Frank Sharry: “In a society striving to extend equality to one and all…it is detestable that we deny freedom, justice and equality to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and contribute here.
Executive Director of America’s Voice Frank Sharry pens an op-ed in Medium that lifts up the indispensable workforce of undocumented immigrants and recommends that our society and our policies formally recognize them as the Americans they already are.
Read Frank Sharry’s new Medium post “All of Us Should Mean All of Us” here or below
“The coronavirus crisis has revealed a contradiction in American life. We rely on an indispensable army of undocumented immigrant workers to help save our lives. Yet we maintain heartless policies designed to exploit them, exclude them and drive them out.
In a society striving to extend freedom, justice and equality to one and all, regardless of background or birthplace, it is detestable that we deny freedom, justice and equality to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live, work and contribute here. It’s time to upend a two-tier system that accepts a permanent underclass of Americans.
We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century public health crisis that has killed tens of thousands of our family, friends and neighbors. Public health experts agree that the most successful responses are found in nations that adopt a “one for all and all for one” strategy. The unity public health experts speak of is not some gauzy aspiration but a hard, pragmatic truth. Only if all of us do our part and work together can we conquer this lethal virus.
And all of us should mean all of us.
For most, doing our part means staying at home and social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus. For some, however, it means risking their lives to perform essential work.
We see them in our communities and on TV performing their indispensable tasks. They are the doctors, nurses, orderlies, cleaners, emergency responders, home health aides, truck drivers, farm workers, meat packers, childcare workers, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, construction workers, and more. They do the work that needs to be done so more of us can survive. They are the people we applaud every night as an expression of our profound gratitude.
Most categories of essential workers rely heavily on immigrants, and many are undocumented.
- The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates six million foreign-born workers are employed in frontline industries: “While the foreign born represented 17 percent of the 156 million civilians working in 2018, they account for larger shares in coronavirus-response frontline occupations: 29 percent of all physicians and 38 percent of home health aides, for example. They also represent significant shares of workers cleaning hospital rooms, staffing grocery stores, and producing food.”
- At a time when agriculture is deemed an essential industry, it is estimated by the Farmworker Justice that 70% of the farm workers in America are undocumented.
- Center for American Progress (CAP) estimates 131,300 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti — long-settled undocumented immigrants with temporary work permits because of conditions in their home countries — are helping to support the nation by serving as essential workers, with 11,600 serving as healthcare workers.
- CAP estimates that 202,500 undocumented immigrants currently protected under DACA work in essential occupations, with 29,000 working in frontline healthcare positions as doctors, nurses and technicians.
Denisse Rojas, a DACA recipient training to be a doctor and co-founder of Pre-health Dreamers recently said that her “members are currently practicing as doctors, nurses, medical assistants and researchers providing care to those in need. These same community members are at risk of losing their ability to practice if the Supreme Court does away with DACA. We urge Congress to act on permanent legislation for our community immediately.”
Here we are. The Trump administration deems many undocumented immigrants “essential workers,” yet President Trump and White House advisor Stephen Miller seek to dehumanize and deport them in hopes of winning reelection and making America white again. For example:
- Trump ended DACA and TPS for one million people early in his presidency, but these workers, many of them deemed essential, avoid deportation thanks only to lower court decisions.
- ICE continues to raid, detain and deport immigrant families, even as public health experts denounce these tactics.
- Trump ordered meat processing plants to stay open despite the fact that the workers, many of them immigrants and refugees, are subject to unsafe conditions that lead to plant shutdowns due to widespread infections and a growing death toll.
- Trump, desperate to deflect from his failed Covid-19 response that has contributed to massive death and economic shock, recently tried to shift the focus to his hardline immigration views by announcing a “suspension” of immigration — a cynical move that neither suspended all immigration nor changed the subject.
- The construction of Trump’s $18 billion border wall has been accelerated — in time for the 2020 election — in spite of state shutdown orders, using funds raided from National Guard deployments and military family projects.
This hostile and politicized view of immigrants and their families was reflected in the $2.2 trillion relief package recently enacted by Congress. Republicans deliberately carved out and left behind a wide swath of immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members from the bill’s health and relief provisions.
This is not right.
Philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs captured this contradiction, writing in the Washington Post, “Our undocumented workforce risks exposure each day on our collective behalf, while they are simultaneously denied economic relief and shut out of our health-care system…Our health is tied to their health, and our economy is tied to their well-being.”
The common sense approach to resolving this conundrum is right before us: see them, thank them, include them, and welcome them:
- Do so by making all immigrants and their families eligible for the federal relief and recovery packages to be enacted by Congress.
- Do so by ensuring that one and all, regardless of immigration status, can get testing and treatment for the coronavirus.
- Do so by extending private and public emergency assistance to all, including undocumented immigrants and their families, at the state and local level.
- Do so by automatically renewing work permits for DACA and TPS holders.
- Do so by creating something that does not exist: a line to get into so that those working can apply for work permits and eventually green cards and citizenship.
Much like previous generations, today’s immigrants came to America to work hard, build a better life for their families, and contribute to their communities. Entering without authorization or overstaying a visitor’s visa may be a violation of our outdated immigration rules, but it’s not immoral. What’s immoral is for a society to tell immigrants who risk their lives to save ours that they are not welcome.”