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Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation

A Ministry of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

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Immigration and Border Reform prospects in the new 111th Congress

January 9th, 2009

In coalition with partners, we have lined up several advocacy actions to urge Congressional action on this issue.

Despite the strong focus on economic issues, the U.S. Senate has taken a step to act. A Senate bill, Stronger Economy, Stronger Border Act of 2009 (S.9) to strengthen the United States economy, includes a provision for funding for more effective border and employment enforcement, and for other purposes. It was introduced by Majority leader Harry Reid [D-NV] with 12 cosponsors on January 7.

This comes as the Congressional Democrats unveil their 2009 legislative agenda with early bill numbers, to highlight their legislative priorities. Senate Bill number starts S with S.1, for instance, being the Stimulus package, S.4 Health Care, S.5 Climate Change and S.9 the Immigration bill. S.9 seems to be a placeholder for comprehensive immigration reform, and includes stronger border and employment security, while reforming and rationalizing avenues for legal immigration.

I think a good indicator about the intentions of this bill (S.9) is the statement (below) by Senator Patrick Leaky [D-VT] on the bill. However it waits to be seen how this bill will fare in Committee. The language (if contained in the bill) about immigration equality for same-sex partners of different nationalities may reduce support from some faith-based organizations who are currently active on immigration reform. Already those who oppose immigration reform are capitalizing on the same-sex statement. As the debate gains momentum and Oblate support expressed at last JPIC annual meeting to continue engaging border & immigration continues, we have opportunities to make a difference. We just need to identify where we can make the most effective legislative impact.

Senator Leahy’s Supporting Statement on the Senate Floor:

If our immigration policies are to be effective and play a role in restoring America’s image around the world, we must reject the failed policies of the last 8 years. We cannot continue to deny asylum seekers because they have been forced at the point of a gun to provide assistance to those engaged in terrorist acts. We cannot continue to label as terrorist organizations those who have stood by the United States in armed conflict. We must not tolerate the tragic and needless death of a person in our custody for lack of basic medical care. We must ensure that children are not needlessly separated from their parents and that family unity is respected. We must move beyond the current policy that is focused on detaining and deporting those undocumented workers who have been abused and exploited by American employers but does nothing to change an environment that remains ripe for these abuses. We must protect the rights and opportunities of American workers and, at the same time, ensure that our Nation’s farmers and employers have the help they need. We should improve the opportunities and make more efficient the processes for those who seek to come to America with the goal of becoming new Americans, whether to invest in our communities and create jobs, to be reunited with loved ones, or to seek freedom and opportunity and a better life.

We must also live up to the goal of family reunification in our immigration policy and join at least 19 other nations that provide immigration equality to same-sex partners of different nationalities. And I believe we would be wise to reconsider the effectiveness and cost of a wall along our southern border, which has adversely affected the fragile environment and vibrant cross-border culture of an entire region. Such a wall stands as a symbol of fear and intolerance. This is not what America is about and we can do better. Those who oppose a realistic solution to address the estimated millions of people currently living and working in the United States without proper documentation have offered no alternative solution other than harsh penalties and more enforcement. The policies of the last 8 years, which have served only to appease the most extreme ideologues, must be replaced with sensible solutions. I am confident that our country and our economy will be far more secure when those who are currently living in the shadows of our society are recognized and provided the means to become lawful residents, if not a path to citizenship.

FYI:

Questions about the Southern Border and Immigration will likely feature in the Upcoming Committee Hearing: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Hearings to examine the nomination of Janet A. Napolitano to be Secretary of Homeland Security, scheduled for Jan 15, 2009 at 10:00 am.

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