By Esther Reyes
Updated December 09, 2021 to reflect recently released statements from grassroots organizations.
On November 19th, the House passed the Build Back Better Act (BBB), a historic push to invest in our country’s children and families.
Among the most pressing issues that immigrant rights advocates expected BBB would address was permanent relief in the form of citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who, despite lacking legal immigration status, have become integral members of our society. To the disappointment of many, the current bill leaves out a pathway to citizenship for those 11 million.
Here, we lay out the immigration provisions in the current version of BBB and how immigrant rights advocates across the U.S. have responded. We also highlight the voices of community-based, grassroots organizations in Texas and their critical perspectives on these provisions.
What are the immigration provisions in BBB?
The current bill provides a legal status known as “parole-in-place” or simply “parole” for eligible immigrants, recovers unused visa numbers, and allows certain green card applicants to file their applications early. Together, these provisions are commonly referred to as “Plan C.”
Parole status would offer immigrants:
- Temporary protection from deportation
- Authorization to work in the U.S.
- The ability to travel outside of the U.S.
- The opportunity to apply for driver’s licenses in some states
Parole would be available for an estimated 7.1 million individuals who entered the country before January 1, 2011 and met other requirements involving contact with the criminal system. This status would be granted for five years and could be renewed once for another five years, with protection ending at the latest September 30, 2031. For more information on the parole provision and its limitations, read this explainer by the Immigrant Justice Network.
BBB also includes provisions to “recapture” unused family- and employment-based visas to help immigrants who have been waiting for decades in the family-based immigration system, and to allow green card applicants in the U.S. to file their applications early after paying a fee.
How are immigrant rights advocates responding?
Soon after the House passed the BBB, immigrant rights advocates, who have worked arduously all year to demand that Democrats follow through on their promise to deliver permanent relief for the 11 million, responded. Across the board, these groups welcomed the unprecedented investments in poverty alleviation and safety net measures in BBB. They differed, however, in their evaluations of Plan C.
Some groups (listed below) recognized Plan C as providing meaningful legal protections for undocumented immigrants while urging Senate Democrats to continue the fight for citizenship. Other groups applauded the historic investments in economic and climate justice but rejected the temporary immigration provisions. These groups highlighted the millions of immigrants who would still be left out and called on Senate Democrats to challenge the Senate parliamentarian’s advice and push for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million. Still other groups, despite welcoming investments in anti-poverty measures and clean energy in BBB, rejected the temporary provisions and warned against the negative impacts and discriminatory roots of these provisions.
What does this bill mean for our immigrant communities?
For years in Texas, grassroots organizations across the state have organized communities to demand, at minimum, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Below are responses from community-based organizations in El Paso, north Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and Houston. The organizations form part of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA).
“As a worker center, we hear of stories from immigrant workers suffering labor abuse from wage theft to discrimination to harassment to labor trafficking. Citizenship is the least these workers should be given and is the only protection that will truly prevent them from being exploited and abused because of their immigration status,” said Blanca Estela Delgado, Executive Director of Border Workers United.
“We applaud the Build Back Better Act as a historic investment in America’s future. However, while parole-in-place provides some relief for some, it remains a limited and temporary program that excludes many more. Anything less than a pathway to citizenship is unacceptable,” said Hyunja Norman, Executive Director of Woori Juntos.
“While BNHR applauds the passage of the Build Back Better Act for its significant investments in the social safety net, we continue to reject immigration reform measures – including the parole-in-place proposal in the package – that fail to provide permanent protections via a pathway to citizenship for all of our 11 million undocumented community members. We demand that our elected officials stop wasting political will on temporary, piecemeal immigration proposals that do not truly address the needs of our communities and will only further entrench the status quo,” said Fernando García, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
“For 35 years, we have patiently awaited an immigration reform plan that would provide a sensible, humane and comprehensive solution for the more than eleven million immigrants currently residing in the United States … This bill represents an important step in reforming the current broken immigration system. However, it lacks the most important component of immigration reform, the path to citizenship,” said Douglas D. Interiano, Managing Director of Proyecto Inmigrante ICS, Inc.
“For years our immigrant communities on the border have demanded a path to citizenship for the 11 million people and their families who need permanent protection. We will keep fighting until we get it. A permit is not enough. A path to citizenship is fair and necessary for all,” said Maricruz Azuara, community organizer with ARISE Adelante.
Update: “The Senate has the power to propose a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act. That is why we at LUPE want to show the democrats that the people are filled with passion and hope — we are fired up and not going to settle for anything less than citizenship! We have a fire in each of our hearts and with that fire we will light a path to citizenship,” said Luis Castillo, youth organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.
Not all RITA members issued formal statements, nor did all community-based immigrant rights groups in Texas, such as Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project. And unlike national advocacy organizations with larger budgets, some grassroots organizations in Texas and across the country simply don’t have the capacity to issue formal statements as often as they’d like.
Yet the significance of these voices—the voices of those who stand to gain or lose the most from such far-reaching legislation as BBB—cannot be overstated.
CDF-Texas knows that a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million is essential for the stability, economic security, and well-being of children in immigrant families. And we stand with grassroots communities across Texas in calling on Congress to deliver permanent relief and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million.
Groups that recognized Plan C as providing meaningful protections for undocumented immigrants while urging Senate Democrats to continue the fight for citizenship: The National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), UnidosUS, National Partnership for New Americans, and RAICES.
Groups that rejected Plan C, warned against the negative impacts and discriminatory roots of these provisions, and urged Senate Democrats to continue the fight for citizenship: Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigrant Justice Network, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium Action Fund, UndocuBlack Network, and Border Network for Human Rights.