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UPDATE: Status of Action Against Vulnerable Communities

By: 
Policy Analyst

Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, certain vulnerable communities have been on high alert as to their presence and security in this country. Since January, travel bans, refugee ceilings, anti-sanctuary cities laws, and the repeal of basic protections, like DACA, for undocumented immigrants have increased instability in these communities. 

Faith communities and congregations play a unique role as institutions that provide a moral component to public policy. Congregations are also positioned to help those most vulnerable by hosting food banks, starting charity drives, and being a source of help for individuals who have no where else to turn. Because of their unique position in society, congregations will be increasingly integral to combatting the growing fear found in the American immigrant community.

Travel Ban: The temporary ban outlined in President Trump’s second executive order expired and has been replaced with a permanent ban on various types of immigrants and non-immigrants from Iran, Somalia, Chad, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Libya, and Venezuela.

Refugees: After hitting the 50,000 refugee limit in July 2017, the United States is now only admitting refugees that have a “bona fide” U.S. relationship. Starting on October 1st, 2017, the refugee limit will reset, this time with a ceiling of 45,000 refugees for the next fiscal year.

SB 4: After a federal judge initially blocked most of SB 4 from being implemented, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned parts of the ruling, and SB 4 is in effect, likely until the 5th Circuit court hears the case on November 6th, 2017.

DACA: DACA is currently in a six-month repeal process and will officially expire on March 5, 2018. Any DACA recipient whose “DACAmented” status expires on March 6th or later will become unauthorized. Congress has an opportunity to pass legislation to address this community, but any legislation is likely to come with increased enforcement and border security.

Travel Ban

The anti-immigrant sentiment came in the spotlight in January when President Trump released a series of executive orders that, in the name of national security, sought to either increase enforcement, or curtail immigration into the United States.

The so-called “Muslim ban” titled “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” barred nationals from seven different Muslim majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States for a period of 90 days. The executive order also halted the refugee resettlement program for 120 days, and banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. After a chaotic rollout that left thousands of individuals stranded at airports across the country, a federal judge issued an injunction stopping the order from being implemented further. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then declared the initial ban unconstitutional, and the president signed a second order in March, this time taking Iraq off of the list of targeted countries but leaving the ban on refugees in place. Again, a federal judge halted the ban, and over the next few months the 9th and 4th Circuit Courts of Appeals kept the temporary injunction in place.

The Department of Justice appealed the decision to the Supreme Court that partially lifted the injunction in late June. The Supreme Court allowed the temporary travel ban on nationals from those six countries as well the 120-day ban on refugees to be implemented. The court ruled, however, that individuals who had a “bona fide” US tie would be exempted from the ban.

Just hours before the 90-day travel ban was set to expire in late September, President Trump issued a proclamation permanently restricting entry into the United States from five of the original travel ban countries (Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), as well as Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad. Instead of a blanket ban across all the countries, this ban restricts all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications from Syria and North Korea, all immigrant visas from Somalia, and restrictions on Iran, Chad, Yemen, and Libya with a few exceptions. Venezuela’s restrictions are limited to certain government and security individuals. Advocates believe that this ban will be more difficult to stop in the courts than previous travel bans. The Supreme Court has cancelled oral arguments on the second travel ban that were scheduled for October 10.

Refugees

The faith community has been at the heart refugee resettlement since the beginning. The international refugee resettlement pipeline is founded upon a public-private partnership between governments and faith-based organizations, and the successful flow of vulnerable men, women, and children from conflict-ridden areas relies on these organizations.

When there are disruptions in a system that involves millions of scattered people, it can take years to recover. President Trump’s disruption of the refugee pipeline, as well as his reduction of the refugee ceiling, will take years for numbers to reach back to pre-January levels. This disruption comes in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in history, and faith communities in Texas and around the world are at the forefront of trying to maintain the system.

The United States hit the 50,000 refugee ceiling on July 12, 2017. Despite hitting the ceiling, the Supreme Court decision in June still allowed those refugees with bona fide U.S. relationships, bringing the total number of refugees to enter in fiscal year 2017 to 51,400. The Trump administration has recently announced that it proposes a refugee ceiling of 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest refugee ceiling set by a president since the program first started in 1980.

