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United Methodist Women Launches Principles to Immigration Reform

The Principles Call for a "Human Rights First" Approach

By Carol Barton

United Methodist Women offers core principles on immigration reform to guide us in the intense national debate and negotiations ahead.

United Methodist Women welcomes the momentum for national immigration reform this year. This is the moment we have been waiting for, and as women of faith committed to justice, particularly for women, youth and children, we must seize this moment! As a contribution, United Methodist Women offers core principles to guide us in the intense national debate and negotiations ahead.

On Monday January 28 four Republican and four Democratic Senators launched a Bipartisan Framework on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. On January 29 in Las Vegas, President Obama presented a White House roadmap for immigration reform. Both the Senate and White House are committed to immigration reform this year, perhaps as early as June. 

United Methodist Women Working for Immigrant Rights

United Methodist Women has been engaged in an Immigrant and Civil Rights Initiative since 2006, building on our long tradition of welcoming immigrants that dates back to the 19th century. In 2012 we engaged in a spiritual growth study, Immigration and the Bible, by Joan Maruskin. With it we explored how the entire biblical story is one of migration—due to famine, war, family conflict, women’s oppression, religious commitment and more. And we learned of the deep biblical mandate to welcome the migrant and to love one another as God has loved us.

We feel that as Christians it is important to enter from the place of our biblical and moral commitment first. What is our vision of the “kin-dom,” or what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “beloved community,” and how can we encourage our elected leaders to move closer to that ideal?

United Methodist Women joins the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration and the General Board of Church and Society in welcoming the momentum for reform and saluting the White House and Congress for putting immigration reform high on the agenda this year. We echo the core concerns of The United Methodist Church: a real and reasonable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reunification of families and labor rights for both immigrant and citizen workers. 

The Reform We Want to See

We begin the national immigration reform debate with a set of values and principles on what just immigration reform would really look like if we could attain it. The complexity of the coming debate will be in the details and in the political trade-offs that will be made to get a bill passed. We will join with the faith community and with allies in women’s rights, immigrant rights, civil rights and labor organizations to fight hard for the best immigration reform deal. We do not have illusions that our vision is around the corner—it is a long way off. Any legislation in 2013 will become the basis for new rounds of advocacy for fair and just immigration laws and policies.

In the United Methodist Women core principles for immigration reform we outline how we should negotiate and build coalitions (without pitting one group of immigrants against another) and basic principles and then offer details regarding what we want to see included and excluded in a reform bill. The broad principles include:

  • Human rights and security of individuals and communities must come first.
  • Families must remain united and not be torn apart.
  • Equality and due process before the law must be respected for all.
  • The specific realities of immigrant women, in all their diversity, must be explicitly addressed.
  • Racial justice must be explicitly addressed, particularly regarding enforcement policies that have contributed to racial profiling, access to jobs, public services and due process.
  • Immigration policymaking and immigration enforcement is the purview of the federal government and should not be undertaken by states or other jurisdictions.
  • All raids, detention and deportation of migrants should be suspended, instead shifting resources to immigration processing and services for underserved communities. 

A Human Rights Approach to Immigration Reform

We need a new paradigm for the debate that shifts from “enforcement first” to “human rights first.” United Methodist Women is particularly concerned about the immigration enforcement, border control and national security focus of both the Senate and White House plans. The current administration has intensified enforcement, deporting some 400,000 immigrants in 2012 and spending more on immigration enforcement than all other federal criminal law enforcement initiatives combined. The southern border is heavily militarized (now including drones), disrupting communities, leading to racial profiling and dividing families. More enforcement, costing billions of dollars, has not stemmed the flow of immigration to the United Stations. This is both because of policies in home countries and U.S. policies that make migration a necessity and the pull of employers seeking cheap, exploitable labor. No amount of enforcement will stem the flow when the root causes remain unchanged.

