120 United Methodist Bishops, Agencies, Organizations Endorse Statement on 'Border Security, Economic Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act'
By Wayne Rhodes, Director of Communications, General Board of Church & Society
120 United Methodist bishops, general agencies and other denomination entities have issued a statement to U.S. senators commending the "Gang of 8" attempt at immigration reform. The statement salutes "this first step towards just and humane reform" and urges the senators to improve the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744).
The so-called "Gang of 8" consists of a bipartisan group of senators: Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Last month they submitted an 844-page plan, S.744, to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.
The United Methodists' statement analyzes the plan, commending some parts and criticizing others: commending providing a pathway to citizenship, for example, and criticizing "unnecessary border and interior enforcement provisions."
"S. 744 includes provisions that will ultimately make this legislation in its current form unworkable and unable to establish an orderly pathway for undocumented immigrants," the statement assesses.
The United Methodists emphasize, however, that they look forward to working closely with the House and Senate to move this legislation through the process and to perfect it so that it will "protect the rights of immigrants, strengthen immigrant families and thus, strengthen our communities."
Eighteen active United Methodist bishops endorsed the statement, along with the General Boards of Church & Society and Global Ministries, and the General Commission on Religion & Race. Other endorsers include Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans (MARCHA), National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, National Justice for Our Neighbors and United Methodist Women.
The statement and its endorsers follow:
A Statement on 'Border Security, Economic Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act'
Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Los Angeles area and Bishop Julius Trimble of Iowa, co-chairs of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, along with United Methodist bishops, agencies and conference groups commend the hard work of Sens. Bennet (D-CO), Durbin (D-IL), Flake (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC), McCain (R-AZ), Menendez (D-NJ), Rubio (R-FL) and Schumer (D-NY) upon the introduction of S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act. We look forward to working alongside these leaders and the rest of Congress to amend, improve, and enact this legislation. It is long past due that we address our broken immigration system.
United Methodists have long advocated for just and humane immigration reform that includes a pathway to full citizenship with minimal obstacles so that the pathway can be open to all undocumented immigrants and so that the pathway can be effective, orderly, and humane. As United Methodists, we believe
- that strong communities can only be built through strong families,
- that at the center of any effective reform will be a strong family immigration system,
- that strengthening the family immigration system can be accomplished through clearing the lengthy backlog for family members, as well as reinforcing current family categories and reuniting members of same-sex families, and
- that all workers must have their rights upheld and that basic civil and human rights must be secured for all immigrants.
While there is much to amend in S. 744, we commend the Senators for including a pathway to citizenship that allows individuals who qualify for the pathway to be able to include their spouse and children under 21 years of age so that families can go through this process together. We support provisions which allow for individuals who have been in the United States with Temporary Protective Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or another legal status for more than ten years to immediately apply for LPR status and apply for citizenship after three years. The Senate proposal rightly grants a shortened process for DREAM Act-eligible students and agricultural workers, where they would be able to apply for Legal Permanent Resident status after only five years under the Registered Provisional Immigrant status, and then immediately apply for citizenship. We believe this "shortened process" should be the model for all individuals who qualify for a pathway to citizenship.
In addition, we applaud the provisions which strengthen family unity, especially the elimination of the family backlog over a period of ten years through expediting the processing of current applications. Other important protections found in S. 744 include:
- Increasing the per-country caps that have helped maintain such long wait-times for family members,
- Categorizing spouses and children of green card holders as "immediate relatives,"
- Adjudicating visa applications of a qualifying relative who died before the completion of the of the visa processing as if the death had not occurred,
- Giving greater discretion for immigration judges and the Department of Homeland
Security to take into account individual cases involving hardship.
However, S. 744 includes provisions that will ultimately make this legislation in its current form unworkable and unable to establish an orderly pathway for undocumented immigrants. In regards to the family immigration system, we strongly oppose eliminating the siblings category, placing a cap on children over the age of 30, and excluding the members of same-sex families. The creation of a merit-based system that favors advanced degrees and employment rather than family neglects the importance that family unity plays as a significant reason for migration.
