Immigrant voices on immigration reform

Path to citizenship ultimate goal for many

EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION on the polarizing topic of immigration reform, but rarely do immigrants get to be in the presence of key decision makers who determine their fates. Student Estefany Pineda and community organizer Jose Palma got that opportunity recently, when Pineda attended the State of the Union as a guest of US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Palma testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Pineda is a recipient of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives legal status and work authorization to those brought into the country illegally by their parents as minors. Palma, who came to the US in 1999 after a natural disaster in El Salvador, has temporary protected status, which allows him to live and work legally here as well.

Pineda and Palma described the challenges faced by immigrants under President Trump’s administration on the Codcast. While they represent different groups of immigrants, Pineda and Palma say the best way forward for both of them is to find a pathway to citizenship through the recently proposed Dream and Promise Act. The new legislation, proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, is the first to seek permanent legal residency for both groups of immigrants.

Under the legislation, immigrants who had their status established as of September 25, 2016, could seek permanent residency as long as they lived in the US for three consecutive years.

More than 12,000 people in Massachusetts have TPS, a designation established by Congress in 1990 that protects foreign nationals from being returned to their home country if there are concerns about armed conflict or other extraordinary conditions. More than 6,000 TPS holders in Massachusetts are from El Salvador and Haiti.

Pineda got DACA in 2016, and pays $500 every two years to re-apply for the status. She said she would like to graduate and live her life “without waiting for a certain date.” She’s concerned about deportation or not being able to legally work after graduation from UMass Boston.

Palma is also concerned. “We are all at risk of losing the immigration protection and potentially becoming undocumented,” he said. He renews his application every 18 months and pays $485 to remain in the US with his four children. TPS holders from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Sudan, Nepal, and Sudan had their status extended to January 2020 after the Department of Homeland Security decided to comply with a federal court order. Both immigration protections are mired in court battles.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

TPS recipients and DACA holders are often pitted against each other in politics. “TPS and DACA are often being used as a bargaining chip; we are like the soccer ball being kicked around during electoral season,” said Palma.

Palma and Pineda believe the bill can pass the House, but are not sure about success in the Republican-controlled Senate. Palma had organized around DACA in 2010, and saw the Dream Act fail in a Democratic congress led by a Democratic president. “It’s a roller coaster trip, a nightmare for people like myself and for people who want to live here,” he said.