Uncertainties about the future of immigration reform, given Republicans' new-found control of both houses of Congress, do not decrease the need for changes to the immigration system says a Catholic immigration expert. “The system does not work. There needs to be reform that looks at our family-based immigration system,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, to CNA following last week's midterm elections. Atkinson urged for a path toward citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, particularly those with family members in the United States. “We’re talking about people’s parents and brothers and sisters and the person they go to church with, person they buy from at the grocery store.” Since the results have come in from the Nov. 5 midterms, political actors and commentators have focused on what the Republican wins in both the House and Senate could mean for immigration reform. Earlier in the legislative session, movement for immigration reform passed in the formerly Democratic-led Senate, but stalled in the House of Representatives, which already had a Republican majority, over differences between the bills. In a Nov. 5 press conference, President Barack Obama expressed his wish that Congress “act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill” that would open a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while securing borders. This year’s lack of action however, led the president to feel he has an obligation “to do everything I can lawfully with my executive authority to make sure that we don't keep on making the system worse.” The president then clarified that “whatever executive actions that I take will be replaced and supplanted” by any immigration legislation passed by Congress. Obama promised that he would take “lawful” executive action by the end of the year, and that he would reach out to House and Senate leadership to address potential legislative avenues for immigration reform. Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R- Ohio), warned that if the president “acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,” during a Nov. 4 press conference. Democrats cautioned the president against taking executive action in order to pass legislation. “POTUS should agree to shelve exec order for up or down vote in House,” wrote David Axelrod, former chief adviser to the president, on Twitter on Nov. 5. Pennsylvania Governor, and chairman of the Democratic National Convention, Ed Rendell also suggested that the president not act unless Congress produces a bill by the spring of next year. Atkinson cautioned that while passing an executive order “is a bandaid,” it may be necessary to remedy some of the effects of the current immigration system so that “Congress can still act on immigration reform” later on. She pointed to several areas of concern that Congress can still address. “We have basically encouraged or used the labor of the people who are here on unauthorized status — they need to be given some sort of benefit, and we would like to see them put on a path towards citizenship,” Atkinson said. She encouraged Congress to find “remedies for some of the people who have been here long-term in the United States and have U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident relatives.” However, she said that while a Republican-led Congress could find a way to forge a compromise on immigration reform, it could also still continue to stall, due to divisions within the party on whether to focus on “more enforcement , and a more restrictionist agenda, which would mean more families being separated.” Atkinson warned that by focusing on restriction and border control, new efforts at immigration reform might miss the underlying issues facing the current system, as well as overlooking the people affected by an inefficient immigration system. “It’s not the right thing to do, and it’s not politically expedient,” Atkinson explained. “The people we’re talking about are people who have been integrated into our community for many, many years.” She also pointed out that “ the borders are largely secure,” and well-funded. ‘The border’s fine: we need to deal with a broken immigration system,” she urged.
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