Immigration agents arrested over 600 undocumented workers at poultry plants across central Mississippi two years ago in what remains the largest workplace raid in U.S. history.
This August, on the two-year anniversary of that raid, immigrant rights advocates demanded that U.S. officials take action to repair the harms inflicted on the workers and their communities.
Some 230 of the workers have already been deported but another 400 are still waiting for their day in court. And while they wait, many are unable to provide for themselves because they don’t have access to work permits or have been deeply impacted by COVID-19.
“Two years later, the pain is ongoing, and the threat of deportation is constant,” said Erika Vazquez with Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity of Mississippi. “It’s time now to undo the harm, and to protect these workers.”
Vazquez’s alliance partnered with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to file a formal request with the Department of Labor to provide deportation protections and work permits for the affected workers.
At a press conference in Jackson, a Mississippi poultry worker named Aura shared the memory of Edgar Lopez, a grandfather who was among those detained and deported. After his deportation, he was tragically kidnapped and murdered in northern Mexico.
“I’ve never seen something happen like what happened here on August 7, 2019,” said Aura. “Many children came home from school that day to no parents… There are still many people that will not come out to the streets because of the fear of deportation.”
While there is still much to be done to repair the damage caused by the current U.S. immigration system, a path to citizenship could soon be within grasp for millions of undocumented workers.
The Senate is considering a $3.5 trillion plan to finance a wide range of infrastructure projects and social programs, including a pathway to citizenship for approximately 10 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.
Immigrant rights advocates have been calling for such a pathway for decades, and especially since the pandemic. “For more than a year, immigrants like me have kept our country running during this pandemic despite living under the constant threat of deportation and family separation,” said Hina Naveed, an advocate for the New York Immigration Coalition.
Throughout the pandemic, undocumented workers have been on the frontlines as farm workers, meatpackers, and grocery store clerks. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, approximately 69 percent of all immigrant workers and 74 percent of all undocumented workers work in essential industries.
These undocumented workers risked not only their health but their livelihood. Those out of work during the pandemic are by and large ineligible to collect unemployment insurance, and millions did not receive any of the federal stimulus checks.
The pandemic disparities between these essential frontline workers and top corporate executives are staggering. An Institute for Policy Studies report found that the CEOs of the 100 largest low-wage employers earned an average of $14 million last year.
While billionaires and corporate executives have come out of this pandemic even wealthier than before, Congress now has an opportunity to pave a pathway for essential, undocumented workers to share in the benefits of economic recovery.
“Seventy-two percent of American voters support immigration, and reconciliation may be the last chance we have to provide certainty for immigrant workers and employers,” said Rebecca Shi, Executive Director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
She added: “Legalization would add $31 billion in federal and state tax dollars and bring about $121 billion in U.S. economic growth.”
The budget framework laid out by the Senate is just that: a framework. Immigration advocates and their allies in Congress face an uphill battle to ensure that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and their families stays in the deal.