Who is worthy? Who is essential?

by Paul Welch, Guest Writer

Throughout Pope Francis’ tenure as Catholics spiritual leader he has conveyed a clear message with regard to immigrants, refugees and the poor.

“Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.” He added, “This is a painful truth;.. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.”

Pope Francis’ words seem to have fallen on barren ground in the U.S. Although with the Covid-19 pandemic we desperately need the immigrants’ work in our hospitals and essential industries, we refuse to give undocumented immigrants basic legal status. 

With our Covid-19 crisis we find that both legal and undocumented immigrants are crucial to our well -being. The federal government has labeled agricultural workers as “critical to the food supply chain.” In California both documented and undocumented farm workers are given government letters certifying that they are legally working. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement people are advised to honor these government letters. The US Government has admitted undocumented farmworkers are essential to the operation of our farms. Our farmers have been saying that for years. Finally, by a bipartisan vote the House recently passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019. This bill would provide legal status to farmworkers who have worked in our country’s fields for years. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has been pushing for just immigration reform for decades, wholeheartedly supports this bipartisan bill. If the Senate will let this bill be voted on, our country will have a huge win.

The latest CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) excluded undocumented persons from testing and access to health care as well as economic relief. The health exceptions are a threat to public health. The lack of economic relief ignores the billions of taxes paid by undocumented workers. In 2010 alone such workers paid $12 billion in FICA. In 2015 the figure is $23.5 billion in federal taxes. The other undocumented laborers who work in our meat packing plants and other difficult, low paying essential industries risking their lives for Americans join the 500,000 undocumented essential farmworkers. What do we owe them?

There are another 700,000 young immigrants under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (ACT) program who are at risk of losing their legal status.

These are young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have led their lives as Americans. Currently there are 27,000 DACA young people working in frontline medical positions. Additionally, 150,000 other DACA persons are in essential industries.

President Obama legalized these immigrants who know no other country in the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program., DACA applicants had to show that they had committed no serious crimes, had arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and were no older than 30, had lived in the United States for at least the previous five years, and were in school, had graduated from high school or received a high school equivalency diploma, or were an honorably discharged veteran. 

The Supreme Court will decide within the next 2 months the legality of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created to give legal status to children brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents. Along with many other groups the Association of American Medical Colleges filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of these DACA young people. Their brief cited the tens of thousands of medical and essential DACA workers.

New Jersey, one of the states hardest-hit by the pandemic, is home to more than 16,000 DACA recipients. Governor Phil Murphy said 5,000 of them are classified as essential workers in his state. He states, “New Jersey needs the stability these workers provide to businesses, and residents need the essential services they are bravely providing.” 

Immigrants are vital to the well being of the U.S.A. Let’s pray our leaders realize this.

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