Immigrant rights activists energized by a new Democratic administration and majorities on Capitol Hill are gearing up for a fresh political battle to help push through President Joe Biden’s proposed immigration bill. (Jan. 26)
In one of her first days in Congress nearly two decades ago, Rep. Linda Sánchez remembers being told by a friend on Capitol Hill that there are two types of lawmakers: a workhorse or a showhorse.
Sánchez said she’s the kind of lawmaker who wants to get things done.
Now, the California congresswoman has taken the lead in putting together a group of seven women, who she also described as “workhorses,” who will be shepherding the legislative efforts to get President Joe Biden’s immigration reform bill through the House of Representatives.
“I can unequivocally say that every woman that is part of this ‘Closers’ group is a workhorse,” Sánchez said in an interview with USA TODAY. “They’re not doing it for the glory or for the credit. They are in it to get (immigration reform) done once and for all. It’s long overdue.”
Biden has called for an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million immigrants living in the United States without legal status, a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.
While they are in the early stages of putting together their legislative strategy on the immigration plan, the seven congresswomen will likely become the face of the bill in the House, as they continue to work closely with the White House to pass the first comprehensive immigration reform legislation in more than 30 years.
The group, who call themselves the ‘Closers,’ includes Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Yvette Clarke, D-Calif., and Karen Bass, D-Calif.
Sánchez, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force, said she chose this group of congresswomen for the group because of their past work on immigration, in addition to several of the congresswomen serving districts that have large migrant communities.
For example, Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican American woman to be elected to Congress, represents California’s 40th Congressional District, which is home to the highest DACA-eligible population in the United States. Chu, whose district represents parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, has worked repeatedly on immigration, with a focus on Asian and Pacific Islander migrants.
The group has representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“They are women that sort of reach… all four corners of the caucus,” Sánchez said. “They can really fan out and touch all constituencies within our caucus.”
Bass and Clarke, who is a daughter of Jamaican immigrants, have frequently worked on immigration through the CBC.
“I have seen glaring inequities and civil rights violations, and I will not relent until our immigration system reflects a modern and equitable approach to this issue. Reversing the policies of the last four years is not enough,” Clarke said in a statement.
Passing immigration reform will be a challenge. And the group of lawmakers may try to push through legislation that already passed in the House such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the No Ban Act in addition to Biden’s immigration reform plans, Chu told USA TODAY. There are also talks that comprehensive immigration reform legislation may be broken in up into several bills rather than one large bill.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a pathway to legalization for agricultural or farm workers, as well as reforms the existing visa program for agriculture workers, known as the H-2A visa. The No Ban Act would prohibit religious discrimination in visa applications, as well as revoke Trump’s travel ban. Biden has already rolled back the former president’s travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries.
Biden has included aspects of these bills in his own legislative package.
Chu told USA TODAY that the group will have to look at the legislative text before deciding on a plan to move forward.
“The means by which we do it still remains to be seen,” Chu said of passing Biden’s immigration reform legislation. “It could be one big bill, or it could be different bills.”
The last time comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation was brought up in Congress was in 2013.
Migrants are awaiting word from the new Biden administration on changes to U.S. immigration policy that they hope will allow them into the country. Biden’s proposal would create an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. (Jan. 20)
Although no legislation was passed, former President Donald Trump during his administration took a hardline approach to immigration. He had several controversial policies, such as his “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Supreme Court upheld that program in a ruling last year.
Biden has rolled back some of Trump’s controversial policies through executive order such as halting construction on the border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that the president will also sign more executive actions next week.
The White House doesn’t have a timeline on when they want to see legislation presented and passed, but Psaki said last week that “we would like to see them move forward quickly” on immigration reform.
Biden is trying to get several large legislative packages through Congress, including a COVID-19 relief package. This is all happening amid an impeachment trial in the Senate for Trump, who was impeached earlier this month.
Sánchez said she has been in contact with the White House and is working with them on legislation, as well as with Sen. Bob Menendez, who is leading Biden’s immigration reform in the Senate.
Undoing Trump’s policies: A look at Biden’s first week as president
But the California congresswoman also acknowledged that the group of ‘Closers’ will also have to try and get Republicans and more moderate members on board to come up with legislation that can pass in both chambers of the house. However, outreach to other members of Congress likely won’t happen until bill text is released.
Sánchez said the members will reach out to hear the fear and concerns from not only members of Congress, but of activist groups.
Republicans so far have voiced concern about Biden’s legislation not doing enough for security along the border and criticized the pathway to citizenship for all immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status. Republicans argue that giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship amounts to amnesty. Biden has also been criticized by some Republicans for introducing legislation on Day One of his presidency, as the nation still grapples with an ongoing pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has previously said that Biden’s bill would “prioritize help for illegal immigrants and not our fellow citizens.”
Sánchez said that while getting immigration reform passed will be a “collective effort,” it’s one that must happen even if it looks different than what Biden has proposed.
“What is non-negotiable is inaction,” she said. “We want to deliver. We will get this done.”
Here are the members of the ‘Closers:’
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., is chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force and will be leading the group of ‘Closers’ for Biden’s immigration legislation reform. She has worked on legislation regarding immigration and supported legislation like the Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., is chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. She has written legislation like the No Ban Act, which aspects of that legislation were included in Biden’s immigration reform proposal.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and has led efforts to work with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on immigration reform. She has also focused on elevating discussions on the African migrant experiences.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., was the chairwoman of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship in the last Congress, and will likely be the current chairwoman of that subcommittee. She has worked extensively on immigration reform and was previously practiced immigration law.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., was the original co-author of the Dream Act in the House, which provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. She also helped pass the latest version of that legislation, which also offers a pathway to citizenship for temporary protected status or deferred enforcement departure holders, in the House in 2019. The legislation, however, was never brought up in the Senate.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., also helped co-lead the 2019 Dream and Promise Act to get it passed in the House. Clarke, a daughter of Jamaican immigrants, was also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Immigration Task Force.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., is the former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to serve in Congress, also helped co-author the Promise Act that passed in 2019.
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