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Immigration and the Impact of COVID-19 (4.0)

covid2Whether you’re from a red state or blue state, one thing is undeniably true, all politics aside: over 103,000 human beings have died in the United States since the end of February as a result of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19). That’s a massive amount of human loss in a very short period of time. I find that very hard to process.

Not that there’s any equivalency, there’s also been a vast amount of change in our personal and professional worlds. On the personal side, many if not most of us are working remotely, if we’re working at all, and our professional lives are now often interwoven with our personal lives as we manage work-life in a family setting. For some of us, that will soon be changing.

I have been fortunate to be able to go to an office every day. There’s no one else here. So while my work life is a bit lonely, I can say for sure that I am able to get work done without four boys running, yelling, complaining, laughing, and sometimes even crying in the background. Those of you who know me personally know that my wife is the mother of the year, every day of the year.

And what of my work? Immigration law is challenging enough in “normal” times, with the law itself, not to mention the myriad of changes that happen often daily. During this COVID-19 pandemic, however, the changes have not only been often, they’ve been dramatic as well.

Although the “real” news has reported the President’s Proclamation restricting immigrant visa issuance, as a practical matter, all visa processing by the Department of State (“DOS”), as well as the adjudication of many immigration benefits here inside the United States by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), have practically stopped (or at least are now very delayed and backlogged). In addition, entry into the United States along our northern and southern borders, including by asylum seekers coming from the south (despite being told otherwise), has also been restricted. Thousands and thousands of low risk noncitizens are also in immigration detention despite the reported very high risk of COVID-19 transmission in jails, prisons, and federal detention centers that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) uses to hold noncitizens. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the suspension of almost all non-detained immigration court hearings, and has also limited the normal functioning of those other courts that remain open.

Any one of these changes would be dramatic for our clients in ordinary times. But all four of them at once? And during a pandemic when everyone is stressed out from being cooped up indoors for months, perhaps out of work, and perhaps also losing a family member to coronavirus?

Add to all this that President Trump, and his minions like Stephen Miller, have used the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue policy changes, mostly by regulation and proclamation, that his administration has failed to accomplish by legislation or in the courts during his presidency (e.g., eliminating the ability for noncitizens to pursue asylum at our southern border).

While we’re all impacted by COVID-19, I would argue that its impact on noncitizens, and particularly those who hold essential worker jobs, is far worse than the average person. Thus far Congress has at least endeavored to provide benefits or some form of relief to U.S. citizens and noncitizens who are lawfully in the United States. But many immigrant are affected differently (e.g., many immigrants are not eligible to receive direct payments and support, and many others are not able take advantage of the increased availability of health care services), and many noncitizens who are here in the United States, whether lawfully or otherwise, right or wrong, are the very essential workers that you and I rely on every day of our lives (e.g., health care workers, grocery store workers, dairy workers, and the list goes on and on).

These are stressful times. Both foreign and U.S. workers in all of our communities are suffering the impacts of COVID-19, whether economic or otherwise, and if large parts of the population are intentionally being excluded from the federal government’s economic support, this will have a widespread impact on everyone. We all deserve better.

Immigration and Covid-19: Take 3

covidSo between COVID-19 (2.0) and COVID-19 (3.0), President Trump signed a proclamation (not an executive order as many have reported) temporarily suspending the entry of certain immigrants into the United States in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. What exactly does this mean? Practically, not much. Most embassies and consulates around the world are working at drastically reduced operations and visa issuance has all been suspended in any event since mid-March. So why did he do it? Politics as usual.

First, some details. The President’s proclamation suspends the entry of any individual seeking to enter the United States as an “immigrant” who (a) is outside the United States on the effective date of the proclamation (the proclamation went into effect at 11:59 pm (ET) on April 23, 2020), (b) does not have a valid immigrant visa as of April 23, 2020, and (c) does not have a valid official travel document as of April 23, 2020, or issued on any date thereafter. The proclamation is in effect for sixty days.

