For far too long our country’s broken immigration system has failed many seeking a better life. The Trump Administration imposed one of the most inhumane approaches to border security and immigration management that our nation has ever seen. 

During the last four years our nation watched in horror while President Trump spearheaded policies that separated families, caged thousands of children, forced asylum seekers to wait in make-shift camps in Mexico, temporarily ended protections for DACA recipients, and funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to fund an ineffective border wall. 

Despite the suffering inflicted by the administration’s so called “tough-stance” on immigration, people were not deterred, and drugs and other contraband continued to be smuggled across our borders, not just in-between but also through ports of entry, proving definitively that these policies do not work. The American public noticed, and last November showed up in record breaking numbers to vote for change.

Yesterday, I proudly joined my colleagues in introducing The U.S. Citizenship Act, President Biden’s immigration reform bill, to help deliver the change Americans deserve. The bill addresses our broken immigration system by creating a long overdue earned pathway to citizenship for individuals who already live and contribute so much to our nation, many serving our country in essential jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also addresses the factors that lead individuals to immigrate to the U.S. by tackling the root causes of migration and investing in smart border security measures. Finally, the bill invests in our ports of entry, a key measure important to our region, by enhancing our ability to detect contraband and counter transnational criminal networks since illicit drugs are most likely to be smuggled through legal ports of entry.

President Biden’s approach is measured and robust. Not only would this bill reform our immigration laws for the first time in 30 years, but through Executive Action he is also helping children and families forced to return to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) to allow for proper processing of their asylum cases. MPP is one of the most shameful and inhuman policies our country has ever seen, and under this administration these cases will be carefully vetted each day and only at three ports of entry. The President is delivering on his promise to rectify this unjust and inhumane policy.

This approach does not signal any change to border enforcement and is not an open invitation to migrate irregularly to our nation. The thoughtful checks, procedures, and measures set in place will help ensure that. To start, the process only applies to certain individuals with active MPP cases and prioritizes those who have been waiting the longest and are most vulnerable, like pregnant women. The plan makes use of innovative technology to identify, prioritize, and track individuals, and ensures any candidate for processing tests negative for COVID-19 before they are even allowed into America. This whole-of-government approach also involves my community. I am inspired by the local officials and non-profit volunteers who even during a pandemic and once-in-a-generation winter storm continue to work in coordination with the federal government to address these needs.

President Biden is ramping up production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 vaccines. As this process continues to move forward, it is imperative that all volunteers, CBP officers, and other local law enforcement officers and government officials are fully vaccinated and have access to adequate PPE to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from the virus.

Many of my Democratic colleagues were quick to call out the previous administration’s failures when it came to immigration reform. This is our opportunity to finally do something about it and bring about change that the majority of Americans want to see. Together we can deliver comprehensive immigration reform, secure our borders, and protect our communities from this deadly pandemic. The U.S. Citizenship Act fixes our broken immigration system. I stand with President Biden’s plan to build back better so that we continue to adhere to the American values our nation was founded on.

The U.S. Citizenship Act would:

  • Provide pathways to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, agriculture workers and DACA recipients
  • Strengthen labor protections 
  • Prioritize smart border controls
  • Address the root causes of migration
  • To learn more about The U.S. Citizenship Act, click here. To read the bill text, click here.

To learn more about the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to begin processing individuals with active MPP cases, click here.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Congressman Filemon Vela of Brownsville. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Rep. Vela can be reached by email via: [email protected]