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Murky immigration reform, at a crossroads

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The proposal to grant only work permits and protection from deportation to some seven to eight million undocumented immigrants is the most recent alternative that the Democrats are trying to include in the Senate’s budget reconciliation, after the rejection of measures that contain a path to citizenship by the body’s own Parlamentarian.

This new hope for immigration, however, encourages moderate expectations, as it only falls within the realm of the probable, not the definitive.

Essentially, the so-called “Plan C” would stop the deportation and grant work permits to people who entered the United States before January 1, 2011. It would be valid for five years and renewable for another five years, for those who comply with the requirements.

But taking stock of this now, in fact, is already a type of torture for millions of human beings who hoped for more from the beginning. The proposal would snatch the dreams of those who had arrived in the country during the last decade. Dejection, of course, will enter homes like a shadow over everything. Once again.

Still, several questions remain. One of them is whether Plan C will pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian, who has rejected two previous proposals authorizing a path to citizenship. The third time’s the charm, they say, but given the prior rejection of undocumented immigrants by this one person in a democracy, we don’t hold out too much hope.

From there, the next question is what the Democrats will do if Plan C is also rejected by the Parliamentarian. Will they let the issue die, using the ruling by the Senate’s legal advisor as their excuse? Will they try to advance stand-alone legislation, even if it’s chances for approval may be low, considering the Republican opposition en bloc and the fears of Democrats in vulnerable seats in the runup to the 2022 elections?

Or will President Joe Biden follows the path of Barack Obama and advance some type of protection through an executive order? In this last case—and has been seen in recent years with the Dreamers—the situation has also been a tossup. While it temporarily protected these young people, right now they find themselves in the same immigration limbo that no one would want to go through, especially after having grown up with the idea that this is their country. And it is, by rights.

The reality is that the patience of undocumented immigrants and those who support them has already run out. This November 6 will mark thirty-five years since Republican Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty, which legalized some three million people. And that, as a political symbol, says a lot. But it seems it has not meant enough for the Democrats, who are now being begged to follow through on their promises, not only with immigrants they claim to defend, but because history will also, of course, talk about them if they don’t achieve all that is possible while they have power.

Therefore, it’s incredible that three and a half decades later, there is still no reform, and the undocumented population has almost quadrupled. Republican obstruction and Democratic promises could fill a book. Both sides have used immigrants as a political football, without achieving a favorable solution for this group of people that is one of the axes of our economy and our daily life, but also thoughtlessly discarded.

Right now, protest marches are being organized in different cities across the country to pressure Democrats to follow through, a symptom that shows immigrants do not have to be “wedded” to empty promises, or electoral calculations that only benefit the political class.

Immigrants are always asked to continue waiting, and those who support them are always asked to keep voting for Democrats, because “then we can do it.” But if things turn out the way they are looking, and not even a work permit is won, the Democrats will once again dust off the same old refrain: “we tried but we couldn’t do it, we’ll do it next time.” What they don’t understand this time, perhaps, is that not only immigrants, but also voters, have a much clearer perspective about politics and the use and abuse of promises to achieve power.

Which brings us to another question: what if the Parliamentarian says yes and the so-called Plan C advances?

It’s to be anticipated that the recriminations will begin: that this would be creating a sort of second class citizenry of people without the right to naturalize and then vote. There will be some who take the position of all or nothing and decide that, without a path to citizenship, temporary protection must be rejected. And the Democrats will blame internal divisions in the pro-reform movement for the plan’s potential failure.

But without a real possibility that true immigration reform with a path to citizenship could progress before the Democrats potentially lose control of Congress and the White House, the question is: what would you do?

Even more, one would have to ask immigrants themselves what they prefer. Temporary protection now, or wait for another opportunity in the future for broadscale immigration reform to concretize?

In that scenario, it’s obvious to say that each case is different, each family has their priorities, each person aspiring to achieve full recognition as a U.S. citizen has and maintains their own dreams. But that’s not what promising to protect eleven million people was about. Now they will have to make new adjustments for their families and communities, starting over once again. And that, on top of being unjust, is simply cruel.

Whatever happens, perhaps this whole process will only serve to teach the Democrats a lesson. Undocumented immigrants and the citizens and legal residents who support them are not pawns in a game of political chess. Democrats have spent decades using them as a political football and asking for their support, formulating empty promises they never deliver. The strategy that says the Republicans are the “villain” of the movie is so tired, because the Democrats—as the “heroes” of this same movie—leave much to be desired. And then they complain about apathy among Latinos who don’t vote or who vote for the other party.

With Donald Trump threatening to run for president in 2024, Democrats have all the more reason to keep their promises. If not, what will be the excuse this time?

To read the Spanish-language version of this article click here.