The Campaign for Humane Immigration Policy Team

The Senate is poised to debate and vote on The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744), and questions remain as to whether there are the necessary 60 votes to pass the bill in the Senate. The trajectory of immigration policy reforms in the House of Representatives is yet to be seen. While the political and often partisan battles heat up, immigrant families are torn apart by the Obama administration’s record detentions and deportations. 

As it stands now, S. 744 is a mixed bag at best, offering relief only after certain so-called “triggers” are met. These triggers include billions of dollars in border militarization, expanded workplace enforcement mechanisms, and a new biometric entry/exit system. The relief that is being offered is not all-inclusive, and is fraught with pitfalls in which even provisional legal status can be revoked within the next ten years.

Should CIR pass, this will not end the American Friend Service Committee (AFSC)’s call for humane and just immigration policy. Immigrant communities will continue to fight for economic and social justice. We cannot hang up the gloves and simply submit applications while immigrants are criminalized, marginalized and exploited.

AFSC’s Campaign for Humane Immigration Policy (CHIP) team has been following the path of the Senate bill through its introductions and amendments, and has struggled to reconcile the many elements of the bill with the reforms that immigrant communities and allies have called for. AFSC recognizes the desperation for legal status as well as the need to eliminate the criminalization, detention and deportation of immigrants that has become rampant in the last four years; yet we stand by the demands set forth in AFSC’s “A New Path toward Humane Immigration Policy” principles for humane immigration reform, developed in partnership with members of impacted communities that AFSC accompanies throughout the U.S. If we are to see progress toward policies that fulfill those demands, S. 744 will need to de-link the potentially positive pieces from the aggressive enforcement triggers that are currently driving the debate.

The CHIP team took some time to assess the bill, and compare and contrast the bill coming out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with our “New Path” principles and policy recommendations. Here is what we found:

Principle one: Develop humane economic policies to reduce forced migration

Negative: S. 744 does not address the root causes of systemic forced migration.

Principle two: Protect the labor rights of ALL workers

Negative: The Senate bill does not end guest worker programs, which historically exploit participants…

Positive: …it does substantially restructure these programs to add significant worker protections.

Negative: The bill dramatically increases the number of guest workers in the "highly skilled," "lower skilled" and agricultural worker categories…

Positive: …it does offer an easier pathway to Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) for the latter group.

Negative: Employer sanctions are increased and E-Verify (an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility) will be mandatory in 5 years. Workers who are found not to be authorized to work by E-Verify will be reported to ICE on a weekly basis.

Negative: Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status "non-immigrants" will be able to obtain a social security number and pay into the social security fund, but not benefit from it until after 15 years.

Positive: The bill includes an increase in the number of visas for crime victims who are exploited at the workplace.

Positive: The bill fixes a Supreme Court decision (Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, 2002) that denied back pay to illegally fired immigrant workers under the National Labor Relations Act.

Principle three: Develop a clear path to citizenship

Negatives:

There is a 10-year stint in RPI status fraught with fines, fees, taxes, and background checks, subject to renewal after additional background checks and eligibility testing in the 6th year.

RPIs must not be unemployed for more than 60 consecutive days in a year.

RPIs must earn at least 125% of the federal poverty rate when they apply to adjust their status to LPR.

S. 744 bars people with criminal records from eligibility without taking into account any positive factors that may outweigh the negative.

Principle four: Respect the civil and human rights of immigrants

Negative: 

S. 744 will not stop mandatory detentions and deportations. 

The bill keeps in place the punitive framework of the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

S. 744 will not end 287(g) arrangements, Secure Communities, or Operation Streamline (a policy begun in 2005 that mandates that nearly all undocumented immigrants crossing the Southern border in certain areas be prosecuted through the federal criminal justice system, a departure from previous practices when most immigration cases were handled exclusively within the civil immigration system)  In fact, there’s a significant expansion of Operation Streamline in the bill.

S. 744 allows for racial, ethnic, and religious profiling including of Arab, Muslim, South and Central Asians.

Positive:

The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security must establish secure alternatives to detention for immigrants in custody.

This bill sets out procedures for bond hearings for immigrants in federal custody.

S. 744 calls for increasing judgeships inborder states.

S.744 requires the right to counsel in immigration hearings for unaccompanied minors, people who are mentally ill, and other vulnerable populations.

Principle five: Demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border

Negative:

Allocates $6 billion to border security, including funds for increasing the number of officers stationed along the border, drones, additional watch towers, double & triple fences, and allows the National Guard to be stationed along the border for security purposes. 

The Southern border must be “secure” before anyone can adjust their immigration status via the legislation (a “trigger”).

S. 744 expands the required 90% "apprehension" rate to the entire Southern border (a “trigger”).

Positive:

The bill limits the area in which the Border Patrol is permitted to operate drones within the San Diego and El Centro sectors. 

Some oversight for border community stakeholders is provided.

Section 1111 would require the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to develop new policies on how and when to report use-of-force actions, investigate complaints and discipline agents, an effort to clarify and tighten regulations.

Principle six: Make family reunification a top priority

Negative: The bill does not provide for unification of LGBTQ families, and favors social class and privilege…

Positive: …the merit-based system increases opportunities for other families.

Positive: Some caps on family visas are increased while others are entirely eliminated.

Principle seven: Ensure that immigrants and refugees have access to services

Negative: RPI will not have access to Affordable Care Act federal subsidies that make purchasing insurance affordable.

Negative: RPI will not have access to other state and federal services. 

Conclusion

Clearly, S. 744 falls far short of the just and humane immigration reform that the AFSC calls for. A dilemma for us is how to proceed. Of course, we will work hard to improve the bill on the Senate floor, but what then? If the bill passed by the full Senate is roughly similar to what we see now—which it is very likely to be--do we celebrate a victory for immigration reform or mourn the ongoing militarization, criminalization and racism at work in our immigration policy? Can we do both?

Do we believe that the bill’s arduous pathway to LPR status and citizenship will meaningfully meet the urgent need for relief in immigrant communities, or will the pitfalls negate the positive provisions of the bill?

AFSC’s strength and wisdom is rooted in our relationships in immigrant communities, as longstanding allies and friends.  We believe in the discernment that happens in community when we listen deeply to each other, and when we value the lived experience of those who are most affected by the policies or conditions we seek to change. And we know that it is the courage and tenacity of immigrants and their families that have brought us to this generational opportunity for real reform. Let us continue to listen, with courage and humility, to those who know best what is needed and possible at this time. What do these relationships and conversations tell us about how to proceed?

And then, with this guidance, we must speak truth to power – in the Senate, House of Representatives, White House, the media, and to our partners and allies. Regardless of the outcome of this most recent attempt to reform our broken immigration system, we know that the road ahead is a long one and will require our full devotion to human rights and dignity and the struggle to address in a principled way the root causes of human migration.