Following politics in Washington, D.C. for almost three decades has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of the richness of experience, the capacity to place new information in context, and for being on the front row of history as it unfolds. A curse because witnessing so many lies and false promises feeds the always-present cynicism we feel toward politicians.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the reins as President and Vice-President of the United States, after the nightmare that was the presidency of Donald Trump. They have already begun to propose changes to public policy on different fronts, including immigration.
In that context, we have to make a special entreaty: they must not forget who catapulted them to triumph and the promises they made to the U.S. people and different groups who were fundamental in their victory. Regardless of opposition from conservative Republicans or moderate Democrats, recall that for decades, especially over the past four years, these groups who helped them win have been waiting for solutions to the problems that overwhelm them. Whether that be social justice, equality, better wages, or regularizing their immigration status. After the torment of Trump and the pandemic, it’s only just that there be a real change and matters that have been neglected should be resolved.
African Americans, who without a doubt were the engine behind the Biden-Harris victory, await real solutions to their top issues, particularly social justice. Latinos also voted overwhelmingly for Biden-Harris, although we have to emphasize that a group did pull the lever for Trump. Still, the reality is that a majority voted for Biden. And many of those hope that this time, the longed-for immigration reform that would legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants finally becomes reality. The contributions of these undocumented immigrants are well-known but now, during the pandemic, their status as essential workers has been more than evident, from the farms and fields to food processing and distribution, and so many other areas.
Biden plans to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of the most nefarious policies of Trump. And he is also proposing an ambitious plan for immigration reform that, among other things, provides a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants over eight years, streamlines citizenship for Dreamers, and reforms asylum laws.
It’s clear that the new president is haunted by the infamous incomplete promise of Barack Obama, of enacting immigration reform when he took charge in 2009. What happened afterward was an increase in the number of deportations that many groups will neither forget nor forgive. Obama ended his first presidential term saving Dreamers from the deportation machine through executive order when legislative attempts failed and the pressure to do so was determinative. In the first year of his second term, 2013, Obama proposed immigration reform, and although it advanced in the Democratic Senate, it failed to proceed in the Republican House.
No one expected that Trump would arrive in the White House with a racist and cruel immigration agenda, to the point of separating children from their parents at the border, many of whom, to this day, have not been reunited with their families.
It’s important to not forget the past, especially to not commit the same mistakes. This is true for all groups involved, both politicians and activists. Biden has a Democratic Congress, but history has demonstrated that this does not guarantee absolute Democratic support for many measures, and immigration has always been one of those. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We must keep in mind that the immigrant community has been one of the most traumatized groups by the outgoing Trump Administration, and deserves a search for consensus.
In summary, we cannot forget. But we don’t have to allow past errors in the management of the immigration issue impede the search for relief that, over decades, has been impossible to obtain. This time should be different.