Immigrant Advocacy Part of Senator’s Identity: NY Justice for Our Neighbors and Immigration Task Force Meet with Sen. Schumer

Immigration Law and Justice New York

Immigration is in his (and his daughter’s) middle name.  At least that was what Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer related to representatives of New York Justice for Our Neighbors (NY JFON) and the NYAC Immigration Task Force when they met virtually with Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and his staff on June 8, 2021 in support of the “All of Us” Campaign organized by National Justice for Our Neighbors and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.  The Campaign is advocating a path to citizenship for all our undocumented neighbors. 

Senator Schumer’s passion for immigration justice is palpable. In fact, he shared with us that his middle name is “Ellis” (for Ellis Island) and his daughter’s middle name is “Emma” (for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor . . . .”)). He also shared with us that former President Trump calls him “Crying Chuck Schumer,” a nicknamed he earned– and says he wears as a badge of honor –when he got weepy over a Muslim woman whose family was banned from the U.S. by the former Administration’s Executive Order.  

Senator Schumer’s support for comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration policies and practices runs long and deep.  During the Obama Administration, he was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” Senators (four Democrats and four Republicans) that garnered seventy (70) bipartisan votes in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill  that went on to die in the Republican-controlled House.  

Senator Schumer remains committed to immigration reform, not just for humanitarian and social justice issues, but also as a matter of economics. He told us of an immigrant—an essential health care worker–who paid for cabs out of his own pocket to keep going to work when the public transportation he relied on was discontinued. The Senator believe that we must support these essential workers, and also believes that anti-immigrant policies and enforcement have reduced the number of immigrants available to fill essential jobs, fueling a labor shortage.  

Senator Schumer is a  co-sponsor of President Biden’s Citizenship Act of 2021, a bill that would create paths to citizenship for all 11million undocumented immigrants in this country. The Senator does not underestimate the magnitude of the challenges to passing this bill or, for that matter, passing other less comprehensive bills that are already pending.

For legislation to pass in the Senate, Senate Rules generally require sixty (60) Senators to vote in favor of legislation for it to pass the Senate. That means that in this Senate, under the standard Senate Rules, all 50 Democratic Senators and 10 Republican Senators would need to vote in favor of a bill for it to pass the Senate. Although Senator Schumer indicated that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and others are trying to wrangle those 60 votes for immigration reform, Senator Schumer is focused on an alternative strategy—the budget reconciliation processs.

In the event the President’s “Build It Back Better Bill” ends up going through the budget reconciliation process, Senate Leader Schumer will try to incorporate immigration reform legislation into that Bill. If successful, that would mean that only 51, instead of 60, Senators would be needed for passage in the Senate.

But whether immigration reform legislation can be included in the budget reconciliation process is a complex and challenging question. As a threshold matter, the

Parliamentarians of both the House and Senate, likely over opposition from at least Republicans, would need to determine whether the proposed immigration legislation would have enough economic impact on the federal budgeting process to justify including the immigration legislation in the reconciliation process. (Economic impact on the federal budgeting process is not the same as economic impact of immigration of the U.S. economy).  

For example, earlier this year, the Parliamentarians determined that proposed legislation to increase the federal minimum wage would not impact the federal budgeting process; as a result,  the minimum wage legislation was excluded from budget reconciliation process that was used to pass the American Rescue Plan. In contrast, the Senator is hopeful that the Parliamentarians can be persuaded that proposed immigration legislation will impact the federal budgeting process; the Senator’soffice has found useful precedent in support of this approach.  

After Leader Schumer’s presentation he took questions.  TJ Mills, Managing Attorney of New York Justice for Our Neighbors, asked “what happens if comprehensive immigration reform  does not pass? Is there a plan for Dreamers and TPS (Temporary Permanent Status) holders?  Senator Schumer indicated that there may be support for such piecemeal relief, although budget reconciliation may be the best path forward even for those more limited reforms. He mentioned a number of other immigration bills already pending in the House and Senate, some with bipartisan support, such as the American Dream and Farmers Act, which has already passed the House; the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act pending in the House; and the bipartisan Citizenship for Essential Workers Act (that Schumer co-sponsored) pending in the Senate. 

TJ Mills also raised a concern regarding the enormous backlog of stalled immigration cases. The Senator said he is familiar with that problem and knows of legislation that would provide funding to hire staff to clear that backlog. His staff member, Sam Rodarte, then informed us of the pending bipartisan, bicameral “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act,” sponsored by Democratic Senator Sinema of Arizona and Republican Senator Cornyn of Texas, with bipartisan support in the House, which includes a funding to hire staff to clear the backlog.

Paul Fleck asked the Senator how we can help. Senator Schumer replied, “by doing exactly what we are doing; reaching out to your legislators.”

Sen. Schumer had to run to a floor vote, but left us in the capable hands of Sam Rodarte, his Legislative Aide on immigration legislation and border matters. Mr. Rodarte encouraged us to reach out to our immigration partners and networks around the country and urge them to ask their Democratic and Republican House and Senate Members to be open to the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass immigration legislation, as well as to educate them about immigration concerns.  He pointed out that not every Senator and House Member is actually acquainted with immigration concerns and issues. 

 Rev. Karina Feliz lifted up her concerns regarding the dehumanizing nature of the current system and the way it criminalizes immigrants, especially immigrants of color. Mr. Rodarte thanked her for raising that issue and stated that humanizing and decriminalizing immigrants are  priority concerns for the Senator.  

Representatives from NY JFON and the NYAC who met with Sen. Schumer and his aides are Rev. Dr. Marjorie Nunes (NY JFON Board Chair), Rev. Paul Fleck (NY JFON Executive Director), Mary Ellen Kris (NY JFON and National JFON Board Member), TJ Mills (NY JFON Managing Attorney), Rev. Karina Feliz (Past-Chair, NYAC Immigration Task Force), Rev. Sara Giron-Ortiz (Co-Chair, NYAC Immigration Task Force), and Rev. Jorge Lopez (Member, NYAC Immigration Task Force).  

NY JFON is a United Methodist ministry of welcome, dedicated to providing free, high-quality legal advice and representation to vulnerable, low-income immigrants. You can learn more about, get involved with, or donate to this life-transforming ministry at www.ny-jfon.org.  

The New York Annual Conference Immigration Task Force is dedicated to organizing, educating and advocating around issues impacting immigrants and immigrant rights.  For more information or to get involved, contact Task Force Co-Chair Sara Giron-Ortiz at [email protected].

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