As a 67 year old humanitarian organization, Church World Service welcomes newcomers by helping them integrate into their new communities. Our member denominations and refugee resettlement offices know first-hand the impact that our broken immigration system has had on communities. It is from this lens that we approach immigration policy issues, including today’s hearing, “America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws Against Illegal Immigration.”
For decades, the United States has increased border and interior enforcement efforts. Last year alone, the U.S. spent more than $18 billion on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.1 However, border militarization and fence construction, workplace and home invasion raids, utilizing local police to enforce immigration laws, and inhumane detention, coupled with Congress’s failure to enact real solutions, have only further damaged an already broken system.
To truly fix the immigration system, we must recognize and respond to the reasons why this country needs immigrants, and the reasons why people want to immigrate to the United States. There are two key factors that benefit the United States and simultaneously improve the lives of immigrants: family unity and economic opportunity. These are inseparable and co-joined factors that cannot exist without one another.
Immigrant-owned companies contribute more than $775 billion dollars annually to U.S. gross domestic product, creating jobs that are essential to economic growth.2 Family unity is integral to the economic contribution of immigrants, and also key to the function of our immigration system. When families are separated by lengthy visa backlogs, bars to re-entry, and no option to adjust their status, our immigration system, by failing to function in a timely way, incentivizes illegal entry. What mother or father would not go to the ends of the earth – or in this case cross a border – to reunite with their children? Any immigration system that ignores the deep, God-given desire to be united with family renders itself ineffective.
Our current visa system only allows U.S. citizens to sponsor their spouse, children, parents, and siblings; and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) can only sponsor their spouse and children. In addition, visa backlogs can be as long as seven years for a spouse or minor child of LPRs, and as long as 27 years for a sibling of a U.S. citizen. Under these constraints, the notion of ‘chain migration’ is a myth. CWS opposes any attempt to reduce family visas or put them in competition with other visas.
Measures that prevent family unity slow and clog the immigration system and negatively impact the economy. In contrast, family unity spurs integration, as families provide strong foundations for learning English, purchasing a home, pursuing job opportunities, starting a business, preparing children for college, and contributing to communities. When families are together, the money they earn fuels the U.S. economy through taxes, investments, and the purchasing of goods and services.
CWS is committed to working with all members of the House and Senate to enact immigration reform that will keep families together and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Such reform would mark real progress. We need to make our immigration system work better for our economy and for the fabric of our communities – families. We urge all members of the House Judiciary Committee to strive toward this goal.
1 Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. The Migration Policy Institute. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/enforcementpillars.pdf
2 Open for Business. The Partnership for a New American Economy. http://www.renewoureconomy.org/sites/all/themes/pnae/openforbusiness.pdf