Week in Review

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The Trump Administration tightens asylum restrictions, the Third Circuit upholds a stay on expanded religious exemptions for employer health care plans, and more…

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  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint interim final rule barring individuals who pass through Mexico from a third country from being granted asylum at the U.S. border. The rule does not apply to individuals who have previously been denied asylum in one or more countries through which they traveled prior to arrival in the United States, victims of human trafficking, or individuals who have only passed through nations that have not signed international treaties on refugee protection. The rule goes into immediate effect but already faces legal challenges from immigration advocacy groups.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a lower court decision temporarily blocking two rules that would have “expanded the entities that could invoke an exemption to the requirement that group health insurance plans cover contraceptive services as a form of women’s preventive health care.” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded the decision, stating that the rules “authorized employers and universities to strip women of birth control coverage—a benefit guaranteed to them by law, and meant to advance their health and equality.” A DOJ spokesperson reportedly called the decision disappointing and stated that “religious organizations should not be forced to violate their mission and deeply-held beliefs.”
  • The Federal Trade Commission reportedly voted in favor of a $5 billion fine against Facebook for mishandling users’ personal information in violation of its 2011 consent decree with the Commission. If approved by the Justice Department, the fine would represent the biggest fine ever levied by the federal government against a technology company, surpassing the $22 million fine against Google in 2012. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) criticized the fine, calling it a “slap on the wrist.”
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. In support of the measure, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) stated, “it’s unacceptable that millions of Americans working full-time jobs are unable to pay their bills.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-S.C.) countered that “research shows that hiking the minimum wage to $15 would kill jobs,” adding that the Senate would not be considering the bill.
  • The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York permanently blocked the Trump Administration from including a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census and from delaying the process “for the purpose of adding a citizenship question.” President Donald J. Trump had previously acknowledged that there was “no practical mechanism for including the question” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the U.S. Department of Commerce failed to support its decision to include a citizenship question on the census with a genuine rationale.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor issued a proposed rule to streamline the employer application review process for temporary nonimmigrant agricultural worker visas. The H-2A visa program allows employers to fill seasonal agricultural jobs they are not able to fill with domestic workers. The new rule would introduce an e-filing application system and provide employers with increased flexibility to bring in workers on a rolling basis for 120 days after application. The government issued nearly 200,000 H-2A visas in 2018, more than twice the number granted in 2014. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue emphasized that farmers “need access to a reliable and legal workforce” and that a streamlined H-2A visa process would ease hiring woes.
  • The European Commission launched an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s sales practices. The inquiry will focus on potential anti-competitive consequences of Amazon’s dual role in selling its own products while simultaneously providing a marketplace for independent third-party sellers. The latest development in growing global regulatory scrutiny of big tech, this formal inquiry is the result of a preliminary investigation by the Commission, which reportedly has been gathering data from retailers since September. A spokesperson for Amazon reportedly responded that the company would “cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow.”
  • President Trump ordered the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to heighten the standard for when a product used by the U.S. government can be labeled “Made in America.” Previously, a product with 50 percent foreign components could be categorized as “Made in America.” President Trump’s order mandated that 75 percent of a product must have originated in the United States to receive this label if the product is used for government projects.
  • New York landlord groups filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that New York State’s rent stabilization laws amount to an unconstitutional taking of property under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The suit comes after New York State legislators passed sweeping legislation expanding tenant protections and allowing more municipalities in the state to enact rent control measures. Judith Goldiner, lead attorney at the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, reportedly called the lawsuit “an ironic symbol that underscores the fact that landlords’ profits are exorbitant if they are willing to waste their money on frivolous litigation such as this.”


  • A new policy brief by Jonathan Pollack and Jeffrey Bader of the Brookings Institution investigated the potential risks of economic disengagement with China. Pollack and Bader cited China’s extensive integration in American supply chains and growing involvement in funding for global infrastructure as reasons why the United States may find itself alone should it take an adversarial position where China is concerned. Instead, the authors recommended that the United States cultivate an open, reciprocal relationship with China while working with allies to encourage opening of China’s markets.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas leases on public land issued during the Trump Administration may exceed the annual emissions of the entire European Union, according to a report by The Wilderness Society. Since coming into office, President Trump has “overhauled policies and regulations governing leasing and development” of public lands and offered nearly 378 million acres for oil and gas development, the report stated. Using location-specific lease information and emissions data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the report predicted that lifecycle emissions from the leases will generate between 854 million and 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, creating “significant and long-term ramifications for our climate and our ability to stave off the worst impacts of global warming.”
  • In a forthcoming article in the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, Ying Xia of Harvard Law School revealed the global regulatory impact of China’s foreign waste ban adopted in 2017. She estimated that the ban will displace over 100 million tons of plastic waste by 2030 and force countries to invest in waste reduction and recycling technology. Furthermore, she argued, there is concern that developing countries will sacrifice environmental concerns for potential economic growth by importing other countries’ waste.