Getting Legal

Farmworkers at the UFW in Salinas celebrate Inauguration Day with signs in English and Spanish: “Farmworkers are essential” and “Welcome President Biden, immigration reform now.”

United Farmworkers and the United Farmworkers Foundation launched a campaign called, “We Are Home,” to push for immigration reform that could grant legal status to more than 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.

“It is time that our nation acknowledges the contributions of immigrants,” UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres stated in a press release. “Our immigrant communities are ready for a permanent immigration legislative solution and they are ready to take action to win.”

On Jan. 20, his first day in office, President Joe Biden sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. It would set up an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented residents living in the U.S. on or before Jan. 1, 2021. They would be under temporary legal residency, or green card status, for five years. After that, they could apply for a legal permanent residency and then, after three more years, could request naturalization. In order to obtain the residency, applicants would have to pass background checks and pay taxes; additional background checks and proof of English and civics proficiency would be required to request citizenship.

Those with temporary protected status, including those people who came to the U.S. while escaping civil wars and natural disasters, as well as those here under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and immigrant farmworkers, would be able to apply immediately.

Farmworkers would need to prove they worked in the U.S. for at least 100 days during four of the past five years.

On Jan. 20, farmworkers celebrated Biden’s inauguration at the UFW in Salinas. “It is time for people to stop being like captives and get justice for people who are working, who are responsible and who feed this country,” UFW Regional Director Lauro Barajas told the group in Spanish. “We need to work hard from today to April and do our best to get enough votes [to pass the Citizenship Act].”

Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, says his organization has for years advocated for immigration reform, but he has concerns about Biden’s plan. “It doesn’t really touch on temporary workers and makes no improvements to the H-2A program or other temporary programs,” Groot says.

Blanca Zarazua, a Salinas immigration attorney, says it’s too soon to know which elements of the bill might pass, but she views it enthusiastically. “Perhaps President Biden wants this to be his legacy. It’s a very, very, very aggressive bill,” Zarazua says, “which I welcome, but some people may not.”

This bill also addresses the immigration court backlog: One of Zarazua’s cases was just put off until 2022.

Biden also quickly signed several executive orders reversing Donald Trump’s policies. He strengthened the DACA program and stopped the border fence construction. He also paused deportation for 100 days and is rebuilding asylum procedures.

If it passes, Biden’s bill would be the first major immigration reform since 1986.

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