Archive for December 2015


Congress Reaches Deal on 2016 Omnibus Bill; Bill Contains Reforms to Visa Waiver Program, Extension of Four Popular Immigration Programs

December 18th, 2015 — 10:56am

On December 15, Congress reached a deal on the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which funds the federal government through September 30, 2016. Congress is expected to vote on the bill later this week. The bill contains significant changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that are contained in HR 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, passed by the House of Representatives earlier in the month in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The Omnibus Spending Bill also extends the EB-5, Conrad 30, Special Immigrant Religious Workers, and E-Verify programs through the end of FY2016, however, without any reforms. It does not, however, include proposals to end the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, now part of the 2016 Omnibus Bill, revokes VWP travel privileges for all citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. This revocation of VWP privileges would apply to all nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan even if they have never resided in or traveled to any of these four countries. Because these countries confer citizenship through naturalization, marriage, or descent, many individuals will be barred from using the program, even if they have never been to Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. Some examples include:

  • Dual-national French citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to U.S. for business conferences and meetings;
  • Dual-national German citizen (born to Iranian father) traveling to U.S. on vacation;
  • Dual-national British citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to the U.S. to take care of grandchild.

VWP travel privileges are also terminated for all who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan at any time on or after March 1, 2011. There is a very narrow exception for certain military personnel and government officials. All other travelers would automatically lose their VWP privileges. Affected travelers would include scholars, refugee caseworkers, humanitarian aid workers, human rights investigators, and others.

New passport requirements are also incorporated into the bill. Starting April 1, 2016, VWP travelers will be required to use electronic passports that are machine-readable and fraud resistant. The program country will also be required to validate these passports.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Visa waiver program

More Delays for Executive Action on Immigration Reform

December 16th, 2015 — 4:40pm

On Nov. 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions that would affect undocumented immigrants in the United States. The new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program garnered the most attention.

DACA aims to protect children who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and who have lived in the country continuously since at least Jan. 1, 2010. Likewise, DAPA protects the parents of children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents. These programs are not intended as fast tracks to citizenship, though; qualified individuals must reapply every three years.

It’s been a year since President Obama’s announcement, and it seems there has not been much progress in moving forward with these plans.

Shortly after Obama’s announcement, several states took legal action to counteract these measures. A Texas federal judge blocked the measures, arguing that since some details were not published in the Federal Register, there was no allowance for public comments. Meanwhile, similar actions taken by other states and lower courts, similar to that of Texas, prompted the Obama Administration to appeal to the Supreme Court in November 2015.

As a result, many of the related programs haven’t been enacted or expanded, which may raise the possibility of deportation for many.

Since Obama’s initial announcement, the conversation regarding undocumented immigration has become more hostile among certain pockets of the population. As presidential hopeful Donald Trump gains support with his anti-immigrant language, many pro-reform activists now stress the urgency of voter registration and participation.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court review could be delayed until after President Obama leaves the White House. To keep reform moving in the meantime, immigration supporters and activists are working to gather support and register voters, encouraging them to vote in the upcoming primary elections., Activists are relying on a heavy turnout of immigrant voters in both the primaries and the general election to elect pro-reform candidates

Whether these actions take effect while President Obama is in office or after his presidency, activists and supporters will keep pushing for reform on all levels. Even so, we know that comprehensive immigration reform would ultimately resolve the shortcomings posed by smaller reforms like DAPA and DACA. Given the current political environment, the earliest that could happen is 2017 after the Presidential election.

Comment » | Immigration reform

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