Padilla Announces Bill to Create a Pathway to Citizenship for Essential Workers During COVID Pandemic

WATCH: Padilla, joined by immigration advocates and labor leaders ahead of May Day, announces immigration reform legislation

LOS ANGELES, CA — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety Subcommittee, was joined by immigrant advocates and labor leaders at a press conference to announce the introduction of his legislation, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.

Padilla is urging Congress not to leave behind the over five million essential workers without permanent legal status that kept Americans healthy, fed, and safe during the pandemic ahead of the Biden Administration lifting the federal public health emergency. Padilla was joined by labor representatives from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), United Farm Workers (UFW), CARECEN-LA, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Greater LA), Pilipino Worker Center, SEIU Local 2015, and SEIU USWW. The legislation is co-led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas-20) introduced a companion bill in the House.

“Every day, over five million essential workers without permanent legal status kept Americans healthy, fed, and safe during the COVID pandemic—all while risking their own health and the health of their families,” said Senator Padilla. “As the federal COVID-19 public health emergency comes to an end next month, this country continues to grapple with the long-term effects of the pandemic and we can’t forget the sacrifices these workers made—and still make every single day—for our country. Our essential workers have more than earned their place in this country and it’s time to create a fast, accessible, and secure path to citizenship for frontline workers.”

“Essential workers have been critical to helping our country get through the darkest days of the pandemic and risked their lives to help keep our country running – yet about 5 million of them still live in fear of deportation,” said Senator Warren. “The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act recognizes all that essential workers have given and will create a fair and accessible pathway to citizenship.”

“During the worst days of the pandemic, millions of undocumented immigrants risked their lives to keep hospitals clean, shelves stocked, and small businesses afloat. As Americans continue to mourn our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who lost their lives to COVID-19, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who kept our country going,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro. “We cannot allow yesterday’s heroes to face deportation tomorrow. I’m proud to join Senator Padilla, Senator Warren, and Congressman Lieu to introduce the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which will give the heroes of the pandemic the path to citizenship they have earned.”

“Three years ago a world pandemic upended our lives and forced millions inside our homes. But not all of us had the same options. Countless immigrant essential workers kept our nation’s economic motors running despite personal cost to their health and their families’ wellbeing. Senator Padilla’s legislation is a recognition of their sacrifice during this turbulent period in our recent history. But let us remember that it has been 40 years since Congress has passed any meaningful immigration reform and it is time they take action. We will work with Senator Padilla and others who never wavered in our request for permanent residency. Immigrants on the ground have always said they want a path to citizenship that begins with permanent residency and that is exactly what we continue to ask congress to do,” said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA Executive Director.

“If you feed America, you deserve the right to stay in America,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant farm workers put themselves and their families at risk to keep America fed. They went to work in the fields, farms, dairies, canneries, and orchards of America while others got to stay safe at home. Many got sick. Some died. You can’t pick a tomato over Zoom. A pathway to citizenship is the bare minimum that our country owes to the immigrant essential workers who keep it fed every day. The United Farm Workers proudly support this legislation to do right by America’s essential workers and immigrant heroes.”

After stepping up to serve and contribute to our country during an unprecedented global pandemic, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act would provide undocumented essential workers with a fast, accessible, and secure path to citizenship, beginning with immediate adjustment of status to legal permanent resident. Approximately three out of four undocumented workers in the United States are working in jobs that have been designated essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation is a critical part of a just and inclusive COVID-19 recovery.

Last year, Senator Padilla joined farmworkers at Muranaka Farm in Moorpark, California, to work alongside farmworkers picking parsley and radishes to press for action on immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for immigrant farmworkers. Senator Padilla is the first U.S. Senator to work alongside farmworkers in the fields.

A bill factsheet is available here.


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