Immigrants stepped up during the pandemic — we must do the same for them
This time last year, our country was still gripped by the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were afraid of how the virus that already claimed the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and millions of Americans might resurge for the holiday season while the world waited for access to vaccines.
Except not everyone just sat in wait. Essential workers put their lives on the line to try to keep us safe and healthy throughout the pandemic. Any semblance of normalcy — a trip to the grocery store, a weekend dinner delivery, a visit to the doctor’s office — was in no small part thanks to the everyday New Yorkers who took extraordinary risks for us. Across the country, nearly 5 million of those workers are undocumented.
Immigration reform has been promised to use by countless administrations, and we’ve gotten close a few times but continuously fall short. America’s promise to those who come from all corners of the world in search of a better life and add to our tapestry should be more than just a talking point. It is past time that we finally put in place and fight for a clear and fair path to citizenship for our neighbors, restoring humanity to the nation’s immigration system.
The U.S. Citizenship Act will achieve just that. If passed and enacted, it promises to modernize the system, offer a path to citizenship for hardworking people in the community, reunite families, and increase opportunities for legal immigration. We need to actively reflect our values as a country in how we approach immigration. It starts with lawful permanent residency for our Dreamers and those seeking temporary protected status or deferred departures. We need to create a path to citizenship that is broad and inclusive for the 11 million undocumented people who help our communities thrive.
The act’s passage would mean that New Yorkers like Aisha can stay home. As a nurse, Aisha gave so much to her neighbors during the pandemic. She divided her time at a Brooklyn hospital with another job as a nursing home aide in Staten Island. She spent her days and evenings with patients and helping grieving family members say goodbye, all the while surrounded by death, illness, and uncertainty.
Aisha has dreams of doing more to help her community, yet there’s still no path to citizenship for her. If she’s deemed an essential worker, why in the world wouldn’t we recognize her and provide her a path to full American citizenship?
And she’s not by any means an exception. Our cities, states, and entire country succeed in no small part to our immigrant neighbors. They are consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs who only add to our economic power and growth. FWD.us recently reported that the immigrant population across the country added $2 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2016 and nearly $500 billion in taxes in 2018 that help pay for the services all of us rely on.
Without more aggressive protections of the immigrant community, we risk not only losing the people who make our country’s rich tapestry of stories even richer but hurting our economic recovery at such a delicate time.
Passing the U.S. Citizenship is the least we can do to prevent those harms. We need to show the same bravery as Americans that people like Aisha showed during one of the country’s most difficult periods. Despite the immense contributions and sacrifices immigrant essential workers, Dreamers, and those with temporary protected status have made to this country, we’re already hearing some naysayers say that essential worker legalization shouldn’t be included — ever.
Continuing to defer it would be nothing short of cowardice and a massive failure for this new administration and Congress. Opening the door to citizenship for America’s immigrant essential workers would not only provide a measure of justice but also give a powerful injection of energy and vigor into our economic recovery.
America must open its doors to our immigrant essential workers who have been here for us at our gravest moment of need. But make no mistake — we’re still in a precarious moment. We can only build back better with each and every one of us working together to vanquish the virus and rebuild our economy. It’s the only actual path to a full recovery for all.
Yvette Clarke represents New York’s 9th District and Murad Awawdeh is the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.