Milwaukee, WI – We are in the third year of the Biden administration, and there is a collective hand-wringing regarding the path to citizenship for the undocumented population of the United States. We are still facing the same issues that left pangs in our gut under the previous administration. Only now they are being kept quiet. Months ago, Vice President Kamala Harris made a bizarre speech to migrants being turned away at the border, telling them “Don’t come” – creating a sound bite that has been a slap in the face for all rights – civil, human, and immigration. Detention centers are now being called “overflow facilities” and ICE shows no signs of being dismantled. Biden has promised a path to citizenship that seems unfeasible, and immigration rights groups seem to have a lot on their hands. The Biden administration has balked with some of their promises.
“Conservative Democrats have been the main obstacle to advancing a path to citizenship through the Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation bill. Sen. Joe Manchin, for example, has refused to support any part of the legislation that the biased, unelected Senate Parliamentarian deems unsuitable for the reconciliation process. But, Democrats in Congress have the power to disregard the advice of the parliamentarian and pass BBB with a path to citizenship.” says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director for Voces de la Frontera, an immigration rights non-profit in Milwaukee, WI.
“The base of the immigrant rights movement are families, and as a multigenerational movement, we must continue to grow our political power as more young Latinxs come of age to vote, as many immigrants become naturalized US citizens, and as we encourage Latinxs and Immigrants to use the voting power they hold. But, it is clear we must fight for better choices on the ballot in the primaries. The Republican Party is unapologetically aligned with far right white nationalist extremists, so stepping away from the voting process cannot be our response to the failure of Democrats. But we need more progressive candidates that are not compromised by corporate influence, party politics or their own bias,” she adds.
The “Build Back Better” plan was introduced in March 2021, which was divided into three separate parts – the “American Rescue Plan,” the “American Jobs Plan,” and the “American Families Plan.” The “families plan” is the one that was seemingly aimed at the immigrant population. Unfortunately, the Democratic federal relief bill and the American Rescue Plan excluded 9 million frontline American heroes – immigrant essential workers – who despite their tax contributions were denied financial help if they did not have a US citizen dependent.
Voces looked to Senator Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin’s first openly gay congresswoman for her leadership and support for citizenship for LGBTQ+ immigrants. Voces de la Frontera and allies organized a public protest outside of Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Milwaukee office. It was a symbolic move, as blocking off streets during downtown rush hour would be sure to garner attention. As part of a national movement, Wisconsin immigrant essential workers, youth and allies are continuing to increase pressure on Congressional Democrats and Vice President Harris to disregard the biased advice from the Senate Parliamentarian and use their majority power to deliver on their promise to pass a path to citizenship this year.
Leslie Flores, the 19 year-old US citizen daughter of undocumented immigrant essential workers who participated in the civil disobedience action with her 13 year-old brother, Luis, said to the crowd, “My brother and I are here with my parents, who’ve called Wisconsin home for more than 20 years. We’ve fought really hard to get to this point, and we are very close to winning. We need Senator Baldwin and Democrats to fulfill their promises. As children of undocumented immigrants, we have to keep fighting for a better future for our families and stop living in fear.” She added, “Last year was the year I was able to vote for the first time and I voted for the Democratic party. I continue to be involved in these actions because it was the Latino vote that got them into power, so it is their turn to make good on their promises to us”.
Where do we go from here? “We will continue to work with FIRM on escalated actions to pressure Democrats to pass the BBB that includes immigration reform with a path to citizenship and break traditional norms to disregard the parliamentarian and to pass citizenship, or in the future to break the filibuster for voting rights and to advance immigrant rights. We can still win immigration reform with a path to citizenship this year, but we need to increase outside pressure and make sure Democrats are held accountable to deliver,” says Neumann-Ortiz.
Puente AZ, another immigrant rights group in Arizona, have focused on the labor issue at hand with immigrant rights. Recently, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has proposed a policy change for labor investigations to protect undocumented workers from deportation. Mayorkas presented this as a policy change for workers who are part of workplace lawsuits and report employer abuse to federal labor agencies. Of course, many undocumented workers never report abuses for fear of retaliation. This policy change would allow workers to be able to demand change in their workplace, and would be a fruitful one.
There are many different ways that immigration reform is approached in this country, and advocacy in one of the most important, as well as worker’s rights. Immigrants are not a monolith group of people, as one automatically shifts to the vision of Latinos when thinking of them. In reality, there are many Black immigrants from countries like Haiti and refugees from the middle east as well. Immigration reform is key in this country, especially in the face of a rising sentiment of white nationalism.