TRANSCRIPT: On Press Call, Leader Schumer, Sens. Durbin And Menendez Highlight Role Of Immigrants On The Frontlines Of COVID-19 & Demand Protections For DACA/TPS Holders

April 28, 2020

Brooklyn, NY – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), today held a press call with DACA and TPS holders, highlighting the need to protect Dreamers and TPS holders, extend their work authorizations, and honor their essential work—not only during the coronavirus pandemic, but always.

While court decisions on DACA and TPS hang in the balance, Dreamers and TPS holders across the country are working on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 as doctors, nurses, health care professionals and in countless other essential job roles. Despite their massive contributions to the American workforce, the Trump administration is hellbent on arbitrarily ending the programs that allow 131,300 TPS holders and 202,500 DACA recipients to serve on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. While trying to shift attention away from his failure to address the crisis, President Trump continues to target immigrants and immigration as his number one enemy. 

"Across the country, hundreds of thousands DACA and TPS recipients continue putting themselves and their families in danger in order to perform essential jobs keeping the rest of us safe and healthy,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “We know how crucial it is that immigrants, especially those sustaining our healthcare system, don’t fall out of status and lose their protections in the middle of this health crisis. The least we can do to provide peace of mind is to automatically extend work authorizations for these hard working members of our community.  It's time the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress end their attacks on immigrants, and instead work with Democrats to extend work authorizations for workers on the front-lines and provide equal access to COVID-19 testing and treatment for all."

“Consider this: one in six health care and social service workers are immigrants.  Where would we be in this pandemic without them?” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked.  “We must ensure that Jose, Ali, Karen, Denisse, and hundreds of thousands of others in our essential workforce are not forced to stop working when the need for their services has never been greater.  As our nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump must extend work authorizations for DACA and TPS holders and other impacted immigrants.” 

?“Like so many Americans, these Dreamers and TPS holders are risking their lives every day in the fight against COVID-19. ?They are caring for the sick, working double shifts, comforting the dying, and often doing so without the personal protective gear they need. Regardless of their place of birth, these individuals undoubtedly represent the best of America. Yet the Trump Administration has put both DACA and TPS in its crosshairs,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “To rip Dreamers and TPS holders out of the workforce and tear their families apart in the midst of a harrowing global pandemic and brutal economic downturn would be nothing short of catastrophic. The health of our nation must come before this President’s anti-immigrant agenda, and we must keep up this fight together.”

Jose Aguiluz, DACA holder, operating room nurse, Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps volunteer, and CASA member (Washington, D.C.) said, “After nine years as an operating room nurse, I’ve seen that my patients don’t care about my immigration status; they just care about the high-quality care I provide as a health professional. Now, I’m conducting coronavirus testing at a drive-in clinic in Maryland. An unfavorable decision means taking me and how many more like me off the frontlines. That reckless behavior endangers people’s lives, especially now during this pandemic.”

Ali Jacknoon, TPS Holder and driver who delivers meals to the needy and COVID+ (Washington, D.C.) said, “If the upcoming TPS and DACA court decisions are not in our favor, it is possible that hundreds of thousands TPS and DACA holders will lose status during this global pandemic. This will add to the millions of unemployed people who cannot care for their families. We do not need that right now. I hope that Congress will consider us and our families as they work on the next COVID bill. I hope they automatically extend our status so that we can focus on doing our part in supporting our communities during this crisis.” 

Karen Reyes, DACA Holder and Special Education Teacher (Austin, TX) said, “I’m a Special Education teacher who has the privilege of teaching deaf and hard of hearing kindergartners. I’m one of the almost 15,000 teachers who are DACA recipients. We represent just part of the over 200,000 DACA recipients and other undocumented people working on the essential jobs to keep our country fed, safe, educated, and healthy, during this pandemic. We shouldn’t be making life harder, or adding more anxiety in this moment. That’s why it’s imperative that Congress automatically extend employment authorizations of DACA and TPS recipients. Congress must also ensure all people, regardless of immigration status, have access to vital health care testing and treatment, and financial assistance in the next COVID-19 relief legislation.” 

