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Chicago Leaders Sam Sanchez (Business), Gerado Diaz (American Families United), Rebecca Shi (ABIC), Evelyn Barrios (Dreamer, Pilsen Neighbors) Karen Kent and Roushaunda Williams (UNITE HERE Local 1) Back from Washington, D.C.

By April 24, 2024No Comments

Illinoisans Called for Work Permits for Long-Term Immigrant Contributors on Capitol Hill

Watch Durbin economic briefing and García press conference; download photos

WASHINGTONSam Sanchez, owner of Third Coast Hospitality and a Board Member of the National Restaurant Association; Gerardo Diaz, member of American Families United; Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition; Karen Kent, president of UNITE HERE Local 1; Roushaunda Williams, Member/Leader of UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Executive Committee of Illinois AFL-CIO; and Evelyn Barrios, a Dreamer who attends DePaul University and is part of Pilsen Neighbors  traveled from Chicago to Washington, D.C. on April 16-17 for a briefing on Capitol Hill, calling on the Biden administration to extend work permits  to immigrants who are long-term members of American families and residents of U.S. communities. To interview them about their experiences, contact

On Tuesday, they participated in an economic briefing hosted by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (R-IL), with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA). On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) held a press conference at the House Triangle to make the case for work permits for all, alongside other business, labor, community and family leaders. He and U.S. Representatives Correa (D-CA) and Espaillat (D-NY) also sent a letter to the Biden administration accelerating this call to act. 

The New York Times reported on the growing frustration among families of mixed immigration status and employers across the country, who want President Biden to extend work permits to immigrants who have been living in and contributing to this country for years. The Wall Street Journal reported on the campaign by U.S. citizens seeking work permits for their non-citizen spouses and other long-term residents to stabilize the workforce, grow the economy and keep families together.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the campaign by U.S. citizens seeking work permits for their non-citizen spouses and other long-term residents to stabilize the workforce, grow the economy and keep families together.

Watch the economic briefing and Congressman Garcia’s press event; access photos from both days in Washington, D.C.

Sam Sanchez, Chairman and CEO of Third Coast Hospitality; Board Member, National Restaurant Association, stated “We’re urging President Biden to enact an executive order for long-term immigrants, some of whom have children and grandchildren who are of voting age. Their family members deserve to participate in the economy where they can get their tax refunds, where they can grow their businesses, where they can feel that they’re part of this nation — not being treated as second-class citizens.” Sanchez is the first Mexican-American elected Board Chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association. He lives in Chicago and is available for interviews in English and Spanish. 

Gerardo Diaz of Illinois represented his family and American Families United. He said, “I’m a blue-collar American, born and raised in Aurora, Illinois. I’m tired of waiting for you, President Biden, to act for my two beautiful children, my daughter Nathalia, 7, and my son Gerry, 2, who I haven’t been able to live with for two years because they are with their mother, my beautiful wife Elizabeth, who was rejected at her immigration interview in El Salvador and hasn’t been allowed home. How many more American families will have to be separated like mine before you use your authority? My daughter Nathalia and son Gerry are waiting for your answer.”

Rebecca Shi, executive director of American Business Immigration Coalition, said, “We are inspired by President Biden granting work permits to new migrants and ask that he extends the same dignity of a legal work permit to long term residents, including spouses of U.S. citizens.”

The senators and leaders from American Families United were joined by labor and business leaders as well. “Our union supports expanding work permits for long-term undocumented individuals because it is an important step to help immigrant workers be more secure in their workplaces and provide stability to immigrant families,” said Karen Kent, president of UNITE HERE Local 1.

“As a mother of two sons and a former caseworker for young people in the state’s care, I have often wished I had a magic wand to protect our children. Well, we can create magic right now by expanding work permits for long-term undocumented people. We can ensure that immigrant families and children have the stability and protection they deserve,” said Roushaunda Williams, member of UNITE HERE Local 1 who serves on the Executive Board of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Evelyn Barrios is a Dreamer who attends DePaul University and is part of Pilsen Neighbors. She said, “I was the first in my family to finish high school and will be the first to graduate from DePaul University, with a degree I cannot use. For 16 years, I have fought to defend my right to study, work and simply live here. I have put so much effort into studying and working without knowing if I will be able to pursue my dreams. After graduating, I will pursue my Master’s. But how many degrees do I need to prove my worth? We need work permits for everyone. I urge President Biden to expand work authorization for all immigrants in our communities. We need a solution that allows us to live with dignity.”

“Today, there are an estimated 1.1 million U.S. citizens married to an undocumented immigrant.  Our laws are supposed to provide U.S. citizens an opportunity to sponsor their noncitizen family members, but our outdated immigration system includes many categorical bars that prevent spouses from obtaining status. These families live in fear that their loved ones may be deported at any time,” said U.S. Sen. Durbin. “These immigrants already pay taxes and work in our communities. If they were given a path to citizenship, it would bring stability to their families—and they would pay an additional $5 billion dollars in taxes.”

Durbin continued, “It’s time for our Republican colleagues in Congress to set aside extremist rhetoric and come to work with us on solutions. But American families need solutions now.  That is why I led a letter with 18 of my colleagues to President Biden asking him to provide the spouses of U.S. citizens with a work permit.  It is only a temporary solution—ultimately Congress needs to act.  But it is essential that we do everything possible in the meantime to allow these families to live free of fear of deportation and stay together.”

“I’ve heard from employers across my district. They need workers, and they want to hire the ‘right way’. I’ve heard from my constituents who have been waiting for too long to get work permits,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García. “Our message to the President is clear. It’s past time we provide immigrants, who’ve already been doing the work and keeping our country running, with the work permits they deserve. Jobs not only create opportunities for immigrant families, but also bring stability to entire communities. We are stronger because of immigrants, not despite them. Expanding access to them is a matter of economic justice.”

U.S. Senators Durbin, Rosen, Warnock, Fetterman and 15 other senators recently sent a letter to President Biden asking him to “protect and unify American families” and “provide much needed relief for undocumented immigrants and the American businesses, families, and communities that rely upon them.” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson; Iris Ramos Jones, Director of the Nevada Office for New Americans (appointed by Gov. Lombardo); more than 80 Members of Congress; and hundreds of leaders representing U.S business, labor, local government, faith, civil rights and family voices have been calling for this commonsense policy change for years.

On April 5, U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the call to action. The proposal is legally sound, politically smart and requires only discreet updates to the existing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy manual to expand work permits to nuclear relatives of United States citizens.  

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we have 9.5 million job openings in the U.S., but only 6.5 million unemployed workers. Even if unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have nearly 2.4 million vacancies. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office attributes a $7 trillion increase to the national GDP to immigration. While mixed-status families already contribute billions in federal, state and local taxes, a FWD.US estimate finds that permitting undocumented spouses to work legally would increase their tax contributions by $5 billion

Immigrants make vital contributions to Illinois’ economy and communities. Key facts:

In addition to Illinois, the U.S. economy depends upon a foreign-born labor force to alleviate national labor shortages, reduce inflation and grow by $7 trillion more over the next decade.  Immigrants in the U.S. have a combined household income of $2.1 trillion and contribute $382.9 billion to federal taxes and $196.3 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with $1.6 trillion in spending power.