Welcome to Emerson Collective’s Immigration Update, a monthly newsletter that seeks to make sense of important immigration-related developments by situating them in broader policy, political, and human contexts.
We cover three significant issues in this September edition: the extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela and Afghanistan; a federal court’s painful – but anticipated – ruling on the DACA program; and developments related to the intersection of the burgeoning climate crisis and human mobility.
Our world is getting smaller and ever more interconnected – meaning we can no longer view the unprecedented challenges facing the globe in isolation, but as opportunities for our collective engagement. One way we can and must act together is to honor the ageless human practice of moving to adapt to changing circumstances by advocating for fair and humane migration management policies. In doing so, we pay homage to those who moved before us and all who have made America the diverse and vibrant country that we are today.
Managing Director of Immigration
On September 20, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that they would extend and redesignate “Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months”. That means more than 470,000 people who were residing in the United States on or before July 31, 2023, will now be eligible for work authorization and deportation protection. DHS followed that announcement with an 18 month extension of TPS for more than 3,000 Afghanis and a redesignation of TPS that could protect another 14,600 Afghanistan nationals who missed the earlier cut-off date.
Extending and expanding access to TPS is an obvious and necessary solution given the perilous conditions on the ground in both countries. The protracted political and economic crisis in Venezuela has forced almost 8 million people, more than a quarter of the nation’s population, to leave the country. In Afghanistan, armed conflict and Taliban repression have displaced a similar number of Afghanis, putting those with ties to the U.S. or other western nations in particular danger.
Despite the clear humanitarian need, the decision to enable more Venezuelans to seek protection was contested within the Administration based on fears that granting TPS to such a large population would become a “pull factor” and encourage even more people to seek protections in the U.S. The numbers belie those concerns: the millions who have left Venezuela since 2015 have not done so in response to U.S. immigration policy. Indeed, over 6.6 million, or 85%, of Venezuelan migrants have resettled in other parts of Latin America, “making it the second largest migration crisis in the world.” They have fled because of the dire conditions in Venezuela, which show no signs of improving. Despite these circumstances, but for the relentless advocacy of many local and national organizations, this TPS redesignation may not have happened.
The reality is that historic numbers of people have been forced to move throughout the Americas for many compelling - and compounding - political, economic, social, and environmental reasons. The drivers of that large scale migration are unlikely to abate, meaning wealthy countries like the U.S. will continue to feel the pressure of large numbers of people seeking entry and refuge, irrespective of our immigration policies. It is our choice whether to welcome them with policies that enable them to contribute or we erect self-defeating barriers that do little to deter but much to increase human suffering.
There are no short-term fixes. Ultimately, success will require Congress to finally step up and commit to lasting solutions that involve strategic investments in the resilience and prosperity of the hemisphere (for example, by supporting countries that are receiving large numbers of migrants within Latin America) and in overhauling our legal immigration system. Until then, as we’ve seen at the border and in cities throughout the country, the lack of a coherent national response to these burgeoning challenges will continue to generate political backlash.
The Biden-Harris Administration must leverage the limited administrative tools they have to respond to these challenges. Granting TPS to nationals from countries in crisis, like Venezuela, enabling people to work and contribute is one of those important tools. We applaud the Administration for taking this step to reduce suffering, empower strivers, and mitigate the pressure on cities like New York that seek to welcome migrants but are hamstrung in helping them integrate by the lack of work authorization.
A federal district judge in Texas once again ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is illegal. Judge Hanen rejected the Biden administration’s move to formally codify the policy through the federal regulatory process, concluding that President Obama exceeded his statutory authority when he initially created the DACA program in 2012.
The ruling leaves approximately 600,000 DACA recipients in legal limbo injecting new uncertainty into their plans for the future. Pursuant to the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to continue processing and granting renewal applications to individuals who received DACA protections prior to July 16, 2021 while the Department of Justice appeals the ruling to the 5th Circuit, which will almost certainly uphold the decision. The only real questions are when the case will land on the Supreme Court docket – most likely in either Fall 2024 or Spring 2025 – and how the Court will rule on a case affecting so many people who have relied on the program to build lives in this country for more than a decade.
