Author Archives: Richard Irwin

We Need for Congress to Pass the LIFT the BAR Act (The Torch)

We Need for Congress to Pass the LIFT the BAR Act

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Katherine Lundie
SEPTEMBER 9, 2021

In the coming months, Congress will have the opportunity to rectify a decades-old injustice and take a big step toward achieving racial equity by passing the LIFT the BAR Act (full name: Lifting Immigrant Families through Benefits Access Restoration Act of 2021).

Twenty-five years ago, Congress radically transformed U.S. immigration and public assistance laws for the worse. Swayed by racist stereotyping of immigrants and low-income communities, Republicans and a majority of Democrats in Congress passed a “welfare reform” law called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). PRWORA replaced the former safety-net program that served families with children and imposed new restrictions on program eligibility. The law also imposed severe restrictions on immigrants’ eligibility for public benefits, including a five-year ban on receiving major federal benefits for most “qualified“ immigrants.

Thanks to decades of leadership by immigrants and allies, states and localities have stepped in to address the well-being of low-income immigrants — but much more needs to be done. Our communities are healthier and stronger when all of us have access to services that meet our basic needs, and immigrants are essential in our collective efforts to fight and recover from the  COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why we need Congress to pass the LIFT the BAR Act.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The legacy of the 1996 welfare law and Trump administration policies

Together with punitive changes to immigration law that also were enacted in 1996, PRWORA engendered confusion and fear among immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members. Participation in public benefits programs dropped dramatically after PRWORA was enacted, causing serious hardship for many low-income families who were ineligible for public programs because of their immigration status. PRWORA did more to create overall dysfunction in benefits access than to alleviate poverty. Decades later, the Trump administration invoked this law in defending its revision of rules regarding “public charge,” which threatened the health and well-being of low-income immigrants and their family members and undermined their ability to succeed.

The Trump administration spared no effort to chip away at immigrants’ access to health and economic supports. When crafting federal policy, it borrowed heavily from the racist, xenophobic, and classist tropes from the 1990s to promote fear-based policies like its 2019 public charge rule. Even though the rule is no longer in effect, many immigrant families still hesitate to enroll in critical health care, job-training, nutrition, and cash assistance programs due in part to fear and confusion created by the rule. Between 2018 and 2019, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dropped by 22.5 percent — that is, by more than 718,000 children — among U.S. citizen children in households that include a non–U.S. citizen. Studies also show that the Trump administration’s public charge rule likely caused 2.1 million essential workers and household members to forgo Medicaid.

It’s time to remedy past mistakes and restore and expand access to essential services

The LIFT the BAR Act takes critical steps toward advancing equity in access to federal assistance at a time when many communities desperately need it. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every facet of American life, and the immigrant community has been disproportionately harmed by the virus’s health and economic impacts. The bill would eliminate the five-year bar and other restrictions on immigrants’ access to federal means-tested benefit programs — such as Medicaid, SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The bill would restore access to these and other federal public benefit programs for all lawfully present immigrants, including people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or temporary protected status (TPS), and people with other statuses that exclude them from eligibility. It removes barriers to enrollment related to immigrants’ sponsors. And it offers states and localities more flexibility to use their own funds to provide benefits to otherwise ineligible immigrants. More information is available in this NILC factsheet, and the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign has created a resource page about the bill.

If passed, the bill will be a welcome source of relief for state policymakers who already have demonstrated their commitment to support their immigrant residents. Since 1996, many state governments have used their limited budgets to make programs more inclusive — in many cases regardless of their residents’ immigration status. Illinois became the first state in the nation to provide public health coverage to all low-income immigrant seniors over the age of 65, regardless of their immigration status. California passed a law that will extend health coverage to low-income adults, ages 50  and over. In Virginia, legislators removed the 10-year work requirement, also known as the “40 quarter rule,” that severely restricted immigrant residents’ eligibility for Medicaid. While the LIFT the BAR Act would restore access to federal benefits for lawfully present immigrants, it also would allow states and localities to shift resources to offer essential care to their community members regardless of their immigration status.

