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After years of failed attempts, Congress is again struggling to make any headway on immigration reform. President Joe Biden’s massive immigration bill has failed to gain the support it needs to pass as is, leaving immigrant families caught in limbo. Yamiche Alcindor reports on the hold up in Congress, and the uncertainty that hangs over these families.
After years of failed attempts, Congress is again struggling to make any headway on immigration reform.
President Biden's massive immigration bill has failed to gain the support it needs to pass as is.
In the meantime, families are caught in limbo.
Yamiche Alcindor has this report from Prince George's County, Maryland.
Fifteen years ago, Josseline came to the United States a nervous little girl. She left her home in El Salvador just after her seventh birthday. With her aunt, she made it to the United States and across the border, joining her parents, Cornelia and Denis, who had crossed a few years earlier.
I never knew that I didn't have papers, you know, as they say.
Years later though, Josseline found out she and her parents had entered the country illegally.
What's it been like to be in this country without having legal status?
Cornelia (through translator):
Going to work, to the store and back, you don't know if you are going to return to the children. It's a fear that us parents have every day
The family now lives just outside Washington, D.C., in Prince George's County, Maryland. It is home to some 75,000 immigrants without legal status, among the highest in the state.
Josseline's mother cleans houses for a living, and her father works as a mechanic. Without legal status, they can't get Social Security numbers or health insurance. They're not able to travel back and forth to their home country without the fear of being deported.
Our grandparents are over there. And, like, they pass away, you can't visit.
Like many, the family was hopeful when President Joe Biden introduced a sweeping immigration reform bill.
Denis (through translator):
He is someone who is very supportive of all undocumented people. And it is clear he has a good heart
After years of Josseline and her family living in the shadows, the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
It was designed for people brought to the United States illegally as minors. Josseline was granted protection under the program.
It changed my life, because I was able to get my driver's license. I was able to graduate last May with a bachelor in health services.
Now, like many immigrants, Josseline is a front-line worker. She is a COVID-19 contact tracer working with the area's Latino population, which has been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.
Your parents remain without legal status. What worries you most about that, having this mixed status in your own family?
My dad, he works at night. Every night, I wait for him. And I'm like, oh, like, yay, like he's here. I hear his car. And that's a relief, because I can go to sleep thinking like we spend another day together.
All across America, in neighborhoods like this one, millions and millions of immigrants have been waiting for Washington to give them a chance at legal status.
But it remains unclear when and if real change may actually come. Biden's plan included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants without full legal status in the U.S., like Josseline, her parents and her aunt Juana, who was granted temporary protected status after a 2001 earthquake in El Salvador.
But Biden's proposal has run into opposition in Congress.
Sen. Mitch McConnell:
A massive proposal for blanket amnesty.
Republicans overwhelmingly oppose Biden's immigration bill, especially amid an uptick in migrant children coming to the U.S. Southern border.
Democrats have already broken up the legislation in an attempt to ensure more popular pieces pass, like a path to citizenship for Josseline, who came to the U.S. as a child, but not for her parents.
In the meantime, Josseline's parents are still at risk of deportation. If that happens, she would be left to care for her three younger siblings, all of whom were born in the U.S. and are citizens.
I don't know what I would do if she was over there, and I was here. I just can't imagine that. But thank God that she's here with me. They're both here with me.
The fear of being sent back to their home countries consumes this family and many others living in limbo, like Nelson, an asylum seeker who fled a civil war in Cameroon.
Nelson says he was shot after government soldiers opened fire on a protest, leaving these scars. He requested we not show his face for his safety.
My mom is paralyzed due to what happened. The military came to our family compound, got her well-beaten, because they couldn't find me, and then burned our entire compound.
Like thousands of other African immigrants, he made his way to Ecuador, then trekked north to the U.S. border. Nelson now lives in Prince George's County. He works as a caregiver at a group home and pays income taxes.
Are you worried that you could be sent back?
Somebody like me, who are being hunted by the military, let me die here, than to go and pass through such torture before being killed.
As for Josseline's family, they also pay income taxes. But not all immigrants without legal status do.
Biden's plan would require immigrants to pay taxes and pass background checks before they're able to apply for citizenship. Advocates argue that would only boost U.S. tax revenues.
Maryland state lawmaker Kathy Szeliga, a Republican, agrees that immigration reform is needed. But she says giving a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people is not the answer.
State Del. Kathy Szeliga:
Offering rewards to people who have come here illegally and putting them ahead of others who are waiting decades on a list to come to our great country is not justice.
And our schools are suffering right now with virtual learning. And adding additional challenges to that, I don't think that's fair for Maryland citizens and people who are here legally and waiting their turn to immigrate.
As the debate in Congress continues, uncertainty hangs over these families.
What will it mean to you if Congress passes a law that allows you to become a citizen, but leaves out your parents?
That still leaves me in the same limbo, because I'm in constant fear. I'm going to keep fighting for them. I have hope that things can change.
Even under a president who supports that change, it's unclear if and when they will ever be able to lead more normal lives.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor in Prince George's County, Maryland.
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Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tommy Walters is an associate producer at the PBS NewsHour.
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