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Scranton mayor presses Congress to naturalize undocumented immigrants through budget reconciliation

(By Christen Smith | The Center Square) – Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti said this week Congress should use budget reconciliation to naturalize millions of undocumented immigrants as recognition for their sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We already needed to deliver pathways to citizenship as nation, even before the pandemic,” she said during a call with reporters Monday. “They’ve put their lives on the line during the pandemic and to continue to threaten them with deportation, after all they’ve done for us and our country, is unconscionable.”

Cognetti joined more than 80 mayors across 28 states as a signatory on a letter addressed to congressional leaders calling for imminent action on the decades-old issue. The American Immigration Council estimates that about 170,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state and nearly 5,000 of them are active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) benefits, which delays deportation and authorizes employment for residents brought into the country as children. 

On July 16, a federal judge in Texas deemed the DACA policy illegal, shutting out up to 50,000 new applicants for the program. The development means, more than ever, Democrats must take advantage of their razor thin majority in Congress to create a pathway to citizenship, Cognetti said. 

“It’s time for Congress to act,” the letter concludes. “The only way we can truly Build Back Better is to ensure that Dreamers, TPS holders, and essential workers are included in any economic recovery legislation including through budget reconciliation.”

Mayors from the cities of Bellevue, Carlisle, Erie, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg also signed onto the letter.

“We know this is not just the humane thing to do – it is absolutely critical to find these pathways to citizenship,” Cognetti said Monday. “If we don’t do this now, we will start to erode in our strength and that becomes a national security issue.”

Cognetti joined mayors from Tucson and Oakland and staff at the We Are Home campaign to discuss the importance of reforming immigration policies, especially after they say up to 5 million undocumented workers served on the front lines of the pandemic. 

Doing so would boost the national GDP by $1.5 trillion over the decade and create more than 400,000 jobs, the campaign said, so “its absolutely a budget issue” that qualifies under reconciliation rules.

Addressing immigration reform through the reconciliation process means the Senate can pass the policy with just 50 votes, instead of the 60 required for other legislation. Democrats used the maneuver last spring when they passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Congressional Republicans appear unlikely to offer much support, with several showing interest in proposals that offer narrower pathways – such as a plan from Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., that would impact about 700,000 DACA recipients, according to a report from The Hill.

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