Border groups say they have ‘fire inside our hearts’ for Congress to pass pathway to citizenship

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SAN JUAN, Texas (Border Report) — Civil rights leaders in South Texas set fire to a wooden Spanish sign on Thursday demanding “CITIZENSHIP NOW” in the hopes that leaders in Washington, D.C., will support legislation that could include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants.

Gusty South Texas winds actually prevented the 4-foot wooden letters that read “CIUDADANIA YA,” which means “citizenship now” in Spanish, from fully going up in flames. But members of La Union del Pueblo Entero told Border Report that didn’t lessen the message they were trying to send to lawmakers nearly 2,000 miles away.

These 4-foot tall wooden letters read Citizenship Now and were lit on fire on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at LUPE’s headquarters in San Juan, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“We want to show Democrats in Congress the fire we have inside our hearts and that even though we are here asking for citizenship, we’re also demanding,” LUPE organizer Luis Castillo told Border Report just moments before the lighting that was attended by about 100 people in a dusty South Texas field at LUPE headquarters.

Luis Castillo is with the civil rights organization La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) of San Juan, Texas. He helped lead a bonfire event on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“We want to let them know that our fire is not going away anytime soon. That fire is just going to burn forever,” Castillo said.

An estimated 11 million undocumented migrants could be affected if the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act passes the Senate with key changes for U.S. citizenship.

The House passed the measure Friday, by a vote of 220 to 213, and includes changes that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow documented, and undocumented foreign nationals to apply for lawful permanent residence after undergoing a backround check, medical screening and paying a $1,500 fee.

However the measure is now in the hands of the Senate, and border leaders fear Senate Democrats will not stand firm and back immigration issues.

LUPE supporters in San Juan, Texas, on Dec. 9, 2021, want citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“We’re here to support the 11 million. We have hopes for changes,” said Melissa Compean, of Weslaco, Texas, who waved a red LUPE flag and joined dozens of supporters in Spanish chants on Thursday at the organization’s headquarters. “That’s what LUPE is here for: To help the community.”

Famous civil rights activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta founded LUPE, which began as a support organization for migrant farmworkers. Now it is watching lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Chanting in Spanish on Thursday, the group repeated their signature phrase: ‘sí se puede,’ (yes we can). And many were hopeful that lawmakers will change the U.S. immigration landscape going forward.

Immigration lawyer Jorge De La Fuente represents LUPE. He took part Dec. 9, 2021, at the group’s bonfire for citizenship reform held in San Juan, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Immigration lawyer Jorge De La Fuente, who represents LUPE, says Congress must act and now to reform immigration. He says this is especially important as the remain-in-Mexico or Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program just restarted along the Southwest border this week — forced by a court order.

“It’s a very unjust policy. MPP and Title 42. We need to speak up against these policies and demand President Biden to put a stop to this,” De La Fuente said.

Castillo said it’s not only 11 million migrants who would be affected by changes to U.S. immigration laws, but millions more family members would also have their lives changed.

“We have proven that undocumented migrants contribute to the economy daily,” Castillo said. “We’re here today asking for justice: To be treated with dignity and to be able to work and live here without fear.”

A 2020 report by the Cato Institute found migrant workers do not take American jobs, citing: “That’s because immigrants are most substitutable or competitive with other immigrant workers and are not really substitutable for many native‐​born American workers.“

LUPE was formed by civil rights activist César Chávez and based in South Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Karina Hernandez lives in McAllen and is a DREAMer who has been part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA,) — a program that in July a federal judge ordered stopped to new applicants.

Migrant advocates for two decades have been trying to get a DREAM Act passed to protect these people who were brought to the United States as children.

Hernandez says that every two years she has to pay to reapply and she is fearful that the program will soon end. She says it’s time for Congress to pass permanent immigration reforms that would protect her and nearly 700,000 other DACA recipients.

“Not tomorrow. Not another year. Don’t give false promises,” she told the crowd in Spanish on Thursday. “Complete what you promised: Help us.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.