Labor rights and immigration advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido and partner organizations are calling for the Biden administration to do more to include undocumented essential workers in its COVID-19 recovery plan.
Two immigration bills that would increase avenues to citizenship for DACA recipients and agricultural workers passed in the US House of Representatives last month, but they are not enough to help all undocumented workers who suffered some of the worst economic and health impacts of the pandemic, organizers said during a Facebook live rally.
In January, President Joe Biden announced the US Citizenship Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that would provide an "earned path to citizenship" to 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It would allow dreamers and farm workers who meet certain criteria to obtain green cards immediately.
Lawmakers introduced the legislation in the House and the Senate in February. Though not much has happened with the proposed law since then, speakers at Tuesday's event focused on the US Citizenship Act as a way to help undocumented essential workers who have continued to supply the country with food and care during the pandemic.
Speaking mostly in Spanish, immigrants living in half a dozen New Mexico counties shared their stories of struggle during the pandemic as they either continued to work in essential jobs with greater exposure to the virus, or lost their jobs and did not qualify for unemployment or stimulus checks.
"During this pandemic, families like mine were left out of economic relief packages, leaving behind many families who give so much support to the economy of this country. Additionally, the financial insecurity has left us immigrant families in limbo without knowing if there will be a path towards citizenship for us," said Norma Mendoza, an Albuquerque resident whose son was arrested on his university campus and deported 10 years ago. "It's time to recognize that immigrant families are a fundamental part of this country and the economy."
US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, and US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, also made appearances at the rally to discuss the ways in which the most recent economic relief package will help reduce child poverty and support local businesses, and offer their support to immigrant families.
"There are three words affecting me right now," said Fernández in Spanish. "The first is thanks…We are saying thank you to all of the essential workers. But saying thanks alone is not enough. The other thing is respect. If we are going to have respect for our essential workers, then we have to do more than say thank you. Therefore the third word is action…That's what you have asked of us in the Congress, and that's what we must do. "
Fernández said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, of which she is a member, is fighting to make sure the Biden's "Build Back Better" plan includes provisions for immigrants. At a minimum, that includes making sure that children who are US citizens but whose parents are undocumented will still be eligible to receive the Child Tax Credit.
The caucus has also focused on three bills in the house that offer pathways to citizenship for specific groups of immigrants.
The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, introduced in the Senate in March, would provide a path to citizenship for 5 million essential workers and their families. The act is still far from making it to the Senate floor.
However, the House of Representatives recently passed two immigration bills with bipartisan support.
Thirty Republicans joined Democrats to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would provide legal status to 1 million undocumented farm workers. Meanwhile, nine Republicans voted with Democrats on the American Dream and Promise Act that would offer a path to citizenship to undocumented people who were brought to the US as children. Both bills must make it through the Senate before Biden can sign them into law.