The paradigm that insists on criminalizing and deporting migrants—that sees migrants as the primary problem—is fundamentally flawed. Migrants, like our biblical forbearers Joseph heading to Egypt or Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem, must move for survival. We must ask why they face such conditions and such difficult choices, not blame, punish, criminalize and demonize them or make them go to the back of a mythical line for making that choice.

In challenging the current paradigm that criminalizes migrants and pushes more enforcement, we seek justice for both new immigrants and U.S. citizens struggling for racial equality and economic justice. Our approach to the current immigration debate is to reach across communities to build a broad movement that guarantees full rights for all. As the debate proceeds, United Methodist Women will be offering additional tools for these conversations as we seek to live out the Gospel in our complex reality. 

 

Core Principles for U.S. Immigration Reform

We believe immigration laws should be grounded in fundamental civil and human rights and the human dignity of each individual. True reform means establishing a system that values migration, supports family unity, protects the rights of workers, promotes racial justice, ensures the health of our communities, and addresses the root causes of migration while preserving our basic American values. True reform must be oriented to address the injustices created by the broken immigration and criminal justice systems. This includes making these systems accountable to communities. —Reform Enforcement Caucus, December 2012

Principles for How We Negotiate a Deal 

1. We will not sacrifice one community for another—“good” versus “bad” immigrants, “deserving” versus “undeserving,” DREAM students versus their parents, so-called “criminal” immigrants versus “law-abiding” immigrants, straight versus gay families, men versus women, immigrants currently in the United States versus those yet to come.

2. Immigrant communities must not be criminalized or demonized at home, at work, or while seeking work, care and services when interacting with the criminal justice system and going about the business of everyday life.

3. Gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual identity and national status, as they intersect in immigrants’ lives, must be specifically addressed in policy if some immigrants are not to be excluded. The voices of these diverse and integrated constituencies must be part of the policymaking process.

4. Local communities must be directly involved in decision making on immigration policy at the local, state, regional and national levels, including immigration enforcement and border policies.

5. Trade-offs that hurt current or future immigrants are unacceptable. Just immigration reform cannot trade some gains for immigrants currently in the United States for punitive enforcement programs that deny rights for future immigrants, as occurred in 1986. This includes those who did not qualify for legalization in 1986 and continue to live in the United States subject to employer sanctions and other restrictions.

6. The immigration debate must include the context of U.S. global economic, trade, finance, and war policy that has forced millions to migrate to the United States. It is not primarily about individuals “getting right with the law” but about U.S. policies that have undermined livelihoods around the world, forced people to make desperate choices and created laws that criminalize them when they migrate. Policy prescriptions must also consider the U.S. domestic context of racism, criminalization of communities of color, mass incarceration and how the nation integrates new populations as part of the democratic ideal of “We the People.” 

Principles for Just Immigration Reform 

  1. Human rights and security of individuals and communities must come first.
  2. Families must remain united and not be torn apart.
  3. Equality and due process before the law must be respected for all.
  4. The specific realities of immigrant women, in all their diversity, must be explicitly addressed.
  5. Racial justice must be explicitly addressed, particularly regarding enforcement policies that have contributed to racial profiling, access to jobs, public services and due process.
  6. Immigration policymaking and immigration enforcement is the purview of the federal government and should not be undertaken by states or other jurisdictions.
  7. All raids, detention and deportation of migrants should be suspended, instead shifting resources to immigration processing and services for underserved communities. 

What We Want (and Don’t Want) to See in the Legislation

1. Take the immigration debate out of the context of national security and border enforcement. Make human rights, including economic and social rights, the core of new policy. No “enforcement first” or enforcement/legalization trade-off deals. Delink immigration from the so-called “war on terror” that has unjustly targeted Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrant communities in the United States. Stop the use of the “war on drugs” as a pretext to profile, arrest, detain and shuttle primarily black and brown men through the criminal justice system directly to the deportation system.

2. Enable all families to stay together, regardless of immigration status, past criminal convictions of immigrants, family structure or marital status and provide sufficient family-based channels for migration in the future. Streamline the immigration process by expediting visa requests, reassessing current quota systems and ending the need to return to home countries before gaining citizenship. Eliminate harsh obstacles to immigration including high income requirements for immigrant sponsors.

