The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization, estimates some five million essential workers are undocumented.
These are people who pick fruits and vegetables in the fields, work as nurses and custodians in hospitals, or stock shelves in supermarkets.They have kept the country going for nearly a year during the coronavirus pandemic, exposing themselves to potential COVID-19 infection while contributing to make other people’s lives a lot easier.
And now pro-immigrant groups hope newly elected President Joe Biden is true to his promise of rewarding this effort by first reversing the Trump-era policies that attacked immigrants and then pushing for an immigration reform package that would grant those essential workers automatic green cards.
Vice President Kamala Harris also said in a recent interview that such legalization would be extended to those under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protection Status).
Those words were music to the ears of Alexandra Morales, policy advocacy manager at CARECEN in Los Angeles.
“We’ve been waiting for good news for a long time,” said Morales, who emphasized these two items being on their “wish list.”
“We need undoing of all the harm the Trump administration has done and creating a robust, immigration system that is comprehensive and inclusive, and humane treatment of our immigrants in the US,” she said.
Even before taking office, former President Trump often maligned immigrants. Once in office, his attacks and dismantling of immigration programs that had benefited millions, created much “harm” that needs to be undone, Morales said.
The fate of DACA and TPS remains in the courts. But Trump also ordered those seeking asylum to remain in Mexico or Central American countries (from where many had left) while waiting for a judge to hear their cases. There was also a travel ban for people of certain Muslim countries, and the infamous separation of Latino children from parents. The fate of many of those minors is still unknown.
“(Trump) created a machine that its sole purpose was to separate families,” Morales said. “He created this racist and xenophobic system to ensure immigrants were punished.”
Judy London, directing attorney of Public Counsel’s Immigrants Rights Project, which provides legal representation to immigrants, summarized the Trump years as that of “cruelty and illegality.”
“There was a ferocious effort to endanger the lives of immigrants in every possible arena, from asylum seekers to DACA, to skilled workers trying to remain in this country,” she said.
“We’ve represented families who have been separated and have filed federal lawsuits and secured court orders to address the trauma to families.”
The mental harm of those separations are still being seen today.
“The trauma for these families was so extreme. It broke down trust and resulted in a variety of trauma-related conditions,” she said, comparing the situation to that of people with PTSD.
Hope With Biden
London expects Biden to do away with Trump’s executive orders that targeted undocumented immigrants and programs. But, she notes, comprehensive immigration reform “is going to take time.”
The fact that Democrats control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, while helpful, does not guarantee success for an immigration reform, London warns. President Barack Obama also had the backing of Congress when he took office in 2008, but chose to spend his “political capital” on solving the financial crisis and passing “Obamacare.”
The challenges are much the same, and even worse, for Biden this time.
“There will have to be pressure on the new Administration to act boldly. He (Biden) ran on a platform of bold moves on immigration. The community should hold him accountable,” London said.
Pro-immigrant groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) plan to do exactly that.
CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas said they would wait to see what immigration actions Biden takes in his first five days before launching the “This is Our Home” campaign on Jan. 25, with the first action taking place on Jan, 27— a car caravan heading to the airports on the anniversary of the 2017 Muslim ban enacted by Trump.
“We need executive orders that provide some relief and a little bit of freedom,” Salas said. “But the community is tired of the hypocrisy of being called ‘essential’ and then not getting anything.
“We support Biden, but we’re also going to be pushing him (on an immigration reform),” she added.
In his last public event as President, Trump visited a section of his much touted border wall in Texas on Jan. 12. He had promised, time and time again, that the structure would stretch 1,000 miles (about half of the length of the border between Mexico and the United States).
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says the Trump Administration completed some 453 miles of their goal, and much of it involved replacing previous barriers. In all, Trump built just only 80 miles of new wall.
And no, Mexico did not pay for it (as the former President argued). About $15 billion of US taxpayer dollars were spent, diverted from budgets for the Department of Homeland Security, Defense and Treasury departments.
Now several groups, including a tribal leader from Southern California, an attorney for a south Texas orphanage in the path of the wall and Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva are calling on Biden to end construction of the wall.
Withdrawing from previously signed contracts would cost the US some $700 million in compensation fees, according to the Pentagon. But it would still save the country some $2.6 billion.
It would also do away with a “symbol of the white supremacist agenda” of Trump’s administration that “doesn’t make our country more secure,” says London.
For Morales, Trump’s goal of building the wall was a personal obsession.
“I don’t think Trump will have a statue anywhere. I think it’s his self-made monument of his anti-immigrant agenda,” she said.