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S. 747: Citizenship for Essential Workers Act

Should there be a green card for those who did the work during a period of red alert?


Potentially as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants work in so-called “essential” or “critical” jobs. That’s based on the federal government’s own August 2021 definition of “essential” employment sectors, which includes those you may immediately think of (911 call center employees and EMT’s) to those you may not (grocery store shelf stockers).

Although that 5 million estimate was calculated by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning organization whose estimate may lean high, nobody disputes that the “real” number ends with the word million.

And those essential workers have been disproportionately hit with COVID-19, because of their frequent in-person interactions and close proximity to other people under jobs that required in-person attendance during the pandemic.

What the legislation does

The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act would immediately grant the status of legal permanent resident, commonly nicknamed “green card holders,” on any non-citizen in the U.S. who worked in an essential industry or sector, regardless of their documentation status.

That includes any employee who *was *working in such a sector but lost their job because of the pandemic, as well as any undocumented relative of an essential worker who died from COVID-19.

The Senate version was introduced on March 15 as S. 747, by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA). The House version was introduced the next day on March 16 as H.R. 1909, by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX20).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that these people, many of whom have been living in the U.S. for years and have American citizen children, merit citizenship themselves by this point.

“My parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My father worked as a short-order cook and my mom used to clean houses, jobs that would be considered essential today,” Sen. Padilla said in a press release. “Dignity, respect, and citizenship for essential workers is personal for me and in the best interest of our country… These heroes have risked their health and their lives to keep our communities safe and our economy moving and they have earned a pathway to citizenship.”

“From farmworkers in the fields to nurses in the ICU, immigrant essential workers have risked their lives, and their families lives, every day during this pandemic. Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude and they have earned a path to citizenship,” Rep. Castro said in a separate press release. “We must not allow the workers who are called essential today to be deported tomorrow. Undocumented essential workers deserve to stay here in their home and to be recognized as the heroes — and Americans — they are.”

Opponents generally oppose amnesty for undocumented immigrants unless it’s simultaneously paired with stricter immigration enforcement — which this bill does not do.

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 74 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate version has attracted 18 cosponsors: 17 Democrats and one independent. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Last updated Jan 10, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 15, 2021.

Citizenship for Essential Workers Act

This bill establishes a mechanism for eligible aliens who worked as essential workers during the declared COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) public health emergency to apply for and obtain permanent resident status. The bill also narrows certain grounds for deportability and inadmissibility.

To be eligible for permanent resident status under this bill, an alien must have earned income at any point during the COVID-19 emergency period doing work deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or a state or local government. An alien may also be eligible if that alien is a parent, spouse, or child of (1) an eligible alien who died from COVID-19, or (2) a member of the Armed Forces. Certain aliens shall be ineligible, such as an alien who was a refugee on January 1, 2021.

To obtain permanent resident status under this bill, an applying alien must satisfy additional requirements, including by passing a background check.

Furthermore, the bill repeals provisions providing for three-year bars and permanent bars to admission into the United States. (Generally, these bars apply to aliens who were previously removed or unlawfully present in the United States.)

The bill also narrows the scope of certain crime-based grounds for inadmissibility or deportability, such as by redefining the term conviction to exclude expunged convictions.

The Department of Justice or DHS may waive certain grounds of inadmissibility or deportability (1) for humanitarian purposes, (2) to ensure family unity, or (3) for the public interest.