Denisse Rojas, fourth-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, MPP candidate at Harvard University and co-founder of Pre-Health Dreamers said, “My DACA expires in May 2021, the same month I finish my medical degree. If the Supreme Court allows the Trump Administration to end DACA, it would put my career as an emergency room physician at a stall, while also jeopardizing the futures of 30,000 healthcare professionals with DACA status who are tending to patients in need. I know I can continue to serve my community in this crisis as a medical professional, and that is what I intend to keep doing for the time being. While I am working hard on the frontlines, I urge lawmakers to have compassion and end our fears that we face every single day worrying if today is the day that our country will deport us.”

You can find a transcript of Leader Schumer's remarks below:

Sen Schumer: Thank you very much Pili and it’s great to be on. I want to thank my colleagues Dick Durbin and Bob Menendez and particularly our four DACA and TPS recipients and holders for their courage and for the way they help America, like so many immigrants do.

So I want to thank everyone for getting on the call and first thank all of our workers in New York and across the country who have been on the frontlines during this pandemic whether it’s health care workers or postal workers, sanitation workers, bus drivers, first responders, teachers, grocery store clerks. They are the heroes, the true heroes of this crisis and we’re grateful to them.

I also want to thank America’s Voice for coordinating this effort, as well as FWD.US, CASA, United We Dream, and all of the advocates who have worked so tirelessly with our office and our caucus to improve the lives of immigrants in America. And of course to Senators Durbin and Menendez who have been such great stalwart supporters of immigration and immigrants in America.

Now while everyone on the frontlines has done a heroic job responding to this pandemic, today we want to shine a spotlight on all the immigrants who are sustaining our healthcare system and other essential industries.

Across the country, millions and millions of immigrants, many DACA and TPS recipients, put their lives on the line doing essential jobs to keep our country operating.

Listen to this, in my state of New York, 1.8 million immigrants work in essential businesses. One-third of our health care workers are immigrants. Not just during Covid but at anytime, you go to a hospital, you go to a clinic, and such a high percentage are hardworking, dedicated, talented immigrants in our health care system.

Every day, these DACA and TPS recipients put themselves in danger and risk their families’ health to keep the rest of us safe. So now is the time more than ever that we need to stand with them and protect them during

these awful times. More than ever, they need our support.

Unfortunately President Trump is doing what he always does: he’s using immigrants as scapegoats. I find it despicable, it’s the only word I can use. Just last week, he announced a phony immigration ban to distract from his failures in responding to this crisis. Sometimes the president’s malice towards immigrants, these hardworking, wonderful people, shows no bounds.

It’s always heartless and harmful to our country when the president and his administration attack immigrants. But it’s especially disgusting for them to do it now; to demagogue and cast aside immigrants at a time when immigrants—including DACA and TPS recipients—are risking their lives by helping feed our nation and keep our hospitals running. It’s an awful awful thing to do.

So that’s why today we’re joining forces to demand that the Trump administration extend the work authorizations for the over 130,000 TPS holders and 200,000 DACA recipients, many of whom are serving on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19 and you’ll hear from four of them in a few minutes.

Since day one, I’ve always supported, wholeheartedly, legislation to permanently protect DACA and TPS holders. In fact, one of the first things that House Democrats did after winning the majority is passing such a bill.

As always, Senators Durbin, Menendez and I stand ready to lead our caucus in fighting for Dreamers and TPS holders. These hard-working members of our community must receive automatic extensions of their work authorizations, so that they don’t fall out of status and lose their protections in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.

It would be utterly self-defeating for our economy to allow immigrants to lose their ability to work and support themselves.  They also deserve equal access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, and we’re gonna fight for that as well.

Providing peace of mind by extending work authorizations is the first step, and the least we could do, to honor immigrant’s essential work. We owe them at least this much and much more.

As Congress looks ahead to the fourth phase of coronavirus legislation, Senate Democrats reiterate our commitment to fight to make sure we are protecting DACA and TPS recipients, especially those working so hard to protect us during this crisis.

The administration and Republicans in Congress should work with the Democrats to extend work authorizations for the thousands of workers on the frontlines keeping American safe and healthy. 

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