By Eddie A. Taveras
My family’s immigration story is like so many others—a grandmother seeking economic security and opportunity, fleeing a country dealing with the aftermath of a former dictator and political corruption.
Her undocumented status was a danger for our family and meant she would be separated —perhaps for a long time— from her four children, including my mother. Like many Dominicans, she found a community in New York City and embarked on an emotional, seven-year odyssey to obtain a green card.
During those years of separation, my mother grew from a pre-teen to an adult without any maternal support. Those feelings of abandonment and resentment for having to grow up too fast and assume the role of surrogate parent for her sisters and brother haunt her to this day. While she has come to understand my grandmother’s difficult decision, the hurt never goes away. That trauma has been passed down to me. Many immigrants experience the long-term emotional and mental impacts of separation from loved ones—a pain born of the simple need for survival. I am not alone: more than 1 in 20 people in the U.S. are under threat of separation from family members and loved ones in their home, including the 630,000 U.S. citizens in New York that live with undocumented immigrants.
As a country, we do not have to perpetuate this traumatic cycle. We have an opportunity, right now, to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, including DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and essential workers. This moment has been decades in the making and offers a chance to do right by the people who have helped build this country into the global leader it is today.
It is the moment to acknowledge the hard sacrifices essential workers have been making before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what is morally required for us to live up to our ideals as Americans. The U.S. can help usher one of the most extensive family reunification moments in modern history by providing permanent protection to undocumented immigrants.
A pathway to citizenship will allow undocumented immigrants and their families to begin the long journey to finally heal from the years of damage wrought by the status of being undocumented—an experience that starts from the moment you wake up to the moment you dream. Right now, Congress is considering a policy to adjust the status of millions of undocumented people, and this could be made real via the reconciliation process. Despite the Parliamentarian’s disappointing ruling denying the initial proposal, Senate leadership —including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer— have expressed their disappointment in the decision and their commitment to submitting additional proposals for the parliamentarian’s consideration. This is the year. This is the time to do the moral and politically right thing that is supported by a majority of Americans. Majority Leader Schumer can finally make good on the empty promises too many politicians have made to the immigrant community for years. And President Joe Biden can cement his legacy for generations to come.
The question remains: Will we continue to count the years since a Republican, Ronald Reagan, accomplished what no other president after him has by enacting sweeping immigration reform, or will the Democrats fail to deliver yet again?
As we wait to see where Congress and the President will fall on providing a pathway to citizenship, I hope that one day undocumented individuals can begin their mental healing journey and reunification of their families to redefine their freedoms. As for my grandmother, mother, and I, we will be prepared to exercise a new tradition, a practice that came to be once my mother became a citizen in 2018, and express our desires at the ballot box. Our community is watching.
Eddie A. Taveras is the New York State Immigration Director for FWD.us. Twitter: @EddieATaveras.