Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: September 21, 2018

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Junk health plan rule takes effect

Federal rule changes to short-term health plansare set to take effect on October 2, newly allowing insurers to offer them to consumers for up to one year (instead of three months) and to or extend them even longer. This is likely to make short-term plans seem, at least on the surface, more similar to traditional individual-market health coverage. However, in most states, short-term plans are exempt from pre-existing-condition protections and benefit standards that individual-market plans must meet. This new parallel market for skimpy plans will expose consumers buying these plans to new risks and raise premiums for those seeking comprehensive coverage, especially middle-income consumers with pre-existing conditions.

Federal Courts

Sexual assault allegations loom over Kavanaugh confirmation battle

As of Friday morning, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual abuse when they were both high school students, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her own terms: in a public hearing on Thursday, September 27, with her safety guaranteed, Judge Kavanaugh testifying first, and without questions from outside counsel. As of Friday morning, committee leadership has not responded to this proposal.

The committee had previously planned to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination on September 20, and subsequently postponed that vote amidst Dr. Ford’s allegations and willingness to testify. Though Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had insisted that Dr. Ford testify on Monday, September 24 at the latest, followed by a committee vote on Wednesday, September 26, Dr. Ford indicated through counsel that she available and willing to testify only under the circumstances described above, especially since she has received death threats and been subject to intense harassment in the last several days. NCJW supports Dr. Ford, and believes that the FBI should undertake a complete investigation prior to any non-partisan, trauma expert-informed hearing in the Senate. Read our statement here.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Host a “We Believe Survivors” event to drive earned media and build momentum. Survivors and advocates will gather locally to tell their senators to listen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — and to stop the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. #BelieveSurvivors Toolkits Available Here!
  • Join us in a #BelieveSurvivors National Walkout + Moment of Solidarity with Dr. Blasey Ford. The next few days are critical for survivors to feel safe sharing their stories and seeking justice. On September 24 at 1 pm EST, symbolically show solidarity with Dr. Blasey Ford by participating in a national walk out. Please wear the color white and walk out (of your home, workplace, classroom, wherever you are) — and capture it with a selfie to post to your social media with #BelieveSurvivors. If you’re not able to walk out  or are not able to safely show your solidarity or post on social media, please use this opportunity to call your senators about Kavanaugh at 866-426-2631. Click here for NCJW talking points and resources.

An unanticipated result of Supreme Court ruling

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Pereira v. Sessions that failing to follow the rules when issuing immigration orders could render them invalid. While the case was about one specific order for one person, immigration lawyers are now arguing that any defective notice to appear renders the entire deportation case invalid. If these arguments prove successful, tens of thousands of deportation cases could be delayed or tossed out.  

Civil Rights

Secretary Ross drove effort to add a citizenship question to census

As a result of ongoing litigation, new information has come to light about Commerce Secretary Ross’ efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Ross had initially claimed the desire to add citizenship to the census came from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to better enforce federal voting laws. But newly-released emails show that DOJ initially declined to get involved. The emails paint a picture of Ross reaching out to various agencies in an attempt to get one of them to sponsor the question since he could not do so himself (DOJ ended up making the formal request months later). This new information demonstrates that the drive to add citizenship to the census came from Ross himself, for no stated or discernable policy reason. NCJW opposes adding citizenship questions to the census as it would suppress response rates in communities of color, ultimately impacting the allocation of government resources and political representation for these communities.

Human Needs

Massive conference report passes; government shutdown likely averted

On September 18, the Senate has passed the conference report (HR 6157) on “minibus 3” – Labor-HHS-Education and Defense (93-7). It includes the higher Senate funding, with a $2 billion increase over FY’18. The conference bill also includes a continuing resolution (CR) through December 7 for any measures that haven’t been passed before the end of the fiscal year. Among other provisions, the package provides robust defense funding (above the president’s request in some cases) along with level funding of $101 million for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program; a 40% increase to $35 million for the abstinence-only “sexual risk avoidance” competitive grant program; and level funding for the Title X family planning program at $286.5 million. Importantly, the package is free of any new poison pill policy riders. The House, out on recess until September 24, is expected to take up the package next week.

In other HHS news, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar sent a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Senate Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations subcommittee, providing notification that he’s shifting up to $266 million in FY’18 funds from various HHS programs (including up to $80 million from refugee programs as the administration slashes the yearly number of refugees admitted to the country, more below) to the Unaccompanied Alien Children program within the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). He cites the increasing number of unaccompanied minors along with their increased length of stay in detention centers, with the trend continuing. Though it is within the Secretary’s authority to make these transfers, diverting funding from critical human needs programs including services for seniors and people with disabilities, Head Start, Preschool Development Grants, and Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, could have a devastating impact.

Immigration and Refugees

Family separation update

Every Friday, parties involved in Ms. L v. ICE, the family separation lawsuit, release a reunification report. As of September 13, 211 children were still separated from their parents (6 of whom are age 5 or under). Of this total, 165 kids have parents outside the US because they were deported. The deadline to reunite all children with their families was July 26.

Tracking unaccompanied immigrant children

Congressional findings released on September 18 revealed that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was unable to account for nearly 1,500 unaccompanied immigrant children placed with sponsors after leaving federal detention. HHS claims it is not responsible for children once they are placed, but advocates fear the lack of follow-up makes children more vulnerable to trafficking. In response, Sens. Portman (R-OH), Blumenthal (D-CT), Lankford (R-OK), and Carper (D-DE) introduced legislation (S 3474) tasking HHS with monitoring the welfare of unaccompanied minors through the duration of their immigration cases.

“Tent City” detention center for children to expand

On September 11, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for unaccompanied immigrant minors, announced it will triple the size of an immigration detention camp in Tornillo, Texas (outside El Paso) to accommodate up to 3,800 children. The camp is made up of tent structures in the desert, and was originally slated to close in July 2018. Since it’s located on federal land, it is not subject to state licensing requirements and child welfare inspections.

Bill to increase family detention introduced

On September 18, Sen. Johnson (R-WI) introduced a the FAMILIES Act (S 3478), which would allow the government to detain children with their parents indefinitely. It would expand the capacity of existing detention centers, and make it easier to detain children apart from their parents. NCJW opposes this legislation.

Sessions continues to shape immigration courts

On September 18, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision in two cases he referred to himself for review, Matter of S-O-G- and F-D-B-. Sessions, vacating a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, ruled that immigration judges can no longer terminate or dismiss removal proceedings at their own discretion. Also on September 18, Sessions referred another case to himself, Matter of M-G-G-, which could eliminate bond hearings for refugees.

Administration announces historically low refugee admissions target

On September 17, the administration announced it would only admit 30,000 refugees to the US in the upcoming government fiscal year. The number is a sharp drop from prior targets, and represents another way in which the administration is undermining the nation’s refugee resettlement program. By law the administration must consult with Congress before announcing a cap; however, there is no clear remedy Congress can pursue if the consultation does not occur. NCJW denounced the greatly reduced target of the number of refugees to be allowed into the United States.

Take action! Tell Congress a refugee admissions goal of 30,000 Is morally inexcusable!

Sign On Letters

  • On September 14, more than 100 organizations including NCJW joined a letter organized by the Women’s Refugee Commission opposing any legislative measures that would undermine protections for detaining immigrant children and expand family detention.
  • On September 17, NCJW joined 112 organizations on a letter organized by the Leadership Conference expressing concern about Education Secretary DeVos’ proposal to use education funding to purchase firearms.
  • On September 20, 40 organizations including NCJW signed a letter organized by the National Guestworker Alliance urging the Department of Homeland Security to suspend immigration enforcement during public disasters, such as Hurricane Florence.

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