Authored by: The Rev. Deacon Clelia P. Garrity, LCSW
Immigration is one of the most divisive political issues of our time. Immigration law and policy in the United States are comprised of a long series of acts of Congress initially instituted as long ago as 1798. With the acts of 1875 and 1882, Congress made a permanent commitment to the principle of federal regulations and responsibility for immigration.
In 1917, lawmakers enacted short-lived legislation that required a literacy test for immigrants over 16 years of age and banned those from what was called the Asiatic Barred Zone.
A 1924 immigration law known as the Johnson-Reed Act imposed a quota system based on national origin. In an interview in The Atlantic published in 2017, Dr. Alan Kraut, a history professor at American University in Washington, D.C. said "The fundamental principle of the Johnson-Reed Act was the principle of exclusion. And the target of exclusion was intended to be the poor workers who were trying to escape their own society for economic opportunity."
Years later, responding to pressure to reform immigration policy, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. This law ended the quota system, prioritized close relatives of immigrants already in the United States, and ultimately altered the country's demographic makeup, by further opening it up to immigrants of all nations. By ending a system of racial discrimination among immigrants, the law reversed a decades-long decline in immigration levels and opened the door to Asian, Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern immigration at a scale never seen before.
Over the last 100 years, myriad new restrictions on immigration have been justified and enacted as critical in order to safeguard national security and the U.S. economy. The current administration has used these arguments, and now the current coronavirus Covid 19 pandemic, in promoting their agenda. They have introduced numerous legislative bills designed to severely limit legal, and indeed now halt, immigration.
In her recent book, "One Mighty and Irresistible Tide," Jia Lynn Yang writes, “I would argue that the story of these political reformers is one of the best ways to understand how the United States tried to establish its national identity in the twentieth century as they wrestled with questions that still dog us today: Is our Americaness based on being a member of a certain race, or does it entail a set of values that transcend our ethnic origins? To what extent is our democracy bound by moral obligations to people beyond U.S. borders? What does it mean to assimilate and become an American citizen?" (One Mighty and Irresistible Tide. Yang, Jia Lynn. W.W. Norton Co., 2020. p.6)
The Episcopal Church has long articulated a position that seeks to ensure the development of policies that treat all people with dignity, compassion, and welcome. The Episcopal Church also provides support through direct services, advocacy, and education.
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), one key ministry of the Church, resettles refugees in 13 cities across the country, convenes ministry networks on detention and asylum, and offers educational webinars and resources to deepen Episcopalians’ understanding of immigration issues.
The work of EMM is critical if we are to re-establish an immigration program that provides sanctuary and opportunity to those who are legitimately seeking asylum. Please consider signing up for their Action Alerts. https://episcopalmigrationministries.org/
CURRENT EMM INITIATIVES INCLUDE:
On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration’s 2017 attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was illegal. The Court decision found the attempt to rescind the program did not follow proper procedure in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and was “arbitrary and capricious.” The Supreme Court decision restores the DACA program, allowing for both first-time DACA applications and renewal applications for DACA recipients. On July 28 the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will defy both the Supreme Court’s decision and that of a federal judge and continue refusing new DACA applications, cut DACA renewals from two years to one, and decline to reinstate advance parole.
Through official policy from General Convention, the Church advocates for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. In particular, the Church highlights the role of those who are DACA recipients with established roots in the United States. DACA recipients are Episcopal clergy and parishioners, they are healthcare workers and parents and neighbors. We urge Congress to offer DACA recipients a way to have protections to stay in the U.S. legally and ultimately, a pathway to citizenship.
Action: Read The Episcopal Church Encourages Support of the Dream Act
Action Alert: Support Protection of Dreamers!
Episcopal Action on DACA: This webinar highlighted Episcopal Action on DACA week. A recording of the webinar is available here.
On June 15, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new rule, “Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review.” The proposed rule is one among many actions that have been aimed at severely restricting access to asylum in the U.S., putting the world’s most vulnerable in further danger. These changes to established pathways to protection are a violation of domestic and international human rights law. The Episcopal Church submitted a comment opposing the proposed rule and calling for the legal right to asylum to be upheld.
Take Action: Defend Access to Asylum
Episcopal Action on Asylum: This webinar highlighted Episcopal Action on Asylum week. A recording of the webinar is available here.
The Episcopal Church has longstanding policy calling for an end to the inhumane and unjust detention and separation of children and families. As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, with over 4 million verified cases, detention centers continue to unnecessarily expose vulnerable children and families to disease. Public health guidance to socially distance, wear personal protective equipment, and keep areas sanitized is not possible in crowded detention centers. Quality healthcare is not accessible for medically vulnerable detainees exposed to COVID-19. The latest data provided from ICE reveals over 2,700 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Recent court decisions have created an impossible situation for the parents of detained immigrant children. A federal judge in California required ICE to release the roughly 120 children in U.S. immigration custody by Monday, July 27. Last Wednesday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. decided to deny a motion to release all detained immigrant parents and children together. Now, detained parents must decide whether to keep their children with them in detention, or to release them out to sponsors. Some advocates are referring to this situation as “Family Separation 2.0.”
Action: Read The Dangers of Detention During COVID-19. Call your legislator and tell them you oppose family detention!
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES FUNDING
Back in May, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) warned Congress that they faced a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Due to this budgetary gap, the agency had planned to furlough nearly two-thirds of its 20,000 strong work force. However, in July, the agency decided to postpone this furlough for one month, while continuing to press Congress for supplemental funding to fill the budget gap. As of August 3, there are no signs that Congress intends to include the supplemental appropriation regarding the coronavirus in the next round of legislation.
Meanwhile, the administration has moved to substantially increase the fees charged to immigrants and businesses that fund USCIS. This includes, for the first time ever, charging those who apply for asylum protections. Raising these fees will make it more difficult for new Americans to obtain citizenship.
On July 29, a federal judge in New York recently enjoined the administration’s new “Public Charge” rule. Public Charge is a long-standing principle of U.S. immigration law that gives immigration officers the power to deny green cards and visas to persons whom they deem likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future. Since the 1990s, Public Charge only applied to direct cash benefits like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. With the new Trump administration rule, most forms of in-kind assistance would also apply, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Section 8 Housing. The judge cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for his decision to enjoin the new rule.