By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Advocacy, YWCA USA
There is a sense of hope, or even cautious optimism, in the air in Washington, D.C., thanks to strong movement on two important legislative priorities that greatly impact key YWCA constituencies and local associations: immigration reform and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
This week, a bi-partisan group of Senators, including Senators Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez (D-NJ), McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC) and Rubio (R-FL), introduced a set of principles around immigration reform, setting the stage for legislative action.
Their blueprint revolves around four basic pillars:
- creating a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that would be contingent upon securing the border;
- reforming the immigration system to build economy and strengthen families;
- creating an effective e-verify system; and,
- establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to meet the nation’s workforce needs.
For those who have been working for years to get comprehensive immigration reform passed, it is a huge step forward. It would create a roadmap for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, including young people, who will now be given an expedited path to citizenship when they meet certain criteria. What remains is to see how this bi-partisan group will continue to work together, how members within their own parties react, and how the emphasis on border enforcement will be addressed.
In addition to these principles put forth by the Senators, President Obama gave a speech in Las Vegas this week that echoed many of the Senators’ points. I was pleased to see elements like a pathway to earned citizenship that is not contingent on border security—a plan that would stop punishing young people who are brought to this country by no fault of their own, and one that would give them a chance to earn their citizenship though higher education or serving in military. Family reunification was also a central pillar in the President’s plan, through the elimination of backlogs of visas. While neither proposal is perfect, they both reaffirm that people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act—a compromise that addresses the concerns of taxpayers and elected officials on both sides of the immigration issue.
Another big piece of legislative news is that the Senate reintroduced a bi-partisan version, S. 47, of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). As of today, there are 60 co-sponsors on the Senate bill, a good sign that there is the willpower in Congress to get this passed. We anticipate that the Senate will bring this to the floor next week, and we hope that the House will soon follow. The YWCA USA has long advocated for its passage, and we will continue to ensure that VAWA and related legislation is inclusive of the native women, immigrant and the LGBT community.
As Congress gears up to take on these two key pieces of legislation, I would encourage you to take the time to reach out to your Senators to ask them to co-sponsor VAWA (S.47). I also invite you to urge your Senators and Representatives to support a common sense immigration process that keeps families together here in the U.S., provides adequate protections for immigration victims of sexual violence and trafficking, and creates a roadmap for citizenship for those who aspire to be citizens.
Learn more about the YWCA’s advocacy work and programs.