Despite federal courts’ efforts to stay the 120-day ban on refugees entering the country, the first and second travel bans severely impacted refugee resettlement in this country. According to a Human Rights First report, there was a 52% decline in total refugee resettlement following the initial travel ban announcement in January 2017, and an 80% cut in Syrian refugee resettlement.

The decision to severely decrease the number of refugees the United States admits puts tremendous pressure on other host countries, particularly countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon that are bearing the brunt of the increasing refugee population. That same report states that the decision to halt the refugee resettlement program “…alienated U.S. allies, damaged counterterrorism cooperation, threatened intelligence sharing, and endangered U.S. troops.”

The approach toward refugees is part of a growing trend in both the federal government and state governments to target vulnerable communities under the guise of national security. Last year, Texas pulled out of the federal refugee resettlement program citing concerns that the federal vetting process was not stringent enough. Texas’ withdrawal from the federal resettlement program, however, did not mean that refugees were prohibited from resettling in Texas. Resettlement numbers were not significantly impacted because of that decision, and federal money went directly to the service providers, instead of flowing through the state government.

Undocumented Immigrants and SB 4

SB 4, Texas’ anti-sanctuary cities law, is currently being partially implemented after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge’s injunction on most parts of the law. Its fate will be determined after November 6, 2017, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing.

Before President Trump signed “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” he signed another executive order titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” In it, the administration lays out its approach to immigration policy, its enforcement priorities, as well as its stance toward sanctuary “jurisdictions.” The executive order expands enforcement priorities, introduces federal penalties for sanctuary jurisdictions, and explicitly lays out a plan to cooperate with state governments on immigration enforcement. Section 8 of the order contains the following:

 “It is the policy of the executive branch to empower state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

The 85th Legislature passed a bill that works in tandem with these federal guidelines. SB 4, as it was enacted, empowered local law enforcement officers to act as immigration officers by allowing them to inquire into the immigration status of an individual, and barring law enforcement agencies and leadership from prohibiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

SB 4 was slated to go into effect on September 1, 2017, but a U.S. District Court blocked key provisions of SB 4 in late August. The injunction blocked three key provisions of SB 4: Limiting the free speech of officials to criticize SB 4 and endorse changes in immigration enforcement, empowering local law enforcement to act as federal immigration officers, requiring jails to hold an individual based solely on an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainer request.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned some parts of the temporary injunction in September. First, the order allows the state to prohibit local jurisdictions from barring officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Second, the order stays the injunction of the requirement to “comply with, honor, and fulfill,” any ICE detainer request. The order adds that this does not mean that every detainer request must lead to a detention, rather, local law enforcement agencies cooperate according to existing practice. This latest ruling will likely stay in place until the hearing on Texas’ appeal of the initial injunction on November 6th.

The heightened scrutiny that the immigrant population in Texas is now subject to as a result of SB 4 is compounded by the executive decision by President Trump to rescind DACA.

DACA

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program established in 2012 by the Obama administration in response to congressional failure to pass long term immigration reform regarding certain groups of undocumented immigrants in the United States. In early September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the wind down of the program.

Immigrant rights groups have come out strongly opposed to the announcement as more than 800,000 recipients of DACA will lose their federal protection from removal proceedings over the next two years. The announcement came the day of the September 5th, 2017 deadline mentioned in a letter from a group of Attorneys General led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, threatening to sue the federal government over the constitutionality of the DACA program. President Trump pushed the debate from the White House to Congress, where they must come to a decision on the fate of the program.

While DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, it does allow for deferred action of removal for certain groups of students and veterans. DACA recipients cannot have committed a felony, must be in school or graduated from school, and must meet limited age requirements. Once an individual receives DACA, they are protected from deportation for a period of two years. They also receive work authorization as well as the ability to apply for a driver’s license. After two years, a DACA recipient can apply for renewal.

The DACA repeal is a six-month process, however certain parts of the program will be affected immediately. As of September 5th, 2017 no new applications for DACA will be accepted. If an individual’s DACA status expires before March 6th, 2018, they have until October 5th, 2017 to renew. Out of the total 800,000 DACA recipients, about 150,000 are set to expire before March 2018. Because DACA is a two-year program, all DACA recipients’ protections will expire by April 2020.

It is now up to Congress to pass legislation to maintain protections for these 800,000 DACA recipients.