Immigrant Essential Workers Deserve Legal Status and Protection

by Eddie A. Taveras

After the Sept. 11 attack, hundreds of undocumented immigrants patriotically showed up at the disaster site, risking their lives and health, to help clean up and reconstruct the events of that tragic day. Fast forward to almost 20 years later, when New York is facing another tragedy with the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, undocumented people have stepped up as essential workers, helping feed and heal the city and its people.

Despite their contributions and sacrifice, more than five million essential workers across the country at any moment can face deportation and family separation. Most of them endured a traumatic four years under the Trump administration. They serve as the backbone of industries such as dairy, which is so vital to New York, or in transportation, ensuring that food reaches stores and that we get our packages as we quarantine. They have kept our country running over the past grim months, and without them, this country’s economic recovery is simply impossible. But there may be better days ahead of our undocumented community.

President Joe Biden unveiled a plan that would provide a path to citizenship to 11 million undocumented and documented immigrants. President Biden’s plan would open an eight-year-long path to citizenship for most of the undocumented if their taxes are up-to-date and they pass background checks. Dreamers and those covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) would be able to apply immediately for permanent residency and citizenship three years later.

According to a study by my organization, FWD.us, there are about 23 million essential immigrant workers in the country. Of those, 5.2 million are undocumented, and that number includes 900,000 Dreamers. In New York,  there are 332,000 undocumented immigrants out of the 2,217,000 immigrant essential workers, of which 45,000 are Dreamers.

We need to protect those who have spent the last year protecting us. According to a study conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-partisan organization focused on improving public policies for New Yorkers, undocumented immigrants contribute up to $40 billion to the state economy.

When we protect undocumented immigrants, we are protecting all of our communities because immigrants are a part of every single aspect of our social and economic foundation. By offering a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, we are guaranteeing a stronger economic recovery for our country. We cannot move forward as a nation if some of us continue to struggle, especially those we deemed “essential” throughout this pandemic.

It is time for Congress to act. It is time for immigrants, who are afraid of being deported and separated from their families, to rest easy at home at night. A path to citizenship to these essential workers means everything, and if we are looking to thank them for their service in some way, well, here is our chance. As the Senior U.S. Senator from New York, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer must use all tools available to ensure this Congress keeps its promise to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that is centered on the dignity of individuals and families. It is without delay and excuses that we must pass a pathway to citizenship.

Immigrants have continued to show up for our country time and time again. Now Congress must do the same.

FWD.us is a bipartisan political organization that believes America’s families, communities, and economy thrive when more individuals are able to achieve their full potential. For too long, our harmful immigration and criminal justice systems have locked too many people out from the American dream.

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