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Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a former undocumented immigrant, is a strong longtime advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Photo: Getty Images. 
Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a former undocumented immigrant, is a strong longtime advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Photo: Getty Images. 

“Keep the faith,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat takes part in immigration roundtable with FWD.us

With Immigrant Heritage Month ending, leaders from New York gathered to discuss the struggles of the undocumented population.

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On June 29, 2021 Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) joined community leaders and impacted people in a roundtable discussion on immigration.

The event was hosted by FWD.us and it commemorated the end of National Immigrant Heritage and Carribean-American month. The conversation was moderated by Eddie A. Taveras, the immigration director at FWD.us.

Espaillat is in his third term representing New York’s 13th congressional district and prior to that, he served in the State Assembly for nearly 20 years. 

He is the first Domincan-American member of Congress and the first member ever elected to the chamber who was formerly undocumented. 

The representative suggested there are elements of comprehensive immigration reform that should be easier to pass. 

“DREAMers and farmworkers, I think, are two pieces of the immigration reform debate that should not even be of controversy,” he said. 

There tends to be more support in Congress, even from some Republicans, to grant DREAMers with a pathway to citizenship because of their distinct immigration stories. 

Many were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and therefore they did not choose to migrate. A large proportion have no memory of their country of birth, meaning that they would struggle to adjust to that society if they were to be deported. 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an Obama-era policy that allows them to apply for a two-year renewable deferment from deportations. It also allows them to seek a work permit and attend higher education without the fear of removal. 

They are referred to as DREAMers because of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act. The passage of this bill would grant them a viable road to permanent residency and eventual citizenship. 

Rep. Espaillat had to leave the event early to cast votes on the appropriations committee, but he told listeners to “keep the faith” in the fight for reform this year. 

Astou Thiane is a DACA recipient who was born in Senegal and immigrated to New York at age seven with her parents. Today, she is the assistant principal for humanities at a middle school in Brooklyn, New York. 

The educator called DACA a temporary solution for some that leaves many youth still completely in the shadows.  

“Often the conversation is on DACA and DACA being lotted as a fix… largely for undocumented youth in the K to 12 space DACA is non-existant,” she said. 

Children do not start to think about this program until they near the end of high school and begin the college application process. 

It’swhy many activists fight for legislation that includes all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Stopping at DACA and TPS recipients only covers a small sector of the population. 

Israel Sanchez is a community organizer with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, and he stressed that his advocacy will not end even after a pathway to citizenship is guaranteed for all. 

“If magically every undocumented person became a citizen tomorrow, I think even then it’s the bare minimum. Being a citizen here does not shield you from a lot of things. There are people who lack access to health care, our Black communities are brutalized and oppressed by the police still consistently despite being citizens,” he said. 

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