Senate Judiciary Committee
December 10, 2014
By Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement for the record. LIRS welcomes many aspects of the President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions and finds that they reflect the American values of justice and mark an important step towards a more humane immigration system. It is our hope that the President’s demonstrated leadership will lead to Congressional action to rebuild an immigration system that maintains our proud legacy as a nation of welcome and refuge.
“Family is the cornerstone of strong communities, and all families belong together regardless of immigration status. In this regard, the President’s actions strengthen our communities, congregations, and our country,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “By ensuring that many families will be able stay together without the constant fear of deportation, the President has not only brought greater hope and security to millions of families but to our nation as a whole.”
As a faith-based organization, LIRS stands for an immigration system that keeps families together, protects children, migrants, refugees and other vulnerable persons, and upholds the American value of justice for all. Several core components of the President’s plan mirror LIRS’s core principles of respect for human dignity and the biblical call to welcome the stranger, including: Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents; The Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; Ending Secure Communities; Recalibrating DHS-wide Immigration Enforcement Priorities; Immigration Court Reform; Enhancing Integration of New Americans; and Expanding Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers for Families. We recognize the need for border security that protects our nation, but believe the President should ensure access to humanitarian protection at our borders and definitively end the arbitrary detention of migrant families that causes both immediate and long-term harm to children and the family structure.
The Creation of Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents
Extending deferred action to these parents will provide much-needed protection for an estimated 4.1 million undocumented adults who have children of any age who are United States citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs), have lived in the United States since January 1, 2010, pass a background check and pay an application fee.
The belief in the unity of family is a core American value and one of LIRS’s guiding principles. Families living together without the constant fear of deportation are more stable and self-sufficient than those split apart or living in fear of forced separation due to one or more family member’s lack of valid immigration status. Without the stress of possible separation, these families can more fully focus on continued contributions to their communities and congregations. Those parents who did not formerly enjoy work authorization can now experience the pride and protections of providing for their families within the safeguards of our workforce.
The Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”)
Expanding the existing DACA program will provide protection from deportation to an estimated 270,000 young people who were brought to this country as children and live in our communities, worship in our churches, and call America home. While the Executive Action does not provide these men, women, and children with a permanent right to stay here, LIRS believes that migrants who have lived in our families and communities since they were children should be free from worry about deportation, free to focus on their studies, attaining skills and contributing to the communities they call home.
Ending Secure Communities
Secure Communities, a deeply flawed program, led to mistrust among law enforcement and local communities resulting in diminished safety for everyone, especially for undocumented victims of crime who grew afraid to seek police help or cooperate with law enforcement. Statistics demonstrated that Secure Communities did not target the most serious offenders for immigration enforcement activities. In fact, the vast majority of people identified as a result of Secure Communities were arrested for less serious crimes, including traffic offenses. The new “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP) seeks to identify deportable individuals in law enforcement custody, but is designed to lead to immigration enforcement actions against only those individuals who pose a threat to our communities and includes accountability and transparency measures.
We are pleased the PEP program seeks to address many of the faults of Secure Communities. We hope that by discontinuing Secure Communities, immigrant communities need no longer fear deportation as a result of seeking help from law enforcement agencies. The elimination of Secure Communities and the creation of PEP signals a broader shift towards more careful and just enforcement of immigration laws that we applaud.
Recalibrating DHS-wide Immigration Enforcement Priorities
LIRS applauds prioritization by the Department of Homeland Security to focus resources more fully on those individuals who actually pose a risk to the safety of our community and away from contributing members of our families, communities, and congregations. New guidance directs resources to national security, public safety, and border security threats. It also instructs immigration officials to consider positive equities in making enforcement decisions.
DHS officers and agents are instructed to exercise prosecutorial discretion broadly and at various points. Discretion should be utilized in decisions to: initiate removal proceedings; apprehend, detain, and release; appeal immigration court rulings; and make decisions to effect a deportation.
Unless they are subject to mandatory detention requirements under current immigration law, vulnerable individuals (serious physical or mental illness, disabled, elderly, pregnant or nursing, or primary caretakers of children or those not in the public interest) should not be detained under these new priorities.
