Immigration Update — July 2020

As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths mount and the president’s poll numbers drop, Trump has attempted to revive his campaign by leaning into classic authoritarian tactics: repress dissent and create violent spectacles to stage a law and order conflict; manipulate the press with dangerous false narratives to demonize protesters and political opponents; and vitiate institutional norms and constitutional restraints. The administration deployed unmarked law enforcement — including CBP and ICE agents — to terrorize Black Lives Matter protestors in Portland and promised to expand the operation to other cities “[all] run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.” Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign poured almost one million dollars a day over 3 weeks into adsthat portray a lawless and dangerous America under Joe Biden. Then, when presented with the possibility of losing the election, the President indicated that he might resist leaving office.

Our democracy is being explicitly and violently undermined. And immigrants and immigration remain, as always, central targets of the administration — here’s what happened this July:

1. DACA Remains Vulnerable

In June, the Supreme Court concluded that the administration unlawfully terminated DACA and required full reinstatement of the program. In response, DHS dragged its feet in contempt of a federal court order and belatedly published a new memo that begins the process of dismantling the program. While it conducts a “comprehensive review” of the program, DHS will reject all new DACA applications, but will temporarily continue to process renewal applications. The new policy, however, truncates the duration of DACA renewals from two years to one, meaning applicants will pay the same cost for half the benefit.

There is no clear timeline for the duration of the administration’s review, but it will likely keep the program in effect through the election because they know that DACA and Dreamers have overwhelming public support. The lawlessness must stop, and the cruelty of this administration must end. Let’s collectively ensure that November 3 marks the beginning of a new chapter in American democracy.

2. The Most Comprehensive Racial Data on COVID-19 Yet

This month, the New York Times — after suing the CDC — released the most comprehensive data yet on the racial disparities of coronavirus infections and deaths. Previous updates have tracked the yawning racial divides, but the most recent data provides a sharper picture. Even still, the data is far from complete: race and ethnicity information is missing from more than half the cases, as well as data on how a person might have contracted the virus. The study also only includes cases through the end of May; it does not reflect the most recent surge in infections.

Despite these gaps, there is now enough information to more definitively chart racial trends, throughout hundreds of urban, suburban, and rural counties, and across all age groups: Black and Latinx people are nearly three times as likely to become infected and nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as their white counterparts.

The data reflects who is — and is not — forced to live in a crowded home, ride on crowded public transit systems, and show up to a crowded workplace. According to 2018 census data, 43 percent of Black and Latinx workers hold service or production jobs that cannot be done remotely; the same is true of only one in four white workers. Latinx people are also twice as likely as white people to live in a crowded home, which the American Housing Survey defines as less than 500 square feet per person.

The consequences of these risks are laid bare by the data, which understates the true racial discrepancy when aggregated across age groups. Because the virus is far more prevalent among older Americans, who are disproportionately white, controlling for age provides a more accurate view. Latinx people between the ages of 40 and 59 have been infected at five times the rate of white people in that age group, and more than a quarter of Latinx people who have died from coronavirus were under 60. Only six percent of white people who have died were that young.

3. The Marshall Project and the New York Times Reveal How ICE Exported the Coronavirus

Over the past four months, ICE continued to detain, transfer, and deport thousands of migrants while infection rates climbed. ICE has confirmed at least 3,000 positive detainees, but their testing has, unsurprisingly, been limited.

In collaboration with the New York Times, our partners at the Marshall Project released an investigative report on how ICE has acted as a global and domestic spreader of the coronavirus. Journalists tracked over 750 domestic flights that carried thousands of detainees to different detention centers around the country, and over 200 deportation flights from March 13 through June. Hundreds of COVID-positive detainees were returned to 11 countries — all of which had border restrictions in place. These numbers almost certainly underestimate the full impact: ICE has deported almost 40,000 immigrants from 138 countries since March. When recipient countries refused to accept deportees, the Trump Administration threatened visa sanctions and cuts in humanitarian aid until they acquiesced.

Over the past five months, immigration officials have repeatedly actualized predicted disasters: deportations have exported the virus across the world and coronavirus has razed detention centers within the U.S. A study released in April warned that, if the detainee population was not substantially reduced, anywhere from 72 to 100 percent of detainees in a given center would become infected. That grim reality is playing out in Farmville, Virginia, where nearly 75 percent of detainees have tested positive.

4. Trump Issues an Illegal Executive Memorandum Attempting to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from Being Counted in the Census

On July 21, President Trump issued a blatantly unconstitutional memo that attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count. Were it to withstand legal challenge, the order would erase the undocumented population when congressional districts are divvied up next year. The rule would require Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to provide data on undocumented immigrants so they could be subtracted from the Census totals. If implemented, states with significant undocumented populations would lose House seats to whiter, more rural Republican leaning states.

