Pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers in essential industries
To ensure that immigrants can fully contribute to our recovery, Congress should allow undocumented immigrants in essential industries to apply for lawful permanent residency, and ultimately pursue citizenship. This includes waiving bars of inadmissibility like the “unlawful presence” bar, and applying to have these conditions removed after some years of working in an essential industry.5
FWD.us research shows that more than 5 million essential workers in the U.S. are undocumented, including 1 million Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children and have grown up here. Two-thirds of undocumented workers are serving in frontline, essential jobs, like healthcare, food production, and transportation. Many undocumented immigrants have temporary deportation protection and work and travel authorization through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
These workers are doing critical and grueling work that exposes them to substantial risk of contracting the virus. Undocumented frontline workers have also carried out their work in the face of historic natural disasters like wildfires and tropical storms. Despite their contributions, their undocumented status excludes them from federal COVID relief legislation and public benefits, including healthcare services.6
Our research shows that most undocumented essential workers have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, live with U.S. citizen household members, and are financially stable. Even so, many undocumented essential workers have no way to change their immigration status. Outdated laws like the the three- and ten-year bars prevent millions of undocumented immigrants from adjusting to a legal status, even if they qualify, forcing them to live and work every day under the threat of deportation and, in many cases, family separation.
Allowing these longtime residents to apply to adjust to a legal status would stabilize a critical part of our workforce, reducing risk for workers and employers alike. It would also allow hardworking immigrant families to access lifesaving healthcare and COVID-relief benefits, keeping them and their communities safe and healthy in the midst of the pandemic.
The majority of voters from both parties support establishing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This would be a significant starting point for broader immigration reform that the American people have demanded from Congress for years.