AZ Dems, youth call for historic pathway to citizenship package

By: - September 10, 2021 12:57 pm

Democratic elected officials and different immigrant community leaders gathered at a press conference on Sept. 9, 2021, at the Arizona State Capitol to advocate for a pathway to citizenship that would benefit thousands of undocumented immigrants youth and workers. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Democratic elected officials from the Arizona legislature, the City of Phoenix and the Tempe Union High School district are urging President Joe Biden and Congressional leaders to pass legislation to secure a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents. 

The push from the Arizona legislators, city council members and school board representatives comes as U.S. Senate Democrats are crafting legislation to provide a pathway to some immigrants through a sweeping spending package in a process that bypasses Republicans. Meetings related to whether this plan is allowed under Senate budget rules are expected to begin Friday, The Hill reported. 

The House already has a package that includes a pathway to citizenship for different immigrant groups including essential workers, those brought here as children, those with Temporary Protected Status and their families. 

In a letter signed by 715 state and local elected officials nationwide, 23 of them from Arizona, the leaders call for a “clean pathway to citizenship” package that divests from border and immigration enforcement agencies. 

In Arizona, Jesus Vazquez is hoping Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House priotitize giving undocumented students like him a path for permanent relief. 

Jesus Vazquez, 23, speaks at a press conference on Sept. 9, 2021, at the Arizona State Capitol to advocate for a pathway to citizenship that would benefit him and thousands of other undocumented immigrants. Vazquez could have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but court rulings and other obstacles have kept him out of DACA. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

At a press conference Thursday attended by some of the leaders who signed on to the letter and community groups supporting the issue, Vazquez explained the different obstacles that have kept him out of a temporary work permit and protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

The 2012 program benefits some young immigrants who arrived in the US before June of 2007. 

After graduating high school in 2017, Vazquez began preparing his DACA application. But that year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the abrupt end of the program. That move was challenged, and DACA was later reinstated in the courts. At the end of 2020, Vazquez — who arrived in the US at age 3 — again could prepare his application. He applied in June. The next month, a Texas judge barred the federal government from adjudicating cases like Vazquez’s and thousands of other new applicants.

“My dreams and plans and aspirations are at a stop again,” he said. “I can no longer obtain a work permit, a driver’s license and I’m at risk of deportation.”

Vazquez said his experience shows DACA can’t provide permanent, and reliable, relief to thousands of immigrants who’ve lived most of their lives in the US. 

“DACA is not a permanent solution for young immigrants and others who wish to better their lives. I feel as if there is no real protection for work and a better quality of life,” he said. 

He called on Congress and President Joe Biden to provide a pathway to citizenship.

For Katany Cardenas, a student at Arizona Western College in Yuma, a pathway for citizenship would bring equity to her family. 

Cardenas, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen, was born in California to a farmworker father and teacher mother. Cardenas shared her father’s story: One of 11 siblings, he immigrated to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Michoacan and has lived and worked without authorization. He began working in the fields when he was 15, she said. About five years ago, he suffered a back injury because of decades of hard labor picking crops throughout California and Arizona. 

Katany Cardenas speaks at a press conference on Sept. 9, 2021, at the Arizona State Capitol to advocate for a pathway to citizenship that would benefit her parents thousands of other farmworkers and undocumented immigrants. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Cardenas’s mom, who had degrees in education in Mexico and was a teacher, then took over and began working in the fields, too. She worked harvesting vegetables during the pandemic. She is a permanent resident and has been applying for two years for citizenship, but is facing barriers because of the documentation requirements going back 15 years she has to present. 

“There’s not a lot of support for us,” Cardenas said. “I am a citizen, (but) my parents have to be struggling. Why? They don’t have the help they need. I am proud to say who I am and who my parents are.”

She invoked farmworker leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez, who died in San Luis, where Cardenas grew up. 

“Cesar Chavez did it. Sí se puede,” she said. “This is a movement we can keep going.”

Phoenix Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia, one of the elected officials who signed the letter, was among the lead activists in the Arizona migrant rights movement before his election to city council in 2018. He said immigrant communities have pushed for more than 17 years for this legislation.

Garcia said he used to be undocumented, and had six people in his family deported. He was among the activists who pushed back against the litany of anti-immigrant bills meant to push immigrants out of Arizona that state legislators approved for several years, culminating in the most notorious one, Senate Bill 1070 in 2010. 

“We’ve been used and abused,” he said. “We continue to hear the same stories, we continue to hear stories that were being told before these young folks were born.” 

Garcia said his message was geared towards Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema.

“Don’t underestimate us,” he said Thursday at the Capitol. “We are here telling the same sad stories that you know you’ve heard. Senator Sinema was here during 1070 (as a state legislator), she knows all of our stories, now she has to do the right thing.”

He added that any legislative action Congress takes has to include the udocumented communities and their families. 

“Anything that gets done needs to include our people,” Garcia said. “The same people that have fueled this country in this pandemic.”

Estimates from the Center for Migration Studies show Arizona is home to nearly 169,000 undocumented workers, who account for 5% of the state’s workforce. 

In recent months, the We Are Home coalition in Arizona, which gathers different community and advocacy groups, has organized events locally and campaigns to push for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented youth, students and workers

Corazón Arizona is one of the organizations in that coalition. Alicia Contreras, the executive director, said Biden won’t be able to keep his promise to “Build Back Better” unless undocumented immigrants are given the path to permanent status. 

“There will be no economic recovery in the United States without providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumetned workers in the budget reconciliation,” she said at Thursday’s press conference. “There will be no moral recovery of our nation until we are able to see the reflection of God in the faces of each and every one of our immigrant brothers and sisters and treat them with dignity and respect that they deserve. This is not about proving worthiness, this is about knowing in our hearts and taking action via reconciliation that simply sees humanity in one another.”

A report by the Center for American Progress found that if Congress provided a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., the country’s gross domestic product would boost by $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years and create nearly half a million new jobs.

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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.