LIRS welcomed the introduction of the bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) on April 17 and has analyzed the bill from the perspective of each of our five principles for immigration reform.
The United States should acknowledge our history as a nation of immigrants by creating an immigration process that honors migrants’ contributions and commitment to our country. As people called to welcome the newcomer, LIRS supports a comprehensive solution to the challenge of the United States’ broken immigration system.
LIRS advocates for reform that will:
- Provide an earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families.
- Ensure the humane and just enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, specifically by reducing the use of immigration detention and expanding the use of community support programs for immigrants who do not need to be detained.
- Protect families from separation and ensure an adequate supply of visas for families seeking to reunite.
- Provide adequate resources and protections to ensure the successful integration of refugees, asylees, survivors of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and other vulnerable migrants.
- Ensure the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers.
For additional information please contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS director for advocacy (firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-626-7943).
Creation of a Roadmap to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants
Comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to fully contribute to our families and communities honors America’s history as a nation of immigrants and the biblical call to welcome the stranger. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) therefore applauds the April 17, 2013 introduction of S. 744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act). The bipartisan bill establishes a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and welcomes new Americans through the following provisions:
- Creation of a new “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status for eligible undocumented immigrants. People granted RPI status would be authorized to work and travel outside the United States. It would be possible to renew RPI status after six years. After 10 years, those in RPI status could seek to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Three years later, they would be eligible to apply to become U.S. citizens. (Sections 2101, 2012)
- RPI status would require applicants to have been present in the United States since December 31, 2011. People in removal proceedings and those with deportation orders would be able to apply. (Section 2101)
- Immigrants granted RPI status would be allowed to petition for RPI status for their spouse and children, provided these family members were present in the United States before December 30, 2012 and were present on the date their relative was granted RPI status. (Section 2101)
- Young undocumented immigrants known as “DREAMers” who were brought to the United States as children and who would benefit from the DREAM Act would have an expedited path to citizenship, as would certain undocumented agricultural workers. DREAMers who spend 5 years in RPI status would be eligible to apply for LPR status. Upon receiving LPR status, DREAMers could immediately apply for U.S. citizenship. (Sections 2103, 2211)
- Greater numbers of vulnerable migrants could attain U.S. citizenship. The number of U visas granted to migrant survivors of violence who assist in law enforcement efforts would be increased. People granted temporary protected status (TPS) or who have been permitted to remain in the United States through deferred enforced departure (DED) could apply for RPI status or seek LPR status through the new merit-based immigration system. (Sections 3406, 2101, 2302)
- Coordinated federal efforts would be made to strengthen integration of new Americans into communities and to assist those who aspire to become U.S. citizens. (Section 2511)
LIRS is concerned that criteria to achieve and maintain lawful status may pose significant challenges. For example, those using the roadmap to citizenship would be excluded from federal public benefit programs including food stamps and affordable health care. Requirements must not outweigh an otherwise accessible and fair legalization process. Below are provisions of concern to LIRS:
- Financial obligations for aspiring citizens would include processing fees, back taxes and taxes due while in RPI status, and $2,000 in fines over the course of the 13-year period. (Section 2101)
- The RPI status application period would open only after Department of Homeland Security plans commence to increase border security. RPI status holders may not apply for LPR status until border security, workforce verification, and visa tracking benchmarks are met. (Section 3)
- People with certain criminal convictions, including for some minor offenses and for crimes that occurred many years ago, would be ineligible for RPI status. (Section 2101)
Positive Changes to Detention and Access to Justice
Our immigration laws must be humanely and justly enforced. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long urged Congress to achieve this goal by reducing America’s use of immigration detention, which often involves arbitrary, prolonged loss of liberty and is a barrier to full, fair, and just court proceedings. We also advocate expanding community-based alternatives to detention programs that provide legal, housing, medical, mental health, and other services as needed.