Making the pathway to citizenship contingent on border and interior enforcement triggers is punitive and unnecessary. To achieve a 90% effectiveness rate in apprehensions and returns, as dictated in the legislation, could very well result in greater arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants. By mandating that the entire visa backlog be cleared, the problematic e-verify system be fully operational, and even greater militarization of the southern border through fencing - triple layers in some areas - drones, and additional border patrol agents - including the National Guard - all but ensures a lengthy and possibly endless pathway to citizenship. This is unacceptable.
One of the programs that is dramatically expanded through S. 744 is called "Operation Streamline." Operation Streamline began in 2005 in order to prosecute undocumented immigrants, funneling them in large groups through the criminal justice system. Individual due process is sacrificed for the efficiency of herding large groups of immigrants through the system. This is seen in the fact that five of the nation's 94 federal court districts now handle 41 percent of all federal cases. Since Operation Streamline began, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating immigrants in the federal prison system for unauthorized entry. Much of this $5.5 billion has been channeled to private prison corporations to house immigrants who go through Operation Streamline. Thus, it stands to reason that private for-profit prisons will benefit tremendously from further expansion of Operation Streamline. Private prison corporations maintain their access to influencing such policies through donating large campaign contributions to members of Congress.
The cost of these unnecessary border and interior enforcement provisions is an enormous $4.5 billion. This is in addition to the $18 billion spent in 2012 alone, even though DHS Secretary Napolitano has testified that the border is more secure than it has ever been. The enormity of the cost of the Senate proposal is seen when we take into account the recent budget cuts that came into effect due to sequestration. The budget cuts include almost $350 million for educating our children through Head Start, cutting over $28 million for K-12 education for the disadvantaged, and denying over 600,000 recipients from participating in the Women, Infants and Children program. Spending such massive sums of money for border security, a function which is questionable in its efficacy, while at the same time cutting necessary programs that benefit people in real need is simply immoral. Therefore, we urge Congress to drastically cut the funding for border militarization to only the essentials.
Particularly problematic is the long wait for those individuals who qualify for Registered Provisional Status and then, after ten or more years, apply to become Legal Permanent Residents. During this lengthy period of having RPI status, individuals will have no access to health care or other important services. In addition, we oppose the rigid criteria put into place in this proposal that denies the pathway to those individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors or an aggravated felony. We advocate for waivers to be available for those whose past violations would have been misdemeanors but were unfairly counted as aggravated felonies solely because they were not U.S. citizens. We believe there should be greater leniency given for those individuals whose misdemeanors were committed in areas in the country where there has been evidence of racial profiling on the part of law enforcement. Punitive public policy is usually ineffective public policy. We urge major changes to make the process considerably shorter and without the onerous obstacles that stand in the way for those who are part of our congregations and communities.
We urge the Senate to continue to amend and improve S. 744 and we celebrate this first step towards just and humane reform. United Methodist congregations throughout the United States have been welcoming places for immigrants and are ready to walk the many steps ahead to achieve justice for our immigrant sisters and brothers. We look forward to working closely with the House and Senate to move this legislation forward through the process and to perfect it so that it will protect the rights of immigrants, strengthen immigrant families and thus, strengthen our communities.
Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., California-Nevada Area
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Los Angeles Area
Bishop James E. Dorff, Southwest Texas Area
Bishop Sally Dyck, Chicago Area
Bishop Grant Hagiya, Greater Northwest Area
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area
Bishop Peggy Johnson, Philadelphia Area
Bishop Scott J. Jones, Great Plains Area
Bishop Deborah L. Kiesey, Michigan Area
Bishop Paul L. Leeland, Alabama-West Florida Area
Bishop Mike Lowry, Ft. Worth Area
Bishop Marcus Matthews, Washington Area
Bishop Martin D. McLee, New York Area
Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, West Ohio Area
Bishop John R. Schol, New Jersey Area
Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, Mountain Sky Area
Bishop Julius Trimble, Iowa Area
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Raleigh Area
Bishop Elias Galvan, Retired
Bishop William Boyd Grove, Retired
Bishop Al Gwinn, Retired
Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan, Retired
Bishop Charlene Payne Kammerer, Retired
Bishop Linda Lee, Retired
Bishop William B. Lewis, Retired
Bishop Ernest S. Lyght, Retired
Bishop Joel N. Martinez, Retired
Bishop Lawrence McCleskey, Retired
Bishop Calvin D. McConnell, Retired
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, Retired
Bishop Susan Morrison, Retired
Bishop Albert "Fritz" Mutti, Retired
Bishop Donald Ott, Retired
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Retired
Bishop Ann B. Sherer-Simpson, Retired
Bishop Beverly Shamana, Retired
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, Retired
Bishop Forrest C. Stith, Retired
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Retired
Bishop Peter D. Weaver, Retired
Bishop Joe A. Wilson, Retired
Bishop Joseph Yeakel, Retired
Black Methodists for Church Renewal
Claremont School of Theology
General Board of Church and Society
General Board of Global Ministries
General Commission on Religion and Race
MARCHA - Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans
Methodist Federation for Social Action
National Federation of Asian American United Methodists
National Justice for Our Neighbors
National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries
Pacific Islander National Caucus
United Methodist Women
Arkansas Conference Rapid Response Team
Arkansas Conference United Methodist Women
Baltimore-Washington Conference United Methodist Women
California-Nevada Conference United Methodist Women
California-Pacific Conference Immigration Task Force
California-Pacific United Methodist Women
Central Texas Conference Rapid Response Team
Central Texas Conference United Methodist Women
Desert Southwest Immigration Task Force
Detroit Conference Board of Church and Society
Detroit Conference United Methodist Women
East Ohio Conference United Methodist Women
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Church and Society Work Team
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Rapid Response Team
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference United Methodist Women
Florida Conference United Methodist Women
Greater New Jersey Conference United Methodist Women
Holston Conference Outreach/Advocacy Ministry Team
Illinois Great Rivers Conference United Methodist Women
Iowa Conference Immigration Task Force
Iowa Conference United Methodist Women
Justice For Our Neighbors, Arkansas Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Baltimore-Washington Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Bay Area Immigration Task Force
Justice For Our Neighbors, Florida Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Iowa Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Nebraska Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, New England Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, New York Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, North-Central Texas Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Northern Illinois Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Southeast Michigan
Justice For Our Neighbors, Southwest Texas Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, Tennessee Conference
Justice For Our Neighbors, West Michigan Conference
Kentucky Conference United Methodist Women
Memphis Conference United Methodist Women
Minnesota Conference Task Force on Immigration
Missouri Conference United Methodist Women
Nebraska Conference Risk-Taking Mission and Justice Ministries Team
Nebraska Conference Rapid Response Team
New England Conference United Methodist Women
New Mexico Conference United Methodist Women
New York Conference Immigration Task Force
New York Conference United Methodist Women
North Alabama Conference United Methodist Women
North Georgia Conference United Methodist Women
North and South Georgia Immigration Task Force
North Texas Conference Rapid Response Team
North Texas Conference United Methodist Women
Northern Illinois United Methodist Women
Oregon/Idaho Conference United Methodist Women
Pacific Northwest Conference Task Force on Immigration
Rio Grande Conference United Methodist Women
Rocky Mountain Immigration Resource Leadership Team
Rocky Mountain United Methodist Women
South Carolina Conference Rapid Response and Refugee and Immigrant Ministries Team
Susquehanna Conference United Methodist Women
Texas Conference Immigration Task Force
Texas Conference United Methodist Women
Upper New York Conference United Methodist Women
Welcoming Immigrants Network
West Ohio Let Justice Roll Lead Team
West Ohio Conference United Methodist Women
Wisconsin Conference Immigration Task Force