Advocates want citizenship for immigrants who are essential workers

"Torch of Citizenship" rally for immigrant rights at the Michigan Capitol, Apr. 16, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

A small group of immigration reform advocates and supporters gathered on the Michigan Capitol steps Friday morning to urge Democrats to do more for immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, including adopting immigration reforms and granting citizenship to essential workers who are immigrants.

According to estimates from the pro-immigrant group, FWD.us, about 5.2 million undocumented immigrants work in essential industries throughout the United States. The Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan Center for American Progress estimates that Michigan is home to roughly 50,600 undocumented immigrants in critical infrastructure roles.

The speakers specifically called out U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), who they said is not doing enough for immigrants through his position as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The U.S. Senate is under narrow Democratic control with a 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.  

“Gary Peters, we need you to step up,” said Stuart Inahuazo, an immigrant rights organizer with the Detroit-based advocacy group Michigan United. “We need you to show more leadership in this state. We saw you met with CBP [Customs and Border Protection] and ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] at the Southwest border. … How about you start meeting with us?”

A Peters spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Sergio Martinez is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and member of Michigan United’s Detroit Immigrants Right Organizing Committee.

“Our families are not going to stop being deported and harassed by ICE and the police until we do something,” said Martinez.

“We are going to show up and we are going to make a movement stick until Gary Peters and all the Democrats, including Kamala Harris, take this initiative to do something about immigration reform. This is no longer just banter. This is people’s lives,” Martinez said.

The dozen advocates from various immigration rights groups spoke behind a “torch of citizenship” made to resemble the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Speakers told stories of their loved ones being deported or being in danger of having their DACA status revoked, and argued that all immigrants are essential and deserve protection — particularly during the hardships brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Danny Caracheo, a member of Movimiento Cosecha (“Harvest Movement”) and an immigrant rights organizer with Michigan United, came to the United States when he was 5 years old. He said Grand Rapids has always felt like his home.

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“Immigrants are essential and deserve a pathway to citizenship. Millions of us have been working tirelessly and at-risk from COVID-19 for this past year, in every sector,” Caracheo said.

“Let us remember the millions of undocumented workers who kept our grocery store stocked, who kept our restaurants open, who kept working in the harsh conditions of the farm fields across this country and in this very state so that we could have food on our tables. … We cannot take crumbs anymore. We need papers,” Caracheo continued, echoing the group’s rallying cry of “Papeles si, migajas no” (“Papers yes, crumbs no”).

Movimiento Cosecha is organizing a national “Relay Across America” that will culminate in a May 1 rally in Washington, D.C., to bring more attention to the cause.