Compassionate Reform to Welcome the Stranger

Based on a core principle of Quakerism – that there is that of God in everyone – we are called to encounter one another with love and compassion, regardless of place of birth, religion, or race.

U.S. passport

Christina Felschen

All of us are called to love our neighbors without exception. Generations of immigrants and refugees have made this country great with their ideas, hard work, resilience, and traditions. For many of us, our family members came here seeking opportunity and we should recognize a reflection of that heritage in the immigrants who come to the U.S. now to improve their lives and take care of their families.

We need to integrate immigrants as full participants in our communities and contributors to our economy, and we need a legal immigration system that welcomes and adjusts to the right flow of immigrants each year. U.S. policies on immigration should recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of immigrants, ensuring justice and protection for all.

We call on Congress to enact compassionate and just immigration reform.

We call on Congress to enact compassionate and just immigration reform. Our vision for immigration reform is rooted in our Quaker faith, which calls us to ensure that our laws promote and protect the dignity of each individual. We look for policies that:

Prioritize family unity

Families are the basic unit of strong communities. Unified families bring stability to individual households and strengthen neighborhoods and communities. Family members help one another navigate a new culture, pursue job opportunities, start businesses, and contribute economically, socially, and spiritually to society. Children should not have to live with the fear of their parents being taken away from them at any moment. As we reform our laws to prioritize keeping families together, our communities will grow healthier and stronger.

Backlogs at the government’s visa processing agency and the limited numbers of visas force people to choose between extended separations from loved ones and coming here without obtaining proper documentation, as many do. Reforming the family visa system will allow families to stay together throughout the legal process and reduce the undocumented immigration of family members wishing to unite with their loved ones.

Create a process that leads to legal status and citizenship

We value our friends’ and neighbors’ contributions regardless of their wealth, race, or where they were born. A reformed immigration system should include a pathway to eventual citizenship for all who enter the country legally on immigrant visas. It is not in the interest of the United States as a democracy to design a structure that recognizes something less than citizenship for some of its permanent residents.

Any meaningful reform should also include a fair process that allows existing undocumented immigrants and their families the opportunity to earn lawful permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship. These immigrants came here for work, to be with their families, or to escape conditions in their home countries, but the broken immigration system left them with no practical way to come here legally. By providing a way for them to work toward citizenship, federal, state, and local governments can regulate employment and focus scarce resources on other pressing issues.

Improve access to the legal immigration system

When immigrants are held in prolonged limbo at the hands of the legal immigration system, our communities cannot flourish.

When immigrants are held in prolonged limbo at the hands of the legal immigration system, our communities cannot flourish. We seek naturalization and citizenship procedures that are affordable, accessible, and expedient with respect to due process. Expanding visa availability, increasing the number of ports of entry, allocating resources for more immigration attorneys, and eliminating application backlogs will reduce the undue burden on immigrants traversing the legal immigration system. All immigrants have a right to legal representation, including children. Financial support to state and local governments and community organizations that offer language and civics education, outreach, and immigration legal assistance can empower immigrants to navigate the system.

Once a rational employment-based and family-based immigration system is established, immigrants will be able to enter the country through that legal process, and the need for heightened enforcement measures will diminish.

Protect all workers and reduce exploitation

Migrant workers are an asset to our country, contributing necessary skills and labor for our communities and economy. All workers benefit from the enforcement of health, safety, and wage-and-hour laws, as well as the right to peacefully organize. Employers should be held accountable to abide by labor protections and standards for all workers, regardless of status. Based on the Quaker testimony for Equality, we seek policies that decrease immigrants’ vulnerabilities to exploitation and reduce unfair or discriminatory hiring and firing practices. Citizens and migrants alike have the right to be treated with dignity by their employers.

The federal government should establish a mechanism to determine each year the need for additional workers from outside the United States. These legal avenues should be designed to avoid undercutting wages and job opportunities for people already in the country, and should allow new immigrants to bring their families with them. People who enter on temporary work visas should be able to change employers while they are in the U.S. and should have the opportunity to seek permanent residence status and eventual citizenship counting the time that they have worked in the United States with a temporary work.

