Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Review of the STRIVE Act: A Starting Point for Policy Progress

Recent Actions on the Hill

In late March, the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act of 2007 (H.R. 1645) was introduced by Representatives Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). The bill is now with the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees. The bill currently includes 52 co-sponsors.

The Congressional Quarterly recently reported that members of the Senate anticipate the introduction of an immigration bill soon as key members come close to reaching a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set aside the last two weeks in May for a floor debate of an immigration bill in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, chaired by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has already conducted hearings on key immigration issues and will have several more before the Subcommittee takes action on a bill. In recent weeks witnesses from think tanks and academic institutions presented testimonies on topics including the history of immigration in the U.S., shortfalls in the 1986 and 1996 immigration laws, and problems with the current Employment Eligibility Verification System. AFSC has continued to monitor these recent developments and shared this information with community partners and through its involvement in various coalitions.

AFSC Analysis Grounded in Faith Principles and Direct Work with Immigrant Communities

AFSC has also recently reviewed the content and substance of the STRIVE Act. AFSC's analysis of the STRIVE Act of 2007 is principally grounded in our institution's spiritual value that there is that of God in each person, leading us to respect the worth and dignity of every person. This analysis also emerges from decades of direct field work in partnership and in solidarity with agricultural workers, and immigrant, refugee and asylee communities throughout the nation. In this effort we have also listened to, and incorporated the insight of field staff members engaged in community-based advocacy work, service provision and resource support as well as national program staff and program committees.

Constructive Changes to the STRIVE Act Remain

The STRIVE Act is a starting point for repairing our nation's broken immigration system. AFSC supports key provisions in the STRIVE Act, such as a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants and reduction of the family-based immigration backlog. However, AFSC views other provisions as challenges due to the negative impact on the livelihoods of border communities, the impact on multi-status families and the employment rights of immigrants and citizens alike. Recognizing this reality, the legislative process provides the opportunity for improvements and a significant juncture to address critical concerns and the past Congressional impasse.

Continued efforts are needed to ensure that Congress passes legislation which addresses all the elements of immigration reform. We believe that the nation's Congressional leaders can craft laws which ensure that all immigrants and non-immigrants are equally treated with dignity and respect, are welcomed members of communities in which healthy families live and as our friends, and neighbors who contribute to the nation's future, its betterment and sustainability.

We pledge to join other organizations sharing this concern and calling for constructive reform of U.S. immigration policies. We applaud the steps immigrant communities have taken to project their own voices into the policy arena and pledge to work alongside them to assure their voices are strongly heard in the movement for constructive and just immigration policies and laws.

Action to Consider: Let Congressional Leaders Hear Your Voice

Between May 28th and June 1st members of Congress will be in their districts for the Memorial Day recess and District work period. This will be a key opportunity share your perspective on the STRIVE Act and other proposals with your member.

For a resource on how to schedule a meeting click here. It is important that we raise our voices to express support for fair policies.

To facilitate dialogue and community education on the STRIVE Act, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has completed an analysis, which summarizes key provisions, compares the provisions with AFSC principles, and provides policy recommendations that we believe can lead to workable, fair, and visionary immigration policies and achievable legislation.

To view a 3-page summary of the analysis click here.
To view the full 21-page analysis click here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

White House Immigration Proposal Fails at "Reform"

The AFSC Project Voice immigrant rights initiative presses for immigration reform that does not diminish the civil and human rights of immigrants, refugees or asylees. The recent "White House proposal" is not a productive step towards fixing the nation's broken immigration system. The "White House proposal" increases the militarization of the southern border, denies families the opportunity to be together, and promotes policies that restrict the ability of undocumented workers and immigrants to become equal participants in the nation's social, political and economic structures.

The recently leaked "White House" immigration proposal is packed with troubling policy actions that undermine efforts to reach a bipartisan and fair solution to the current immigration situation. For the Power Point presentation of the proposal click here.

While on his recent visit to Yuma, Arizona, the President stated support for immigration reform; yet, the administration's new proposal undermines his words and provokes questions about the administration's seriousness in reaching humane and just solution to the immigration dilemma. This latest plan signals the administration's continued appeasement of the restrictive voices calling for punitive-only actions.

The plan is bold in its visible lack of constructive and long-term solutions, and in inability to provide a hopeful tone or tenor to the millions of immigrants and to the American people who have already spoken in favor of creating a path that leads to the immigration status adjustment of immigrants.

Excessive Fines Contradict "Z" Visa Program Purpose
Undocumented immigrants will be offered a three-year Z visa, after undergoing background checks, paying $3,500 in "large punitive fines" at every 3-year interval of the Z-visa period (including renewal). In addition, under this plan, and in order to adjust their status to a permanent resident ('green card' status), undocumented immigrants would have to return to their country of origin ("touchback"), solicit re-entry through the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country and pay a $10,000 fine.

Other expectations include paying taxes, remaining employed, learning English, civics training and an oath of allegiance. Applicants are expected to pass the English and civics test at their first renewal of the "Z" visa. Those who receive a "Z" visa will not be able to sponsor relatives to join them in the United States.

"Triggers" Delay Process and Continue Failed Policies
Even if undocumented immigrants meet all the fees, fines and penalties hurled at them, and as they attempt to place themselves in the process of seeking permanent residency and eventual citizenship, 'triggers' must be met in order for a program to be enacted including increased border patrol (from 9,000 to 18,300), additional border barriers (including 370 miles of fencing, 200 miles of vehicle barrier), the initial implementation of 'secure' identification cards for citizens and non-citizens seeking employment and probationary registration of all undocumented persons in the United States.

Temporary-Guest Workers Regarded as Market Commodity
The plan continues to treat workers solely based on the interest of the nation's economic market, showing no desire to incorporate these workers as productive and viable members of their communities or the nation's society. In the plan, the administration expects temporary workers to leave every 24 months and remain out of the country for a six month period, for a six-year maximum work period in the United States.

Separation of Families
Both the temporary guest worker and "Z" visa programs ignore the fact that ours is a nation of families and communities - all contributing to the country's vibrancy and richness. Temporary workers would not be allowed to have family members join them. The plan also proposes to redirect annual visas to be merit-based (emphasizing high skills and education) rather than supporting the reunification of workers with family members.

Policy Possibilities Must Prevail: The White House Can Do Better
Rather than offering workable solutions, the White House plan fails to address the practicality of an estimated 12 million persons returning to their countries of origin, the economic challenges this poses low-income immigrants and the unnecessary hardship to families that in many instances will be without the primary breadwinner while the process is underway. These newest of hurdles chip away at the possibility of permanent residency and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and demonstrate yet another attempt by a small but vocal faction of hard-line lawmakers unwilling to consider substantive immigration reform.

While professing a solution to the immigration problem, the administration has instead released a plan that is a dismal setback both in its content and the impracticality of its implementation. AFSC urges the administration to demonstrate its genuine commitment to constructive immigration policies. This commitment should be mirrored in support for policies that are transparent, evenhanded and framed by the inherent principles of inclusion and justice for all.