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Conn. Advocates For Essential Workers Call On Congress To Approve Pathway to Citizenship

Camila Vallejo
Connecticut Public Radio
John Lugo, the organizing director for Unidad Latina en Acción, leading the rally surrounded by dozens of advocates on the steps of city hall in New Haven.

Connecticut elected officials joined New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Acción and several other essential worker advocates Thursday morning to call on Congress to approve both immigration reform and stronger protections for undocumented immigrants who speak out about labor abuse.

The rally comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Senate’s $3.5 trillion budget blueprint this week along party lines and added a pathway to legal permanent residency for eligible immigrants. Those who could benefit would be undocumented essential workers, farmworkers and immigrants in limbo -- including those with Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The pathway could help about five million undocumented essential workers, according to advocates.

“Our immigrants are essential. They are essential workers. They’ve been on the frontline. They’ve risked everything. And now we owe them and we owe ourselves a path to citizenship for every single one of them,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal on the steps of New Haven’s City Hall as dozens stood behind him holding signs and banners in support of essential workers.

Between chants in both English and Spanish, a handful of undocumented essential workers shared their stories about life during the pandemic. Whether they were home care workers, construction workers or domestic workers, they all shared the risk they faced working during the pandemic. But unlike others with legal immigration status, they said they lacked proper health care, living conditions and services because of their documentation.

“It’s really sad to see how during the pandemic the immigrant community has been one of the most affected. We couldn’t stop working because the bills didn’t wait. And our essential jobs exposed us to the virus,” said Carla Esquivel in Spanish. She’s a domestic worker from Stamford.

She said undocumented workers like her work so their kids can have a better future and one day achieve what their parents couldn’t. She’s paid taxes for the 15 years she’s lived in Connecticut and contributed to society like many other immigrants. But she says the state doesn’t recognize those efforts.

“We need immigration reform. We pay taxes and those taxes should be used to improve our quality of life because I consider this country, my country,” she said as she called on officials to recognize her place in society.

The path to citizenship was added to the budget by the House as it supports President Joe Biden's economic recovery plan to rebuild the economy with good jobs for working families. While pushback in the Senate is anticipated, Blumenthal said he is going to be fighting “with every breath he has” for the provision to make it to the final budget reconciliation plan.

“We are a nation of immigrants. We are proud of our immigrants,” Blumenthal added.

Corrected: August 27, 2021 at 9:43 AM EDT
Carla Esquivel's job title was updated from "housekeeper" to "domestic worker" to better represent her role.
Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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