Congress weighs immigration reforms that could have a big impact on New Mexico

Essential workers in health care, child care, agriculture and more might be able to pursue citizenship

By: - September 10, 2021 6:15 am

(Photo by Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

The idea of providing citizenship to essential workers evolved from the existing law that allows undocumented people who fight in combat for the U.S. to become eligible.  

That’s according to Kenneth Romero the chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of the 40 most prominent Latino organizations in the United States.

“At the time when this whole pandemic started, everyone — including President Trump — was referring to this as kind of like a war, a medical war,” Romero said in an interview. “So, following that same logic, we were saying these people risked their lives for us, and therefore they should be given the same treatment.”

Protesters in in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol in 2017 urged Congress to pass the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Check out previous coverage: House reconciliation package would provide path to citizenship. 

NHLA has been working for years to see a proposal like the one in the House reconciliation package that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers, agricultural workers, Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. 

There are about 10.4 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S, and about 60,000 in New Mexico, according to the American Immigration Council. In addition to being home to undocumented essential workers and farmworkers, New Mexico has one of the largest populations of people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Some estimates indicate as many as half of all undocumented immigrants nationwide would become eligible for citizenship if the reconciliation bill is approved as it’s written now. 

The process

The decision about whether to include immigration reform in the measure is in the hands of the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, according to NPR. MacDonough must decide whether immigration has a budgetary effect and can be included in the budget proposal. 

Romero said the immigration-reform package is budget-related. 

If all undocumented immigrants became citizens, he said, $1.7 trillion would be added to the country’s gross domestic product, and 400,000 new jobs would be created over the next 10 years. 

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been championing why a pathway to citizenship is related to the country’s budget, Romero said. 

More than 50 economists also sent a letter to President Biden, urging him and other Democratic leaders to include immigration reform as part of the budget reconciliation bill.

Romero said everything in the budget package has a public policy purpose, and providing citizenship to at least half of the undocumented residents in the U.S. is another example of that.

If you want to build better roads, that's a public policy. We as a country want to make sure that we have good infrastructure, because it's good for the country. And the same thing with immigration. It's the same argument. Everything in that budget has, in the end, a public policy goal.

– Kenneth Romero, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda

Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell pushed back against allowing immigration reform into the budget bill, saying it was political maneuvering.

“Nancy Pelosi’s $3.5 trillion budget package is already a bloated mess,” she wrote in an email to Source New Mexico. “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.” 

Local elected officials are voicing their support for the immigration reform effort and talking about the big impacts it could have for the state. Many are supporting Senate Democrats who are trying to get the House provision included in their version of the reconciliation package. 

Ninety elected leaders from across New Mexico  — including mayors, state legislators, council members, and school board members — signed onto a national letter of support requesting the Biden administration and Congress prioritize the inclusion of these reforms. 

Romero, from the NHLA, said he hopes Republicans will think twice before trying to impede the passage of the provision, because a majority of voters support immigration reform.

“You see poll after poll that shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, see the value that comes with providing legal status to these immigrants,” he said. 

Down south and up north

Democratic Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez is considering a run for Herrell’s congressional seat. He said even if the proposal is considered relevant, Republicans will still have an opportunity to propose amendments or changes to the bill. 

Typically, Congress goes through a process informally known as ‘vote-a-rama,’ Vasquez said, and that creates an opportunity for members to introduce amendments that could limit these reforms. 

Vasquez said including a pathway to citizenship is especially relevant to him.

“I am a first-generation American. I lived in a mixed-status family,” he said. “I can’t see my father or my brother currently, who live in Mexico. And I grew up in Ciudad Juárez and still cannot see most of my family, many of whom wish that they could have an opportunity to live in this country, or even cross the border on a tourist visa but due to the current restrictions aren’t able to.”

Essential workers and teachers are especially needed in the southern region of the state to help staff schools and educate the children of those who are coming to work in the oil and gas industry, Vasquez said. 


In the 2020 census, the rural southeast part of New Mexico has seen the most Latino and immigrant population growth because of “job opportunities in the Permian Basin’s oil and gas industry,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.  

“It’s Latinos, immigrants and Hispanic folks that are going to work in these places,” Vasquez said. “They’re the ones who are keeping school districts open as teachers and building all these positions that it takes to run these local economies, that in many ways support the bigger industry there.”

Roswell Municipal School Board Member Hilda Sanchez said immigration is vital to the economic health of the region, yet undocumented immigrants “continue to live in situations of acute vulnerability without access to social services, state protection and labor standards.”

“I think it’s time to change the system so that skilled workers who contribute to the economy can be joined by their families, and students who graduate can go on to share their skills and recognize their bigger dreams,” she said.

Santa Fe City Councilor Roman Abeyta represents the district in the state’s capital with the largest concentration of immigrant and mixed-status families. He said Santa Fe’s economy is heavily dependent on the hospitality, tourism, construction and restaurant industries — and they rely on essential immigrant workers.

“These residents are essential to our financial prosperity,” he said. “Their participation in our workforce and contribution to our businesses allow us to pay for parks, streets, public safety and the basic services we expect from local government.”

Latino organizations have been fighting for a pathway to citizenship for years. “And we have great hope that our time has come,” Romero said. “We need to do right by those who wake up every day to just work, make a decent living and contribute to our country.” 

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Lissa Knudsen
Lissa Knudsen

Lissa Knudsen was the news editor at the New Mexico Daily Lobo, following a stint as the publication’s public health beat reporter. She also worked as a data analyst for local NPR affiliate KUNM News. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy with an emphasis on racial and gender equity. Knudsen holds a bachelor's degree in health science and a master's degree in program planning and health education. She’s a critical cultural communication doctoral candidate, emphasizing reproductive justice, maternity and health. She is a board member of the New Mexico Public Health Association. Before she realized she was supposed to be a journalist, Knudsen was involved in local politics up until mid-2014, getting into hot water with her bosses as she pushed for transparency and public accountability.