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President Biden’s day-one action a critical step for immigrant justice

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Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden’s proposal of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 and a raft of other essential and overdue proposals are an important first step toward immigrant justice.

It is clear from today’s proposals that the Biden-Harris administration has listened to the voices of people across the country who have demanded a just, fair and welcoming immigration system. The Southern Poverty Law Center is eager to work with the new administration to fully realize justice for all immigrants, regardless of their professions, current status or how they entered the country.

In addition to the U.S. Citizenship Act, which includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans, the president has announced a series of immigration-related executive orders, including protecting recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), reversing the Muslim and African travel bans, stopping border wall construction, and revoking the executive order that directed harsh and extreme immigration enforcement.  

However, we must realize that the legislation and executive orders announced today are only first steps. The scope of the injustices levied against Black, Brown and Indigenous immigrants over the years demands a complete reimagination of our immigration system. We must be bold and courageous to make this vision a reality. 

Beyond undoing the bigoted agenda of the previous administration, the unconscionable human rights abuses that have occurred over the last four years have exposed a misguided enforcement-minded approach to what is really a humanitarian issue. 

These reforms will help address the anti-immigrant policy that has seeped into communities across the country. In the Deep South, we must reverse the pervasive entanglement of federal immigration agencies and local law enforcement that has targeted communities of color disproportionately.

Essential agricultural and poultry workers represented by the SPLC have been exploited by their employers and deserve to have their rights vindicated. At the border, there must be justice for the separated families and asylum seekers who have endured torture. And the appalling abuses endured by the hundreds of people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody whom the SPLC has represented must end.  

In other words, the hard work is just beginning.

Congress must act quickly to enact legislation that will provide real relief. Immigrants have waited for far too long for fair and equal treatment under our laws. Our immigrant families, neighbors, friends, and co-workers are valued members of our communities, and it’s past time we treat them as such. Just as the South has led the country in moral reckonings before, we must again look to these local communities and organizers to lead the way in immigrant justice.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images