October is for Immigration Reform!

Jen Smyers | September 27, 2013

Photo: CWS

Photo: CWS

In less than two weeks, CWS will host its first annual Global Summit in Washington, DC. The event will focus on the very timely topic of immigration reform, and will include more than 250 pastors, lay leaders, and grassroots organizers from across the country who have been working tirelessly for immigrants’ rights.

October will be a key time for immigration reform. So much is at stake. While the Senate has passed its immigration reform bill, the leadership of the House of Representatives continues to stall progress on a partner bill in the House. If the House does not pass an immigration bill, then the Senate bill cannot advance toward becoming law. The House must pass an immigration reform bill – even if it differs greatly from the Senate bill – so that the two bills can be “conferenced” together in a joint House-Senate committee and become law. That being said, the Senate bill itself is flawed, specifically with the border surge provisions and the strict eligibility requirements for the path to citizenship. It will be important for us to work with both Senate and House members of the conference committee to see that the final bill is as close to our goals of true, genuine reform as possible. But first the House must act.

It’ll be a steep hill for sure, but it’s important that as people of faith we stand resilient and persistent, and increase the pressure on members of Congress. Just recently, the bipartisan “Gang of 7” in the House dissolved, and we know that Congress’s focus right now is on funding the government through a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. But these are hurdles that can be overcome. Many members on both sides of the aisle have discussed introducing their own pieces of immigration legislation, and just recently Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ) and Vela (D-TX) introduced the CIR ASAP bill, H.R. 3163, similar to legislation introduced in 2009. While it is unlikely that this bill will move forward, since it currently only has Democrat co-sponsors, it is a good bill that we can ”hang our hats on” as we continue to urge House leadership to enact immigration reform.

Five smaller immigration bills have also made their way through various House committees and none of these bills address the needs of our 11 million undocumented community members. The most concerning among these is the Strengthen And Fortify Enforcement Act, H.R. 2278. This so-called “SAFE” Act would mandate that local police serve as federal immigration officials, which we know would reduce community safety, since it makes people afraid to report crimes for fear of deportation. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to add additional detention beds, increase mandatory detention and allow for indefinite detention, and would broaden the “material support” / TRIG (Terrorist Related Inadmissibility Grounds) bars that have been so problematic for many refugees, asylees and vulnerable populations. The “SAFE” Act would criminalize volunteers, religious ministries, community members, friends and family members who “transport, move, harbor or shield” an undocumented immigrant or refugee or an asylum seeker who has fallen out of status.

October will be a decisive month for immigration reform. We all need to continue making phone calls to our Representatives, writing letters to the editor about the need for immigration reform, and participating in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s FAST Action for Immigration Reform. We also encourage everyone to join our secular partners in rallies and events all across the country on October 5th for a national day of action for dignity and respect. For those coming to the CWS Global Summit, now is a great time to prepare for your congressional visits. Meeting with your member of Congress is a powerful way to make your voice heard and advance immigrants’ rights. Here are some helpful steps to consider as you prepare for the Summit, and/or ponder how you can deepen your commitment to make your community and our nation more welcoming:

  1. Sign up for the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s FAST Action for Immigration Reform.
  2. Prepare for your congressional visits in DC – or in your local area – by reviewing the best practices for congressional visits in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Neighbor to Neighbor Meeting Toolkit.
  3. Endorse the October 5th National Day for Dignity and Respect, join and promote local actions taking place near you, and/or work to organize your own event on October 5th!

It’s up to us to see that immigration reform doesn’t slip from Congress’s agenda. Take action and stay up to date with us onFacebook and Twitter as we all move more boldly and loudly to urge Congress to enact immigration reform NOW.

Jen Smyers, Associate Director for Immigration and Refugee Policy, CWS