The Senate immigration bill would streamline immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrant populations, including those who are victims and witnesses of crime and political and domestic violence. It also provides protections to those fleeing persecution by addressing existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum, as well as protections for stateless persons. People who have been in the United States in lawful or employment authorized status, including under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for at least 10 years, are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence. This will allow people in these categories who have already been here for more than 10 years to adjust status immediately, instead of waiting another decade. The Senate bill also provides important improvements to asylum and refugee programs, including the elimination of the arbitrary one-year filing deadline.
While these provisions are commendable, questions have begun to emerge on how vulnerable undocumented populations are going to fare in the long, nearly 15-year march towards full legalization and citizenship. Even as undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows, certain provisions of the bill limit their access to health care and public benefits, for example, threatening their economic and social well-being.
International humanitarian parlance defines humanitarian protection as “the effort to protect the fundamental well-being of individuals caught up in certain conflicts or ‘man-made’ emergencies.” While this definition locates the subjects in the world of civil wars and emergencies, the locus of its meaning rests in the idea of “protecting fundamental well-being.”
If we juxtapose this definition with the current immigration proposal, what fundamental protections are necessary to ensure that we do not have 11 million people who are American in health only, but not in sickness?