Luz Ramirez longs for the day she can visit her mother in Mexico. They have not seen each other in person for 23 years.
During that time, Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant, has worked the farms of the Central Valley picking strawberries and cherries for fear of deportation. But the years he has spent in the camps may soon give him the chance to return to his homeland and see his mother again.
Ramirez is one of 5 million undocumented workers across the United States who may be eligible for citizenship under a new proposal from Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla. The law targets people who have worked in sectors – including farm laborers like Ramirez – deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel like sometimes we are drowning and we have no one to help us out there, but it will be a big change for us as we can see our loved ones alive, said Ramirez, whose father died in Mexico in 2020.
For Padilla and the activists, this current bill is an effort to honor the sacrifices workers made during the pandemic and to recognize their importance even when there is no public health emergency. Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, has been committed to immigration reform since entering the Senate.
According to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan political organization based in Washington, DC, nearly three out of four active undocumented immigrants worked in essential sectors. In Padilla’s bill, essential sectors include agriculture, health care, construction, emergency response, sanitation, food, child care, transportation and hospitality.
“They were called essential and we can’t get away from treating them as invisible and disposable,” said Antonio de Loera-Brust, a spokesman for the United Farm Workers, a farmworkers’ union.
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But the bill is also another attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, a feat the federal government has tried to achieve at the national level for decades. Last year, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House twice, but never made it to a vote in the Senate. Passage of the legislation seemed imminent, but it did not garner sufficient Republican support.
Padilla described the modernization of the immigration system as “long overdue.”
“We cannot forget the sacrifices these workers have made and continue to make every day for our country,” Padilla said. “Our essential workers have earned their place in this country.”
Padilla’s legislation would also cover non-citizen workers who used to work in essential industries but lost their jobs because of the pandemic or were family members of essential workers who died from COVID-19.
Currently, there is no timetable for a possible route. Padilla will work with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) to implement the bill once it is approved. Applicants must pay an application fee and pass a specific background check.
This would be the second time Padilla has attempted to pass an immigration reform bill. His first bill as a senator also sought to grant citizenship to essential workers. He has emerged as a strong voice on immigration since becoming the first Latino senator from California in 2021.
Political disparities between states
Padilla’s push for pro-immigrant policy comes at a time when some states are trying to turn away undocumented residents.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation this month that requires businesses with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to verify the immigration status of new employees and requires hospitals to collect their legal information from patients. Need to ask about the status. It allows authorities to charge someone with human trafficking if they “knowingly” or “voluntarily” transport an undocumented immigrant across state lines in Florida. Videos circulating on social networks show the new law is causing a labor shortage.
But in California, some lawmakers are continuing a decades-long campaign to build a social safety net for the state’s roughly 2.3 million undocumented immigrants.
State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Mercedes, recently introduced SB 831, which would authorize California’s governor to work with the federal government to set up a pilot program that would allow farmworkers to begin the process of legalization. allows.
Although the bill lacks details, the end goal is to make undocumented farmworkers eligible for federal benefits.
Similarly, less aggressive laws have failed in the past. But Caballero’s bill is another attempt to speed up immigration reform in the Golden State.
Ramirez is optimistic about the legislators’ latest efforts, even though she often thinks her work in the fields is overlooked by most. Sometimes she is forgotten by legislators and overlooked by those who benefit from the food she helps put on their tables through her work in the fields.
Ramirez said, “We are the ones who keep working in spite of everything and we will have a better job, a better way of life and many benefits that we do not have now.”