Christian group lauds new US immigration bill

(Photo: Reuters / Eric Thayer)People are taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol near Falfurrias, Texas March 29, 2013. Brooks County has become an epicentre for illegal immigrant deaths in Texas. In 2012, sheriff's deputies found 129 bodies there, six times the number recorded in 2010. Most of those who died succumbed to the punishing heat and rough terrain that comprise the ranch lands of south Texas. Many migrants spend a few days in a "stash house", such as the Casa del Migrante, in Reynosa, Mexico, and many are ignorant of the treacherous journey ahead. Picture taken March 29, 2013.

In January, President Barack Obama introduced a four-part plan for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

In his Las Vegas speech, he demanded stronger U.S. borders, increased pressure on companies that hire undocumented workers, penalties for undocumented workers and an overhaul of the legal immigration process.

"I'm here because most Americans agree that it's time to fix a system that's been broken for far too long," Obama said. "We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in and endless debate. We've been debating this a very long time."

It has been nearly 30 years since the last significant immigration legislation was passed in the U.S., but earlier this week, the majority Democrat Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration bill that, if passed, would provide a major overhaul to the system.

The proposed law largely does what Obama asked for in January - allocating federal funds to secure the Mexico-U.S. border, making the employment-verification system E-Verify a requirement for all employers and creating a new visa program from low-skilled workers.

The bill had bipartisan support, with three Republicans joining the Democrats for a 13-5 approval vote, and Obama was quick to point out in a statement that the bill was a compromise for both parties.

"None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I," the statement read, "but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line."

On Wednesday, the New York-based Church World Service commended the Senate committee for what it views as a much-needed step toward immigration reform.

"Our staff and peers see the need for change every day," CWS director Erol Kekic said in a press release. "While we wish the bill did more to protect families, it is still a positive change."

CWS began in 1946 to address the wave of immigrants and refugees coming to the United States after World War II.

The ecumenical group is comprised of 17 church denominations, and has been a strong voice in the United States' current immigration debate, providing legal support for immigrants, as well as meeting with members of Congress and holding prayer vigils to help pass comprehensive reform.

Now that a reform bill is going to the Senate floor for a vote, Kekic believes CWS still has work to do.

"We will continue these phone calls, actions, and advocacy with all members of Congress to improve the bill and see it agreed to by the full Senate and the House," he said in the press release.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

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