By Gabe Ortiz | December 14, 2023
Next year’s presidential election means that 2024 is poised to be an incredibly significant – and busy – year for our movement. But before rolling up our sleeves as we head into the new year, we should take a moment to reflect on immigration wins and people-led moments from 2023 – and there were many of them. From driver’s license implementation in multiple states, to in-state tuition for Dreamers and proposed policy expanding protections for farmworkers, to the expansion of work permits for thousands more immigrants, our communities achieved a host of wins and actions throughout 2023. Many of these victories reflected years of work by advocates, and stand to greatly improve the lives of families as we continue in our effort to win permanent relief for our communities. Let’s take a look at some of these victories and moments.
- Biden administration announces parole program for Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants: Officials announced the creation of a program allowing up to 30,000 eligible migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to apply for temporary entry to the U.S. if they have a sponsor and pass other criteria. While the administration’s announcement was paired with certain restrictive measures that America’s Voice opposed, such as an expansion of Title 42 and a proposed asylum ban, we commended the administration for leaning in on expanding alternative legal pathways. This not only ensures that migrants don’t have to make a dangerous journey to seek safety, but also creates a more orderly process at the border.
- Relief for Somali immigrants extended and expanded: In a win for families, advocates, and Black-led organizations, the Biden administration extended and redesignated Somalia for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The extension continues existing work permits and deportation protections for hundreds of Somali nationals, while the redesignation expands this relief to nearly 2,000 more immigrants already here. “As millions of Somalis face armed conflict, hunger, and drought, the Biden administration made the right choice in extending and redesignating TPS for Somalia,” said Diana Konaté, policy director with African Communities Together. “This designation will protect countless families and generations of Somalis in the United States from violence and humanitarian crisis.”
- Immigrant workers win whistleblower protections: The administration also announced a streamlined process that empowers immigrant workers to enforce their core workplace rights and report abuses without fear of retaliation. This whistleblower policy also upends nativist arguments against immigration, because it benefits all workers regardless of immigration status by reining in abusive employers. “Pro-immigrant policies are pro-worker policies and help immigrants and U.S. born workers alike,” commented America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas. “Despite the efforts of MAGA Republicans to pit them against each other, the reality is that GOP opposition to immigration, sensible reforms and labor protections for undocumented immigrants hurt all workers.”
- Following pressure from borderland advocates, CBP released updated vehicle pursuit policy: The New York Times issued a shocking report revealing that 22 people had died as a result of high-speed chases by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2022. This was an alarming jump from previous years. Borderland advocates said CBP had previously resisted publicly sharing its vehicle pursuit policy, a stance it could no longer maintain when advocates demanded urgent change in light of the escalating deaths. In January, CBP finally released the updated policy demanded by groups. “These chases occurred indiscriminately and endangered not only people in the other vehicles but the public as well,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas attorney Bernardo Rafael Cruz. “We welcome a revised CBP vehicle pursuit policy but will continue to review its implementation and seek accountability for any actions by Border Patrol agents that harm our communities.”
- Latino workers targeted during discriminatory raid on poultry plant win historic settlement: Latino employees targeted during a mass raid at a Tennessee poultry plant in 2018 settled for $1.2 million, ending a years-long court fight launched after federal agents unlawfully targeted certain workers for detention, excessive force, and false arrest. Documents from the litigation would reveal agents discussing sweeping up Latino workers before any raid had even taken place. Several workers with legal status in the U.S. were rounded up. Roughly 100 workers subsequently launched what became a class action lawsuit, and agreed to a settlement last year. Then in February, a federal judge approved the historic settlement. “Nearly five years after the raid that tore apart families – but galvanized a community – the final approval of this class settlement is a milestone in the fight for justice,” said Michelle Lapointe, deputy legal director at NILC.
- Proposed rule opens ACA to Dreamers: The Biden administration released its proposed rule expanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) eligibility to include current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. While young immigrants currently protected by the popular and successful DACA program are able to work legally, those who don’t have employer-based health insurance can’t access affordable care due to their immigration status. The decision makes public health policy sense, because a healthier community means a healthier nation. It also acknowledges what we all know about the hundreds of thousands of young people protected by the DACA program: Dreamers belong here. “We will be unafraid to go to a simple doctor checkup and have the cost break our savings,” America’s Voice Political Associate Yuna Oh was quoted in The New York Times. “We can plan out our future a little more with stability, rather than living on the edge.”
