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April 2020, Volume 26, Number 2

Virus, Asylum, Politics

The coronavirus, which likely originated in a food market in Wuhan in Hubei province in December 2019, changed work and personal lives in the US in March 2020. Workplaces and schools closed and people were asked to stay at home to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

DHS in March 2020 announced that foreigners who cross the Mexico-US border legally or illegally would be unable to apply for asylum in the US, and Mexico agreed to accept the return of its citizens and Central Americans. Migrant advocates decried the new policy, arguing that it violates US commitments to accept applications from asylum seekers.

Some 60,000 mostly Central Americans who have already applied for asylum are waiting in Mexico for asylum hearings, including some living in tent camps by ports of entry. The Migration Protection Protocols or remain in Mexico program has discouraged Central Americans from applying and pursuing asylum applications. About half of the 60,000 dropped their requests for asylum in the US and elected to stay in Mexico or return to their countries of origin with financial assistance. With US asylum hearings stopped, the Mexican government is encouraging those who are waiting by the border to move to permanent housing.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in February 2020 ruled 2-1 that the MPP was unlawful, and issued an injunction to halt the practice of returning asylum applicants to Mexico to await hearings. However, the US Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit’s decision and allowed the MPP to remain in effect.

Asylum. A caravan of several thousand Hondurans began to march toward the US in January 2020. When the caravan reached the Guatemala-Mexico border, the Mexican government allowed migrants to cross the bridge spanning the Suchiate River in groups of 20 and apply for asylum and Mexican work permits.

Most of the migrants wanted to transit Mexico and apply for asylum in the US. Those who tried to enter Mexico illegally were pushed back or detained, a policy praised by the Trump administration and decried by migrant advocates. The Mexican government said that smugglers had “tricked” migrants into believing that Mexico would allow them to pass freely to the US border.

Six caravans of Central Americans crossed Mexico en route to the US in 2018 and 2019.

Central Americans who transit Guatemala to apply for asylum in the US can be returned to Guatemala under the Asylum Cooperation Agreement. Since most Central Americans do not want to apply for asylum in Guatemala, fewer are trying to get into the US. Migrants subject to the ACA are typically flown to Guatemala, where they are informed that they have 72 hours to apply for asylum or can board buses operated by IOM to return to their countries of origin, typically El Salvador or Honduras.

The Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) aims to have migrant families who apply for asylum pass a credible fear test with an asylum officer within 10 days of arriving in the US. If migrants fail to convince the officer that they have a credible fear of persecution at home, they can be removed. The share of border asylum applicants who passed credible fear tests fell from over 80 percent in 2017 to 40 percent in 2020.

The US returned a Salvadoran gay man to Guatemala, where authorities advised him to apply for asylum in Mexico, according to a suit filed by the ACLU in January 2020. The US has certified Guatemala’s asylum system as “full and fair,” and is providing money to increase its capacity to process asylum applications.

DHS proposed a new regulation that would: (1) prohibit asylum seekers who entered the US illegally from obtaining work permits while they wait for trials before immigration judges and appeals; (2) deny work permits to those who are in the US at least a year before applying for asylum; and (3) require other asylum seekers to wait a year rather than six months before they can apply for a work permit.

Sanctuary. President Trump used the State of the Union address in February 2020 to attack sanctuary jurisdictions, citing cases of foreigners who were released after arrests or convictions for US crimes and went on to commit more crimes against US citizens. Trump frequently tells stories of Americans who were victims of crimes committed by unauthorized foreigners in sanctuary jurisdictions.

DHS in February 2020 blocked additional New York residents from enrolling or re-enrolling in Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs because the state denies the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies access to its DMV database. New York in 2019 enacted a Green Light law that allows unauthorized foreigners to obtain driver’s licenses and does not allow police to detain unauthorized foreigners for ICE.

The US Department of Justice sued California in 2019 and New Jersey in February 2020 for enacting sanctuary laws that limit the cooperation of state and local law enforcement with DHS. A federal judge dismissed most of DOJ’s suit against California over AB 450, which prohibits private employers from giving DHS agents access to employee information without a court order, SB 103, which creates a state system to inspect immigration detention facilities in the state, and SB 54, which limits the interactions of state and local law enforcement agencies with DHS. DOJ has appealed, and hopes that the US Supreme Court will overturn these injunctions.

The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2020 ruled that the Trump administration could withhold DOJ grant funds from sanctuary states and cities.

Politics. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in February 2020 told a British group that the US desperately needed more people to fuel economic growth. Foreign-born workers accounted for half of net US labor force growth since 2000, but labor force expansion and the immigrant share of net workforce growth slowed since Trump became president. Mulvaney was replaced in March 2020.

Net immigration was 1.1 million in 2015 and 2016, but fell to 600,000 in 2019. The US continues to “admit” over a million immigrants a year, but falling net immigration means that more foreigners are leaving the US.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was one of the strongest voices against large-scale immigration and freer trade a decade ago, seeking to protect low-wage US workers. Sanders especially opposed guest workers, arguing that tying foreign workers to a US employer was “akin to slavery.” Sanders in 2011 said that he does “want to see companies utilizing guest worker programs to lower wages for American workers.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden disputes the notion that immigrants take jobs from US workers and lower their wages.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) presented dozens of plans she would pursue as president, including increasing the dignity of farm workers and food-chain workers. Warren promised federal collective bargaining rights for farm workers and an end to agricultural exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Warren accused “Big Ag” of taking advantage of farm and food-related workers, and promised to “protect from deportation any worker exercising federal rights to protest wage theft, workplace discrimination, unsafe working conditions, or other such disputes with an employer.” Warren suspended her campaign in March 2020.