Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, California Rep. Ted Lieu, California Sen. Alex Padilla, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have introduced critical legislation that would put undocumented immigrants who have served as essential workers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic on a pathway to citizenship. The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act—Padilla’s first piece of legislation since filling the seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris—would affect up to 5 million people.
“My parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My father worked as a short-order cook and my mom used to clean houses, jobs that would be considered essential today,” Padilla said. “Dignity, respect, and citizenship for essential workers is personal for me and in the best interest of our country. I’m proud to lead my colleagues with Representative Castro to give undocumented essential workers the protections they have earned.”
Findings last year showed that nearly 3 in 4 undocumented workers are in essential roles amid the pandemic, from agriculture to health care to sanitation. “As a result of their high rates of exposure,” a fact sheet from the Democratic legislators said, “immigrant essential workers and their families have borne high costs, being likelier to contract and die from COVID-19 which contributes to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.”
Doris Landaverde, a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holder from El Salvador and janitor at Harvard University, was among the essential workers who became sick in the first weeks of the pandemic last year. “After two weeks of working hard trying to clean and disinfect when the pandemic started last March, I started to show symptoms of COVID-19 and had to be quarantined,” she said. “It was especially hard missing the birthday of my oldest daughter.”
The bill would protect the parents of Leydy Rangel, who is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and comes from a farm-working family in California. “The grapes, bell peppers, lettuce and other fruits and vegetables that my family makes sure other Americans have to eat can’t be harvested through Zoom,” she said. Bipartisan senators last month also introduced legislation that would protect 2 million DACA recipients and DACA-eligible youth. “We can’t wait for relief any longer,” Rangel continued.
“The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act will also include undocumented workers who worked in essential industries but lost employment due to COVID-19,” the fact sheet continued, “including leaving the job due to unsafe working conditions, as well as undocumented relatives of an essential worker who died from COVID-19.” In a series of tweets, Warren noted that essential workers are doing their jobs all the while having the threat of deportation hanging over their heads, because the same Department of Homeland Security that classified them as essential workers also targets them for deportation.
“Essential workers risk their lives to keep our country running, but about 5 million live in fear of deportation,” she tweeted. “We owe America’s undocumented farmworkers, grocery workers, janitors, nurses and doctors, caregivers, and other essential workers more than just our thanks during this pandemic. We owe them a pathway to citizenship.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported that during a press conference unveiling the bill Friday, Warren urged the passage of the legislation through reconciliation “right now.”
“I hope the government recognizes that essential workers are an important asset to the community and passes legislation to provide a path to citizenship for all immigrant essential workers, including TPS holders like me,” Landaverde continued. “We all deserve to be protected, respected and valued for the work we do.”
“We must not allow the workers who are called essential today to be deported tomorrow,” Castro said. “Undocumented essential workers deserve to stay here in their home and to be recognized as the heroes—and Americans—they are.” Lieu said he was “proud to partner with Congressman Castro and Senators Padilla and Warren to announce the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act. This legislation provides an expedited pathway to lawful permanent resident status and eventual U.S. citizenship for over 5 million undocumented essential workers who have been a critical part of the COVID-19 response. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”