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Comprehensive Immigration Reform - It's Past Time

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Immigration advocates are pressing the pedal to the metal to get Congress to act

By Jonathan J. Higuera

This week marks a critical point for immigration reform advocates to see if Congress has the political will to deliver a comprehensive immigration reform package that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents of this country.

While a filibuster would surely hamstring those efforts, Senate and House Democrats could deliver a package through the Budget and Reconciliation process, which would only require simple majority votes.

Groups such as Aliento, Promise Arizona, LUCHA and CHRLA and many other proponents have been on the frontlines of this battle for decades. I've reported on and covered the great immigration debate in this country going back to the mid-1980s, when my first front-page story was the passage of the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act during the Reagan administration. But that hardly settled the debate, even as it provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents.

Through it all, the one constant for me is the knowledge that immigrants have always been essential workers, long before COVID popularized the term.

All throughout our country’s history, they’ve been on the front lines of the workforce as the stalwarts of labor – whether manual or service. From farmworkers who pick the vegetables and fruits we enjoy, to the service industry workers who handle our dry cleaning, food service and all manner of amenities, immigrants have filled the jobs that otherwise would have gone unfilled.

And as many worked right through this dreadful pandemic, picking up the virus at alarming rates, we never elevated them to the hero status they deserved. In fact, for many, they remain ‘expendable’ workers, rather than ‘essential’ workers. We’ve witnessed how farmworkers in Arizona were very low on the vaccination totem pole even as they continued to work in the fields.

We have a chance to make amends to them and recognize them as the critical workers they are by passing immigration reform this year proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration. The package calls for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. It also would clear the application backlog for green cards and naturalization and permanently open the door to DACA students to remain in this country to continue their education and pursue their dreams.

Aside from President Obama’s executive order giving DACA students legal status to remain in the country, very little has been done to help undocumented immigrants improve their status. In fact, the last significant immigration reform package was the 1986 reform during the Reagan administration. It’s worth noting that the late John McCain led unsuccessful efforts at reform in 2013 and 2005.

Since then, immigrants have withstood a barrage of criticism as opponents repeatedly use them as pawns, demonized when politically expedient and conveniently overlooked and ignored during times when their labor is valued and needed.

Yet throughout all this vile rhetoric, they remained here, working, paying taxes, raising children, and taking care of family and neighbors.

It’s well past time for us to end this vicious cycle and pass President Biden’s reform package. Although the ‘expendable’ voices are loud, surveys show a majority of Americans recognize immigrant sacrifices and favor a path to citizenship for them.

Even seemingly small gestures such as waiving the $725 fee green card holders pay to apply for citizenship are meaningful gestures that show our appreciation for their contributions.

We can hail essential workers as heroes or we can actually show them we appreciate their contributions by passing a comprehensive immigration reform package.

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