The nation’s public health and economic recovery depends on ensuring that all members of our communities have access to health coverage and assistance. The legacy of PRWORA and the Trump administration’s animus toward immigrants exposed the flaws in public assistance programs and weakened the country’s ability to respond to the largest public health crisis in over a century. Congress now has an opportunity to address some of our country’s entrenched racial, wealth, and health disparities and to forge a path to economic security and improved health outcomes. Our country should be one in which everyone has access to the support they need to thrive. It’s time to pass the LIFT the BAR Act.


Katherine Lundie is a NILC state and local policy analyst.

NILC Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision to Deny Biden Administration’s Requested Pause of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 24, 2021

CONTACT
Madison Allman, [email protected], 202-384-1279

NILC Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision to Deny Biden Administration’s Requested Pause of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Biden administration’s request to temporarily block the resumption of the Remain in Mexico policy, officially known at the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, issued the following statement:

“We at the National Immigration Law Center are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court failed to pause the lower court order. We are committed to doing everything we can to prevent this egregious policy from harming one more person and will use every tool at our disposal to oppose the Remain in Mexico policy, or any like it, and we urge the Biden administration to do the same.

“People have a fundamental human and legal right to seek safety and asylum in our country, as millions have done throughout our nation’s history. President Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy subjected thousands to unthinkable violence and deprived them of due process. This policy flies in the face of the values we aspire to as a nation.

“Last November, a diverse, multigenerational coalition of voters delivered the now-Biden administration a clear mandate to build a 21st century immigration system that centers the dignity and humanity of all people. We urge the Biden administration to refocus its efforts on restoring full access to asylum and delivering on the vision President Biden promised on the campaign trail. The Biden administration must vigorously pursue its appeal before the Fifth Circuit and do everything in its power to ensure this deadly program does not move forward.”

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NILC Statement on House Passage of a Pathway to Citizenship in the Budget Resolution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 24, 2021

CONTACT
Madison Allman, [email protected], 202-384-1279

NILC Statement on House Passage of a Pathway to Citizenship in the Budget Resolution

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that increases funding for health care, child and elder care, and education and climate action. It also includes more than $100 billion to create a pathway to U.S. citizenship for millions of immigrant youth, people with temporary protected status, immigrant essential workers, and farm workers.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, issued the following statement:

“We at the National Immigration Law Center celebrate the House passage of this historic budget resolution, which puts us one step closer to addressing some of the most significant crises affecting working families in our country. This crucial development is undeniable proof of our collective power and momentum. This moment serves as a reminder that elections matter: Voters elected Democrats to power to deliver a more just and equitable vision for our country.

“Citizenship would provide long-overdue stability for millions of immigrants who are part of our families and communities. They are essential to our country and our continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and must finally be recognized. We urge Congress to pass the most inclusive bill possible and ensure that we are expanding safety-net protections so that we all have what we need to thrive.”

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NILC Urges the Biden Administration to Fight the Return of the “Remain in Mexico” Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 24, 2021

CONTACT
Madison Allman, [email protected], 202-384-1279

NILC Urges the Biden Administration to Fight the Return of the “Remain in Mexico” Policy

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide today whether to stay a lower court’s order requiring a restart to the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. This policy forced thousands of people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their court hearing dates, often in dangerous conditions.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, issued the following statement:

“Under the cruel Remain in Mexico policy, the U.S. slammed the door on people in need of refuge and subjected thousands of asylum-seekers to unthinkable violence and danger while depriving them of due process.

“Last November, a diverse, multigenerational coalition of voters delivered the now-Biden administration a clear mandate to build a 21st century immigration system that centers the dignity and humanity of all people. Voters resoundingly rejected the previous administration’s agenda, including its shameful and cruel border policies.

“Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the National Immigration Law Center will do everything in our power to ensure that this harmful policy comes to a decisive end and that no policy like it is ever instituted again. We urge the Biden administration to do the same and to exhaust every option to end Remain in Mexico. The administration should focus its efforts on delivering on Biden’s promise to reclaim the United States’ position as a beacon of hope for all who seek a safe and better life.”