- Volunteers and local communities step up to aid families as ineffective and cruel Title 42 policy finally ends: From border states to localities in Illinois and New York, neighbors and community-based organizations stepped up to assist newly-arrived migrants with anything from food to clothing following the expiration of the Trump-era Title 42 order in May. Migrants waiting at the California-Mexico border also “experienced lack of food, cold nights without blankets and limited access to water — until members of the San Diego community got involved to provide aid,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Volunteers passed out gift cards, bedding, and thousands of meals to migrants, lessening the strain that often falls on local groups that are typically the first contact for migrants. Anti-migrant vitriol had reached a fever pitch heading into May, with anti-immigrant voices attempting to paint a chaotic image at the border as part of their opposition to the order’s expiration. But the actual display in the days that followed was one of a relatively calm and orderly process, confounding predictions and disappointing right-wing observers rooting for disorder.
- Supreme Court deals Ken Paxton a massive blow on immigration: It’s no secret that the nation’s most corrupt Republican state attorney general and his allies have used the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline to seize control of the federal immigration system. “In United States v Texas, their goal was to overrule the common sense immigration enforcement policies established by DHS and reiterated by past Congressional lawmaking,” America’s Voice Legal Advisor David Leopold said. But in a stunning defeat for Paxton this past June, the Supreme Court slammed the door on Republicans’ efforts, siding with the Biden administration in an 8-1 decision that found that Texas and Louisiana didn’t have standing to bring their suit to block the administration’s common sense guidelines. “To be clear, this case should never have gotten this far,” Leopold responded, noting that Texas and Louisiana got as far as they did only because of their handpicked courts. “Fortunately, in this case, the Supreme Court shut down their pipeline.”
- Florida businesses shut down in solidarity with workers in protest of anti-immigrant law: Thousands of immigrant workers and allies across Florida took to the streets to protest the signing of the anti-immigrant S.B. 1718, one of the most draconian bills passed by any state legislature in recent years. Many businesses closed in solidarity with immigrant workers, who are the backbone of several industries both in Florida and around the nation and have been scared away by the law. “I’m trying to support all of the immigrant people,” Victor Prado, general manager of West Palm Beach’s El Mariachi restaurant, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “They come to this country to get a better life. We left everyone in our country to come to this beautiful country to live better.” While S.B. 1718 is unfortunately in effect, protests helped raise awareness around the importance of these laborers and the economic consequences of anti-immigrant law. Agriculture, hospitality, and construction were already struggling to find workers, and because of S.B. 1718, are now facing a shortage with no end in sight. “Florida has ‘Help Wanted’ hanging on it,” Miami Herald reported. “Economist says labor shortage is here to stay.”
- DHS extends humanitarian parole for thousands of Afghan refugees: The Biden administration announced a streamlined and no-cost process allowing many Afghan refugees to extend their permission to live and work in the U.S. for another two years. “The re-parole announcement is a welcome development and offers Afghan evacuees the time they need to continue to apply for [permanent] protection,” Immigration Impact said. “It also gives USCIS more time to process, review, and hopefully approve those applications.” The administration’s move is the right decision, and in keeping with our promise to the thousands of Afghan allies and families who put their safety and lives on the line to aid our military.
- In years-in-the-making victories, driver’s licenses open to undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island: Both Massachusetts and Rhode Island enacted laws opening driver’s licenses to thousands of eligible undocumented residents. Officials estimate that 280,000 individuals will apply in the former, while officials expect to see nearly 30,000 applicants in the latter. While immigrant families will certainly be able to drive to work, school, or doctor’s appointments with greater peace of mind, it’s also true that all communities stand to benefit from the law. “Advocates who have pushed for this law for 20 years believe it’s about safety that’s already been demonstrated in other states,” CBS News Boston reported. That’s because tested and insured drivers make the roads safer for all. “When I began working on the issue over a decade ago, I would have benefitted from this law myself,” Brazilian Worker Center Executive Director Lenita Reason said. “I am now a naturalized U.S. citizen, and I am proud to say that, starting today, the Commonwealth will be a safer place not only for immigrants but for everyone.” Watch Reason’s Voices from the Frontlines interview here.
- Farmworkers and labor leaders win a historic victory in New York: United Farm Workers (UFW) and New York farm laborers scored one of the biggest wins in years, following the unionization of 500 workers across four apple farms and one vegetable farm in the state. “It’s the union’s biggest organizing success in years, and the first time the California-based union has organized in the north-east,” The Guardian reported. It was truly a years-in-the-making win, following New York’s 2019 passage of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which sought to rectify the racist exclusion of farmworkers from union protections under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, as well as provide unemployment insurance and overtime pay. Most of the newly unionized farmworkers are H-2A holders from Jamaica and Mexico. Among them is Santos Mendoza Escamilla, a Lynn-Ette & Sons worker who now feels like he has somebody in his corner. “Sometimes we are pushed to work so hard, it doesn’t feel doable,” Mendoza Escamilla told The Guardian. “It was always the boss’s word. Now with a union, we feel we have someone pushing back.”
