Immigration Weekly Round-Up: President Biden Reauthorizes Immediate Expulsion of Noncitizens at U.S./Mexico Border; USCIS Seeks Additional Resources to Reduce Visa Backlogs; U.S. Organizations Look Abroad for Needed Healthcare Workers
United States Continues Controversial Border Policy
The Biden Administration decided this week to continue a policy implemented by the Trump administration that authorized the rapid deportation of noncitizens stopped at the U.S./Mexico, citing safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 1.5 million people have been expelled under this program without the opportunity to apply for any form of relief.
This measure permits U.S. border officials to refuse entry and immediately deport individuals as a means of reducing the international spread of COVID-19, preventing them from seeking any immigration status, including asylum based upon a fear of return to their country of origin. In August 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) instructed public health officials to evaluate the need for the policy every 60 days. Since this order, the Biden Administration has reauthorized the policy.
The policy is being challenged in federal court by human rights groups, public health experts, and advocates for asylum-seekers. Senator Bob Menendez, (D-NJ), has asked the Biden Administration to reverse the decision to continue the program, issuing a statement that it “deprives legitimate asylum seekers of their legal right to seek asylum and pursue their claims in the U.S., and its extended use has created unsafe conditions for vulnerable migrants, increased the number of dangerous border crossings, and has prevented the Biden Administration from fulfilling its early commitment to restore access to asylum.”
The NM Immigration Blog will continue to monitor the Biden Administration’s use of the program.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Seeks Funding to Reduce Visa Backlogs
During a stakeholder meeting this week, the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), Ur Jaddou, acknowledged the growing delays in the processing of visa petitions and other immigration applications, and asked Congress to provide additional funding to ease processing delays that have kept applications pending for months or years. USCIS is currently primarily funded by application fees.
Ms. Jaddou said that, despite the financial support of their fees, USCIS still needs “additional resources to decrease processing times and to tackle the unprecedented backlog and our ever-growing humanitarian mission.” In 2020, Congress gave USCIS emergency authority to collect higher fees for fast-tracked processing and offer the service on more types of applications, although USCIS has only partially implemented that process. Ms. Jaddou also indicated that USCIS would be seeking public feedback later this year for a “new, equitable fee structure that balances the needs of our agency with our goals of promoting access to the system.”
Increase in Demand for Foreign Healthcare Workers
A shortage of healthcare workers in the United States has left hospitals looking abroad for nurses and other positions in the healthcare industry, particularly in light of an influx of available permanent resident cards – better known as “green cards.” Typically, the U.S. typically allots around 140,000 green cards annually to people moving to the U.S. permanently for certain professions, including many in the healthcare field. However, there are approximately twice as many green cards available now because the green card slots given to other categories, such as family members of U.S. citizens, went unused during travel shutdowns and embassy closures that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unused spots were then moved into other categories, including for professionals.
The Biden administration has taken some steps to try to help foreign healthcare workers to enter or remain in the U.S. to assist during the pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has indicated it would speed up the renewal of work permits for healthcare workers, and the State Department told U.S. consulates last year to prioritize applications for healthcare workers at facilities dealing with the pandemic.