Immigration Reform in the House

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The Strengthen And Fortify Enforcement Act, H.R. 2278 would encourage racial profiling, eliminate the Administrations’ protection of DREAMers, expand immigration detention, criminalize overstaying a visa, and harm both community safety and vulnerable populations. Modeled after Arizona’s SB1070, this bill would encourage racial profiling, mandating that local law enforcement investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest and detain everyone who they suspect to be undocumented or deportable. The bill would increase and mandate programs that force local police to serve as immigration officials, and would deny states and localities the ability to adjust the implementation of these programs. Many law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association oppose these mandates. When police are seen as immigration enforcement agents, communities are less safe because many community members stop reporting crime out of fear that they , their family members or neighbors might be arrested and deported due to their immigration status. The “SAFE” Act would negatively impact refugees, asylum seekers and others fleeing persecution. It would worsen expansive laws that have falsely labeled pro-democracy freedom fighters and victims of kidnapping, extortion, and rape as “terrorists” if they were coerced to provide goods or services to a terrorist group. The bill would create new grounds of inadmissibility and deportability for persons whom DHS “has reason to believe” have been members of a gang, even if they were not actually gang members. It would expand the immigration detention system that holds many torture survivors and asylum seekers by mandating detention even when unnecessary and authorizing indefinite detention for persons who have been ordered removed. This bill would make it a crime to overstay a visa by even a single day and would subject anyone who transports or “harbors” an undocumented person subject to criminal penalties. This would make the act of driving or housing an undocumented family member, neighbor, friend or congregation member a crime.

H.R. 1417 directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to report on the state of operational control of U.S. international borders every 180 days and submit a comprehensive strategy for gaining and maintaining operational control, meaning a 90% apprehension rate of individuals crossing the border, of high traffic border areas within two years. A comprehensive and up-to-date border security technology plan would have to include Department of Defense (DOD) surveillance and technology brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan, including the use of manned aircrafts and unmanned drones, increased numbers of border patrol agents, and specified metrics on the effectiveness of security at ports of entry. DHS would also have to submit certification to Congress and the Comptroller General that operational control of international borders has been achieved, and report annually on resource allocation for optimal staffing levels at all land, air, and sea ports of entry.

The “AG” Act, H.R. 1773, would replace the current H-2A agricultural guestworker program with a new H-2C program. It fails to provide any opportunity for farmworkers to pursue a roadmap to citizenship. Instead, they would be required to return to their home country and could only come back to the U.S. as guestworkers, another second-class status. Families would be separated as spouses and children are provided no status. H.R. 1773 would eliminate nearly all protections currently in the H-2A program, allowing for mass exploitation, wage cuts and unsafe working conditions. The bill would reduce wages and withhold 10% of guestworkers’ meager wages from their paychecks. To apply for a return of their earnings, H-2C workers would have to travel to a U.S. consulate in their country of origin within 30 days of the expiration of their visa and demonstrate compliance with the terms of the H-2C program. The “AG” Act would also bar federal legal aid programs from representing H-2C guestworkers and discourage workers from filing grievances by mandating they take expensive actions prior to filing a lawsuit.

The Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Act (H.R. 2131) would increase science, technology, education and math visas and other work visas, but would also reduce the number of family unity visas. The bill would remove the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their siblings, and would eliminate many already-approved petitions, keeping U.S. citizens from reuniting with their siblings even after their petition has already been approved. We are not opposed to increases in employment-based visas, but they should not come at the expense of family visas – it’s not a zero-sum game. People want to join their families through legal channels, but with exorbitant wait times as long as 24 years, have no real options to do so. To fix the immigration system, we need to recognize the God-given desire to be with one’s family.

H.R. 1772 requires all employers to use an electronic employment verification system (E-Verify) within two years and lacks proper safeguards. Individuals who are authorized to work could be denied employment or lose their jobs because of unfair hiring or firing practices or governmental error. This would only increase unemployment rates, since this system is costly and can take a long time to complete before someone can begin working. The bill is impractical for small business as many do not have the resources to carry out such burdensome verification processes, and its rushed implementation would harm all businesses. Because the bill lacks a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals, it would create an environment of exploitation as individuals will be pushed further into hiding and be subjected to the will of employers. The use of E-verify would keep many individuals from feeding their families, and subject innocent people to a flawed process preventing them from gaining employment.

This summary originally appeared in an Interfaith Immigration Coalition Action Alert on July 8, 2013.