Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: July 2, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Houses pass a bill expanding ACA

On June 29, the House of Representatives passed a bill expanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The legislation would expand subsidies for private health insurance, encourage states that have not yet done so to expand Medicaid, and perhaps most significantly, enable Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to enroll in the ACA. While the bill did not include a number of NCJW priorities, such as removing the 5 year bar for immigrants applying for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), we applaud its passage.

  • Take Action! Tell your elected officials to cosponsor the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act, which would remove legal barriers and restore access to affordable health care for all immigrants.

Federal Courts

With a blockbuster Supreme Court term — the first with Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the bench — join NCJW and Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus, as soon as the session ends. From abortion access to LGBTQ rights to firearms to Dreamers, we’ll break down the cases and learn what’s at stake based on the decisions issued this term. We’ll also highlight cases to watch when the next term opens on October 5. You won’t want to miss hearing from Dahlia, one of the most insightful voices on the courts! Register here.

SCOTUS victory protects abortion rights and access, for now

On June 29, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in June Medical Services v. Russo, a case challenging Louisiana’s law forcing abortion providers to obtain medically unnecessary admitting privileges at local hospitals. In a 5-4 vote, the Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor rightfully upheld nearly fifty years of settled precedent in striking down the dangerous law as unconstitutional, declaring that “[a]s in Whole Woman’s Health, the State introduced no evidence ‘showing that patients have better outcomes when their physicians have admitting privileges’ or ‘of any instance in which an admitting privileges requirement would have helped even one [patient] obtain better treatment.’” Rather than joining Justice Breyer’s opinion for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a separate concurrence maintaining that 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was wrongfully decided; however, citing the legal doctrine of stare decisis (to stand by things decided), the Chief Justice voted to uphold this settled precedent. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh dissented.

While we are relieved that Louisiana’s three clinics can remain open and continue to offer time-sensitive, essential, and compassionate care, this fight is far from over. Indeed, Louisiana’s Act 620 (the law struck down by the Court) represents just one of the nearly 450 state laws restricting access to reproductive health care — which range from outright abortion bans to biased counseling mandates to medically unnecessary regulations imposing onerous requirements on providers and patients — passed since 2011. As if this terrifying trend wasn’t enough, the Hyde Amendment has denied abortion coverage to those enrolled in federal health programs for over forty years, despite tireless efforts to end this discriminatory policy. NCJW will continue our work to ensure that all can access the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.

SCOTUS deals harmful blow to the separation of church and state

On June 30, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, an appeal from a state court decision holding that students could not use Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program to fund education at religious schools. In a 5-4 vote, Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch ruled that states cannot exclude religious schools from their voucher programs. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented. This decision turns the separation of church and state on its head by requiring taxpayers to pay for religious education when the state creates a private school voucher program. Significantly, private school vouchers divert vital resources from public schools that serve 90% of our nation’s students. NCJW opposes school voucher programs that funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious organizations, or schools with discriminatory policies toward students, teachers, and/or other school personnel.

Immigration policies at the courts

Victory over anti-asylum ban:

In September 2019, NCJW condemned a United States Supreme Court ruling allowing a third-country transit ban to go into effect while the case made its way through the courts. The ban prevented most people from seeking asylum if they passed through a third country on their way to the US, effectively closing the border to Central American asylum seekers. Late on June 30, 2020, the District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that the administration did not go through the proper process to issue the ban, bringing it to an immediate halt. The administration is expected to appeal. While this is an important legal victory, the administration has effectively halted all asylum cases at its borders since March 2020 using the COVID-19 pandemic as its justification.

Children in ICE custody to be released:

Last week, a district court judge ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must release all children held in its three family detention centers (two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania) by July 17 because of the danger to health caused by COVID-19. Overall, at least 2,500 people in ICE custody have tested positive for the virus. Immigration advocates fear that ICE will not honor this ruling by releasing children together with their families, but instead will use it as an excuse to separate children from their parents. In May, ICE reportedly asked parents to fill out a form forcing parents to choose between being separated from their children (i.e. they would remain in custody while their children were released) or being detained with their children indefinitely, labeling this bizarre approach “binary choice.” NCJW applauds this decision and will hold ICE accountable for releasing children with their families as the judge intended.

 Mixed bag for border wall:

On June 26, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the administration’s transfer of funds from the Pentagon to pay for the border wall was an illegal overreach of executive authority (since the Constitution grants appropriations powers solely to Congress). The administration is expected to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which has previously sided with the administration on this specific issue. Note: the $2.5 billion transfer the Ninth Circuit found illegal is only a portion of what the administration has allocated for the wall.

Then on June 29, the United States Supreme Court declined to take up a case over the Department of Homeland Security’s use of waivers (largely environmental waivers) to speed up border wall construction. Specifically, the administration had waived dozens of federal laws in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to construct the wall. NCJW opposes President Trump’s harmful vanity wall at the southern border.

Expanded expedited removal can go into effect:

In July 2019, the administration announced it would expand expedited removal. Previously, expedited removal — bypassing immigration courts when deporting an individual — was only used for those detained within 100 miles of the US border and those who lived in the US for less than two weeks. The new policy widened that pool to immigrants anywhere in the US who have been in-country for less than two years. The policy was blocked soon after being issued, but on June 23 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the policy could go into effect while the case continues to be heard in the lower court. NCJW opposes this attack on immigrants.

Voter Engagement

DC statehood passes House

The House of Representatives passed HR 51 (232-180) on June 26, which would grant statehood to the District of Columbia (to be renamed the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth after Frederick Douglass). The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to languish. Still, this historic victory is the first time a chamber of Congress has passed DC statehood. NCJW applauds this win.

Human Needs

Congress extends the Paycheck Protection Program

The Senate, late on June 30, passed legislation by unanimous consent that would keep the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) alive just as it was set to close down with $130 billion left unspent. The measure gives the Small Business Administration authority to continue approving PPP loans, which can be turned into grants, until August 8. On July 1, the House also passed the measure, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Trump.

Senate expected to consider a coronavirus bill after recess

Senate Republicans are in the process of writing their own coronavirus legislation to be considered after the July 4 recess, with a likely introduction on July 20. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced the Senate’s measure will cost far less than the House-passed $3 trillion HEROES Act, which means it’s unlikely to address several outstanding issues including extending increased unemployment benefits, expanding and increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and appropriating adequate funding for safe elections. The HEROES Act, passed by the House on May 15 and supported by NCJW, addresses these priorities and more.

  • Take Action! Urge your senators to pass the HEROES Act, which would provide necessary relief to workers and families and help the economy.

Immigration and Refugees

Trump’s new massive immigration order

On June 22, President Trump issued an Executive Order barring many categories of foreign workers and curbing immigration visas through the end of 2020. The justification for the EO is the COVID-19 health crisis, but immigration hardliners like Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller have long wanted to take steps to reduce legal immigration, including limiting worker visas. The EO went into effect 48 hours after it was issued, leaving thousands of people who traveled temporarily to other countries effectively separated from their families. NCJW opposes this cut to immigration disguised as a public health order and will be commenting in opposition to the rule.

Anti-asylum final rules issued

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security issued two final rules that will make it more difficult for asylum seekers in the US. The first will deny work authorization for anyone to enters the US between official ports of entry after August 25, 2020 and extends the time an asylum seeker must wait before filing for work authorization to 365 days (from the current 150 days). The second will eliminate the processing timeline of 30 days that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was until-now obligated to follow if an asylum seeker filed a work authorization application. So instead of receiving permission to work within 30 days of filing, it could take months or even years. Considering that asylum cases can take multiple years to resolve, these rules will force many asylum seekers in the US to work under the table (and without employment protections) to survive. NCJW opposes these unnecessary and cruel rules.

Sign-On Letters

  • On June 18, more than 500 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security requesting an extension of the 30-day public comment period for the Administration’s proposed rule that would gut the U.S. asylum system.
  • On June 23, NCJW joined more than 100 local, state, and national organizations on a letter to House and Senate leadership urging continued funding for the Office of Population Affairs’ (OPA) Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program at $101 million and the Administration on Children and Families’ Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) at $75 million.
  • On June 29, NCJW joined 103 organizations on a letter to House and Senate leadership urging they address the needs of our most vulnerable communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amicus Brief

  • NCJW joined women’s organizations on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada v. Ferriero, a case before the US District Court of the District of Columbia challenging the time limit to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

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