In spite of President Biden’s promise to protect immigrant communities, his administration and Congress have failed to deliver on promises of citizenship and permanent status for millions of undocumented immigrants.
What’s worse, Biden ended his second year in the White House by backtracking on promises to part with Trump’s hateful immigration policies. By expanding the Title 42 policy that has allowed the government to expel more than two million migrants from the country, and giving more funding to agencies like Customs and Border Patrol that are rife with violence and abuse, Biden is building on the extremist immigration rules he pledged to reverse.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden has an opportunity to chart a new path. Biden must urge members of Congress to shift focus away from punitive and abusive border control and expulsion, towards legislative and administrative solutions that prioritize immigrants’ rights, needs, and citizenship.
This past election cycle clearly demonstrated that anti-immigrant policy positions, particularly deporting immigrant youth, failed with voters. In crucial swing states like our homes of Pennsylvania and Nevada, voters support pathways to citizenship and immigration reform and reject extremist MAGA Republicans.
Latinx and immigrant voters, many of whom have family members and friends whose lives and liberty are at stake, overwhelmingly voted for Democrats. Democrats won 64 percent of Latinx and immigrant votes in Nevada and more than 70 percent in Pennsylvania.
These victories are a mandate for Congress to tackle immigration reform.
The stakes are high. It’s either legislation now or the prospect of deportation for DACA recipients like us and far too many of our neighbors and loved ones.
Republican-controlled courts have immigrant communities in their crosshairs. Without official action to codify protections for DACA recipients, an extremist judge in Texas will almost certainly end the program, creating chaos and deep pain for more than 830,000 young people who have been protected by DACA over the past decade.
Although as DACA recipients we cannot vote ourselves, we have spent countless hours educating our U.S. citizen neighbors, friends, and families about the importance of voting in elections. It wasn’t always an easy job, defending a party that, despite many promises on immigration, has come up short.
We have lived through decades of uncertainty, only able to plan our lives in two-year increments. Living with the threat of detention, deportation, and family separation looming over us is an indescribable pain.
We understand when a voter tells us they’re tired of voting for politicians who promise immigration reform and not seeing results. We are tired, too.
But we are also more motivated than ever to fight for the future we know we all need—one that includes permanent protections for ourselves and our loved ones. We’ve continued to urge voters to support Democratic candidates because we know that the alternative —extremist Republicans in control— would be deeply damaging to our communities.
As DACA recipients in mixed-status families, we have seen the ugly and painful truth of the United States’ tiered immigration system up close. Rico lost his brother far too soon and far too early from cancer. Because he didn’t have citizenship, he wasn’t eligible for treatments or other programs that could have given a teenage boy more time with his family. Now, as a father himself, Rico’s had to explain the uncertainty of his immigration status to his own children, who do not understand why their dad might not be around to put them to bed a few months from now.
Although we live across the country from each other, we both had similar conversations with our high school guidance counselors when we were ready to graduate and looking ahead to college. There weren’t programs or resources for undocumented kids, and the pathway to continuing our education was expensive, difficult, and confusing.
The current immigration system draws arbitrary lines between immigrants, deciding who is worthy of protection and who isn’t based on dates and years that discount the humanity of each individual person. Although DACA offered Armando stability, his mother, who came to this country as an adult, is excluded from many opportunities and protections. Every immigrant deserves a chance to build a life for themselves.
Republicans have continued to fearmonger and, following their retaking control of the House after the midterm elections, step up attacks against President Biden, making it even more difficult for the Biden administration to secure any meaningful immigration reform. But Biden and the Democrats must lead on this issue and strongly make the case for reform of our outdated immigration system, with a path to citizenship at the center.
President Biden must take executive action that benefits immigrants instead of blocking asylum and deporting our families and loved ones if Congress won’t act. It’s time for President Biden to lead by example and champion a path to citizenship and the right to seek asylum.
The lives and futures of tens of thousands of people —including us— hang in the balance.
Armando Jimenez is a DACA recipient and organizer with Make the Road Action in Pennsylvania.
Rico Ocampo is a DACA recipient and organizer with Make the Road Action in Nevada.