A Series of Ups and Downs for Immigrants in the U.S.

Photo by Andre Chung

I rejoice in being an immigrant. I find beauty in not tying myself to a single place or identity having been born in the Philippines and growing up all over the United States. I am multilingual, I am keen on adventure and adaptation, and I’ve developed a sense of purpose with those who grew up like me.

And for much of the last few weeks, I felt this immigrant joy with others in the immigration space who experienced many wins in our shared advocacy and wonderful community moments. 

On September 15, the Defund Hate campaign held its National Day of Action which demanded justice from the Biden administration and called for them to shut down detention centers, free detainees, and cut funding for deportations and detentions. I joined groups from Defund Hate in a rally outside the White House and met people in-person that I’ve been doing work with for months now. Music blasted, signs were held up high, and our demands were firmly voiced. It was great to be part of it all.

Photo by Andre Chung

September brought some wins in policies, too. The Biden administration granted temporary protected status (TPS) to many Venezuelan immigrants, which would benefit an estimated 474,000 Venezuelans on top of over 242,000 current beneficiaries. After so many Venezuelans have fled their home country because of intense economic upheaval made worse by punishing U.S. sanctions, this is an important recognition of refugees’ need for safety, work, and life. 

At the eleventh hour of September and the end of the 2023 fiscal year, we narrowly avoided a government shutdown. We celebrated because Congress passed a clean, if temporary, budget without HR.2, Secure the Border Act of 2023, the destructive bill favored by anti-immigration extremists that would have made legal immigration even more impossible than it already is. The budget also excluded any supplemental funding for border militarization favored by the far right. At least, until it expires on November 17.

Even among the wins, don’t get me wrong – it’s difficult to be an immigrant in the U.S.

For every good thing that happens with immigration, I seem to witness many more bad things in my communities. There are barriers to access in working and becoming financially stable, there is constant fear about being stripped from our families and homes, and there is the dangerous socialization of immigrants being perceived as outsiders.

On the policy and politics landscape, we’re at a dangerous precipice.

The continuing resolution is set to expire on November 17 which is less than a month away. Though we had a clean budget extension through October, far-right leaders are actively trying to push for bad bills including HR.2 and reinstate policies similar to Title 42 which would respectively make it harder for migrants to enter the U.S. and mass expel them at the southern border. And as Congress is in a scramble to choose the next Speaker of the House, bolstering border militarization funds remains on the table.

The Biden administration recently announced that they’re working to expedite border wall construction using Trump-era taxpayer dollars. They would waive 26 bedrock environmental, public health, and cultural preservation laws in order to do so - restricting movement and rightful lands for immigrant and Indigenous communities, as well as endangering the ecosystems and wildlife there.

The executive branch also seeks to ramp up money for more border security and deportations. The White House is currently requesting supplemental border funding packaged with military aid towards Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region - a bonanza for militarism at home and around the world. That includes aid to Panama in order to deport migrants before they reach the U.S.-Mexico border. And on top of that, Biden’s asylum ban from earlier this year is still in effect, keeping people from their legal right to seek safety and causing more harm than it ever did security.

Our judicial system has joined in the fray making life harder for immigrants. Just weeks ago, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that provides some legal recourse and security for immigrants who were brought here as children, was ruled unlawful again. That puts hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients like me at risk to not work, go to school, and live in the country that’s been home for most of our lives. The case may go to the Supreme Court again and determine the fates of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.

All of these policies to ramp up border security and personnel, and to continue building physical structures like walls and floating barriers, means more funding for a punitive immigration system. Two deadly enforcement agencies, ICE and CBP, already get too much at $25 billion a year - this number is projected to keep getting higher.

On the whole, it seems that the safety and security of immigrant communities are sacrificed for political gains. How do we keep our nation safe when we can’t keep our own people safe?

The challenge for our nation’s leaders is to fight for a world we know is possible in which we invest in the necessities that people need to live: secure homes, healthy foods, reliable healthcare, funded education and steady jobs. And when we can get to that place of comfort and necessity, to go one more step beyond and invest in indicators of true wealth for those who have been disenfranchised time and time again: people’s passions, leisures, travels, creative endeavors, and financial independence.

The reality now is that immigration advocates must always be forward-thinking in our advocacy and lean on hope to first get to a sense of safety for our communities. As Mariame Kaba notes, “Hope is a discipline.” 

So while we celebrate our wins and when doors open up for us, and as hope keeps us going, we must shift the scale away from subsidized violence and towards sustaining the protection and enrichment of immigrant communities. We, the advocates and legislators and elected leaders and directly impacted people, all must fight and dream for more.