Political posturing in Washington DC is hurting the people of New Hampshire.
For months, Democratic lawmakers have been debating the contents of the Build Back Better Act – which, if passed, could help lift New Hampshire's most vulnerable children out of poverty, provide universal early childhood education, support our senior citizens, and help address the existential threat of climate change. If strengthened, it could also offer a pathway to citizenship for thousands of New Hampshire residents – our friends, neighbors, and family – who live in fear of detention and deportation.
Recently, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he would not support the Build Back Better Act. This disappointing news comes after months of relentless advocacy efforts - by the people of New Hampshire, West Virginia, and every other state in the country - to amplify the urgent need for legislation like Build Back Better to strengthen the social safety net. Throughout the past year, hundreds of New Hampshire residents shared personal stories about the pressing need for these investments; they described the stress and hardship caused by the lack of affordable childcare and affordable housing. They pointed toward the growing evidence of climate crisis, and their fear of its impact on our New Hampshire ecosystem and future generations. Immigrant community leaders described the persistent stress faced by families whose loved ones have no current pathway to citizenship despite living in the state for decades.
We are choosing to be hopeful. AFSC is a diverse organization committed to the deeply held view that there is "that of God" in every person. It is not too late for Senator Manchin to return to his commitments, take a bold and needed step in this pivotal moment, and support prompt passage of the Build Back Better Act.
We also urge Senators Sheehan and Hassan to reach out to their colleagues across the aisle, calling on them to support this once-in-a-lifetime legislation.
As leaders in the growing movement for immigrant rights in New Hampshire, we wish to emphasize the importance of strengthening the immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act. The Senate Parliamentarian, an unelected advisor to the Senate, has three times issued opinions against the inclusion of immigration provisions in the bill. The third plan would have provided temporary work permits to millions; the first two plans sought to provide a permanent pathway to citizenship. Contrary to the Parliamentarian's opinion, legal experts and advocates have made a case for why and how a pathway to citizenship can qualify for inclusion in budget reconciliation to ensure we win protections for millions of undocumented immigrants who call this country home.
It is time for our senators to deliver on decades of unfulfilled promises. The parliamentarians' opinions do not outweigh the moral and political responsibility to provide proper protections for our communities. We urge Senators Shaheen and Hassan to disregard the advice of the Parliamentarian and move forward with a pathway to citizenship in the bill.
In New Hampshire, members of our communities are locked up in the Strafford County jail simply because of their immigration status and the ways that immigration has been criminalized over the years. We know business owners and church members and parents who have no way in the current system to regularize their immigration status. Because of this, they live in perpetual fear of separation from their families. This community includes Latino people and Indonesians, Brazilians, Africans from many countries, Haitians and others from all over the world.
Senators Sheehan and Hassan have both repeatedly expressed support for immigration reform. They have advocated for immigrants in their districts, in cases of asylum seekers and others who have been living in New Hampshire for decades without a clear pathway for relief. This isn't enough. We want our senators to be champions for the rights of their immigrant constituents and to remember that it is past time to end the limbo that so many New Hampshire families have been living in for decades. We want our senators to call for a pathway to citizenship in Build Back Better, and then work with their Senate colleagues to get it done.
The good news is that there is a simple path forward to include a pathway to citizenship in the bill – one that doesn't require new policies or complicated legislation. Congress needs to disregard the advice of the Parliamentarian and include a registry date change to 2011 in the Build Back Better bill. There is precedence for it.
Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan, please listen to your constituents and publicly champion the inclusion of a registry date change in the Build Back Better bill and work tirelessly for the timely passage of this bill. The people of New Hampshire have struggled and borne the brunt of too many broken promises to let such an opportunity pass us by.
Maggie Fogarty is the NH Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She lives in Dover. Grace Kindeke is Program Coordinator for AFSC's New Hampshire program. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in New Hampshire. She lives in Manchester.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Commentary: New Hampshire residents need the Build Back Better package