With Trump Out of White House, Seattle and other Cities Push for New Immigration Policies

by Elizabeth Turnbull

With the end of Donald Trump’s administration and quick action by the Biden administration to issue executive orders on immigration, city officials from across the U.S., including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, are pushing for a path to citizenship status and greater rights for immigrants. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Cities for Action, a coalition of roughly 200 mayors and county executives, including Durkan, released a letter urging the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to ensure a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and to change detention practices to keep families together, among many other reforms.

“As a Cities for Action steering committee member, Seattle is proud of this vision for immigration that brings America back on the path of welcoming immigrants,” Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said of the letter. “In 2021, in partnership with cities across the country, there is so much hope on the horizon. Cities like Seattle stand ready to collaborate with this new administration to build back stronger, better and more equitable.”

In addition to a path to citizenship and other demands, the group specifically highlighted the need for an equitable federal COVID-19 recovery plan focused on ensuring the safety of immigrants, especially immigrants working in essential jobs.

The plan outlines pandemic relief and health care for individuals regardless of immigration status, multi-lingual messaging and outreach to assure immigrants of the safety of interacting with government-provided testing and care, work protections, a path to citizenship for essential workers, and a moratorium on immigration enforcement during the throes of the pandemic.

Of late, the sentiments in this letter do not appear to be too far removed from recent proposals and actions of the Biden-Harris administration in D.C.

Soon after arriving in office, Biden signed several executive orders — one to begin counting non-citizens in the U.S. Census again, another to end travel and immigration restrictions on individuals from various countries with large Muslim populations, one to extend DACA protections, and one to end construction on the border wall, among others.

Most notably, Biden also sent an extensive immigration reform bill to Congress on Jan. 20. The bill creates an eight-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants without legal status who have been in the U.S. prior to Jan. 1.

The plan would grant five years of temporary status for individuals who qualify and the ability to get a green card upon paying taxes and a background check and related requirements. Three years after this the applicant could apply for citizenship.

Under the bill, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and individuals who are a part of the temporary protected status program for individuals coming from tumultuous circumstances could apply immediately for a green card. 

However, the bill’s existence is only half the battle for those hoping for a path to citizenship for many. Despite a slim majority in both chambers of Congress, Democrats would have to win over 10 Republicans in the Senate to thwart a filibuster, which could interfere with legislation being voted on and it is uncertain if such a comprehensive plan can garner bipartisan support.

While immigration activists across the country and locally have reacted positively to the bill’s proposal overall, some organizations, such as individuals with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Seattle also acknowledge that getting the bill approved will be a potentially difficult battle.

“As outlined, [the bill] consists of broad legalization priorities that would provide a path to citizenship for the vast majority of our undocumented community members and it includes important positive changes and needed reform to the U.S. immigration system,” NWIRP wrote in a statement to the Emerald. “Putting pressure on Congress would be key and continuing to highlight the positive impact the bill, as outlined, will have on loved ones, neighbors, and on the economy will be necessary.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.

Featured Image: Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs June 2016 Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at City Hall. By Alabastro Photography issued under a Creative Commons license CC BY-NC 2.0.

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