We cannot ‘build back better’ without immigrant workers

By Jaime Contreras

As our country faces the unprecedented crisis of a labor shortage, a perfect solution is staring members of Congress in the face. By investing in the men and women who build and maintain our nation’s infrastructure, Congress can truly “build back better” with a proposal to legalize work permits to protect millions of hard-working immigrants from the threat. deportation.

Our country has not been so close to real immigration reform for 36 years.

That’s why it falls on responsible leaders like Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, to overcome the partisanship blocking aid and make this historic breakthrough possible.

A predominantly immigrant workforce has kept our economy from completely collapsing during the pandemic. They have paid with their lives, falling ill and dying of COVID-19 at some of the highest rates to rebuild our economy, working at a higher rate (88%) than the general population (63%), doing the jobs that most Americans won’t do.

The facts are evident throughout the Washington-Maryland-Virignia region where nearly 40,000 Salvadoran GST holders have lived and worked legally for decades, holding together the region’s service industry which would lose tens of thousands of workers. in construction, hotels, restaurants and child care in case these workers risked deportation. More than 10,000 “dreamers” in Virginia were brought to this country by their parents, educated, became law-abiding taxpayers, and even served our country in the military through Deferred Action for them. arrivals of children (DACA).

As a devout Catholic, there is no doubt that Senator Kaine has been moved by the heartbreaking and emotional appeals of Dreamers and TPS holders, who know Kaine is one of the few members of Congress they can count on. . Because Senator Warner has business acumen and experience, he understands the dramatic impact of DACA and TPS on the Virginia economy.

Businesses that would otherwise lose employees as well as their customers rely on Virginia Senators to do the right thing. Economists generally agree that restricting immigration will slow growth and that regular immigration is the key to a diverse and healthy economy, with population growth alone making a significant contribution.

Even the United States Chamber of Commerce wants to ensure that over a million people currently authorized to work here legally can stay in the United States, including dreamers who are currently allowed to work here legally – but risk losing that status. Deporting Dreamers and GST holders will not create a single job but it would actually make our labor shortage worse.

This has hit local businesses like Total Quality, a janitorial services company that employs hundreds of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immigrants, who maintain federal office buildings throughout the Washington area. If we end the TPS for Salvadorans, the company would immediately lose 26% of its employees and would have to terminate contracts just to avoid breaking the law.

This is why it’s critical that Kaine and Warner firmly oppose efforts to verify the status of workers in the workplace – like E-verify – that will lead to unfair dismissals, racial profiling and massive discrimination. workers, regardless of their legal status. It will also push workers further into the underground economy, eroding the wages of all workers.

Because the overwhelming majority of Americans support the Dreamers and TPS holders, protecting these groups is politically safe. Recent polls show broad support for a path to citizenship and other forms of legalization, including battlefield voters (note Virginia) who strongly support Congress for the adoption lasting protections for undocumented immigrants, especially among unmotivated Democratic voters who are crucial voters in midterm elections.

Most of these young Commonwealth Dreamers would be sent back to El Salvador, a country I fled when I was 13, to avoid imminent death in a bloody civil war. I still remember helping my father, an ambulance driver, wedge our mattress against the door to block the gunshots that often rained into homes, intentionally and accidentally killing people every day. Unfortunately, El Salvador is even more dangerous and uninhabitable today.

When I served our country in the US Navy, having come here undocumented in the 1990s, I was protecting America’s values ​​of freedom and democracy. We urge Sens. Kaine and Warner to do everything in their power to restore these values ​​by protecting the Dreamers and GST holders, who share their love and commitment to this nation. It is the immigrants who built this nation and who are now dying for this nation.

I like Contreras, a naturalized U.S. citizen and U.S. Navy veteran, is vice president of 32BJ SEIU. The union represents more than 175,000 real estate workers in 11 east coast states, including 20,000 in the Washington, DC area, the majority of whom are from El Salvador.

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