Commentary

Commentary: Decades-long promise of citizenship needs to become reality

September 27, 2021 5:00 am

Murals outside the building represent the flags of nations. (Photo: John Partipilo)

For decades, the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) has organized for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans. Now, the Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to take bold action and uphold their promise to bring much needed relief for 11 million undocumented families who call the United States home. Right now, Democrats can take a big step towards that goal through the budget reconciliation process and provide permanent protections to DACA recipients, essential workers, farm workers, and TPS holders – 6.9 million Americans, including 91,000 Tennesseans. 

My name is Sandra Pita. I am a wife, mother, small business owner,  Memphis resident, and DACA recipient. My business works with families to help clean and care for their homes. Even though I work full time to support others, employ several members of my community, and pay taxes, I am not eligible for a green card. My temporary immigration status means my family is in limbo – unable to plan for the future and always with the fear that one day we could be torn apart if I were deported and separated from my children.  

Providing citizenship to our immigrant community would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, create 400,000 new jobs, and raise the annual wages of all Americans by an average $600 over the next decade.

Early in the pandemic, I worked to keep other peoples’ homes clean and safe, which eventually led me to contract COVID-19. After recovering and going back to work, I still had to reduce my team significantly and drastically cut the number of houses we clean. The reduction in business puts immense stress on my family and the families we employ. Unlike many other small business owners, I was completely ineligible to receive CARES relief funds to support my business simply because my family has mixed immigration status. This was a brutal reminder that while many families like mine continue to go out every day and work on the front lines to keep this country going, we continue to be excluded from relief programs and shut out due to Congress’s failure to create a pathway to legal status. This is unacceptable.

Sandra Pita, far left in pink shirt, with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnssota, in Washington, DC recently. (Photo: Submitted)
Sandra Pita, far left in pink shirt, with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnssota, in Washington, DC recently. (Photo: Submitted)

As a member of the immigrant domestic workers network that includes more than 700 women across Tennessee, I talk to families every day suffering from the harm done by a lack of permanent protections or pathway to citizenship. As  a TIRRC board member, I see how this not only harms our immigrant community, but our state as a whole.

Immigrants work and pay taxes and many immigrant families have lived in this country for decades. Many of us have raised U.S.-born children–yet, it has been nearly 40 years since Congress has made significant changes to the U.S. immigration system; the result is that it has left behind an entire generation of immigrants. 

An overwhelming majority of Tennesseans and Americans support a pathway to citizenship because they know that  not only is it the right thing to do, but upholding a decades-long promise to pass immigration relief would benefit all Americans. Recently, the Center for American Progress and the University of California, Davis’ Global Migration Center estimated that providing citizenship to our immigrant community would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, create 400,000 new jobs, and raise the annual wages of all Americans by an average $600 over the next decade. The universal benefits of providing a pathway to citizenship is such common sense, that more than 60% of Americans support it.

This past week, I joined 7,000 of my fellow members of the immigrant community and our allies from across the country to march in Washington DC on the same day Congress returned to session. Our message was clear:

This is our year – a multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational coalition elected Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Senators, and Representatives to put Democrats in the majority. With a majority in the House and Senate and control in the White House, Democrats must deliver on their promises. We’ve waited long enough for this relief. We deserve delivery on what’s been promised.  

 

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Sandra Pita
Sandra Pita

Sandra Pita is a board member for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

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