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NILC Statement on Senate Passage of a Pathway to Citizenship in the Budget Resolution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 11, 2021

CONTACT
Madison Allman, [email protected], 202-384-1279

NILC Statement on Senate Passage of a Pathway to Citizenship in the Budget Resolution

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate today approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that increases funding for health care, child and elder care, and education and climate change, and includes more than $100 billion to create a pathway to U.S. citizenship for millions of immigrant youth, people with temporary protected status, immigrant essential workers, and farm workers. The resolution now moves to the U.S House of Representatives.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, issued the following statement:

“Today’s passage of the Senate’s historic budget resolution is a strong reminder that a broad multiracial and multigenerational coalition of voters gave Democrats a governing trifecta to respond boldly to the most pressing issues affecting our nation and to ensure that Republican intransigence doesn’t stand in the way of long-overdue progress. This budget resolution, which passed the Senate on a party line vote, represents a historic opportunity to expand the safety net so that everyone in our country has the freedom to thrive.

“It is also a momentous victory for immigrant communities and a critical step forward in addressing some of the most significant crises affecting working families in our country. We at the National Immigration Law Center have worked alongside our partners in the immigrant justice movement to bring about this moment.

“Making citizenship and inclusive relief a priority is long overdue for millions of immigrants who call the U.S. home. While today we celebrate meaningful progress, there is still work to be done to secure this historic victory. We urge Congress to take this critical bill across the finish line — without any harmful amendments — and ensure that we are creating an immigration system that is rooted in racial and economic equity and inclusion, so that we all have what we need to thrive.”

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National Immigration Law Center Responds to Texas Federal Court Ruling on DACA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 16, 2021

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149

National Immigration Law Center Responds to Texas Federal Court Ruling on DACA

WASHINGTON – A U.S. district court in Texas today agreed with a group of states, led by Texas, that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is unlawful.

The court ruled that DACA is unlawful and blocked the federal government from granting any new first-time DACA applications. However, the court will continue to allow DACA renewals. People with DACA will not lose their protections. For the time being, pending renewal applications will be adjudicated and current DACA recipients can continue to submit renewal applications.

Avideh Moussavian, director of federal advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Today’s federal court ruling again upends the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth whose home is here; it will harm all our communities. It is a stark reminder of the urgency for Congress to act swiftly to pass a long overdue pathway to U.S. citizenship for immigrant youth and all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

“While immigrant youth who currently have DACA will keep their protections for now, this court decision underscores the need for swift action that provides relief and stability to immigrant youth once and for all. Congress must use every opportunity available to pass the strongest and most inclusive bill possible, as soon as possible. The House of Representatives already passed the bipartisan Dream and Promise Act in March, and just this week Senate leadership included a pathway to citizenship as part of its budget resolution.

“DACA is a hugely successful and transformative policy with overwhelming public support. But we have always known that a permanent solution is necessary. Immigrant youth have lived through years of uncertainty as a result of politically motivated attacks on DACA that put them at risk of being separated from their loved ones and being deported. No one should have to plan their lives in two-year increments or from one administration to the next.

“We know that today and the road ahead are difficult for many members of our communities. It is as important now as ever that we stand in our power and remind ourselves of our collective resilience. DACA is and will continue to be a testament to the strength and political power our communities have built up over years of organizing for justice. We have fought back politically motivated attempts to end it before and prevailed. We cannot and will not let up in our fight now.”

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NILC and IJF Call for Elimination of the Filibuster

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2021

CONTACT
Madison Allman, [email protected], 213-328-7082

NILC and IJF Call for Elimination of the Filibuster

WASHINGTON — The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and NILC Immigrant Justice Fund (IJF) today announced the organizations’ support for eliminating the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of NILC and IJF, issued the following statement:

“We are at a critical and determinative moment in our country’s history. We are facing multiple crises, from climate change, to COVID, to attempts to subvert our nation’s democracy. Our elected leaders need to act boldly to address our country’s most pressing issues and set us on the path to a more equitable and inclusive society where we all have the freedom to thrive. Ending the Senate filibuster is a necessary step.

“The filibuster gives extraordinary power to any single senator to thwart critical legislation, even when the majority supports it. This is a tool of obstruction that has long been wielded by right-wing politicians to block efforts to advance civil rights and racial justice in the law.

“Historically, it has been used to limit the political power of communities of color, including immigrants. Today, it remains a major impediment to urgently needed reforms critical to the progressive movement, including a sustainable economy that responsibly works for all of us, health care for all, common sense gun policies, protecting our right to vote, and creating a 21st century immigration system. All while antidemocratic forces turn to increasingly aggressive tactics to codify restrictions meant to further dilute the votes of the majority and dismantle the very democracy upon which our nation was founded.

