Immigration Action Newsletter September/October

September 30, 2013

Immigration Action Newsletter

August recess is over and Congress is back!  Where does CIR stand? What can we do to keep up the pressure in October? Upcoming advocacy opportunities, legislative updates and more below!

  1. Advocacy Calendar
  2. CIR and Legislative Update
  3. Immigration in the News

 

ADVOCACY CALENDAR

October 5th National Mobilization
Many faithful leaders have joined the 40 day Pray and Fasting Action for Immigration Reform taking place now until October18th. On October 7th and 8th, more than 200 faith leaders from 45 states , including the Presiding Bishop and Rev. Gay Jennings. President of the House of Deputies, will fly to Washington, DC to advocate for immigration reform.

The time has come that we must escalate our actions in our commitment to guide the moral compass of our Congress and of our nation. We march for a country where families and children can dream of building lives of dignity without fear.

We invite you to participate in the October 5th Mobilization for Dignity and Respect in the following ways:

  • Attend and invite your friends and congregation members to join you in local rallies and events in your city
  • Contact the organizers of the event in your area to make sure a local faith leader is speaking or praying at the action
  • Utilize the Bulletin Insert Already Designed for you to add your own local information at this Link- http://interfaithimmigration.org/october
  • Join Pray and Fasting for Immigration Reform and fast from sunrise to sundown on October 5th
  • Write a reflection, blog, opinion-editorial or letter to the editor leading up to October 5th about why you care about immigration reform and are raising your voice. Engage in social media activities, write a press release or hold a press conference in support of the mobilization for dignity and respect. For more information, contact kconway@episcopalchurch.org

October 11th Episcopalian Call-in and Letter Day
The IIC has started a "letter a day" campaign against the SAFE Act this month, with each member denomination choosing a day to send an alert and generate calls to the House in opposition to the SAFE Act. You can find more information about the SAFE Act below but mark your calendars, keep a look out for an EPPN alert, and get ready to call!

 

CIR AND LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

CIR
During the August recess, Episcopalians across the country and our partners across the immigration reform movement kept up the pressure, raising our voices in a variety of ways, hosting rallies, attending town halls, holding vigils, preaching about immigration, organizing marches, writing op-eds and using social media. In addition to our August actions in support of reform, the large scale opposition to reform that scuttled comprehensive bills in 2005 and 2006 never materialized. So, where does that leave comprehensive immigration reform this fall?

Congress's fall session started earlier than planned with a packed agenda that included the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the budget, the debate over the farm bill and SNAP, and immigration reform. While Congress works on resolving the budget and the government shutdown, October remains a crucial month for immigration reform and a month where our voices and witness can rise above the political fray.  The House of Representatives has not introduced a comprehensive bill or taken up the Senate bill, instead opting for a piece-meal approach. Whatever the approach taken, it is necessary that the House passes some form of immigration bill that can then be "conferenced" with the Senate bill and made into law.  It is likely that whatever passes the House will differ greatly from the Senate bill, in ways that we like and ways that we dislike, which is why we must continue to make our voices heard as we fight for a bill that reunites families and offers a path out of the shadows for our undocumented brothers and sisters.

Legislatively, the bipartisan "Gang of 7" in the House dissolved in mid-September but that has created opportunities for other members of the House to introduce reform legislation, such as Representatives Grijalva (-AZ-3) and Representative Vela (TX-34) introduced the CIR ASAP bill, H.R. 3163, a bill very similar to the 2009 CIR bill.  Representative Royball-Allard (CA- ) introduced the  "Protect Family Values at the Border Act" which would require more specialized training in child welfare for CBP officers and require DHS to establish standards to ensure all individuals in CBP custody receive basic humane treatment such as the provision of food, emergency medical care, translated legal documents, timely transfers and access to facilities by non-governmental organizations.

As for the piecemeal bills, in the spring and summer the House passed  5 small immigration bills through the appropriate committees of jurisdiction (one through the Homeland Security Committee and four through the Judiciary Committee) but none have been scheduled for debate on the House floor. A summary of those bills and how they align or do not align with Episcopal Church policies can be found below, and it is worth noting that not one of these bills addresses a pathway to citizenship or legal status for the undocumented, a necessary component for any immigration reform deal.

 

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Piecemeal Bills

SKILLS Visa Act H.R. 2131
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 eliminates the per-country cap for green cards". The bill also provides 25,000 yearly green cards for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents.

These necessary improvements to our employment visa system come, however, at the expense of the number of visas available for our family immigration system and the diversity of our 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, 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 on the adult married child category while the Senate bill eliminates adult married children completely.

 

Legal Workforce Act
Summary: The Legal Workforce Act requires all employers to use an electronic employment verification system (E-Verify) within two years. Individuals who are authorized to work could be denied employment or lose their jobs because of unfair hiring or firing practices or governmental error. This would only increase unemployment rates, since this system is costly and can take a long time to complete before someone can begin working. The bill is impractical for small business as many do not have the resources to carry out such burdensome verification processes, and rushed implementation could harm all businesses. Because the bill lacks a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals, it would create an environment of exploitation as individuals will be pushed further into hiding and be subjected to the will of employers, as has happened with similar programs in the past. The use of E-verify would keep many individuals from feeding their families, and subject innocent people to a flawed process preventing them from gaining employment.

