Episcopal Church Policies and Immigration Bills in the 113th House of Representatives

February 18, 2014

SKILLS Visa Act H.R. 2131                                   

Sponsor: Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), introduced on May 23, 2013

Passage: Since its introduction, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (on 5/23/2013). On June 27, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee passed the SKILLS Visa Act in a vote of 20-14.[1]

 

Summary: The SKILLS Visa Act would increase the number of green cards available for highly-skilled workers, especially foreign graduates of U.S. institutions who have earned advanced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees. The bill sets aside 55,000 visas for these graduates, raises the cap on H-1B visas for temporary high-skilled workers from 65,000 to 155,000, and increases certain administrative fees in order to generate more funds for STEM programs in the US. In addition, the SKILLS Act creates “a new visa for entrepreneurs that have received investor funding for their startups and eliminate the per-country cap for green cards[2]”. The bill also provides 25,000 yearly green cards for spouses and minor children of permanent family residents.[3]

These necessary improvements to the nation’s employment visa system come, however, at the expense of the number of visas available for the family immigration system. Similar to the Senate bipartisan immigration bill, the diversity visa lottery is eliminated, those visas are then shifted to foreigners with STEM degrees[4], and the sibling preference category (F4) is eliminated, permanently revoking a citizen’s or legal permanent resident’s ability to sponsor their siblings for family reunification. This elimination would take place 10 years after enactment of the SKILLS Act into law and at the 10 year mark, any siblings who have already been approved for entry to the United States but are still waiting in line for a visa to become available would see their application deleted.

Episcopal Church Policy: The Episcopal Church supports the modernization of our nation’s employment visa system but that modernization should not come at the expense of families. In the 2006 General Convention Resolution “The Alien Among You” it is stated that families should have the right to be “be reunited without undue delay with individuals lawfully present in the United States.” The SKILLS Act does improve upon the Senate bill in one way- while it follows the Senate in the elimination of the sibling category it does not place an age cap (the Senate caps it at 31) on the adult married child category. The Episcopal Church welcomes the protection of this category because we believe that children and their importance to their parents do not change, no matter the age or marital status of that child.

 

Additional Resource: Episcopal Church Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, February 13, 2013

 

 

The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act H.R. 2278

Sponsor: Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4), introduced on June 6, 2013

Passage: On 6/6/13, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary, as well as the Committees on Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Natural Resources. The bill passed the Judiciary Committee on June 18 in a vote of 20-15.

 

Summary: The SAFE Act would make illegal immigration to the United States a federal crime- it is currently a civil violation-and give state and local law enforcement carte blanche to enforce their own immigration laws, as long as those laws are aligned with federal regulations. It would also effectively repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented youth brought to the US as children to apply for relief from deportation.

            Based on our General Convention Resolutions, the danger this bill would present to vulnerable migrants such as refugees and asylum seekers, and the danger this bill would pose to Episcopalians across the country who work with migrants with and without legal status, we believe the SAFE Act to be fundamentally flawed legislation that would decrease access to justice, protections, and immigration relief for certain migrants. Among the most troubling provisions, the SAFE Act would:

  • Make it a crime to provide services to transport, or shelter to undocumented immigrants
  • Allow expansion of the 287(g) program
  • Authorize all states and localities to create their own immigration enforcement laws (making Arizona’s immigration law the law of the land)
  • Subject certain migrants who cannot be returned to their countries of origin, including stateless persons and asylum seekers, to indefinite detention
  • Expand the categories of migrants who are mandatorily detained and an expansion of the number of immigration detention facilities nationally

 

Episcopal Church Policy: Our Church recognizes the importance of adhering to our nation’s laws, but we believe we must work change laws if they do not respect the dignity of human beings or respond to the needs of communities.  This call to right relationship within human communities is a cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian scriptural and ethical tradition, and finds expression for Episcopalians in the promise each makes at baptism to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Our immigration system must be transformed to into a just and humane system that discerns between those who enter illegally to do us harm and those who enter because our system cannot provide them with a clear and timely path to family reunification or legal employment. We all understand the difference between traffic violations and violent crimes and therefore believe it is disingenuous to call legalization or a pathway to citizenship “amnesty.” All of the legalization proposals on the table would require immigrants to pay a substantial fine, just as we all pay fines for speeding tickets and other violations.

