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Establish a Path to Citizenship for Essential Undocumented Immigrants

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To All Members of the United States Congress,

We, the undersigned, express our support for establishing a path to citizenship for all essential undocumented immigrants.

A recent memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified millions of workers who “conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability.” Jobs deemed to be “critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security” include those in the “Food and Agriculture” and “Healthcare and Public Health” sectors. According to data from the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Labor, more than 2.2 million undocumented immigrants currently work in the agriculture, food manufacturing, and food service industries, while almost 280,000 are employed in the healthcare industry. The government recommends that these essential undocumented workers continue to show up to work because critical sectors of the country would cease to function properly without them, while at the same time threatening to arrest and/or deport them and denying them most of the basic rights and protections afforded to everyone else in this country. Showing up to work at a farm, factory, kitchen, or hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic means putting yourself at risk of exposure to a highly contagious and deadly disease for which there is currently no effective treatment.

This means that upwards of 2.5 million undocumented but essential workers are putting their health and lives at risk so that the rest of us can have food on the table and adequate care if we fall sick, but they themselves have few legal protections to ensure their own financial and physical well-being and that of their families. While most others who face economic hardship in this country will receive financial assistance from the government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, undocumented immigrants will not be eligible to receive any of this money, even though most of them pay federal, state, and local taxes. While most others who face personal or family illness in this country will be eligible to receive paid sick leave and family leave as well as free testing for COVID-19 as part of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), it remains unclear whether undocumented immigrants (almost half of whom are uninsured) will be eligible to receive these benefits.

This is wrong. We believe that anyone who has risked their health and their life to perform a service deemed essential to the proper functioning and well-being of a country deserves to be a full citizen of that country, with all the rights and privileges thereby granted. What more can a person do to demonstrate their value and contribution to their community and country, than to put themselves at risk to help feed others and care for the sick? This is a time of great tragedy and uncertainty, but it is also a time of great heroism and clarity. This unprecedented crisis has helped many of us better understand what is truly valuable in our lives and better appreciate the people that work hard and make sacrifices in order to provide the things that are of value to us all. Every person who leaves the safety of their house during this pandemic in order to harvest, process, and prepare our food or to take care of those who are sick and suffering is a hero, regardless of their immigration status. We should not treat our heroes like pariahs. We should take care of the people, all the people, who take care of us.

Therefore, we call on members of the US Congress to enact legislation establishing a viable path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants who have been deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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