We can't abandon a nation of immigrants - that's why we're putting our votes on the line
Op-ed by Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-ILL.), and Lou Correa (D-CALIF.)
Originally published in The Hill, 10/8/21
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of us remained hunkered in our homes while millions of immigrants, essential workers, many of whom undocumented, rose to the occasion to keep this country running — jeopardizing their livelihood while knowing the future was uncertain. They kept our grocery shelves stocked, packed warehouses, and cleaned and sanitized businesses, cared for our families, seniors, and delivered food to our doorsteps while this country came to a standstill.
And the numbers tell an incredible story.
Throughout the pandemic, over five million undocumented immigrants put their lives on the line to keep our nation afloat — with over 400,000 farm workers, 400,000 cleaning staff, 300,000 packers, stockers and shippers of essential goods, 100,000 home health care workers, and more preserving the essential services that maintain our society.
Nearly 30,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients also stepped up throughout this global health crisis, working on the frontlines as our physicians, residents, nurses, and paramedics. Now, it is our time to look after those who looked after us and produce real immigration reform through this once in a lifetime opportunity — and that’s the budget reconciliation process.
While the pandemic made millions of Americans recognize the fragility of our economy, and the role our nation’s undocumented immigrants play in it, it’s imperative we remember that this work didn’t just become “essential” — and those immigrants who we’ve relied on for so long deserve their shot at the American dream.
Time and again our nation’s undocumented immigrants have risen to the occasion, receiving well-deserved commendation for their heroic efforts — but for too long, that praise has amounted to nothing more than lip service. They’ve been cast aside, waiting in peril for decades as their futures remained in limbo, while living under the threat of deportation.
At this point, it’s clear: the status quo is unsustainable, and it is long past time we uphold our end of the bargain and deliver for our immigrant communities who’ve delivered so much for our country.
The last time Congress passed meaningful immigration reform was when Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office — and looking back, that momentous achievement added tremendous value to our nation’s economy. Since then, for 35 long years, immigrants have pleaded for Congress to deliver for them once more — and each time falling to deaf ears. How can we deny their economic input to our great nation once more? And how can we stand idly by while they are kept in the shadows, cast aside as third-class citizens?
And as a nation of immigrants, this is not what America is about.
With a $3.5 trillion-dollar human infrastructure package in the pipeline it would be morally reprehensible, fiscally irresponsible and a grave disappointment to every single undocumented immigrant in this country for this Congress to once-again leave our most vulnerable immigrant communities behind — and we simply won’t stand for it.
Our undocumented immigrants, Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and more are valiant. They are our brothers and sisters in liberty, patriots of the highest caliber fighting tirelessly to uphold the pillars of the American experiment alongside us — and it’s time we treat them as such.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, the Senate parliamentarian — an unelected advisor to the United States Senate on the interpretation of the chamber’s rules and parliamentary procedure — has twice provided opinions that have thrown a wrench into our efforts to enact meaningful immigration reform through the budget reconciliation process.
It’s also important to remember that the role of the parliamentarian is advisory and not set in stone — and the majority can overrule their advice. Just this week, 92 scholars from around the country called on Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Democratic leadership not to "overrule" the parliamentarian, but for the presiding officer of the Senate to issue a ruling contrary to her advice — citing that the ultimate decision on a point of order lies with the presiding officer, subject to appeal to the full Senate.
Since the Senate hired a parliamentarian to advise in 1935, there have been several instances in which the vice president simply ignores this advice. There’s precedent for this — in 1975, when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller ignored the parliamentarian and refused to sustain a point of order against changing filibuster rules — and we must not rule out having to do the same to deliver on our promise.
This is a historic opportunity — for us to bring back compassion and dignity to our immigration system, and one that we need to seize. That’s why we will vote down any budget reconciliation deal that does not include some form of commonsense immigration reform — period. This moment also calls for bold action, which is why we call on Vice President Harris, as presiding officer of the Senate, to dismiss the Senate parliamentarian’s opinion and not only do what is right for 8 million immigrants, but also recognize the budgetary effect of such a determination.
Espaillat represents the 13th District of New York, García represents the 4th District of Illinois and Correa represents the 46th District of California.