The Rev. Noel Anderson at an immigration rally in Washington, D.C.
Last week, the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators introduced its immigration reform bill. The United Church of Christ’s Collaborative on Immigration sees the bill as significant progress, but says parts of the legislation limit it from being truly comprehensive reform. The Rev. Noel Anderson, one of the founders of the UCC’s Collaborative on Immigration, offers his views on the bill and asks for continued UCC support.
The United Church of Christ’s Collaborative on Immigration (formerly the Immigration Task Force) applauds the Senate’s bipartisan efforts to come together across partisan divides and forge a new path for our immigration system that has remained broken for years. UCC pastors and congregations have been at the forefront of service and advocacy efforts for so many undocumented people living in our communities, who are often part of our congregations.
The introduction of the Senate bill, titled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act," shows tremendous progress that there is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently forced to live in the shadows in our country. This bill will provide a reasonable timeframe to help DREAM Act youth, those in temporary status, and those still waiting in visa backlogs to gain legal permanent residency and then apply for citizenship.
Although the pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living here is a breakthrough, it remains limiting. The timeframe of up to 13 years is too long, and the bill offers no federal benefits to people in provisional status and excludes many who have minor misdemeanors or arrived after Dec. 31, 2011. While the bill provides substantial avenues to petition spouses and children, it limits petitions for siblings, who are also imperative members of our families.
As the UCC is a prominent leader for LGBTQ rights, it is frustrating to see no inclusion of same-gender couples in this bill. The UCC Collaborative on Immigration calls for the Uniting American Families Act to be part of the amendment process so that all families, regardless of orientation, can sponsor their spouses to apply and adjust immigration status accordingly.
Many UCC congregations on the U.S./Mexico border are also concerned with the increased militarization of the border this bill will create. Although increased oversight measures on immigration enforcement is a step in the right direction, the enforcement "trigger" that requires a 90-percent efficiency requirement, combined with increased fencing with double or triple layers in high-risk zones, increased border patrol and more drones will only bring more militarization to our border communities and escalate the humanitarian crisis of migrant deaths in the desert. Likewise, the electronic verification system for all employers will continue to hurt those undocumented populations that won’t be eligible to adjust status. Citizenship should not be dependent on further security when our government already spends more than $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement.
As this bill continues through the amendment process, we call upon all members of the UCC to be actively involved by joining local mobilizations, visiting their congresspersons, and recruiting more UCC members to help advocate for an even better immigration reform bill with fewer restrictions and more humanitarian values. The UCC advocacy efforts will push for a clear and direct pathway to citizenship that is not contingent upon an enforcement "trigger."
May 1 is International Labor Day and thousands will be marching for immigrant rights in every major city throughout the country. May 5 is the UCC’s Immigrant Rights Sunday. For more information, visit the UCC website.
The United Church of Christ 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.
The UCC's Collaborative on Immigration formed in fall 2012 to represent a collective voice in the recently reenergized fight for immigration reform. The group includes faith-based activists who work toward strategic goals and represent the advocacy of UCC leaders and congregations throughout the United States.
The Rev. Noel Anderson is Church World Service’s grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights and former assistant pastor at the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. He is also one of the founding members of the UCC’s Collaborative on Immigration.