Granting Status Where Status is Due

June 26, 2020

Picture Source: WLRN


Since the days of the American Revolution, the U.S. military has relied on foreign-born and non-citizen enlistees, who at times made up almost 25 percent of our troops. Over the years hundreds of thousands of those foreign-born soldiers, through Acts of Congress or presidential order, were granted expedited citizenship to ensure allegiance and impart gratitude.

The U.S. war on COVID-19 is no different from wars past. Today we find ourselves relying on foreign-born workers who are fighting the virus in our communities and across the country.

In April, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of essential workers who protect America by “ensuring the continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”

Many of the immigrant workers on that list are today’s frontline troops; they protect America by cleaning our hotels, offices, and homes; nurturing our children; and caring for our sick and dying. They also represent 22 percent of workers in the food industry (of which an estimated two-thirds are undocumented), ensuring that our food is planted, harvested, processed, shipped and shelved, cooked, served and delivered.

A bill introduced in Congress in July 2017, the 9/11 Immigrant Freedom Worker Act, sought to grant “aliens who performed rescue, recovery...or other related services after the terrorist attacks...permanent residence.” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY 14th) stated, “They served our country when we needed a hand; instead of gratitude, they’re being shown the door.”

The bill died and, sadly, his words still ring true -- especially today as our undocumented yet “essential” workers risk their lives for our country, even though the risk of deportation has not ceased.

In March, President Trump declared war against an invisible enemy -- COVID-19 -- and referred to himself as a wartime president. Now it's time for America to once again demonstrate its gratitude to foreign-born frontline workers and grant them the status they deserve. By adjusting the 9/11 Immigrant Worker Freedom Act to capture the bravery of today’s COVID-19 heroes, and pushing it through Congress, we can do just that.

Every war has lessons and heroes, and the war against COVID-19 is no exception. We see an array of immigrants in our COVID-19 "soldiers": farm workers and doctors; grocery store clerks and nurses; first responders and bus drivers. We recognize them every evening at 7:00 pm across the country and express our gratitude with raucous cheers, tears, car horns and applause.

All our immigrant workers deserve appreciation for their bravery and selflessness as they work to assure America’s safety.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court “rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, a reprieve for nearly 650,000 recipients known as 'dreamers'.”

Let’s take it a step further and naturalize all foreign-born frontline workers so they can safely stay in America now, and when this war is over.



Julie Avina

Julie Avina, EdD, MA
Senior Associate Dean, Student and Alumni Affairs;
Clinical Associate Professor of Global Health