A bridge we can all cross


September 20thtens of thousands of Venezuelans and immigrant rights activists celebrated the Biden Administration’s Extension and Redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela: Around 700,000 Venezuelan nationals would benefit from an 18-month work permit and protection against deportation.

The next morning, United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led advocacy network, joined the victory celebration on Instagram. Given its own history of advocating for protections for DACA recipients and their families, United We Dream understood that securing protections for such a large immigrant population was not easy.

The comments would have made you think otherwise.

A large portion of the comments under the post were negative. Some expressed frustration that a group of immigrants were “waiting in line” for benefits, while Dreamers and their families continued to wait for immigration reform. There was confusion about what is doable by the administration (like TPS) and what only Congress can do: grant legal permanent residency to Dreamers. But in summary, the crux of these concerns was that Venezuela’s TPS designation seemed somehow unfair to other immigrants.

This perspective is not new. While lawmakers and policymakers have insisted on granting protections to Afghan and Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers, other immigrant populations, such as Palestinians or Central American immigrants, do not feel as welcome. This piecemeal approach has left some immigrant populations feeling resentment and cynicism toward each other.

Two perspectives that underline the need for solidarity

One of us is a Salvadoran TPS dreamer who was excited to bring the TPS news to several clients who now have access to a new form of relief. The other is a Venezuelan American who constantly faces negative comments and hate on social media platforms as I try to educate the public about immigration law and policy.

We were both disappointed by the xenophobic reaction to the TPS news. We sympathize with the plight of so many people who have been forced to live in the shadows. But we cannot allow division. We must control our anger and ensure that it is directed against those who responsible for the injustice: Congress.

Our Immigrant Defense Should Not Blame Survivors

Due to Venezuela’s unstable and inhumane government, people have fled. Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela has fallen prey to greedy and corrupt politicians. Current President Nicolás Maduro denies the existence of the economic crisis while the population suffers from poverty and malnutrition. It is no wonder that more than 7 million Venezuelans have sought refuge around the world.

This context alone fully justifies the United States’ decision to extend and redesignate TPS for Venezuela. Circumstances in Ukraine and Afghanistan have also warranted urgent immigration policies including TPS or asylum.

Despite frustration with disparate treatment, we cannot fall into the trap of blaming survivors. The new Venezuelan family in your neighborhood isn’t the reason so many immigrants have lived in the shadows for decades. The reason is Congress’s reluctance to bring our immigration system into this century.

The fish rots from the head

Congressional inaction is creating a sense of hopelessness within the immigrant community. In fact, the executive and judicial branches have acknowledged this inaction. President Obama has decided to use executive power to address the plight of Dreamers through the DACA program. And under the Trump administration, immigrant advocates have turned to the courts to fight illegal uses of executive power, including the Muslim ban, asylum death regulations, TPS rollbacks , etc.

Dreamers have seen two Democratic administrations, even during terms of control of both houses of Congress, where nothing was accomplished. More recently, during the first two years of the Biden administration, Dreamers Counted on Congress to Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Nothing happened.

The lack of permanent solutions leaves immigrants rightly uncertain, even panicked, about their protection. It all seems like a zero-sum game, pitting one type of immigrant against another.

We stand together, in celebration and in struggle

We must come together as a community and celebrate each other’s steps toward the American dream we all want to achieve.

But this community should not just be used to celebrate, it should be harnessed to implement real change. We must call on Congress to reject the anti-immigration HR 2 and support universally applicable legislation like the American Dream and Promise Act. Like the law signed by President Reagan in 1986, we must fight for legislation that will set aside differences and classifications based on age, nationality or reasons for coming to the United States.

You have the right to be disappointed if this latest change doesn’t improve your situation. But what you can’t do is provide more ammunition for anti-immigration restrictives to pit us against each other. Don’t inadvertently burn a bridge before anybody can cross! Welcome each new positive policy change and continue to work together to build a broader bridge to the American dream.

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