Economic Recovery from COVID Depends on a Citizenship Pathway for 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants

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Power of Ideas

Economic Recovery from COVID Depends on a Citizenship Pathway for 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants

Author(s)
Alida Garcia
Alida Garcia
(Vice President of Advocacy, FWD.us)

By now, you've seen the viral photos of farmworkers hunched over, working in the fields under an orange sky, inhaling ash from wildfires, doing the skilled and tough labor that has allowed millions of us to keep food on our tables in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. These striking images make it clearer than ever: Our economic recovery from the pandemic is entirely reliant on providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently living in the US. There's no way forward without doing right by the undocumented individuals who are keeping all Americans alive as our country continues to combat the coronavirus crisis.

When it comes to combating this pandemic, immigrants of all backgrounds—including millions of undocumented immigrants—are our nation’s first responders. Farmworkers keep food on our tables, frontline health-care workers care for our sick loved ones, and scientists search for a vaccine. Immigrants have helped this country survive an unprecedented global pandemic and economic collapse. The numbers are clear: 69 percent of all immigrants in the labor force, including 74 percent of undocumented workers, are essential workers who are helping our country recover from COVID-19. Immigrants also create jobs, raise wages for US citizens, and strengthen our families and economy. 

Immigrants have helped this country survive an unprecedented global pandemic and economic collapse.

Without the continued infusion of immigration, and without ensuring the strength and stability of immigrant families, we won’t be able to create the jobs needed to rebuild our economy. Similarly, cutting immigration has devastating impacts on job creation and economic growth. Simply put, there is no recovery from COVID-19 without the immigrant families who are keeping all of us safe. 

Across the country, immigrant communities, along with Black and Latinx communities (which also include millions of immigrants), have suffered a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths because they have been left behind. Importantly, undocumented people and their US citizen family members have been excluded from federal coronavirus relief and continue to live under the threat of ongoing immigration enforcement. Threatening immigrant families jeopardizes our shared health and economic recovery. We need all hands on deck to fight this global health crisis. We must protect, support, and empower our communities to respond to the urgent crisis.   

The only way that Congress can prevent a future administration from weaponizing our immigration system is through reform that ensures our undocumented community members are able to become citizens. 

We should transform our immigration system fundamentally to create a just, humane set of laws that reflect what we know our values should be and a system that centers human dignity. Immigration can power the next century of American moral leadership, not just economic leadership. 

Strong families are the backbone of our communities and our economy. We should transform our system to prioritize keeping families together and ensure that everyone across the country can fully contribute to the COVID-19 recovery, which will take years. More than 16 million people in the US live in mixed-status families, including over 6 million US citizen kids. More than 200,000 US citizen children have a parent who’s a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. Denying them a roadmap to citizenship risks separating millions of families and holds them back from fully participating in the country they know as home. Crucially, we also need to take a new approach to policies around asylum and refugee admissions, expanding opportunities for those fleeing the worst of circumstances to find the United States a welcoming nation that embraces them with open arms.

Allowing immigrant families the opportunity to succeed also means boosting our economy. Immigrants who unify with their family members in the US have higher levels of wage increase and economic success, attract other immigrant entrepreneurs, and expand prosperity for their families and their broader communities. We need individuals to be able to come to the US to contribute across a wide array of industries and skill levels, helping to infuse our country with talent, creativity, and innovative energy from all over the world. 

A just, orderly immigration system both keeps our families safe and ensures new and economic opportunities for everyone across the country. We have a unique opportunity to create a better way. Our nation’s health, communities, and economic recovery depend on it.

Published November 11, 2020