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Give work permits to longtime undocumented immigrants, business and immigrant groups say

A man wearing a wide-brimmed hat works at an outdoor construction site.
Stella M. Chávez
Two men work on the construction site of a new fast food restaurant in Waxahachie in July 2023.

A coalition of business leaders, elected officials and immigrant advocates across the country is urging the Biden administration to issue work permits to longtime undocumented immigrants.

It points out new arrivals to the country have received work authorization under programs such as Temporary Protected Status and say similar opportunities should be afforded to immigrants who’ve lived in the U.S. for years or decades.

“Long-term immigrants are preparing five-star meals at our favorite restaurants. They’re caring for the elderly. They’re cleaning hotels, they’re running small businesses, and they’re paying taxes, all without the benefit of a work permit,” said Juan Carlos Cerda, Texas State Director of the American Business Immigration Coalition Action and a recipient of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“We’re just asking the president, ‘Do the same for long-term immigrants who have been living here, who have U.S. citizen children, who have U.S. citizen spouses and who are doing the back-breaking work that we all benefit from,’” he added.

The move comes as a federal appeals court in New Orleans hears arguments on the legality of Texas’ controversial new immigration enforcement law, or SB 4, that would let local and state police remove someone suspected of unlawfully entering the state.

It also follows the recent deaths of immigrant workers on Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed into the water when a cargo ship struck it.

On Tuesday, two dozen leaders in construction, homebuilding and other industries sent a letter to Biden asking that he extend work permits to long-term workers through programs such as Temporary Protected Status and Humanitarian Parole.

“As construction companies and business leaders, we know that construction cannot function without immigrant workers. We also know that it is a physical, demanding, and sometimes dangerous work,” the letter reads. “The deaths of the pothole crew stranded on the bridge illustrates that, despite many safeguards, essential construction workers are vulnerable to sudden accidents and deaths.”

The letter adds that many workers in these industries have contributed to the economy for years without legal status and that granting them work permits would honor the victims of the tragedy.

In North Texas, the group highlighted the area’s estimated 575,000 residents who are unable to work legally pay $1.3 billion in taxes, according to some research.

U.S. Representative Marc Veasey, who represents Fort Worth, called on Congress and the Biden Administration to work together on a solution.

 "We need to take politics out of this,” Veasey said. “There are too many businesses that are struggling, too many families that are hurting, too many people having anxiety who are being separated. Enough is enough.”

 Anette Landeros, President and CEO of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said rising costs and labor force shortages are affecting small businesses.

“I think if we put our business minds together and really think strategically, it’s a no brainer that long-term work authorization will benefit everyone.”
Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.