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.
A bill that President Biden signed into law to avoid the U.S. defaulting on its debt included a provision that requires federal agencies to complete reviews of proposed energy projects in one to two years. Climate and environmental justice advocates are concerned that this could limit environmental reviews and community input. The bill also approves all permitting for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is slated to carry fracked gas from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina and has faced stiff opposition from communities along the route. The bill didn’t contain more extreme provisions passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives, such as repeals of several climate programs in the Inflation Reduction Act, mandates for quarterly lease sales of oil and gas and lifting of a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land.
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 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.
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 debt ceiling bill signed into law included extended work requirements for SNAP, the federal food assistance program once known as food stamps. Advocates were able to hold back proposals to place work requirements on Medicaid, the federal health program, and to institute massive cuts to non-defense spending in the federal budget.
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.