Bishop urges US House to support immigrant, refugee ‘essential workers’

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- The chair of the US bishops’ migration committee emphasized the importance of immigrant workers in testimony submitted to a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held Wednesday.

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington gave written testimony to the Sept. 23 hearing on “Immigrants as Essential Workers During COVID-19”.

The letter highlights the value of immigrant workers to the United States’ economy, especially during the coronavirus pandemics, as well as the human dignity of the immigrants.

“I wish to address the importance and value of immigrants and refugees in aiding to the response of our country in combating the novel coronavirus and COVID-19,” the sletter states.

“As we will demonstrate in our testimony through extensive data, the contributions of immigrants and refugees in the workforce, notably in the areas of food production, healthcare, supply chain, and home health care, has been tremendous and vital Immigrants and refugees are a blessing to our country.”

He said essential workers include U.S. citizens as well as refugees, immigrants, and undocumented workers. According to an article in the “Journal on Migration and Human Security” by Donald Kerwin and Robert Warren, Dorsonville said 69% (19.8 million) of all immigrants and 74% of undocumented people are essential workers in the U.S. labor force.

He said immigrants and refugees contribute to and are largely present in essential industries such as meat packing, farm work, health care, food supply chain, and health assistance.

In the 15 states with the largest labor force, Dorsonville said, undocumented essential workers surpasses native-born essential workers by 9 percentage points.

“The contributions of essential workers have become undoubtedly more important during COVID-19. While many essential workers are U.S. citizens, many are also immigrants and refugees. Immigrants comprise 31% of U.S. agricultural employees… [and] they risk their own safety to support their families and to ensure continuity in the nation’s food supply chains,” said Dorsonville.

The bishop also said that because immigrants face additional obstacles to access health care and financial support, migrant workers and refugees are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

He said that in 494 meat plants in the United States, at least 42,534 meatpackers have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 203 workers have died since March.

He said, due to low wages and cultural community ties, migrant workers often live in multi-generational houses or shared houses that do not provide space for distancing. He also said these workers are not offered the proper assistance and resources to ensure the safety and financial stability of their families.

“It is difficult for farmworkers and meat and poultry packers to protect themselves against COVID-19 in part because many employers have not put in place protections that would reduce transmission, or the employers have not been adequately fined for failing to implement such requirements,” he said.

“We urge Congress to include immigrant and refugee families in any future COVID-19 relief as well as be made eligible for past relief efforts. Additionally, we continue to advocate Congress for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who have been living, working, and contributing to our country. As Pope Francis states: ‘No one must be left behind.’”

Dorsonville emphasized a Christian’s duty to care for the vulnerable and pointed to the Church’s teaching on human dignity and work.

He said the USCCB is historically the largest refugee resettlement agency in the country. He said it also provides foster care, family reunification, case management, and social services for asylum-seeking families, unaccompanied children, and foriegn trafficked victims.

“I speak on behalf of the Catholic Church when I say that the Church teaches that every human being is created in God’s image and deserves dignity and respect. As Catholics we also believe that human labor has an inherent dignity because it allows all human beings to share in the ongoing work of creation, while providing the resources we need to build and sustain families,” he said.

“We view assisting those in need as a fundamental Christian duty that is derived directly from the words and the life of Christ, who himself was a migrant and part of a refugee family. As Christians, we are called to welcome our new neighbors with the same love and compassion that we would want ourselves to be shown.”

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