Around 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the long-awaited comprehensive immigration bill, S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The image of Sen. Schumer flanked by his colleague Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) and bleary-eyed floor and committee staff stands as a reminder of the difficult, sometimes tedious, often contentious, but always important work that went into making this bill a reality.
To the "Gang of Eight" (Sens. Schumer, John McCain [R-Ariz.], Bob Menendez [D-N.J.], Marco Rubio [R-Fla.], Durbin, Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.], Michael Bennet [D-Colo.] and Jeff Flake [R-Ariz.]), to our partners in D.C. and on the ground and to our own leaders and clergy, we offer a heartfelt thanks! For the first time in decades, truly transformative immigration legislation is within our grasp.
This bill provides a new path to citizenship for 11 million people who have been living in the shadows. The path is extremely long, and the conditions that must be met along the way are difficult; however, new Americans will now be able to work, learn, provide food and shelter for their families and contribute to their communities with dignity and without fear of deportation.
From the time that the U.S. first established an immigration system, family has been the cornerstone of immigration policy. With the release of this bill, the focus shifts from family to employment. While we support provisions that create fair and just employment practices and treatment of workers, we are concerned that this approach could result in a negative impact on the economy, our communities and individuals. We are reminded of the words of songwriter Charlie King: "Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job."
Remember, thriving immigrant businesses are an important economic engine in cities like Detroit, as well as in farm communities like West Liberty, Iowa, where immigrants revitalized the dying town and its economy.
Immigrants, families and business are often interlinked, and this bill should reflect that economic reality. Helping business is good, but helping families and business is even better, because it builds strong, prosperous communities. Reducing immigrant workers to just workers to keep our economy and profit growing is not the reform bill that Gamaliel and all people of faith will settle for.
Over the coming days we will dig more deeply into the text of the bill and its implications for our country and for new Americans. We will continue to engage our senators, our representatives and our communities in conversation about the additional possibilities for reform. We want to make this bill reflect the very best of who we are as Americans.