Cognetti, other mayors call for path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, including essential workers

·3 min read

Jul. 27—Dozens of the nation's mayors are urging Democratic leaders to include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in any economic recovery legislation Congress considers this year.

That includes Democrats' forthcoming $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package — a potential legislative vehicle for policy reforms protecting undocumented immigrants who helped the country weather the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates argue.

Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti and more than 80 other American mayors signed a letter calling for a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" — undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — as well as holders of Temporary Protected Status, essential immigrant workers and their families. The term "Dreamers" refers to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created during President Barack Obama's tenure, which conveys protection from deportation and permission to legally work in the U.S.

Cognetti joined Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf and Tucson, Arizona, Mayor Regina Romero on a Monday press call, where they made the case for a pathway to citizenship.

"We already needed to deliver pathways to citizenship, as a nation, before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it is even more clear that we need to do this for our country and for these families and these workers," Cognetti said, arguing two-thirds of undocumented workers served on the "front lines" of the public health crisis. "They put their lives on the line during the pandemic, and to continue to threaten them with deportation after all that they've done for our country is unconscionable."

The mayors' letter to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, all Democrats, notes an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants work in construction, agriculture, food service and production, transportation, health care and other essential industries.

"As our state and local communities continue to confront a public health and economic catastrophe that has claimed more than 500,000 lives and exacerbated deep racial and economic inequities, it is vital that Congress enact protections for Dreamers, TPS holders, and essential immigrant workers to secure the health of our nation and to lay the foundation for an equitable economic recovery for all communities across the country," the letter reads.

Cognetti described immigrants as a key part of the economy, especially in the face of declining birth rates and amid the current workforce shortage, arguing a pathway to citizenship is right for both the country's economic future and the immigrant families themselves.

Providing the pathway the mayors are pushing for would boost the nation's gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over the course of a decade, add 400,000 jobs and increase wages for all American workers, argued Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub, a national organization, and the moderator of Monday's press call. Those figures come from a recent study by the Center for American Progress and the University of California Davis' Global Migration Center.

Schaaf, whose husband is a Scranton native and whose in-laws live in the city, argued it's "inhumane" to force children and families to live in fear that they or a loved one could be deported.

The mayors' call for immigration reform comes after a federal judge in Texas ruled earlier this month that the DACA program is unlawful and blocked the Biden administration from accepting new applicants. The judge's ruling, which the Biden administration vowed to appeal, underscores the need for Congress to act now and provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and others, Gonzales said.

The reconciliation process could allow Congressional Democrats to pass legislation absent any Republican support and without the threat of a Senate GOP filibuster. But whether a pathway to citizenship is ultimately included in Democrats' final budget reconciliation bill remains to be seen.

Contact the writer: jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter.

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