Emphasize community safety

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement promotes the safety of the whole community.

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement promotes the safety of the whole community. Immigrants, family members of immigrants, and individuals perceived to be immigrants should not be vulnerable when interacting with police, or fear retribution if they report being victim or witness to a crime.

Immigration is constitutionally a federal matter, to be enforced by federal authorities. Layers of state and local laws only confuse an already overly-complex system, deny civil rights to citizens and non-citizens, and frustrate efforts to find common-sense solutions to fix our broken immigration system. Until there is a major overhaul of the immigration system through congressional reform, hardworking, taxpaying community members will continue to fear retribution from a broken, unjust system.

As we focus on building more inclusive communities, we support local and federal policing reforms that seek to eliminate racial profiling and disproportionate targeting of communities of color. We encourage policies that emphasize effective community policing for the safety of all community members, citizens and non-citizens alike.

Protect human rights in enforcement practices and border policies

As a Quaker lobby in the public interest, we look for federal policies that treat individuals with dignity and integrity. We seek interior enforcement and border policies that reflect these values and protect human life, tribal sovereignty and sacred sites, and environmental standards. Adequate training and continuing education for all law enforcement officials, with a focus on the protection of human and civil rights, are essential to preserving the safety and security of our communities.

Future legislation should prevent and hold Department of Homeland Security, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to account for practices that needlessly threaten lives and separate family members during the deportation process. Measuring success should not be based on the number of apprehensions and deportations carried out. Improving our legal immigration system cannot exclusively rely on unchecked enforcement or further militarization of U.S. border communities.

Ensure prosecutorial and judicial discretion

Maintaining judicial and prosecutorial discretion is a core component of a fair justice system. A one-size-fits-all approach to punishment does not serve our communities and undermines the integrity of our justice system. Many immigrants are long-time residents of U.S. communities; some have old or minor criminal convictions who have since become vital members of their communities. We seek a community where every person’s potential can be fulfilled, and seek to build communities of redemption and wholeness. Sound policy allows for the proper use of prosecutorial and judicial discretion with legal recourse, thus ensuring that immigrants invested in their communities will not be detained or deported from them.

Reform detention policies

Quakers and others who accompany or represent immigrants in detention facilities witness firsthand the toll incarceration takes on those detained, their families, and our communities. We support policies that reduce the use of detention, improve existing detention facility conditions, and promote the use of community-based alternatives to detention instead. Vulnerable individuals, such as children and asylum seekers, should be sheltered in non-restrictive environments and never in detention facilities.

Profit-making has no legitimate place in the criminal justice system; we oppose privatized detention facilities. By working to end the profit motive behind policies that exacerbate mass incarceration, we are better prepared to determine smart, safe, restorative, and just policies.

Protect vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad

The biblical call to “welcome the stranger” leads Quakers to support protection of those who seek refuge within our borders and around the world. All those fleeing conflict and persecution, including human trafficking survivors and other vulnerable populations, deserve the opportunity to pursue safe, productive, and fruitful lives. Strengthening our legal asylum processes and refugee resettlement program is essential to ensure proper protection.

Sheltering and providing for the most vulnerable among us must be upheld in U.S. foreign policies by addressing the perpetuation of the root causes of forced migration. We must ensure that domestic policies do not force individuals to return them to deadly or dangerous conditions or to be handed over to persons who seek to exploit them. All people have the right to migrate, as well as the right to flourish in their home countries.

Facilitate immigrant and refugee integration

Communities are strongest when we welcome and support one another. When provided the assistance they need to rebuild their lives, immigrants and resettled refugees open businesses, revitalize towns, and contribute economically, socially, and spiritually to our communities. Immigrants should have easy access to support systems that allow them to feel part of their community, including having proper access to education, healthcare, emergency services, and social services.

Strive for lasting solutions

We will continue to press Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation that protects the God-given dignity and rights of every human being, including migrants, immigrants, and refugees. As we work toward these real solutions, let us together build a future that values the unity of all families, protects the safety of all communities, and brings people together rather than tearing them apart.

As a matter of our Quaker faith, we are called to act.

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