidential campaign.  He also said that Mexico would pay for the wall.

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Department of Homeland Security Enforces Migrant Protection Protocols …

In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began enforcing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), a policy that requires immigrants to the U.S. to be detained in Mexico during their immigration proceedings.  During the first nine months of the program, the U.S. returned more than 55,000 immigrants, mostly from Central America, to Mexico under MPP.

In a related development, according to a report by Syracuse University’s TRAC Institute, judges decided a record number of asylum cases in 2019 – 67,406, compared with 19,779 five years ago.  The number of immigrants who were granted asylum more than doubled to 19,831 up from 9,684 five years ago.  However, the number denied asylum grew from 9,716 to 46,735 over the same period.  The highest number given asylum were Chinese, followed by those from El Salvador and India.  Having an attorney was key to success.  Only 16% of unrepresented immigrants received asylum, while 33% with an attorney were successful.  Overall, asylum seekers waited an average of 1,030 days for a decision.

The Future DACA to be decided by the Supreme Court …

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a series of three lawsuits filed against the Trump Administration which ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September 2017 which called it unconstitutional.  A program begun in 2012 under the Obama Administration, the program allowed some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to work or go to school without fear of deportation.  The Court heard oral arguments on the three appellate cases that blocked Trump’s move to end DACA on November 12, 2019.  A decision is expected by June 2020.

How Can You Turn Words into Action?

There are several ways you can turn words into action and support the work of LSSNCA to provide services and assistance to refugees and immigrants in the DMV.

  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Join our staff! See open positions here.
  • Donate to newly arrived refugees and immigrants through our Amazon Wish Lists
  • Donate to support our programs directly
  • Join our Take Action Team
  • Become a Good Neighbor Partner to sponsor a newly-arrived refugee family
  • RSVP for the Refugee Council USA’s Advocacy Days, April 28-29.
  • Look up your state & district’s leadership on GovTrack and let them know why refugee resettlement and migrant services are important to you and your community.


*Update made on 1/28/2020:

Supreme Court Allows Administration’s Expansion of “Public Charge” Rule

By a 5-4 vote, on January 27, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an injunction which had prevented the Administration from implementing a rule which broadened the definition of what constitutes a “public charge” for purposes of determining whether an immigrant may apply for admission to this country or apply for a change in status. The rule change, which had been blocked by a number of lower courts, allows the Department of Homeland Security to take into account whether an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking a change in immigration status had utilized such public programs as Section 8 housing subsidies, TANF and federal. State, and local cash assistance payments for themselves or a member of their family, thus making them a public charge. Under previous interpretation, public charge meant an individual who becomes primarily dependent on the government for subsistence by using certain cash benefit programs or relying on government programs for long-term institutional care. Although the effect on LSSNCA clients will be limited to a chilling effect, it is imposing confusion in the minds of these clients as to whether the rule really applies to them.

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