"I have lived in the United States for 24 years, raised my family, worked, paid taxes, and I am undocumented."
This statement by a Latina cleaning woman, who shared her reflections on the recent Senate immigration reform proposal, represents an all too common reality: the lack of legal avenues for families and workers who are deeply rooted in our communities and the crying need for a just and comprehensive overhaul of our nation's immigration system.
The introduction of Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration and Modernization Act represents a meaningful foundation from which to reform our dysfunctional immigration system. The legalization program will cover most of the nation's undocumented population, provide a path to citizenship and create future legal avenues by increasing family and work visas.
This year, the energy is palpable, because there is broad recognition that the chances of passing immigration reform are the best they have been in a decade.
On May 1, in more than 30 cities, hundreds of thousands of people, including the nation's newest aspiring citizens, will march to call on Congress to pass comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform this year, and improve the Senate bill to ensure a path to citizenship for 11 million, stop tearing apart families in our communities and build economic prosperity by protecting the rights of all workers.
Milwaukee's statewide May 1 march and rally has become an iconic tradition since 2006, with mass participation that has grown more diverse yearly. On May 1, the members of Voces de la Frontera are marching for the elimination of all unjust barriers to a path to citizenship for 11 million.
Thoughts on the proposal:
• The proposed waiting time for U.S. citizenship is too long. The path to citizenship should be five years. The current bill requires a 13-year-long path to citizenship. This is unfair to those who have already waited years and would align with agricultural workers and "dreamers" (immigrant youth), who would achieve citizenship in five years.
• Immigration reform should cover all 11 million, based on the date of the bill's enactment. Currently the bill would exclude 375,000 immigrants who came after Dec. 31, 2011. If the intent is to create legal avenues and eliminate an underground economy that hurts both undocumented workers and U.S. citizen workers, then it must be broad and not perpetuate the very problem we seek to solve.
• A path to citizenship should not be conditional on border enforcement and the flawed E-Verify program. Workers should not be required to establish "regular employment" to stay on the path to citizenship. Workers, many of whom have been waiting decades for reform, should not face uncertainty and a legal limbo.
• Programs such as the flawed and misnamed Secure Communities or the criminalization of future immigrants who try to enter without documents to work should be eliminated.
• There should be no exclusion of siblings' ability to petition their brothers and sisters or parents' ability to petition their adult children after the bill becomes law.
• Diversity visas are needed to allow those in countries that do not have high levels of migration to come to the U.S. and the rights of binational LGBT families to petition permanent partners should be recognized.
Finally, the president can, through executive action, immediately protect families that qualify for this reform from the threat of deportation and separation.
By creating a path to citizenship, we will affirm our nation's commitment to its greatest ideals and noblest aspirations, honor the struggle of previous generations of workers and immigrants and build a future in which new Americans can finally come out of the shadows – and into the dawn of a new day.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz is executive director of Voces de la Frontera (www.vdlf.org). The 2013 May Day Solidarity March begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the corner of 5th and Washington streets and ends at Pere Marquette Park.