NILC Executive Director Marielena Hincapié Advocates for Bold Immigration Reforms in Congressional Testimony

February 11, 2021

Juan Gastelum, [email protected], 213-375-3149

NILC Executive Director Marielena Hincapié Advocates for Bold Immigration Reforms in Congressional Testimony

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, testified today before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. Hincapié’s statement is below:

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Chair Lofgren, Ranking Member McClintock, and members of the subcommittee: Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

I am here today because my parents — Arturo and Teresa moved from Colombia to work in Rhode Island’s textile factories to give their 10 children better opportunities. Today, my family includes educators; health professionals; entrepreneurs; emerging leaders in finance, climate, and engineering fields; and students.

I am a naturalized citizen, a lawyer, and the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. We believe all of us — regardless of where we were born, how much money we have, or the color of our skin — should have the freedom to thrive.

We are at a pivotal moment in our nation.

A historic number of voters, ranging from Black women to naturalized citizens, voted for a president who would unify our nation and reclaim the United States’ position as a beacon of hope. They voted for an economy that gives everyone, including immigrants, a fair shot. And they voted with increasing recognition that immigrants are keeping our country running through the pandemic and doing their part to keep our loved ones healthy and cared for.

We are at the beginning of a new era. Together, with the combined efforts of the Biden administration and congressional leadership, we must deliver on the promise that our nation has held for previous generations.

We must recognize: Immigrants are essential. The Biden administration and Congress should know that including immigrants in building a better future is not only morally and economically sound, but also carries strong bipartisan support from voters across the political spectrum.

Today we will focus on the need for bold reforms, but I’ll first share a few stories of the people whose lives and humanity make them essential to our country.

Dr. Abudu, from Ghana, works as an emergency room physician in California. He came to the U.S. as a teenager and is saving lives every day. He says working in health care during the pandemic is “hell, and it is heartbreaking.” Last month, one of his coworkers — also a physician — died of COVID. Yet Dr. Abudu shows up for work, risking his own life to save others.

Catherine ‘Ofa Mann, from Tonga, is educating Pacific Islander communities about COVID and working to reduce transmission rates, while encouraging those who need it to seek care despite their fears. In her words, “They take care of their own. Because they heard that people go to the hospital and they die.”

Saul Sanchez, from Mexico lived in Colorado and proudly worked at a meat processing plant for years to provide for his family. Mr. Sanchez was hospitalized in the very hospital where his daughter works as a nurse. He died from COVID. His family was unable to tell him they loved him before he took his final breath.

Like them, there are millions more whom you will impact through your actions.

The status quo is simply not acceptable. In the third decade of the 21st century, we’re still stuck in a 1980s immigration system. We must find a new way forward.

We need 21st century immigration policies that begin to address root causes so that people have the freedom to remain in their home countries and also that create legal channels for people to move to the U.S. to be reunited with loved ones or pursue an education or employment opportunities.

Our immigration system must advance racial, economic, and gender justice, equity, and inclusion. It’s time to end the dynamic of having immigration status function as the gatekeeper to accessing basic necessities and rights for all.

We applaud President Biden’s vision set forth in the U.S. Citizenship Act.

We call on congressional leadership and members of this subcommittee to support the swift passage of bold, inclusive bills that will provide a pathway to citizenship without punitive provisions. Congress must also recognize the essential workers who are critical to our recovery and place them on a fast track to citizenship.

The urgency is clear. Each day without legislative solutions causes suffering not only for immigrants but also for their U.S. citizen families, employers, schools, local communities, and our country.

Today’s immigrants are simply seeking the same opportunities that generations of immigrants like my parents and many of your families and ancestors had before them: the chance to build a better future.

This is a time for moral imagination and leadership as we work to safeguard and strengthen our democracy, heal from racial inequalities and injustices, and recover from this global pandemic that has reminded us how interdependent we all are.

The time is now. Immigrants are essential for the soul of America. And so we must act boldly together to make good on the promise of America.

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Watch a recording of the hearing at