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COVID-19 relief bill: A promising first act for immigration reform

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On Sunday evening, President Trump signed into law the $900 billion coronavirus funding package that would provide, among other relief measures, stimulus checks to over 3 million U.S. citizens who were previously denied because they married or have a parent who is an undocumented immigrant. This victory proves that even in a horrible political environment, bipartisan solutions to our nation’s immigration challenges are possible, setting a launch pad for common sense immigration solutions for the new year.

The new bill ends a damaging marriage penalty and allows payments of $600 for an individual U.S. citizen and $600 for each dependent child in households with an undocumented spouse. The new bill also allows families to recover the covid relief check denied in the first round of stimulus payments — $1,200 for each U.S. citizen taxpayer and $500 for each U.S. citizen child — when they file their 2020 taxes in the spring.

A broad, bipartisan coalition of advocates together with a coalition of bipartisan Congressional leaders made this win possible. Sen, Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Ron Wyden, need to be thanked

The American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) joined advocates New York Immigration Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, Catholic Conference of Bishops, SEIU, and Mixed Status Families United among many others to correct this unfair and unkind mistake. As COVI9-19 infections surge across the country, choking the economy, the new Covid funding package will offer a life-line to more households without a punishing immigration marriage penalty.

I called Lacey Chontal, a U.S. citizen and a nurse assistant certified at a veteran nursing home in Quincy, Ill. Chontal is married to an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Together the couple has six U.S. citizen children.

“I am overjoyed to know that my family matters, and we are not second-class citizens,” Chontal said as news broke Sunday night that the president has approved the relief bill. Chontal was finishing a Sunday shift at the veteran nursing home, filling in for other nurses who got infected with Covid.

Since March, Chontal’s husband Juan, a restaurant worker, saw his hours drastically cut back, while she endured the fear of catching Covid at work. When Chontal and her U.S. citizen children did not receive payments from the first stimulus bill, it meant they had to drain their savings.

“I was so angry,” Chontal said, “These checks meant the difference between staying home if we get sick or risk going to work because we have to put food on the table. I am a U.S. citizen, my kids are U.S. citizens, we pay taxes, the discrimination against my family was an injustice that has been finally corrected ” 

Ending this discrimination is rare progress on immigration issues under President Trump. This promising bipartisan leadership is the kick-off for immigration solutions in 2021.

Similar to stimulus checks for mixed status households, a path to legalization is popular among American voters. Despite — or perhaps because — of Trump’s efforts to limit immigration and denigrate immigrants, American support for immigration has soared to historic highs. For the first time since such polls were conducted in 1965, Americans want more, not less, immigration.

This sentiment is likely attributed to the reality that for the past nine months, COVID-19 has forced Americans apart but brought them closer to immigrants and the enormous contribution they make every day. 70 percent of immigrants work in a field classified as essential. Refugees and immigrants risk their lives processing and packaging meat in factories that saw alarmingly high Covid spread. Undocumented workers pick the crops we eat, saute the food at our favorite restaurants and deliver them safely to our doors. Over half of the technology gadgets we use have at least one immigrant inventor. Immigrants or their children played key roles in developing two highly effective vaccines. From the technology we rely on, to caring for the sick, the food we eat, and vaccines distributed across the country, immigrants make up the lionshare of the work to keep Americans well fed, alive, and eventually restore us to some semblance of normalcy.

Recognizing their contribution, President-elect Biden promised to send a comprehensive bill to Congress on Day One. Whether comprehensive or confidence-building steps, there are places in the immigration debate with huge consensus — 85 percent of voters, including 95 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Independents, and 73 percent of Republicans, support a path to citizenship for Dreamers, young immigrants brought here as children and 75 percent of voters support a path to legal status for their parents.

John Boehner, Paul Ryan, George W Bush, Barack Obama all regretted that they weren’t able to pass immigration reform. As a result of their failures, we just finished four years of the politics of extreme hatred and division. Trump was able to polarize against immigrants because this issue has festered, unresolved without any serious legislative attempt for 25 years. It is tearing our country apart.

That’s why in early December, ABIC launched a campaign to challenge both political parties to come to the table and solve the immigration challenges of our nation. Sens. Chuck Schumer, John Cornyn, Susan Collins and Dick Durbin joined business leaders and advocates to hit the reset button on immigration reform.

Winston Churchill said “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have tried everything else.” Americans have tried everything else: greater enforcement, a border wall, e-verify, highest deportations under Obama, followed by unimaginably cruelty of kids in cages and Muslim bans under Trump; everything but legalization. American voters elected a new president and a divided Congress, raising the bar for a problem solving Washington and an end to gridlock and political games.

Federal immigration reform is morally right, economically important, and politically smart. Now it is time for grown ups to put on the long pants and get it done.

Rebecca Shi is executive director of American Business Immigration Coalition.

Tags Barack Obama Boehner Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump John Boehner John Cornyn Marco Rubio Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Ron Wyden Susan Collins

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