- Labor icon Dolores Huerta, lawmakers, and advocates hold thirst strike to demand federal heat protections: 93-year-old labor legend and UFW cofounder Dolores Huerta joined Texas Rep. Greg Casar and advocates to hold a one-day “thirst strike” highlighting the urgent need to act on federal heat protections for outdoor workers. Despite extreme heat facing farmworkers, construction workers and other outdoor workers in recent years, no federal heat standard is currently in place. Huerta, Rep. Greg Casar and advocates withheld from water for a day in the Washington, D.C. action to urge the Biden administration to act as soon as possible. It truly is a matter of life or death. Jasmine Granillo, one of the thirst strikers, was just 11 when her big brother, Roendy, died from heat stroke after he was denied a break during his construction job in 2015. “It’s a basic human right for every worker to get a water break when they need to,” she told Texas Observer. “It saves their lives. My brother would still be here if he just had a water break. It’s that simple.”
- Biden administration extends and redesignates TPS for Sudan and Ukraine: In a double immigration win that month, the administration announced the extension and redesignation of TPS for Sudan and Ukraine. The program’s redesignation opens relief to nearly 200,000 additional Sudanese and Ukrainian immigrants already in the U.S. The Haitian Bridge Alliance was just one of the many organizations that welcomed the announcements, calling the redesignations an “important step” that “underscores the administration’s commitment to humanitarian values and the protection of vulnerable communities during times of crisis.” AV Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas also noted that in light of continued inaction on fixing our broken immigration system, the Sudan and Ukraine redesignations could be “a model for how to proceed in protecting long-term immigrants who are deeply rooted in American communities,” and a model that we would indeed see play out in the months to come.
- Massachusetts Dreamers win in-state tuition rates: Massachusetts became the latest state to expand higher education access to young undocumented immigrants who call the U.S. their home. Included in the state’s budget for 2024 was a proposal broadening the number of local Dreamers who can qualify for in-state tuition rates at public and private universities in the commonwealth. Only DACA beneficiaries previously qualified for in-state rates. This unfair policy blocked many Dreamers from their higher education goals, even if they grew up in Massachusetts and were educated alongside their peers. Opening in-state tuition rates is also an economic winner, too. “This important step will immediately benefit thousands of students across the Commonwealth, make Massachusetts more economically competitive with other states, and better prepare the workforce we need in the years ahead,” said Dr. Lane A. Glenn, President of Northern Essex Community College and a Presidents’ Alliance member.
- Biden administration announces proposed rules strengthening protections for guest farmworkers: In a number of significant reforms proposed by DOL and DHS, H-2A guest farmworkers will see strengthened union organizing rights and protections from unjust firing or retaliation by employers, while employers will be prohibited from confiscating workers travel documents to help prevent human trafficking. Farmworker advocates like UFW have been pushing for these changes for many years. “These changes are urgently needed,” the organization said. “Just last year, a federal investigation uncovered how H-2A employers ran a human trafficking ring, described by prosecutors as ‘modern day slavery’ in Florida, Texas, and Georgia.” With federal lawmakers failing to pass legislation addressing farmworkers, the regulations proposed by the Biden administration are one of the best ways to help protect the laborers who feed us all year round. “The administration is committed to protecting all workers, and this proposal would significantly advance that effort,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su said.
- Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans in the U.S. win temporary protections: The administration announced the redesignation of TPS for Venezuela, a historic move allowing roughly 472,000 additional Venezuelans already here to apply for relief, permitting them to work legally, support their families, and live free from the fear of being returned to dangerous conditions. The announcement represents a major victory for local and state voices in particular, who had been urging the administration to act and help lessen stresses facing local communities that have welcomed migrant arrivals. The redesignations are not only humane, but should prove to be an economic boon, because work permits will allow immigrants to more fully contribute to their communities. Current TPS holders already pump billions in our economy annually. “Today’s decision from the Biden administration is a major positive step that recognizes the hardship faced by Venezuelans who have arrived in NewYork and across the country and offers them protection and a clear path to be able to work and support their families,” Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Arlenis Morel said.
