By Robert Davis
Edna Chávez’s journey to the U.S. began almost 1,200 miles away in Guatemala. Fearing for her life after she was nearly forced into prostitution at 17 years old, Chávez (cover photo) said her family told her to leave the country. So, she set her sights on the U.S. because she said the country represented exactly what she was looking for — freedom.
Her first stop was in México, where she worked on a cucumber farm for about a month to save up money to cross the border into Texas in 2018. She was granted asylum and lived in a youth shelter for seven months before she was adopted by a family in Colorado.
Now, Chávez, 21, is a freshman at Colorado State University where she studies mathematics and applied sciences with the hopes of one day landing a job at NASA. But Chávez said she has also seen cases where other immigrants didn’t receive the same support that she did.
“A lot of immigrants don’t choose to come to the U.S., but are instead forced to come,” Chávez told Colorado Newsline in an interview. “It’s time for politicians to protect us from exploitation, abuse in the workplace and racist policies that lead to family separation.”
Chávez was one of dozens of immigrants and advocates from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition who rallied at the state Capitol on Saturday. The group wants Colorado’s congressional delegation to support a bill to update the U.S. registry law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive permanent resident status after being in the U.S. for at least seven years.
Known as H.R. 8433, the bill would update the registry law to allow anyone who entered the country prior to January 2015 to apply for permanent residency. Currently, only people who entered the country before January 1972 can apply for this status, thereby making the law irrelevant to most undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. today.
“A lot of immigrants don’t choose to come to the U.S., but are instead forced to come.”
H.R. 8433 was reintroduced in the House of Representatives on March 9 by Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California, Jesús “Chuy” García of Illinois, Grace Meng of New York, and Norma Torres and Lou Correa of California. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, who represents Denver, has signed on to the bill as an original sponsor.
The group rallied to call on Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to support a corresponding bill in the Senate. They also want Democratic Reps. Joe Neguse, Jason Crow, Brittany Petersen, and Yadira Caraveo to work with their Republican colleagues and pass the bill in the House.
“This bill is a commonsense approach for people to receive permanent residency status year after year,” Carlos Rojas, a labor and immigration organizer, said at the rally. “And for the U.S. to actually be a nation that supports immigrants.”
Rojas added that updating the registry date will also give people who are granted permanent residency access to health care and retirement savings accounts. It could also provide legal protection from issues that many immigrants face, like wage theft, Rojas said.
For immigrants like Lupe López, who came to the U.S. with her husband in 1998, getting permanent residency is an important step to keeping her family together. In September 2012, Lopez and her husband were arrested on Interstate 70 after being pulled over by a state trooper and presenting a Mexican driver’s license. She said they spent four days in the ICE detention center in Aurora away from their five children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
López said she and her family fought against deportation for almost a decade before they finally received residency status in 2022.
“There are a lot of families who are going through this, and their only crime is trying to provide a better life for their children,” Lopez said at the rally.
Despite the bill’s benefits, Rojas knows that it faces an uphill battle now that Republicans control the House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, has mirrored his caucus’s hardline stance against immigration, and he told The Fresno Bee in February that he won’t support any immigration reform bills until the U.S.-Mexico border is “secure.”
Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that encounters with migrants along the border with Mexico decreased by roughly 37% between December 2022 and January 2023 to around 156,000 per month. That is the lowest total recorded since January 2022, according to the data.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is also considering implementing laws that would deter future immigration. For example, the New York Times reported that Biden is mulling a reinstatement of the migrant family detention policy that he shut down two years ago. The president has also empowered the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to draft a new rule that could prohibit someone who is deported for illegally crossing the border from reentering the U.S. for five years. The rule is available for public comment on the Federal Register until March 27.
Chávez said she knows immigrant families who feel trapped by the number of uncertainties that many immigrants face once they arrive in the U.S. It’s prevented them from trying to find better paying jobs, or from seeing a doctor when their children are sick. That’s why the group is asking federal lawmakers to pass a bill that Chavez said will provide some much-needed clarity.
“Immigrants who receive legal status are going to be freer to enjoy the places where they live,” Chávez said. “And that’s what this country is all about.”
Robert Davis, Freelance Journalist. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.
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