The following is a cross-posted press release from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Immigrant Justice Network (IJN), Mi Familia Vota (MFV), National Immigrant Law Center (NILC), and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins work to amend the Senate immigration reform bill, leaders of national immigrants rights advocacy groups urged lawmakers to remove significant hurdles in the draft bill that would keep countless immigrants from achieving legal status and citizenship.
During a conference call with the news media, leaders of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Immigrant Justice Network (IJN), Mi Familia Vota (MFV), National Immigrant Law Center (NILC), and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) agreed the bipartisan Senate bill is a monumental first step in reforming immigration and creating a road to citizenship, but it is loaded with work and income requirements, fees, eligibility restrictions and other roadblocks that undermine the goal of legalizing immigrants now living and working in the shadows.
“We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to carefully consider whether they are trying to create a road to citizenship that is direct, broad, and inclusive, or whether the many roadblocks will threaten the success of immigration reform,” said NILC Executive Director Marielena Hincapié, who moderated the call.
Among the unrealistic provisions that would block a person’s application:
- Applicants must prove they have resources at 125% above the federal poverty level, a requirement that is too high for those who work multiple jobs at very low wages and struggle to make ends meet;
- Applicants must prove regular employment, a difficult requirement for those who work temporary jobs, such as day laborers or domestic workers who take care of children and older adults;
- Fees and fines that would have to be paid at various points in the legalization and citizenship program would consume months of pay for just one person;
- The financial burden is compounded by the proposal to not allow successful applicants to receive health care under the Affordable Care Act;
- The cutoff date of Dec. 31, 2011 for eligibility is arbitrary and would automatically leave out hundreds of thousands of immigrants;
- Because of inadequate due process or judicial discretion rights in the current law and proposed bill, immigrants are still not entitled to have a fair day in court. Some provisions would increase the likelihood that an immigrant will end up in immigration court rather than on a road to legalization and citizenship.
“This bill requires major work to make sure the ultimate law is fair, practical and realistic,” said CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas. “We want the path to citizenship to be real; we don’t want it to be a mirage.”
The Senate’s “Gang of 8” proposal “punishes people for being poor, the working poor,” said Kevin Appleby, Director of the Immigrant Defense Project for the Conference of Bishops. “Many Americans would have a hard time meeting some of these costs.”
“Immigrants who have legal violations on their record are held to a stricter legal standard in immigration court and yet have limited legal rights,” said Alisa Wellek, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project and partner with the Immigrant Justice Network. “Immigration judges should have the right to consider the age of the violation, restitution or other corrective measures already performed, military service by legal permanent residents, etc. Immigration judges should be allowed to judge.”
Also on the call was Alexander Ndaula, 32, a native of South Africa who grew up in Uganda and came to the U.S. 17 years ago seeking exile during their nation’s unrest. He now has a non-violent conviction that is keeping him from gaining legal status and citizenship. “I have a wife and child born in the U.S. But I am in limbo. I have lived here more than half of my life, but I do not yet see a solution to help me fix my status,” Ndaula said.
Francisco Heredia, MFV’s National Field Director, said their offices in states with high Latino populations continue to hear concerns from community members about mistreatment of immigrant workers by employers, family separations under current immigration law and excessive law enforcement. MFV is sponsoring rallies on Wednesday throughout the U.S. to remind lawmakers that immigration reform needs to be fair.
Latino community members “are optimistic, but they know that we need to lift our voices up to makes sure we make this bill a strong bill for our community,” Heredia said.
Listen to the news conference here.