Immigration Advocacy Newsletter Feb/Mar 2013

Immigration Advocacy Newsletter Feb/Mar 2013

March 7, 2013

In this month’s edition, the 113th Congress kicks off the year with hearings on comprehensive immigration reform, the Presiding Bishop participates in an Ash Wednesday vigil at Ellis Island, the Uniting American Families Act is introduced with bipartisan support in both houses, leaked provisions of the White House Immigration bill, and Congress is headed your way for Easter recess.

     

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ADVOCACY CALENDAR
March 4-8th- Join our Week of Action in support of Refugee Resettlement!
Refugees and refugee welcoming communities across the county need your voice!

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides services to refugees to ease their transition to self-sufficiency in their new communities, while also serving asylees, victims of human trafficking and torture, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders, and unaccompanied immigrant children. Over the past two years, however, record numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children have fled the violence in Central America and arrived in the U.S. alone. Due to this unanticipated increase, ORR urgently needs additional funding for FY 2013 to be able to continue to provide services to all of the vulnerable migrants under its care.  If ORR is not able to secure additional funding, the road to self-sufficiency and integration could be hampered for thousands of refugees and other populations within our communities assisted by ORR. A continuing resolution with the necessary support for refugee resettlement passed the House on March 6 and now moves on to the Senate.

  • Visit the Episcopal Public Policy Network Action site to send a letter to your Senator in support of refugee funding
  • Learn more about our refugee resettlement ministry and other ways to get involved at Episcopal Migration Ministries new website!

 

March 23- April 7; April 27-May 5; May 24-June 2: Congress is home- pay them a visit!
Organize a team to visit your representative and senators to talk about your priorities for CIR and the advocacy you have been a part of. Hosting a community action or event? Invite your decision makers! You can find the Episcopal Church toolkits for visits and actions here. If you meet with a member, please share how the meeting went and read how other visits have been going. 

And don’t forget to map it! If you are advocating for humane and compassionate immigration reform, we want to know! Our voices and actions are stronger together- share your actions here.

Find other Episcopalian and interfaith advocates hosting events near you or invite them to your event through the IIC Event Calendar!
 

April 10th CIR Rally  
Organized by SEUI, on April 10th faith, civil rights, labor, business leaders and the children and families of immigrants caught in our broken system will gather in DC for a rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol in support of CIR. Find more information and related events here.

 

LEGISLATIVE AND ADMINISTRATIVE UPDATES 
Remember: If you see bills in this section that you support but you do not see your Representative 
or Senators on the co-sponsor lists, call or write and ask them to cosponsor!

The Uniting American Families Act is reintroduced with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House

Senate -- On February 13, 2013, Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Collins (R-ME) reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act, S.296. This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include the same-sex partners and spouses of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, allowing them to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as different-gender spouses of citizens and of lawful permanent residents. February 13 was also the day that the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Leahy is Chairman, held its first hearing on comprehensive immigration reform. He addressed this reintroduction in his opening statement, read before the committee:

“We must also do better by gay and lesbian Americans who face discrimination in our immigration law.  Today, Senator Susan Collins and I will introduce the Uniting American Families Act.  This legislation will end the needless discrimination so many Americans face in our immigration system. Too many citizens, including Vermonters who I have come to know personally and who want nothing more than to be with their loved ones, are denied this basic human right.  This policy serves no legitimate purpose and it is wrong. Yet, I have heard some disparage fairness in our immigration law as a “social issue” that threatens their narrow view of what immigration reform means.  Well, to me, the fundamental civil rights of American citizens are more than just a social issue.  Any legislation that comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee should recognize the rights of all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans who have just as much right to spousal immigration benefits as anyone else.”

House -- On February 5, 2013 Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act, H.R. 519, in the House with bipartisan support. The bill currently has 76 sponsors

 

The Violence Against Women Act becomes law with expanded protections for LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence
Unable to pass the 112th Congress due to controversy over the increase in U visas, inclusion of LGBT victims of domestic violence, and additional protections for Native American women, the 113th Congress quickly passed the Violence Against Women Act.

Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Crappo (R-ID) introduced the bill in the Senate, where it passed 78-22. This bill, very similar to the Senate version that the House refused to pass last Congress, omits increasing the number of U-visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence. The Senators’ revised version of the bill stood a better chance of passing the Republican controlled House, they argued, as Republicans in the 112th Congress claimed the bill raised revenue, pointing the fee for U-visas. Constitutionally, bills that raise revenue are required to originate in the House.

Before considering the Senate version of VAWA in February, the House considered and then voted down a less robust VAWA substitute bill, 257 to 166. After the substitute was defeated, the House then took up Senate Bill 47, the Leahy-Crappo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which quickly passed with broad bipartisan support, 286 yeas to 138 nays. As Senate President Pro Tem, Senator Leahy (D-VT) signed the newly passed Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) bill on Monday, March 4. On March 6th President Obama  signed the bill into law.

While this version of VAWA did not increase the number of U visas available, it did make important systemic improvements to the protection VAWA offers immigrant victims. Among the changes are the inclusion of stalking as a crime that qualifies a victim for a U visa, extending protections for the Prison Rape Elimination Act to immigration detention facilities, and requiring reports to Congress on the processing times for VAWA self-petitions, U visas ,and T visas (visas for victims of trafficking).

For immigrant victims of sexual or domestic violence, one of the most important provisions of the Leahy- Crappo VAWA is the inclusion of the  Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, extending authorization for VAWA “appropriations through FY2018 for the grant program to end elder abuse, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, exploitation, and neglect, and to provide training for law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of abuse in later life. Directs the Attorney General in awarding grants to end elder abuse to give priority to proposals for serving culturally specific and underserved populations.” 

Victims of trafficking are a population whose specialized care and rehabilitation falls under the mandate of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and who often receive care and services from resettlement agencies across the country. 

 

The Reuniting Families Act is re-introduced by Congressman Honda (D-CA- 17)
A longtime champion of family unity within our immigration system, Congressman Honda (D-CA- 17) reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act, H.R. 717, on February 14, 2013. Families are the cornerstones of healthy communities and the right to reunite with one’s family is a fundamental right of U.S. citizenship that the Episcopal Church has long supported. Under current law, however, the family members of U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) can wait years, and even decades, to be reunited with their loved ones.

The Reuniting Families Act proposes much needed updates to the family immigration system that would make sure that it effectively and efficiently serves our nation’s families. Updates included in the bill would:

  • Recapture family and work visas that are currently unused or lost due to bureaucratic delay;
  • Reduce the long backlogs for families trying to reunite with their loved ones by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses and minor children as “immediate relatives” and exempting these members from numerical caps on family immigration;
  • Increase per-country limits from 7% to 15% to reflect current immigration needs;
  • Allow families to reunite if they experience the death of a petitioner;
  • Provide equal treatment to stepchildren and biological children under immigration laws;
  • Including the partners and spouses of same-sex couples under immigration law; and
  • Allow family members to reunite despite bars to reentry such as the 3 and 10 year bars

 

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program hits its 6th month mark with 423, 634 approvals as of February 14
In the past 6 months an estimated 936,933 immigrant youth have taken advantage of the DACA program, an estimated 45% of those eligible. Mexico is the top country of origin with 313,722 applications received and California the top state of residence with 119,466 applications received.

 

Pieces of the White House Immigration bill are leaked to the press; despite media tempest, bipartisan talks continue
The weekend of February 16, 2013, three draft provisions of a White House immigration bill were leaked to the press. Despite the press furor over the leak and initial, angry reactions from many members of the bipartisan Gang of 8, cooperation between the group of Senators and the Whitehouse continues. The draft language does not differ substantially from the priorities outlined by the President in his January speech in Las Vegas  and does not include visa reform or specific family or employment sections.  The sections obtained by the press included: 

