EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – With a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, all that President Joe Biden and his party’s leadership need to bring about immigration reform this year is political will, migrant advocates said on Friday.
And if they don’t do it now, the voters that got them elected two years ago will remember that at the ballot box come primary season and in November, some activists say.
“On day 1, President Biden introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act, but without a clear legislative strategy to secure success, one year later (it) remains a promise unfulfilled,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights.
Salas and other advocates who joined a national press call on Friday give Biden credit for quickly changing the hostile rhetoric toward migrants that characterized the Trump administration. But they said Biden has been slow to follow words with action.
“While President Biden has made progress on some commitments, he has yet to deliver on his most urgent promises, including immigration reform, a path to citizenship that begins with ‘green cards.’ We are also still waiting for an end to for-profit detention and the rebuilding of an asylum system for those fleeing danger in their home countries,” Salas said. “We deserve better.”
The mounting pressure from progressives and organizations that long have seen Democrats as a natural ally is consistent with polls showing Biden at his lowest popularity since taking office. While the general public is frustrated with rising consumer prices and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Latino and civil rights groups are disappointed with his mixed messages on immigration.
Marielena Hincapie said she remembers the expectations raised by the Democratic victory in 2020 to which the minority vote contributed heavily.
“A year later, we see a stark difference from the last administration’s cruelty, but progress toward President Biden’s and Vice President Harris’ vision is unacceptably slow,” she said. “And what’s worse, President Biden has actually embraced some of Trump’s worst policies – policies that some of us are litigating against.”
That includes the Title 42 public health rule allowing the immediate expulsion of newly arrived unauthorized migrants and the “Remain in Mexico” policy of making asylum-seekers wait across the border until called to U.S. immigration court months later.
“Policies that need to be a relic of the past continue to be embraced by this administration,” Hincapie said. “The Democrats now have a governing (majority) and President Biden must act with urgency and courage to deliver for immigrant communities. […] We must deliver a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants.”
The advocates emphasized that Democrats will be evaluated by voters not by good intentions, but concrete results.
“In 2020, I voted for Joe Biden. He ran a campaign promising change on immigration, promising a more humane system after four years of chaos and cruelty from the Trump administration,” said Oscar Lopez, a grassroots organizer from Pennsylvania. “One year later, immigrant families feel many of those promises were left empty. […] It is disappointing and problematic to see that this administration has failed to act with urgency. It has failed to push Congress forward to a pathway for citizenship for undocumented people in this country.”
The advocates say that can be achieved through the Build Back Better Act, which has stalled in the Senate due to objections from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and a ruling from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that immigration law changes don’t belong in a spending bill.
Immigration advocates insist the Senate can just disregard the “advice” of the parliamentarian, and Biden and Democratic leaders can exert “leadership” over their members to pass the immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act.
“We are in a crucial mid-term year. That starts by electing people to the Senate who will be more vocal about our issues,” Lopez said. “We need people who are going to be louder, we need people who are going to stand up for us. We can do that this year.”