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Momentum Behind Democrats’ Effort to Create a New Roadmap to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

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Frank Sharry: “As a nation, we are ready to turn the page on Trump’s hatred for immigrants and show ourselves and the world that we are the welcoming nation we aspire to be.”


In the coming days, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) are expected to unveil the Senate and House versions of the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.” This will be the detailed legislative proposal outlined by President Biden on day one of his presidency, the heart of which creates a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in America.

The legislation reflects the fact that President Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress are serious about transforming our immigration system. It reflects the fact that the tectonic plates of the immigration debate have shifted. It reflects the fact that Democrats are ready to use their majority to pursue pathways to citizenship for all 11 million while also supporting legislative vehicles that would deliver citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and other essential workers, whose contributions and sacrifices have never been more clearly recognized or sorely needed than during the past year. 

Below are a series of key quotes reminding us why now is the time and this is the year to achieve a breakthrough:

  • Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said: “This plan is not only about fixing our broken immigration system, but building a better one that reunites families, brings the undocumented community out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship, stands up for human rights, addresses root causes of migration, and includes a smart border security strategy.”
  • Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) stated, “President Biden has put forth his vision for robust immigration reform. Now, it’s up to Congress to deliver. With a Democratic majority in both Chambers, and an overwhelming majority of the public on our side — as well as a number of legislative tools at our disposal — I believe we will be successful in finally securing permanent solutions.”
  • Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) recently told Politico, “My motto is, get something done … Whatever we do, we can’t walk away empty-handed.”
  • Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Chairman, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on a call with reporters yesterday, “Essential workers who risk their lives for us are indispensable, and they should be treated as such by our immigration system. As we look to recover from this pandemic, we must recognize the moral imperative to prioritize a pathway to citizenship for essential workers … Immigrants fuel our economy, work in every American industry, and reflect the best of America’s values.”
  • Lorella Praeli, President of Community Change Action and Co-Chair of the We Are Home Campaign, said, “Our time is now. The Democrats have a tool at their disposal to legalize millions of people without depending on Republican votes. We need to get legalization for essential workers, for Dreamers, for TPS holders, and for farmworkers in the next reconciliation package. That does not mean we are abandoning our goal of citizenship for the 11 million. But it does mean that we see an immediate path for millions now, and we will make this reconciliation fight a definitional fight for the Democrats. Good-faith attempts will not be enough. The question for us will be are the Democrats using their power to actually deliver for our communities.” 
  • Wall Street Journal columnist (and former Reagan speechwriter) Peggy Noonan wrote in a 2020 column, “you have seen who’s delivering the food, stocking the shelves, running the hospital ward, holding your hand when you’re on the ventilator. It is the newest Americans, immigrants, and some are here illegally. They worked through an epidemic and kept America going.” Noonan says we should extend an offer of citizenship to these workers, “With a note printed on top: ‘With thanks from a grateful nation.’”
  • A letter released from 60 economists last week called for citizenship for undocumented workers, noting:  “There are today an estimated 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the country, 5 million of whom are working in essential occupations and industries. Through their work they are keeping Americans healthy, safe, and provided for in the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic—and they are doing so at great personal risk to themselves and their families. Offering them the chance to earn citizenship will help to ensure that the economic recovery reaches all corners of society, including those that have disproportionately been on the frontlines of the pandemic and yet left out of prior relief bills, and establishes a more stable and equitable foundation on which future economic success can be built.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, 

The new bill, set for introduction tomorrow, reflects the new politics of immigration and is anchored in the recognition that Democrats stand with the overwhelming majority of Americans in supporting legal status for undocumented Americans.  Democrats should move forward quickly to test whether Republicans are ready to break from the cul-de-sac of the Trump base and stand with the three-fourths of the American people who support policies that offer permanent legal status to the undocumented.

If Republicans come forward with ideas and votes, then it might be viable to press for reform on a bipartisan basis. But we should be clear-eyed about the realities of the current Republican Party, its bad faith towards Biden and its cowardly fealty to the vocal contingent of Trumpy anti-immigrant voters. If Democrats eliminate or reform the filibuster, this bill would have a chance to pass with Democratic votes alone. And if neither of these happens soon, then Democrats are smart to pursue legalization for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and other essential undocumented workers as part of the second economic recovery package.

As a nation, we are ready to turn the page on Trump’s hatred for immigrants and show ourselves and the world that we are the welcoming nation we aspire to be.