HIAS Pennsylvania Welcomes Proposed Immigration Reform Legislation: A Historic Bill Which Must be Improved

HIAS Pennsylvania welcomes the Senate’s introduction of bipartisan legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system. The newly introduced legislation makes serious strides towards returning fairness and justice to a system that has for many years been undermining the fabric of our nation. 

The Senate legislation, introduced by the bi-partisan “Gang of 8” Senators takes the necessary step of allowing the 11 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows. No real attempt to address our failed immigration system can fail to address this issue in a humane and just way that not only benefits families but contributes to the nation’s economic growth and stability.

Despite the numerous advances presented by this bill there remain important areas of concern which Congress must consider in the coming debate which HIAS Pennsylvania hopes will be one that is honest and respectful.

The Senate bill conditions the path toward citizenship for 11 million immigrants on increased spending for border security. Our borders have never been more militarized and throwing billions of more dollars towards this will not address future immigration flows, something that only a forward thinking immigration bill can do. The path to citizenship under the Senate bill will take at least 13 years. The cost of applying for permanent residency is over $2000 per applicant. This process is unduly long and costly and will create insurmountable hurdles for many applicants. HIAS Pennsylvania joins other advocates in urging that immigrants be eligible for citizenship after 7 years.

The legislation makes other important and positive changes. It removes the arbitrary one-year filing deadline for asylum applicants, which continues to cause untold hardship to individuals seeking safety in the United States. The bill also provides access to vulnerable populations including unaccompanied minors. However, the bill eliminates certain family categories and the diversity lottery in favor of a merits based system. The actual implementation of such a system is unclear and there is a danger it will impact on the diversity of immigrants able to legally emigrate. HIAS Pennsylvania is also disappointed that the legislation fails to include LGBT families.

Finally, the bill denies access to affordable health coverage for those waiting for citizenship because they would be barred from the subsidized health programs, including the subsidized health care exchanges available under the Affordable Care Act. While immigrants will be working and paying taxes, they will be unable to access health insurance within their means. This is the very problem the Affordable Care Act sought to solve. 

The Senate bill provides the clients that HIAS Pennsylvania works with on a daily basis with a ray of hope.  We will work closely with our allies and supporters to ensure that the ultimate legislation is in line with our American and Jewish values. 


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