Democrats and community leaders demand action on undocumented immigrants

Community leaders and several Democratic members of Congress are demanding that immigration reform legislation be fast-tracked and included in budgetary bills even though that proposal has previously been rejected.

“Our immigrants have waited long enough – it’s past time we deliver,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building. Immigration activists say President Biden counted on the Latino vote to deliver the White House last year and must follow up on the promise to approve comprehensive immigration reform.

“We need action. We need a pathway for citizenship for immigrants. Don’t squander yet another opportunity this year. We are demanding immediate action today,” said Sindy Benavides, president of the League for United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“(Latinos) have learned that verbal promises with zero return are not good for them or their families. They will remember when someone knocks on their door asking for their vote. Their first question will be, ‘did you vote for immigration reform?’”

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including some 775,000 in Florida. More than 425,000 U.S. citizens in Florida have at least one family member who is undocumented. There are about 325,000 immigrants nationwide with Temporary Protected Status orders, including more than 69,000 in the Sunshine State. Of the 700,000 DREAMers, about 170,000 live in Florida.

The non-partisan Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, twice recently struck down Democrats’ efforts to include immigration reform in their economic legislation that would be voted on through “reconciliation,” a process that would allow a bill to pass with a simple majority and not the required 60 votes.

MacDonough rejected that effort, saying that it “wasn’t appropriate” to include it and that changing immigration law this way would have greater policy implications than any budgetary impact.

“Budgetary impact” is the key consideration for bills passed through “reconciliation.” The parliamentarian advises legislators on how rules, precedents, and protocols are used in legislation.

Democrats are planning to go back with what they call a Plan C after those two rejections.

“We haven’t finalized it yet as we speak, but Plan C would probably be a parole option. It would give about 8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements the ability to work lawfully, to have a status that would last for five years and would be renewable for another five years,” said Senator Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.), during a virtual press call sponsored by the media group Axios.

“That would protect them from deportation. That would allow them to travel domestically and internationally.”

Even though MacDonough has twice rejected Democrats’ efforts, Menéndez is among those still pushing to include pathways to citizenship in the latest budget reconciliation package.

“We are in some very deep conversations with the pro-immigration advocacy groups to figure out exactly what our presentation will be to the parliamentarian, but I think it will be somewhere along these lines.”

“I would hope that we would get an informal presentation to the parliamentarian either towards the end of this week, but if not certainly next week. And this is the way that we have pursued the parliamentarian on the first two plans. I hope that she will find her way to say “yes” this time. But we will not accept “no” as an answer at the end of the day,” he said, adding that it’s the only viable option given what he believes is the slim chance of a bipartisan bill.

“I don’t think we can pass it at this point. The bottom line is that there really wasn’t a pathway forward with them (Republicans) in terms of anything that would be meaningful to the immigrant community.”

Menéndez echoes what other Democrats say that an immigration bill included in reconciliation legislation is the only way to go at this point.

“That’s why we’re putting so much effort into this and unfortunately, we’re doing it with Democrats alone because we can’t get Republicans to join us,” he said. “I never counted 10 Republican senators who were willing to vote, even for DREAMers, and that’s the problem.”

“I’m concerned that the parliamentarian may say no again. And we’ll see if she agrees with us. I hope she will,” Menéndez said.

Meanwhile, several other members of Congress sent a letter last Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the agency to lift what the legislators say are obstacles to naturalization.

“Millions of lawful permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship have not completed the process because they face significant barriers, ranging from a lack of information and assistance to the often-prohibitive cost of application,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), the lead signatory on the letter signed by 30 other legislators.

“Expanding access to naturalization will make our country more prosperous by enhancing the economic, civic, and cultural contributions of lawful permanent residents.”

The members ask the agency to offer fee waivers for naturalization and immigration applications, provide an update to Congress on the current naturalization application backlog and processing times, allow interviews and oath ceremonies to be conducted remotely, and appoint a special advisor responsible for “citizenship and immigrant integration,” among other proposals.

Fabian Osorio is a Colombian-Canadian senior student at FIU pursuing a bachelor's degree in broadcast media and a master's in Spanish language journalism. He has extensive experience in coordinating social media platforms, writing, photography, and videography. After completing his bachelor’s degree, he wants to work for the Hispanic television network in Miami, becoming a strong voice for the Hispanic community.