Congress must act on giving a pathway to citizenship for Temporary Protected Status recipients
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In 2010, Gerald Michaud was visiting the U.S. on a business trip in Florida when he learned that Haiti, his home country, experienced a devastating earthquake. He found himself stranded in the U.S. as his family struggled to recover from the earthquake back home. Unable to return home, Gerald began a new life in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), allowing him to live and work in the U.S. legally and safely, all while supporting his family back home. Eleven years later, Haiti is still reeling from the lasting effects of a devastating earthquake and cholera epidemic, and is awash in chaos and gang violence after the president was assassinated, exasperating the political and economic situation. Meanwhile, Gerald has rooted himself in America’s culture and society, working as a security officer and wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia Airport, paying taxes, supporting his wife and son, and helping keep this country running before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gerald is still living in limbo despite living in America for more than a decade. 

As a TPS recipient, Gerald does not have a pathway to citizenship or even permanent residency. In fact, a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States  prevents many TPS recipients who entered unlawfully from applying for green cards, even if they are married to a U.S. citizen or if they otherwise qualify. To make matters worse, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen recently ruled to end a similar program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows young adults who immigrated to the U.S. as children to live and work without fear of deportation. While this decision does not affect current DACA recipients for now, it leaves hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” in fear for their future. Every few years, TPS holders and DACA recipients must renew their status or risk deportation to a country that has grown so unfamiliar to them. This is the reality for thousands of undocumented immigrants who call this country home, including the essential workers who have put food on our tables, kept our hospitals safe and clean, and taken care of our loved ones before and during a deadly pandemic. Yet, in the same breath that our Congress praises essential workers, they continue to turn their back on what so many need most: a pathway to citizenship.

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As my colleagues in Congress continue to debate the parameters of immigration reform, one thing remains clear — our country will not recover from COVID-19 unless all immigrants, including TPS holders such as Gerald, have a pathway to citizenship. We must act now to provide much needed relief for millions of undocumented immigrants without the politicking that has haunted Washington for decades. Decades of inaction have created a human tragedy, and it will only get worse if we let this moment pass without progress. Failure is not an option.

Gerald and I are calling on my colleagues in Congress to do what is right, to honor the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our country running. In fact, according to the Census and Department of Homeland Security, 69% of undocumented immigrant workers hold jobs that are deemed essential, and three in ten home care workers are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.

People like Gerald have spent too much time living in uncertainty while serving on our frontlines and juggling multiple jobs. Gerald works three different jobs, seven days a week to support his family and to keep our country safe and running. We must honor his work and the work of all immigrants who make this country whole.

Undocumented immigrants have stepped up in the face of danger, have served our country, and are breathing new life into the American Dream. In other words, immigrants have done their jobs, it’s time for Congress to do theirs.

We have a rare opportunity to finally solve a problem that has been exacerbated by years of inaction. Our immigrant brothers and sisters have earned their rightful place in America, and we owe it to the rest of us to unleash their full economic potential. It's time we deliver for them. The lives of millions hang in the balance.

Michaud is a 32BJ-SEIU member and a TPS holder from Haiti. He works as a security officer and wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia International Airport. He was Rep. Velázquez’s guest during the State of the Union in 2019. Velázquez represents New York’s 7th District and is chairwoman of the Small Business Committee.