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“Replenishing America”

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Powerful Columns Call for Formally Recognizing Undocumented Workers As the Americans They Already Are

Two remarkable opinion pieces today in the New York Times and on CNN.com remind us that the essential contributions of undocumented immigrants – both during the current pandemic and at all times – should be recognized by policies that formally recognize these workers as the Americans they already are.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “America needs to create that which doesn’t exist – a line to get into so that undocumented immigrants who live and work here have the opportunity to legalize their immigration status. It’s overdue and it’s time. Today, many undocumented immigrants have been deemed ‘essential’ in the current crisis. The truth is that undocumented workers have always been essential.”

A New York Times op-ed by veteran immigration journalist Alfredo Corchado, titled “If They’re ‘Essential,’ They Can’t Be ‘Illegal’” is a powerful call for legalizing workers through the lens of one family’s story. Excerpts include:

Me — age 6 — stooping to pick these same fruits and vegetables in California’s San Joaquin Valley. I spent the spring weekends and scorching summers of my childhood in those fields, under the watchful eye of my parents. Once I was a teenager, I worked alongside them, my brothers and cousins, too, essential links in a supply chain that kept America fed, but always a step away from derision, detention and deportation.

…Suddenly, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, these ‘illegal’ workers have been deemed ‘essential’ by the federal government … True to form, America still wants it both ways. It wants to be fed. And it wants to demonize the undocumented immigrants who make that happen.

…In the past, the United States has rewarded immigrant soldiers who fought our wars with a path to citizenship. Today, the fields — along with the meatpacking plants, the delivery trucks and the grocery store shelves — are our front lines, and border security can’t be disconnected from food security.

It’s time to offer all essential workers a path to legalization … The best way to guarantee food security in the future is to legalize the current workers in order to keep them here, and to offer a pathway to legalization as an incentive for new agricultural workers to come.

…Today my siblings include a lawyer, an accountant, two truck drivers, a security guard, an educator and a prosthetics specialist. Cousins went off to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to help run medical centers and corporations, including Walmart in Arkansas. Others still grind away in the fields of California and meatpacking plants of Colorado, work in nursing homes or clean the houses of the rich. Many of us make an annual pilgrimage to our home village in the Mexican desert. But we’re firmly planted here. Without being thanked for it, we’re replenishing America.

And a CNN opinion column jointly written by Saket Soni of Resiliance Force and Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center, “What we owe undocumented workers during Covid-19,” notes:

Offering legal status to those who serve our country during times of crisis, along with proper protections at work, will ensure that the supply chain remains unbroken, that health care remains strong and that all resilience workers — the millions of people who go to work in and after major disasters to drive recovery — on the front lines of the pandemic are celebrated and rewarded.

…Nobody needs to be forgiven for growing and picking and cooking and delivering your food; for bathing and feeding your babies and grandparents; for working hard and raising their own families — and for doing all the things citizens profess to value: striving to better their futures. And they certainly shouldn’t apologize for trying to survive in a country of unjust immigration laws, capricious enforcement and hatred stoked by the President himself.

The coronavirus has exposed a foundational falsehood in Trump’s thinking — that “we” in America are better off without “them” — the people who are stranded outside the law, but who are giving far more to the United States than they are taking.

…In normal times, the contribution of resilience workers is vital. In these times, it’s a matter of life and death.

Let’s finally give these immigrant workers the protection they deserve.

In addition to reading through the full version of both of the above columns:

    • Watch a powerful new video (here) from the #AllofUS campaign underscoring that regardless of where they were born, Americans are standing shoulder to shoulder at this moment.
    • Read Frank Sharry’s recent op-ed, “All of Us Should Mean All of Us,” making the case for why “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”