Nigerians and other US immigrants are excited by President Joe Biden’s plan to provide a path to US citizenship for about 11 million people without legal status.
On his first day in office, Biden issued executive orders reversing some of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, such as halting work on a US-Mexico border wall; and lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries, including Nigeria.
He also ordered his Cabinet to work to keep deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought to the US as children.
A Nigerian citizen in the US whose spouse in Nigeria has been unable to process her immigration due to the ban told said, he is hopeful that “the door will be open again.” Across social media, Nigerians at home wishing to move to the US also envisage a higher immigration possibility under Biden.
Immigrants from other countries, including the African countries of Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are also hopeful that a path to citizenship is in the pipeline. TPS provides limited permit to citizens from designated countries affected by conflict or natural disasters.
But Biden’s proposals also require Congressional approval.
“It sets a more hopeful future for immigrants in the US, but it all depends on the Congress, especially the Senate,” a national campaigns manager for the immigrant advocacy group Alianza Americas, of the citizenship effort.
Success of the legislation is far from certain in a divided Congress, where opposition is expected to be tough. The most recent immigration reform attempts on a similar scale failed — in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush and in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama.
In New York, Blanca Cedillos said she was disappointed Biden did not mention immigration during the speech she watched with a half-dozen other masked immigrants at the Workers Justice Project.
“I was hoping he would say something,” said Cedillos, a Salvadoran who lost her job as a nanny during the coronavirus pandemic and now gets by with a few housecleaning jobs and a weekly food box from the nonprofit that offers services to immigrants.
Guatemalan construction worker Gustavo Ajché, who came to the US in 2004, said: “I don’t want to get too excited because I might get frustrated afterward, like has happened in the past. I have been here many years, I have paid my taxes, I am hoping something will be done.”
Trump had ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which protects immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation, though he was later overruled by the Supreme Court.
But DACA recipients, some of who are tax-paying adults, still don’t have a pathway to citizenship and have to keep renewing their papers to stay legal. Biden’s effort, if supported by Congress, will finally see them through.