Pro-Immigrant Groups Send Letter to Senators

February 12, 2013

Dear Senators Schumer, Durbin, Menendez, Bennet, McCain, Graham, Rubio and Flake:

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the largest national coalition of immigrant rights organizations advancing the interests of immigrants and their families at the federal, state and local level, is pleased that progress on bipartisan immigration reform is being made. We write to express our collective concerns over certain elements of the current framework for reform.

Completion of Enforcement “Triggers” must not be tied to a Path to Citizenship

While managing our nation’s borders and the flow of immigration is a legitimate government interest, it is an entirely separate and distinct issue from putting the 11 million members of our communities on a path to citizenship. As such, requiring the completion of the proposed enforcement measures outlined in the bipartisan principles before any immigrant can become a lawful permanent resident is senseless and unnecessary.

In addition, we are deeply concerned that the principles call for spending additional taxpayer dollars on increasing the use of unmanned drones and hiring more border enforcement agents in an effort to “secure the border,” despite overwhelming evidence that the border is under greater operational control today than it has been in decades, unauthorized border crossings are at historic lows, and border cities are among the safest in the nation.

The U.S. government already spends enormous amounts on border security. The nearly $18 billion in federal funds that went toward border and immigration enforcement agencies in fiscal year 2012 exceeded the total amount spent on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Even while border crossings have decreased 80% since 2000, enforcement personnel at the border has doubled in size. From 2004 to 2012, the budget for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), increased by 94%, more than quadruple the growth rate of NASA’s budget and almost ten times that of the National Institute of Health.

Meanwhile, as spending on border enforcement has soared, our nation’s ports of entry have suffered from poor infrastructure and inadequate staffing. As a result, commuters and visitors wait up to two hours at ports in upstate New York and five hours along the southern border, causing a stranglehold on economies of border cities. Border cities are a vital component of the half a trillion dollars in trade between the United States and Mexico. In fact, one in every 24 workers in the nation depends on commerce between the two countries. Any additional resources spent at the border should invest in infrastructure and staffing at our ports of entry to better facilitate tourism and commerce.

In addition, requiring the development and implementation of an entry-exit system for temporary visa holders before individuals can apply for green cards will cause lengthy and needless delays to putting people on a meaningful path to citizenship.

Reform must include a Meaningful, Unencumbered Path to Citizenship

Latino, Asian and immigrant communities sent a clear message on Election Day: creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living and working in the U.S. is a critical issue for voters. The process you propose falls far short of our expectations.

We are concerned about the long and arduous path to citizenship envisioned by your legislative proposal. A legalization package must lead to lawful permanent resident status and qualification for citizenship in a reasonable period of time. Based on the bipartisan principles, it could take decades before an individual could apply to become a lawful permanent resident. The long drawn-out process described in the principles would do little to address the immigration crisis in the U.S.

Family Reunification must be the bedrock of a reform package

While we were pleased to see that your proposal recognizes the need to strengthen American families by reducing backlogs in family visa categories, we are concerned about the lack of specificity in the proposal and request that you release a more detailed plan regarding how you intend to reduce such backlogs.

Currently, families are divided by visa waiting periods and processing delays that can last decades. Immigration reform must strengthen the family preference system and keep families together by increasing the number of visas available both overall and within each category. In addition, the bars to re-entry must be eliminated, so that no individuals who are eligible for an immigrant visa are punished by being separated from their family for many years. Family unification also includes opening a path of return for U.S. citizens’ and residents’ immediate family members who have been deported.

We are also concerned that the current proposal remains silent on the issue of LGBTQ couples. There are as many as 40,000 same-sex bi-national couples in the United States. Under our current system, these couples must spend months or years apart, and in some cases are forced to return to home countries where they may be subject to abuse because of their sexual orientation.

We were pleased to see President Obama has announced intentions to give same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa in his plan for reform. We urge you to take similar steps to afford equal rights to same-sex bi-national couples under immigration law, and allow American citizens or permanent residents to petition for a partner’s legal immigration to the United States.

Immigration Reform must provide Opportunities for Safe Future Migration and Ensure Worker Protections

We also have concerns about your plans for implementation of an employment verification system. As you know, the current system used by the government has been found by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to result in persistent errors that have created problems for thousands of workers who are eligible to work in the U.S. yet are identified falsely by the system as ineligible. According to the GAO, the system has problems with workers whose names are listed differently on different databases and documents, such as misspellings or the use or exclusion of initials. In such cases, the system erroneously identifies workers as “nonconfirmations” and has led employers to not hire or to fire workers who are in fact eligible to work in the U.S. In addition, the system remains vulnerable to identity theft and employer fraud. Any employment verification system must include stronger privacy protections and be less vulnerable to employer tampering. It must also have strong mechanisms for employees to monitor and correct their personal records.

With regard to your proposal to create a “workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry,” we urge you to create a program that provides legal and safe options for migrant workers, ensures equal rights for all workers, and minimizes opportunities for abuse by unscrupulous employers and others. To achieve this, we urge you to ensure the future flow of migrant workers is considered by a federal commission charged with setting the number of visas available based on labor market conditions in particular industries and locations. Without such restrictions, unscrupulous employers will avail themselves of an unlimited pool of cheap labor, suppressing wages for all workers.

Thank you for considering these and other measures that would help to bring our immigration system in line with America’s economic and social needs. We look forward to working with you in the coming weeks on ways to ensure immigrant families can continue to bring prosperity to our nation and are treated in a manner that is in line with our values as nation. www.fairimmigration.org

 

Sincerely,

Members of Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Executive Committee:

Alliance for a Just Society

CASA de Maryland

CAUSA/PCUN

Center for Community Change

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Florida Immigrant Coaltition

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Make the Road New York

Massachusetts Immigrant Rights Association

NAKASEC

New York Immigrant Coalition

OneAmerica

Promise Arizona

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

Voces de la Frontera

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