Compassionate Immigration Reform

An estimated 11 million undocumented migrants currently reside in the United States. They are our friends, neighbors, classmates, and members of our churches. Unfortunately, many are forced to live in the shadows, under constant threat of deportation and without necessary resources and protections due to the United States’ outdated and dysfunctional immigration system. It is not only undocumented persons who suffer under our immigration system.  Immigrant families are separated from their loved ones abroad and businesses face enormous obstacles to hiring the workers they need.  Even with so many members of our communities at risk and a national disdain for the current broken set of laws, immigration reform legislation remains a highly controversial and divisive issue in the United States Congress.

While failing to act on comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the United States government continues to aggressively enforce the current immigration laws and policies leading to the use of immigration detention, and other harsh enforcement tactics that separate families and cause suffering in communities nationwide.

Moreover, our broken and backlogged family visa system causes many family members to wait years, even decades, to be able to enter the United States to reunite with their loved ones. LIRS has consistently advocated for meaningful, compassionate reforms to fix these and multiple other facets of our broken immigration system. However, the current Congress does not appear poised for meaningful debate or action on our overall immigration system anytime soon.

Immigration Reform in the Senate

Congress’s most recent effort toward meaningful immigration reform passed the Senate in June 2013. S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, was introduced by the bipartisan “Gang of 8″ on April 17, 2013 and passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21. The full Senate passed the legislation in a broad bipartisan vote (68-32) on June 27. This comprehensive immigration reform legislation would have made many necessary improvements to our immigration process. Unfortunately, this legislation was not considered by the House of Representatives and the 113th Congress ended without the passage of immigration reform. Now in the 114th Congress, members have introduced various bills that address only portions of our immigration system.  No legislation that would provide the necessary overhaul to the current system has been introduced; nor is any such legislation expected to advance during the 114th Congress.

Immigration Reform in the House of Representatives

The House of Representatives never acted on a companion to S.744 in the 113th Congress. In the 114th Congress, House Committees have considered a series of narrow, enforcement-only, and often harmful legislation. These include the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1147) to address employment-based immigration and the Michael Davis Jr., in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1148) (formerly known as the SAFE Act) to bolster the enforcement of current immigration laws.

Additionally, in response to the influx of Central American children and families that sought refuge in the United States in the summer of 2014, the House introduced and advanced several bills out of the Judiciary Committee.  These bills roll back critical legal protections for children and families; thus increasing the possibility for family separation and dangers faced by vulnerable individuals. These bills include the Protection of Children Act (H.R. 1149) and the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (H.R. 1153).

Immigration Reforms by the Administration

Congress’s continued inaction on meaningful reforms spurred President Obama to announce a set of executive actions in November 2014 intended to resolve some of the broken components of our immigration system. These changes are known collectively as the “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions.” Core components of these actions include the creation of a deferred action program for parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the end of the Secure Communities program, and a recalibrating the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities. These changes have the potential to ensure family unity and stability, access to due process, and access to necessary resources. Although they are not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform passed by Congress, the President’s actions could offer much-needed relief to millions of people. Unfortunately, litigation challenging the new DAPA program and expanded DACA has temporarily placed these programs on hold.

LIRS’s Position

LIRS is gravely concerned that legislative efforts to toughen enforcement without fixing the fundamental shortcomings of our immigration laws threaten family unity and community stability, and strip away protections for vulnerable newcomers. Reforming only select areas of our complex system does not reflect the needs of the country.  Nor does it uphold the dignity of migrants and refugees seeking safety, family reunification, or the opportunity to contribute to the United States. While we do not expect to see meaningful immigration reform legislation in this Congress, LIRS continues to advocate for the welcome, protection and care of our migrant brothers and sisters.

LIRS Resources

LIRS Resources on S. 744

  • LIRS Analysis of S. 744
  • LIRS Statement on passage of S. 744 by the full Senate
  • LIRS Statement on pro-family amendments to S. 744 offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • LIRS Statement on amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee to widen indefinite detention of migrants
  • LIRS Statement on amendments to restrict refugee provisions in S. 744 offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee

How You Can Help

  • Join the Stand for Welcome campaign to stay updated on current topics in advocacy with migrants and refugees.
  • Visit the LIRS Action Center and write to the President and your members of Congress. Tell them you support the President’s actions to protect families.
  • Read and share LIRS’s principles for compassionate immigration reform.