Thursday, May 30, 2013

Immigration Reform Debate and General Assembly Policy

A Resource by the Office of Immigration Issues

Many times the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voiced concern about the need for change in our nation’s immigration policy. The General Assembly has called for changes that will meet the needs of our country and our families. The need for reform is rooted in our rediscovery of ourselves as the church of the stranger, the biblical mandate to welcome and love immigrants, and the need to alleviate the suffering created by an unjust system.  

While recognizing the right and responsibility of U.S. to maintain our country’s borders, the General Assembly has expressed concern about the militarization of our nation’s southern border and the human toll of a policy that focuses primarily on enforcement. Further, the General Assembly has lifted up civil and human rights violations in the border and internal enforcement policies of the United States. The General Assembly has stated that enforcement policies should comport with notions of due process and aim to reduce human smuggling and migrant deaths. Click here to read our earlier post on the most current General Assembly Immigration policy.

In November 2012 eight Senators, four democrats and four republicans, began work on comprehensive immigration reform to modernize our nation’s immigration policy. Known as “The Gang of 8,” the Senators introduced legislation in April 2013, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.B. 744), and that legislation has gone through an amendment process in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be debated in the full Senate in June 2013.

Below is an outline of major provisions of the legislation and how it fits in with General Assembly policy.

A pathway to citizenship for people already working and living in the U.S.
  • Individuals in the U.S. without authorization would be able to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status, which if eligible and granted, would give people authorization to work and remain in the country. After 10 years in RPI status, these individuals could apply for lawful permanent residence status (LPR). After three years in LPR status they could apply for citizenship.
  • This process is accompanied by “triggers.” No one could apply for RPI status until a border enforcement and maintenance plan is created and implemented. No person in RPI status could apply for LPR status until all people in the “back logs” have received their “green card.”
  • Individuals applying for status under this plan would pay a fine, learn English and Civics, and have to prove fulfillment of tax obligations.
  • There are numerous other provisions and eligibility requirements too detailed for this handout, see below for additional information.

  • This provision would offer a shorter pathway to citizenship and an exemption to penalty fines to people brought to the U.S. as children.
  • DREAMers would have to fulfill requirements related to education or military service to remain eligible under this provision
Some positive family immigration changes

  • Spouses and minor children of LPR are re-classified as immediate relatives so they can immediately be reunited as opposed to waiting 2-7 years under current law.
Reduction in backlogs

  • Recapturing unused visas from prior years
  • Increasing per country caps from 7% to 15%
Integration of new immigrants

  • Creates a Task Force on New Americans
  • Renames and expands the duties of the Office of Citizenship to help immigrants integrate
  • Establishes a foundation to provide resources to programs assisting New Americans
Future Flow
  • Creates new avenues to lawfully enter the U.S. for individuals who may not have options under current law
  • Use of unemployment data to increase/decrease non-immigrant visas according to needs of economy and employers

There are many other provisions of the legislation that are in-line with General Assembly policy, including: improvements to detention standards, better treatment for adopted and stepchildren in the immigration process, improvements to the refugee/asylee program, and investments in the immigration court system.

Even though the legislation is in-line with the General Assembly policy, overall, there are some changes needed. The office of Immigration Issues will work in partnership with our interfaith partners to improve the legislation.
  • The cut off date of January 1, 2012 for U.S. presence for gaining status
  • Lengthy process Ten years in RPI status plus three in LPR for citizenship  
  • Family unity changes: elimination of category V – siblings of USC and caps adult children to under 31
  • Continued build up at the border in the form of agents, fence, and use of drones 

SB 744 will head to the full Senate for debate in June 2013. Presbyterians are urged to contact their Senators and encourage them to support comprehensive immigration reform that has a pathway to citizenship, eliminates back logs, provides a commonsense plan for future flow, avoids the militarization of our southern border, and provides for humane enforcement.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed the right of congregations, presbyteries, and the denomination as a whole, to speak out clearly and constantly to the media and others regarding our call to serve all those in need and to stand with the oppressed. (217th General Assembly 2006). If you have questions about how to share your faith in the public square, please see the resources below.
For more detailed analysis, please explore the resources below:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

From our partners at the National Council of Churches:

Bristol Bay, Alaska is home to the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, which has supported the subsistence livelihoods of the Bay’s Native Alaskans for thousands of years. This stunning piece of Creation is now under threat from a proposed open pit mine that would destroy the salmon habitat and cause irreversible damage to God’s Earth and God’s people.

Add your voice to the call for permanent protection of Bristol Bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued their Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which describes the damage that large scale development such as the proposed Pebble Mine could pose to the Bay’s clean waters, fish, wildlife, and people. Click here to read the NCC’s press release in support of the Watershed Assessment.

We stand with the Native Alaskans and commercial fisherman who depend on the health of Bristol Bay’s fishery, and ask the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the irreparable harm the proposed mine would cause God’s people and Creation in and around the Bay. Click here to send your message to the EPA asking them to permanently protect the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, 14,000 American jobs, and a Native way of living that is thousands of years old. 

Thanks to Katherine Carscallen for the photo of Father Yako from Chignik Lake.

Bipartisan Immigration Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

Before Senators go on break for the Memorial Day recess, immigrant families and faith leaders visited key Senators’ offices to deliver collections of photos and personal stories of how families have been separated and affected by our immigration system. This comes after Tuesday’s bipartisan vote of 13-5 in the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the Senate’s immigration bill unto the full Senate floor. During the almost two weeks of mark-up, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered more than 200 amendments. Now, the bill will be sent to the full floor for more debate and a final vote. The collection of personal stories were delivered as a way to keep Senators connected to some of the families that will be directly impacted by their decisions and to remind them that immigration reform is necessary.

During the amendment process, the interfaith community made more than 3,000 calls to the Senate Judiciary Committee members. Our voices made a big difference in gaining modest improvements to the bill and in defeating some of the worst amendments. Positive amendments that were won will help immigrants in detention by restricting the use of solitary confinement, Violence Against Women Act recipients and children. They will also prohibit dangerous deportations, discourage racial profiling and will restrict immigration enforcement actions near schools, hospitals, victims’ services locations and places of worship. Individuals will also be allowed to pay fines in installments thus somewhat lessening the burden of the high penalties and fees required for legalization.

Starting next week, Senators will be at home for a short recess. When the bill is introduced to the full Senate floor in early June, Senators will have an opportunity to introduce new amendments. We need to be ready and willing to continue to powerfully advocate for laws that reflect our values and the PC (U.S.A)'s General Assembly priorities. We are all children of God, members of one people and we must love and welcome each other and strive to live in peace, in justice, and in love. If you’d like to visit with your Senators and Representative during their recess to speak to them about immigration reform check out the resources provided by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition for ideas on how to do so.