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Latinx Files: Will Joe Biden’s immigration reform plan pass?

DACA supporters march in Los Angeles holding signs and flags in November 2019.
Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program march down 7th Street in Los Angeles in November 2019.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When the presidency of Donald Trump came to an end yesterday, so did an administration fueled by nativism and white supremacy. He began by making the racist claim that Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers, instituted the so-called Muslim travel ban, separated children from their parents and ultimately propelled his followers into a violent frenzy that failed to overturn the will of the American people.

Now, President Biden is already working to dismantle much of the damage done, issuing a slew of executive orders that includes preventing the deportation of “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children and halting further construction of the border wall.

The president has also sent Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act, a comprehensive bill that, if passed, would give an estimated 11 million Americans in the U.S. without legal status an eight-year pathway to citizenship and would immediately grant green cards to farmworkers, recipients under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and people with temporary protection status (this includes nearly 200,000 Salvadorans, about 57,000 Hondurans and some 2,500 Nicaraguans).

If passed. Those are the operative words in the previous sentence.

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That’s a big if.

To be clear, I believe it to be a moral imperative that we grant citizenship to millions of people who are already American but lack the papers to prove it. I should note that I am biased; my extended family has mixed status. I have aunts and uncles who have been here for so long they now have grandchildren. I have undocumented and Dreamer cousins whose Spanish has gone rusty because of their Midwestern upbringing.

But do I think Biden’s plan will pass? Sadly, no.

Forgive my cynicism. I don’t mean to be skeptical, but history and this country’s big political and ideological divide prevent me from being anything but. Politicians have been promising some kind of immigration reform for the better part of three decades with very little to show for it beyond the further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the DACA program.

We’ve been having this conversation for so long that at one point Sen. Marco Rubio was the face of immigration reform because he thought it would help him become president. The discourse is so old that Sen. Lindsey Graham, the same guy who joked about the “good old days of segregation” in October, was actually a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who tried and failed to pass immigration reform in 2013.

Some might point to the fact that Democrats control the presidency, the House and the Senate. But that was also true in 2009, when Barack Obama became president. No comprehensive immigration reform came then, either. Instead, Obama enacted the DACA program — intended as a stopgap measure, although now the oldest recipients are nearly 40 — and put in place the deportation apparatus that earned him the moniker “deporter in chief” from Univision’s Jorge Ramos.

Which brings us to now. We are living in a country that’s as polarized as it’s ever been. A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that the top priority for Republicans when it came to immigration was beefing up border security and deporting more people. Trump might be gone, but the sway he has over Republican voters isn’t.

It’s not just immigration reform that faces a tough road ahead. It’s Biden’s entire agenda.

I could be wrong. I hope I am. Maybe this time it really will be different. But I’ll only believe it when I see it. When it comes to immigration reform, politicians have been Lucy with the football, and I’m not so sure I have it in me to try to kick it.

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Make ‘This Land Is Your Land’ the national anthem, you cowards!

Jennifer Lopez performed at the inauguration (and pledged allegiance to the flag en español), singing a patriotic medley that included “This Land Is Your Land,” the 1940 Woody Guthrie song, which in my humble opinion does a better job than “The Star-Spangled Banner” (it only became the national anthem in 1931) at capturing the idea of what the United States is supposed to stand for.

Guthrie wrote the song as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which he found too blindly patriotic. The folk singer’s original version of “This Land Is Your Land” contained these two verses, which were scrapped because he thought they would be too controversial (though they’re no less accurate):

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

I personally love these, especially the first one. To me it is tacit acknowledgement that this country is and always will be a nation of immigrants.

There are many great renditions of “This Land Is Your Land,” from Bob Dylan to Harry Belafonte, from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings to Chicano Batman. My go-to is this Bruce Springsteen interpretation.

It’s worth noting that Guthrie’s anthem is by no means perfect. In 2019, Mali Obomsawin argued that the song, particularly the versions defanged of the above verses, falls flat and excludes Native people from U.S. history.

And speaking of works of art that embody the spirit of this country...

Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman reads her poem during the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Hands down, the most moving portion of yesterday’s ceremony was Amanda Gorman reading “The Hill We Climb.” The 22-year-old inaugural poet was undoubtedly the breakout star — she was trending on Twitter and gained hundreds of thousands of followers on the platform.

You can watch her recite her poem and read along to it here. And if you’d like to know more about Gorman, you should read this profile by my colleague Julia Barajas.

Things we read this week we think you should read

— My colleague Nardine Saad wrote about unintentional fashion icon Bernie Sanders and the memes he inspired. It’s not only a fun read but gives me the opportunity to share this tweet:

— It is a rare occasion when the New Yorker publishes a story by a Latinx writer. (This says more about them than it does about us, to be perfectly clear.) You can find one in this week’s issue of the magazine, a personal essay by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio about growing up in an undocumented household. Its candidness will make it stick in your gut. I read it on Monday, and I’m still thinking about this sentence, which so perfectly captures the weight of the world children of immigrants feel with such few words: “That is the pact between immigrants and their children in America: They give us a better life, and we spend the rest of that life figuring out how much of our flesh will pay off the debt.”

— President Biden has redecorated the Oval Office, and one notable addition to the workspace is a bronze bust of Chicano and labor icon Cesar Chavez placed behind the Resolute desk. My colleague Daniel Hernandez has more on the statue.

A bust of Cesar Chavez is surrounded by photos of Joe Biden's family
A bust of Cesar Chavez sits behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

— In case you need a reminder of the human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should watch this Univision news segment on Ivin Dávila, a 15-year-old from Los Angeles who lost his mom, dad and grandmother to the disease in the span of a month. “Todavía no lo puedo creer,” he said. “No se siente real, se siente como que un día me acuesto y al despertar voy a tener a mi familia completa.”

— Back in 2017, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The First White President,” in which he argued that Trump’s political ideology was white supremacy. On Tuesday, Coates revisited that essay and brought up the uncomfortable truth that Trump no longer being in the White House doesn’t mean that America’s white supremacy is gone.

The best thing on the Latinternet: And they called it puppy love

Shoutout to Pablo Valdivia of Buzzfeed’s Pero Like for tweeting this TikTok video of this señor doing the most for his dog. I particularly loved the little dance he does as his pup rides the mechanical horse.


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