My Turn: A pathway to citizenship will keep our communities intact

For the Monitor
Published: 7/2/2021 7:30:03 AM

The month of June marked the nine-year anniversary of the DACA program and the first time we can breathe a sigh of relief since 2016. While DACA survived the Trump administration’s assaults, Dreamers’ lives have been in limbo for far too long and are still at risk. The past four years have made it painfully clear how tenuous DACA’s protection really is, with Dreamers’ futures held in the balance. Even today, a judge in Texas is sitting in a courtroom possibly determining their fate. DACA is still under imminent threat and only a concrete path to citizenship can provide the certainty that Dreamers’ lives won’t be ripped away.

There are nearly 11 million undocumented people already living in and contributing to our country every day. Many have lived here for decades. Nearly 6 million U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented. Their home is here in the United States and for DACA recipients, in particular, this may be the only home they’ve ever known. These are our friends and neighbors, members of our workforce and wider communities.

Immigrants have been essential to our response and recovery from COVID-19, working as doctors, nurses, farm workers and teachers. In fact, 5.3 million undocumented immigrants, including almost one million DACA recipients, are essential workers. Even as they are left in an informal economy and vulnerable to exploitation, undocumented immigrants stepped up to help keep the country running during the pandemic. They are vital to our nation’s continued health response and economic recovery from COVID-19.

We have seen hope and possibility as President Biden hosted a historic meeting in the oval office with six Dreamers and with the first lady inviting a Dreamer to be her guest to the president’s joint address to Congress. After years of watching families torn apart by the cruelty of the Trump administration, President Biden has begun reuniting families. But millions of families are at risk of being separated by detention and deportation every single day. The last four years, and far too many before that, made it painfully clear how our long-broken immigration system can be too easily weaponized. Until Congress allows them to earn a pathway to citizenship, far too many people will continue to live under threat of being separated from their families and homes.

In New Hampshire alone, we likely have close to 10,000 undocumented residents and yet only about 400 DACA recipients. That disparity means too many of our fellow Granite Staters are left at the mercy of political jockeying in D.C. I’m proud to have voted in Concord to help formalize undocumented people in our state by allowing them to get driver’s licenses, which unfortunately failed. I will vote on that issue, and other bills to help our immigrant community, whenever they come up. But we can only accomplish so much here in New Hampshire and need the federal government to take action.

Right now, the Senate is sitting on multiple citizenship bills. With the strong support of the White House, the House has already passed two critical pieces of legislation with a bipartisan vote, the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. We cannot let this opportunity pass. Congress cannot fall short again. Undocumented immigrants who contribute to our communities and economy every day have gone between being ignored or used as bargaining chips for too long. These bills will ensure that Dreamers, TPS recipients and undocumented farm workers can begin the citizenship process and finally feel secure in their homes.

Fixing our dangerously broken immigration system is about much more than simply securing our border. We must create a humane, orderly system that works for our modern world, prioritizes keeping families safe and together, and growing our economy. That work must start at home with a pathway to citizenship, and it’s within our reach after years of false starts. A pathway to citizenship is overwhelmingly popular across political parties, not just because it is the right thing to do, or even because it is a smart policy. It is popular because the American people support keeping our communities intact. It is popular because we support keeping families together. And President Biden and leaders in Congress can make it a reality.

(Manny Espitia is a NH state representative and president of NH Young Democrats. He lives in Nashua.)

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