The 2021 legislative session brought about progressive changes to Colorado, particularly regarding immigration and undocumented immigrants. Among them:
- Eliminating barriers to resources such as business and professional licenses for those lacking proper documentation SB21-199.
- Establishing data privacy protections to prevent state agencies from feeding non-public personal information to federal immigration enforcement SB21-131.
- Creating no-cost reproductive healthcare programs for the undocumented SB21-009.
To some constituents, this is progress; these Colorado laws are aimed at improving the lives of undocumented immigrants and making Colorado a more welcoming state. However, to others, this does not help to solve the issues with long-term federal immigration policies. Nor does it alleviate the fear of deportation plaguing the population of undocumented immigrants in Colorado.
The bigger issues remain. Current federal immigration policy does not allow undocumented immigrants to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. And for those who have become lawful permanent residents, they are still a long way from the finish line: they still must complete a waiting period, apply for naturalization, pay filing fees, and prepare for their interview.
A Pew survey of Latinos who have obtained lawful permanent status indicates that, despite a strong desire to naturalize, a significant share of them say language and cost barriers remain significant impediments to completion.
Undocumented immigrants, meanwhile, have little protection. They are often an “unseen population,” living in the shadows, fearful that one wrong move could split their family apart. Therefore, Colorado, its residents and legislators must push for immigration reform so that the undocumented can have an earned pathway to citizenship.
Public support of bill S.348 — the U.S. Citizenship Act — in Congress is one way to do just that.
Colorado Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet are cosponsors on this bill. If passed, it would establish a path to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals and would establish a new status of “lawful prospective immigrant.” The status of lawful prospective immigrant would be available to an applying noncitizen who meets certain requirements, including being continually present in the United States since Jan. 1, 2021, and passing background checks. Then, after five years with this status, an eligible noncitizen may apply for and receive permanent resident status.
The Act also would provide permanent resident status to certain applying noncitizens, specifically for eligible noncitizens who:
- Entered the United States as a minor, or
- Were eligible for temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure on January 1, 2017, or
- Worked a certain amount of agricultural labor in the five years prior to applying.
This is an earned path to citizenship for certain individuals and the more permanent solution to the issues created by unauthorized immigration.
It’s all well and fine to pass Colorado laws helping undocumented immigrants from a social standpoint, but it does not help in the long-term. In fact, I believe it hinders progress by allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country with little to no protection against deportation. Colorado legislators and residents must focus on supporting bills like the U.S. Citizenship Act to focus on long-term solutions.
Another way that Colorado residents can help the immigrant community is by helping with the naturalization process for lawful permanent residents. They are also known by the name of “green card holders” — immigrants who have been granted lawful permanent residence but have not become U.S. citizens. As of 2021, there were 13.1 million of them, 9.2 million of whom met the naturalization requirements for age and length of residency in the US. Therefore, approximately 9.2 million individuals are potentially eligible to naturalize.
U.S. Dept. of Human Services data indicates 20 percent of lawful permanent residents eligible to naturalize in 2021 entered the country between the years 2000-2009; almost 30 percent entered in 2010 or later. This data indicates the numbers for those entering in recent years will continue to grow as those lawful permanent residents enter adulthood or satisfy their residency requirements.
2021 DHS data indicates 110,000 lawful permanent residents live in Colorado and are eligible to become naturalized. More than 25 percent of the lawful permanent residents who were eligible to naturalize in 2021 are from Mexico. If any of those 110,000 have children under the age of 18, those children may be eligible to automatically acquire citizenship.
Throughout history, America has welcomed individuals from all over the world who have helped to define and shape our democracy. Thus, the question is not whether to welcome immigrants. It is imperative to act now.
Immigration policies have never been as politicized as they have been in the past decade. More than any of the recent Colorado laws passed, public support of the federal U.S. Citizenship Act will demonstrate that Colorado values, supports, and welcomes immigrants as new citizens to the United States of America.
Brooklyn Grinage, of Aurora, is a graduate student of social work at Our Lady of the Lake University, in San Antonio, Texas.