For many mixed status immigrant families -- like mine -- this post-election period is a time of growing anxiety and fear about what else Donald Trump may do to harm immigrants before he leaves the White House.
It s not an unwarranted fear. It s been reported that the administration has recently been in constant communication with groups that advocate for harsher immigration policies.And Trump s track record also gives us good reason to worry about what could come. From his first moments in office, Trump has used executive action to advance his racist anti-immigrant agenda. During his first week as President, he issued a sweeping travel ban, which mostly included Muslim majority countries and refugees. And there was another executive order making undocumented immigrants, which mostly consist of people of color, immediately deportable. He has moved to take away humanitarian protections or Temporary Protective Status from 300,000 immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador.
Living under this administration has put my family s life in limbo. It meant waking up every day fearing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), now emboldened to be indiscriminate, could show up to the home of my parents, who were undocumented, and separate us. Trump s constant efforts to dismantle DACA has held back my brother, Jonathan, one of the hundreds of thousands of young people who benefitted from the program, from planning for the future and pursuing his dream of opening a martial arts academy for children and youth. It also meant that I feared my citizenship application could be backlogged for a long time or denied because of my activism.
Under the Trump administration, those of us working with immigrant communities increasingly knew of immigrants who were denied their citizenship, and earlier this year the Justice Department officially created a section in its immigration office to strip away citizenship from naturalized immigrants who the Trump administration claimed "illegally obtained naturalization," but lawyers and critics have rightfully been concerned about it being abused by the administration.
I grew up in the United States undocumented, first arriving in 1998 at 13 when my parents fled poverty and violence in Quito, Ecuador. They risked everything. They wanted to make sure I would not only survive here, but also get a chance to pursue dreams unattainable in the place they left behind.But after more than 20 years of living in this country, I became a US citizen. My citizenship application was approved, and I was able to petition for my parents, who after waiting for more than a year, were granted green cards this month. This was a bittersweet moment for our family because though I could petition for my brother, the immigration system only allows a limited number of visas for sibling petitions per year and our application would take 13 years or more to be processed.
My story is similar to the stories of millions of immigrants who are here to stay and whose lives were at stake during this election.
And while families remain anxious about what the current administration will do on its way out, we are hopeful about what President-elect Joe Biden will do to fix America s unjust immigration system on his way in. But we need to hear more about his agenda to help diminish any fear coming over the immigrant community during Trump s last weeks in office.
I voted in my first presidential election this November.
My vote for Biden was a vote for my immigrant parents, for my brother and for all of the other immigrant families impacted by Trump s hateful agenda of deportation, detention and family separation.
And many young undocumented immigrants who couldn t vote nevertheless played a big role in the months leading up to Election Day, mobilizing their communities to vote for Biden.
Voters have given him a mandate to address the needs of working-class people, including immigrants, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and are struggling for survival after four years of Trump.
At United We Dream Action, I was proud to help launch and run the largest electoral program ever led by immigrant youth this year. We drove record turnout among low-propensity Latinx, youth, and first-time voters in numerous battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan and North Carolina. Several of these states were crucial for defeating Trump and carrying Biden across the finish line to victory.Now, we re calling on him to use the transition period to prepare and announce a series of pro-immigrant executive actions that will happen on day one of his presidency.
Ideally, we wouldn t have to rely on Biden s executive power to grant basic human decency for one of the most marginalized groups in this country.
The policy changes that would protect immigrant communities permanently and provide a pathway to citizenship can only be done through Congressional action, but Republicans unwavering embrace of Trump and his policies would certainly make legislative action challenging if they hold on to the Senate after the Georgia runoff election. Nonetheless, the immigrant justice movement will keep up the pressure on Congress for action. The hope for legislative action, however, cannot be used as an excuse for a Biden administration to not take executive action to provide immediate relief for immigrants. We simply can t wait.
With the stroke of his presidential pen, Biden can do many things to empower and protect immigrants, including several measures he has supported during the campaign trail like reversing all of Trump s anti-immigrant executive orders; halting all deportations (Biden has said that he is in favor of doing this temporarily, but it needs to be a lasting measure); closing for-profit immigrant detention facilities; immediately releasing all immigrants from detention centers -- where unsanitary conditions and overcrowding have created the perfect storm for Covid-19 outbreaks -- so that they can reunite with families, friends or be part of non-profit community programs that help to keep families safe while they follow the legal process for their case.Immigrants, mostly of color -- because of systemic racism and an immigration system built to criminalize them -- are being held indefinitely in these facilities for minor violations like driving without a license. Under Trump, detention centers are filled with immigrants who have been criminalized for seeking refuge in this country, living here without papers, traffic stops, and other minor violations.
Biden has promised to reinstate the DACA program, but he should also expand it and implement other measures to protect immigrants from deportation and family separation.
Other important measures will require bipartisan support but are just as important for Biden to start talking about now. For one, creating a pathway to citizenship for all, including undocumented workers who are keeping this country running—like farmworkers, meatpacking plant workers and home health aides -- during the pandemic.
We need the new administration to act in a way that makes clear that there is no relief for essential workers without immediate relief for undocumented immigrants -- the two are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. That s why Biden should immediately push both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to ensure that future Covid-19 relief bills include help for undocumented immigrants who pay billions of dollars in taxes. The fact that the first relief bill left out millions of immigrants was shameful. We are a crucial part of ensuring that the entire country is on the road to recovery. And if finding funding is an issue, diverting billions from a cruel and unjust immigration enforcement system to fund federal Covid-19 relief efforts is a great start.Just as Trump and his Republican enablers have been unapologetic in moving their anti-immigrant agenda, Biden should immediately pursue every executive and legislative path possible to advance justice for immigrants.
But we need Biden to be much more than the anti-Trump President.
We need him to be the President who rebuilds and leads an America where all people, including immigrants, can live freely and with dignity -- an America where all immigrants become equal partners in making this multi-racial democracy better for everyone.