A Pathway for Undocumented Immigrants Is Essential
A “no” by an unelected Senate parliamentarian should not be the last word.
Thamara, who has been living in legal limbo since she fled the violence of Haiti two decades ago, has seen her high hopes turn into an uphill battle to get a pathway to citizenship. (Thamara, like many immigrants fearing deportation, wants to be identified only by her first name.)
The culprit is Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. She recently ruled against including a plan for legalization of as many as eight million immigrants in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan that’s currently being decided in Congress. MacDonough wrote that legalization has too much to do with “policy changes” to be considered in a process that is for budgetary matters.
All of this is important because the stakes are so high. Legislation in the budget reconciliation process needs only a simple majority vote, avoiding a Republican filibuster.
Questions about why MacDonough, an unelected official, should be allowed to decide the fate of millions of immigrants were raised repeatedly at a gathering of an estimated 10,000 immigrants and activists last week in Washington, D.C. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat and refugee from Somalia, put it bluntly in her remarks at Tuesday’s rally near the Capitol.
“Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House have and can disregard the advice of the Parliamentarian—and they must,” said Omar. “Our fight is on the right side of history.”
Illinois Representative Jesús G. “Chuy” García, a Democrat and immigrant from Mexico, reminded the crowd that the struggle for legalization has gone on for far too long. “We can’t stop until we get a ‘yes,’ ” he said. “This is not a moment to give up, but it is also a moment for leadership not to back down.”
The Immigrant Justice Week of Action, which ran from September 20 to the 23 and was organized by the We Are Home campaign, included Tuesday’s rally and concluded on Thursday with the “Communities Not Cages” National Day of Action in Washington, D.C., and twenty-three other sites across the nation.
Chants of “Citizenship for All” on Tuesday made clear that the goal of legalization should extend to all immigrants who are undocumented or in legal limbo as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. Estimates of this population are generally in the eleven million range.
In her ruling, MacDonough stressed the costs of providing services for the eight million immigrants expected to gain permanent legal status under the Democrats’ plan. The services they could access, she said, would increase the deficit by $140 billion over a decade.
But she brushes aside the amount of taxes that immigrants pay, important jobs that they fill, and revenue generated by their presence. Consider that legalization of immigrants could increase the gross domestic product by as much as $1.7 trillion over ten years, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress and the University of California, Davis’s Global Migration Center.
Thamara works as a medical assistant at a mental health facility in Miami, Florida. She is very much the “essential worker” who would be helped by the immigration legislation that the Senate Parliamentarian says does not belong in the $3.5 trillion package.
She attended the Week of Action with a group from the Miami-based Family Action Network Movement. Her need for immigration reform could be a matter of life and death.
“I came to this country to save my life,” Thamara tells The Progressive, recounting how she fled Haiti after her parents were killed by paramilitary forces. “If they deport me, how will I survive?”
The images of desperate Haitians trying to cross the Southern border while being abused by Border Patrol agents and put on deportation flights back to Haiti have deepened her concerns.
“I am fighting for everybody who doesn’t have legal status,” says Thamara, fifty, whose legal status depends on the continued renewal of her TPS.
A TPS designation was first granted to Thamara and other Haitian immigrants who didn’t want to go back to their homeland after a 2010 earthquake devastated the island nation.
Paul Christian Namphy, the lead organizer for the Family Action Network Movement, details how stopping the brutality of Haitians at the Southern border with Mexico is part of this group’s message.
“We’re fighting this tooth and nail,” says Namphy. “We’re saying: ‘Stop the deportations.’ ”
Interviews conducted by The Progressive with other immigrants participating in the Week of Action underscore that the status quo is morally unacceptable.
“If I have lived here for the past thirty-two years, and have paid taxes and am contributing to the city and given this society two college graduates, I shouldn’t be hiding from anybody,” says Eduardo, a forty-seven-year-old construction worker from Mexico.
A longtime resident of Milwaukee, Eduardo, who is undocumented, was on one of the buses that the Wisconsin activist group Voces de la Frontera sent to Washington, D.C., for Tuesday’s march and rally.
His oldest son, Eddie, who works as an interpreter for Voces, was part of a group that in June marched about ninety miles from Milwaukee to Madison, the state capital, to publicize the need for legalization and immigrant rights. Eduardo joined for part of that march.
As a fifteen-year-old who crossed the Southern border in 1989, Eduardo tells how he found a dishwashing job at a Mexican restaurant within a week of arriving in Milwaukee. Since then, he has become a homeowner, father of four, and skilled in house remodeling.
Eduardo is a determined advocate “to get a citizenship path for all—not to leave anybody behind.”
Jorge, an undocumented Mexican farmworker participating in the Week of Action, works in the vineyards of eastern Washington.
Although a member of the United Farm Workers, he is at the mercy of the vineyards’ owner. Legalization would give him firmer footing to stand up for his rights.
“We want to feel more of a part of society that doesn’t recognize us,” says Jorge.
The day he was interviewed, forty-eight-year-old Jorge told how he began that day at three in the morning and finished at 7 p.m.
An undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Loth joined about 500 immigrants and their advocates from the New York City area to take buses to Washington, D.C., for Tuesday’s march and rally. The trip was organized by the activist group Make the Road New York.
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