Testimony on Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation

Statement of
Richard T. Foltin, Esq.
Director of National and Legislative Affairs
Office of Government and International Affairs
American Jewish Committee (AJC)

Submitted on behalf of AJC to
The Senate Judiciary Committee

Hearing on
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation

April 19, 2013


Since its founding in 1906, AJC has been outspoken in support of fair and generous immigration policies. As American Jews, we recall how our parents and grandparents made their way to this country seeking a better life, and know that we have prospered in and contributed to this country. That same opportunity should be available for others.Comprehensive immigration reform will strengthen America’s global competitiveness as well as allow hard-working immigrants an opportunity to succeed in the United States, for themselves and for future generations—and, at the same time, promote respect for the rule of law and protect our national security.

In advocating for fair, effective and humane immigration policies, AJC acts in accord with the American Jewish community’s longstanding interest in, and commitment to, a United States immigration and refugee policy that represents our nation’s best traditions. According to Jewish tradition, "strangers" are to be welcomed and valued, as we were once "strangers in the land of Egypt." The Torah tells us: "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

AJC applauds the introduction of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744), bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation introduced on April 17, 2013 by Senator Schumer, and drafted by Senators Schumer, McCain, Menendez, Graham, Durbin, Flake, Bennett and Rubio. AJC looks forward to working with the Senators as this legislation moves through Congress, and to ultimately seeing the President sign into law legislation that will permanently fix America’s broken immigration system.

Comprehensive immigration reform offers our country a tremendous opportunity to act in accord with its highest values, ensuring fairness and humanity while also being mindful of our nation's security and economic interests. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act includes a path to earned citizenship for the undocumented, reforms to the family and employment visa categories, critical updates to the refugee and asylum program, and a fair and effective enforcement program that will respect the rule of law and protect our national security.

Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and allowing immigrant families to more easily reunite with their loved ones promotes a strong social fabric in our communities. However, we are concerned that this bill fails to provide relief to certain family members—especially siblings, adult married children over age 31, and LGBTQ families—seeking to reunite with their loved ones.Just as we, as Americans, have been able to build our lives alongside our brothers, sisters and children, we must now preserve that opportunity for prospective new Americans.

The bill’s proposed employment visa reforms will make it easier for high- and low-skilled immigrant workers to come to the U.S., as well as establish a viable program for temporary immigrant workers and foreign graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math. These reforms will make it easier for high and low-skilled immigrant workers to come to this country and help to ensure that American businesses have the labor they need to compete in a global economy.

Immigration, however, is not a zero sum game. Family and employment visa categories are equally important to ensuring a strong economy and pluralistic America. Some of the most successful immigrant entrepreneurs in America today, including those who created Intel and Google, arrived with family and refugee visas, not through the employment visa program. In this bill, we must preserve all legal immigration channels to ensure that the future inventors, scientists, and leaders, including those still too young and yet to be discovered, are able to immigrant to America and become the future of tomorrow.

This bill also includes critical improvements to the refugee and asylum program, such as repealing the one-year filing deadline that caused so much unnecessary hardship for asylum seekers; eliminating provisions that needlessly separate asylees and refugees from close family members; expediting the process for granting asylum to asylum seekers when the evidence clearly demonstrates that they have been or will be persecuted; and permitting qualified stateless individuals to apply for green cards. Other important provisions would make refugee adjudications abroad more fair and efficient, and streamline the process for admitting certain high risk refugee groups, including Jews and other religious minorities fleeing Iran. We commend the Senators for including these essential refugee protection provisions in this legislation.

Finally, we support the inclusion in this legislation of provisions directed at enhancing border security and enforcement, just as we recognize that the very fact of providing an earned path to citizenship for the undocumented in and of itself serves our national security interests. Implementing an effective and fair mandatory employment verification system that includes worker and due process protections, and a nationwide system to track entry and exit visas, will help to ensure that we know who is in the workforce and who is entering and exiting our country, making it safer for everyone.

However, the aforementioned enforcement enhancements should not be allowed to hinder the path to legalization for those currently living in the shadows. This bill includes two stages of enforcement and border security operations, with benchmarks that must be met before eligible individuals would be permitted to adjust their status to become permanent residents and, ultimately, U.S. citizens. AJC firmly believes that there is no reason to link a pathway to earned citizenship for hardworking immigrants already living in the United States to border security benchmarks. The immigrants who will be eligible for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant status will already have met strict requirements to demonstrate their personal and financial contributions to our country, and are not the target of enforcements operations.As such, it is simply illogical to link their access to adjustment of status to enforcement benchmarks.

Jewish tradition teaches us that each person is made b’tselem elohim, in the image of G-d. Accordingly, we engage the immigration issue with the goal of fashioning an immigration system that facilitates legal status and family unity in the interest of serving the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, even as it enhances our national security, strengthens our economy, and promotes respect for the rule of law. It is our collective prayer that the legislative process will produce a just immigration system of which our nation of immigrants can be proud.

AJC appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement and welcomes your questions and comments.