Although this is a painful development, it is sadly not unexpected. DACA has been in legal limbo since 2017 when the Trump Administration heartlessly announced the termination of the program. The case has already reached the Supreme Court once, but it avoided the question of the program’s legality with a narrow ruling that the Trump Administration had failed to follow the necessary procedural steps to terminate the program. This time, the Court will likely be unable to sidestep a final judgment on whether the program can continue – and most observers believe the prospects for DACA’s future are dim.
In the absence of Congressional action to provide permanent solutions, we will continue exploring innovative ways to accelerate opportunities for DACA recipients to transition to a more secure legal status so they can continue to thrive and contribute to the country they call home. This includes assisting DACA recipients who originally entered the country without inspection to replace that unlawful entry by leaving the country on Advance Parole and then returning legally. This could enable some DACA holders with specific family or employment ties to apply for permanent residence while here in the U.S. There are also novel solutions like the University of California’s student work plan and worker co-ops that could enable both DACA recipients who may eventually lose their status and other undocumented youth to work lawfully.
The bottom line is that DACA recipients and other DREAMers need a long-term solution that provides them the certainty needed to build prosperous lives and continue contributing to their communities. Congress must stop playing politics with their lives and leaving them exposed to legal, psychological, and economic precarity. The only choice, one Congress has avoided for more than two decades, is granting them permanent protections with a pathway to citizenship.
Every year since 2009, during the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York City, a parallel convening takes place where climate leaders from around the world gather to accelerate action on climate change. Last year during the annual Climate Week convocation, Emerson Collective launched the Climate Migration Council (CMC) — a collection of elected officials, national security experts, business leaders, academics, and advocates who share a commitment to putting people at the center of climate action.
Emerson’s goal in founding the CMC was to help drive the issue of forced displacement and migration into the global discussion around climate solutions. The impacts of the climate crisis on human mobility are more obvious every year, but the international community has largely ignored this growing challenge. There is international consensus, albeit not consistent political will, on what must be done to mitigate the climate calamity; but no similar consensus exists about how to safely and humanely support the historic numbers of people who are being forced to move or are unable to do so.
Major climate impacts – from deadly droughts to climate amplified disasters – have become all too commonplace. The flooding in Libya that killed at least 5,000 people this month is Exhibit A. And the growing severity of the impacts is a major reason why there are more displaced people across the globe than ever before.
Without better resilience measures and bold, equitable financing mechanisms to stabilize climate vulnerable communities – predominantly those that did the least to contribute to the climate crisis – current, historic migration levels will only increase. And without better legal frameworks for managing the flows of desperate people who must leave, we will continue to witness the challenges facing cities like Lampedusa, Italy, which received 7,000 migrants in two days, overwhelming its native population of 6,000.
The CMC’s 43 founding members signed a declaration committing to hold leaders and multilateral organizations accountable to four key tenets. Significantly, the convening that launched the CMC last year was one of the only gatherings at Climate Week to focus on the intersection between climate and mobility. One year later, these efforts have started to bear fruit. At least six events at Climate Week 2023 zeroed in on the importance of addressing the impact of climate on migration. In addition, Amy Pope, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (the global UN agency focused on migration), has joined the CMC and has made climate migration one of her three central priorities for the global organization.
In addition to Ms. Pope, the CMC’s membership continues to grow, now boasting a diverse group of 74 influential leaders bringing a multitude of perspectives, representing stakeholders from every walk of life, advancing a vision in which we mitigate the climate impacts but also ensure that people who must relocate, can do so in a humane and orderly way.
The growing attention to this issue is a welcome development but still woefully insufficient. The challenges are upon us, but the international community is only beginning to acknowledge them. To help educate and further elevate the sense of urgency around solutions, we have developed a Climate Migration Explainer. Please take a look and share with your networks, and please let me know if you have any questions. Every voice is important in these nascent stages of building awareness and your participation matters.
Join the International Rescue Committee in asking your members of Congress to cosponsor the Afghan Adjustment Act to provide a pathway to lawful permanent status for the more than 78,000 Afghans that have been welcomed to the U.S. through Operation Allies Welcome in 2021. It will grant the same legal footing to these humanitarian parolees that they would have enjoyed had they been resettled to the U.S. as refugees.
Refugees International’s annual Advocacy Awards celebrates the tireless efforts of refugee leaders and civil society activists who dedicate themselves to humanitarian causes. The event raises funds to support our shared work to advance the rights and safety of people seeking refuge.
Where: New York City
How: Tickets here