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Activists, local officials press Democrats for immigration reform in spending package

Border Report

Up to 30,000 in New Mexico stand to gain legal immigration status through $3.5 billion economic recovery bill

Farm workers (File, Nexstar)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – New Mexico activists and elected officials on Wednesday joined a nationwide chorus of advocates urging Congress to push immigration reform in a major spending bill.

Immigration provisions are part of the Democratic-backed $3.5 trillion economic recovery bill, whose details are still being ironed out. The Senate parliamentarian also needs to rule on whether changes to immigration law directly relate to the spending bill, which can be approved through a simple majority vote. That process is known as budget reconciliation.

Some 5 million undocumented farm and essential workers, and more than 1 million Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (the so-called “Dreamers”) and Temporary Protected Status migrants would get a path to citizenship under the proposal

“It’s time for Congress to act. The ways to truly build back better is to ensure that ‘Dreamers,’ TPS holders and essential workers are included in all economic recovery legislation and to divest from immigration enforcement agencies like ICE and CBP,” said a letter signed this week by 700 federal, state and local legislators sent to President Joe Biden and congressional leaders this week.

In New Mexico, up to 30,000 undocumented migrants stand to gain legal status, advocates say. The state is home to 60,000 people lacking lawful immigration status, according to the American Immigration Council.

“Border communities are diverse and thriving. We are economic engines with approximately 2.3 million undocumented essential workers and 1.2 million farm workers living in Border states and one in five DACA recipients live in border communities,” said Las Cruces City Council member Johana Bencomo. “We must ensure that a pathway to citizenship is just and clear of more border militarization dollars that can continue to put undocumented Americans in danger of detention and deportation.”

Most members of the New Mexico congressional delegation support legalization through budget reconciliation. Only U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-New Mexico, has come out against it and warned about a porous southern border where 1.2 million migrants have come across this fiscal year.

“Nancy Pelosi’s $3.5 trillion budget package is already a bloated mess; ramming through controversial and possibly unconstitutional changes to our immigration system as part of budget reconciliation is a ploy by Democrats to hide radical policies from the American people, rather than debate them in the open,” Herrell told Border Report on Wednesday.

‘Best chance for legalization in decades’

Some advocates say this is the best chance in decades to achieve immigration reform with a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and White House, and with polls showing widespread support from the general population.

“I believe the climate and conditions on the national level for a path to citizenship is ripe,” said New Mexico state Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Rio Arriba. “When we look at creating economic improvement and (better) health care, the contribution that immigrant workers make are measurable.”

But political analysts say the Democratic majority and public support alone don’t guarantee legalization for the 6.5 million undocumented.

“Both political questions and Senate rules are at play. The politics have more to do with size than immigration. Are all Democrats on board with the overall size” of the spending package, said Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

Some Senate Democrats are uncomfortable with the $3.5 trillion price tag, which means some plans might have to come off the table. Also, the Senate parliamentarian might decide changes to immigration laws aren’t directly tied to economic recovery, she said.

“It’s a pretty big question,” Gelatt said. “There could be several attempts to change the language (of the immigration provisions) around the parliamentarian’s decision. But if that doesn’t work, this may not be achievable during this particular political process.”

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