Nearly 100 organizations and networks nationwide agree that the following demands must be met in immigration reform:
1) The categories of family members that are eligible for visas should be expanded not contracted. The bill makes a major shift from family-based immigration to a “merit-based” system. This overturns a precedent of almost 40 years duration. In a country that prides itself on espousing “family values”, it is reprehensible that families are not valued in this bill. The proposed shift treats human beings as economic units whose primary value is as workers, not humans. In addition, to exclude siblings and adult children from seeking family visas means that millions of family members will be permanently separated from one another. Currently 65% of immigrants admitted to this country come on a family visa and 14% on employment visas. Eliminating siblings and adult children would disqualify between 65,000 – 90,000 people a year. We propose not only restoring those family visa categories but expanding eligibility to those families that are headed by same sex couple and family members who are biologically related but nevertheless are an integral part of the family unit. Families come in many configurations and that should be respected.
2) De-link legalization programs from border security. Tying the legalization process to so-called border security benchmarks that are totally unrelated to immigration status is nonsensical. The path to citizenship should not be hampered with unwarranted delays in implementation.
3) Maintain the Diversity Visa program. For many people in African and Caribbean countries, the Diversity Visa Lottery is the only chance of obtaining entry into the United States. The program is for countries that have minimal immigration to the U.S. and ensures that many who would otherwise not qualify are able to migrate. About 30% to 50% of the 50,000 visas each year go to people in African nations. Potential immigrants from African and Caribbean nations and other underrepresented countries should not be excluded from consideration for migration to the U.S.
4) Extend the path to citizenship to other immigrants on temporary statuses. More than 300,000 people from Haiti, Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Syria have a legal status called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to natural disasters or political conflicts in their home countries. For many of them the status has been renewed every 18 months for many years, even decades. Only a fraction of them will qualify for the proposed legalization program. In addition, several thousand Liberians have a status called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which they also have been under for many years. Many people under TPS and DED have established roots in the United States and have raised their families here. It is time to grant these groups of people permanent status and a path to citizenship.
5) Shorten the length of time to reach citizenship and extend the eligibility date. A 13-year process is unduly long and burdens families with uncertainty and anxiety. We believe that it will also discourage many people from applying for the program. We believe that a five-year process is a fair period of time. We believe that the December 31, 2011 for eligibility should be extended to the date of enactment of the legislation. Your proposed date is arbitrary, while our proposed date means that the maximum number of people can qualify.
6) Stop inhumane enforcement programs and activities. The militarization of our southern border has already cost billions of dollars and the bill proposes another $5.5 billion. We oppose increased military presence on the U.S.-Mexico Border and other ports of entry. What has been spent to date has meant thousands of migrants dying in the desert and the daily violations of human rights in border communities. We also call for an end to programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) that allow local law enforcement to act as immigration police and discourage our communities from cooperating with local law enforcement when crimes are committed. We oppose mandatory prosecutions of undocumented immigrants and detention bed quotas. We also demand that the bill’s racial profiling prohibition be strengthened, by adding religion and national origin as protected categories and eliminating border and national security loopholes. Unless this is done, immigrants will continue to be criminalized, especially immigrants of color and the false assumption will remain that they are a threat. Fear mongering has dominated the debate and has led to record deportations, the tearing apart of families and the wasting of billions of U.S. tax dollars.
7) People with so-called “criminal” records should not be automatically excluded from the program. We know that this is a controversial point of view but we believe that incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people are human beings that deserve second chances. We know of many cases where immigrants convicted of crimes have come out of prison and are leading productive lives. Furthermore, many of the crimes contained in the category of “aggravated felonies” spelled out in the legislation bear no resemblance to what the average person would consider a serious crime. And the provision that anyone who commits three misdemeanors is ineligible is patently unfair.
8) Dispense with prohibitive costs for filing fees, penalties and back taxes. Millions of low-income immigrants will find it very difficult to finance their path to citizenship, especially those where several members of the family qualify. This is an undue burden for people, many of who have paid taxes for years and whose only “crime” is to cross a border without papers or overstay a visa time period.
9) Eliminate the biometric identification card and the Electronic Verification program (E-verify). These programs are tantamount to a national security state in which everyone is under surveillance and personal liberties and privacy are severely compromised. We should not go down the path of a “Big Brother is Watching” society.
10) Allow all immigrants access to health care and public benefits. Regardless of citizenship or immigration status, all people deserve health care and public benefits for their personal well-being and for the well being of all of our communities.
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