3. End enforcement, detention and deportation programs that violate immigrants’ civil, human and due process rights, compromise immigrant women’s safety, and tear families apart. Create sensible and sufficient legal channels for migration that adequately meet family and employment demands and respect U.S. obligations under international law. While we believe all immigrant detention and deportation should be suspended, in the current context we also specify the need to:

  • End the 287(g) programs, Secure Communities and Criminal Aliens programs that enlist local law enforcement in immigration enforcement.
  • End racial profiling of immigrants by law enforcement.
  • End the use of private prisons in immigration detention.
  • End the indefinite detention of migrants.
  • End mandatory detention and deportation mandates to immigration judges.
  • Restore and expand immigration judges’ ability to use discretion in immigration cases.
  • Eliminate the “aggravated felony” category from the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

4. Create a pathway to citizenship for some 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families that is open, affordable, safe and accessible to all immigrants. The pathway:

  • Should not be so costly and onerous that many cannot avail themselves of the process.
  • Would necessarily include DREAM students and their families.
  • Would end the arbitrary and misleading “aggravated felony” conviction definition and would not limit the ability of migrants with prior “aggravated felony” convictions to regularize their immigration status.
  • Would include immigrant women whose work is in the home and those who are employed in the informal economy.

5. Make labor rights and decent work a central pillar of immigration reform to improve the rights of both U.S. and immigrant workers.

  • End “employer sanctions” that have served to criminalize immigrants while undermining wages for all workers.
  • Reject the “e-verify” program that extends the employer sanctions program, has proved unreliable and maintains a two-tier unequal workforce.
  • Afford immigrants equal employment-based migration opportunities and workplace protections so that they may safely pursue economic opportunity, join unions and support their families with dignity.
  • Limit and phase out “guest-worker” programs. Make any current guest-worker programs, including agricultural jobs, part of a pathway to full citizenship for migrants and their families and not bound to single employers. 

6. End programs that perpetuate violence against women by discouraging reporting to law enforcement. Advance protections for women fleeing state and interpersonal violence and who are the victims of trafficking or exploitation. Ensure that provisions of the Violence Against Women Act apply to all survivors of violence, including immigrant women and men regardless of status.

7. Affirm immigrants’ right to public services and economic supports, including health care, education, legal and social services that promote equality of opportunity. This includes migrant women’s access to shelters and the ability to make decisions regarding reproductive and sexual health and the well-being of the family. Support adequate funding for English as a second language (ESL), citizenship and other classes in support of immigrant communities. As a justice as well as a public health issue, include undocumented immigrants’ access to private health insurance as part of implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

8. End militarization of the U.S. border, both North and South, and costly enforcement policies that damage local communities and tear apart families. Reformed border enforcement should:

  • Include improved port infrastructure, personnel training, community consultation and community accountability in border enforcement.
  • Halt further construction of the costly and largely ineffective border wall with Mexico.
  • Limit the role of law enforcement and the military in border enforcement.
  • End expansion of border enforcement into the interior, particularly practices that target and racially profile immigrants and citizens.
  • End Operation Streamline and the use of Criminal Alien Requirement facilities on the border.
  • Protect asylum seekers/refugees at all airports and borders, including due process rights. 

9. Reassess regional and bilateral trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that have undermined the rights and livelihoods of millions in Mexico and Central America and forced millions to migrate regardless of the costs to lives and families.

10. Ensure that current reform, in any consideration of “future flows” of migrants, guarantees their pathway to citizenship and human rights as well. Currently the limited option for most unskilled immigrant workers is in the temporary framework of guest workers, a model that does not support family unity or a pathway to citizenship for migrant workers and their families.


Carol Barton is executive for community action at United Methodist Women.

Last Updated: 04/07/2014
 
 

© 2014 United Methodist Women