In the final minutes of a virtual meeting organized by the Iowa City Catholic Worker, U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, agreed with Bishop Thomas Zinkula that the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. During the Feb. 26 meeting, Miller-Meeks placed blame on both Democratic and Republican administrations for failing to fix it. More importantly, she expressed a willingness to work in bipartisan fashion to address it. Bravo! Now, let’s encourage her to support the bipartisan Dream Act of 2021.
Like the persistent widow in Luke’s Gospel who nagged a judge until he rendered a just decision, our broken immigration system is nagging our nation’s conscience to render a just decision on immigration reform. Lawmakers, church leaders and others have been talking about immigration reform for most if not all of the 21st century. Legislation has been proposed and died on the vine numerous times for lack of consensus. Respectful, sincere compromise on both sides of the aisle will build trust and the framework for a new immigration system that benefits our nation and the individuals who make it function.
Opinion contributor Jeremy Robbins, writing Feb. 26 in “The Hill,” said, “Despite being just 13 percent of the population, immigrants make up 37 percent of all home health aides and almost one third of all physicians and psychiatrists. With a very real threat of meat and poultry shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, immigrants filled more than a third of the tough food processing jobs and nearly half of all farm jobs picking fruits and vegetables.” Furthermore, immigrants make up “more than 20 percent of all childcare workers in day care centers.” Robbins says more than “78 percent of immigrants without legal status work in these fields” (https://tinyurl.com/6ksb8vsx).
President Joe Biden introduced an immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, on Jan. 20, the day he took office. The White House website states the proposed legislation “creates an earned path to citizenship for our immigrant neighbors, colleagues, parishioners, community leaders, friends, and loved ones — including Dreamers and the essential workers who have risked their lives to serve and protect American communities” (https://tinyurl.com/zvmpw7bw).
Democrats introduced the bill on Feb. 18. However, given the rigid partisanship in Congress, that bill faces uncertainty. What are the options? What can we do to move immigration reform forward? For starters, we ought to advocate for the Dream Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill that Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced Feb. 4. This legislation, which Durbin first introduced 20 years ago, “would allow immigrant students who were brought here as children and grew up in the United States to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship,” according to the Committee of the Judiciary (https://tinyurl.com/cpbd4ba4).
Durbin’s office released the requirements for “Dreamers” (https://tinyurl.com/b8mvwby2):
• Came to the U.S. as children and are without lawful status;
• Graduate from high school or obtain a GED;
• Pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in the military;
• Pass security and law enforcement background checks and pay a reasonable application fee;
• Demonstrate proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
• Have not committed a felony or other serious crimes and do not pose a threat to our country.
More than 200,000 of these Dreamers are working in essential roles during the pandemic, according to Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress (Feb. 4 statement, https://tinyurl.com/4vbbv88e). Forbes magazine reported, “An overwhelming majority of the public believes that the Dreamer population is an integral part of our country and that they deserve a chance to build their lives here. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) … was a first step in the process of help for these young people, but it was not a permanent solution” (https://tinyurl.com/beuvff23).
“I join my brother bishops from across the United States in requesting that you support comprehensive immigration reform,” Bishop Zinkula said to Miller-Meeks during the virtual meeting.
“Please consider where the Church is at on this. It is a just and fair position. The current system is broken, clearly, and needs to be fixed. If you can help us with that, we would greatly appreciate it.”
Miller-Meeks said she supports working on immigration reform, provided it happens in a bipartisan manner. However, she appears more receptive to dealing with DACA legislation separate from the president’s proposed immigration reform bill. DACA, by itself, “is something that could go forward very rapidly” in Congress, she thinks.
Please ask U.S. Rep. Miller-Meeks (millermeeks.house.gov) to support the bipartisan Dream Act of 2021 and to encourage her fellow congressional representatives from Iowa to do the same. We need to encourage our senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, to support the Dream Act as well.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor