Senate Democrats argued Wednesday that Congress should provide accelerated legal status to illegal immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Of course we should move toward legal status for the undocumented as quickly as we can,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, said during a virtual town hall organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“If this crisis has told us anything it’s that some of the most essential people in this country, the people who are working in our farms, the people are producing the food that we need, the people working in our grocery stores, who are driving our buses, these are often Latino. These are often other minorities and these are sometimes undocumented people,” he also said.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), also suggested Congress provide legal status to all illegal immigrants as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have to find, for all of these groups, a path to legalization and it should be accelerated,” said Menendez, translated from Spanish.
“We can’t say that somebody is essential and then say they are actually illegal,” added Menendez, a longtime supporter of providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants residing in the country.
Moderator Jorge Ramos, a Univision News reporter, asked Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) if it’s “realistic” to ask for legalization ofillegal immigrantsduring the pandemic.
“Of course it is,” she replied. “The short answer is yes they should be granted legalization and put on a path toward documented status and citizenship.”
Critic of such plans argue that the United States’ first priority is take care of Americans, especially during a pandemic with record-high unemployment, before granting legalization to illegal immigrants, which provides them with access to more government-funded benefits.
LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said the group is asking lawmakers to provide “emergency temporary protected status” for all illegal immigrants in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic
Garcia said his group is advocating for the temporary status so they can continue “working without the fear” of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “or the fear of them not being able to see a doctor or go to the hospital because they’re afraid their information is going to be given to an ICE agent.”
Garcia also said the pandemic highlights the need for Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to give legal status to illegal immigrants.
“I’m hoping that reasonable Republicans, like maybe Marco Rubio, and the senator from Utah [Mitt Romney] are able to come and work with Democrats and come up with a bipartisan bill that at least gives legalization status to all the immigrants in this country in this pandemic. I think it would be great,” he said.