Immigration reform: Will we see it in 2013? That’s the burning question on everyone’s mind this year.
A complicated debate and legislative process lie ahead. Here to decipher the headlines for you every Monday is THE UPDATE, a weekly blog series whose panel of experts will analyze how recent events affect the prospects for real reform. The panelists will offer an insider’s view of what’s happening right now on Capitol Hill, bolstered by their decades of experience with immigration reform and the legislative process.
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Given the most recent developments, are we getting any closer to immigration reform? Here’s what the panelists have to say:
Mary Giovagnoli, Director, Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council
Last week, California passed a range of laws that help to protect immigrants, including allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Almost one-fifth of the undocumented population in the U.S. lives in California, so this new law affects several million people, but it is an overall win for public safety and common sense as well—licensed drivers are more accountable, tend to be safer, and pay insurance, all of which makes the roads safer for everyone. But this is also part of a much bigger effort throughout the country to welcome and embrace immigrants in their community, regardless of status. California isn’t the first state to license undocumented immigrants, but when an idea takes off in California, it is likely to be picked up elsewhere, particularly in a case like this where data about licenses, insurance and accidents can be gathered and used as evidence to promote change in other states. We can also expect states to continue to recognize the practical reality that until Congress finally gets its act together, the day to day problems of undocumented immigrants and mixed status families will have to be resolved at a state level. While states can’t grant undocumented immigrants legal immigration status, they can pass laws on issues like drivers licenses and tuition costs that can be game changers for some families. This is a step forward and a shift in how the country views undocumented immigrants, which makes it a good week for immigration reform, even if Congress is still failing to act.
Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing, Sojourners
Last week hundreds of ecumenical faith leaders from across the country gathered at the Church World Service Immigration Summit in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the two days, we strategized and met with members of Congress and their staff, pressing our policymakers on the urgent need to pass compassionate and common sense immigration reform once the nation’s fiscal issues are resolved. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), together with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), joined faith leaders at a press conference voicing support for comprehensive immigration reform. “If we are going to contribute to the greatness of our country,” said Denham, “immigration is part of that solution. … It [immigration] is an economic driver that will help us to solve our fiscal crisis, but it’s also a moral issue. It’s a personal issue for me because it not only affects my family; it affects all of our families.” The meetings on the Hill were incredibly encouraging. Members and staff listened, shared from the heart, and a few times it seemed that God cut through the political posturing to speak soul to soul. The faith community’s advocacy for just immigration reform has been unwavering. Now it is time for our nation’s decision makers to demonstrate leadership. Congress must overcome the gridlock that has gripped Washington by focusing on real solutions that create opportunity and stability for all.
Bishop Julian Gordy, Immigration Ready Bench, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Last week Members of Congress from both the Democrat and Republican parties addressed the crowd of tens of thousands gathered on the National Mall. That members of both parties were present is evidence that Congress can pass fair and compassionate immigration reform this year. In fact, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Republican Conference, told reporters that “we must pass immigration reform,” which she defined as a priority for Republicans and Democrats. The truth is that immigration reform is not just a political priority, it’s also a very real need for congregations, families, and communities in pain. With that in mind, we still have confidence that compassionate immigration reform legislation will pass.
Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
The strength and persistence of the immigration reform movement has been on full display nationwide. Despite much of the federal government being closed for business due to a lapse in congressionally approved funding, immigration reform supporters held nearly 200 events across 40 states on October 5, and an estimated 15,0000 supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. on October 8. Their message was simple: give immigration reform a vote in the House of Representatives. The signs held by pro-immigration reform marchers on the Mall said it all: “our families cannot wait.” We are cautiously hopeful that Congress will heeds signs large and small and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
THE UPDATE will appear every Monday until the dust settles on the legislative battle over comprehensive immigration reform. If you wish to raise your voice for fair reform, please visit our Action Center. You can also learn more about the issues by reading two interviews with someone personally impacted by America’s broken immigration system, Jessica Colotl. Also, don’t forget that you can subscribe to this blog by adding your email address to the box at the top left of this page!