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‘Yes to citizenship’: Immigrants rally for reform of Build Back Better Act

Immigrants and activists rally at the Los Angeles Federal Building to demand a pathway to citizenship be included in the Biden administration’s reconciliation plan.

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Immigrants and activists protested Thursday in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles with a rallying cry, “¿Qué queremos? ¡Ciudadanía para todos! ¿Cuando? ¡Ahora!” [What do we want? Citizenship for all! When? Now!]. They wore maroon T-shirts and yellow ribbons with the handwritten phrase ‘Keep Our Dreams Alive.’

Fatima Flores-Lagunas, the political director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), led the group’s calls for the federal government to grant undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

“As immigrants and people of color, we’re still fighting systems that fail to recognize us as the Americans that we already are,” Flores-Lagunas said. “The Build Back Better bill at the moment gives us only temporary fixes, not the path to citizenship that we were promised.”

The Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act addresses affordable housing, immigration reform and other key issues. The latest version of the bill released Wednesday doesn’t include a citizenship pathway for undocumented immigrants, which both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris wanted in the bill, according to a White House press release.

Instead, the bill pledges to reform immigration in multiple ways, including a process known as parole, in which immigrants who entered the U.S. before 2011 can receive five years of work authorization. This can only be renewed once, meaning those who apply for it can only stay in the country until 2031.

“They’re failing to acknowledge the repercussions that our communities will face,” Flores-Lagunas said in an interview with Annenberg Media. “We’re not settling for anything less than permanent because that’s what we’ve been fighting for and to get one five-year permit after 35 years of fighting is not enough.”

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The U.S. has 11 million undocumented immigrants — more than any other country in the world. Over 2 million of them reside in California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

One of the rally speakers, Areli Hernandez, is a DACA recipient and grew up around the time when the contentious 1994 California Proposition 187 was passed — a measure that called for excluding undocumented immigrants from public schools, publicly funded health care and social services. It took only three days before it was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court, but it pointed to deep-rooted biases within the country.

Hernandez is one of the thousands of people across the country fighting for a permanent solution to this problem.

“Business can’t go on as usual,” Hernandez said, as she pointed across the street to the Federal Building. “This building represents Congress. It represents the Senate. It represents Joe Biden. It represents Kamala Harris — that’s why we’re shutting down the streets here.”

Young activists, such as Kimberly Lopez, chanted with the protestors as they circled the blocked-off intersection. She is a formerly-undocumented immigrant and a student at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.

“When I was in first grade, my grandma was deported back to Mexico,” Lopez said. “That really shaped my outlook in life, and I saw how they saw people like me — they just wanted to take us out.”

Lopez obtained residency in 2019 with CHIRLA’s help and has been volunteering with them ever since. The immigrant rights organization also showed support for domestic workers like Margarita Angeles Angeles.

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“It’s very difficult when you don’t have a legal status — there is no way of leaving to visit your family,” Angeles Angeles said in Spanish. She has been waiting for a pathway to citizenship for more than 30 years. “I am not interested in the benefits. I want to be able to cross the border because my kids have built their life in this country.”

Immigrants vowed to continue their fight for the status they feel they’ve earned during their time in the U.S. and during the pandemic.

“Essential workers, especially immigrant workers, have been vital for keeping us on track and really reviving the economy,” Flores-Lagunas said. “Because of that, we should have permanent protections that allow us to live our full potential in this country.”