The Supreme Court previously rejected the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census which was plainly designed to discourage the participation of undocumented people. Even if the legislation is never implemented, the chilling effects alone are intensely damaging: under-counted communities are under-resourced and under-represented in Congress. This memo has already been met with several federal lawsuits, including one filed by the state of California.

5. ICE Threatens to Deport International Students Enrolled in Online Courses — And then (Sort of) Walks it Back

Earlier this month, ICE announced that it would force international students whose universities pursued an online-only model for the fall semester to leave the country. The policy came after nearly 100 universities had already announced that the 2020–2021 school year would be held entirely online. After facing eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities, the administration rescinded the rule.

Nonetheless, on July 24 ICE issued another memo to college officials claiming that new international students who were not enrolled by March 9 will “likely not be able to obtain” visas if all their classes are held online. Stymied in their effort to kick people out, they are now trying to keep people out.

6. Congress Debates Another Coronavirus Relief Package — Including who will be Eligible for Aid

In March, Congress passed the largest fiscal stimulus in history, and deliberately excluded immigrants. The House corrected that failure by including a suite of critical supports for immigrant workers and families when it passed the Heroes Act on May 15. For months, the Senate has refused to consider the Heroes Act or any new COVID legislation. This week Senator McConnell finally introduced a legislative counteroffer but once again completely ignored the needs and contributions millions of immigrants. We are prioritizing three provisions for inclusion in a final negotiated package:

  • Automatic extension of work permits for DACA recipients. Despite the Supreme Court win, USCIS has refused to issue guidance on restoring the DACA program to its 2012 state and the president continues to threaten to rescind it anew. We are advocating for automatic work extensions which would give hundreds of thousands of Dreamers peace of mind for two more years.
  • Cash payments to all tax filers. Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, and yet they and their families — including U.S. citizen spouses and children — were unilaterally excluded from stimulus checks.
  • Deferred action for all essential workers. Undocumented immigrants are overrepresented in essential industries that we all rely on. And yet they are not free from the threat of deportation.

7. The House Offers Meaningful Solutions Despite Senate Intransigence

Despite the administration’s effort to cripple the immigration system, the House of Representatives continues to pass pro-immigrant legislation. This month, the House passed the No Ban Act, which would repeal Trump’s travel ban on citizens of 13 countries and limit his ability to issue such sweeping restrictions in the future. It would also strengthen prohibitions on religious discrimination in visa applications, which would help alleviate longstanding bias against Muslim applicants. The House also passed the Access to Counsel Act, which would guarantee that any immigrant held or detained at any port of entry or detention facility can be represented by counsel. As it stands, detained immigrants have no such rights. The bill additionally requires ICE and CBP to limit detention to the briefest term possible and invalidates any effort by immigration officials to persuade an individual to relinquish their legal status without access to counsel.

Although Mitch McConnell will prevent these common-sense measures from getting a vote, they serve as clear articulations of the failures in our system and as reminders that tangible, attainable solutions exist.

8. The Courts Affirm the Right to Asylum — Protecting What is Left of a Decimated Asylum System

A federal appeals court struck down the Trump Administration’s attempt to gut protections for asylum seekers. The policies in question created a screening process preventing women from fleeing extensive physical and sexual violence and those escaping gang brutality from seeking protection. The court’s rejection of the policy is both an important check on the administration and a harrowing marker of the extensive damage done to the American asylum system.

The U.S. asylum system has been so completely dismantled by the Trump Administration that Canada has been forced to amend their own in response. The Safe Third Country Agreement, which has long been criticized by human rights advocates, allowed Canada to turn away asylum seekers coming from the U.S. if they originally entered from a third country. A Canadian court struck down the treaty, claiming that the country could no longer ignore the deterioration of the American asylum and detention systems.

9. Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Publishes Policy Recommendations for a Biden Administration

This month, the Biden-Sanders unity task force released their vision for an America after Trump. In brief, their recommendations for our immigration system include:

  • Roll back Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, including border wall construction, discriminatory travel bans, and the gutting of our asylum system.
  • Reinstate and expand protections for Dreamers.
  • Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and fast-track legal status for undocumented essential workers.
  • Extend ACA coverage to Dreamers and lift the five-year waiting period for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility for low-income immigrants.
  • Immediately stop the enforcement of the Trump Administration’s public charge rule.
  • Hold employers accountable for the abuse of immigrant workers and end workplace raids.
  • Prioritize alternatives to detention.
  • Expand our legal immigration system to increase opportunities for legal, permanent immigration.
  • Address the root causes of migration across the globe.

This profoundly stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s xenophobic agenda highlights yet again why the November elections will be the most consequential in a generation.