Just days into the 2014 Congressional session, immigration reform has already moved up on the legislative agenda due to new actions by House Speaker John Boehner. After failing to bring the issue to a vote in the House in 2013, Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated he is committed to a series of "step-by-step" moves to revise current immigration laws in the coming months. While United Church of Christ immigrant rights advocates are glad the issue is taking precedent in Washington, some worry the piecemeal approach will only prolong the possibility of true reform.
"Speaker Boehner's approach to making changes one step at a time will only extend the current political maneuvering games now being played out in Washington," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, the UCC's executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries. "We favor comprehensive reform, but will continue to watch closely and advocate for polices that keep families together and provide for a pathway to citizenship."
Boehner has also hired Rebecca Tallent, a longtime immigration adviser to Senator John McCain. Tallent has worked for immigration reform for more than a decade, and fought for comprehensive overhauls of the immigration system in 2003 and 2007. Immigration advocates say her position indicates that Boehner is serious about revamping the immigration system despite pushback from other House Republicans and Tea Party members.
Boehner's aids say he is still opposed to a single piece of comprehensive legislation, like the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in June. Similarly, other House Republicans said they could move forward on individual bills that would grant legal status to groups such as agricultural laborers, high-tech workers, and young immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Many Republicans see the passage of immigration reform critical to gaining the support of Hispanic voters, who they see as a vital constituency in the 2016 elections.
"We will continue to work with our faith community partners to keep the pressure on Speaker Boehner to make good with his commitment to address immigration reform," said Jaramillo. "While the Speaker is responsible to the whole nation, he is still accountable to Ohioans who elected him, so I call on fellow Ohioans to join the movement toward just immigration policies."
The UCC has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. immigration policy. Since 1995, General Synod – the main deliberative body of the UCC – has repeatedly called for a fair and human approach to U.S. immigration policy that protects families and respects the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.