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The year of the immigration debt

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Washington, DC – Below is a column by David Torres from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish. 

Joe Biden finishes the first year of his presidency not exactly with empty hands, but with many hopes effectively dashed, especially on the issue of immigration. Upon ascending to the White House—following an anguishing period of threats against U.S. democracy by the previous administration—his promises to undocumented immigrants now taste like weak tea.

Essentially, nothing concrete in 2022 would immediately revive the enormous hope of facilitating a path to citizenship for those 11 million human beings who thought fervently that, finally, things would change for the better for them and their families. Day after day they continue contributing their hard work and perseverance—to this very day, of course—to the country where they have lived for decades, and hearing during campaign season how they are being taken into account, in speeches and debates, with profoundly inclusive language.

However, political circumstances, migration realities, and the electoral expedience of some political actors in 2021—both Democrats and Republicans—forced a beyond abrupt change in priorities, affecting the plans they had to bring millions of undocumented people out of the shadows. Also, for the first time, many in the country learned of the existence of the Parliamentarian, the Senate’s legal advisor, who could literally determine the fate of millions of people. Her thrice-uttered NO shook both the tangible and intangible foundations of all hope.

Of course, all that and more occurred in the first year of the Democratic presidency of Joe Biden, also in the context of a public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. But this moment in U.S. history is not only a recognition that, essentially, undocumented immigrants and their families have been harmed the most, but also how those who promised them so much will manage the situation and accomplish it this year.

Because it is not about using a group of human beings as a stepping stone to achieve power and then abandoning them, like nothing happened. Not only would that not be just, but it would be morally unacceptable. And in political terms, the landscape would be even more complicated for the Democrats.

It is there that political intelligence must drive any strategy, not only to demonstrate that the promise to undocumented people persists, but also to prove that in the 21st century the U.S. must claim its pluralistic and diverse nature, in the face of a migration reality that can no longer be sidestepped—not without risking more than has been won since the fight for civil rights began.

The absurd idea that the most conservative wing of Trumpism propagates, of the “ethnic replacement” of white people by people of color, is another one of the obstacles today’s White House must deal with now and in the years to come. An obstacle which, instead of complicating the fight against racism, could be a crucial element in developing new strategies, with the goal of defending the pro-immigrant agenda to the end. But this time not with words, but concrete steps.

If, in this midterm election year, the Democrats are going to return to using the immigration issue as an electoral battering ram, they’d better not make new and empty promises, but first follow through on those they already made, to increase their credibility among people and families of color. Essentially, they need to realize that the electorate with the closest ties to the immigration issue, especially when it comes to families, has matured politically and cannot be played with easily, or with impunity.

No longer can they say in a utopic way “this is the year” for immigration reform, as they assured throughout all of 2021, but rather, with feet firmly planted on ground, that “2022 is the year for immigrants and their families.” Because whether a political party remains an option or not—whether Republican or Democrat—largely depends on their benefit to the U.S. electorate.

There are many fears about political failure, but at the top of them all, the threat of the ascension and return to power of the xenophobic and racist agenda—which put this nation’s democracy in danger for four years—must be taken into consideration.

Read the Spanish version of this column here