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Undocumented Immigrants: Essential to Our Economy And Essential to Our Democracy

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Throughout the pandemic, undocumented workers have borne a terrible price – serving in essential jobs as farmworkers, food processors, and healthcare workers, while being disproportionately affected by COVID and left out of economic recovery. Today, an array of observers offer reminders for why including undocumented workers in our nation’s recovery – most notably through a path to citizenship – is so important to both our economy and to the larger fabric of our democracy:

  • You Can’t Pick Produce on Zoom”- In Marie Claire, immigration activist and former farm worker Flor Martinez: “Because most farm laborers are undocumented, working jobs with low wages and no benefits, they can’t afford to take a day off. These undocumented workers don’t get stimulus checks or unemployment, either. Despite a deadly pandemic and climate catastrophe, we rely on them to show up every day, rely on them to risk their own lives to feed us. They are America’s essential workers, too. And we’ve failed to show up for them … Farm workers are essential. It’s time to step up and serve them, like they’ve served us time and time again.”
  • Workday Minnesota, “Giving Thanks to Immigrants and Essential Workers.Amie Stager captures that, “Essential workers are responsible for the meals on our tables, and many of these essential workers are immigrants who have been carrying heavy burdens. They serve in the jobs with the most risks and with the most importance to the food supply chain. Immigrants are making significant contributions to the economy during a global pandemic that has put them in even more danger than usual.”
  • CAP report on 5 million “essential” undocumented workers: “Protecting Undocumented Workers on the Pandemic’s Front Lines”: A new report from the Center for American Progress estimates there are 5 million undocumented workers in essential occupations across the country. Inclusive policies toward these workers, including a path to citizenship, will be key to America’s recovery. As the CAP report notes, “an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants—nearly 3 in 4 undocumented immigrants in the workforce—are keeping the country moving forward as essential workers in the face of the pandemic. A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is not only the right way to honor these members of the American family, but it would ensure these contributions are not lost for all in the United States. It would also grow those contributions and help to ensure that the nation’s recovery is as bold, dynamic, and equitable as it must be to meet the challenge that the country collectively faces.”
  • A powerful New York Times op-ed by Héctor Tobar, “What the Future Holds for Undocumented Immigrants,” makes the case that undocumented immigrants are not just essential to our economy, but also to our democracy. And that addressing their lack of status and rights will be critical for our democracy. Tobar writes: “The labor of undocumented workers sustains this country. During the pandemic, they perform essential tasks in hospitals, farm fields, grocery stores and other places. They feed this country, clean our homes and help raise our children. Their daily anxieties and their frustrations are a central element in the emotional landscape of this country … We are slowly creating a caste of permanently undocumented Latino people in the United States … History has shown that accepting the existence of widespread, legal forms of inequality can undermine a society from within, undoing its sense of right and wrong … what will the future hold for them? The answer to this question could determine whether the great democracy founded by American rebels in the 18th century will survive the 21st.”

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice: “Undocumented immigrants doing essential work have been with America every step of the way during this pandemic, often doing thankless — even dangerous — jobs so see our country through to a better day. In fields, meatpacking plants, hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, homes and communities all across the country, undocumented immigrants are keeping us fed, keeping us safe, caring for us and keeping us going. Yet they are being left out and left behind in COVID-19 stabilization and recovery efforts, and they disproportionately bear the brunt of the pandemic from a health, safety and economic perspective. They have earned a place at the American table. As a democratic nation, we can no longer tolerate a permanent underclass of people outside our democratic system. And Americans agree: by a consistent 3-to1 margin, Americans want a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who live and work in America — many for decades. We are a nation ruled not by monarchs nor oligarchs, but by the working men and women in our economy and neighborhoods. Addressing the status of millions who work with no clear route to fully participate in our society, through a long overdue path to citizenship, is essential both to our economy and to the broader health of our democracy.”