Let the Games Begin: Immigration Debate Hits the Senate Floor

After months of negotiations and a heated mark-up by the Judiciary Committee, S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, is finally headed to the floor of the Senate for debate. Yesterday, the Senate voted 84-15 to proceed with consideration of what could be the most comprehensive reform of our immigration system in a generation. Today begins a long three weeks for the Senate, as they start to debate, amend and vote their way through the over-1,000 page bill. So what’s included in this mammoth piece of legislation? Here are some of the key items the RAC is focusing on:

Reuniting Families

This bill includes provisions that prioritize family reunification and contains new merit-based legal channels for loved ones to enter the United States. We are supportive of the elimination of the decades-long backlogs in family visas over the next 8 years as established by the bill. However, we believe that family reunification must be inclusive of all family members and we are thankful that Senator Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment to the bill to extend spousal visas for LGBT couples.

Balanced Approach to Enforcement

It is essential that we help secure our border against illegal immigration and keep America safe; we are fully supporting the provisions in the legislation that would help achieve these goals. This bill addresses enforcing the border with “trigger” provisions (including a plan created by the Secretary of Homeland Security to increase surveillance and build a fence on the southern border and a 90% apprehension rate of undocumented border crossers) that must be met before a pathway to citizenship can be paved for the 11 million undocumented. The RAC continues to express that our border policies must be consistent with American humanitarian values and must not unduly stall the pathway to citizenship. We also believed that national security will be strengthened by increased trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and their communities as undocumented immigrants can begin to come out of the shadows.

Pathway to Citizenship

The pathway to citizenship created by S. 744 creates opportunities for immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows and legalize their status. While we are very supportive of the pathway, we still have concerns over the fact that this proposal would take 13 years. There are also fees and other requirements included that could be prohibitive for low-income immigrants. It is also crucial that, while immigrants are on the long road to citizenship, they are given access to vital social services such as food, housing and health care benefits—unfortunately, this important protection has been excluded from the legislation.

Our tradition is very clear on the treatment of immigrants and our faith demands that we show concern for the stranger in our midst, for we too “were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). It is that history of being the “stranger” that reminds us to be aware of the struggles faced by immigrants today and to remain committed to creating the same opportunities for today’s immigrants that were so valuable to our families generations ago.

As debate begins on this landmark legislation (which you can watch here), take a moment to tell your Senators that you support comprehensive immigration reform. Send them an email or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121. Today’s immigration system is broken and leaves 11 million people vulnerable and in the shadows. We can, and we must, do better. Our American values, and our Jewish values, command it.

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Molly Benoit

About Molly Benoit

Molly Benoit is the RAC Legislative Associate and was a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She is from Palm City, FL, and a member of Temple Beit HaYam.


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