CWS Strongly Opposes Border Security and Immigration Reform Act

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As a 72-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 22 refugee resettlement offices across the country, Church World Service (CWS) urges all Members of Congress to oppose the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act (H.R.___). Congress should instead support H.R.3440, the Dream Act of 2017, or another bipartisan legislative solution that offers a pathway to citizenship for as many dreamers as possible without compromising family unity or undercutting other immigrant populations.

This bill does nothing to end family separation, yet exacerbates the child welfare crisis at the border. So long as the administration chooses to prosecute 100% of parents, their children will still be taken away. This practice is traumatizing and diametrically opposed to our faith traditions. When parents are arrested, taken to court, in some cases sent to federal prison, their children cannot go with them. Children will still be separated, and it is unclear whether they will ever reunite with their parents.

This bill ties dreamer protections with harmful immigration enforcement provisions. This bill offers only limited legal protection to DACA-eligible individuals and holds dreamers hostage to immoral border funding. Pathway to citizenship is available after twenty years only to a narrow group of dreamers who meet an untested, commodifying points system. The pathway to citizenship is eliminated if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses the border funding for other purposes. Dreamers deserve a real permanent solution that treats dreamers with the dignity they deserve, such as the Dream Act, which has broad support from the faith community, state and local elected leaders, business leaders, and faith and secular educators.

This bill harms families and keeps children in detention for longer periods of time. This bill eliminates the minimum standards of custody and allows children to be held in jail-like hardened conditions without basic standards for their care or wellbeing. Many families would remain separated under this bill, as it does not require that families and children be placed together. The bill also terminates special protections for children in jail including suitable living conditions, routine medical care and emergency health services, recreation time, and counseling services necessary for the healthy development of any child. The bill prohibits any government funding for counsel for children. Long-term detention of children and parents is not the solution to the trauma caused by family separation. There are cost-efficient alternatives that have proven effective, such as the Family Case Management Program that this administration terminated and allowed families to be released together with a 99% success rate of court attendance and monitored by caseworkers.

This bill eliminates protections for unaccompanied children. This bill eliminates existing legal protections in the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) that requires unaccompanied children to be referred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). ORR is in the best position to provide due process, legal representation, and child-appropriate services for unaccompanied children as they navigate the complex immigration process in order to accurately determine if they are eligible for protection. Weakening protections increase vulnerabilities for trafficking victims and allows the administration to deport children back to exploitation and abuse more quickly.

This bill curtails protections for asylum seekers. This bill heightens the “credible fear” standard and evidentiary burden of proof, halving the number of asylum seekers who could articulate a genuine fear of persecution and deporting them without the chance to collect evidence or present witnesses before a judge. The United States already has a rigid system for applying for asylum to safeguard U.S. national security. Arriving asylum seekers are subject to mandatory biographic and biometric checks reviewed against various federal databases by well-trained fraud detection officers. Asylum seekers are often placed in immigration detention pending a determination by an asylum officer regarding whether they have a credible fear of persecution. DHS already denies protection to many asylum seekers who are fleeing brutal regimes and violent persecution. Barriers to protection are unnecessary and dangerously impede our obligations to protect bona fide asylum seekers under international and domestic immigration law.

This bill violates the sanctity of family unity by drastically cutting family-based visas, which are already restricted to spouses, children, parents, and siblings of U.S. citizens and only spouses and children of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs). Already, backlogs of family visas can be as long as 23 years. This bill would eliminate green cards for married adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens, and terminates the Diversity Visa program. Being able to see your family members, hold your children, and live with your family are the most basic of family values. The family structure is the foundation of our congregations, communities, and civic entities. We know that when families are in the U.S. together, they invest in the U.S. To prevent family unification would not only devastate individual’s lives, it would turn our backs as a nation to our collective future and invalidate our claim to prioritize family values.

This bill funds $23 billion for a wasteful and redundant border wall without additional oversight and grows the deportation force by 50,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Border Patrol has operated with impunity for years, with more than 50 people having died in encounters with CBP agents, and CBP agents having been implicated in more than  35 cases of sexual misconduct between  2012 and 2014, a rate much higher than other law enforcement agencies. Border Patrol agents recently killed 20- year-old Claudia Gómez Gónzalez, a Guatemalan women crossing the border by shooting her in the head, with little accountability. This bill also allows immigration officers to label young people as gang members little to no evidence, and mandates compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers despite profound constitutional concerns and civil liability. Throwing more resources at an irresponsible agency is fiscally wasteful and causes long-term damage to our country immigration policies.

As communities of faith, we are united by principles of compassion, stewardship, and justice. CWS urges all Members of Congress to reject the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act and instead pursue immigration policies that treat our neighbors with the dignity and respect all people deserve.