Punishment of Immigrants Is Not the Answer

Senate Bill 744, the immigration reform bill currently being “marked up” in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is deeply punitive, blaming undocumented immigrants for their presence in the U.S. while ignoring the role of U.S. and regional trade, economic and military policy in forcing millions to migrate. It seeks to blame migrants: “make them pay,” “make them wait in line,” “put up hurdles to citizenship.” The bill’s continued demonization of migrants is antithetical to the Gospel message of love, welcome, and reconciliation.

The bill offers an extended pathway to citizenship (some 13 years) for a limited number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who arrived before 2012. It excludes all those with prior arrests, even due to immigration status alone. This “pathway,” through a “Registered Provisional Immigration Status” would create a long-term underclass of immigrants without access to health care and other means-tested social services. This limited and problematic pathway comes in exchange for the criminalization of all future unauthorized immigrants, who will face a strengthened enforcement system and ongoing detention and deportation. The bill seeks to stop new immigrant flows and criminalize those who come without addressing the reasons that they come.

United Methodist Women is concerned about the particular impact that this bill will have on immigrant women and women whose loved ones migrate to the US.

  • For those seeking a pathway to citizenship, the lengthy provisional status means lack of access to critical reproductive and maternal health services as well as preventive care for their children.
  • The strengthened enforcement model means an ongoing reality of families divided by detention and deportation.
  • The bio-metric card for job-seekers will mean even more vulnerability and exploitation of unauthorized women workers who must find work despite the risks.
  • The limited pathway to citizenship and the criminalization of migrants means continued loss of loved ones crossing the border; continued rape of women making the passage with “coyotes”; continued hesitancy by immigrant women to report domestic abuse for fear of detention or loss of parental rights.

We are reminded that this is not about “them,” it is about “us.” Many in our congregations anxiously await just immigration reform as they seek a pathway to citizenship and seek to reunite their families. Many of our church members currently live in fear, cannot get drivers licenses, are subject to racial profiling and abuse. They are part of our body of faith, they are our neighbors. An anguishing element of the current bill is that some immigrants in the U.S., desperately clinging to hope for legalization, are pitted against other brothers and sisters who will be criminalized in the future as efforts are made to slam the door.

The Christian message is one of love and reconciliation, not punishment and retribution. As Christians we need to raise a prophetic voice at this moment and shift the conversation and the legislation from misplaced blame to the inherent worth and value of every human being.

Carol Barton is the executive of community action for United Methodist Women. 

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