The Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (SB 744) last week. It passed with 68 votes after the Corker-Hoeven Amendment (or border surge) was put forth as the substitute bill. This “surge” altered the legislation by substantially changing the legalization program and added a massive buildup at our borders. The bill’s passage in the Senate has resulted in mixed emotions for immigrants, border communities, and advocates, including many Presbyterians.
The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated that, “We are are deeply concerned about what this further militarization of our borders will mean for border communities and migrants. While we are pleased that a pathway to citizenship, though narrow and conditional, was included in the final bill, we are concerned about the impact the buildup will have on the number of deaths at our southern border. Presbyterians have a lot of work to do to ensure the final legislation comports with our values as people of faith and the guidelines set forth by the General Assembly.”
Rev. Mark Adams, coordinator for the Presbyterian border ministry, Frontera de Cristo, and border resident, stated, “With the 'border surge' in the bill, Senator John McCain stated that we will have the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As it stands, this bill will basically double a policy that is fiscally irresponsible, highly ineffective, and morally reprehensible. But perhaps the most tragic aspect of the bill is that the bill does not address our own participation in the economic systems that has driven much of the migration across the southern border.”
While the bill raises many concerns, this vote in the Senate is a step toward modernizing our immigration system, particularly the sections of the law that provide for the future flow of immigrants. In addition to the pathway to citizenship, the legislation creates pathways for people who want to immigrate to the U.S. to do so with proper authorization, and there are many improvements to current law that are good for children and refugees.
Rev. J. Herbert Nelson of the office of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church also acknowledged that the legislation, as is, is unjust. He stated, "The bill provides a pathway to citizenship for millions of our brothers and sisters but it is unjustly tied to the increased use of flawed and punitive immigration enforcement policies. Although compromise is necessary in legislative deal making, it shouldn’t come at the expense of anyone’s dignity and right to life. Further, taxpayers’ dollars that should be invested in human capital – in providing a social safety net, job training, and a myriad of other shared priorities for the common good—but with this bill’s authorization, those dollars will be wasted. The lives of millions of our brothers and sisters, both at the border and across this nation, should not be traded for the votes of politicians who continue to deny the need for real reform and the fundamental truth that every person is a child of God."
Now it is up to the House to take action on immigration reform. Some restrictive legislation is being considered in the House Judiciary Committee but so far legislation has not been proposed that will meet the General Assembly’s foundations for a just and compassionate reform, which include a pathway to citizenship and a border policy that comports with our notions of due process and respects human rights. Since no laws have changed, the public should be vigilant and warn families about fraud as many unscrupulous individuals are looking to profit from people present in the U.S. without authorization. Be suspect of anyone claiming to secure legal status as a result of new changes in the law.
Rev. Parsons has issued a challenge to Presbyterians to study Scripture and pray so that every one might remember his or her own migration story. He said, “By remembering that we too were once strangers in Egypt, we can reclaim these stories as our own and take action that will improve the legislation in the House. While we need to celebrate this movement, we cannot rest.”
Rev. Melissa Davis, coordinator of advocacy issues in the office of Immigration Issues for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), added, “Presbyterians have a tradition of taking action on immigration issues and working to ensure our nation’s laws are just. Now is the time to remember our past and continue that legacy. Even by doing small things like calling our representatives and writing letters to the editors of our local paper, we can make a big difference. Most of all, these efforts need to be undergirded by prayer.”
The General Assembly has long advocated for a pathway to citizenship for those working and living in the United States without authorization. In 2012 this call was renewed, clarifying that this pathway should not be encumbered with penalties, wait times, or other irksome conditions.
Resources on General Assembly’s immigration policy and how to effectively engage with your representatives can be found at the office of Immigration Issues website: www.pcusa.org/immigration and the office of Public Witness blog: http://officeofpublicwitness.blogspot.com/. The July congressional break is a great time to engage with your representatives while they are home in their district offices.