Guest opinion: Essential contributions from immigrants must be met with Congressional action

Since it’s 2012 inception, the DACA program has given young immigrants who came…

Guest opinion: Essential contributions from immigrants must be met with Congressional action 1

For over a year, we have been battling COVID-19, mourning the loss of loved ones and physically distancing ourselves from friends and family. Amidst this hardship, it has been inspiring to watch how essential workers — including many undocumented essential workers — have kept our nation together through grit and determination. But their sacrifices have been largely ignored as they were excluded from pandemic relief packages and continue to face uncertainty regarding their future in this country.

Nationwide, nearly 23 million immigrant essential workers – nearly 20 percent of our essential workforce – have risked their lives in the medical, agricultural, and food service industries. In Florida, there are 390,000 undocumented immigrant essential workers. In the Naples area, undocumented workers make up 7 percent of the essential workforce.

Unfortunately, the sizable contributions of the immigrant community to our COVID-19 response and recovery have yet to be met with meaningful action from Congress. This includes the actions of many thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients.

Guest opinion: Essential contributions from immigrants must be met with Congressional action 2

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For example, DACA recipient and Southwest Florida paramedic Aldo Martinez has been on the frontlines of the pandemic since day one, yet he has faced uncertainty surrounding the DACA program that protects him from deportation and allows him to legally work in the U.S. DACA has given 6,300 Florida immigrants the ability to work in essential industries like health care, education, and food-service.

Since it’s 2012 inception, the DACA program has given young immigrants who came to this country as children the ability to earn work and study authorizations and a temporary deportation reprieve. These Dreamers have made the U.S. their home, as their incredible efforts to support the fight against COVID-19 have demonstrated.

Although one-third of the entire DACA population works in essential industries, the DACA program could be terminated at any moment. We applaud the action that the Biden-Harris Administration took to preserve the DACA program on Day One in office, but U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in South Texas is currently reviewing a case on the legality of the DACA program that could result in its termination. Without congressional action, this means continued uncertainty and anxiety for Dreamers and those who rely on them.

Also living in uncertainty are Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, those who have fled disaster in other countries. They are a critical piece of Florida’s tapestry with over 56,000 TPS holders living in our state. Recently, President Biden granted TPS designation to Venezuelans, a decision welcomed by many Floridians. TPS holders also served in key roles during our COVID-19 response with nearly 18,000 working as essential workers, but many face expiring protections that would make them vulnerable to deportation in spite of their incredible efforts.

Congress has numerous bills before them that would provide certainty to Dreamers and TPS holders. The recently introduced bipartisan Dream Act would finally provide DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrants, who meet strict criteria, the ability to earn a pathway to citizenship. Likewise, the SECURE Act would give TPS holders the chance to apply for lawful permanent resident status and obtain a green card.

We have an opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation that makes important reforms to our broken immigration system to ensure that those who worked hard during COVID-19 are recognized, not punished. Undocumented essential workers have been the backbone of our pandemic response. Congress, including Senators Rubio and Scott, should recognize these contributions and support legislation that provides an earned pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS holders. This will benefit not only our COVID-19 response and recovery, but our economies and communities for years to come. 


Ted Hutchinson is the Florida Immigration State Director for FWD.us.

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