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
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.
President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law on Aug. 16, 2022. The bill, which includes $369 billion for climate and clean energy provisions, is projected to cut U.S. carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030. The bill is an important step in moving toward a renewable energy economy, but is lacking in true climate justice, with support for offshore oil and gas drilling and for unproven carbon capture and storage technology that enables continued pollution that disproportionately harms Black, brown, and low-income communities. Fortunately, a side deal to fast-track permitting for energy projects was removed from must-pass legislation to fund the federal government, due to pushback from communities most threatened by those projects and their allies.
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.
Congress in the final days of the last session maintained pandemic-era policies that keep many children, mothers and low-income Americans on Medicaid. But millions of people could lose access to the government-funded health insurance program in the spring, when states will be allowed to disenroll many recipients who don’t meet previous income thresholds. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will offer 12 months of continuous coverage for children, providing 40 million children with uninterrupted access to health care throughout the year. In addition, the law makes permanent the option for states to offer 12 months of postpartum coverage for low-income mothers through Medicaid, rather than just 60 days. Congress did not expand the Child Tax Credit. An expansion of this program during the height of the program had sharply reduced childhood poverty, but Congress allowed it to expire at the end of 2021.