“In 2020, more than 80 million Americans voted for a bold vision put forward by now President Biden. The filibuster stands in the way of legislation that brings us closer to realizing that vision, jeopardizes broad reforms to advance racial, economic, and gender justice, and threatens our democracy.

“The current Senate is dysfunctional and has not been able to resolve some of the most pressing issues impacting us all. By 2040, 30 percent of Americans will elect 70 of the 100 senators, which will impact Black and brown communities, in particular, and which in no way will represent the diversity of the nation.

“Eliminating the filibuster would enable us to move ahead with the will of the majority of Americans. It’s time to end the filibuster once and for all for the future of our communities and our democracy.”

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Emergency COVID Grants Are Now Available to Immigrant Students (The Torch)

Emergency COVID Grants Are Now Available to Immigrant Students

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Sarah Kim Pak
MAY 27, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently finalized new federal regulations and accompanying frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) guidance that remove the Trump administration’s unfair and unlawful restrictions denying undocumented and other immigrant students access to COVID-19–related emergency financial assistance grants under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Under the new rule, previously excluded students are now eligible for these emergency grants, which are provided to help students remain in school and cover unexpected “cost of attendance” expenses and other related costs imposed by the pandemic.

Photo by heylagostechie on Unsplash

Whom do the new rules impact? Under the new rule and FAQ, undocumented students, people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or temporary protected status (TPS), international students, and other immigrant students who were previously excluded from eligibility now may receive the emergency grants. This change does not affect the eligibility of those who previously qualified (such as lawful permanent residents, refugees, or asylees).

Specifically, the ED has redefined which students qualify for HEERF emergency grants under the regulations (34 C.F.R. sec. 677.3) as any individual who is or was enrolled at an eligible institution on or after March 13, 2020, the day President Trump declared that COVID-19 is a national emergency. In short, the only requirement to receive the HEERF grants is enrollment, as of or after March 13, 2020, at a qualifying institution of higher education as defined under 34 C.F.R. secs. 600.2 and 677.3 — i.e., colleges, universities, proprietary higher education institutions, and postsecondary vocational institutions.

What, exactly, are HEERF emergency grants? In March 2020, Congress created HEERF through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help both educational institutions and students “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The subsequent Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) allocated additional funding for HEERF.

Despite Congress’s clear intent to provide broad emergency relief to students, the Trump administration’s Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, published regulations and corresponding agency guidance that improperly excluded many immigrant students from receiving the HEERF emergency grants. In all four court cases that swiftly challenged the regulations and guidance, the courts agreed that DeVos had unlawfully superimposed immigration status requirements onto the HEERF program.

The ED’s new rule and FAQ guidance restore the emergency financial relief that Congress originally intended to provide to students experiencing hardship and other impacts during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

How are the HEERF emergency grants distributed? Under the various pandemic-related legislative packages, Congress authorized the ED to distribute HEERF funds to higher education institutions, which in turn provide the emergency grants directly to students. Institutions must ensure that they prioritize students who have exceptional need and must not distribute the grants in a way that discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, or sex (FAQ question 10).

How can HEERF emergency grants be used? Students may use the grants to cover unexpected “cost of attendance” expenses or other emergency costs resulting from the pandemic, such as food, housing, technology, course materials, tuition, health care (including mental health care), or child care (FAQ question 13). Institutions may not direct or further limit what students use their grants for; compel students to use their grants to satisfy existing fees, debts, or balances; nor impose any conditions to receive the grants (such as any academic or other performance criteria or “good standing” requirements) (FAQ questions 12 and 14).

What are other considerations to keep in mind? First, HEERF emergency grants are not taxable income (FAQ question 15). As explained by the Internal Revenue Service, HEERF emergency grants, like other emergency educational assistance measures, are not included in a student’s gross income and, therefore, are not taxable. Also, HEERF emergency grants are not financial aid (FAQ question 17). To receive the grants, students do not have to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or be eligible for “federal financial aid” under Title IV. As stated above, the only requirement to receive the HEERF grants is enrollment at a qualifying institution as of or after March 13, 2020. Consequently, institutions may not incorporate the HEERF emergency grant into a student’s overall financial aid award package (FAQ question 17).

