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Colorado State Director
A recent study by my organization, FWD.us, found that in Colorado, about 300,000 immigrants are essential workers. Out of those, 88,000 are undocumented, including 13,000 Dreamers. The bulk of those individuals work in the housing, facilities, and food sectors, and there are also 5,000 who work in healthcare.
One of those workers is Junior Ortega. Without immigrants like Junior keeping our homes and businesses clean would be a struggle, if not impossible. Ortega, a sanitation worker raised in Carbondale, is considered an essential worker– indispensable to keep Colorado and the country running. Everyday workers like him put their health and their lives at risk so we can keep putting food on our tables, so our hospitals and schools are disinfected, and our kids continue to receive an education.
But as they fight against the pandemic, workers like Junior are also fighting a parallel and potentially life-altering battle: to be able to remain in this country alongside their families. Junior is undocumented and a Dreamer who immigrated to Colorado as a child. He is a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows him to remain and work in the country in two-year increments.
The past four years were mired in uncertainty for Junior as former President Donald Trump attempted to cancel DACA on repeated occasions. In June of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Trump Administration’s cancellation of the program had been illegal. However, uncertainty still haunts Junior. Another lawsuit against DACA is making its way through the courts, and a conservative judge in Texas is expected to rule against the program at any moment, placing Junior at risk of deportation and separation from his family and career.
This is not how we should reward those who have cared for, and kept us safe during this pandemic. Their service toward our nation is nothing short of patriotic and they are also an integral part of the economic scaffolding we need to recover. According to the study I mentioned above, 23 million essential workers are immigrants across the United States. Of those, 5.2 million are undocumented, and that number includes 900,000 Dreamers.
These are real, solid numbers. And without these workers, there is simply no economic recovery from the pandemic.
When we protect undocumented immigrants, we protect all of our communities because immigrants are a part of every single aspect of our social and economic foundation. They deserve dignity and respect. By offering a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, we are guaranteeing a stronger economic recovery for our country. We cannot move forward as a nation if some of us continue to struggle, especially those we deemed “essential” throughout this pandemic.
It is time for us to reward their sacrifice through a reform that fixes our broken immigration system and that gives them a pathway to citizenship. It is time for Congress to use all the legislative tools at its disposal to build a path to citizenship these workers desperately need. We look forward to working with our Senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to get there. The time is now.
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