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Grant residency and a path to citizenship to COVID-19 farmworkers and other essential pandemic workers

Photo of Representative John Alcala

Rep. John Alcala (KS), sponsor

Sponsored by Rep. John Alcala (KS)

Reported to the Caucus by the NHCSL Immigration Task Force
Sen. Richard Martinez (NM), Chair

Unanimously adopted on behalf of the Caucus on September 18, 2020

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WHEREAS, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, following public health guidance, most of the nation has established stay-at-home directives that exempt workers in essential sectors;[1] and,

WHEREAS, for those exempted from stay-at-home orders, and for all of us who must leave our homes for approved reasons, a nationwide social-distancing (physical distance) guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in effect;[2] and,

WHEREAS, one of the essential sectors in which workers are still expected to work on-location is food and agriculture, in general, and farm work, specifically;[3] and,

WHEREAS, the nature of farm work, and the equipment currently available in most farms, makes social distancing impractical or impossible for farmworkers, which means that they are at much heightened risk of contracting COVID-19; and,

WHEREAS, family members residing in the same household as farmworkers and other essential workers are also at heightened risk because they could get infected in turn by their exposed working family member; and,

WHEREAS, since mid-March, President Donald J. Trump has correctly analogized the fight against COVID-19 as a war, “our big war… a medical war”[4] and has started to use presidential wartime powers to fight it;[5] and,

WHEREAS, farmworkers and other essential workers, especially those who cannot practice social distancing at work, along with their immediate families, are all taking a substantially similar risk of their lives and health for our safety during the COVID-19 crisis as servicemembers do during war; and,

WHEREAS, Federal law currently grants the right to naturalization and citizenship to all English-speaking persons of good moral character who serve in our armed forces during wartime or hostilities, even when they are undocumented immigrants,[6] under the rationale that they put their lives at risk for us, showing commitment to our safety, and we should be thankful; and,

WHEREAS, between half and three quarters of farmworkers in the United States are undocumented immigrants,[7] and, according to Farmworker Justice, 83% of farmworkers are Hispanic;[8] and,

WHEREAS, unlike US servicemembers in war, farmworkers generally do not need to conduct their daily lives using the English language and most do so using the Spanish language.[9]

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators calls on the United States Congress and the President to grant the right of residency and naturalization, to all farmworkers and other essential workers, who have at at any time worked as such in the United States during the COVID-19 crisis; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this right of residency and naturalization should be granted without regard to previous immigration status, should permit naturalization exams to be taken in their native language, and should be extended to their family members residing in the same household; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that, in order to facilitate the identification of these essential workers, employers and their agents should be granted immunity from adverse action for having employed (or otherwise acquired the services of) persons who were identified as being essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis.


[1] As of April 8, 2020, forty three states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had stay-at-home orders; two states had partial stay-at-home orders; and one state had a stay-at-home advisory. Forty nine states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had closed or severely limited retail. Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had ordered all non-essential businesses closed. For a continually updated number see: Stateside Associates, 2020 State and Local Government Responses to COVID-19. Available at, https://www.stateside.com/blog/2020-state-and-local-government-responses-covid-19

[2] CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

[3] Christopher Krebs, Director, US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response (March 19, 2020). Available at https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf

[4] Brian Bennett and Tessa Berenson, 'Our Big War.' As Coronavirus Spreads, Trump Refashions Himself as a Wartime President (Time, March 19, 2020). Available at https://time.com/5806657/donald-trump-coronavirus-war-china/

[5] John Fritze and Phoebe Wall Howard, Trump uses wartime powers to place first order with General Motors for 30,000 ventilators (USA Today, April 8, 2020). Available at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/08/trump-uses-wartime-powers-order-coronavirus-ventilators-gm/2970411001/.

[6] Those servicemembers must also show basic knowledge of the United States and read, write and speak basic English. See USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 12, Part 1, Ch. 3 (describing agency interpretation of the requirements of Section 329 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, 8 USC § 1440). Available at https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-i-chapter-3

[7] Miriam Jordan, Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become ‘Essential’ During Pandemic (New York Times, April 2, 2020). Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/coronavirus-undocumented-immigrant-farmworkers-agriculture.html. And see, Farmworker Justice, National Farmworker Awareness Week Blog: Immigration (Harvesting Justice, March 30, 2020). Available at https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/fj-blog/2020/03/national-farmworker-awareness-week-blog-immigration.

[8] Farmworker Justice, Selected Statistics on Farmworkers (2015-16 Data) (2019). Available at https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/sites/default/files/resources/NAWS%20Data%20FactSheet%2005-13-2019%20-%20final.pdf

[9] Ibid.