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Ocasio-Cortez Says $3.5T Bill Is an Opportunity to Provide Immigrants Refuge

Though many have lived in the U.S. for decades, Temporary Protected Status holders have few pathways to citizenship.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during an event outside Union Station June 16, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged for the Democrats’ reconciliation package to include citizenship pathways for immigrants like Dreamers and those in the U.S. under humanitarian visas.

Noting that “countless” constituents who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have reached out to her, Ocasio-Cortez said, “I have the privilege of calling these individuals constituents entirely thanks to their courage and determination in risking their lives to escape treacherous conditions of environmental disasters, violence and corruption back home.”

TPS holders are allowed to stay in the U.S. as long as the countries that they immigrate from are deemed too unsafe to return to. There are an estimated over 400,000 TPS holders in the U.S., many of whom are from El Salvador after earthquakes devastated the country’s economy 20 years ago.

Though many TPS holders have been living in the U.S. for decades, their path to citizenship is limited, meaning that they could face deportation if the U.S. deems it safe for them to return to the countries they immigrated from. In June, the Supreme Court handed a major blow to TPS holders and immigrant advocates when it ruled that TPS holders are not all in the country lawfully, severely limiting their ability to apply for permanent residency, or a green card.

As Ocasio-Cortez noted, more than 40,800 TPS holders live in New York. “Today, the U.S. is their only refuge and their only home,” she said. “They have lived in the U.S. for decades, becoming part of the backbone of our local and national economies. While TPS has allowed them to stay in the U.S., it has also put their lives perpetually in limbo, as TPS holders must wait every few months to find out if the program has been renewed.”

The congresswoman also pointed out that the reconciliation process is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to create more citizenship pathways for immigrants — which she argues is the least the U.S. can do, considering the role the country has played in creating political instability in many of these countries and in accelerating climate disasters.

Democrats have proposed including pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders and essential workers like farmworkers. This week, the immigration proposals face scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate parliamentarian, who recommends whether or not a particular provision fits within the budget reconciliation process. A proposal must have a significant impact on the U.S. budget in order to be deemed fit for reconciliation.

Democrats presented their argument for including the immigration proposals to the parliamentarian last week, and a decision could come as soon as this week. The parliamentarian’s decision isn’t final, however. Democratic leadership could still decide to ignore her recommendation, which they chose not to do in the spring, when Congress was considering Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vermont) $15 federal minimum wage proposal.

Advocates have argued that immigration reform is “a perfect fit” for the reconciliation process. As Marshall Fitz wrote for Roll Call, “Irrefutably, enabling immigrants to earn permanent residence has a clear and significant budgetary impact, primarily by allowing a new class of people to become eligible for public benefits and services.”

Fitz pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office found that the Dream and Promise Act, which would allow Dreamers and TPS holders to be granted permanent residency, would add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade and would create over 400,000 jobs.

Advocates also say that the U.S. has a moral obligation to widen citizenship pathways. TPS holders are subject to the political whims of the president and party in office, which leaves them in limbo without permanent residence status. The Trump administration removed several countries from the TPS list, taking away protections for about 98 percent of TPS holders. President Joe Biden has reversed that decision — but although he’s promised to expand citizenship pathways for TPS holders, Dreamers and immigrant farmworkers, he hasn’t taken further action to codify that promise.

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