The following individuals are exempt from the President’s proclamation: (a) lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders); (b) individuals, and their spouses and children, seeking to enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional, to perform medical research or other work essential to combatting COVID-19, as determined by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the Department of State (“DOS”); (c) individuals applying for a visa to enter the U.S. pursuant to the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program; (d) spouses and children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens, including prospective adoptees on certain types of visas; (e) individuals who would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives (again, as determined by DHS and DOS); (e) members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children; (f) Afghan and Iraqi nationals who were translators/interpreters or employed by the U.S. government and their spouses or children seeking entry pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa; and (g) individuals whose entry would be in the national interest (also as determined by DHS and DOS).

But here’s the thing. As I alluded to at the outset, most routine visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates across the world have been suspended since March 20, 2020. (1) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has, until at least June 4, 2020, suspended in-person services (although it does continue to accept and process applications and petitions, which are processed at its “service centers”, which are not accessible to the general public). The U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico are closed for non-essential travel until, at this point, at least May 20, 2020. And, with few exceptions, the entry of individuals who were in countries such as China, Iran, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, during the 14-day period immediately before their desired date of entry into the United States, has also been suspended. (2)

Interestingly, though for purposes here, individuals who hold nonimmigrant visas (i.e., temporary visas like tourist visas or some work visas) are not prohibited from coming to the United States under the Proclamation. Why not? The President’s proclamation requires a review of temporary visa programs within thirty days and seeks recommendations to stimulate the U.S. economy to ensure “the prioritization, hiring and employment” of U.S. workers. And there you have it. “It’s the economy stupid!”

In the face of all the criticism about how he personally has handled (or mishandled) the COVID-19 pandemic, I am surprised it took so long before he resorted to distraction, blame, and fearmongering. Instead of focusing on the public health crisis that we’re all dealing with on a daily basis, the President has cloaked the proclamation as a means to “put unemployed Americans first” amid the massive job losses that all workers (both U.S. and foreign born) are experiencing as a result of COVID-19. It’s nothing more than a political ploy. It’s fodder for his political base.

I have written about, and substantiated, on a number of occasions, that immigrants create jobs, are innovators and entrepreneurs, and meet important U.S. workforce needs. A study written by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida, for the National Foundation for American Policy, concluded, “The results of the state-level analysis indicate that immigration does not increase U.S. natives’ unemployment or reduce their labor force participation. Instead, having more immigrants reduces the unemployment rate and raises the labor force participation rate.” (3)

When the proclamation was announced, and even days before with the lead-up, I was getting panicked calls from current and potential clients about what impact the President’s proclamation would have on their cases or situation. This is nothing more than a distraction to what I personally believe is the real issue. The President’s concern over the election.

I am not at all suggesting that our government should not be doing something to control the entry of any individual into the United States who may have been, during the 14-day period immediately before their desired date of entry into the United States, in an area that is severely impacted by COVID-19. Not at all. But the President’s policy of limiting immigrants from entry into the United States has no rational basis. He’s not saving American jobs; he’s also not making us any safer or more secure. To restore our country’s health, physically, mentally and economically, we need to keep our focus on moving forward together. We are stronger together.

The United States is facing a public health crisis, and a resulting economic crisis, unlike any that we have ever faced in our lifetimes. We need a better and more organized public health response. This will get our society back on track and our people back to work. Everything else, especially the President’s proclamation, is a distraction from this priority.

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(1) U.S. embassies and consulates continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services as their resources allow. And, the DOS, at this point, continues to process visa applications for farm workers and medical professionals assisting with COVID-19.
(2) Importantly, asylum seekers are not prohibited from coming to the United States.
(3)Madeline Zavodny, “Immigration, Unemployment and Labor Force Participation in the United States,” National Foundation For American Policy, NFAP Policy Brief , May 2018.

Immigration and the Coronavirus

travelphotoLast night I received an email from Microsoft’s Office365 Message Center providing me with preparedness information for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and guidance regarding best practices for Microsoft Teams.  Well, I don’t use Microsoft Teams (and candidly I don’t even know what it is let alone know what it does), but I did take that admonition as an opportunity to think about the Coronavirus and the immigration consequences of it.

