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Early Arrival: Acting DHS Secretary Orders Study of Driver’s License Laws

Friday's Edition of Early Arrival: New York Farmers Attempt to Halt Farmworker Right — Trump Keeps Undocumented Workers on Staff — USCIS Director Inflames Hate Crime

The acting secretary of Homeland Secretary has ordered the agency to participate in a department-wide study on how laws that grant immigrants driver’s licenses affect its efforts to investigate human trafficking, drug smuggling and counterterrorism. The order was dispersed in a memo to branches of the agency, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, and is an apparent attack on the two laws recently passed in New York and New Jersey that allow immigrants to receive licenses from those states.

New York’s law went into effect in December and New Jersey passed a similar law shortly after. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said DHS should be “prepared to deal with and counter these impacts as we protect the homeland.” An estimated 265,000 undocumented immigrants are expected to get driver’s licenses within three years in New York State, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Both states included clauses in the laws that make it difficult for DHS to obtain data from the license registration documents submitted in the application process. Wolf’s memo calls on each agency to survey what DMV information is available and how it’s used in operations, and what will be lost without it.  “These types of laws make it easier for terrorists and criminals to obtain fraudulent documents,” DHS spokeswoman Heather Swift said. The Associated Press

Local 

New York Farmers Attempt to Halt Farmworker Right

New York farmers have filed a lawsuit to block a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in July that will allow farmworkers in the state to unionize, collect overtime pay and take at least one day off per week. A coalition of dairy and vegetable farmers filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, asking for a temporary delay in the implementation of the law. The farmers say they are concerned that the law will classify farm owners, their family and supervisors, as “farm laborers” who have the right to engage in union activity. Brian Reeves, a Baldwinsville farmer who serves as president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, said the group has been trying to work with state officials to iron out the “ambiguity and unfairness,” in the law. Syracuse 

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National

Trump Keeps Undocumented Workers on Staff Long After Controversy

For years, the Trump Organization has secretly employed undocumented workers at its hotels and other properties. The organization faced a reckoning last year when an undocumented worker came forward and revealed her status. Dozens of workers were fired after those revelations, and managers told employees they needed to provide documentation that showed they could work legally. But the organization was reportedly still using undocumented workers as recently as this week. On Monday, after harvests were complete at Trump Winery in Virginia, several more were fired, according to an immigration lawyer advising one of the former workers. The New York Times

French Man Dies in ICE Custody

A 40-year-old French man died in ICE custody at the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico on Sunday. He was in custody since Nov. 12 and was sent to the hospital a day after being transferred to the facility on Dec. 11. He is the fourth person to die in ICE custody since October. BuzzFeed News was first to report his death, which later confirmed by the agency. The number of people in immigration detention has exploded under the Trump administration, with the average number of detainees peaking at 55,000 this summer. As of mid-December, there are approximately 42,000 immigrants in federal custody. BuzzFeed News

Population Growth in the US Slows

Population growth in the U.S. continued its downward trend this last year as it dropped to its lowest growth level in a century, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The population grew by 1,552,022 since 2018, or 0.5 percent, which is a rate slower than during the Great Depression. Reasons for the slowdown in growth include the aging population and a reduction in births. A decline in the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. also contributed to the slowdown. The total number of immigrants to the U.S. in 2018 was 595,348, a decrease from 1,046,709 in 2016. NPR

Migrants Now Returned to Nogales

The Migrant Protection Protocols program, commonly referred to as Remain in Mexico, has been expanded. Border Patrol will now send asylum-seekers to Nogales, Mexico to await their court hearings, which will be held 350 miles away. Under the program, asylum seekers are forced to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated, a process that could take years. At the Nogales, Arizona border crossing, migrants were previously being shuttled to El Paso, Texas to be returned to Juarez, Mexico, as their court hearings would take place in El Paso. Now migrants will have to navigate through dangerous Mexican border roads themselves to attend their hearings. Associated Press

Private Prison Company Files Lawsuit to Halt California Bill

The private prison company GEO Group filed a lawsuit Monday that will ban for-profit prison contracts when it takes effect Wednesday. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Diego, alleges that the purpose of Assembly Bill 32 is to “undermine and eliminate the congressionally funded and approved enforcement of federal criminal and immigration law,” and asks the court to forbid the state from enforcing the statute. The bill will affect 10 private prison and immigration detention facilities in California for a total of nearly 11,000 beds, according to the lawsuit. The Los Angeles Times

Washington — USCIS Director Tweets Incendiary Comments About Hate Crime, Cabinet Officials Opposed Terrorist Designation for Cartels, Republican Governors Want Refugees

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services head Kenneth Cuccinelli stirred up controversy after saying the man accused of stabbing five Orthodox Jews in Monsey, New York, was the son of an “illegal alien” and came from a family that lacked “American values.” Cuccinelli took to Twitter to announce Grafton Thomas’s father came to the U.S. illegally but was allowed to stay under an immigration bill signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Cuccinelli deleted the tweet shortly after he posted it. The New York Times

The Trump administration’s intention to designate drug cartels a foreign terrorist organization was derailed after multiple cabinet members and top aides opposed it, Reuters reports. The opposition stemmed from concerns that the designation would rupture U.S.–Mexico relations and jeopardize the countries’ cooperation in halting immigrants from traveling to the border. It could also make it easier for migrants to win asylum if they claimed they were fleeing terrorist organizations rather than drug cartels. White House aide and immigration hawk Stephen Miller was among those who opposed the measure.

Trump tweeted on Dec. 9 that the designation had been delayed at the request of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. One senior official told Reuters that Trump would use the threat of designation as leverage against Mexico. ReutersUnder an executive order signed by President Trump in September, every local and state jurisdiction must sign a consent letter in order to resettle refugees. Failing to produce a letter to the State Department would block resettlement agencies from moving refugees there.

But so far, not a single state or locale has said it would end refugee resettlement. A third of the 31 letters sent so far have come from Republican states such as Utah, Arizona, Iowa, and Indiana. The Trump administration was reportedly caught off guard by the Republican support for the program. State Department political appointee Andrew Veprek encouraged Republican governors to opt-out during a conference call. Veprek has been the architect of the declining refugee ceiling. The New Yorker

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