Latino Leaders encouraged with Senate process on immigration

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 34 pre-eminent Hispanic organizations in the United States, was encouraged that the process is underway in the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal, S. 744.

During the committee’s first day marking up the legislation, most votes taken on key amendments monitored by NHLA were consistent with NHLA’s recommendations.

NHLA issued a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members in which it made recommendations on how to vote on an initial list of 28 key amendments.  The committee took action on 13 of those 28 amendments, adopting seven and rejecting six.  Only one amendment that NHLA opposed was adopted by the committee.  NHLA will be making recommendations on additional amendments as the committee process moves forward.

“It was a promising sign to see Republican and Democratic Senators work in a bipartisan manner on most key amendments yesterday.  Latinos across the country are closely watching the Senate’s deliberations on immigration reform. We encourage them to continue their cooperation to keep this bill moving forward,” said Hector Sanchez, NHLA Chair and Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

NHLA will use its vote recommendations on the amendments to S. 744 as the basis for a scorecard that will grade Senators on their immigration reform record.

Julieta Garibay, a DREAMer from Texas and Legislative Affairs Associate for United We Dream, said, “DREAMers have made their demands clear– a path to citizenship for all 11 million.  Ted Cruz’s amendment banning all undocumented immigrants from ever becoming citizens is a radical rejection not only of our demands, but of sensible policy that the American people support and Latino voters are demanding.  Not only that, both my senators are pushing for even more border militarization that harms our communities already torn apart by record deportations and enforcement. Now the question is: does Sen. Cornyn want to follow in Sen. Cruz’s extremist footsteps?”

“Of the 21 amendments adopted today, all but one passed by a bipartisan vote – a clear sign that leaders from both ends of the political spectrum are committed to reform,” said Jacki Esposito of the New York Immigration Coalition and member of the Northern Borders Coalition.

“The immigration reform bill remained largely intact and unscathed after the first day of markup,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “The fact is that though the ‘Gang of Eight’ compromise has flaws, it represents movement in the right direction. We will continue to push for amendments that strengthen civil liberties and fight those that make the road to citizenship less fair, more difficult or more punitive.”

Among the amendments accepted included those offered by Republican Senators to strengthen border security, including an amendment by Senator Grassley to require the government to apply its comprehensive border strategy to the entire Southern border, not just high-risk areas.  The Committee accepted amendments by Senators Flake and Grassley to increase oversight of DHS enforcement strategies, and amendments by Senators Sessions and Cornyn to protect border communities.

The Committee adopted amendments to improve treatment of children and families in detention, and protect families affected by violence at the border. 

The Committee rejected amendments to triple the number of officers on the Southern Border to 60,000, and to spend billions of additional dollars building a “double fence” on top of the billions of dollars already authorized in this bill.

Positive developments included the passage of key amendments that strengthen civil liberties protections in the bill:

Blumenthal 10 – Racial Profiling – One key provision of this amendment says that oversight will be extended to a program that reimburses states and localities for criminal prosecution and detention of people in immigration cases initiated by the federal government. For example, with this amendment, the Attorney General will not reimburse when there is reason to believe the detention or prosecution resulted from a violation of the law by a law enforcement official, such as an act of racial profiling.

Feinstein 6 – Humane Conditions for Children in Customs and Border Patrol Custody

Extreme amendments that would have weakened the bill failed, including:

Grassley 4, Cruz 1, and Sessions 9 – Border Enforcement on Steroids – Sen. Grassley’s (R-Iowa) amendment would have required federal law enforcement authorities to establish operational control of the entire U.S.-Mexico border for six months before allowing aspiring Americans to earn legal status. As the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized, those “who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ [before allowing legalization for aspiring Americans] ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”

Lee 4 – Unnecessary Hoops for Aspiring Americans – Would have added an unnecessary additional legislative process for temporary legal status applications by aspiring Americans to be processed. The Senate Judiciary Committee rightly decided that a path to lawful status and citizenship should not have to pass through another political gauntlet.

Sessions 37 – Guts Border Patrol Use of Force Protections – Would have struck at the core of language highlighting the need for stronger protocols around Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) use of force incidents. Given the doubling of CBP agents at the border over the last decade and rise of incidents of abuses, it’s encouraging to see that the bill’s call for the creation of an oversight body known as the DHS Border Task Force remains intact.

Unfortunately, Grassley 1, which extends border enforcement build-up to areas not deemed to be high risk, did pass. This could lead to even more wasteful border spending in areas where it’s not needed.

Also, Feinstein 1 unfortunately did pass, which would offer federal payments to state and local law enforcement agencies based on the charges, not convictions, of people they arrest. This would create an added financial incentive for local and state law enforcement agents to engage in racial profiling, making pretextual arrests of people they believe to be immigrants, even if they know the charges will not be sustained.

“We still have a long way to go before this bill lands on President Obama’s desk and can become law,” added Murphy. “But we will not rest until that happens because our nation’s promise of freedom and our national security require that we bring as many of the 11million aspiring Americans out of the shadows, into legal status, and into a broad and inclusive road to full citizenship.”

