Locals cheer Biden’s big, bold, ambitious immigration plan, but it’s too soon to know how it will end.
Celia Jiménez here, enjoying the calm after the storm that lashed the Central Coast and washed away part of Highway 1.
I’m also awaiting another storm, but this time in the political realm after President Joe Biden sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress on his first day on the job. The bill is a proposed eight-year path to citizenship that could help around 11 million immigrants get out of the shadows and walk without fear.
It’s a bill many locals, including United Farm Workers, are fully supporting, saying that it is past time for the United States to recognize immigrants' contributions. In Monterey County’s two biggest industries, agriculture and hospitality, undocumented immigrant workers make up a huge portion of the workforce. The UFW and the United Farmworkers Foundation launched a “We are Home” campaign, to push for immigration reform.
If this bill is approved, it will provide more opportunity for undocumented workers to obtain the small green piece of plastic that opens opportunities we citizens often take for granted. Opportunities as simple as walking through the streets with the certainty that you’ll be able to go home at the end of the day.
Farmworkers are in a VIP section of the bill, meaning they would get their documents faster than other immigrants. But Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, 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.
Despite the fact that the bill doesn’t address temporary workers, it certainly gives hope to millions of immigrants that have lived in the country for over a decade. It is also the most important immigration bill since 1986.
Many are celebrating Biden’s immigration proposal, but Blanca Zarazua, a Salinas immigration attorney, says it’s too soon to celebrate. A long journey awaits before knowing which parts of the bill, if any, will be approved in Congress and eventually signed into law—but in Zarazua’s perspective, it’s a positive starting point. “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.”
A note of caution: since the bill is in its earliest early stages, Zarazua recommends immigrants to follow its progress and be cautious about pseudo-professionals who are using the U.S. Citizenship Act as a token to lure them into the immigration process they don’t qualify for yet.
And meanwhile, there’s a process to watch—and get involved with. The UFW is among the many groups leading advocacy work to secure the 60 votes needed in the Senate to make this ambitious bill become law.
-Celia Jiménez, staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org