  • Urge the US government to terminate any program that allows or funds local law enforcement agencies’ enforcement of immigration law, thereby allowing immigrant victims of crime to report it without fear of deportation. (GC ’09)
  • Urge the US government to consider alternatives to a costly prison-like detention system for immigrants. (GC ’09) The SAFE Act again regresses by ordering the installation of even more detention facilities for undocumented immigrants and even allowing indefinite detention.
  • Advocate for a generous program of refugee admissions. (GC ’97) This bill does exactly the opposite by making it more difficult for refugees, who could be unfairly detained on overly-broad terrorism charges (which include even coerced assistance to terrorist groups).
  • Advocate for a just system of asylum for persecuted persons. (GC ’97) In the same vein, this bill makes a system of asylum more difficult for persecuted persons, opening them up to the possibility of racial profiling by local or state police not subject to appropriate federal oversight.[5]

 

Additional Resources: Refugee Council USA letter, of which Episcopal Migration Ministries is a member, against The Safe Act

 

Agricultural Guestworker Act H.R. 1773

Sponsor: Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6), introduced on April 26, 2013)

Passage: The bill was initially referred to the House Judiciary, as well as the Committees on Education and the Workforce, and Ways and Means. On June 19, the bill underwent markup in the Judiciary Committee and was passed with a vote of 20-16.[6]

 

Summary: The stated purpose of this bill is “to create a nonimmigrant H-2C work visa program for agricultural workers.” The bill would establish a new guest worker program operated by USDA, the State Department, and the Homeland Security Department (instead of the Labor Department). The bill reduces the amount of paperwork that a “registered agricultural employer”—designated by the USDA—would have to fill out, streamlining the process for hiring guest workers already lawfully in the US.[7] The bill does not make provisions for the family members of H-2C workers to be with them, and it limits the federal benefits or tax credits that can be given to these workers, [8] making them ineligible for subsidized healthcare and other welfare programs.

            United Farm Workers and our advocacy partner Farmworker Justice have criticized the bill for lowering wages for farm workers, eliminating almost all labor protections for farmworkers workers[9], and for the lack of a pathway to citizenship. The Senate immigration bill offers and expedited pathway to citizenship for farmworkers and their families.  

These groups also take issue with the “touch back” provision in this bill that would mandate currently undocumented workers to return home and then return as a guest workers (which would only be possible with the sponsorship of an employer), without being allowed to bring their families with them. Many farmworker families are of mixed immigration status and employer sponsorship is not guaranteed, potentially splitting families apart. Additionally, 10% of farm workers’ wages would be deducted from their yearly salary, which they could receive only from the consulate when they return to their home country.”[10] Guest workers would also lose the right to the minimum or (newly-defined and lower) prevailing wage

 

Episcopal Church Policy: In this area we defer to our resolutions on family unity and fair access to services as well as deferring to the farmworkers themselves and those who advocate with them. UFW and other farmworker advocacy organizations have firmly rejected this bill.

  • Urge the U.S. Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform to give undocumented persons who have established roots in the United States a pathway to legalization and full social and economic integration into the US. (GC ’09).
  • Urge the U.S. government to ensure that needy immigrants are not unfairly denied essential services and benefits. (GC ’97) The AG Act opposes this mindset by removing from the H-2C program many of the protections and benefits that currently exist and obfuscating workers’ access to legal assistance.
  • Affirm support for and advocacy on social and economic problems facing farming and rural communities. (GC ’00)

 

The Border Security Results Act H.R. 1417

Sponsor: Michael McCaul (R-TX-10)

Passage: Passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously on May 15, 2013.

 

Summary: The Results Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a national strategy to secure the southwest border and to increase apprehensions of unlawful border crossers. The bill’s enforcement-only approach does not take into account the unprecedented levels of personnel and technology already deployed on the U.S.—Mexico border. IT does include a provision to include the input of local community stakeholders who would be impacted by this militarization. This bill is similar to but less stringent than the border control and militarization provisions in the Senate immigration bill.

 

Episcopal Church Policy: In the context of the Senate bill and comprehensive reform, The Episcopal Church would prefer this enforcement approach, while still cautioning against further militarization of the border.

  • The Episcopal Church deplore any action by the Government of the United States which unduly emphasizes enforcement, including militarization of the border between the United States and Mexico, as the primary response to immigrants entering the United States to work; (GC 06, Alien Among You)

 

Additional Resources: