‘It is time to put differences aside and listen to the majority of Americans who agree with creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and push forward vital legislation that supports our undocumented immigrants.’

Adi Talwar

Citizenship ceremony space at the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices in downtown Manhattan in 2016. Much has changed since then.

Three years ago, I sat in the Pearl Street Courthouse in lower Manhattan for my naturalization ceremony. The district judge read through the names of every country that was represented in the room that day. As each nation’s name was called, smiles spread across the faces of families throughout the room. That day, our histories and heritage were recognized alongside our belonging to this country.

Today, I write this as the assembly member representing my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. My reality is far from the ones of my undocumented neighbors whose roles in our communities often go unrecognized. After nearly 2.2 million immigrants went to the frontline as essential workers during COVID-19, many were left out of government financial relief because they lacked status. Unfortunately, being excluded even though they contribute each day to the strength of our economy and overall well-being has long been a reality for millions of undocumented immigrants denied a pathway to citizenship. 

In my district, I discovered that a landlord had been trying to drive out sixteen Bangladeshi immigrant families from their rent-stabilized apartments by turning off their heat and hot water. Many of these tenants are essential workers, and some even have children as young as 10 months old, and yet some were wary of seeking help from institutions that are supposed to protect their rights because of their immigration status. These stories are not uncommon.

Today, New York is proudly home to 4.4 million immigrants, including 330,000 undocumented essential workers, nearly 28,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program recipients, and over 40,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders that support industries from agriculture to healthcare services. And in the midst of global uncertainty and economic regression, many spend their days on the frontlines of the pandemic working in critical industries such as healthcare, sanitation, maintenance, agriculture, and domestic work, among others. In fact, 64 percent of undocumented immigrants in New York are essential workers. These neighbors face constant anxiety about the future and, for many, a consistent threat of deportation.

We need to reform our immigration system to put family and humanity at center focus to ensure all undocumented individuals and future generations of immigrants can be welcome with dignity.

Just look at how in February alone, about 900 Haitians were reportedly deported. Further, the President will once again miss the mark on his pledge to allow 62,500 refugees into the country. While he is working to reverse this by raising the refugee ceiling, it will still be hard to achieve. This should serve as a reminder that we must hold our elected officials accountable for what they promised our immigrant neighbors and us, and that is a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented community.

Today, I am calling on our leaders to come together to pass the U.S. Citizenship Act as a step towards providing our neighbors the security they deserve. It lays out an earned roadmap for undocumented individuals to apply for permanent residence and strengthens labor protections, including protecting workers who are victims of workplace retaliation from deportation. All immigrants deserve the feeling I had that day in the Pearl Street Courthouse—the feeling of belonging and recognition in our country. To do this, we must pass the U.S. Citizenship Act and continue to fight for dignity for all that live here.

In addition, I call upon U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to take every avenue possible to support our state’s undocumented workers, Dreamers, and TPS holders. It is time to put differences aside and listen to the majority of Americans who agree with creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and push forward vital legislation that supports our undocumented immigrants. We cannot afford to lose our undocumented immigrant communities that are essential to our country—it’s time we start treating them accordingly.

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda and moved to New York City with his family at the age of 7. He was elected to represent District 36 in 2020 and is the first South Asian man and the first Ugandan to ever be a member of the legislative body.