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Maria del Carmen Diaz, a leading member for Make the Road PA and 2021 AL DIA Woman of Merit, speaking at an event to promote Immigration reform. Photo: AL DIA NEWS - Oscar Lopez
Maria del Carmen Diaz, a leading member for Make the Road PA and 2021 AL DIA Woman of Merit, speaking at an event to promote Immigration reform. Photo: Oscar Lopez/Al Día News

It’s time to give back to undocumented essential workers

Make the Road PA rallied outside of Sen. Casey’s office to lobby for essential workers to be included in Biden’s infrastructure bill.

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On Friday, April 23, Make the Road PA, a progressive immigrant rights organization, took to the streets of downtown Philadelphia to gather support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers who have aided America’s recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The group protested outside of Sen. Bob Casey’s office, hoping to have his support for the proposal, which would protect over 7 million undocumented immigrants, this includes 5 million workers and their family members. 

Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Senator has come out before to advocate for recipients of DACA and called for an end to former president Trump’s family separation policy at the border, but has yet to voice whether he supports the initiative to give legal status to undocumented essential workers.

Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill in the upper chamber called Citizenship for Essential Workers Act. Having it become law appears difficult, since 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats in the effort. 

If it passed, it would still leave many immigrants fearing deportation since the number of unlawful residents is estimated to be around 11 million. 

Remaining segments of this population may be covered by the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, which passed the House on March 18, 228 to 197, and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate. 

The bill aims to provide legal status for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders who can not safely return to their home country because of ongoing conflicts. 

There is bipartisan support for diving DACA recipients permanent residency with eventual citizenship. Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that would do just that back in February. 

According to Boundless Immigration Inc. the legislation would lift roughly 3.4 million people out of a state of insecurity. 

President Joe Biden originally pushed for the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, but after it failed to receive enough support in the Democratic-controlled House, it seems that the administration has looked into smaller steps to deliver on immigration reform. 

Biden met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday, and leaders walked away feeling optimistic about having an active White House in the fight for a pathway to citizenship for millions. 

Legislators told reporters after the private meeting, the president was even willing to push for reform through the budget reconciliation process if this is used for the large infrastructure bill he has been recently promoting. 

Reconciliation, if approved by the Senate parliamentarian, would allow Democrats to pass the bill with 50 votes and avoid a Republican filibuster. 

The process is used for matters relating to the budget and taxes, and will prompt Biden to mention the positive economic effect immigration reform will bring to the country in his address to a joint session of Congress next week. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki uttered a different message to reporters during a briefing she held on Wednesday. 

“[The president] believes that modernizing our immigration system and putting measures in place to address that is something that should warrant bipartisan support. So his view is that right now the conversation should not be about a reconciliation process, it should be about moving forward in a bipartisan manner,” she said. 

The demonstration Make the Road PA held was not only to call for undocumented essential workers to obtain citizenship, but also to make sure it is part of Biden’s infrastructure bill so that it has a more viable route to becoming law. 

The organizing director of the group, Patty Torres, called on Sen. Casey to be the “champion in the Senate” that immigrants need for other legislators to support this action. 

Three women shared their journey of working in the U.S. and gave testimonies on how the passage of the legislation would change their lives. 

A domestic worker and immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Betania Shephard, recounted discrimination she has faced because of her lack of protections. 

“Even though I always make the effort to do things the right way for my family, many people don’t see it that way. They only see that I’m an undocumented woman of color and because of that, they think it’s ok to threaten and abuse me. One of those threats was sending ICE to my home and making my family feel unsafe,” she said. 

Betania Shephard speaking at Make the Road's event. Photo: Oscar Lopez/AL DÍA News 

Maria del Carmen Diaz came to the U.S. after being laid off from a telecommunication firm in Mexico. She has been involved in the fight for reform for many years and in her speech explained why change is overdue. 

“Everytime we have a new president I dream of a light in our path and that would be immigration reform. I dream of seeing my family, who I have not seen in 25 years… [Immigrants] are hard workers and being documented, showing that we are part of this country, would give us the opportunity to come out of the shadows,” Diaz affirmed. 

Diaz was named an 2021 AL DÍA Woman of Merit and both women were strong advocates for Philadelphia’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. After the municipal triumph, they are building the case for nationwide action. 

Leaving her six children behind in Guatemala has been painful for Martha Rodriguez. She wishes she could witness them growing up, but knows that the hard work she does in this country allows her the opportunity to provide a better life for them. 

“In Guatemala I was an auxiliary nurse, here I was unable to do that because I am undocumented… During the COVID-19 pandemic I worked cleaning clinics. It was because of my work, and the work of millions of other undocumented, that this city and country were able to continue functioning,” Rodriguez said. 

The senator was not present for the event, but the group is determined to have him hear their message. Make the Road PA will be mailing their testimonies to him and they encouraged others to call his office to ask him to rally his colleagues behind including citizenship for essential workers in Biden’s infrastructure bill. 

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