An Open Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Ten Demands for Fair and Just Immigration Reform
Just 2 weeks ago Eight Senators introduced a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill entitled, 'S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act'. The bill includes some minor improvements to the U.S. immigration system, however it still undermines families, criminalizes immigrants, and excludes countless immigrants from legal future migration. In the coming weeks the Senate Judiciary Committee will be making changes to the proposed bill, and it is important that our communities speak up to ensure our needs are met.

On May 13, 2013 BLACK IMMIGRATION NETWORK is initiating a National Day of Demands along with allied organizations nationwide.  We are demanding that immigration reform be reflective of our collective values and needs. We are demanding that immigration reform be FAIR, JUST & INCLUSIVE. Please sign on to the letter below. This letter will be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the bill's "mark up" period so that they can be sure to include our 10 demands.

Deadline for Sign On is Friday May 10th at 5:00pm PST. Please spread the word widely.

If you agree with these demands, then stand in solidarity with us.
Sign on and let's raise our voices together!

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Patrick J. Leahy (Chairman, D-Vermont), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Chuck Grassley (R- Iowa), Orrin G. Hatch (R – Utah), Dick Durbin (D- Illinois), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Michael S. Lee (R-Utah), Christopher A.Coons (D- Delaware), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)

Dear Senate Judiciary Committee:

The Black Immigration Network (BIN) has initiated this letter to you with the expectation that it will prompt you to correct some glaring flaws in the immigration reform bill that you introduced in the Senate last week.  BIN is a national network largely comprised of organizations led by black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America as well as African Americans.  We are united in support of fair, just and inclusive immigration reform.

We believe that there are some good provisions in the bill—the path to citizenship for many undocumented people, including youth and farm workers, and temporary workers on employment visas; and the eligibility of the families members of green card holders for visas.  However, we believe that the bill does a disservice to millions of people.

Here are our ten amendment recommendations for a fair, just and inclusive immigration bill:

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.

We ask you to consider our recommendation seriously.  The signatories to this letter are members of BIN and allies with whom we work closely.  We will continue to mobilize our communities to support the progressive changes in the Senate bill and to defend the human rights of immigrants, undocumented and documented.


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