By Carmen Rodriguez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Ana and Carlos, two undocumented immigrants from Central America who live in the US, have tried to obtain their documents through many legal channels in recent years, but so far none of the paths they have taken in pursuit of legalization has worked for them.
“There are people like us who have 16 or even 25 years living in the country, working and responding, who have looked for various alternative ways to do things right, but could not find them. We've felt that they even deny us that,” Carlos told Anadolu Agency.
When they thought that all was lost and that they would have to continue living in the shadows, Carlos heard something on the news that restored their hope.
“I was hearing that [incoming President Joe] Biden is going to present immigration reform and I would like him to change the law, because it suits us all, the country, us, because it would be something for a better future,” said the Central American.
The first news on immigration reform came from Biden himself the last weekend prior to his inauguration: “I will present an immigration bill immediately and send it to the appropriate committees to start the process”.
Similarly, Kamala Harris, who since Wednesday will become the first woman, daughter of immigrants, to be sworn in as the US vice president, reiterated the announcement. “We have a proposal that is going to be presented in the first days of our administration and it is going to be about creating a path for people to obtain citizenship. We are not going to separate or divide families,” she said in an interview with a local media.
In Washington, D.C. it is said that this immigration law reform proposal, which will benefit more than 11,000 immigrants throughout the country, would be presented on Wednesday, once Biden is installed in the Oval Office.
Experts and civil organizations dedicated to the issue suggest that the position and immigration policy of the next administration will be completely different from the one carried out by outgoing President Donald Trump. In addition, they point out that many of the first actions will be aimed at reversing the repressive migration policy of “zero tolerance” of the outgoing administration.
“We estimate that in the first year there will be a series of actions that will seek to reverse measures taken by the outgoing administration. It is possible that Congress can approve a wide range of reforms to immigration law, not necessarily in a single package, that have the intention of reversing the very repressive, exclusive and punitive framework that currently characterizes the immigration issue,” Oscar Chacon, the director of a network of migrant-led organizations Alianza Americas, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.
The possibility of immigration reform being passed in the US is greater, because in the coming years, in the House of Representatives and in the Congress, the vote that the vice president may have when there is no consensus will be decisive, as well as the dominance of the Democrats in both houses.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, told members of the TPS (Temporary Protected Status) Alliance late last year that the party is committed to passing immigration reform, including permanent residence for "Tepesians" -- beneficiaries of the TPS -- in the coming months.
“We Democrats are doing what we can do. We will fight for you, no matter who is in charge. We are going to be with you, we are with you and all the Democrats are committed,” said Schumer in a private session with the "Tepesians".
Migration experts anticipate that the proposal which will be presented by Biden's team includes the issuance of “green cards” (residence and work permits) for more than 450,000 immigrants who are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs and TPS that Trump tried to cancel during his tenure.
The next vice president said the proposal contemplates the suspension of deportations for 100 days, as well as the reduction of the waiting time in the residence and citizenship processes, in addition to the reforms related to work visas.
“We are going to reduce the time that is now from 10 to eight years. We are going to extend work permits for many immigrants representing more than 200,000 essential workers who continue to respond to the pandemic,” said Kamala Harris.
The Biden-Harris administration also intends to immediately reverse the “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Trump, which in addition to being the most criticized, led to the separation of families on the southern border of the country and which, for now, rejects all applicants for asylum at the borders.
As a result of this measure, more than 500 children are still in the custody of the US authorities because their parents have not been located.
"We are going to reinstall the service for families, we will not separate or divide families at borders. We are going to ensure that the children who arrive at the borders have legal representation, we are going to make sure that they have a fair process and we are going to appoint more judges in the immigration courts,” assured Harris.
The director of Alianza Americas anticipates that the actions could also include the “abolition” of the “safe third country” agreements, which the Trump government signed with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) that allows the US to send the immigrants it does not want to accept to those countries.
“The incoming administration is going to make use of the administrative powers granted by the law, we are going to effectively see immediate actions of measures that guarantee the continuity of the protection of people who have been in the case of DACA and TPS,” said Chacon.
- Trump 'did nothing'
A few months ago, Ana and Carlos started once again a recent process seeking legalization and in order to do this, they had to divorce. But on Christmas Eve, their lawyer informed them that the process had been rejected by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
From day one, Trump worked to transform immigration policy. The same week that he was sworn in, he issued an executive order to ban people from Muslim countries from entering the country and criticism of this action persecuted the president throughout his tenure.
In addition, he issued other orders to change the asylum application processes, making this path more cumbersome. At the same time, he allowed a rise in fees of all immigration processes.
“Policies have changed in regards to asylum processes. This administration did nothing to help immigrants. The offices stopped accepting more applications, millions of people were affected and that is why we now have many lawsuits against these orders,” explained migration lawyer Gina Takemory.
According to the lawyer, the changes caused delays and because they did not report promptly, and also caused many people not to receive notifications of summons to interviews at immigration offices and courts.
“Many people lost their cases because of this. These actions also affected processes that were already underway. Since last October, increases in fines and fees have been implemented, and the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] did not notify many people of when they had to complete their asylum application procedures, and this made the situation much more complicated for some,” Takemory concluded in an interview with Anadolu Agency.
* Daniela Mendoza contributed to this story.