Finally, receipt of a HEERF grant is not considered in determining whether a person is likely to become a “public charge.” Under the 1999 Field Guidance for immigration officials and relevant Foreign Affairs Manual instructions (for U.S. State Department officials), neither emergency disaster relief nor educational assistance is considered in a public charge determination.

What comes next? If you are a student newly eligible for a HEERF grant, be on the lookout for more information from your school on disbursement and other next steps. As mentioned above, educational institutions are tasked with dispensing the HEERF grants directly to students, and, therefore, this process and the timeline for disbursement will look different at every school. If your school or college/university system has an immigrant student support “Dream” center or equivalent, check with it to obtain more guidance. For example, the University of California system has a list of resources and contacts, as does the California State University system.

Questions? Feedback? Email us at [email protected].


Sarah Kim Pak is a NILC staff attorney.

NILC Statement on the Redesignation of Temporary Protected Status for Haiti

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2021

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]lc.org
Madison Allman, 214-415-4396
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149

NILC Statement on the Redesignation of Temporary Protected Status for Haiti

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Saturday announced the redesignation of Haiti for temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months.

Haitian nationals in the United States have been eligible since 2010 for temporary protection that has allowed them to live and work here, after an earthquake devastated the country. Haiti continues to experience political and humanitarian crises exacerbated most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 Haitian nationals who were in the U.S. as of May 21, 2021, qualify for protection under the new redesignation.

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

“We applaud the long overdue decision by the administration to redesignate Haiti for TPS and commend President Biden for heeding the repeated calls to follow through on his campaign promise to protect Haitian communities with longstanding ties here who have built their lives in the U.S. This announcement is welcome relief for more than 100,000 Haitians who have been living with great uncertainty. It is a testament to countless hours of organizing and advocacy by Black immigrant leaders and their communities, who have led this fight, and an administration that is listening to the needs and dreams of diverse immigrant communities.

“While we celebrate this important victory, there is still a lot of work to do to address policies that disproportionately harm Black immigrants. Many Black-majority countries — such as Mauritania, Cameroon, St. Vincent, and the Bahamas — continue to await a decision on TPS designation, and thousands of people continue to be expelled and denied due process and the legal right to claim asylum under the administration’s ongoing use of Title 42. This includes approximately 2,000 Haitians who were wrongfully sent back to the same deadly conditions that warranted the redesignation of TPS for Haiti.

“We urge President Biden and Congress to address longstanding inequities in our immigration system and commit to permanent solutions. Congress must move quickly to pass a pathway to U.S. citizenship for people with TPS, immigrant youth, essential workers, and ultimately all immigrants who call the U.S. home.”

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NILC Statement on the Essential Role of Immigrant Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 12, 2021

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

NILC Statement on the Essential Role of Immigrant Workers

WASHINGTON — Immigrant workers, experts, and advocates testified at a hearing before a key U.S. Senate subcommittee today highlighting the experiences of immigrant essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and pending legislation to provide them a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety — chaired by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) — featured Rose Tilus, a Haitian nurse in Rhode Island with temporary protected status, who spoke about her experience caring for COVID-19 patients and contracting the virus. Witnesses also highlighted the contributions of farmworkers and other essential workers in industries heavily staffed by immigrants.

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

“Immigrants are essential to our communities, economy, and our nation. Nearly three quarters of all immigrants in the U.S. workforce — including more than 5 million who are undocumented — are working in essential roles and helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whether caring for our most vulnerable, teaching our kids, rebuilding after climate disasters, or keeping us fed, millions of immigrants are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk for all of us. We have applauded these courageous workers for keeping our country running in the midst of a global public health and economic crisis, but that’s not enough. We must recognize immigrant essential workers under the law and put them on a pathway to U.S. citizenship as part of our relief and recovery efforts.

“Courageous workers like Rose should have the certainty that they will not be separated from their loved ones and the communities and country they call home because of their immigration status. We thank Senator Padilla for shining a light on their experiences and contributions, and for his leadership on the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which provides a permanent solution.

“Today’s hearing is an important step forward, as we continue to urge Congress to seize this critical moment and provide a long overdue pathway to citizenship for essential workers, immigrant youth, people with temporary protected status, and, eventually, all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. As we move into a recovery from COVID and build back our nation, we must recognize that there is no recovery without immigrants.”

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