A Day of Immigration Reform Efforts on Capitol Hill

Jul 1 A Day of Immigration Reform Efforts on Capitol Hill

Corrine Schmidt

On only my second day of work here at SEARAC, I was sent to spend the day on Capitol Hill to attend two events central to current immigration reform efforts.  The first was the House Judiciary Committee’s mark-up of a newly proposed immigration bill, the SAFE Act, and the second was to attend a briefing entitled “Women Standing Together for Immigration Reform.”

My first task was to attend and take notes at the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee mark-up of H.R. 2278, also known as the SAFE Act.  Introduced by Representative Gowdy, this enforcement-only approach to immigration reform would be detrimental to many of our communities across America.  If enacted, this bill would overturn many of the limited protections for noncitizens that currently exist, require state and local law enforcement to arrest those suspected of being undocumented (likely leading to racial profiling and a loss of public trust in law enforcement officers), and allow states and localities to detain individuals for up to 14 days before transferring them to ICE custody.

Preparation to film and take notes for the Committee on the Judiciary's bill mark-up.

It was therefore not surprising that there were many activists waiting in line with me to enter the chamber to protest the bill.  Security personnel informed those of us waiting in line that we were not allowed to enter the chamber wearing anything that expressed our views on the bill, causing several activists from the organization United We Dream to remove the graduation caps and gowns that they had donned in preparation.  The gowns, however, did not stay off for long.  Once Chairman Goodlatte opened the chamber for discussion, he was interrupted when an entire row of people stood up and began clapping and chanting, “Shame, shame, shame.  More of the same!”  Those standing were escorted out by security (after which they were welcomed by cheers and applause in the hallway) and those who came to watch from United We Dream decided to put on their caps and gowns in support of the protest.   

Activists from United We Dream dressed in graduation robes, representing the hopes and dreams of undocumented youth in America.

Once the session began, it became obvious that there was a clear divide between Republicans and Democrats when it came to arguing the merits of this bill.  While Republicans argued that this bill was the first step in better enforcing current immigration laws, the Democrats emphasized the horrible impact the bill would have on immigrant communities.  It was heartening to hear several of the Republican committee members indicate that they were in favor of eventual comprehensive immigration reform.  However, votes on amendments were cast almost universally by party line. 

In fact, as if the starting bill was not bad enough for immigrant communities, Republicans in the committee passed amendment after amendment to make the bill worse.  These amendments started with an amendment from Chairman Goodlatte to extend the SAFE Act provisions to those who had overstayed visas, to take power away from local courts in overriding detention decisions, and to make being undocumented in the United States a criminal misdemeanor.  This amendment, which passed in the committee due to a Republican majority in votes, would make being undocumented in the United States a criminal offense for the first time. In another passed amendment, a provision was added to nullify important memos relating to undocumented immigrants and deportation, including the President’s 2012 Executive Order that deferred deportation action on immigrants under the age of 31 who had come to the United States as children.

The Judiciary Committee Chamber, as committee members found their way to their seats.

After listening to hours of debate on this bill, I began to realize how much of a fight it will be to get real solutions to immigration reform through the House.  Fortunately, I was able to go straight from the mark-up to a briefing on “Women Standing Together for Immigration Reform,” where I was reminded why this fight is worth continuing.  At this briefing, I heard from two undocumented mothers who shared their stories of why immigration reform is crucial to keeping their families together.  I also learned that it is crucial to consider women’s needs in immigration reform.  For example, because many immigrant women in the United States work in the home in childcare, it is important to make sure that reform provisions recognize the value that home caregivers bring to our country and to offer exemptions from work or study requirements to legal immigration.  To be in a room of people who understood the importance of immigration reform for communities and families was what I needed in order to be reenergized in advocating for comprehensive immigration reform!




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