Bronx Defenders Statement On The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 And American Dream and Promise Act of 2021

March 11, 2021

Ryan Karerat,



(Bronx, NY) – Last month, the White House and Congress unveiled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 and the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 in an effort to reform the immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

Sarah Deri Oshiro, Managing Director of the Immigration Practice at The Bronx Defenders, issued the following statement in response: 

“As public defenders representing thousands of low-income people facing deportation every year, we have witnessed how the draconian immigration system wreaks havoc on families and communities in the Bronx and across New York. While there is an urgent need for comprehensive federal legislation to bring stability to millions of undocumented people living in the United States, we cannot support proposals that further entangle the immigration and criminal legal systems, creating more avenues for arresting, detaining, deporting, and ultimately separating Bronx families.

The Bronx Defenders proudly represents Bronx immigrants, overwhelmingly from low-income Black and brown communities, in both criminal court and immigration court.  The Bronx is one of the most policed communities in the United States, in a city with the largest and most costly police department in the world. The harm of this inescapable police presence on immigrant communities is devastating, as any contact with the criminal legal system—any arrest by NYPD—may put a person’s immigration status in jeopardy and may ultimately lead to prolonged detention and deportation.

As currently drafted, both the U.S. Citizenship Act and the American Dream and Promise Act include broad “criminalization bars” that would fatally undermine the bills’ shared objective — a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people. The heavy reliance on criminalization in both bills places the communities we serve at increased harm and risk of deportation. By further entangling the criminal and immigration legal systems and allowing contacts with the criminal legal system to disqualify people from their protections, the bills effectively deputize state and local law enforcement agencies as the primary arbiters of our national immigration policy. Immigrants from communities like the Bronx will be less likely to establish eligibility for status under these bills due to the aggressive policing practices that the NYPD engages in.  

If our goal is to ensure family unity and stability, then we must reject criminalization as a primary tool of our immigration policy. We must abandon the fallacy of the “Felons, Not Families” rhetoric of the Obama administration that led to the deportation of three million people. We urge Congress to remove the criminalization bars from both the U.S. Citizenship Act and the American Dream and Promise Act, and work towards passing a bill that protects the rights of all immigrants.”