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Advocates March in Washington to Demand Work Permits for Migrants

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday in Washington to urge the Biden administration to extend labor protections to undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The Here to Work Day of Action march, organized by a coalition of dozens of migrant advocacy groups, called on U.S. President Joe Biden to allow immigrants living in the U.S. for years to apply for work permits. 

Lydia Walther-Rodríguez, one of the march organizers, told VOA that more than 3,000 people attended the event. They visited members of Congress to ask them for support and to press Biden to give work permits to the estimated 11 million people who are here undocumented. 

Walther-Rodríguez, who is a member of CASA, an immigration advocacy group, said allowing people to work and giving them temporary protection would also prevent family separation. 

“We are talking about security, but a security that gives the migrant movement the peace of mind to continue on a path to citizenship,” she said. 

Since February 2023, the Here to Work Coalition has brought together more than 300 businesses, Republican and Democratic governors, and members of Congress to urge the Biden administration to expand work permits for immigrants who have been paying taxes in the U.S. for years. 

According to immigrant advocates, the president can take this action by expanding humanitarian parole, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Enforced Departure. All three policies allow individuals who meet specific requirements to stay in the country and work temporarily.  

U.S. Congressman Jesus “Chuy” García, a Democrat from Illinois, addressed the protesters and supported their appeals, saying Biden must deliver for immigrants and that “We must all be heard.”

In a written statement after the march, Garcia added: “Whether you arrived days ago or decades ago, immigrants deserve dignity. Many of my constituents have worked and paid taxes for years, but still live without the protection and stability that comes from a work permit.” 

US labor shortage

In an October report, Stephanie Ferguson, director of Global Employment Policy and Special Initiatives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote that the country is facing “unprecedented challenges” trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs. 

“Right now, the latest data shows that we have 9.6 million job openings in the U.S., but only 6.4 million unemployed workers. We have a lot of jobs, but not enough workers to fill them. If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have around 3 million open jobs,” Ferguson wrote.

According to data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there are 68 workers for every 100 open jobs.

Decades in the U.S.

Catalina Bueno, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, traveled from Chicago to Washington. She hopes a work permit and Temporary Protected Status could help her immigration status.  

“We’ve made our lives here, and I think it is fair that they take us into account, which is fair to us because we have a life here … My whole life is here and returning to Mexico is difficult for me … We must all be heard, and the president, more than anything, must be fair to everyone,” she said.

Temporary protection 

The Biden administration recently announced an extension and redesignation of the program that gives temporary protection from deportation for nationals of Sudan and Ukraine. Nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal and Nicaragua also have had their protection extended. 

Advocates also called for new TPS designations. Immigrant rights groups have ongoing campaigns for Mauritania and Democratic Republic of Congo.

TPS allows migrants whose home countries are considered unsafe to live and work in the United States for a period of time if they meet certain requirements established by the U.S. government.  

Other forms of relief include deferred action, deferred enforced departure, or parole. Each has distinguished requirements while offering temporary relief from deportation and work authorization.

Some Republican lawmakers have pushed for legislation that would make U.S. immigration law more restrictive. 

Senate Republicans released a proposal on Nov. 6 that could prohibit or limit Biden officials’ use of temporary protection for migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border and those already in the United States.

The one-page plan narrows the scope of the parole statute to clarify that it is to be used rarely and limits granting parole to one year, with up to one one-year extension or less. 

Renata Castro, an immigration lawyer based in Florida, told VOA that Congress needs to act and that immigration is about economic growth.

“We need an innovative economy and the only way we will be able to do that is if we have meaningful immigration reform that deals with the needs and the problems of the United States of today, not of 30 or 40 years ago,” Castro said. 

The immigration attorney said other countries are taking note of the immigration challenges in the United States, and they are working hard to attract the best and the brightest.

“I, as a practicing immigration attorney, think that United States employers, particularly small businesses in the service industries, construction and hospitality, are really struggling because they cannot find individuals who are ready, willing and available to work. … Meaningful immigration reform could solve all of that,” she added.

Humanitarian parole or temporary status or protection, such as TPS or DED, is not a pathway to permanent residency. 

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