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U.S. House Budget Reconciliation Package Would Provide Path to Citizenship

Maryland Matters

A provision tucked in the $3.5 trillion federal budget reconciliation package would direct Congress to chart a path for citizenship for millions of undocumented people.

If passed, the House provision would provide a pathway to citizenship for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often referred to as Dreamers; farmworkers; those who hold a Temporary Protected Status, meaning they are unable to return to their countries; and essential workers. The Senate’s version also supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, but doesn’t specify which groups would qualify.

There are more than 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that studies migration.

If passed, the provision could affect dozens of states with high immigrant populations such as Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“Aside from being the moral thing to do, providing a pathway to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status for Dreamers, recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), farmworkers, and essential workers will be a boon for our economy,” according to the House’s 2022 budget resolution, which provides reconciliation instructions to all committees.

The Senate package provides the Senate Judiciary Committee with $107 billion for “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants,” border security investments and the community violence intervention initiative. Lawmakers will have a soft deadline of Sept. 15.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a press conference that immigration reform would be included in the reconciliation package.

“I do believe that immigration should be in the reconciliation, some piece of that in the reconciliation,” Pelosi said.

Since the presidential election, immigration advocates have pushed for DACA to not only be written into law, but expanded to include family members of the recipients’, as well as wanting bigger reform on immigration policy.

Some states with large numbers of DACA recipients include Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the 2016 Census.

But members of the House Congressional Hispanic Caucus raised opposition to policies that would undermine immigration reform, such as only allowing DACA recipients to be eligible for citizenship and excluding TPS holders, farmworkers and essential workers.

“As the Senate undergoes the budget reconciliation process, we call on our colleagues to oppose provisions that would undermine immigration reform efforts,” the chair of the caucus, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Cali.) said in a joint statement. “The inclusion of any anti-immigrant amendment could threaten the package’s prospects in the House of Representatives.”

Some Republicans, such as Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas have advocated for a separate provision to only allow DACA recipients to be eligible for citizenship. There are about 700,000 recipients protected under DACA.

Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), co-chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Sub-Task Force on Immigration, Executive Orders, and Budget Reconciliation, joined Ruiz’s statement as well, arguing that immigration reform would benefit the economy.

“The CHC remains a strong advocate for immigrant communities across our country and will continue working to ensure immigration is part of the budget reconciliation process, which will benefit our economy and our recovery,” they said.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said that he had a meeting at the White House with the president, along with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) “to reiterate our support for reconciliation, including immigration proposals.”

report by the Center for American Progress found that if Congress provided a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., the country’s gross domestic product would boost by $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years and create nearly half a million new jobs.

U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) discussed the immigration provision during a town hall Friday at CASA, the immigrants’ rights organization in Langley Park.

With about two dozen people in attendance, Brown heard from five immigrants — three from Central America, two from Cameroon — who are struggling to obtain citizenship.

“We play such a key role in Maryland’s 4th congressional district, yet we are limited in the work we can do,” Estafany Ayala Alfaro, a DACA holder and nurse, told Brown.

Alfaro said the political environment for immigrants has improved since President Biden took office, but expressed fears that the situation could change.

“The last administration made it clear that its goal was to dismantle DACA,” she said. “Who says it can’t occur again?”

Isaias Portillo, a construction worker and father of five from El Salvador who lives in Hyattsville, has Temporary Protected Status but said he worries about being thrown out of the country, even after living here for 21 years.

“I want to ask that you take our stories and share them with your colleagues,” Portillo, who is currently working to build the Purple Line transit project, told Brown through an interpreter.

Brown, who made a point of saying he is a first generation American — his father was from Jamaica and his mother was from Switzerland — was clearly moved by the stories he heard. But he injected a note of caution and political reality into the discussion.

“The challenge we have in Congress is we have far too many members who forget the history of this nation, that we’re a nation of immigrants,” he said.

Many immigrant advocacy groups have felt that immigration reform has fallen by the wayside with the Biden administration, so those groups are either hoping for change through the reconciliation process or pushing lawmakers to support their cause.

“I know DACA is not enough and won’t stop fighting until everyone in my family and community is protected,” Yazmin Valdez, a DACA recipient and member of United We Dream Action, an immigration advocacy group, said in a statement.

Valdez, who was out canvassing in Arizona to advocate for support of pathways to citizenship for undocumented people, said that Arizona Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly “must be reminded that it was Black, brown, and directly impacted communities who mobilized millions to turn Arizona blue and deliver them seats in office.”

“Now it’s time they use their critical role in the Senate to deliver what their constituents and the majority of Americans overwhelmingly support, citizenship for millions,” she said.

Tess Wilkes, a supervising attorney at Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a group in New Mexico that provides legal and advocacy services for immigrants, said she’s hoping to see bipartisan legislation for immigration reform, “but we haven’t seen that yet.”

“If this is the way that it has to happen then we are in support of it,” Wilkes said of reconciliation.

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