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Friday, February 19, 2021

Rep. Hank Johnson leads conversation on protecting immigrant essential workers during pandemic

Georgia lawmakers talk immigration

A Georgia lawmaker hosted a virtual event with a panel of experts to discuss undocumented workers and immigration.

ATLANTA - U.S. Representative Hank Johnson helped lead a conversation Thursday night on ensuring equity and fairness among immigrant essential workers across Georgia.

Experts hosted a discussion on ways to make sure that vulnerable community has access to resources.

The conversation comes just as Democrats unveiled their immigration citizenship plan.

The panel said 170,000 undocumented immigrants are essential workers helping in the fight against this pandemic. They wanted to focus on addressing the challenges this community faces like access to the COVID-19 vaccine and getting those undocumented workers closer to citizenship.

"There’s always the fear of jeopardizing a worker's immigration status, continues to be a barrier toward vaccination," Erick Juarez, Medical Student, Augusta Medical College, said.

The panel said in order to effectively respond and recover from the pandemic, it's crucial that immigrant essential workers and people who are undocumented are provided a pathway to citizenship.

This way, they believe, those immigrants will be able to fully contribute to the state's health and economic recovery.

"Millions of immigrant workers are at the front line of keeping Americans healthy and feed during the COVID-19 pandemic," Juarez said.

The speakers hit on several disadvantages within that community including getting COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

"Testing was designed and centered in a way that was focused on English speakers, on people that were driving, and we were simply excluded from any type of relief," Gigi Pedraza, Executive Director of the Latino Community Fund of Georgia, said.

Thursday, congressional Democrats and the White House unveiled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

The bill will create an 8-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were already in the country before January of this year.

Rep. Johnson said that "it offers expanded work visas so that legislation is going to protect immigrants from exploitation and keep families together while growing our economy."

The speakers also talked about the struggle of farm and food workers who have smaller incomes and lack proper access to healthcare - with many living in rural communities.

"Advocates fear millions, once again, could fall through the cracks," Juarez described.

"We are going to make sure that we eliminate the rule that was imposed with the cares act that said that if one of the family members did not have a social security number then the whole family could not receive a direct payment," Rep. Johnson said.

The experts said immigrant community members contribute to key industries like agriculture, transportation, and health care.

They said policymakers investing in the most vulnerable populations will determine how quickly the country recovers.

"When America invests and protects its most vulnerable inhabitants, the harvest can and will be bountiful," Juarez said.

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