Undocumented essential workers deserve path to U.S. citizenship

. Senator Tina Smith speaks at a press conference addressing Pathway to Citizenship for Essential Workers.

MN Sen. Tina Smith is promoting the needed legislation

 “I have been an essential worker for the last 30 years. And through all that time, I haven’t had an immigration remedy,” said Emilia Gonzalez, who translated for her father, Emilio Gonzalez, a survivor of COVID-19 and an undocumented essential worker. She spoke during U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s press conference on creating a pathway to citizenship for essential workers.

Millions of undocumented essential workers have risked their personal health to work during the pandemic. They served when no one else could or would and helped the U.S. economy recover, yet they received little recognition.

Frontline workers, immigration advocates, and business leaders joined the senator on Friday, July 16 at Mercado Central in South Minneapolis to discuss her Senate push to create a pathway to citizenship for essential workers in Minnesota and across the country. According to Smith, it’s estimated that more than five million undocumented essential workers across the country worked during the pandemic. “And yet our broken immigration laws prevent them from becoming citizens,” said Smith.

Undocumented workers perform essential jobs in many different sectors of the workforce including health care, agriculture and food processing, even as food processing plants like the Smithfield pork factory in Sioux Falls became a hot spot for virus outbreaks. Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the critical role that immigrants and refugee communities played in weathering the pandemic. Among his reported figures, he stated that they made up 42% of the essential services workforce and 80% of food service workers, in total nearly 12,000 worker immigrants in the city of Minneapolis.  

In support of the provision, Unidos MN (also known as Navigate MN), a multinational Latinx organization that organizes for social, racial and economic justice, stood with Senator Smith and the Immigrants Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) in support of a pathway for citizenship for essential workers. Marcos Loera Alvarez, an organizer for Unidos MN, said, “It is a moral failure” that millions of immigrant workers are “considered essential but deportable.”

“Every day we must tell clients who are essential workers and put their lives on the line during the pandemic that there is no way to ensure permanent protection from deportation and separation from their families,” said Veena Iyer, the executive director of ILCM. The center provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota.

Iyer stated that there are an estimated 92,000 undocumented immigrants living in Minnesota and 12 million undocumented in the country. Creating this pathway, Iyer said, will help the U.S. economy, raise wages, increase tax revenues and create more jobs. “The time for the pathway is now.”

Senator Smith is pushing to pass the Pathway to Citizenship Act sponsored by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA-33). Smith said they will be working hard in the coming weeks to include the act in a “reconciliation” maneuver the Democrats hope to complete by September.

Sam DeLeon welcomes reader responses to sdeleon@spokesman-recorder.com.