State Sen. Yvanna Cancela made his bones as the Culinary Workers Union political director.
She draws on that experience as a political organizer when she describes her hope that Congress can pass legislation to allow an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients to legally remain in the United States.
While the DACA issue has been pushed off the front page across America by stories about North Korea, hurricane recovery and protests by NFL players, work has quietly gone on in Washington D.C. about the DACA crisis, she said Thursday on Nevada Newsmakers.
Generally called “Dreamers,” the DACA recipients have shown a talent for political organization. And that should help them as Congress considers action on their future, Cancela said.
“As a former organizer — I see myself as an organizer — I know what the power of the Dreamer is,” she said on Nevada Newsmakers. “They are one of the most organized communities and they have been able to do what very few other groups have been able to do in this country. And that is to change hearts and minds about their issues and about the importance of what it means to be a young person who comes to this country from another county and who wants an opportunity to better their lives.”
The DACA push is there, even if it is quiet in national media, Cancela said.
“Everyday there are protests and outreach happening to congresspeople and senators in hopes of moving the bill that Sens. Graham and Durbin have worked on,” Cancela said. “And as long as the push continues to get a bill done, something should happen. But it is almost impossible to predict what happens in Washington.
“I think it is going to be a fight to get this done,” Cancela said.
Early this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the federal government was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Trump then gave Congress six months to approve legislation at allow the DACA recipients to stay legally in the U.S.
DACA recipients — those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — could be subject to deportation if Congress does not approve a plan.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin have reintroduced The Dream Act of 2017 yet some in a Republican-controlled Congress feel it is not conservative enough.
A key sticking point is that it provides a path to citizenship and not just permanent legal residency.
Three Republican senators — Thom Tillis, James Lankford and Orrin Hatch — this week introduced the SUCCEED Act (Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our nation), which would establish permanent legal residency but not citizenship.
The unresolved battle in Congress about citizenship vs. legal residency helps highlight just how difficult it is to become a U.S. citizen, Cancela said. If done correctly and legally, it could take more than twenty years for an immigrant to gain citizenship, experts have said.
“What I think the DACA conversation has highlighted is the legal path to citizenship is much harder than people think,” Cancela said. “Lots of folks think that if you come to this country, eventually you will become a citizen. That is not true. We have a completely fractured system with very little recourse for folks who have come to this country and have contributed by working here, by raising their families here, by paying taxes here.”
Her thoughts were recently echoed by Nevada’s 4th U.S. House Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas.
“You have a lot of people saying, well, why don’t they do it the legal way?” Kihuen said on Nevada Newsmakers earlier this month. “And I’m sure every single immigrant who wants to come here and work hard, play by the rules and stay out of trouble, would go the legal way if there was a legal way that actually worked. But right now, you have to wait about 25 years, if you actually want to wait for the legal way.”
Cancela, who directs a program called the Citizenship Project, which helps immigrant families naturalize, see a big difference how federal immigration officers did their job during the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration.
“The major difference in the Obama administration and the Trump administration is that the Obama administration truly prioritized criminals and those with criminal backgrounds (for deportation), whereas the Trump administration has much more of a blanket approach,” Cancela said. “I think that is dangerous. It is not the kind of country that we are and not even the kind of Republican Party that existed, going back to President Reagan, who believed in family unification. I’m hopeful as a country that we can get back to a place where we can talk about families and the the stability of our communities instead of criminality and deportation.”