San Jose residents press for updated immigration reform
Gina Guevara speaks in support of an immigration bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Thursday, March 9, 2023 at Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    When San Jose resident Gina Guevara first came to the U.S. years ago, she encountered many barriers.

    Though she had already earned a telecommunications degree from her home country of Venezuela, she found her job options limited by her undocumented status.

    That’s why Guevara and others are pushing Congress to pass a federal bill introduced today by Congressmember Zoe Lofgren to refresh the eligibility requirements for permanent residence, which haven’t been updated in more than 30 years. Guevara gathered with other immigrants at Mexican Heritage Plaza on Thursday to share their stories and support for Lofgren’s bill, referred to as “Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929.” If approved, the legislation would update requirements for undocumented residents to be eligible for green cards, or permanent residency.

    “Everyone deserves to be healthy, to work and to get a good-paying job, so we can raise our families with as many opportunities as possible,” Guevara said in Spanish through a translator. “Those who came to the United States years ago in search of a better life have put down roots and deserve a chance at permanent residence.”

    Right now, in order to be eligible for a green card, an undocumented resident must have lived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 1972. That’s partly because the Immigration Act has not been updated since 1986, said Cesar Bautista, immigration attorney with nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe. The group, which fights to end disparities and provide basic needs for East San Jose families, organized the event.

    “We need a broad path to permanent residency to all eight million undocumented immigrants this year,” Bautista said.

    Since the beginning of President Joe Biden’s term in 2021, local groups have pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. There are an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants, including 30,000 “Dreamers” or DACA recipients, in Santa Clara County. Earlier this month, San Jose joined Los Angeles in defending the DACA program, which has been challenged in federal court. The Los Angeles brief is expected to be submitted sometime in March, a month before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen is set to make his final decision on whether the program that protects the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation is lawful.

    Lofgren originally introduced the same immigration registry bill in July last year. However, due to her introduction of the bill late in the 2021-22 congressional session—and the fact that there was little bipartisan support on immigration issues—the bill failed to advance, according to a congressional aide.

    Essentially, the only part of the Immigration Act that Lofgren’s bill changes is the 1972 cutoff date, updating it to “at least seven years before the application date.”

    “While the extreme MAGA Republicans make dozens of trips to the border and perform other political stunts, my colleagues and I are once again focusing on immigration action by reintroducing this commonsense registry legislation that is simply an update of the law that was first put in place in 1929,” Lofgren told San José Spotlight. “As our predecessors in the 70th Congress understood, providing stability to those who are of good character and who have resided here for a significant period of time is good for America.”

    To prevent the bill from dying in Congress again as it did last year, San Jose residents are urging representatives to advance it as quickly as possible.

    “Our nation’s immigration system is broken,” Guevara said. “Congress, please act now. We can no longer wait.”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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