GOP Releases Immigration Reform Standards
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner and his House Republican colleagues released their long-anticipated “Standards for Immigration Reform.” Since declining to take up the bipartisan Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill last year or its House counterpart, the House leadership has insisted upon a step-by-step approach to immigration reform.
As Reform Jews, we believe that immigration reform should ideally be comprehensive; nonetheless, like other Jewish groups and other faith supporters of immigration reform, we appreciate that the leadership of the House of Representatives is engaging on this vital issue. But we remain concerned that these “Standards” exclude a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of American communities.
The plan begins by acknowledging that our current immigration system is broken, an important first step. But how do these standards compare with our aspirations for immigration reform, as Reform Jews?
House leadership first hopes to tackle security issues, including increasing border security, implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system and an electronic employment verification system. As Reform Jews, we agree that effective border security is important, but we oppose enforcement-only legislation and believe border security provisions should be a part of a broader comprehensive immigration policy.
This plan also calls for the expansion of visas for highly-skilled workers, while creating a temporary worker program to “address the economic needs of the country.” Of concern, the “Standards” cite an objection to the current family-based immigration system, preferring instead an employment-based system. We strongly support efforts to unite families—broken families are one of the key reasons our immigration system is broken. We also support temporary worker visas and other visa program expansions to increase the opportunities for people to work in the United States.
Next, the principles would create a special path to citizenship for some youth brought to this country as children, known as DREAMers. This is essential to any reform of our immigration system, as millions of those living illegally in this country know no country but America.
For others living illegally in the U.S., a path to citizenship would be far more stringent, and in many cases unattainable. In order to avoid living in constant fear of deportation, these individuals would have to admit culpability and meet certain economic thresholds—paying significant fines and be without access to public benefits—before gaining legal status. Even then, that status would entail no direct path to citizenship. We believe that reform legislation should include an earned pathway to citizenship that reflects fair eligibility standards.
While the “Standards” remain ambiguous as to the exact path to legalization, we hope that any legislation will better reflect fair and compassionate eligibility standards. As Rabbi Saperstein wrote in a recent op-ed he coauthored in The Hill, “Legislation that would grant temporary status but deny individuals a timely, realistic opportunity to obtain a green card and apply for citizenship is simply bad policy.”
The House Standards are short—just a page long. As they are fleshed out into legislative proposals, each will be worth evaluating on its own merits. The fact that House leadership has chosen to engage on this critical issue is an important sign. We now must hope that the House will consider immigration reform—in a way that solves our economic and national security problems, while remaining fair to the millions of undocumented Americans living in our communities.