House Bill a Limited Victory for Immigration Advocates

The House of Representatives decisively passed a new funding bill today that will keep federal agencies operating through the end of September. The bill is the first under the Trump administration to have bipartisan support, and marks his first significant legislative victory. However, some of the spending measures on the bill were controversial. Thanks to the advocacy of multiple groups, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the funding bill offers some good news to immigrants.

The funding bill includes:

  • No funding for border wall construction
  • No funding for more ICE and CBP agents
  • Denied permission for the White House to deny funding to “sanctuary cities”

In addition, the bill increases the cap for H2-B visas—the visa for non-agricultural temporary workers. The cap for H2-B visas was reached in March, but the bill gives limited relief to businesses who depend on temporary workers (such as resorts, amusement parks, and firms with intermittent staffing needs).

However, the bill does include $309 million in funding for immigration detention, which will be used largely to deport undocumented immigrants in the interior and allow for the hiring of immigration judges. One of the realities of the removal process is the lack of judges to hear cases—as a result, up to 85% of removal cases never go before a judge before deportation. The lack of judges has also resulted in detention centers filling to capacity, resulting in upstanding members of society being detained among the general prison population.

Other Immigration Authorizations

The funding bill also has reauthorized the EB-5 visa, the Conrad 30 program, visas for Special Religious Workers, and funding for E-Verify programs. The EB-5 is the visa for immigrant investors, which has been used in the past to stimulate economic growth. The Conrad 30 program allows J-1 visa holders (exchange visitors) who are studying medicine to waive the standard 2-year residency requirement. It’s designed to help doctors take their skills back home to medically underserved areas.

The bill is headed to the Senate—it is expected to pass by the bill’s deadline of midnight tonight.