- Judge rules against Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s deadly saw blade barrier: A federal judge in Austin ruled that Greg Abbott must remove his dangerous and inhumane floating saw blade barrier from the Rio Grande, “concluding that it was an impediment to navigation on the river and a ‘threat to human life,’” The New York Times reported. The barrier had been installed as part of his multi-billion dollar border operation proclaiming to trump federal immigration policy, a false belief that was swiftly rebuked in court. The court further found that Texas “did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River.” We already knew that these floating saw blades were not only a policy sham, but a policy sham with dangerous consequences. While Texas has continued to challenge the decision in the courts, the initial decision in this case came from a federal judge who carefully applied the law to the fact – something Abbott and Paxton have not been used to.
- Separated families win settlement in lawsuit over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy: The Biden administration announced a historic settlement in an ongoing class action lawsuit over the Trump administration’s brutal, chaotic, and traumatizing family separation policy, which resulted in the forcible separation of thousands of migrant children and became one of the darkest chapters in modern U.S. history. Under the proposed settlement stemming from Ms. L v. ICE, a lawsuit initially launched by the ACLU in 2018, the federal government is barred from enacting policies that again separate children from their parents, except in limited circumstances, for a period of eight years. The federal government must also continue its efforts to reunite the hundreds of children who remain separated from their families, allow separated families to enter the U.S. through humanitarian parole, and provide services including limited health care, mental health counseling, and a year of housing. Up to 5,000 children and parents are covered under the settlement, which was approved in December. While the settlement doesn’t provide financial damages or a permanent pathway to legalization – only Congress can do that – it is an important step in righting the wrong of this horrific policy.
- Driver’s licenses wins continue: Tens of thousands of undocumented Minnesotans are now eligible to apply for a driver’s license, thanks to state law that went into effect October 1. The bill’s prospects for passage were greatly enhanced when Democrats took control of the State Senate in 2022, ensuring a Democratic Trifecta. Sure enough, “Driver’s Licenses for All” was signed into place by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in March, and reversed a 20-year old provision that barred undocumented immigrants from applying, even if they called the state their home. While motor vehicle offices in Minnesota are usually closed on Sundays, special hours were offered for applicants to complete their written knowledge tests on the first day of applications. Keren Muñoz was among residents who lined up to take their test, the Sahan Journal reported. She passed. “I feel very happy,” Muñoz told the newspaper . “I am excited to know the magnitude of this; we did it the first day the law was approved.” Watch the Voices from the Frontlines interview featuring UnidosMN Hennepin County Organizer Regina Olono here.
- Community ID cards saw a win, too: The El Paso City Council unanimously approved a community identification card program helping El Paso residents, including immigrants and other vulnerable communities, that are unable to access a government-issued license or ID. Under the historic pilot program, eligible residents will be able to apply through a local library and open a bank account, adopt a pet, purchase certain public transportation passes, and more fully access El Paso Police and Sheriff’s Departments services. Officials estimate the program will provide 10,000 licenses in its first year of operation. Border Network for Human Rights, which has spearheaded the “I am El Paso” Community ID Campaign effort for nearly a decade, celebrated the news. “The BNHR for almost a decade has mobilized and organized hundreds of community members, collected thousands of signatures, and built a coalition of local organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, financial and educational institutions, and local leaders. We are proud to report that these efforts have successfully secured a community identification program for the city of El Paso.”
- Farmworkers and labor leaders score another victory, this time in California: Approximately 250 tomato harvesters in California’s Stanislaus County won unionization, becoming the first labor win under recent state law strengthening farmworkers’ union rights, including how laborers can vote in their union elections. The win by Di Mare workers has also bolstered the iconic UFW organization, representing the labor union’s first major win in the state in six years, The Sacramento Bee reported. “I am happy with this victory under the new law,” said Margarita, a 12-year Di Mare worker. “I have worked with the same salary for several years. I would like to see holiday pay negotiated so I can be with my family.” Sergio, another Di Mare worker, said he’d been afraid to unionize because of management. “But I overcame that fear because I was tired of the injustice. My message to other workers is not to be afraid. As César Chávez said: ¡Si se puede! I want to thank those who fought for the new law for their efforts.”
- Let’s not forget Election Night 2023, which was a very good night across the country: In New York and New Jersey, Republican candidates and other anti-immigrant actors sought to use nativism to boost themselves over the finish line against Democratic opponents during the 2023 elections. They tried to frame the arrival of migrant families as an existential threat to their communities and states. In New York City, ugly protests against asylum-seekers even turned violent. But mirroring results seen in previous elections, that anti-immigrant effort largely fell flat. In fact, in races across the nation, nativist attacks weren’t as potent as the right has believed them to be in general elections, with some Republican candidates simply not focusing on the issue. Of course, these losses likely won’t convince the GOP at the national level to take a different approach. But it’s always worth remembering that nativism doesn’t always pay off. Read a thorough analysis from AV Political Director Zachary Mueller here.