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
- Anti-Poverty Measures
- 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.
The House of Representatives on March 30th passed a bill that would repeal several climate programs in the Inflation Reduction Act, including a $4.5 billion home electrification rebate program, an EPA program to build out national green banking to support emission-reduction efforts and a methane program that would charge fossil energy companies for emitting the highly potent greenhouse gas. The bill also requires the Interior Department to complete quarterly lease sales of oil and gas and lift a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land, and accelerates environmental reviews and community input on energy projects. The bill is not expected to pass in the Senate, but will likely become a starting point for negotiations on speeding up the process for permitting of energy projects, including for the expansion of electric transmission lines deemed important for the renewable energy transition.
The Justice Team is leading faith advocacy in support of the FOREST Act, which would bar imports of goods sourced through illegal deforestation. In the last Congress, the bill had only Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, and the Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries, Catholic Climate Covenant and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are working together to encourage Republicans to sign on.
Students from Assumption High School in Louisville, KY, advocated with their legislators for mining reforms that would protect the environment and human communities from any increased extraction of minerals required for the renewable energy transition. They were visiting Washington, D.C., for an immersion experience into Mercy’s engagement around the harms of extractivism.
The U.S. Senate failed to advance the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act in a series of votes in 2022. In the end-of-year federal budget package, Congress passed the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which puts critical safeguards in place to protect our democracy, including clarifying that the vice president performs a simply ceremonial role during the counting of electoral votes.
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 to restart a safe and fair asylum process at the border. Public health order Title 42 (barring immigrants from entering the country) was ended, although this is being challenged in court by a group of states led by Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some countries, but what is needed are more durable and inclusive forms of protection for those seeking refuge and establishing new connections in the United States. With Haiti, the DHS extended and re-designated TPS for Haiti in early December, yet on December 12, deported 26 Haitians to a country consumed in violence and chaos.
Immigration protections and pathway to citizenship
We will 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. No such legislation was passed in this session of Congress. Some lawmakers are pushing an extreme anti-immigrant agenda, using immigrants as pawns to score political points instead of working for legislative solutions to protect and empower hardworking immigrant families.
Efforts were being made by some of these Members of Congress to codify mass expulsions (such as Title 42) into law, including two amendments to the Omnibus bill in mid-December. Both amendments were defeated on December 22, 2022.
Consistent with Mercy’s commitment to nonviolence, we advocated for cuts in military spending and the redirection of funds to programs that address the greatest threats to our security — climate change, ongoing systemic racial oppression, pandemic disease and growing economic inequality. However, on December 15th, the U.S. Senate finalized the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizing $858 billion for the Pentagon in FY2023, a $76 billion increase over FY 2022 ($782 billion). Congress added $45 billion to the Pentagon budget above what was even requested by the Biden administration and Defense Department for Fiscal Year 2023—a huge portion going to private military contractors. By comparison, the FY 2023 budget for the State Department is $64.57 billion, which includes foreign aid; and the Pentagon top line equals four times the entirety of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget. There is little accountability for this massive spending. Earlier this month, news outlets reported that the Department of Defense failed its fifth audit in a row and could not account for half of its assets.
A bill that would create a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations to African-Americans (H.R. 40) never got a vote in the House of Representatives, despite making it out of committee.
The Justice Team is working with NETWORK, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) and other faith groups to protect food, housing and healthcare programs from federal budget cuts. Some members of Congress are demanding severe budget cuts in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling; raising that ceiling is critical to pay for spending that Congress already has April 2023authorized.
More than 400 Mercy advocates joined other faith leaders in signing letters in support of the Biden Administration issuing stronger regulations on methane and soot pollution. Sr. Barbara Grant of St. Louis submitted a personal comment on soot regulations that was included in a press release on delivery of that letter to officials at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.
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.