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Immigration debate déjà vu

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We’ve spent more than three decades following the immigration debates in the United States, with all of its triumphs, failures, promises, and the eternal hope for a humane and just solution.

It has been an informative, formative, reflective, historic, and even philosophic and humanizing journey. But it has also contained a rather high dose of frustration, constantly confirming that politics—and more than that, games of political convenience—continue to trample on the hopes of millions of human beings in a country that has been their only place of salvation.

Now, we are on the path to another one of those debates. But this is special because it is coming after the end of the Donald Trump presidency, one of the most anti-immigrant in the history of this nation.

However, the same tired arguments are emerging in this new effort during the Joe Biden presidency, particularly among the Republican opposition, about “amnesty” and rewarding “illegal behavior.” The same old excuses, converted into “strategies” that have no goal other than to reject “the other,” their exclusion racially-motivated, above all.

And from the Democratic side, we also begin to hear the same “arguments”: that you can’t do everything at once, you have to do it piecemeal, we have majorities in Congress but they are narrow and we need Republicans, etc. etc… These are also excuses that extend into a tired speech that sounds like “hope,” yes, but at the end of the day is diluted and becomes just an accumulation of good intentions that serve no one, especially immigrants and their families.

On the other hand are the pressure groups, both anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant.

Pro-immigrant groups, it’s true, fight for a common case, but also have differences of opinion over how to achieve it, and are not always in agreement among themselves. That, of course, has also influenced the absence of a definite solution to regularize the immigration status of millions.

And it is in these circumstances that we find ourselves, right now in the 21st century.

Invariably, the immigration debate provokes flashbacks of previous dilemmas. It’s inevitable, and to a certain point understandable, but it would be inexcusable for the immigrant community to not see a real solution after the martyrdom they lived through during four long years of Trump’s presidency, proving yet again, in the middle of the pandemic, the value of their labor, and then their family members, friends, and community took to the polls to advocate for a change in leadership.

Isn’t it time to change perspective and get to work in service of the many benefits immigrants bring to this country, being a reliable segment of the population that has done everything to integrate and adapt, contributing without complaint to the aggrandizement of this nation? They have served in the Armed Forces; fed this country literally with their hands, working in America’s fields; paid millions of dollars in taxes without any guarantee of reimbursement. They have confronted this pandemic, like many others, on the front lines, and have also survived all of the humiliations, accusations, and attacks for their immigration status during the prior xenophobic administration.

Also inexcusable is the volley of pretexts for inaction. Honestly, who cares what the discredited Republican Party, controlled by Trump, says, when they don’t even have the decency to recognize the role the ex-President played in the assault on democracy, which provoked seven deaths, and who through his actions continues validating the lie of electoral “fraud”?

For their part, the Democrats have to realize they control Congress and the White House. But as in previous opportunities, they don’t seem to realize how to use this power or the mandate to pursue just causes.

There is no more time for hesitations or partisan calculations: immigrants’ political maturity is a concrete fact in this century, and this new category of analysis has to serve as a basis to begin to realize that. Right now.

You won. Assume your power. Be creative. Pursue measures that benefit the immigrant community and, by extension, the country. The contributions and benefits of immigrants are well-known. There have been too many years of unfulfilled—or half-fulfilled— promises, blaming Republicans for the inaction. Yes they are guilty, but that is not an excuse. Don’t stoop to the same level of your rivals. Overtake them with historic measures that open a new path to vindicate the best of the human condition.

In other words, in election after election, communities of color have shown up and catapulted Democrats to victory. It’s time to compensate for this outpouring of support, hope, and patience. Remember: the last amnesty was 35 years ago.

For their part, the pro-immigrant organizations must centralize and unify efforts to ensure that this time they really achieve these promises, setting aside differences they may have. Strategies must adjust according to the needs on hand. The planets do not always align, and it has been proven in recent history that although the Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, immigration reform has not always been a beneficiary. To the contrary. It happened with Barack Obama. And then Trump arrived.

We have to take advantage of this favorable moment and press, press, press so that this immigration debate déjà vu has a different ending and now, a happy one.

Maribel Hastings and David Torres