  • Legalization: The proposal outlines a multi-step legalization process, including an initial pre-registration period pending the start of the Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status registration process, a renewal of LPI after four years, and application for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status beginning around the 8th year. There are some crime-related exceptions, a narrowed definition of aggravated felonies, inclusive family unity provisions, and an expedited  process  for DREAMers and DACA approved youth
    • LPR status will be available to the current undocumented population 30 days after the existing visa backlogs are eliminated or after 8 years, whichever comes first, prioritizing the reduction of visa backlog
  • Mandatory worker verification: This provision would phase-in the use of a mandatory e-verify system over the course of 4 years for most employers and expand labor and employment protections for immigrant workers
  • Enforcement and border protections: The Immigration Courts would be reformed to offer greater access to counsel for immigration detainees, alternative to detention programs would be explored further (but their use is not mandated) and the courts would have increases in personnel. Security at ports of entry would be improved, with expanded input from border communities. This section also authorizes a quarterly collection and publication of statistics about the number of deaths that occur at the U.S.-Mexico border and increases criminal penalties for individuals who traffic in false immigration documents and creates penalties for notarios.

 

The House Holds Hearings on a Variety of Immigration Issues
Throughout February and the beginning of March the House Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a series of hearings to explore different components of our nation’s immigration system. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6th) chairs the Judiciary Committee and is a former immigration attorney while Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4th) chairs the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee and is a former prosecutor. Both chairmen have yet to make definitive statements on their views related to many of the key components of immigration reform, such as a pathway to citizenship, but have pledged to continue holding hearings in order to educate fellow members.  

Find the links to the February hearings opening statements and testimonies below:

Full Judiciary Committee Hearing, February 5th: America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration      

  • Read the Episcopal Church statement for the record here

Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, February 26th: Agricultural Labor: From H-2A to a Workable Agricultural Guest worker Program

Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, March 5th: Hearing on Enhancing American Competitiveness through Skilled Immigration

 

EPISCOPAL CHURCH ACTIONS 
The Presiding Bishop participates in an Ash Wednesday Vigil at Ellis Island in support of humane immigration reform; the Episcopal Church submits testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first immigration reform hearing

On Ash Wednesday Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined immigrants, family members of detainees, faith-based advocates, and immigrants’ rights advocates from New Jersey and New York for a day long action focused on repentance and reformation of our immigration detention system. This is the fourth consecutive year this interfaith vigil has taken place in Liberty State Park, Jersey City, in front of the bridge to Ellis Island and overlooking the Statue of Liberty.

“We’re here today to lament and protest the borders and fences and inhospitality of so many people and practices in this land” said the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as she addressed the crowd.  “Those are the mild words for it.  There are far more violent ones, like “illegal.”  We stand here today because we believe that it is ultimately unfaithful to call any person by that name.  It’s time to take that word and bury it.  Put it in the ground to become fertilizer – like Tisquantum’s fish – let it rot and let its venom dissolve into the soil.  And out of that act we trust that new life will ultimately spring forth.”

The day culminated with the annual vigil at the Elizabeth Detention Center, a for-profit facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) where ICE has been incarcerating immigrants for almost two decades. Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the Office of Government Relations submitted testimony in support of humane and comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Presiding Bishop and over 200 hundred national faith, refugee, and humanitarian leaders and organizations and call upon President Obama and Congress to increase vital funding for refugees

Last week, the Presiding Bishop joined over 200 national faith, refugee, and humanitarian leaders and organizations in an urgent call to President Obama and Congress. Without additional funding this year, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) will face a budgetary shortfall, endangering self-sufficiency and integration resources for thousands of refugees and other vulnerable migrants within communities across the country. The letter outlined the factors that created the budgetary crisis and demanded action from the President and Congress in support of this lifesaving public private partnership.

The Episcopal Church, through Episcopal Migration Ministries, is one of the 9 voluntary agencies that partners with the federal government to welcome and integrate thousands of refugees, asylees and other vulnerable migrants into their new communities. Each year, dedicated EMM staff, volunteers, co-sponsoring churches and community partners make this program successful, even as levels of federal support have not kept pace with the growing mandate of the program. This year, however, increased numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing violence in Central America and arriving at the southern border have stretched ORR’s budget to the breaking point.

