It has also shown us the importance of our essential workers, those serving on the front lines of our pandemic response and putting themselves at risk to help our country. While many of these heroes have received their well-earned recognition, immigrant essential workers have largely remained unrecognized and at risk of separation from their families.
Despite their significant contributions to keep America healthy, fed and moving, the failures of our broken immigration system have left them without any protections.
Our state alone is home to about 390,000 immigrant essential workers who have risked their lives in crucial industries like agriculture, health care and food service. Because of their tireless efforts, Florida is well-positioned to emerge stronger from the pandemic.
Amongst these 390,000 heroes are more than 6,300 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. DACA recipients, immigrants who came to this country as children, are hard at work in communities across the state despite the last administration’s efforts to end the DACA program and deport these Dreamers from the only home they have known.
What’s incredibly clear is while immigrants are working, our immigration laws are not. They are broken and desperately in need of repair.
Recently, during a private roundtable hosted by FWD.us, I spoke with Camilo Rozo, a DACA recipient, essential worker and Kissimmee resident. Since coming to the United States as an infant, Camilo has called Florida home. He’s now a pharmacist and a part of the effort to get all Americans vaccinated. When we spoke, Camilo shared how, due to the uncertainty surrounding the DACA program, the past few years have been stressful and anxiety-inducing, but that he still hopes to support underserved communities in Kissimmee.
I also heard from immigrant farmworkers who shared the challenges they face while working long hours during the pandemic to keep food on our tables, without any assistance and in fear of deportation.
These incredible Floridians are COVID-19 heroes and a testament to the human impact of our failure to fix the immigration process.
Thankfully, help for Dreamers and many other immigrant essential workers is on the way.
Two weeks ago, I voted alongside a bipartisan group of my colleagues to pass two landmark pieces of legislation to modernize and reform our immigration system.
The Dream and Promise Act, legislation that I co-sponsored, would open an earned pathway to citizenship for our nation’s Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients, ensuring these Americans have the protections, safety, and peace of mind that they deserve.
Similarly, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a long-overdue pathway to citizenship for immigrant farmworkers and their immediate family members. It would also modernize the agriculture guest worker visa program to ensure the agriculture industry remains stable in this time of economic uncertainty.
Now the Senate must follow suit and send legislation that provides these crucial immigrants with a pathway to citizenship to President Joe Biden’s desk.
We have a real opportunity to begin fixing our broken immigration system. With widespread bipartisan support, there is no reason why members of both parties cannot support these common-sense bills. I remain hopeful that a bipartisan compromise, featuring our state’s senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, is possible. We will not waste this opportunity to provide certainty to the millions of immigrants who have earned our respect and support.
I hope all my colleagues will join me in recognizing the urgent need for immigration reform legislation and advocate for its swift passage. There is no equitable path out of the pandemic without a path to citizenship for the immigrant essential workers who are getting us through this crisis.
Rep. Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th Congressional District.