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Four years later, immigration reform fight picks back up where it was before Donald Trump

The last four years have been hard on Erendira Rendon and those like her trying to make their way in America, not that the years before that were any walk in the park.

Rendon’s parents brought her to Chicago from Mexico when she was 4. She’s now 35.

Rendon is one of the Dreamers, the name given to the young immigrants who were just starting to be treated as real Americans before Donald Trump was elected.

For four years, they watched Trump try to unravel their limited gains while terrorizing them and their family members with the threat of deportation, with only the courts to prevent his deeds from matching his rhetoric.

It was a traumatizing experience, Rendon said.

What might have hurt most was knowing Trump had the support of the many Americans who voted for him.

“At the beginning, it was like walking around the streets when Trump won and thinking, ‘Does this person hate me? Does that person hate me? Why do they hate me?’ ” Rendon said.

Like many in her situation, Rendon grew up poor, got an education and set about finding her way in a society that places arbitrary limitations on her ability to work.

I’ve known Rendon long enough to watch her mature into a confident and highly competent professional organizer.

She works for The Resurrection Project, where she is vice president of its immigrant advocacy and defense project. Her responsibilities lately have included everything from providing financial assistance to undocumented families hurt by the pandemic economy to getting them legal help on immigration matters.

“I think my purpose in life is to try to make things a little easier for my people,” Rendon said.

In every possible respect, Rendon is a credit to this country. Yet this country has still not made a place for her and others like her, a situation that has progressed from an injustice to an absurdity.

“If I don’t belong here, then I guess I don’t know where I belong sometimes,” she told me, trying to explain how debilitating the legal limbo has been.

President Joe Biden says it’s time for Congress to do something about the Dreamers and the rest of the 11 million people living here without legal authority.

It’s long past time.

Biden is proposing comprehensive immigration-reform legislation that would grant a path to citizenship to any of the 11 million who were here before Jan. 1, 2021, and who pass national security and criminal background checks and pay their taxes.

It’s an ambitious proposal and comes as a surprise. Not even immigrants advocates expected Biden to move so boldly.

But Republicans already are deriding Biden’s plan as “amnesty,” setting the stage for a familiar fight.

Passing the legislation will be a “herculean” task but is possible, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, the chief sponsor, told the American Business Immigration Coalition on Thursday.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, supports Biden’s approach but reiterated Friday he would prefer to start by taking care of the Dreamers, whose right to remain here has been deferred for too long.

Rendon called Durbin’s suggestion a “fallback” but said it “still would be a massive victory for folks like me and for my family,’’ especially if it becomes necessary at some point for her parents to return to Mexico. With legal status, Rendon and her siblings could visit family members in Mexico.

Rendon thinks she has it easy compared to others in her situation.

“I’m single. I don’t have children. I have a career,” she said. “I get to do this for a living and know what is actually happening versus Dreamers that didn’t know if DACA was going to stick around.”

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama administration program instituted by executive order to give Dreamers temporary legal status.

But what one president can give, another can take away, which Trump tried to do.

Now, a federal judge in Texas is considering action that could put the Dreamers in jeopardy again.

Rendon hopes Congress and the public will see that Trump’s approach failed, that she and the rest of the undocumented are still here, still contributing to the economy and ready to do more.

“I think hopefully it means there’s a realization we have to take another approach,” she said.

After four years of playing defense, it’s nice to be back on offense again.

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