Immigration Update

By Laura Peralta-Schulte
August 28, 2015

The Republican presidential contest is in full swing and one of the key issues that have been discussed thus far is the issue of immigration. Unfortunately for supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, the hysteria and demeaning rhetoric on the campaign trail has spilled over to the Halls of Congress with anti-immigrant Members of Congress once again pushing legislation to further militarize the U.S. border and to increase enforcement actions against immigrant communities around the country. The religious community, working with immigrant rights groups, is actively working to stop anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.

Pope Francis’s arrival in Washington, DC and his address to Congress on September24 present a challenge to anti-immigrant Members as well as the Republican leadership in Congress. It is widely expected that the pope will raise the issue of immigration during his trip and call on Members of Congress to pursue policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. It is hoped that his visit will have a positive impact on the Hill.

One of the most immediate threats this September is a bill that passed the House right before August recess and is set to be taken up in September. Sponsored by Senator Grassley and Senator Vitter, it is called the “Stop Sanctuary Cities Act” (S. 1814). The Grassley/Vitter amendment seeks to coerce law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to implement DHS’s immigration detainers, even though multiple federal courts have found that such detainers present constitutional problems. Under the amendment, law enforcement officials in over 300 cities and countries that refuse to honor the detainers risk losing federal justice department (“DOJ”) and housing department (“HUD”) funding. The amendment also creates new mandatory minimum sentences that would create unprecedented overcrowding in the federal prison system, even as other leaders and lawmakers including the senators’ own colleagues on both sides of the aisle have committed to reduce incarceration levels in our nation’s prisons and jails.

A second threat exists to immigrants in budget and tax debates. There are some human needs programs and tax credits, such as the Child Tax Credit, that benefit immigrant communities. There are already a number of proposals to cut back or eliminate these benefits to immigrant communities.

Finally, our community continues to demand that the Obama administration end the practice of placing young mothers with children fleeing violence in Central America in detention facilities. Family detention victimizes young mothers and children who are not a threat and have committed no crimes. Further, there are humane alternatives for detention for this vulnerable group.