Immigrant youth are on the cusp of delivering a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people. This is something that hasn’t happened in nearly 35 years. We cannot let another year go by without meaningful change to address the millions of undocumented people living in the US. This is a crucial victory for undocumented people like me and the members of United We Dream who survived the cruelty of the Trump administration and are still living under the constant fear of detention, deportation, and family separation.
Being so close to real and permanent protections is an exciting time for United We Dream and the immigrant justice movement overall. Since our founding in 2008, United We Dream has been a space for immigrant youth and young people of color to come out of isolation and into community. We have been building power by organizing a mass movement of immigrant youth of color and winning campaigns that bring tangible change into our lives.
It was the undocumented youth of United We Dream who pressured then-President Obama to stop the deportations of undocumented youth and our families, leading to major wins like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). We have been fighting for years to bring about legislation that helps, and doesn’t hurt, people.
On March 3rd and 4th, 2021, the House of Representatives reintroduced two bills that passed with bipartisan support in 2019: the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The American Dream and Promise Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrant young people—both DACA recipients and those who never qualified for DACA—and hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. Both DACA and TPS holders have lived in fear, not knowing if a court could threaten the future of both respective programs. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented farm workers and their immediate families.
Both bills are a significant milestone for our movement because they don’t tie a pathway to citizenship for people to billions of more dollars for immigration enforcement. I’ve seen firsthand over the last decade of doing this work how citizenship for some undocumented people is tied to more money for deportation agents who wreak havoc on our communities. The reality is that over the last three decades, that strategy has only brought about the continued growth of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which have an annual budget of more than $25 billion, while no pathway to citizenship has been delivered for any population of people. This despite the fact that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people is extremely popular with the American people, with a recent Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll finding that 64 percent of Americans support it. That number is even higher for some populations like immigrant young people.
When I think about what the passage of a bill like the American Dream and Promise Act means, I think about the members of United We Dream and the millions of undocumented young people who have courageously shared their stories and fought back against hateful and anti-immigrant policies. I also think about the opportunity to be able to see my dad again after over a decade. My dad, like so many other undocumented immigrants, was a victim of the police-to-deportation pipeline, deported after an interaction with local police in Texas.
The beauty of this moment is that we get to determine the country we want to be. We have an opportunity to be a country that sees immigrants for their full humanity. We have an opportunity to recognize immigrants as integral to the success and prosperity of our nation.
United We Dream, as a co-chair of the We Are Home campaign and through our Undeniable campaign, is moving every possible opportunity to win a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented people. We support any and every possible legislation that gets us closer to a pathway to citizenship for every undocumented person living in the US that doesn’t come tied to more money for enforcement.
President Biden and his Democratic majority have the moral imperative to act. They must be bold and courageous in following through with their promises to deliver for immigrants. If the four years of anti-immigrant attacks have shown us anything, it’s that immigrants cannot wait—not until next year, not until after the 2022 midterm elections. Democrats and President Biden must use every single tool at their disposal to deliver citizenship for people, which includes driving a pathway to citizenship for people through budget reconciliation and by eliminating the filibuster. With the House, Senate, and the White House under control of the Democrats, we are leading a sophisticated inside and outside strategy that pushes for administrative and legislative change. We are doing the work to push the administration and Congress, while also working with other social justice movements and progressive allies to create the necessary public pressure and outside conditions to make our victory an inevitability.
Strategic wins in organizing and advocacy require flexibility and long-term investments from philanthropy. Most recently, this was made clear as resources were quickly diverted to help the sustained, multiyear organizing efforts in Georgia that culminated in two runoff elections, which were instrumental in changing the political conditions in the US Senate. When funders double down and allow groups to seize and maximize political opportunities through rapid response grantmaking, streamlined application processes, and minimal reporting, we make possible wins tangible and systemic change a reality.
In the coming months, with relatively short windows of opportunity opening, United We Dream and our partners in the immigrant justice movement recognize the need for us to be nimble as we advocate to make citizenship for millions of undocumented people a reality. United We Dream and the immigrant justice movement are clear that victory is at our fingertips, and the scope of that victory will be determined by the support our movements get now and in the coming months.