Policy Focus: House Must Act on Immigration Reform
With one-third of unauthorized immigrants living in poverty and reports showing that legalization and citizenship would increase immigrants' earnings 13 percent or more, immigration reform is an important hunger issue. Moreover, the biblical mandate to "welcome the stranger" implores us as Christians to seek reform of our country's immigration system. The Hebrew word for immigrant — ger — appears 92 times in the Bible.
It has been nearly a year since the Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Despite widespread support for advancing some sort of immigration reform, the House has yet to act as a whole. However, significant movement has taken place behind the scenes.
The Senate passed one large comprehensive immigration bill, but the House decided to take a piecemeal approach, opting instead to pass a number of separate bills dealing with different aspects of our immigration system. The House Judiciary Committee has passed five bordersecurity measures. More importantly, three other bills lie in the wings as representatives negotiate final details and prepare for the proper moment to introduce their legislation. These bills focus on granting citizenship to DREAMERS (undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children by their parents or relatives and who have lived most of their lives here), providing a path to legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., and addressing low-skilled workers.
For Congress to carry out comprehensive immigration reforms, the House must act. The votes exist. Speaker John Boehner needs only to bring legislation to the floor of the House for a vote. Many House Republicans, including many within the leadership, have made strong statements indicating their support for passing reforms this year.
There are two periods when immigration reform has its best chance of passing out of the House: the next couple of months and early this fall. A number of House Republicans wanted to delay voting for reforms, scared off by potential primary challengers. Now that the primaries are ending, a short window of opportunity exists before the August recess. Another short window of opportunity exists in September, after the August recess but before members return to their districts for the final campaign spree before the November elections.
Members of Congress must feel political pressure to act. They must feel there is a political cost in their November elections if they are seen as not acting on immigration reform. This is not a question of policy. It is a question of politics and members hearing from their constituents. Members of Congress need to be going to leadership, urging them to bring immigration bills up for a vote in the House because they are feeling too much pressure back home not to do so.
During Bread's 2014 Lobby Day (June 10 — see Bread Slices for more information), we will be increasing this pressure. One of the "asks" or topics during Lobby Day will be urging House members to press for votes on immigration reform, primarily those bills that will have a measurable impact in reducing hunger.
Photo: Advocates gather in front of the U.S. Capitol on June 27, 2013, to pray for compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
[This article originally appeared in the May 2014 edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.]
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