Senate

Senate Denies “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act”

January 28, 2019

 

Last week, Senate Republicans introduced the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act.” The bill’s contents both provided President Trump with his requested border wall funds as well as altering other significant areas of immigration law. If passed, the measure would have radically altered immigration options for millions of people across America. Luckily, the bill failed to garner the 60 votes required to advance in the Senate.

After the failure of both this act and the Democrat’s proposed option, the government shutdown appeared likely to continue for an unforeseen amount of time. Though on Friday, the president surprised the nation by agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks while funding negotiations continued. This move allowed the roughly 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or forced to work without pay to receive appropriate compensation. While the government shutdown has temporarily ended, the consequences will likely be felt for months or years to come.

This article reviews the current state of the government shutdown, as well as the failure of the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act.” The Republican-backed bill’s denial was a victory for immigrants across the United States (U.S.). Finally, this article will also discuss future implications of the temporary shutdown.

You can read our previous articles about the government shutdown and its consequences for immigrants here and here.

Government Shutdown Makes History

On December 22, 2018, President Trump enacted a partial government shutdown to attempt to force Congress to fund his border wall. At that time, the president had requested, yet failed to receive, $5.7 billion in funding for his planned wall between the U.S. and Mexico. What seemed unlikely to stretch for weeks ended up being the longest shutdown in U.S. history, lasting 35 days.

During that time, the president met often with Congressional Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Despite these regular meetings, the stalemate continued. Each day that passed cost the government and the American people. Eventually, the president agreed to end the shutdown temporarily after a strong defeat of the Repulicans’ shutdown bill in the Senate. Yet, significant damage has already been done.

Considering the Consequences

First, nearly a million federal workers were furloughed or forced to work without pay for over a month. In a country where many people live “paycheck-to-paycheck,” the president’s actions were shameful as he held Americans’ livelihoods and salaries hostage. It is impossible to calculate the profound effects federal workers experienced due to such stress and frustration.

Second, the shutdown furloughed most immigration court judges and their staff. This led to a record-breaking high in case backlogs within an already overtaxed system. The backlog of cases awaiting the attention of an immigration court will likely soon pass one million. As of mid-January, those waiting already reached around 800,000. Additionally, because courts had shuttered their doors, many innocent people awaiting life-altering decisions and court dates had their appointments cancelled. A cancellation in today’s world likely means that those unlucky enough to experience them may have to wait years for another opportunity.

Finally, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown cost the U.S. nearly $11 billion dollars. Of that, $3 billion represents a “permanent loss,” what cannot be regained by federal workers returning to their posts. Additionally, the CBO estimated that the economy will be slower than usual this year as a result of multiple economic actions, with growth likely to be near 2.3% (compared with 3.1% in 2018). The report also highlighted the plight of federal workers, stating that they “experienced the largest and most direct negative effects” due to “delayed compensation.”

Senate Republicans Introduced Bill to End Shutdown

On January 22, 2019, Senate Republicans introduced a new bill designed to mirror Trump’s January 19 proposal to end the shutdown. Unfortunately, the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” offered full requested funding ($5.7 billion) for the president’s wall. Additionally, the bill outlined drastic changes to immigration law intended to block legal immigration options for millions of people. Luckily, the bill failed in the Senate on January 24, 2019. It received 50 votes, but did not gain the required 60 to advance.

Below, we review some of ways the bill would have changed immigration law. The American Immigration Lawyers Association details the entirety of the bill’s dangerous immigration policy changes on their website. Read their report on the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” here. Information below was sourced from the AILA’s report.

DACA

The bill would allow current Dreamers to reapply for a one-time, 3-year extension subject to new eligibility requirements. While it may seem encouraging, the newly created eligibility requirements would actually ensure that less people could apply than are currently protected. Additionally, Dreamers’ application fees would double.

TPS

The bill would provide a limited, one-time extension to TPS holders from certain countries. TPS beneficiaries from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua would be eligible for a 3-year extension. Yet, new eligibility requirements would again limit the amount of people actually able to apply for extended benefits. The bill contained no protections for other citizens of TPS-designated countries. Finally, the TPS application fee would double.

New Stringent Restrictions for TPS and DACA Eligibility

Included in the bill were new restrictions on who could apply for DACA and TPS. Any person ordered removed in absentia would be barred from ever receiving DACA or TPS benefits, including children. Recipients of DACA or TPS relief would also be required to either attend school or claim earnings at 125% of the U.S. poverty level. Finally, new rules would only allow those who were “lawfully present” to apply for TPS relief. These new rules would have barred many deserving people from receiving life-saving benefits.

Border Security

The act included full funding for Trump’s border wall, as well as hundreds of millions in “enforcement funding.” This funding would be available to the president to utilize for any type of enforcement need, with little limitation. Additionally, the bill would hire 750 new Border Patrol agents and 2,000 ICE agents.

ICE would also receive a large funding boost of roughly 20%, from $4.11 billion to $4.99 billion. This large increase would help ICE to detain more people on a daily basis. New daily detainment totals with addition funding would mean that ICE could imprison roughly 52,000 people per day. This is an increase of 12,000 from current ICE daily detention levels. Considering the serious consequences of detention, any increase could be disastrous for immigrant communities in America.

Immigration Courts

The bill would have funded the hire of 75 additional immigration judges and their teams. Additionally, it would allow for the creation of an electronic case management system. While the overburdened immigration court system certainly needs more judges, the act provides no reforms or other changes that would help the system function more fairly and efficiently. Thus, nationwide problems would be likely to continue.

Political Asylum

Finally, the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” would have had disastrous effects for asylees. The bill targeted the current asylum system, making several key changes. Most notably, any minor (under the age of 18) asylum seeker from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala would be ineligible to apply for protection. Instead of asylum, children from these countries could apply for the Central American Minors (CAM) program, a faulty system of “protection” unlikely to truly benefit this vulnerable population. Especially concerning would be that decisions made for CAM applicants would be un-appealable and made without the presence of an immigration judge.

The bill also aimed to dismantle asylum by expanding the government’s definition of frivolous applications. These changes would affect many people, including those who apply after the one year deadline. Additionally, immigration attorneys would be barred from disputing claims that an application was frivolous, removing another layer of protections for asylum seekers.

Looking Forward

Luckily, the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” failed in the Senate. Yet, the president intends to continue fighting for immigration reform and funding for his foolish border wall. The Washington Post reports that the president was again considering invoking emergency powers to acquire the necessary monetary support. This is incredibly concerning, both for the nation and its future, as such an action stretches the boundaries of presidential power. We explore the possibilities of a national emergency here.

Currently, a bipartisan and bicameral congressional committee has the monumental task of finding a path forward. This includes compromising on border security. And another stalemate, according to The Post, is likely to end in another shutdown.

Contact a Skilled Immigration Lawyer

Current events can cause frustration and stoke fears about the future. This is especially true for U.S. immigrants, who often face tightening laws and regulations. The volatile American political climate means that every person should be ready to protect their rights. Therefore, working with an experienced immigration attorney can prepare you for anything.

The experts at Nanthaveth & Associates provide top-level legal representation to immigrants and their families. Located in Austin, the Nanthaveth team ensures all clients receive excellent service and counsel. If you are concerned about changing U.S. immigration laws and policies, or have any other immigration-related question, contact us today. You can sit down with one of our lawyers during a free initial consultation. You’ll discuss your unique situation or case and leave with an action plan.