Despite immigration reform setback, N.M. advocates are not deterred

By: - September 22, 2021 5:32 am

Supporters of the DACA program rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender / States Newsroom Washington Bureau)

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program opened doors for Viviana Arciniaga. 

“It gave me the opportunity to stay here in the United States, to pursue a career or to have a job,” she said. “But, most importantly, it gave me the peace of mind to just not have the fear of being deported for even going to the store.”

She was undocumented for all of her childhood, she said, and then when she was 18, she applied for the DACA program. She’s been a recipient for the last five years, and today, she’s  a community organizer for New Mexico Communities of Faith, Action and Empathy (NM Café). 

That doesn’t mean things have been easy.

“I don’t want to say I feel completely free, because I still can’t visit my family in Mexico,” she said, and she is often anxious due to the previous administration’s back and forth about eliminating the DACA program. 

The recent congressional push to include essential workers, farm workers, those with temporary protection status (TPS), and DACA recipients in immigration reform proposal would have changed her life, she said. 

“So this would be doing the same thing for my parents. For my mom, you know, we haven’t seen family in years,” Arciniaga said. “So this will definitely be something big for me and my family.”

Late Sunday, Sept. 19, the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough nixed the plan that could have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of people, saying it was a stretch to include it in the reconciliation process, which is focused on spending and budget.

Arciniaga said she’s hopeful that Congress will still figure out a way to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, because she misses her family and still worries about the potential of deportation. 

For the first time since 2013, Democrats have been optimistic about the possibility of creating a pathway to citizenship for the more than 8 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.

But that optimism took a hit on Sunday with MacDonough’s decision.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said he was disappointed, “but by no means is the fight for a pathway to citizenship over. We will propose an alternative approach — and we’re still hopeful we will achieve a long overdue breakthrough.”

Congressional Republicans say they think MacDonough made the right call and argue that immigration reform should not be addressed in any way during the budget reconciliation process. Rep. Yvette Herrell said fresh immigration policies from the Democrats should not be part of the big budget bill. “Such radical changes to our immigration laws should be publicly debated on their own merits, not hidden inside a 3.5 trillion dollar spending spree.”

Marcela Díaz is the executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide immigrant worker and civil rights organization. She said Hispanic and Latino immigrants contribute to New Mexico’s economy and that it is “essential that Congress and the Biden administration step up to make sure that there is a path to citizenship and legalization for essential workers and their families.” 

Immigrants pay taxes — and not only as consumers or people who rent spaces and travel. 

“We also pay income taxes,” Díaz pointed out. “New Mexico has a high percentage of ITIN tax filers — people who don’t don’t have Social Security numbers still pay state and federal income taxes using their individual tax identification numbers,” Díaz said. 

New Mexico is home to an estimated 60,000 undocumented immigrants. As a group, they pay more than $67.7 million annually in state and local taxes.

If undocumented immigrants were granted full legal status, New Mexico could be collecting $8 million more in taxes annually, according to New Mexico Voices for Children. This new revenue would come from “increased incomes and better compliance with the tax code.” 

Díaz is convinced that there is enough political support across all levels of government and from the voters to get another immigration reform measure into the reconciliation package.

Even though Democrats make up the majority of the Senate, the Senate rule that allows members of the minority party to filibuster — hijack the debate by giving a prolonged speech — means that the Dems would need at least 60 votes to get the proposal through the chamber and to the president’s desk for his signature. This threshold is not needed, however, during reconciliation of the budget. “This is our shot,” Díaz said. “This is our one opportunity.”

Dems and immigrant rights advocates said they knew they might not get the first version of the immigration provision into the reconciliation package so they have been working on back-up plans. 

If an alternate version of the immigration proposal is included, obtaining favorable votes from all the Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Krysten Sinema from Arizona may also be in question. 

Arciniaga said she hopes Democrats will do anything in their power to heed their promise of clearing a pathway to citizenship. “It would really hurt that we’ve been working all this time to fight for a pathway,” she said, “if at the end of the road we would not receive anything.”

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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.