Month: December 2015

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Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Bill

Last week, Congress passed a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending bill to prevent a government shutdown and fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  This spending bill also contained several provisions which impact immigration law and policy.

In particular, the spending bill funds the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR, an office within the Department of Justice that administers the nation’s immigration court system.  The recently passed bill provides funding for EOIR to hire approximately 55 new immigration judges.  Funding for new immigration judges was desperately needed, as significant backlogs currently exist across the country’s immigration courts.

In addition, the spending bill incorporates the Visa Wavier Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.  This bill eliminates the Visa Waiver Program for individuals who live in Visa Waiver Program countries but are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan.  This ban also includes individuals who have traveled to these countries in the recent past.  The Visa Waiver Program authorizes citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa.  At present there are 38 countries that are designated as Visa Wavier Program countries.

Lastly, the spending bill modified the H-2B visa program for seasonal and temporary workers.  Now, a foreign H-2B worker who has been issued an H-2B cap number in the past 3 years can return to their position in the United States without being issued a new cap number.  The H-2B cap is currently set at 66,000 visas.

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Federal Judge Denies Texas’ Request to Ban Syrian Refugees

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission filed suit against the Obama Administration and a refugee resettlement nonprofit, asking a federal judge to stop the federal government from sending resettled Syrian refugees to Texas out of concern that potential terrorists may be admitted along with refugees.  In particular, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sought to stop resettlement of Syrian refugees until a hearing was held to further define specific conditions that must be satisfied before refugees could be resettled in Texas.

In his decision denying Texas’ request, U.S. District Court Judge Godbey held that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission “failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists actually have infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm.”  In finding that not enough evidence was produced to concluded that the refugees presented a danger to the Texas community, the request was denied and nine Syrian refugees will be relocated to Houston, Texas.

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U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear Case on Obama’s Executive Action Programs

The long drawn-out battle for President Obama’s Executive Action programs such DAPA and Expanded DACA may be heard and decided this summer at the United States Supreme Court. These programs, which were announced more than one year ago, have been in limbo pending a lawsuit brought against the Obama Administration by 25 states led by Texas.  As a result of this lawsuit an injunction was ordered which stopped these programs from being put into place.  Now, if four of the nine Supreme Court Justices decide to accept this case it will likely be argued before the Court in April and decide by the end of June.  If the Court rules in the President’s favor, the injunction against the implementation of DAPA and Expanded DACA will finally be lifted and President Obama will see his Executive Action programs take effect before he leaves office.

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