Demonstrators chant Tuesday during the immigration rally asking Congress to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, citizenship for workers and to pass President Joe Biden's legislative agenda on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP

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Darah Lerner serves as Rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Bangor and teaches in the Judaic Studies Minor at the University of Maine.

America has been built by hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have continuously contributed to our economy and our society. For years, activists, “Dreamers” and advocacy groups have been fighting to create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants.

The budget reconciliation process has offered a once-in-a-generation chance to pass protections for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants. While the Senate parliamentarian’s  initial ruling rejected the possibility of providing immigrants a pathway to citizenship, we still have an opportunity to expand protections for undocumented immigrants in Maine and across the country.

The immigration proposal that is currently under review would offer an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants a work authorization, allowing them to legally work and stay in the U.S. without the fear of deportation. The time is now to end the uncertainty that clouds the lives of thousands of families across the country.

This proposal would be a historic breakthrough by being the first major immigration legalization program in more than three decades. Families who have been burdened by the fear of deportation and a lack of access to resources for years have earned the right to receive the same protections as other Americans. If this proposal is passed in the reconciliation process, undocumented immigrants would have access to health care and the ability to travel internationally and domestically.

We cannot let this opportunity to pass protections for undocumented immigrants slip away, especially when most of our voters are eager to see legislation passed. Recent data show that the immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act are supported by 75 percent of Americans overall, including 88 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents and 58 percent of Republicans.

As a rabbi, I hold to my Jewish tradition’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger. The Jewish community has enjoyed unprecedented opportunity here in the United States, but we remember the struggles new immigrants face. There is a long history of active engagement in supporting immigrants and refugees and developing our nation’s immigration policy. It is a moral and civic duty to help create the same opportunities for the next generation to share in the American Dream.

I stand with the Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants who have stood with us in difficult times, as essential workers during the pandemic, and contributed greatly to our economy and our society as active members of our communities. Passing this proposal would also allow them to gain access to healthcare coverage and other federal and state benefits, allowing them to finally reap the same benefits as other taxpayers.

We can no longer stand idly by when there are thousands of American families at stake, vulnerable to deportation and separation, when the chance to relieve them of their worries is here. Immigrants represent the best of our communities, and they deserve security and certainty to continue building their lives here.

I urge Congress to make passing protections for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants a priority in the budget reconciliation process. We must get this done for the thousands of families in Maine and nationwide.