We are encouraged by the Administration’s plans to tighten its enforcement priorities rather than seeking to detain and deport our friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors who are integral members of our communities. If this latest effort to prioritize enforcement efforts is implemented broadly, fairly, and consistently, the government will save valuable resources and avoid the devastating consequences of detention and deportation for migrants and refugees who came to the United States seeking only protection, family unity, or a better future.
Immigration Court Reform
The Department of Justice is announcing a package of immigration court reforms that will address the current backlog of pending cases by working with DHS to more quickly adjudicate cases of individuals who meet new DHS-wide enforcement priorities and close cases of individuals who are low priorities. The Department of Justice will also pursue regulations that adopt best practices for court systems to use limited court hearing time more efficiently.
LIRS is pleased with any action that will increase the justice available to migrants and refugees. We support the government’s steps to more expeditiously adjudicate cases and alleviate the crushing backlogs in immigration courts. For the tens of thousands of men, women, and children in immigration detention each day, delays in court dockets mean additional loss of liberty. For those who came here seeking protection from persecution, adjudication may mean the long-awaited ability to reunite with family members currently waiting in danger abroad. Further, wiser allocation of judicial resources is sure to improve immigration court procedures and adjudications.
Enhancing Integration of New Americans
LIRS welcomes the Administration’s deepened support for integration by creating a federal strategy on immigrant integration. A coherent national approach to integration is badly needed, and will help strengthen both newcomers and receiving communities. Migrants and refugees bring their talents and gifts to our country, yet limited welcome and support can result in lost opportunities. Since 1939 LIRS has worked to ensure that newcomers are connected and contributing members of their adopted communities in the United States. LIRS resettles tens of thousands of refugees into U.S communities each year, and we stand ready to offer useful knowledge for such a national integration effort. The engagement and leadership of migrant and refugee communities will be essential for the success of this effort.
Expanding Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers for Families
Our current immigration laws often lead to harsh and inhumane consequences, such as lengthy separation of spouses from each other and parents from their children. By expanding the current waiver process to some undocumented individuals to seek waivers to immigration bars that otherwise result in forced separation or continued undocumented status, thousands of family members of LPRs can seek to remain united with their family instead of having to choose between immigration status and family unity.
Strategic Border Security
LIRS supports the Administration’s goals of protecting our country from those who wish to do us harm. We are also proud of our nation’s history and reputation as a protector of liberty and provider of justice. We believe that the Administration currently has sufficient enforcement resources directed toward border security.
LIRS encourages the Administration to expand protection measures, such as appointing child welfare professionals at the border to protect migrant children and families, as well as improving screening measures to better identify asylum-seekers in need of protection. The government should also detain only those migrants arriving at our borders who are found through an individual assessment to pose a threat to our national security. The practice of family detention is inhumane and should be ended; effective community-based alternatives to detention should be utilized when necessary.
Such measures will better ensure protection and respect for human rights at the border without sacrificing our national security and will save valuable resources by detaining only those migrants who mean us harm. These changes will move our nation towards one that safely allows for compassion and welcome in balance with upholding our national security.
We look forward to working constructively with the Administration as it implements the policies announced and pursues meaningful protections and policies for those who come to this country seeking refuge. LIRS also believes that Congress must enact bipartisan and compassionate immigration reforms that unite families, protect vulnerable migrants and refugees, provide a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented and integration for new Americans, and fairly and humanely enforce our immigration laws.
For LIRS’s full analysis of the President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions, please see www.lirs.org/executiveaction. For LIRS’s principles for compassionate immigration reform please see https://www.lirs.org/cir/.
If you have any questions about this statement, please contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or BNystrom@lirs.org.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is the national organization established by Lutheran churches in America to serve uprooted people, remains firmly committed to family unity and the humane enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. Rooted in our Lutheran tradition, we welcome the significant steps taken by the Obama Administration that invite our neighbors out of the shadows, bring greater hope and security in the place of fear and stabilize the lives of millions of immigrants living in the United States.