Georgia Faith Leader Letter on Pathway to Citizenship

 

Dear Members of the Georgia House and Senate: 

 

We, the undersigned, a diverse group of faith leaders and heads of faith organizations from Georgia, write to you with moral clarity urging you to SUPPORT the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the FY22 reconciliation package, and OPPOSE any harmful anti-immigrant amendments in the upcoming package and amendments on the floor.

 

 For too long, the pathway to becoming a citizen has been obstructed, despite the many ways immigrants contribute to our society. Specifically, many immigrants have been working in instrumental positions during the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe that supporting a citizenship pathway is a choice that restores dignity and one that benefits our country’s common good. The USA has the ethical responsibility to enact legislation that makes obtaining citizenship clear and just without expanding this country’s detention and deportation system.

 

Based on amendments filed in the budget resolution vote-a-rama in the Senate last month, we anticipate that some members will file amendments that will aim to deny immigrant families a pathway to citizenship and will double down on harmful policies to criminalize immigration in ways that disparately impact Black and brown immigrants and exclude immigrant families from health and safety net programs.

 

Consider that a vote in favor of any anti-immigrant amendments would be a vote against immigrant communities who have been and will continue to be key to the robust economic recovery of Georgia.

 

According to the New American Economy’s Data set immigrants comprise 10.2% of Georgia’s population, contribute $10.8 Billion in taxes, and have the spending power of $29.1 Billion. There are 81,849 immigrant entrepreneurs in Georgia. Supporting immigrants is both good for all of Georgia and it is the ethical response.

 

The possible amendments are cruel and numerous. They must be prevented. With a unified faith voice we decry this harm being inflicted upon our immigrants. We specifically urge you to vote against amendments on the following topics when the bill comes to the floor:

 

Criminalization and Increased Use of Detention: Under the current grounds of removability, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has overwhelming authority to detain individuals on the basis of unlawful presence and/or almost any criminal conviction, even as minor as drug possession or petty theft. Expanding this authority would impose even more draconian penalties on those who have already served out their sentence in the criminal legal system, causing disproportionate harm to Black and brown immigrant communities who are already overpoliced and subject to racial profiling. Amendments that further criminalize immigrants would also be at odds with President Biden’s executive orders to advance equity for all, “including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality”, and to reduce profit-based detention.  There is also ample and established evidence regarding public safety: increasing detentions and deportations through the criminal legal system has been shown to have no positive impact on crime rates or public safety broadly, and in fact, only serves to destabilize families and communities.

 

Anti-farmworker legalization: Our agricultural labor system is broken. At least half of farmworkers are undocumented. A legalization program is desperately needed to stabilize our farmworker families, rural communities and food supply. During the pandemic, farmworkers have demonstrated their value to the food system as the essential workers they are– showing up and putting their own health at risk as they work to ensure our food supply. Please oppose amendments that would undermine farmworker rights or path to immigration status.

 

Anti-Immigrant Copycat Amendments: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pieced together his own shadow immigration policy under an initiative he calls “Operation Lone Star”. This included raising billions of dollars to build a Texas border wall and fencing, issuing an executive order to arrest thousands of immigrants crossing into the country without proper documentation, and threatening to pull the licenses of any shelters that provide care to unaccompanied children, even when U.S. citizen children also receive care. Just last week his effort to criminalize humanitarian organizations, families, and communities that provide transportation to undocumented immigrants was struck down as an unconstitutional violation of the Supremacy Clause because immigration law and policy fall fully within the authority of the President. These policies are rooted in racism and are not limited to immigration; they also spill into the classroom. Members should expect amendments empowering states to criminalize immigrants, their families and communities, and the humanitarian organizations that provide lifesaving assistance. Immigration is a presidential plenary power that the Supreme Court has recognized and protected over centuries. Any amendments that embolden states to criminalize immigrants for their status under state law are unconstitutional, rooted in racism, and a dangerous catalyst for vigilante violence against Black and brown people.

 

Further excluding immigrants from the health care and safety net programs: The pandemic response has taught us that immigrants are essential to the health and well-being of our communities and our nation. Current law nevertheless excludes many of them from numerous programs that their own taxes pay to support. Research has shown that years of policies that target people because of their immigration status have deterred immigrant families, which include millions of U.S. citizen children, from health care and other necessities. While the Trump Administration’s disastrous public charge policy was the latest example, the five-year eligibility bar imposed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) has harmed more families since its enactment a quarter-century ago. These exclusions should be defeated — because they not only harm immigrants but also often lead to unintended consequences that hurt the rest of us.

 

We urge you the Senatorial/House representatives of Georgia to seize this opportunity to advance legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship given the invaluable contributions of immigrants to our economy and communities throughout the pandemic and into recovery.

We urge you to vote no on these or any other anti-immigrant amendments on the floor that would harm immigrant communities and hinder inclusive recovery efforts for all regardless of immigration status. We urge you to stand with immigrant communities and hold firm on the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and essential workers in the reconciliation package.

 

We the undersigned, faith leaders, are concerned about the moral and spiritual health of our country, we ask that you seize this moment to extend the dignity and humanity to immigrants that should be the foundation of our country.

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