On January 20th, the freshly inaugurated Biden administration sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. Last week, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the bill in the Senate and the House, respectively. The proposed legislation brings much-needed reform to our antiquated and inhumane immigration system and aims to restore respect and dignity to our nation’s immigrants.
Amongst other measures,the bill prioritizes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and provides an expedited pathway for farmworkers, immigrants brought to this country as children and recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), the country’s premier fellowship program dedicated to increasing access to immigration counsel, enthusiastically supports the immediate passage of this long overdue bill. Over a quarter century has passed without meaningful Congressional action on immigration policy. Attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 and 2013 failed, while the Executive branch was left to pursue wholesale enforcement policies that incarcerated and deported millions, tearing apart myriad families and communities in the process. To build back better, we need to focus on repairing these harms.
There is no doubt that immigrants enrich our country, working shoulder to shoulder with others in their communities, contributing their hard work and desire to be a vital thread in the fabric of our nation. The ongoing health pandemic has brought to the forefront the extraordinary contributions made by immigrant essential workers – farmworkers, health care workers, grocery store employees and so many more. Yet, despite their sacrifices, they cannot access basic health care, their U.S. citizen children were denied the first round of stimulus checks, and attempts abound to deny them the basic human right of access to health care and needed vaccines. An alarming provision in the proposed Act, which we hope is remedied before passage, prohibits those on a pathway to lawful status from obtaining public health benefits.
We cannot in good conscience continue to take for granted the vast and profound contributions of our undocumented population. Thankfully, for the first time in many years, most voters support needed immigration reform. These voters understand that legal status is an essential gateway for immigrants to escape cyclical poverty and become active participants in our democracy.
As advocates practicing on the frontlines, we are intimately familiar with the complexities of immigration law and the virtual impossibility of navigating these systems without the benefit of counsel. IJC, therefore, strenuously advocates for this bill to include ample funding for an informational campaign that outreaches to immigrant communities and, most importantly, a provision for free legal advice and assistance to those who cannot afford representation. The 1986 legalization drive demonstrated the difficulties inherent in advocating for clients en masse and the need for government-funded structures that support the provision of legal aid to the beneficiaries of these laws.
The President has begun a new conversation and shared a fresh vision on immigration, one full of possibility and purpose. We, as a nation, cannot afford to allow this push for change to be defeated as it was in 2007 and 2013. We encourage you with all of your might to contact your representatives and ask them to support passage of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.