Our work of Mercy involves meeting the needs of the suffering wherever they are: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Additionally, Mercy demands attention to structural sin and the root causes of poverty and injustice, including advocating for better policies and laws to support the most vulnerable.
Jump to our summary of a legislative priority topic:
- Voting Rights
- Gun Violence
- Administration Policies on the Treatment of Migrants
- Immigration Protections & Pathway to Citizenship
- Pentagon Spending
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Human Rights
Here’s an overview of the legislation and actions by Congress and the Biden administration which the Mercy Justice Team is currently watching, particularly around the Critical Concerns.
More than 450 Mercy advocates signed a letter to President Biden in advance of the 28th session of international climate talks (COP 28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The letter urged the U.S. delegation to the talks to push for strong agreements to rapidly cut emissions and keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. The talks concluded with a call to transition away from fossil fuels.
The Justice Team and faith partners met with Senate offices in the second half of 2023 to share our hopes and concerns for “permitting reform,” which would minimize the time it takes for energy projects to get through the regulatory process. We support speeding up renewable energy projects and the building of transmission lines to carry renewable energy, but that carries the risk of minimizing reviews of fossil fuel projects that contribute to the climate crisis and pollute nearby communities. We advocated for consultation with local communities, protections around mining for minerals required for the energy transition, and funding to expand staff capacity at federal agencies to enable both thorough and timely reviews.
The FOREST Act, which would bar imports of goods sourced through illegal deforestation, was re-introduced in late November with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The Catholic Encounter campaign was instrumental in encouraging Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana) to sign on as an original co-sponsor.
The Justice Team initiated a sign-on letter for faith organizations in support of the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act (CEMRA) and in opposition to the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act (MRCA), in advance of a Senate hearing. The CEMRA aims to update the 1872 mining law by requiring companies to pay royalties for mining on public lands and to clean up after their operations; it also enables federal agencies to prohibit mining on public land that is particularly environmentally sensitive or sacred to Indigenous peoples. The MRCA codifies in law the practice of companies using public land adjacent to their mining operations for administrative offices and dumping of mining waste; advocates are concerned that companies could “claim” land without valuable minerals and prevent the land from being used for other purposes such as renewable energy projects.
Congress re-introduced the Freedom to Vote and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advance Act, but there is little likelihood of movement on these bills this year. The Justice Team has supported a more modest package of bills that would, among other things, ensure that election materials are available in a variety of languages, expand voting access to people who are unhoused, limit waiting lines to vote, and ensure voting access for young people. The Justice Team also supports a bill that would restore the right of persons convicted of a felony to vote in federal elections.
Mercy supported the recently passed historic legislation aimed at gun violence prevention following the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. This law offers the most comprehensive attempts at strengthening the nation’s gun laws in almost thirty years:
- enhances background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21
- provides $750 million to assist states in implementing Red Flag laws
- closes the “boyfriend loophole” by disarming domestic abusers even if they are not married
- establishes the first-ever federal laws against gun trafficking across state lines and straw purchases
- provides $250 million in funding for evidence-based community violence prevention programs
- expands school safety measures and mental health services and access in communities and schools
Even as we celebrate this victory in reducing gun violence in our communities, we continue to advocate for proven measures that were unaddressed by this legislation including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We call on the new Congress to continue efforts at gun violence prevention, specifically addressing violence enabled by civilian access to military-style weapons of war.
Administration Policies on Treatment of Migrants
Advocacy continues around urging the Biden administration for reforms to enable a safe and fair asylum process at the border. Public health order Title 42 (barring immigrants from entering the country) was ended in May and new procedures were set up for processing immigrants from select countries where the U.S. does not have diplomatic relationships allowing for deportations, including with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Other new procedure criminalizes and puts a five year bar on migrants who cross in-between ports of entry, and (similar to the Trump era) requires migrants seeking asylum at the border to show they had applied for asylum in third countries in route to the U.S.
Advocacy has been successful in urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some countries, but more durable and inclusive forms of protection are needed for those seeking refuge and establishing new connections in the United States. With Haiti, the DHS extended and re-designated TPS for Haiti, yet has continued deportation flights to Haiti, even as the country consumed in violence and chaos.
Immigration protections and pathway to citizenship
We continue to push for legislation that provides permanent protections for immigrants, including a pathway to citizenship – for DACA recipients (Dreamers), farmworkers, essential workers, and others with temporary status. These are often piecemeal legislative efforts, as comprehensive immigration reform is not expected to be taken up in the current session of Congress. Mercy’s advocacy has been important, however, even if defensive in nature to stop legislation introduced by some lawmakers pushing an extreme anti-immigrant agenda, using immigrants as pawns to score political points. Efforts were made by some of these Members of Congress to codify mass expulsions (including Title 42) into law, but so far these efforts have been defeated. The Schools Not Shelters Act is pending a vote in late July, legislation to prohibit the use of certain school facilities that receive federal funding from being used to house any migrants.
Consistent with Mercy’s commitment to nonviolence, we advocate for cuts in excessive military spending and redirection of funds to programs that address the greatest threats to our security — climate change, lack of affordable housing and health care, systemic racial oppression and spiraling economic inequality. Policymakers vigorously debated cuts to human needs programs to avoid economic default by raising the debt ceiling earlier this spring, yet there was no consideration in these debates to cut the Pentagon budget, despite reports of price gouging, inability of the Pentagon to pass an audit, and the fact that half of its budget goes to private weapons contractors.
In early July, the House of Representatives voted to authorize the Biden Administration’s $886 billion budget in the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Senate is expected to take up this legislation in late July before their August recess. This amount is $28 billion more than the current year’s budget and does not even include emergency military aid to Ukraine.
Mercy advocates joined other peace and social justice groups to call for a 10% cut in the Pentagon budget and shifting the resources to address human needs, an initiative introduced both as an amendment to the NDAA and as a stand-alone bill: People Over Pentagon Act. While an uphill challenge, this annual effort to cut 10% works as a strategy to get more Members of Congress adding their names as co-sponsors of the People Over the Pentagon demands, building momentum for successive years’ debates.
Criminal Justice Reform
The Justice Team has called for passage of the RESTORE Act, which would repeal a lifetime food assistance ban on persons with felony convictions on their records. The Justice Team also has joined faith partners in advocating for the end to the practice of solitary confinement in prisons and immigrant detention facilities, both at the federal and state levels.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey has introduced the Global Voices of Freedom Act, which requires the U.S. government and its embassies to play a stronger and more strategic role in supporting human rights defenders around the world. The Justice Team will be following this as in hopes that it will step up U.S. response to human rights abuses.