Immigration Reform: How Will the House Represent American values?

Rachel Pizatella-Haswell | July 17, 2013

Immigration reform supporters at a July 10, 2013 rally. Photo: CWS

Immigration reform supporters at a July 10, 2013 rally. Photo: CWS

On June 27, the Senate passed The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act with a bipartisan majority of 68 votes for and 32 against. This bill includes a fair pathway to citizenship along with other measures to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to become American citizens. If enacted, this bill would help strengthen communities and create a more efficient system for legal immigration to the United States, ultimately reuniting families and boosting the economy. The vast majority of American citizens – 88% according to a recent Gallup Poll – support allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens. This bill, then, is truly democratic in that it represents what Americans want in a new immigration bill.

The question moving forward, however, is “what will the House of Representatives do?” There are several bills moving forward in the House; however, none address a pathway to citizenship, which is important to the majority of Americans. Instead, the House is considering bills that would endanger immigrants and damage the already broken immigration system. Among other bills, the Strengthen And Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE) and the Agricultural Guestworker Act (Ag) would respectively criminalize immigrants and create a system where agricultural workers are denied basic rights and unable to pursue a roadmap to citizenship.

Working for Church World Service has provided me with the opportunity to learn a great deal about these bills while also learning about the American people’s proclivity for commonsense immigration reform that provides for a meaningful and realistic pathway to citizenship. Through this experience, I have had the opportunity to put faces to these poll numbers that tell the story of Americans from diverse ethnic, religious and political backgrounds uniting to support immigration reform that protects immigrants and creates a fair system. This has helped me understand how so many different individuals come to rally to support a single issue. By engaging our grassroots networks from various faith traditions, I have heard stories from religious leaders who want to protect their immigrant parishioners and lay people who are compelled by the biblical message of welcoming the stranger.

Outside of the faith communities, people are compelled to support immigration reform for a number of reasons. Perhaps they were influenced by a loved one’s fight to get his or her spouse or sibling to the United States. Perhaps they are moved by a college classmate who is unable to obtain permission to work in the United States. Whatever has driven these numerous Americans to support a pathway to citizenship within comprehensive immigration reform, the message is clear:Americans care about how our country treats immigrants.

The Ag Act, which would remove the few protections agricultural workers have and prevent them from bringing their families to the United States, stands in opposition to the majority of Americans’ support for immigrants’ rights. This Act creates a second class group of people, which stands in contrast to the values this country strives to uphold. The SAFE Act, which would mandate local police act as immigration enforcement agents, expand the immigration detention system, criminalize visa overstays, and negatively impact refugees, asylees and other vulnerable populations, also runs counter to what the American people want in immigration reform.

So, what is going to happen with these bills? As the House is a representative body for American people, it should act in favor of the will of Americans. I have seen first-hand how Americans desire commonsense immigration reform, but Representatives need to be reminded of this desire. As these dangerous bills are considered in the House, it is more important than ever to make Representatives aware of constituents’ cry for a pathway to citizenship and against punitive bills such as the SAFE and Ag Acts.

Calling 1-866-940-2439 is a good place for each of us to start, to be connected to your Representative so you can tell him or her that you oppose these harmful Acts and that you urge them to champion a path to citizenship. The House is in recess during the month of August, which is a perfect time for you to visit your Representative in his or her home office and make your case even more powerfully. Check out a list of actions happening across the country

The way this country welcomes immigrants is important to the American people, and as the representative body for these people, the House should not be a point of delay when it comes to enacting legislation. If 88% of Americans support a fair pathway to citizenship, shouldn’t 382 of the 435 representatives support it too?

Rachel Pizatella-Haswell, CWS Fellow working on refugee and immigrant protection and advocacy. Rachel graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in Religion and Political Science.