Immigration Update August 2020

August 5, 2020

Immigration is one of the most important – and divisive – political issues of our time. The policy decisions affect millions of people’s lives, and all our churches and communities, and Americans disagree about what immigration policy should be. The Episcopal Church has long articulated a position that seeks to ensure we have policies that treat all people with dignity, compassion, and welcome. As a Church, we also provide support through direct services, advocacy, and education.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, one key ministry of the Church, resettles refugees in 13 cities across the country, convenes ministry networks on detention and asylum, and offers educational webinars and resources to deepen Episcopalians’ understanding of immigration issues.

Read on to learn more about current immigration issues and how to take action!

DACA/DREAMers

On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration’s 2017 attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was illegal. The Court decision found the attempt to rescind the program did not follow proper procedure in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and was “arbitrary and capricious.” The Supreme Court decision restores the DACA program, allowing for both first-time DACA applications and renewal applications for DACA recipients. On July 28 the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will defy both the Supreme Court’s decision and that of a federal judge and continue refusing new DACA applications, cut DACA renewals from two years to one, and decline to reinstate advance parole.

Through official policy from General Convention, the Church advocates for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. In particular, the Church highlights the role of those who are DACA recipients with established roots in the United States. DACA recipients are Episcopal clergy and parishioners, they are healthcare workers and parents and neighbors. We urge Congress to offer DACA recipients a way to have protections to stay in the U.S. legally and ultimately, a pathway to citizenship.

Asylum

On June 15, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new rule, “Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review.” The proposed rule is one among many actions that have been aimed at severely restricting access to asylum in the U.S., putting the world’s most vulnerable in further danger. These changes to established pathways to protection are a violation of domestic and international human rights law. The Episcopal Church submitted a comment opposing the proposed rule and calling for the legal right to asylum to be upheld.

  • Take Action: Defend Access to Asylum
  • Episcopal Action on Asylum: This webinar highlighted Episcopal Action on Asylum week. A recording of the webinar is available here.

Detention

The Episcopal Church has longstanding policy calling for an end to the inhumane and unjust detention and separation of children and families. As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, with over 4 million verified cases, detention centers continue to unnecessarily expose vulnerable children and families to disease. Public health guidance to socially distance, wear personal protective equipment, and keep areas sanitized is not possible in crowded detention centers. Quality healthcare is not accessible for medically vulnerable detainees exposed to COVID-19. The latest data provided from ICE reveals over 2,700 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Recent court decisions have created an impossible situation for the parents of detained immigrant children. A federal judge in California required ICE to release the roughly 120 children in U.S. immigration custody by Monday, July 27. Last Wednesday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. decided to deny a motion to release all detained immigrant parents and children together. Now, detained parents must decide whether to keep their children with them in detention, or to release them out to sponsors. Some advocates are referring to this situation as “Family Separation 2.0.”

Action: Read The Dangers of Detention During COVID-19. Call your legislator and tell them you oppose family detention!

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Funding

Back in May U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) warned Congress that they faced a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Due to this budgetary gap, the agency had planned to furlough nearly two-thirds of its 20,000 strong work force. However, in July the agency decided to postpone this furlough for one month, while continuing to press Congress for supplemental funding to fill the budget gap. As of August 3, there are no signs that Congress intends to include the supplemental appropriation in the next round of coronavirus legislation.

Meanwhile, the administration has moved to substantially increase the fees charged to immigrants and businesses that fund USCIS. This includes, for the first time ever, charging those who apply for asylum protections. Raising these fees will make it more difficult for new Americans to obtain citizenship.

Public Charge

On July 29 a federal judge in New York recently enjoined the administration’s new “Public Charge” rule. Public Charge is a long-standing principle of U.S. immigration law that gives immigration officers the power to deny green cards and visas to persons who they deem likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future. Since the 1990s Public Charge only applied to direct cash benefits like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. With the new Trump administration rule, most forms of in-kind assistance would also apply, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Section 8 Housing. The judge cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for his decision to enjoin the new rule.