LIRS therefore applauds the April 17, 2013 introduction of S.744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) in the Senate. The bipartisan bill contains the following positive changes for migrants held in immigration detention, the operations of detention facilities, and the use of alternatives to detention:
- The rights of individuals in detention would be protected by the creation of time limitations governing the filing of charging documents, decisions about whether or not detention is necessary, and bond hearings before an immigration judge. People in detention for over 90 days would benefit from periodic reviews of their case. (Section 3717)
- Compliance with the most recent standards and policies set by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be routinely monitored and contractually required. Deficiencies would trigger financial penalties or discontinuation of the use of a facility by DHS. Evaluations and inspections of facilities would be made public. Oversight would be aided by a requirement that DHS seek non-governmental organizations’ input on specific detention facilities. (Section 3716)
- Oversight, transparency and accountability would be improved by placing two agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, under the jurisdiction of the DHS Ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman’s office has improved the efficiency and accountability of existing DHS functions already under its jurisdiction. (Section 1114)
- Alternatives to detention programs, which the LIRS study Unlocking Liberty found to be efficient, humane, and cost-effective, would be available nationwide and to more people. Case management and individualized assessment of whether and how someone should be detained would be made part of alternatives to detention, and community-based organizations would be clearly authorized to provide these alternatives. (Section 3715)
LIRS also commends S.744’s safeguards for migrants, refugees and children facing deportation:
- The staff and judges assigned to immigration courts would be expanded to address existing backlogs and insufficient courtroom resources. Judges and staff would receive improved training. All detained people would receive legal orientation that explains their legal rights and decreases length of detention by preparing detainees to represent themselves. (Sections 3501, 3505, 3506, 3503)
- Immigration judges would have to oversee a person’s consent to be deported from the United States to ensure that such consent is truly voluntary and informed. (Section 3717)
- The Department of Justice would appoint and pay for lawyers on behalf of unaccompanied children, people with mental disabilities, and particularly vulnerable individuals in deportation hearings. Providing lawyers would improve fairness and efficiency. (Section 3502)
Positive and Negative Changes to Family-Based Immigration
Family unity is a core American value, and for decades Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has advocated for an immigration system that reunites migrant and refugee families instead of dividing them. Therefore, LIRS has a mixed reaction to how immigrant families are treated in S.744 (the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), introduced April 17, 2013 in the Senate.
LIRS applauds numerous improvements in S.744 that would strengthen family unity and enable migrants and refugees to reunite with loved ones in the United States. The bipartisan bill makes the following improvements to our family-based immigration system:
- Backlogged visa applications filed by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (also known as “LPRs” or “green card holders”) on behalf of their siblings and children would be processed within 10 years. (Section 2302)
- Future applicants may benefit from reduced wait times as per-country caps on family immigration would rise and unused visas would be allowed to be used in subsequent years. (Sections 2306, 2304)
- Spouses and minor children of LPRs would be reclassified as “immediate relatives.” This change would exempt these dependents from annual visa caps and speed the reunification of these families. (Section 2305)
- The immigration status of widows and orphans would be preserved after the death of their petitioning relative. Immigration processes for fiancés, fiancées, and stepchildren would be improved to increase family unity. (Sections 2312, 2309, 2310)
- Parents immigrating to join their U.S. citizen child in the United States would be permitted to have their minor children (the petitioning citizen’s sibling(s)) accompany them. (Section 2305)
- An immigration judge would have discretion to consider the impact of an immigrant’s deportation, which is often devastating, on his or her U.S. citizen or LPR parents, spouse, or children. (Section 2313)
- New “V” visas would be granted to certain family members with approved family-based visas, allowing them to unite with loved ones in the United States while awaiting a green card. (Section 2308)
Unfortunately, S.744 falls short as follows:
- U.S. citizens would no longer be able to petition for immigrant visas for their brothers, sisters, and married children over the age of 30, ending the opportunity for these family members to provide vital family structure and support and contribute to our nation. Citizens should not lose the ability to reunite with their siblings and their married sons and daughters of all ages. (Section 2307)
- A new merit-based immigration system would award points based on some family relationships, yet would fail to sufficiently substitute for lost immigration opportunities for siblings and some married children of U.S. citizens. Any new immigration system must adequately honor America’s historical commitment to family unity. (Section 2301)
Positive Changes for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Stateless Individuals
Congress is now considering comprehensive immigration reform, making this is a crucial moment to renew America’s commitment to vulnerable newcomers. Our proud history of protecting and welcoming victims of persecution and torture is at stake. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long sought to ensure those fleeing persecution can find protection in the United States, unite refugee families, and improve opportunities for vulnerable migrants to be welcomed and become part of our communities and our nation.