As leaders in refugee resettlement and as representatives of the communities that provide the private support for this program across the country, the Presiding Bishop and others reminded Congress and the Administration that “One of the greatest strengths of the resettlement program is the partnership between the U.S. government and private organizations. Refugee resettlement agencies, houses of worship, local community groups, and dedicated citizens have worked together for decades to create successful and sustainable partnerships and welcoming communities for refugees across the country. We are committed to continue our support to refugees and vulnerable migrant children”.

  • Read the entire letter here

 

The Episcopal Church applauds Congressman Keith Ellison’s reintroduction of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act
On February 14, 2013 Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN-5) reintroduced the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act , H.R. 651, legislation that would reform pre-arrival processing of refugees and post-arrival resettlement programs to encourage successful and sustainable refugee integration. Last summer, the Episcopal Church passed Resolution B028 Refugee Resettlement Reform in support of legislative and administrative actions that would reform and modernize the refugee resettlement program. The Episcopal Church welcomes this vital piece of legislation and hopes to see it enacted by the 113th Congress.

The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would remove bureaucratic barriers in the resettlement process and offer additional support to refugees and their communities in the following ways:

  • Offering pre-arrival English language classes and work orientation to refugees as refugees await resettlement approval
  • Admitting refugees as permanent residents with green cards, saving scarce government and NGO resources as well as easing integration for refugees
  • Creating new grant programs to help refugees obtain self-sufficiency through housing and transportation assistance and extended case management for vulnerable refugees such as victims of torture or sexual and gender based violence
  • Removing the expiration of supplemental security income benefits for elderly or disabled refugees and extends services for children who have been victims of serious crimes

If enacted, these reforms would strengthen the power of this life-saving program and reaffirm the United States commitment to welcoming those who have fled war and persecution in search of a life of freedom and dignity.

  • Read Representative Ellison’s press release here

 

IMMIGRATION IN THE NEWS

Best CIR summaryImmigration talks gain momentum
By Jake Sherman and Kate Nocera
Politico, 3/5/13

Gallup: Key immigration-reform proposals hold broad support
By Jonathan Easley
The Hill, 2/05/13

 

'Odd Fellows' Work Together On Overhauling Immigration
NPR, 2/04/13

Overhauling Immigration: Asians Matter Too
NPR, 2/05/13

 

House G.O.P. Open to Residency for Illegal Immigrants
By Ashley Parker
The New York Times, 2/05/13

Immigration Reform Issue: The Effect on the Budget
By Eduardo Porter
The New York Times, 2/05/13

Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy?
By Adam Davidson
The New York Time, 2/12/13

The White House Continues Working on Immigration Legislation of Its Own
By Michael D. Shear
The New York Times, 2/16/13

Rice, Barbour join bipartisan push on immigration
By Rosalind S. Helderman
The Washington Post, 2/11/13

Why The Red States Will Profit Most From More U.S. Immigration
By Joel Kotkin
Forbes, 2/22/13

 

Colorado Senate Passes In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrant Students Bill With First-Ever GOP Support
By Matt Ferner
The Huffington Post, 2/22/13

Making immigration reform work for children
By Bruce Lesley
The Hill, 2/26/13

Is There Really A 'Line' For Immigration?
NPR, 2/27/13

Bob Goodlatte On Immigration: 'We're Open' To Legalization For Undocumented Immigrants
By Elise Foley
The Huffington Post, 2/27/13 

Mass Release of Immigrants Is Tied to Impending Cuts
By Kirk Semple
The New York Times, 2/26/13

 

Detention centers releases may have silver lining
By Ruthie Epstein, Human Rights First
The Hill, 02/28/13

As Syrian refugee population nears 1 million, relief agencies cannot keep up
By Taylor Luck
The Washington Post, 3/4/13

Free Speech on the Street Corner
Editorial Board
The New York Times, 3/5/13