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New Lifeline for Essential Immigrant Workers Facing Deportation

April 16, 2020

By Naeisha Rose

New York, NY – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), this week, introduced the COVID-19 Employment Authorization Document Extension Act to prolong and retroactively authorize the extension of work permits to immigrant essential workers who are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Brooklyn rallied for immigration rights and the abolishment of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) during the summer of 2018. This week, Queens Rep. Grace Meng introduced new legislation to protect immigrant workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

According to Meng’s office, the bill would automatically extend the length of all work permits by one year, beginning from the date that the coronavirus public health emergency declaration is lifted.

The measure would also apply to work permits that were valid at the time of the emergency declaration but were expired before the enactment of the legislation.

“Everyone is playing a role to help combat the novel coronavirus and that includes essential employees who are working tirelessly each and every day to provide the critical services we need and depend on,” Meng said in a statement.

The Migration Policy Institute [MPI] records approximately 44.7 million immigrants living in the United States with 46-percent of them white, 44-percent Hispanic, 10-percent black, 27-percent Asian and 15-percent identifying as “other.” Another two-percent identify as multiracial. 

The most recent data from the Department of Homeland Security from 2016, estimated that there were approximately 2.3 million foreign nationals on various temporary visas in the United States. Almost half, or 1.1 million were temporary workers and their families, followed by 870,000 students and their families. 

In 2018, an estimated 417,000 had Temporary Protected Status [TPS] because they were in the United States during times of war, natural disaster or had escaped gang violence. Immigrants from four of the 10 countries under this category have fought attempts by the Trump administration to terminate the designation, and have successfully received extensions to continue to work in the United States — but only until Jan. 4, 2021.

Those immigrants are from Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and El Salvador. Those from Nepal, South Sudan, Honduras, Yemen, Somalia and Syria are facing deportation and are fighting in the courts to continue to work in the United States. 

“Many of these workers are immigrants who are transit employees, grocery store employees, health care workers, and so many other unsung heroes,” said Meng, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. “The contributions and sacrifices that they are making are critical to saving lives and fighting this outbreak.”

Immigrant organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), Adhikaar, the National Partnership for New Americans, UnidosUS, Allianza Americas, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), OneAmerica, One Nation and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada have already endorsed the legislation on May 15. 

“While many of us are home practicing social distancing, millions of people still go to work every day to do jobs vital to the health and safety of our communities,” said Eric Rodriguez, senior vice-president of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “Hundreds of thousands of these workers, already fully vetted by the U.S. government, depend on the regular renewal of their work permits to keep their jobs. That’s why UnidosUS strongly supports the introduction of this bill and the automatic renewal of these documents.”

Meng agrees.

“We must ensure that those with expiring work permits are able to have them automatically extended so that they can continue to protect everyone, and help our nation get through this crisis. Passing this legislation would be the right and responsible thing to do which is why I call on all of my colleagues to immediately support it.”

April 16, 2020

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