Democratic win in Georgia Senate runoffs could pave way for more COVID-19 relief, immigration reform

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Latino groups to press Biden on promises made now that Senate Republicans can't block initiatives

FILE – In this Nov. 15, 2020, file photo Georgia Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff, right, gesture toward a crowd during a campaign rally in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A slew of House bills killed by inaction in the Senate may find new life after Democrats flipped the two upper-chamber seats in Georgia, civil rights organizations say.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock ousted Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in an expensive and hotly contested election. This means Republicans will control only 50 votes in the next Senate, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can break a tie in favor of Democrats.

“One result from the election in Georgia is that many pieces of legislation addressing topics important to the American people will get a fair hearing now,” said Clarissa Martinez, vice president of policy and advocacy for UnidosUS, one of the largest Latino advocacy organizations in the nation.

One such bill is the HEROES Act, which included $1.13 trillion in emergency appropriations for federal agencies and assistance to local governments coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unidos and other organizations have been pushing for equitable relief given the disproportionate impact that the COVID pandemic has had on black and brown communities,” Martinez said. “We succeeded in getting that through the House, but it wasn’t taken up in the Senate. […] One thing we expect to see is that a lot of legislation that was not given a chance for debate will move forward.”

Another is the American Dream and Promise Act, which cancels removal procedures and provides a path to permanent legal residence to unauthorized migrants brought into the country as children. The Act directly benefits the so-called “Dreamers” – those already afforded a temporary reprieve from deportation and issued work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order issued by former President Barack Obama.

“We have been working with the incoming administration, we expect they’re going to be introducing legislation on the immigration front.” she added.

Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said the El Paso-based organization will be holding the Biden administration accountable for promises made on immigration reform, particularly now that Senate Republicans can no longer block them.

“The Democratic victory in Georgia exponentially increases the possibility of substantial changes in immigration policy,” Garcia said. “We’re not only talking about a permanent solution for the ‘Dreamers’ in Congress, but also to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes the legalization of 11 million people living in the shadows in this country.”

President-elect Joe Biden arrives at at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in Atlanta, en route to campaign for Georgia Democratic candidates. (AP file photo)

He said the organization plans to hold Biden accountable for promises made on the campaign trail regarding immigration. “We expect a fundamental change on border policy. He doesn’t even need a Democratic-controlled Congress to end the detention of children, to stop sending asylum seekers to Mexico or to case construction of the border wall,” Garcia added.

The outcome of the Georgia Senate runoff has cleared the path for the next president to do what he said he was going to do, other groups said.

“We seek relief for hundreds of thousands of deserving men and women through DACA as well as a broader immigration reform package. Once and for all, we can and must provide legalized status for millions of individuals who are hard-working, tax-paying and in every other way law-abiding contributors to our country,” said Sindy Benavides, national chief executive officer of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Likewise, the next COVID-19 relief package shouldn’t exclude members of mixed-status families, she said. “Greater and equitable COVID relief to help all members of our labor force must include undocumented workers who pay taxes and are essential to our nation’s ability to feed, shelter and provide for millions of people,” Benavides added.

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