2023 Immigration Policy Update
Ronnate Asirwatham, Government Relations Director
February 9, 2023
The 118th Congress has been sworn in and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (CA-22), who presides over the House with a slim four-person majority, has completed his House Chair and Committee assignments. While there is a shift in power in Washington D.C., this immigration policy update will show that when it comes to immigration policy in 2023, things are much the same.
We all want to live in safe communities with our families and friends, and our faith compels us to help our neighbors when they are in distress. Recent activity and policy proposals from Congress and the Administration will lead to harm for our siblings fleeing violence in their communities (and hoping for a chance to thrive in the U.S.) as well as people without legal status. In this blog, I will look at immigration policy activity in Congress, the Administration, and give you next steps.
A Win for Immigration Activists and Just and Humane Policy
This year, the House led off with a bill aimed at discouraging people from certain countries from seeking asylum in our country. Republican Congressman Chip Roy (TX-21) sponsored H.R.29, The Border Safety and Security Act as the first of ten pieces of legislation to go to the floor. H.R.29 would effectively seal the southern border to all asylum seekers.
Due to the slim majority in the House, this bill, that is an affront to our sacred call to welcome the stranger, would have will most likely passed in the House, but Democratic control of the Senate made it highly unlikely that it would pass in that chamber.
Immigration advocates knew that H.R.29 would set the stage for attacks on immigration – especially those thinly veiled with racism, like this one. Faith-based and secular immigration advocates aggressively lobbied against Roy’s bill. Several letters were sent to Congress noting that this bill would kill the right to seek asylum at our southern border and breach U.S. and international law, including letters signed by:
- 300 immigrant advocacy organizations (including NETWORK)
- Faith-based organizations (including NETWORK)
- Bishop Mark Seitz, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration Committee, a ministry started 100 years ago, which got the attention of several members of the House Republican Caucus.
Justice-seekers united to stand up to power guided by the knowledge that a fair asylum process can only be built on just and humane policies. A significant number of Republican legislators signaled that they would not support H.R.29, and realizing that there were not enough votes to pass the bill, House Leadership pulled the harmful legislation from the floor,
This was a huge victory for people seeking asylum and activists who support their freedom to seek asylum under U.S. law. And for NETWORK advocates, and all concerned with the common good, this win is evidence that when we work together to protect vulnerable people seeking a better life, we can defeat harmful, racist policy proposals.
Interestingly enough, after the failure to pass H.R.29, some House Republicans tempered their anti-immigration rhetoric. Even Rep. Chip Roy took a pause. In public remarks he said, “Nobody is against asylum.” Friends, we cannot rest on our laurels. This is a momentous but, temporary, victory.
H.R.29 is not dead, it has limped off to the House Homeland Security Committee, where amendments can be made. As part of the legislative process, if it passes out of committee, we can see it again (that is, it receives enough yes votes in the smaller group that it is passed along for a full chamber vote). And NETWORK, and our coalition partners, will be ready to act against it if it returns to harm our siblings in the borderlands.
Impeachment Talk for Secretary Mayorkas
The Republican-led House has vowed to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. As a first step, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing called “Biden’s Border Crisis – Part I” on February 1st and the House Oversight Committee also held a hearing the first week of February. The purpose of these hearings is to gather evidence to impeach Secretary Mayorkas.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are working to stop President Biden from enacting rules banning asylum and an expanded Title 42 policy. More on that below.
On January 5, President Biden announced four policies that affect persons seeking safety in our country:
- A parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans that sets up a series of ‘hoops to jump through’ for nationals from these countries – to find safety in our country’s borders. If they have a passport, can pay for their own ticket to the U.S., have not crossed into Panama or Mexico without papers, and fulfill eligibility criteria (including having a sponsor who can support them financially for two years), they may be granted a U.S. visa. It’s more of a lottery than a legitimate program, since the total number of visas granted across all nationalities is capped at 30,000 per month.
- Expanded Title 42 expulsion policy to include Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans.
- Increased use of a Customs and Border Protections app (called CBP One) for asylum seekers waiting at the border to get an appointment at the port of entry. This is for land border crossers only.
- A proposed update to the asylum ban similar to a Trump-era policy. The new rule prevents people from presenting their case for asylum if they enter between ports of entry at the southern border, and if they do not seek asylum in a third country that they have crossed through, to reach the United States. When President Trump issued a similar rule, it was deemed illegal in court because under U.S. law, anyone can ask for asylum regardless of how they enter the country. They are not guaranteed asylum but are guaranteed a right to seek asylum. It is appalling that President Biden is seeking to re-instate this ban that destroys due process at our southern border. Congressional Democrats are in opposition and are trying to discourage President Biden from officially proposing the rule.
NETWORK opposes these proposals.
The expansion of Title 42 expulsion policy keeps vulnerable people in dangerous conditions as they wait to plead their case for immigration status. And attaching Title 42 to narrow parole programs that favor immigrants with the most resources does not support fair American values, and it fails to protect those most in need.
The CBP One app favors asylum seekers with a phone and a data connection. The majority of people fleeing their homes and communities don’t have the means for such a luxury. And the app is fundamentally racist. It has consistently not recognized the faces of Haitian and other Black migrants, because it does not allow them to take their photographs. Effectively, racism in the technology has meant that a majority of Black migrants do not get CBP appointments.
What’s Happening in the Courts?
On March 1, the Supreme Court will hear (and hopefully decide) if states have the right to intervene at this late stage in the Title 42 case that has been working its way through lower courts. If they rule yes – the case will continue if they rule no it will be the end of Title 42 in April.
There also might have DACA ruling that might come down. Read JoAnn’s blog for the present state of DACA in the courts (as of February 3, 2023) DACA is Under Immediate Threat from my NETWORK colleague, JoAnn Goedert.
What’s Next for NETWORK?
The Government Relations team is focused on the Biden proposals mentioned above, and I spend considerable time tracking committee action, keeping an eye out for bills in the making. This work to defend our freedom and justice is not ours alone. We are in coalition with secular and religious groups, and we follow the lead of Pope Francis.
“Through his deeds and messages, the pope has placed the issue of migration—and the human rights of persons forced to migrate—at the center of his papacy.” America Magazine
And, of course, NETWORK will call upon you for your advocacy to help us stop harmful bills and polices that violate the dignity of people seeking a life where they can work to pay their bills and raise their children in peace. We will also ask for your help to promote policies restore the right to seek asylum at the border.