Response from Undocumented Activist to House Bills on Immigration

• Clean Legalization for Dreamers, TPS holders, and farmworkers! Legalization for All!

• Eliminate the filibuster! No concessions to the Republicans for more deportations, more detentions, or more militarization of the border!

• No to Guest Worker Programs that exploit immigrant farm workers!

By E.J. Esperanza

A response by an undocumented member of the Movimiento de Papeles Para Todos to the Democratic Party’s proposed legalization for Dreamers, TPS holders, and agricultural workers

On March 18, 2021, the Democratic Party passed two immigration bills in the House of Representatives that have been lauded and applauded by immigrant rights’ organizations far and wide: The Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) and the Agricultural Worker Modernization Act (HR 1603). These two bills would provide a path to citizenship to approximately 3 million immigrants, namely Dreamers, TPS holders, and some agricultural workers – to the exclusion of the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

First, we must be clear that these partial reforms constitute yet another retreat by the Democratic Party. Let us not forget that on Inauguration Day, and to much fanfare, President Biden introduced the Citizenship Act (H.R. 1177), which purported to give legalization to the 11 million undocumented workers living in the country. But what’s happened to the Citizenship Act? Why has the Democratic Party failed to bring it to a vote? Why was it bypassed, and a bill intended to benefit only Dreamers and TPS holders advanced instead?

The answer is simple: The Democratic Party has no intention of legalizing all 11 million undocumented workers. The Citizenship Act was but a ploy to pacify and co-opt an immigrant rights movement that had grown increasingly bold under the Trump administration in its demands to abolish ICE and to abolish all immigration detention centers and border camps. The choice of the House Democrats to proceed with a bill that would provide legalization for only 3 million instead of 11 million undocumented workers only confirms the Democratic Party’s priorities.    

Second, despite the limitations of these reforms, we in the immigrant rights movement must not abstain from the struggle of Dreamers and TPS holders, lest we abandon the political terrain to the Democratic Party. Instead, we must warn Dreamers and TPS holders that even these partial reforms are not guaranteed in the hands of the Democratic Party.

One need only remember the blow that the Democratic Party dealt to a young and inexperienced Dreamer movement in 2010. Then, the Democratic Party voted down the DREAM Act despite having a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate; the Democrats betrayed their promise to undocumented youth.

Today, the Democratic Party has fewer votes in the Senate than it did in 2010 – ten fewer to be exact. More than ever, Dreamers and TPS holders will need to heed those lessons and mobilize our forces independently of the Democratic Party, in larger numbers, with our own aims and strategies, if there’s going to be any reforms. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, will have to be forced to enact reforms through mass and independent mobilizations from below. We must have no illusions about that.

Third, our movement must have an independent strategy, one that judges reforms by whether they advance, instead of hamper, the fight to win legalization for all. In our assessment, we must not confuse the aims of the Democratic Party for ours, lest we repeat the defeats and legislative failures of the past. The question of independent strategy is of central importance now that these reforms for Dreamers and TPS holders are headed to the Senate, where the real battle will begin.

In the Senate, the Democratic Party and Republican Party each have 50 votes – with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote. Without getting around the Senate’s filibuster – which requires a 60-vote majority to enact most legislation – all progressive reforms will become their opposite as a result of the negotiations needed to obtain votes from the Republican Party. The filibuster is a reactionary and anti-democratic rule that must be done away with. In the context of immigration reform, the filibuster can only mean concessions to the Republican Party for more enforcement, more detentions, more deportations, and more border militarization – concessions that the Democratic Party is more than willing to grant.

We must oppose all provisions for enforcement. Let us remember that in 2017, when the Democratic Party agreed to negotiate more enforcement with the Trump administration in exchange for the Dream Act, undocumented youth refused to be used as bargaining chips. Instead, undocumented youth raised the independent demand for a “Clean Dream Act” with no enforcement. The refusal of undocumented youth to sacrifice their parents in exchange for their own legalization is a lesson that must be heeded today. It woudld be a backward step for the immigrant rights movement to have held out against the Trump administration on this exact question only to cave into the Democratic Party now.

The immigrant rights movement must continue to demand a clean legislation that does not sacrifice the vast majority of undocumented workers through more immigration enforcement.

Specifically, we must be clear that a clean legalization for Dreamers and TPS holders is only possible (1) through the Senate’s budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes, or (2) through the elimination of the filibuster, which also only requires 51 votes. In the Senate, only these two options can deliver clean legalization without concessions for enforcement. Only under these circumstances can a partial reform for Dreamers and TPS holders today advance the struggle for all 11 million undocumented workers tomorrow. This is perfectly within the grasp of the Democratic Party to do. Whether they’ll be moved to do it will depend on the ability of the major immigrant rights’ organizations – together with the trade union movement and all movements of the oppressed – to mobilize independently of the Democratic Party, and against it when needed. 

To this end, El Movimiento de Papeles Para Todos and organizations like Cosecha are calling for a national day of action on May 1, 2021 to protest President Biden’s first 100 days in office and demand legalization for all, no more deportations, and a closure of all detention centers.

All out on international workers’ day! Eliminate the filibuster! No concessions for immigration enforcement! Legalization for all now!

Refugees from Honduras seek shelter in Guatemala before traveling further north.
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