WINNING Compassionate Immigration Reform

Rachel Pizatella-Haswell | May 14, 2013

Immigration reform supporters at a vigil in Washington, D.C. Photo: Ravi Ragbir

Immigration reform supporters at a vigil in Washington, D.C. Photo: Ravi Ragbir

Tuesday May 14, denotes the second day of the bipartisan immigration bill S. 744 mark up process, where the Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering amendments concerning employment-based visas. Although I have only been interning with CWS for 5 months, this day encompasses work that has aggregated over years of advocacy efforts.

I began my internship in January 2013, a time when CWS, along with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition – a consortium of national faith based groups advocating for compassionate immigration reform – were meeting with Senators to garner support for legislation that would protect families and lead to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Now, after campaigns, vigils and more congressional visits supported by advocates, faith leaders and lay people, we are on the brink of real legislation, our advocacy translated into law. Senate Bill 744, Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, was presented on April 17 by eight Senators from both sides of the aisle. It was a great victory to have the bi-partisan bill introduced, but in many ways the fight for true reform is only just beginning.

This is truly a historic moment in this struggle for immigrants’ rights. I really believe that there has been no better time to work on this issue and to be inspired by advocacy efforts made around it. Although we are largely in favor of S.744, it was certainly a compromise, and there are still amendments that we must push for and many that we must fight against.

During the first round of Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up last week, we won on many amendments, while the worst of the amendments presented were defeated. Amendments protecting children including Hirono #23 and Feinstein #6 were agreed to by the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Grassley #4, a measure to delay the pathway to citizenship indefinitely, failed. During the mark-up, our strength in advocacy is coming not only from continued congressional meetings but from the voices of grassroots advocates who are calling the Judiciary Committee to let the Senators know which amendments are important to them.

Since the first day of mark up there have been over 750 calls made to do just this. Something amazing has happened during my advocacy work at CWS. I found out that our elected officials, for the most part, care about what their constituents have to say, and the number of calls, emails and letters impacts their decisions. During the first hearing for mark up, staffers were whispering the number of calls in favor and against certain amendments into the ears of Judiciary Members.

For this reason, it is crucial that our voices be heard during the next rounds of mark up, May 14, 16, 20-24. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition has set up a number to reach Judiciary members 1-866-940-2439, and if you check or the days before mark up, we will list out the priorities for both good and bad amendments.

Advocacy work, as I have learned, can be some of the most frustrating and rewarding. I have been fortunate enough to begin my advocacy career with an issue that is very impactful. I have joined this movement at a time where there is much momentum, and progress must continue. As my internship with CWS winds down, I would like to mark our campaign for compassionate immigration reform as a win.

While I know that we have much work ahead of us, it is encouraging to know that that my fellow citizens also want this win. At least two-thirds of Americans favor each of five specific measures designed to address immigration issues with over seven out of ten Americans supporting a pathway to citizenship according to a recent Gallup poll. Compassionate immigration reform is an achievable end, but we will need much more help to get there. Get involved today!

By: Rachel Pizatella-Haswell, Refugee Protection Advocacy Intern, CWS