Biden’s first day brings immigration reforms, but AZ leaders will push for more

By: - January 21, 2021 1:08 pm

Six immigrants became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony on the state House of Representatives floor on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. They were born in American Samoa, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Nepal, Philippines. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

On the afternoon of President Donald Trump’s last day in office, a 44-year-old woman from Venezuela walked to a downtown Nogales port of entry to request asylum for her seven-year-old daughter and her 76-year-old aunt. 

The family was denied entry into the U.S. Under Trump, requesting asylum at the border was scaled back and eventually suspended due to the pandemic in March. 

Beatriz, the Venezuelan woman who only shared her first name to protect her identity since she said she’s fleeing violent attacks in her home country, hoped Jan. 19 marked the last day she had to wait to request asylum for her family in Mexico. 

By the end of President Joe Biden’s first afternoon in office, it was clear Beatriz’s days and nights at the Mexican side of the border will keep adding up.

For nearly a year, she’s been in Nogales, Sonora, waiting to request asylum at the border for her daughter and aunt, as U.S. immigration law allows. Beatriz has a tourist visa.

Before heading to the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Jan. 19, she spoke during a march in the border city where dozens of asylum-seekers called on Biden to “save asylum.”

As they walked on the streets near the tall and rust-colored border fence, they chanted in Spanish, “We have the right! The right to asylum!” and “Not one more day!”

“I ask the new administration to speed up the process,” Beatriz said, wearing a long black coat, and a black bag strapped on her back as if she was ready for a trip. She said her husband and two older daughters are already living and working in the U.S. Beatriz, her younger daughter and her aunt want to be a whole family again. The wait, she said, has been “a nightmare”

“I truly don’t know if we can endure this long wait, and I’m afraid of the psychological impact that this lost time will have on my daughter,” Beatriz said. “She cries every day. Sleeps during the day and cries at night.”

Biden’s Day One agenda: Key immigration, border changes

On Wednesday, the first hours of the Biden administration included a sweeping immigration plan set to be introduced in Congress that provides for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, executive orders to halt construction of Trump’s border wall and revoke travel restrictions from predominantly Muslim and African countries, and a late-night announcement on a 100-day pause on some deportations that starts Jan. 22.

Beatriz’s plea for a quick solution that reinstates the asylum system prior to Trump’s policies wasn’t met by the new administration, so she and her family will continue waiting at the border. 

Other immigrant leaders in Arizona said they are optimistic, but will continue to push Biden to implement immediate meaningful changes while acknowledging his shortfalls in immigration reform during the Obama years that they say paved the way for Trump to realize his harsh immigration agenda. 

“I know that he committed to undo Trump’s harm, but we need more than that,” said Abril Gallardo of Living United for Change Arizona. Gallardo has a temporary work permit and protections from deportation under the 2012 program called Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals. 

Biden’s legislative immigration proposal, called the U.S Citizenship Act of 2021, would grant her and hundreds of thousands of other DACA recipients green cards with the ability to apply for citizenship in three years. The proposal also gives all undocumented immigrants the ability to apply for a “temporary legal status,” with an 8-year path to citizenship.

Gallardo said Biden could have used his executive powers to implement immediate changes, while also pushing for Congress to enact permanent and meaningful immigration reform. 

“While a pathway to citizenship is optimistic, there’s other things they need to consider,” she said. “His administration should investigate (the Department of Homeland Security) … There’s no way DHS didn’t violate the rights of parents and asylum-seekers.”

Earlier this month, a government watchdog agency found that top government officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were the driving force in the push for the zero tolerance policy in the summer of 2018, which resulted in the separation of more than 5,000 migrant mothers, fathers and children. 

Isis Gil, a spokeswoman for Puente Human Rights Movement, said Biden should have been bolder in his initial immigration changes. 

Gil echoed Gallardo’s view on investigating DHS and halting all deportations and immigration enforcement, and said collaboration agreements between DHS and local law enforcement that lead to the detention and deportation of immigrants should be terminated. Puente also wants the Biden administration to end contracts with private prisons companies that detain immigrants. For years, immigration detention facilities have been the center of claims of human rights abuses and medical emergencies, including outbreaks of COVID-19 in Arizona.

“On its face, (the plan) is woefully underwhelming, considering that the president leaned heavily on the Latino community to win the presidency,” Gil said. 

The Biden-backed immigration reform bill — which is sweeping in its reforms to visa programs, restoring refugee admissions, aiding the home countries of Central American migrants fleeing violence and prosecution, and funding the heavily backlogged immigration court system — will be introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). 

“This plan is not only about fixing our broken immigration system but building a better one that reunites families, brings the undocumented community out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship,” Menendez tweeted. “The plan also stands up for human rights, addresses root causes of migration & includes a smart border security strategy.”

For Eddie Chavez Calderon, with Arizona Jews for Justice, Biden should also be accountable for the failed policies of the Obama years, which lead to the highest numbers of deportations and detention of migrant minors arriving at the border alone.

While we are thankful for DACA, we are still dealing with the consequences of deportations,” Chavez Calderon said. “This is that trauma that lingers and stays with us, that isn’t’ easily erased. We are coming at this with hopefulness, but with knowing the fact that these systems have historically not worked for us. We are ready to fight and hold people accountable. We don’t have the luxury of leaving it to chance.”

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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