In the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring, Americans embraced a new concept: Essential Workers. In many areas, we applauded for them every night at 7pm: they kept us going through this difficult period, and we knew they were taking a risk to their own health in doing it.
We also knew that many of those workers are undocumented. In recognition of the service they provided to this country during a time of crisis, congress and the president should act today to give those undocumented essential workers legal status as part of the COVID pandemic relief package.
A letter to the Biden-Harris administration makes the case for why this is the right thing to do. It is a step that would be good for our economy, allowing experienced workers to advance to jobs that fit their capacity and help prevent them from being taken advantage of by employers. It would be good for tax revenues, with more people filing tax returns and paying on a predictably higher income. And it would help put Social Security and Medicare on a stronger footing, with more people paying into the system now—when revenues are needed due to the large number of baby boom retirees—while collecting benefits decades later when the newly work-authorized immigrants reach retirement age. I signed the letter together with over 60 economic analysts, including former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Jason Furman, Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Giovanni Peri of UC Davis, Katharine Donato of Georgetown University, Ruth Milkman of CUNY, Meg Wiehe of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Manuel Pastor of UCSC, and a long list of analysts in the State Priorities Partnership. A Bloomberg News report and Forbes piece cover the story.
There are roughly five million essential workers in the United States who are undocumented, including 380,000 in New York State. They work as janitors, gas station attendants, plumbers, electricians, home health attendants and nurses. And, they play a critical role throughout the food supply chain, from the people on the farm who pick the crops to those who drive it to a warehouse, bring it to stores, sell direct to customers, and now more and more who deliver direct to our doorsteps.
The United States would not be the first country to recognize the extraordinary contributions immigrants who are essential workers have made during the pandemic—France took a similar step just this week. President Biden has already said that a pathway to citizenship for the 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country today is a high priority. This is a chance to take a first big step, as part of a Covid-19 relief package that is expected to go through congress very early on using the budget reconciliation process.
David Dyssegaard Kallick