Over the past two weeks, Congress has considered multiple pieces of anti-immigrant legislation. Much of this legislation, introduced by Republicans, continues to promote rhetoric that criminalizes hard-working individuals living within the United States without documentation, endangers children who were born in America, and seeks to further punish children who are in search of refuge as they escape many forms of terror in Central America.
Although the legislative status varies for each piece, it is imperative for the public to be aware of the immigration reform policies being considered and how they impact our communities.
Brief overviews of three important anti-immigrant legislative pieces are summarized below.
H.R. 1148 is the most harmful piece of anti-immigrant legislation to be voted on so far this congressional term. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1148 out of committee, meaning it will now go to the entire House for a vote in the coming weeks.
If passed, the bill would repeal much of President Obama’s immigration executive action policies announced last November that would give nearly 5 million parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent residents and DREAMers temporary legal protection and work authorization. The bill would criminalize the act of being present in the United States without documentation. It would no longer be a civil offense. Therefore, those currently residing in the country undocumented would then be seen as criminals almost overnight.
The bill would also overturn state TRUST Acts, which have been passed in order to limit excessive and punitive immigration enforcement by local law agents and would attempt to reinstate the very problematic Secure Communities program, which was eliminated during November executive actions.
Overall, this act would greatly harm individuals, communities and congregations who value the image of God in each individual. Some have described the bill as a “strategy for comprehensive mass deportation.”
For more specific information about H.R. 1148 please see the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s brief on the policy.
The Vitter Amendment would put the children of asylum seekers, refugees, or victims of trafficking in a legal limbo by denying them citizenship. The amendment would also limit birth citizenship to only three categories of people: children of U.S. citizens, children of permanent residents, and children of non-citizens in active-duty military service.
The question this amendment poses is: does every baby born in the United States — even those born to undocumented immigrants — have the right to be an American citizen? If passed, this legislation would put many children in a legal limbo forcing them to become “stateless” because they would not belong to the country where they were born in (the United States) or the country their parents migrated from.
A larger question, which many Democrats have posed, is what exactly does Vitter’s amendment have to do with preventing human trafficking? Currently, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Bill has been stalled in the Senate for two weeks because of partisan warfare through the addition of opposing amendments: the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment and the anti-immigrant Vitter Amendment.
This bill should be about fighting against human slavery and ending human trafficking, but instead it has become a clear example of the damaging environment that’s being created on Capitol Hill.
Amendment 276 is another addition to The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Bill (S.178) introduced by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). This amendment would “allow for the prompt removal of unaccompanied alien children” by amending Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
The TVPRA was a bipartisan piece of legislation put in place in order to " provide mechanisms to protect children to ensure they were handled properly when they were in the United States." The Inhofe Amendment, however, attempts to alter pieces of the 2008 act in order to “promptly remove” those children who have most recently migrated.
By expediting the removal process, the Inhofe Amendment would prevent unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers from being properly screened for abuse, trauma, and other harmful issues before sending the children back to dangerous and life-threatening situations, which is in violation of both U.S. and international law.
According to Kids In Need of Defense, one of America’s largest pro bono legal organizations in the country, the Inhofe Amendment “eliminates access to basic due process rights for children” and “speeds up the process of deporting children (including toddlers, preschool aged children and teens) without evaluating their eligibility for humanitarian relief.”
Currently, the Inhofe Amendment sits stagnantly beside the Vitter Amendment as The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Bill will be stalled for at least two weeks.
For more specific information on both the Vitter Amendment (274) and the Hyde Amendment (276) please see Church World Services’ brief on the policy.
Although none of these pieces of legislation are currently expected to pass through a full congressional vote this session, it is vital for communities of faith to stay engaged and informed that there’s a large segment of our elected officials who will continue to use the lives of the millions of undocumented children of God in the United States as political bargaining chips.
Anti-immigrant legislation will continue to be introduced as the congressional year pushes forward; as people of faith, we must continue to work to push back on these harmful policies with our elected leaders and encourage them to welcome the strangers among us. This is a tradition that’s been upheld for centuries and should be revisited by creating pragmatic, just, and long-term solutions.
Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.
Image: U.S. Capitol Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com