Activists from the United Church of Christ's Collaborative on Immigration Reform are grateful that the United States Senate has finally cleared a path for citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. The Senate passed a bill Thursday night that could overhaul immigration laws, even though another hurdle awaits in the U.S House of Representatives.
"Although many faith groups and immigrants' rights coalitions have growing concerns about increased border security, intense eligibility requirements and fees to adjust status, [Senate Bill] 744 remains the best immigration bill to be introduced since 1986," said the Rev. Noel Anderson, a member of the UCC's collaborative on immigration. "This historic victory in the Senate is an important move forward in the U.S. Congress to create a pathway to citizenship, family reunification and strengthening refugee resettlement."
"I'm very pleased, ecstatic, that the Senate passed the bill, and if it passed the House, I would be over the moon," said the Rev. Mari Castellanos, UCC minister for domestic issues. "But there are so many punitive amendments in the legislation that are very disappointing from the Senate of the United States."
The Senate passed the bipartisan legislation by a 68-32 vote, and the bill now moves to the House for consideration. But it's more likely that House members will adopt their own version of immigration legislation – one with much harsher restrictions.
"Thus far we have only seen very harsh anti-immigration bills come out of the House Judiciary Committee, such as the SAFE Act," Anderson said.
The SAFE Act would essentially make a bill like Arizona's SB 1070, considered one of the broadest and strictest anti-immigration bills in the country, applicable across the nation.
"We are waiting to see if the bipartisan 'Gang of 7' in the House will introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill of their own," Anderson said. "It will be important to engage grassroots people of faith in speaking directly with their congressperson's office, many of whom have little experience with the issue of immigration and often need more base-level education on the issue."
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.