Today marks the start of immigrant heritage month, a fitting time to accelerate our advocacy in support of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Bipartisan negotiations on the Dream & Promise Act, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and border legislation continued throughout May. While we actively support this effort, signals from GOP negotiators leave us skeptical that the deliberations will produce a bill that can clear a 60-vote threshold. As a result, we have also been aggressively positioning these measures for passage in the next budget reconciliation package (which bypasses the filibuster and requires only a simple majority vote).

Although our focus is very much on the path ahead, we pause here to mark some of the central challenges and successes from the last month.

Learn more about strong bipartisan stakeholder support for a path to citizenship.

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Family Reunification

After thousands of families were ripped apart under the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy, the Family Reunification Taskforce is now working in partnership with a network of NGOs and legal advocates to reunify them within the United States. Four families have been reunified thus far; more than 1,000 remain separated. Because the Trump Administration intentionally failed to track the impacted families, the process of identifying and reuniting them has been slow but the pace of reunifications should accelerate in the coming months.

The stories of Philadelphia and California families who have been reunited offer a glimpse into both the trauma of separation and the raw emotional relief of reunification.

Learn more about the family reunification in Philadelphia.

Biden Administration Cuts Ties with Two Jails

The Biden Administration stopped using two jails as immigrant detention centers this month, both of which are undergoing federal investigations. The Irwin County (Georgia) detention center and a doctor at the facility are under federal investigation for the forced sterilization of detained women through unnecessary and nonconsensual medical procedures, including hysterectomies. ICE will move to terminate its contract with the detention center but must take a number of additional steps because the prison is run by a private corporation: LaSalle Corrections.

The Bristol County (Massachusetts) detention center is under state and federal investigation for an incident in which staff deployed pepper balls, a stun grenade, and canines against detainees who refused coronavirus testing and isolation. Sec. Mayorkas ordered ICE to immediately terminate its jail contract with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office and to rescind an agreement that empowered the sheriff’s office to screen arrested individuals to determine if they are eligible for deportation.

Numbers of Children in CBP and HHS Custody are Dropping Steadily

When high numbers of unaccompanied children began arriving at the southern border this spring, they were routinely held in CBP facilities intended for adults long beyond the 72-hour legal limit as HHS facilities quickly filled up. In the span of the last two months, the government worked to dramatically expand HHS capacity and rectify that situation. On March 28, there were 5,767 children in CBP facilities; this month, the average daily total of children in CBP custody was 363 — and more children are being transferred out of CBP facilities each day than are arriving.

The rapid transfer of children from CBP to HHS custody has created a bottleneck because of the challenges with swiftly and safely placing these children with sponsors. That process continues to be streamlined and more than 20,000 children have been placed with vetted sponsors since Biden’s inauguration. The discharge rate climbed from an average of 89 children per day in late January to over 600 children per day this month.

Still, nearly 18,000 migrant children remain in HHS care and some of the emergency shelters stood up at the peak of border arrivals are proving unfit for children. The agency is working to move the children still in HHS emergency influx shelters into ORR licensed facilities where every child can receive psycho-social services, proper healthcare, legal services, and more.

Biden Administration Grants TPS to Haitians

On May 21, the Biden Administration granted Haitians temporary protected status for the next 18 months, at which point they can renew the designation. Haiti was originally designated for TPS following an earthquake in 2010 and that status was repeatedly renewed until the Trump Administration ended it in 2017, throwing their ability to remain in the U.S. in jeopardy. Immigrant advocates sued the administration, effectively stalling the efforts to end TPS for Haiti and other countries and putting the decision squarely in the hands of the Biden Administration.

This decision protects all Haitians present in the United States prior to May 21 from deportation and grants them work authorization. The designation recognizes that Haiti is in the midst of a constitutional crisis that puts its citizens at acute risk and will benefit an estimated 150,000 people. It is a monumental victory for justice achieved by the tireless advocacy of partner organizations like UndocuBlack and Haitian Bridge Alliance.

Learn more about the impact of granting TPS to Haitians.

Biden Administration Raises the Annual Refugee Cap to 62,500

On May 3, President Biden announced he would set the refugee admissions cap at 62,500 for the next six months. That announcement dramatically reverses 4 years of increasing atrophy in the U.S. refugee resettlement program, culminating in last year’s annual cap of 15,000. The agencies responsible for resettlement were gutted under the Trump Administration, and the government likely won’t be able to process all 62,500 people before the end of the fiscal year. Restoring full government capacity to process tens of thousands of refugees will take time, but the work is underway.

Piecemeal Changes to Title 42

President Biden is facing increasing pressure to end government reliance on Title 42 as a basis for summarily expelling people who arrive at the border. The emergency regulation issued by the former administration empowered DHS to turn people away without giving them an opportunity to lawfully request asylum.

Use of the emergency authority has created enormous humanitarian challenges for Mexican border communities and left tens of thousands of vulnerable people without access to basic legal protections. By exempting unaccompanied children from these restrictions, the administration has also inadvertently incentivized some desperate parents to send their children to cross the border alone.

As a practical matter, a large majority of family units are no longer being expelled under the rule. And some other narrow but impactful changes are also underway. For example, the Biden Administration reached an agreement after an ACLU lawsuit and has committed to stopping late-night expulsions and flying migrants long distances along the U.S. border to be expelled. The administration also agreed to admit 250 asylum seekers per day from vulnerable groups identified by advocacy organizations on the ground.

The administration is clearly moving to end its reliance on this badly abused Trump-era rule, but for the sake of vulnerable migrants and our commitment to international obligations, the end can’t come quickly enough.

As we head into the summer, we will continue to drive toward real progress on immigration reform. We cannot afford to miss this moment — too many people’s lives are at stake for us to fail. As always, we are grateful for your partnership and welcome any thoughts, advice, ideas you may have for us.

In solidarity,
Marshall Fitz

Managing Director of Immigration at the Emerson Collective. Advocate for humanity, sports junky, 1/2-assed Buddhist, proud papa and spouse. Views obv my own.