“The ultimate goal of immigration reform is to preserve and restore the rule of law,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR.  “Amendments that deter eligible applicants from coming forward or delay implementation jeopardize our success in achieving the overall objective of this legislation.”

“Improving the accuracy of the employment verification system and ensuring that all workers can exercise their labor and employment rights will be crucial elements in this bill.  We also strongly back measures that maintain family unity as a cornerstone of our immigration system and that provide much needed funding to integration efforts for newcomers to this country.  Finally, we welcome amendments that preempt states’ efforts to create their own immigration laws, which have resulted in racial profiling bills such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56,” Murguía added.

“The Latino community is immensely invested in seeing immigration reform passed this year,” concluded Murguía.  “Reaching the markup process is another important milestone, and we strongly encourage Congress to build upon this momentum and continue pushing forward with this process.  At the same time, we must make sure that any amendments added to this bill work towards our goal of preserving and restoring the rule of law, so that we can see effective legislation passed in 2013.”

As the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first markup on the immigration bill, the children and grandchildren of deported caregivers or with parents facing deportation held a vigil on Capitol Hill as part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement’s (FIRM) effort to improve the path to citizenship in the immigration proposal and to keep families together now.

Jacqueline Garcia, 16, of Arizona, spoke of her grandfather’s deportation in 2012. Since he had been the guardian for her and her 14-year-old brother, Jacqueline spoke of the hardship her family has faced ever since.

“I work two jobs because my grandmother is disabled and cannot work, so I have to support my family now,” said Garcia, who is a member of the FIRM group Promise Arizona. “I want Congress to know how much my grandfather sacrificed for me and my brother and one day, I hope to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice so I can make sure no other family is separated like mine because of a bad immigration law.”

Nushin Tarannum, 12, of New York state spoke of how her family has suffered since her father, Abul Kashem, was taken into custody by immigration officials in February 2012. Kashem left his native Bangladesh because he was the victim of violence and torture.

“My mother is sick, she cannot work to support us,” Tarannum said, who was born in the U.S. “My family gets help from friends and other family members but sometimes we only eat one meal a day. I am heartbroken, my family is devastated, over the separation of my father.”

Tarannum, a member of the FIRM group the New York Immigrant Coalition, had this message for the Senators: “Please, I ask you, to grant my father forgiveness. Everyone deserves a second chance. My family is suffering greatly without him.”

Members of the faith community also attended the vigil and Rev. Randy Mayer with the Arizona-Sonora Border Coalition spoke of the need for a clear and direct path to citizenship without triggers.

“Faith communities living in the shadow of the border are concerned about the insatiable desire for more security,” said Mayer, Lead Minister of The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, AZ. “We support amendments that mitigate migrant deaths in the desert, limit the drone zone and make sure there are clear oversights and accountability for Border Patrol. As people of faith in the Borderlands we embrace the diversity in our communities and call on all people to welcome and love our neighbor for the common good.”

This vigil, organized by FIRM, is an effort to increase immigrant presence in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup process. For the duration of the committee’s immigration markup, FIRM groups will have families in the Capitol, including families from committee members’ home states, and vigils outside the building, as well as daily lobby visits from families calling on Congress for a real, clear and direct path to citizenship, not an endless, unworkable obstacle course.

“For these families, immigration reform is not about politics or party preference. It’s about keeping daughters united with their mothers, about parents being able to provide for their children, and about keeping families together rather than continuing the deportations tearing families apart,” said FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos. “These families face a fierce urgency and so does our country.  With 1,100 families torn apart and impacted in fundamentally immoral and degrading ways because of our broken immigration system, immigration reform cannot wait.”

CHC Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) and Members of the CHC released the following statement in response to the amendment offered by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would prohibit current and former undocumented immigrants from being eligible for United States citizenship:

“As the CHC outlined in our Nine Principles of Immigration Reform, we will not support any legislation that does not provide a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the shadows and exploited in the black market. Blocking 11 million undocumented immigrants from ever being able to fully contribute to our country is a huge step backward for our American values.

“It is disturbing that Sen. Ted Cruz refuses to move past abstract, extremist rhetoric and see immigration reform in real life terms. The American people have consistently called on Congress to find a just, sensible solution.  Sen. Cruz’s amendment however, would, in effect, institutionalize an underclass. Future generations will look back at his proposal with shame and shake their heads at how the senator dismissed some of our core American values.”

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (IL-04), Chair of the CHC Immigration Task Force:

“I guess Senator Cruz feels that someone must boldly stand against the tide of history, point backwards, and say ‘follow me.’ ”

Rep.  José E. Serrano (NY-15):

“We must renounce needless partisanship and efforts to kill the bipartisan effort to reform our immigration system,” said Congressman José E. Serrano. “We should work in a constructive and productive manner to fix this problem and give a chance to people who came here in search of a better life. I urge Senator Cruz to withdraw his counter-productive amendment.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20):

“Congress should not be in the business of creating second class groups in America. It is shameful how short-sighted proponents of this amendment are, particularly coming from states like Tex


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