Even though the public has more or less resumed public life, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the country’s most vulnerable communities, including undocumented essential workers who deserve a pathway to citizenship, immigrant advocates are arguing.
Now that California seems to be gradually heading toward a post-pandemic normalcy, immigrant workers and advocates are calling on the federal government to increase investment in undocumented workers — many of whom they say were essential to keeping the American economy afloat during the more grueling months of the pandemic.
At a virtual briefing on Wednesday, Aug. 25, a coalition of Los Angeles-based immigrant advocate groups invited community leaders and representatives to discuss their broad proposals for undocumented workers.
In addition to fast-tracking a pathway to citizenship for these workers, other proposals include building a stronger health care system for immigrant workers that includes childcare, paid family leave and medical leave; expanding Medicare; and raising the minimum wage of home care workers to $15 an hour.
“Now is the time that we need to have Washington here and see the demand for a just recovery for all, including dignity for home care workers and citizenship for immigrants,” said Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California.
A Filipino immigrant named Ibsyn Cadavez is one such home care worker who shared that he was paid only $140 for a 24-hour shift with no health insurance or overtime pay. Cadavez, who has been a home care worker for 16 years, said that another caregiving agency paid him a mere $90 for 24 hours of work.
“We have little sleep, no sufficient food, and sometimes we get maltreated by the family of the patients because they know I don’t have legal papers,” Cadavez shared through an English interpreter.
He added, “It’s a very clear form of exploitation knowing that I and other people who are undocumented can be easily picked up by ICE.”
More than two-thirds of all undocumented immigrant workers are employed in frontline jobs in industries considered essential, according to a December 2020 report from the pro-immigrant organization FWD.us. This means that these workers were more likely to catch COVID-19, increasing their risk of hospitalization and death, prompting some leaders to expand health care to include undocumented residents.
In July, California Governor Gavin Newsom approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid coverage to include all low-income residents aged 50 and up regardless of citizenship status — a move that would grant guaranteed health coverage to about 235,000 low-income undocumented workers.
The argument against increasing social support for immigrants is wide-ranging, but U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) argued that proposals — like forging a pathway to citizenship — that benefit the immigrant community also benefit the overall American economy.
Chu cited a report from UC Davis published in June that found that granting citizenship to undocumented essential workers would boose the nation’s economy by $1.7 trillion over the next decade and create more than 400,000 new jobs.
“Throughout the pandemic immigrant workers have kept our nation fed and cared for, yet many make such low wages and lack health insurance at a time when their health can be in jeopardy themselves just by going to work,” Chu said. “That’s why we have to fight to make sure that we include a pathway to citizenship for millions of dreamers, TPS holders, farmers and essential workers in our Build Back Better bill, including a pathway to citizenship.”