The same shadows that have threatened him all his life ruined Luis Otero’s 23rd birthday. It was on January 6, when Trumpist hordes stormed the Capitol in Washington, the city where Otero studies and works, to try to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from becoming president. Biden’s victory meant a lot to many people. But for young people like Otero, who crossed over from Mexico with his parents when he was two years old, who learned that he was undocumented in adolescence and who has not known another home than the United States, it was “a wave of relief and happiness and hope. that the nightmare was going to end ”.
On his first day in the White House, Biden made it clear that immigration reform will be one of his priorities. A few hours after his inauguration on Wednesday, he sent Congress a proposal for legislation that provides for the regularization of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are estimated to live in the country within eight years, once it is verified that they meet some requirements. as they do not have a criminal record and that they are up to date with the payment of taxes. And at the top of the priorities he placed the nearly 700,000 dreamers (dreamers), a term that is known to those young people like Otero, who were brought to the United States by their parents without papers when they were children and whom Barack Obama protected in 2012 with the DACA program (an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The reform that Biden sent to Congress on Wednesday contemplates offering immediate permanent residence to dreamers. The president also signed an executive order asking his government to take all steps to preserve and strengthen DACA.
The DACA program did not offer these young people a path to residency or citizenship, but it did offer protection against deportation and renewable work permits, allowing them to continue their studies and build a future in the country that is their only home. . Without support on Capitol Hill, Obama proceeded by decree and did not see DACA as a permanent option, but as a patch until Congress passed, which has not yet happened nine years later. Sheltering himself in this alleged overreach of executive power by his predecessor, President Trump had DACA in the crosshairs of his offensive against immigration for four years. They followed cancellations of the program, lawsuits, fights until the highest judicial instance. And the life of the dreamers, thrown into the center of the national political debate, was filled with uncertainty.
“Everything Biden has done so far is the opposite of what Trump stood for, and involves understanding what immigrants bring to this country,” says Otero, who is about to finish a master’s degree, while working in a consultancy , and closer to his dream of becoming the first person in his family “to hold a corporate position.” “The last few months I have lived with great anxiety. I think the people have voted to reject what Trump represents, but after the elections there were moments of great anguish, especially with the assault on the Capitol. That reminded us that not everything is rosy, that there are many obstacles ahead. There are many people who think like Trump and are ready for anything. The feeling that many share dreamers it is optimism, but with the precaution of not wanting to get too excited. A feeling of hope with caution ”.
“Immigration reform is well received,” agrees Karina Díaz, director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an organization that promotes a permanent solution for the dreamers. “But they should even give us automatic citizenship, because we’ve been with the program for more than eight years.” A 36-year-old Mexican with a degree in biochemistry, Díaz arrived in the United States in 1999, when her parents immigrated without papers to Phoenix (Arizona), and in 2012 she benefited from Obama’s deferred action. “We are on the right track, but you can see that the Republicans are causing problems. We hope that this Administration is firm in its proposal, because it is what our people need, ”says Díaz.
Although Biden sent the bill to Congress on the first day of his presidency, the debate is likely to be delayed as lawmakers must grapple with urgent action related to the coronavirus health and economic crisis and the second impeachment trial to the Former President Donald Trump, who will start in the Senate this next week. Additionally, to secure approval, eliminating the possibility of a Republican lockdown through filibustering, Democrats would need 60 out of 100 votes in the upper house, which is split in half between the two parties.
That means that, in addition to the 50 Democratic senators, they would need the support of 10 Republicans, something that seems complicated at a time when that party has radicalized its vision regarding migration. “There are many issues that we can work on cooperating with Biden, but a general amnesty for people who are here illegally is not going to be one of them,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Biden’s immigration reform will therefore be the litmus test to test the viability of his purpose of building bridges between the two parties on Capitol Hill.
“The president should know that he has the political capital, but also the power of the people,” says Díaz, who assures that groups like his are already preparing to campaign against senators who block immigration reform in the face of to the legislative elections of 2022. “The grassroots organizations that we have fought for more than a decade are allies in this battle and we can mobilize, just as we did to overturn control of the Senate in these elections. The mobilization of our people was key, and we do not want a setback ”.
According to data from the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, for its acronym in English), 75% of those protected by DACA come from Mexico, have an average of 24 years and the average age at which they arrived was six. It has traditionally been the most popular group of undocumented immigrants on both sides of the political spectrum. Even Trump himself promised on occasion to offer them a path to citizenship, but he raised it as a bargaining chip: he made that option subject to tougher laws for other migrants in an irregular situation.
For Díaz, maintaining temporary status meant being able to request an emergency permit to travel to Oaxaca to bury his father, who died last November from covid in Phoenix. Now the dreamer He dreams of immigration reform being approved so that his mother can legalize herself and reunite with the rest of the family. “Now is when the fight should be strongest,” he warns. “It’s like when you are in a marathon, you see the goal close and you think you can’t take it anymore, but you still have to keep running. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we can’t give up ”. “The only way to make the reform prosper is for the migrant community not to let go of the accelerator,” agrees Otero. “We must continue to pressure the Democrats, who have also failed us in the past. And to be able to bend the Republicans a bit and make their hearts more kind.
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