Women's Division Welcomes Gutierrez Bill as Contribution to Debate on Just Immigration Reform
United Methodist Women welcomes Congressman Luis Gutierrez's December 15 immigration reform proposal as an important first step in the upcoming legislative debate, which will be buffeted by election cycles and pressures from anti-immigrant forces in the Congress. United Methodist Women are committed to actively engaging in this debate within the framework of our core values--a human rights framework for developing immigration policy; fostering family unity; protecting the rights of workers; lifting up the particular concerns of women, youth and children; and addressing the root causes of migration.
It is clear that Gutierrez has heard key voices in the immigrant and Labor communities. His bill seeks to address the concerns and needs of families devastated by our current immigration laws. Welcome proposals within this bill include detention system reform, due process around raids, visa backlog reduction for families and employment, promotion of family unity, a visa by lottery system, new paths to legalization, and elements of the DREAM Act and AgJOBS Act. Equally welcome are proposals to strengthen workers' rights and to offer programs that prepare immigrants to become citizens.
However, similar to previous policy approaches in immigration reform, Gutierrez's legislation fails to frame the issue of immigration reform as a matter of human rights and justice. Rather, the bill continues to frame immigration policy in terms of national security and the economic and labor needs of the US. Truly just immigration policy is not possible as long as elected officials and law enforcement agencies fail to recognize the complex issues that drive migration and undocumented immigration.
As part of the global United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women are concerned not only for US citizens and US workers, but also for the rights and needs of peoples around the world. Thus, migration policy that looks only at the "national security" concerns and "prosperity" needs of the US, fails to consider the rights and needs of workers elsewhere. According to the United Methodist policy on global migration, "Attitudes toward migrants are usually conditioned today…by nation-state considerations expressed in the language of 'us' and 'them'—or 'we' the home folks and 'they' the intruder/alien. A beneficent attitude sometimes prevails: 'We' will allow x number of 'them' to come among 'us' provided they acknowledge our generosity and become like us; so long, of course, as they do not threaten our comfort.' In the biblical understanding, it is not about us and them, but about one people of God, called to seek justice and share equitably…Christians do not approach the issue of migration from the perspective of tribe or nation, but from within a faith community of love and welcome…" In reality, core migration issues address the livelihood needs and rights of people around the world. This is the work of United Methodist Women —both at the level of local communities and in terms of national and global policy.
United Methodist Women, a national faith-based women's organization of over 800,000 members, has been actively engaged in an Immigrant and Civil Rights initiative since 2006. In response to this biblical mandate to treat all as neighbor, we welcome migrants into our churches, visit those in detention, provide material aid to communities in the wake of ICE raids, hold vigils at detention centers, call for an end to racial profiling by local police and border patrol, and advocate for just immigration policy. We understand immigrant rights as part of the ongoing civil rights struggle in this country.
Gutierrez' proposed "Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) continues to accept the trade off of legalization for undocumented migrants currently in the US, with increased resources for enforcement, including border patrol and state law enforcement agencies. It would keep raids and the burgeoning detention system in place. It would maintain existing and much-criticized guest-worker programs, while seeking to expand a flawed employment verification system. While the bill makes significant and important efforts to improve these programs, it buys in to the enforcement framework, and falls short of addressing the larger causes of massive migration flows, which will continue despite enforcement efforts, as long as people face crises in their home countries.
This country's current approach to immigration reform rejects the fact that decades of US-backed corporate globalization built on unequal relations between the global North and South have devastated residents of developing nations. These unjust economic and developmental policies have in the majority led to massive unemployment, indebtedness, food scarcity and violent conflict, which have in turn forced massive migration not only from countryside to cities within developed nations, but also from the global South to the North. Given these realities global migration, the movement of peoples, is the direct outcome of unequal historic relations and of recent policies by the world's wealthy nations that have exploited the resources of the world's poorest nations.
Immigration reform that legalizes some immigrants while seeking to keep out future migrant flows through greater walls and policing is short-sighted and doomed to failure. The US undertook such reform in 1996 (IRCA), and millions more migrants still risked their lives to come to the US for the survival of their families, despite massive militarization of the border. Until we address the causes of migration flows—through US debt, trade, military, environmental and development policies, migrants will continue to come at any cost—and will again have to live in the shadows.
The current economic crisis has brought massive unemployment, debt and foreclosures home to the US, and led to increased tensions toward migrant workers as everyone searches for work in an increasing scarce job market. Rather than seeing migrants as a threat to our economic security, we can look to this growing wealth gap both in the US and between North and South. US workers, migrant workers, and workers in the global South are all feeling the effects of a crisis that has reaped huge rewards for a privileged few. For millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, economic uncertainty is added to constant fear of being separated from their families in the name of "homeland security" or political expediency.
The time has come for our elected officials to craft and enact legislation that truly reflects out country's values. Our belief in the sanctity of human rights should guide our approach to immigration reform. We thank Representative Gutierrez for opening the way for us to have that conversation.
Posted: December 28, 2009