With U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices suspending in-person visits as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, nearly 40 senators led by Dick Durbin of Illinois are calling on the Trump administration to automatically extend protections for thousands of immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs but have faced difficulty renewing their status due to service disruptions.
“Your administration can immediately ease burdens for thousands of American families,” the 37 senators write, “and prevent further, unnecessary economic disruptions during this public health emergency by automatically extending employment authorizations for DACA and TPS recipients and other impacted immigrants.”
The senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, cite a number of DACA recipients who serve on the medical frontlines of the pandemic, like Houston paramedic Jesus Contreras, who said “’We’re not only going to have to worry about this pandemic, but we’re going to have to worry about our immigration status and deportation,’” the senators wrote. “Similarly, Aldo Martinez, a DACA recipient paramedic in Fort Myers, Florida, who is responding to calls from COVID-19 patients, says that losing work authorization would ‘create more chaos in an already chaotic situation.’”
Likewise, thousands of immigrants who are unable to return to their home countries due to war or natural disaster and are protected by TPS are also “vital contributors to our economy and healthcare workforce,” the senators continue. “More than 130,000 TPS holders are ‘essential critical infrastructure workers,’ including 11,600 health care workers.” Kaiser Health News reported in 2018 that immigrants from Haiti and other TPS nations have filled critical shortages in nursing homes, for example.
“Massachusetts nursing facilities rely heavily on first-generation Americans and immigrants to meet care needs,” Tara Gregorio, Massachusetts Senior Care Association president, wrote in The Boston Globe at the time. “There are approximately 4,300 Haitians who provide care and companionship to our residents. These workers include licensed nurses, certified nursing assistants, and laundry and food service staff. They are on the front lines daily—and nightly—and their dedication is inspiring and cannot be understated.”
The senators’ letter also cites Dr. Manuel Bernal, an emergency medicine physician in training at Chicago’s Advocate Christ Medical Center. “One day recently, he tested seven people, all positive for the novel coronavirus,” The Washington Post reported. “On the next, he intubated two patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as their oxygen levels plunged—an especially dangerous procedure for doctors because of the potential exposure to the aerosolized virus.” Dr. Bernal said, “We’re basically risking our lives. But I also understand it’s part of the job I signed up for.”
“You can order DHS to immediately ensure that Jesus, Aldo, Manuel, and hundreds of thousands of others in our essential workforce are not forced to stop working when the need for their services has never been greater,” the senators continued. “We urge you to prioritize our nation’s health, safety, and economic wellbeing as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.”