Immigration reform can’t wait

It’s finally a new day in America. A day immigrants like myself have been hoping and praying for — an end to the former administration’s cruel and inhumane policies that attempted to strip our community of its humanity.

President Biden’s executive actions ending the Muslim ban, halting the construction of the border wall and freezing deportations and his introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 are critical first steps to recognizing immigrants’ value and contributions to this country now, during this pandemic, and throughout history.

But immigrant rights advocates, many of us who have been in this fight for decades, can’t help but feel wary. We still remember then-candidate Barack Obama making the exact same pathway to citizenship promise in 2008. As a former undocumented immigrant and young activist, I remember the sense of hope that accompanied President Obama’s election. But I also recall the sense of defeat I, and so many others, felt eight years later. When Obama left office, the long-promised pathway to citizenship remained a pipe dream and he had deported more people than any previous administration — a record not even Donald Trump topped.

The Biden/Harris administration has a critical opportunity to create an America that actually lives up to the words etched along the base of the Statue of Liberty. This is the America my parents spoke to me and my sister about when we joined them in the States from Guyana when I was 10 years old. A land of opportunity, a welcoming and thriving country that knew that what it gave its people, they would give back in multitudes. That’s the vision of America that has been lost in Washington, but it’s a vision the immigrant community and I have not stopped fighting to realize.

If there was one lesson I learned from the Obama years, it was that Democratic control of Washington does not guarantee justice for my community. It is a lesson I plan to apply during the Biden/Harris administration. We must now start down the long path towards justice. To begin, the organization I lead, the New York Immigration Coalition, has committed to spend $1 million to rally every single member of Congress from New York — including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — to transform our immigration system.

The sweeping immigration bill President Biden introduced on his first day in office includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the United States and will erase the heinous legacy of the last four years by restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, improving immigration courts and reuniting the still-separated families.

While this is a welcome first step, we must remain vigilant to ensure we don’t fall back on restoring the status quo, where real immigration reform falls through the cracks and my community is forced back into the shadows. I remember what it was like growing up undocumented and feeling that daily sense of uncertainty until I became a citizen 10 years later. And now, it is extremely painful to see members of my family who are tax-paying, law-abiding members of their communities and who love this country denied the ability to fully participate in it.

They are thankful to the immigrant voters that came out in record numbers to push President Biden and Vice President Harris to victory. From Arizona to New York, millions of immigrants braved a pandemic, a full-blown voter suppression campaign, and a federal government hostile to our very existence to vote.

But we did not fight this hard to settle for a reset to the “days before Donald Trump.” The brutal reality is that this country has failed immigrant communities long before Trump came to the White House. This is the reality my family lives with every day.

Ending this entrenched injustice and transforming our immigration system will not be easy. But this is a historic opportunity that we can’t let slip by. We need to restore humanity and justice to our immigration system, stop deportations and detentions, increase our refugee limits and reinstate a real asylum process for those fleeing persecution.

Donald Trump’s presidency was a devastating descent into hate — but Trump didn’t create the bigotry he stoked; it’s been there for many, many years. As we build back better, we have an opportunity to not just erase the damage of the last four years, but to move to a new future for immigrants in America, reset our place in the world and finally become that true beacon of hope. We demand President Biden and our members of Congress seize it.

Rovika Rajkishun is co-executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Tags Barack Obama Chuck Schumer DACA Donald Trump Immigration muslim travel ban U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

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