We educate lawmakers on how current deals around immigration will affect us
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
UnidosUS works across several different issue areas—education, health care, economic justice, housing, immigration, and civil rights—to advocate for Latinos. And while our organization covers the gamut from programs work to our nationwide network of Affiliates, a significant part of our work is informing policies on Capitol Hill. There we hold meetings and conduct briefings in which we educate lawmakers of both major parties on topics that matter to the Latino community.
UnidosUS was joined yesterday by Gaby Pacheco, Director of Advocacy, Development, and Communications at TheDream.us and an UnidosUS Board member; Miriam Feldblum, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration; and Jose Magana-Salgado, a consultant for TheDream.us.
As Congress currently faces another government shutdown if funding for border security is not resolved, our briefings and press conference came at an ideal time to show up for our community and educate lawmakers on how current deals around immigration will affect us.
HOUSE REPUBLICAN BRIEFING
The day began with a briefing for Republican House staffers on immigration issues.
“Both sides bring important contributions to this debate,” Pacheco told the Republican staffers, as she explained TheDream.us’s role in advocating for legislation and raising money for scholarships for DACA and TPS students.
Magana-Salgado also gave a rundown of the two major issues in immigration policy, namely that of benefits and enforcement. Within benefits, there are smaller buckets of family, employment, and humanitarian issues.
Magana-Salgado then explained that while border enforcement is generally popular across the political spectrum, “The sticking point is humanitarian issues.”
Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor for UnidosUS’s immigration team, then went into detail about how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funds Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Funding for DHS includes money for more detention beds and ICE agents, but those numbers aren’t just dollar signs on a page.
“These are tools that enable an administration that has put out aggressive immigration policies to accomplish those goals,” Guevara explained, noting that the capacity for immigration detention had increased from 36,000 beds in 2016 to 45,000 in 2019.
This is not a trivial concern. It means that ICE and CBP have more room in facilities to detain longstanding members of communities instead of just focusing on those individuals who have committed felonies.
The presentation concluded with a question and answer session. All of the panelists stressed that while some border security investments make sense, we also need other investments—namely more judges to adjudicate asylum claims, refining our entry and exit system, removing citizenship application backlogs at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, and conducting more oversight of the system overall.
“If we’re going to put more money in border security, we need accountability,” Guevara said.
After the briefing, we headed outside to the House triangle for a press conference hosted by the LIBRE initiative. Guests at the press conference included Republican Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Will Hurd (TX-23), in addition to several DREAMers from around the country that spoke on behalf of those who had come to Capitol Hill to lobby their representatives for a deal on the DREAM Act.
UnidosUS’s Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Deputy Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, called on Congress and Trump to end the telenovela and finally achieve immigration reform that will help hundreds of thousands of American families across the country.
— Izzy Ortega (@IzzyOrtega) February 13, 2019
HOUSE DEMOCRAT BRIEFING
When the press conference concluded, we went back inside for another immigration briefing, this time fore the staffers of House Democrats. While broadly similar in content to the immigration briefing that was given to House Republican staffers earlier in the day, it also focused on how the Trump administration’s actions at the border were affecting immigration policy, in addition to the role of private prison companies who own immigration detention centers.
“This administration has been using detention to try and deter people from making their asylum claims,” Magana-Salgado explained, adding that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in his capacity as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, had changed the enforcement of immigration laws in ways that had made receiving asylum even stricter than before.
Immigration briefing for House Democrats. We discussed higher education for #DACA recipients, what appropriations and oversight really means and what to expect from current negotiations. @PresImmAlliance @thedream_us @GabyPacheco1 @JoseGMagana pic.twitter.com/bn5gHFCJmS
— UnidosUS (@WeAreUnidosUS) February 13, 2019
When Guevara went into detail about how Congress’s funding affects ICE, CBP, and USCIS, he paused to say that, “While we understand negotiation has to happen, we do not believe that conversations around DHS should just involve the money.”
Those funding decisions have clear humanitarian consequences. Most of ICE and CBP’s detention capacity has been outsourced to Core Civic and GeoGrop, which are private prison companies.
“Corporations are making billions on the number of immigration beds,” Guevara added, and with an increase in beds is an increase in the probability that many communities will be raided. Additionally, because these facilities are run by contractors, it means that standards across the board are not consistent, putting immigrants at risk of abuse in these facilities.
JANET MURGUÍA MEETS WITH REP. ROYBAL-ALLARD
When that briefing concluded, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía, along with Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor, finished the day with a meeting with Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard from California.
With a new Congress in office, UnidosUS is continuing to work hard on the Hill to bring the Latino perspective directly to policymakers. We will continue to make the case publicly and in the halls of Congress that our community needs comprehensive immigration relief to be able to fully be part of the American family.