As faith-based organizations, denominations, congregations, and religious leaders across the United States, we stand united against attempts to scale back legal immigration and place stumbling blocks in front of family reunification. We are deeply troubled by the introduction of the RAISE Act by Senators Cotton (R-AR) and Perdue (R-GA), as it would deny millions the opportunity to reunite with family members and contribute to our shared communities. Such efforts ignore the importance of family unity and deny the essential contributions immigrants make that have allowed our country to thrive, strengthen, and welcome new peoples and cultures.
The RAISE Act would permanently cap refugee admissions at 50,000 per year, the lowest resettlement goal in U.S. history, during the largest global refugee crisis in world history. The average annual resettlement goal between when Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act and today has been 95,000, and the average number of resettled refugees has been 80,000. Turning our backs on the world’s most vulnerable and resilient people, at the very time of the greatest need, flies in the face of our values and contradicts the welcome for refugees we see every day in our congregations and communities.
This legislation would impose dramatic cuts to legal immigration, by various estimates between 50 and 70 percent overall and an 85 percent cut to family-based visas, placing nearly insurmountable hurdles in front of families seeking to reunite. The bill claims to shift our current immigration system towards a merit-based approach, but in reality would reduce visas both for employment and family purposes. Such cuts stand against our faith traditions to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner, and the implementation of these cuts would be devastating to families who are members of our congregations and communities.
Family-based visas are already restricted to spouses, children, parents and siblings of U.S. citizens and spouses and children of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, or “green card holders”). Due to tight numerical restrictions, backlogs average seven years and can be as long as 23 years. When it is impossible to access the legal immigration system in a timely way, people resort to entering the United States however they can, including crossing borders illegally and overstaying visas. The RAISE Act would exacerbate this problem by eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers and sisters and making it nearly impossible for them to sponsor their parents. It would also stop green card holders from sponsoring their children over the age of 18 and make all family-based visas harder to access. The bill would delete more than four million individuals’ applications for eliminated visas, and bar individuals from applying for U.S. citizenship if their families have not reimbursed the government for any expenses incurred. As people of faith, we believe that a parent’s desire to be with their children is real, regardless of age, and that the government should not separate siblings or crush the dreams of those who have waited years and even decades to be reunited with their family members.
The Torah, Quran, and New Testament include many examples of close relationships between adult children and their parents, as well as siblings, demonstrating the importance of a unified family. Many people of faith first learn about the brokenness of the immigration system by witnessing families in their congregations suffer through separation due to visa backlogs, detention, and deportation. America needs, and deserves, an immigration system that prioritizes family unity. We can and must do better than this discriminatory, inhumane bill.
The RAISE Act also eliminates the Diversity Visa, which provides up to 50,000 visas annually for immigrants who do not have access to employment- or family-based visas. Congress established the Diversity Visa in 1990 to encourage and facilitate immigration to the United States from countries with historically low rates of immigration. The program reaches beyond those with family or business ties in the United States and creates a mechanism for racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations to lawfully immigrate that would otherwise not exist. As people of faith, we recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and lift up the diverse contributions they make to our communities. Eliminating the Diversity Visa would only exacerbate the unjust nature of the U.S. immigration system.
Immigration is integral to the growth of our economy, our schools, and our congregations. Today, immigrants and their families are key members of our communities, serving as religious leaders, teachers, business owners, and elected officials. Immigration is also a critical component of building a strong American economy. A 2016 study conducted by 14 prominent economists found that immigrants have no negative effects on the wages and employment of native-born workers. In fact, in the long term, immigrants and their families give billions back to the economy and the government. Furthermore, states across the nation rely on immigrants to grow the industries that allow their communities to thrive. Recent studies have concluded that immigrants are entrepreneurs and business-owners at higher rates than native-born Americans, owning three million businesses, generating more than $65 million a year in income, and employing nearly six million Americans.
As faith-based organizations, denominations, congregations and faith leaders representing millions of constituents across the country, we urge all Members of Congress to reject the RAISE Act, and to instead find real solutions that make our immigration system more accessible and in line with the needs of families and workers. We remember the countless people in Scripture who found homes for themselves and their families in a foreign land. Our faith backgrounds commit us to supporting policy reforms that improve our immigration system and oppose proposals that take us backwards. Together, we stand ready to work with you on immigration reform that strengthens our families, communities, economy, and country.