Oct 29, 2013 | By Sister Jessica Brock
“You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19).
These were the opening words of the first reading from yesterday’s liturgy, proclaiming unity and inclusion rather than division and distrust. As these words were proclaimed, new signs of hope emerged in efforts to unify a divided Congress and to include our immigrant brothers and sisters as full members of our society.
Sunday, Congressman Jeff Denham (CA-10) announced that he will cross over the border of party lines to become the first Republican co-sponsor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (“H.R. 15”). This morning, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) joined her fellow Republican in co-sponsoring H.R. 15 – another sign of hope. Their commitment to bipartisan solutions to fixing our broken immigration system is a true sign of leadership. Their witness to the common good and support of H.R. 15 brings us one step closer to comprehensive immigration reform that will benefit the 100%. We are hopeful that more members of Congress will follow their example and co-sponsor H.R. 15, which provides a pathway to citizenship and protects family unity. Update 10/30/13: Representative Valadao, a Catholic member of Congress from California, whose district we visited during NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus for immigration reform, has become the third Republican to co-sponsor H.R. 15. We are so pleased to see him aligning with Catholics across the country to take serious action to promote immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship and protects family unity.
H.R. 15 is the only comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House gaining any traction, and it is one of only a few bills providing solutions to aspiring Americans who are currently in the country and are undocumented. H.R. 15 was introduced by Congressman Joe Garcia (FL-26) on October 2, 2013, and at present it has 187 co-sponsors (185 Democrats, 2 Republicans). H.R. 15 is similar to S. 744, a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate (68-32) on June 27, 2013. The key difference between H.R. 15 and S. 744 is the removal of the Corker-Hoeven (“Border Surge”) amendment from the Senate bill. Instead of the inhumane and expensive border security provisions added to S. 744, H.R. 15 incorporates H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act of 2013. Also known as “the McCaul Bill,” H.R. 1417 is a bipartisan bill unanimously passed by the House Homeland Security Committee in May 2013.
H.R. 15 creates several new immigration categories including Registered Provisional Immigrant (“RPI”) status. RPI status will be offered to undocumented immigrants who have been present in the United States since December 31, 2011, who are admissible to the US under current law, and who meet other requirements. After six years, a person with RPI status could be eligible to renew her RPI status, and after ten years with RPI status, an individual could apply for Legal Permanent Resident status (“green card”). Undocumented individuals who use the RPI track will be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years in LPR status. This means that the pathway to earned citizenship is at least 13 years long for the majority of aspiring Americans. DREAMers will have shorter wait times to apply for Legal Permanent Resident status and citizenship through the RPI track.
We know that a major problem with our current, broken system is that there are visa backlogs that cause people to wait years before being united with their families and loved ones. H.R. 15 addresses visa application backlogs in worker and family application processes, and it works to clear these backlogs within seven years. In addition, it provides the possibility of carrying over unused visa quotas from one year to the next. H.R. 15 also addresses agricultural and other workers (both high- and low-skilled) through other visa programs.
H.R. 15 makes use of various organizations, committees, and reporting devices in most parts of its legislative scope. This means various groups will monitor and dialogue about immigration and border security policies and implementation of those policies over time. This communal and reflective approach offers a greater possibility of respect for the common good in decision-making, a principle of Catholic Social tradition. In contrast, a strict quota system like that proposed by the Corker-Hoeven amendment and other piecemeal legislation does not offer the possibility of responding to dynamic and diverse circumstances with input and oversight from multiple stakeholders. H.R. 15 also specifically addresses the need to help new immigra