Organizers call on Congress to pass last-minute immigration reform, pathway to citizenship

Ongoing DACA uncertainty ‘amounts to a two year subscription to the U.S.’

By: - December 9, 2022 5:30 am

Make the Road Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada gathered on the Las Vegas Strip Dec. 6.(Photo by Michael Lyle)

As a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, David Beltran Barajas lives his life two years at a time.

The DACA program, created through an executive order by former President Barack Obama, protects eligible immigrants who arrived in the United States as children from deportation, but they have to repeatedly reapply.

The legality of DACA has been subjected to numerous lawsuits, including one that led to the preventing the government from accepting new applications currently – and there is no certainty about the program’s future.   

“I’ve lived like an American, I’ve loved like an American and I’ve grieved like an American,” Beltran Barajas said. “And yet, I’m not an American. I get to live my life only two years at a time, which amounts to a two year subscription to the U.S.”

He joined members of Make the Road Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada at a public forum this week to talk about the need to pass a comprehensive pathway to citizenship.

The event comes as Democrats, who remain in power in the House for a few more weeks, are considering a last-minute push on immigration.  

Immigration groups across the country are imploring lawmakers to use the short window of the lame-duck session to pass long-overdue legislation that reforms the immigration system and offers a pathway to citizenship. 

Any reforms, they say, must consider the entire immigrant community and not leave groups out. 

“We as the community understand the urgency of the moment and that we are in a position to really push and hold our members of Congress accountable for the promises they made to our community,” said Rico Ocampo, an organizer with Make the Road Nevada. “We are in a moment where we only have several weeks left before a new Congress comes into play. There is a moment for us to really push a piece of legislation that will change the material lives of our families.” 

Democrats currently hold a slim majority in the House, but Republicans will regain control in 2023. 

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are working on a draft proposal, though no legislative text has been finalized, and with time running short, each day that passes without a deal makes legislation appear less likely. 

Early talks include creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people who qualify for DACA.

The proposal is also looking at allocating more funding for border security and extending the controversial Title 42 policy, which allows the United States to turn away noncitizens seeking asylum during a health crisis.

Erika Castro, an organizer with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the proposal pits immigrant communities against each other. 

“Most of the conversations right now are focused on a DACA fix,” Castro said. “Obviously being a part of the DACA recipient generation, we definitely need that fix, but we are very clear that is not enough. We want something for our families as well. A lot of those conversations are tough because we want to make sure we aren’t pitting one community against the other.”

Talks from lawmakers come as DACA recipients are in limbo.

A recent 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upheld a lower court decision that determined the DACA program to be unlawful — though current recipients are not yet affected — and blocked the government from accepting new applications.

Federal data shows more than 12,000 active DACA recipients live in Nevada.

But there are more within the immigrant community who would benefit from a pathway to citizenship and greater protections. 

Castro noted that despite campaign promises of reform, Congress hasn’t reformed immigration law in nearly 30 years. 

Many of the speakers at the Make the Road/PLAN event shared stories about failed immigration policies leaving immigrant communities vulnerable to exploitation and hardship.

“Because of a broken immigration system, many of us will belong to this nation as a permanent exploited underclass used up for all we’re worth with no recompense for the years lost,” Beltran Barajas said.

Castro said there was a window of opportunity after President Joe Biden was elected in 2020 and Democrats held a majority in the House. 

Even though the Senate was divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, a budget process called reconciliation allowed Democrats to pass some legislation with a simple majority and be shielded from a Republican filibuster. 

Early talks around the Build Back Better bill, a nearly $2 trillion proposal that made investments in social services and climate change, included funding for immigration reform. 

While it didn’t include a pathway to citizenship, the bill proposed a a temporary parole option — essentially a work permit — for close to 7 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country since at least since Jan. 1, 2011. Those eligible would be protected from deportation for up to 10 years.

“I did have faith something was going to move forward because we didn’t need the 60 votes,” Castro said. “That was the window Democrats had to deliver to our community and uphold those promises.”

However, any hope for immigration reform to be included in the package soured when the Senate parliamentarian, an unelected adviser, determined immigration legislation wasn’t eligible for passage under the reconciliation process. Though Senate rules allow the party controlling the Senate to ignore a parliamentarian’s ruling, Senate Democrats opted to abide by it.

“All we had to do was disregard the parliamentarian,” Castro said.  “I personally think we had a better chance during reconciliation. Right now we have a small window.”

While language is still being updated, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he “hope that those talks come to fruition.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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