According to the Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 is a “respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and which has now been detected [as of this writing] in 70 locations internationally, including in the United States.”  On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)”. One day later,  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States.

When President Trump came into office, one of the first things his administration did, which of course was alarming at the time (and still is) was create the Travel Ban.  The Travel Ban is now in its third iteration (if you’re counting). Most recently, however, the White House announced two (2) presidential proclamations, each addressing the entry to the United States of certain immigrants and nonimmigrants who pose a risk of transmitting Coronavirus.

On January 31, 2020, the President issued Proclamation 9984, which suspends and limits entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all individuals who were physically present within the People’s Republic of China, not including Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry.  On March 4, 2020, the President issued a second proclamation (Proclamation 9992) that, with few exceptions, suspends and limits entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, persons who were physically present in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry.  My sense is there will be more.

The scope of both proclamations are actually broader than their titles would suggest.  For example, under the President’s January 31, 2020 proclamation, U.S. citizens who traveled from the Hubei province in China within 14 days of arriving to the United States will also be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.  In addition, U.S. citizens returning to the United States who had visited other parts of China, outside of Hong Kong, Macau, and the Hubei province, will be subject to monitoring at certain ports of entry, and potentially self-quarantined at home.

Importantly, from an immigration perspective, the President’s first proclamation also states that it does not affect an individual’s eligibility to apply for political asylum, or other relief, including withholding of removal, or protection under the United National Convention Against Torture (CAT). The proclamation also does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders).[1]

Earlier this week, there was an article in the Albany Times Union indicating concern by the Lake George, New York hospitality sector that hotels, restaurants and other businesses were not going to be able to fill a thousand or more necessary jobs that are typically filled by foreign students who participate in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Summer Work Travel Program.  Related to this, the Department of State’s Office of Academic Exchanges (which is the office that administers the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program) provided information for exchange visitors currently in the United States whose travel may be affected by COVID-19.  Specifically, the Department of State indicated that U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) could exercise its discretion to extend or change the status of foreign nationals in the United States who are in J-1 exchange visitor status, and in some cases provide student work authorization, for those individuals who cannot depart the United States because of what’s going on in their home country.

And finally, on March 3, 2020, USCIS confirmed that, out of an abundance of caution, it temporarily closed its Seattle Field Office after one of its employees exhibiting flu-like symptoms confirmed having been potentially exposed to COVID-19.

So, clearly events are very fluid, both from a medical perspective (which this article is not about) and otherwise. COVID-19 is having far-reaching impacts, including in my little piece of the world.  This article is not about whether the President or his Administration’s response has been appropriate, timely or otherwise.  It is meant simply to be factual and to provide timely guidance for those who may be impacted.

 

[1] Indeed, in addition to U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents, the Proclamation does not apply to: (a) spouses of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; (b) parents or legal guardians of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21; (c) siblings of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21; (d) children, foster children, or wards of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or prospective adoptees seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications; (e) foreign nationals traveling to the United States at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus; (f) nonimmigrants under section 101(a)(15)(C) or (D) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC 1101(a)(15)(C) or (D)), as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew; (g) nonimmigrants on an visas related to foreign government officials or the immediate family member of an official), (h) foreign nationals whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting, or spreading the virus, as determined by the CDC Director, or his designee; (i) foreign nationals whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee; or (j) foreign nationals whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.

Trump’s Travel Ban 3.0 : The Latest Version, Effective 10/18/2017

internationaltravelCan someone tell me the difference between an “executive order” and a “presidential proclamation”?  I don’t think I learned that in law school, and for sure it was not on the bar exam.  Frankly, before September 24, 2017, I would likely have used the phrases interchangeably.  And yet, as of September 24, 2017, many of my colleagues are wondering about the purported difference.

