Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coming up: Immigration Bills in the House

Tomorrow, the House judiciary committee will markup H.R. 2131 the Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (SKILLS Visa Act) and H.R. 1772 the Legal Workforce Act. Both of these bills are piecemeal approaches to immigration reform and address only certain aspects of our immigration system. If they pass out of the committee they would stand to be debated by the full House floor. 

Our General Assembly policy calls for immigration reform that preserves family unity. As people of faith we recognize the importance of having healthy families that are united. Not only do families promote the integration of migrants into society and create healthy, viable communities but they also increase participation in our economy. Today's push for immigration reform has highlighted the pain and suffering caused by the separation of families and the need to create legal avenues for families to stay together, not drive them apart. The SKILLS Visa Act is written to help U.S. employers hire immigrants in high-tech industries but it does so by reducing family-based visas over time, thus making the legal immigration system less accessible for U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents who are trying to reunite with their close family members. The bill would abolish the opportunity for U.S. citizens to have their brothers or sisters join them in the United States and it would prevent any siblings with approved petitions who have been waiting years to join their family members from entering the country.

Our General Assembly also calls for the protection of workers and for employment laws that protect the right to organize and seek redress for grievances. The Legal Workforce Act mandates the use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) by every employer in the U.S. within 2 years. The bill increases penalties for employers who knowingly hire or employ unauthorized workers and there are limited remedies for workers who may be fired due to an error in the EEVS. The bill would also allow for employers to condition a job offer on a worker’s final verification by the EEVS and limits the documents that may be used to prove employment eligibility and identity.

What happened last week in the House?

Despite the hundreds of calls made by the faith community, the House passed the SAFE Act out of the judiciary committee last week. The SAFE Act’s focus is to expand immigration enforcement and detention. If enacted it will lead to the expansion of racial profiling, unconstitutional arrests, and mass detention and deportations. House leaders Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can now decide not to bring the SAFE Act up for a vote in the House.

The House judiciary committee also passed, Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guest Worker bill. The bill would create a new agricultural guest worker program without an opportunity for undocumented farmworkers to earn immigration status or citizenship. Current undocumented farmworkers and their families would be expected to self deport. Farmworkers would be allowed to return to the U.S. if an employer sponsors them for a temporary work visa but they would not be allowed to bring family members. The bill would limit worker access to judicial relief and legal assistance to protect their few rights and would also eliminate the 50% rule, which requires employers to hire qualified U.S. workers who apply for work during the first half of the season.