Thursday, June 27, 2013

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Report from the YWCA USA National Conference and Lobby Day Event

By Dena Horton, VP Public Policy Committee

YWCAs from across the country recently joined forces in Washington, DC from June 5 – 8, 2013 to lobby Congress and key staff to pass comprehensive immigration reform and participate in the YWCA USA national conference. YWCA Clark County Executive Director Sherri Bennett and I attended the national conference and lobby day events.  The primary issue focus of the lobby day was comprehensive immigration reform. YWCA was highly visible at the Capitol as all 281 YWCA participants wore persimmon scarves during their legislative visits. Our mission was to get Members of Congress to view comprehensive immigration reform as an issue affecting women, children and families and not simply as a border protection, amnesty, or economic issue.

The YWCAs of Washington State met to collaborate on the presentation and messaging for our meetings with Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) and staff from Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D). We encouraged our congressional delegation to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the following caveats:

1. Include a path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans already living in the US as reunification of families is a high priority.
2. Include access to health care and other financial supports with no waiting periods.
3. Support the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) allowing children of undocumented parents to begin the process for obtaining citizenship and access to education and higher education.
4. Include siblings and older married children as categories in the family visa program as many families rely on these extended family members for financial support, day care and caring for elderly family members.
5. Include U-Visas so women and young girls brought to our country to be trafficked can use this path to separate themselves from their abuser (who may also be their sponsor) and protect the women from deportation and retaliation by their abuser in the immigration process.

In keeping with YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism, we also encouraged the Members of Congress to:

1. Eliminate racial profiling.
2. Leave US Immigration policy enforcement to federal agencies rather than local law enforcement.

All of our congressional delegation meetings went well. Representative Herrera Beutler stated she is following the work of a task force formed in the US House to review immigration reform and is not sure if a comprehensive package will be put forward or if the House will tackle each piece as a separate issue.  She also indicated the costs of the provisions (as yet undetermined) could be too high for some Members to vote for it.  Key staff from Senators Murray and Cantwell stated the senators were largely supportive of all the positions taken by YWCA USA and encouraged YWCAs to submit real-life stories and data to help them encourage other Members to support these provisions. We encourage people to reach out to their congressional delegation to voice your support and provide examples for them to use in their efforts to push comprehensive immigration forward.

Following lobby day, Sherri and I enjoyed meeting with YWCAs from many other states and our counterparts in Oregon.  At the national conference, we heard from experts on immigration policy, participated in workshops, met with other YWCAs in our network, heard reports from YWCA USA and YWCA International organizations, and voted to elect thirteen new YWCA USA board members. To save money, Sherri and I did not participate in the YWCA USA Women of Distinction Awards Gala and dinner. However, actress/Latino community activist, Eva Longoria, was in attendance and won the Dorothy Height Racial Justice Award. YWCA USA CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron vowed to increase YWCA USA visibility and media relations, training opportunities for local YWCAs, and fundraising and development efforts. Although we did not hear more information about YWCA USA Strong Foundation Fearless Future (SFFF) initiative and did not cover recent hot button issues, such as sexual assault in the military, we look forward to seeing YWCA USA deliver on the vision outlined at the conference.

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