The definitions of “executive orders” and a “presidential proclamations”, including their differences, is not easy to express as the U.S. Constitution does not contain any provision referring to them.  The most widely cited explanation came in 1957 from the House Committee on Government Operations, which explained the difference as follows:

Executive orders and proclamations are directives or actions by the President. When they are founded on the authority of the President derived from the Constitution or statute, they may have the force and effect of law . . . . In the narrower sense Executive orders and proclamations are written documents denoted as such . . . . Executive orders are generally directed to, and govern actions by, Government officials and agencies. They usually affect private individuals only indirectly. Proclamations in most instances affect primarily the activities of private individuals. Since the President has no power or authority over individual citizens and their rights except where he is granted such power and authority by a provision in the Constitution or by statute. The President’s proclamations are not legally binding and are at best hortatory unless based on such grants of authority. The difference between Executive orders and proclamations is more one of form than of substance . . .[1] (Emphasis added.)

So why would the president’s first two efforts at a travel ban be in the form of “executive orders”, and his most recent effort be in the form of a “proclamation”?   Frankly, I’m not quite sure, but I suspect that whether the courts find Travel Ban 3.0 to be enforceable, either in part or in total, will turn more on its substance and not by whether it’s a presidential proclamation instead of an executive order.[2]

So, then, what’s the deal with Travel Ban 3.0?  The President’s proclamation, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public Safety Threats,” was issued by President Trump following a worldwide review of information sharing practices between the U.S. and nearly 200 foreign  countries.  The purported purpose was to assess whether nationals of each country seeking to enter the United States pose a national security or public safety threat to the United States. As a result of this review, eight (8) countries have been deemed to have inadequate identity management protocols, information sharing practices, and risk factors.  They are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.  It was also determined that Iraq did not meet the baseline requirements, but nationals of Iraq will not be subject to an outright ban on travel, but rather will be subject to additional screening measures.

There are exemptions under the President’s proclamation, such as the travel restrictions do not apply to lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders) of those countries, and foreign nationals who have been granted asylum in the U.S., refugees who have been admitted to the U.S., or individuals who have been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture. There are other exemptions as well.

There are also waivers available if a foreign national can demonstrate that (a) denying entry to the United States would cause the foreign national undue hardship, (b) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States, and (c) entry would be in the national interest.

Not surprisingly, the anti-administration forces argue that this is yet another attempt by the President to further his discriminatory and anti-immigrant policies and does nothing to strengthen our national security. I tend to agree.

The new travel ban goes (or went, depending on when you’re reading this) into effect on October 18, 2017, but the ban is effective immediately for anyone whose entry to the U.S. was previously barred by the administration’s prior travel ban (Executive Order 13780 dated March 6, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”) (i.e., nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who do not have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States).

Also, until October 18, 2017, citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are exempt from the new travel ban if they have a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. (This is actually an issue in the courts at the moment.)

And finally, unless an exemption does apply or an individual is eligible for a waiver, the restrictions of Travel Ban 3.0 apply to individuals of the eight (8) designated countries who (a) are outside the U.S. on the applicable effective date, (b) do not have a valid visa on the applicable effective date, and (c) do not qualify for a reinstated visa or other travel document that was revoked under the President’s earlier travel ban (Executive Order 13769 dated January 27, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”).

I have written before, and no doubt will do so again, that immigrants and refugees contribute in a positive way to our nation by strengthening our local businesses, communities, and national economy. Travel Ban 3.0 will do little more than simply harm families, negatively impact our business community, and undermine our national values.

 

[1] Staff of House Committee on Government Operations, 85th Congress, 1st Session, Executive Orders and Proclamations: A Study of a Use of Presidential Powers (Committee Print 1957).

[2] Both executive orders and proclamations have the force of law, akin to regulations issued by federal agencies, so they are codified under Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”), the CFR being the formal collection of all of the rules and regulations issued by the executive branch and the federal agencies.  Neither executive orders nor proclamations are legislation, however.  Neither require approval from Congress, and Congress cannot overturn them. On the other hand, Congress can pass legislation that can make it difficult, or even impossible, to carry out an executive order or presidential proclamation.  Nevertheless, only a sitting President can overturn an executive order or proclamation by issuing another executive order or proclamation to that effect.

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