Soon the “Gang of 8” will introduce its much anticipated immigration bill. It’s difficult to put into words exactly what this legislation, and it’s great potential, mean to me. But if I had to choose one word, it would be something akin to gratitude. Maybe gratefulness. Thanks. Or maybe relief.
Relief for the young woman who was brought to the United States at age 2 by her parents. Carried across the desert to a better life. Labeled “illegal” and treated as such by people and institutions unable to understand the human element. Yet educated, kind, successful, and hardworking. Not knowing any other life but this one. And until now, having no choice but to remain a slave to draconian immigration laws and potential punishments.
Relief for the mother who worked and lived in the United States for 16 years to support her four children. Forced to come to this country by a husband who abused her. Brave enough to leave him behind. And then alone. Without assistance from anyone. The epitome of a resilient, hardworking, self-reliant, individual. The same mother who was then jailed, extradited, transferred, detained, fined, denied bond, and separated from her family for an entire year. Put in prison. Because she paid her taxes using a social security number that she believed belonged to no one. A misdemeanor.
I’ve not been involved in this work for long. But every day I hear one of these stories. And when one is too many, every day feels like a million. And so I feel grateful that there are people with real power fighting to change these very inhuman, often malevolent, and extremely hypocritical laws.
Here are just a few of the provisions highlighted in an outline of the newly released legislation:
- Undocumented persons who entered the U.S. prior to December 31, 2011 and maintained continuous physical presence since that time will be able to adjust their status to that of a legal, Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI);
- Spouses and children of people in RPI status can be petitioned for as derivatives of the principal immigrant;
- After 10 years, aliens in RPI status may adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident Status through the same Merit Based System everyone else must use to earn a green card;
- People in DREAM Act Status and the Agricultural Program can get their green cards in 5 years and DREAM Act kids will be eligible for citizenship immediately after they get their green cards; and
- The bill eliminates the backlog for family and employment-based immigrants.
It’s true that many people oppose this new legislation, stuck in the mire of misconception that the laws of this country must be obeyed at all cost. To those people it should be reiterated that the pathway to citizenship is not easy. It will be expensive, it will take many years, and it will apply only to upstanding citizens. RPI’s will not be eligible for government benefits, all back taxes must be paid, and serious fines will be levied. Punishment achieved for those who demand it. Equality for those who deserve it. Undocumented immigrants want to get right with the law. This legislation gives them that opportunity. If it were your family, you’d want the same chance.