LIRS therefore applauds provisions in S. 744 (the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act), introduced April 17, 2013, that create more efficient and humane processes to protect and welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people. These include:
- Eliminating the one-year filing deadline. Currently, persecuted people are barred from receiving asylum if their application is filed more than a year after they arrive in the United States. S. 744 would eliminate this deadline and allow asylum seekers to reopen their cases if they were previously denied solely because of late application. (Section 3401)
- Improving efficiency, justice, and transparency by allowing refugee applicants abroad to have legal representation during the application process. The bill also requires that applicants who are denied refugee status receive a written explanation for their rejection. (Section 3407)
- Enhancing refugee family unity. The bill rectifies gaps in current law that can permanently separate refugee families. It allows children of a refugee or asylee’s spouse or child to accompany or join them in the United States. Additionally, surviving widows and orphans of principal applicants could continue the visa process after the applicant’s death. (Sections 3402, 2312)
- Allowing the president to designate certain groups of refugees to be resettled to the United States. This would bolster protection and efficiency. The president could designate certain groups as having a well-founded fear of persecution, instead of requiring each individual within that group to meet this standard. This would solidify existing laws that protect certain religious minorities, including those from the former Soviet Union and Iran. (Section 3403)
- Authorizing trained, expert asylum officers to grant claims of asylum who can show credible reasons for fearing persecution. This would replace the current practice of referring asylum seekers to immigration courts for what can be lengthy and costly adversarial proceedings that often retraumatize those seeking protection. (Section 3404)
- Extending and improving the Special Immigrant Visa program for Iraqis and Afghanis who assisted U.S. military efforts abroad. The bill improves processing and efficiency for visa applicants and allows unused visas to be allocated through the end of fiscal year 2018. (Sections 2317, 2318)
- Protecting stateless persons living in the United States. The bill defines the term “stateless person” for the first time in U.S. law and allows certain people who are stateless and living in the United States to apply for conditional residency and eventual citizenship. (Section 3405)
- Improving access to citizenship. The bill would provide elderly refugees with greater access to naturalization, ensuring more full and meaningful integration into American civic life while respecting their vulnerabilities. The bill also strengthens federal efforts to help refugees integrate into American communities, including assistance to refugees aspiring to naturalize. (Sections 2551, 2511)
Positive Changes for U.S. Citizen and Migrant Workers
As Congress builds an immigration system to ensure the supply of labor meets national demands, future immigration laws must recognize the contributions migrants make to our communities and improve protections for the safety, dignity, and fair treatment of every worker. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long advocated for ample protections in our immigration system for U.S. citizen and migrant workers.
S. 744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) introduced April 17, 2013, includes the following improvements for workers in the United States:
- Undocumented agricultural workers and their dependents would be eligible for an expedited roadmap to citizenship with a “blue card.” Blue card holders who continue to work in agriculture would be eligible to become lawful permanent residents in 5-8 years, at which point they could work in any occupation. (Sections 2211, 2212)
- Victims of serious workplace abuse, exploitation, or retaliation would be eligible for U visas, which provide immigration status to migrant survivors of crime who assist law enforcement. (Section 3201)
- Employers would be prohibited from withholding back pay or certain other damages because of a worker’s immigration status. (Section 3101)
- Workers employed by registered employers in low-tech fields facing labor shortages would be eligible for a “W visa”. This program would be subject to an annual cap determined by the newly-created Bureau of Immigrant and Labor Market Research. The W visa permits workers to change to another registered job for another registered employer, allows workers’ spouses and children to join them and lawfully work, and grants W visa holders the ability to self-petition for lawful permanent residency through a new merit-based immigration system. (Sections 4701-4703)
- Agricultural guest-workers would be eligible for temporary work visas subject to caps designed to protect U.S. workers. These guest-workers would receive worker’s compensation, employer-provided housing, fair wages, and the ability to transfer to certain other agricultural employers. (Section 2232)
S. 744 mandates that employers begin using a federal government verification system to confirm new hires are authorized to work. S. 744 includes the following protections for workers screened under this system:
- U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants may file an administrative appeal to contest a rejection or “non-confirmation” by the system. If necessary, individuals are able to appeal this decision through the courts. Workers are compensated with any lost wages, reasonable costs, and attorneys’ fees if non-confirmation was due to employer or government error. (Section 3101)
- Establishes regular assessments of the system, complaint and investigation mechanisms, and privacy and information security protections. Expands anti-discriminatory provisions in the current immigration laws to include discriminatory or unlawful use of electronic verification. (Sections 3101, 3105)