National Immigration Law Center Responds to the Introduction of the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act

March 17, 2021

Juan Gastelum, [email protected], 213-375-3149

National Immigration Law Center Responds to the Introduction of the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress introduced a new bill this week that would provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented essential workers. U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Immigrants are essential, not just to our economy, but to our communities, our society, and our nation. The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act would provide long-overdue recognition by placing millions of people on a pathway to U.S. citizenship. We at the National Immigration Law Center welcome the bill’s introduction as a crucial step toward our nation’s recovery and ensuring that all of us have the freedom to thrive. We thank Senators Padilla and Warren and Representatives Castro and Lieu for their leadership and recognition of the vital role immigrants play in our society.

“Nearly three quarters of all immigrants in the U.S. workforce — including more than 5 million undocumented immigrants — are working in essential roles and helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of us stay safe at home, millions of immigrants in our communities are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk to care for our most vulnerable, teach our kids, keep us fed, and deliver the goods we need.

“These are people who are keeping our country running during the pandemic and who will also play an equally critical role as our country enters into the recovery phase. Applauding their contributions is not enough; we must recognize immigrant essential workers under the law, as part of our efforts to provide relief from the pandemic. Not doing so, while also excluding immigrants from other forms of relief, will hinder our recovery. There is no COVID recovery for any of us without immigrants.

“While there is much to celebrate in this bill, we are deeply disappointed that it would add to existing bars in immigration law that already exclude many people from U.S. citizenship and leave them vulnerable to deportation for coming into contact with the racialized criminal legal system. This misguided approach, entangling mass incarceration with mass deportation, perpetuates the devastation of our communities by an already unjust system that disproportionately harms Black and brown people, including immigrants.

“At a time when we are having a much-needed national conversation about the racial injustices embedded in mass incarceration and the need for redemption and providing people second chances, we must recognize that low-income immigrants are impacted by the same structural racism. We urge Democrats to lead courageously in this moment, remove these proposed new bars, and instead put forward an inclusive approach that moves us closer to racial justice and equity.

“Millions of immigrants have built their lives in the U.S., call this country home, and have long been essential members of our communities. We urge Congress to provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for all immigrants, including essential workers, immigrant youth, those with temporary immigration status, and undocumented people, without the harmful addition of new criminal exclusions. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how interdependent we all are. Our collective health and well-being depend on full immigrant inclusion.”