Episcopal Church Policy:

  • Urge Congress to enact legislation to expand the temporary workers' programs to include all persons in the US in meaningful labor, as well as overseas workers offered employment in the US (GC 03)
  • Urge US government to ensure that needy immigrants are not unfairly denied essential services and benefits. (GC 97)
     

Agricultural Guestworker Act H.R. 1773
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. 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, 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, 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. 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 as exploitative.

  • 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)
  • Affirm support for and advocacy on social and economic problems facing farming and rural communities. (GC '00)
     

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

The SAFE Act also poses great dangers to asylum seekers and refugees by expanding laws that have falsely labeled pro-democracy freedom fighters and victims of kidnapping, extortion, and rape as "terrorists" if they were coerced to provide goods or services to a terrorist group. The bill would create new grounds of inadmissibility and deportability for persons whom DHS "has reason to believe" have been members of a gang, even if they were not actually gang members. It would expand the immigration detention system that holds many torture survivors and asylum seekers by mandating detention even when unnecessary and authorizing indefinite detention for persons who have been ordered removed. Additionally, the SAFE Act would:

  • Make it a crime to provide services, transportation, or shelter to undocumented immigrants even if they are members of your family or congregation
  • 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 overall

Episcopal Church Policy:

  • 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)
  • Advocate for a generous program of refugee admissions. (GC '97)
  • Advocate for a just system of asylum for persecuted persons. (GC '97)
  • Declare strong opposition to any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith based or humanitarian organizations to act to relieve the suffering of undocumented immigrants in response to the Gospel mandate to serve the least among us and our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons and calls upon the people of the Episcopal Church to act on their baptismal covenant without regard to such unjust legislation.  (EC 3/06)

Additional Resources: The Episcopal Church has drafted and signed- on to letters to Congress stating our concerns with the SAFE Act as part of Refugee Council USA and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

 

The Border Security Results Act H.R. 1417
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, however, 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: When compared with the "border surge" included in the Senate bill, we would prefer the previsions of this bill, 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)
  • Enforcement of national borders and immigration policies should be proportional and humane (GC '06 Alien Among You)

Additional Resources: Episcopal Church, ELCA Presiding Bishops' statement on Senate's passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform adeptly summarizes our stance on militarization of the border.

 

Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Reauthorization
Summary: Without action from Congress in the next 24 hours, the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program, a program that offers lifesaving protection to Iraqi nationals who placed their lives in danger to serve the United States Government and Armed Forces, will expire.

Congress created the Iraqi and Afghan Allies SIV programs in 2008 and 2009 respectively in recognition of our responsibility to protect Iraqi and Afghan nationals who face persecution as a result of their employment by and partnership with the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These courageous men and women willingly put their lives and the lives of their families in danger to protect the lives and mission of our troops.  Federal agencies have only issued only a fraction of the visas available for this program, with Afghans accessing only 15% of the visas available and Iraqi accessing only 22%, leaving thousands of visas unused and lost to bureaucratic delay.  The State Department estimates that 5,500 out of a possible 25,000 visas available have been issued for Iraqis and 1,041 of a possible 7,500 visas have been issued for Afghans. Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi and Afghan SIV applications remain backlogged.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan remain extremely dangerous places, in regions of escalating conflict. The Episcopal Church wrote to Congress earlier this month in support of this program, with 15 Episcopal Bishops joining 21 other faith leaders from across the country in support of extending both the Iraq and Afghan Allies programs, ensuring the program fulfills its congressional mandate and allows the United States to fulfill its moral obligation to our allies.

You can add your voice in support of protecting our allies by calling your senators and your representative (202) 224-3121. Sample text below:

I am calling to express support for the extension of the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program which is due to expire at the end of this month, and for a similar extension for the Afghan SIV in 2014. The brave Iraqi and Afghan men and women who support our troops on the ground are essential to safe and successful completion of U.S. Missions, and deserve our protection for risking their lives in service to the USA. If these visa programs are allowed to expire, they will not have been successful in fulfilling their congressional mandate as less than 75% of the available visas have been used while thousands of applications are backlogged. Please support the extension of the Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs as part of the FY 14 continuing resolution bill or other upcoming legislation.

Additional Resources:

  • Episcopal Migration Ministries serves Iraqi SIV recipients, working with local communities to welcome them to places like Chattanooga, Tennessee. Watch Abdulwahab Alabid share his experience here.

IMMIGRATION IN THE NEWS

Children Alone and Lawyerless in a Strange Land
By Julie Myers and Wendy Young
The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/13

Congress Mandates Jail Beds for 34,000 Immigrants as Private Prisons Profit
By William Selway and Margaret Newkirk
Business Week, 9/24/13

The Madness of U.S. Immigration Policy, Continued
By the Editors
Bloomberg, 8/26/13

House Republicans Work Immigration Behind Scenes
BY Erica Werner
Associated Press, 9/30/13