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WASHINGTON – Following last night’s State of the Union address, business, labor, faith, and family leaders called on President Biden to extend work permits to long-term immigrants in the United States. Watch the recording and see the following quotes.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (IL-3), said “As Members of Congress, we will not forget where we came from. We will never forget that we’re children of immigrants.. It is our responsibility to continue to move the Biden administration forward until he does what is right, and has the political courage to grant expansive work permits to mixed status families. For Elvira, for Maximiliano Guerra, my uncle, and for every single person that has been waiting anxiously while working their butts off every single day in this country. It is damn time we have work permits for all.”

Said Al Cardenas, CEO, VITAL Salud; Board of Directors Coral Gables Trust and Co-Chairman of the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), “We haven’t passed immigration reform in America in over forty years. It’s unconscionable and irresponsible. ABIC has visited with Members of Congress, from both parties. We’ve been to the White House. We hoped Congress would do something it hasn’t done in 40 years. But now we find ourselves in a situation where they haven’t done it. The Speaker has pledged to not bring the matter up for a vote, which in our opinion is not keeping with the democratic traditions of our country. And so we have no choice but to knock on the door with White House again and say, Mr. President, I know you’ve waited three years. Congress has not acted. Your term is almost over. We need you to take every possible executive action you legally make to provide work permits to undocumented people contributing to this nation.”

Rocio Saenz, Executive Vice President, SEIU, spoke about Mayra Mendez, a member of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and American Families United. “As a health care worker, Mayra  does everything possible to keep California families safe and together. But unfortunately, she can’t guarantee the same for her own family because of our outdated and inhumane immigration policies. Mayra is a US citizen. She lives in fear that one day her family will be torn apart. But she and her family belong here. America is their home. That’s why we urge President Biden to do everything in his power to keep families like Mayra’s together and provide them a legal path towards US citizenship. We also urge the Biden administration to grant temporary protected status TPS for countries that qualify for it.”

“American farmers and ranchers produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world. But, unless we fix the labor crisis, we will see more crops rotting in the field, livestock operations unable to grow and more of our food production moving overseas,” said Matt Teagarden, CEO of the Kansas Livestock Association. “Farmers and ranchers need workers now. I urge you, President Biden – use your administrative authority to grant work permits to long-term immigrants.” 

Lisa Winton, CEO, Winton Machine Company (Suwanee, GA) talked about her experience creating jobs and building this country. “As a manufacturer, we are grateful for our diverse workforce. My husband Jordan and I would never be in the position we’re in right now if we did not have that diverse workforce. But I’ve had open jobs for machinists for months and months now and I can’t find the workforce here. We need these extended work permits to fill these jobs.”

Katrina Jabbi, the US citizen spouse to a long-term immigrant from Wisconsin, shared her family’s experience as well. “My husband came here on a B-2 visa. He obtained a social security number and worked as a truck driver for almost 20 years, driving freight across the country. He paid taxes. We worked tirelessly to obtain legal status for him. But he was taken into ICE custody and deported away from our family in 2018. I felt as if I was grieving the death of a loved one. I was pregnant with our third child. When our son was born, I made the decision to exile to Gambia for our family to be reunited. But during the pandemic, we found out that our son has a medical condition that needed to be addressed in the US, with better health care that what we had in West Africa. Since COVID, my children and I have been living here, separated from my husband, who still is in The Gambia on a 10 year ban from the US.” 

Ashley De Azevedo, President of American Families United, pointed out that President Biden himself made a commitment to families like Katrina’s during the State of the Union last night. “‘I will not separate families.’ That’s what President Biden said last night. Those may just be five words to some people, but to me and others at American Families United, they are a commitment to our families and our futures. Now, President Biden has to act on that promise. He must use his executive authority to extend relief to the undocumented spouses of US citizens.”

Allyson, a US citizen spouse to a long-term immigrant in Pennsylvania, contributed her experience. “When I started fighting for my family and families like mine, my kids were in strollers. Now they’re adults wanting to start their lives as contributing US citizens, but their father’s status remains an obstacle to their goals and they can’t live in peace knowing what is at stake. I deserve to be present with my husband, the father of our adult children and future grandchildren to enjoy the next phase of our lives peacefully, without this constant fear of deportation looming over our family. If this warrants another 20 years of advocacy for me, I will be 72 years old and I fear resolution may come too late from my family. President Biden, please help us.”

Andrés Rizo, an Organizer with Pilsen Neighbors in Chicago, continued, “I have been living undocumented for the past 17 years, since I arrived in the US at the age of seven. Unfortunately, I was found ineligible for DACA because I entered just six months past the 2007 deadline. Since then I have been surviving in the US any way I could. For years I’ve had to watch from the sidelines as my friends began to drive, get their first jobs, apply to universities. Land internships. Start their careers. For years I had been falsely led to believe that this American Dream was open to everyone. But as the years passed, I knew I was being held back by something out of my control. It’s something that could be resolved by a simple stroke of a pen. 

“So I have devoted myself and my career to advocating for immigrant rights, first as an immigration paralegal and now as an organizer. I volunteer at the TPS and EAD workshops helping new immigrants apply for their word permits, many through parole. And it is very difficult because I know that I cannot get those same work permits that I’m helping other people apply for. I have not seen my father for the last couple of years and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see him again. So I urge President Biden not only to give me the ability to work, but also to grant me parole so I can see my father again.”

Added Sam Sanchez, National Restaurant Association Board Member, Founder & CEO, Samco Enterprises and Third Coast Hospitality, “President Biden, we’re urging you to please pass 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.”

Sergio Suarez, President, North American Institute for Mexican Advancement (NAIMA) added, “President Biden should afford the same dignity of work permits for these long-time members of society as have been granted to new immigrants.”

Pastor Tim Perea, New Life Faith Center (El Paso, TX), added, “When SB 4 was about to kick in, there was a scare within the community, especially in the state of Texas. We have faith leaders, we have people representing agriculture, different types of backgrounds, standing here. We need to extend work permits and I urge President Biden to do so. Blessings to all.”

As American Families United’s Azevedo further explained, “The system doesn’t work like it does in the movies. You do not marry an American citizen and automatically get a green card. There are laws in place that make it impossible for many. We have members whose spouses were already deported, or who left the country due to the current laws and are now stuck, trying to find a path back. We are here to let President Biden know the State of OUR Unions is tired, frustrated, and left out, but we are not giving up! Together we will continue fighting for our families until he corrects this injustice.” 

Nearly every industry in the United States is suffering from worker shortages, while American families also face uncertain futures due to a loved one’s uncertain immigration status. As of December 2023, there were 9.5M job openings in the US but only 6.5 million people looking for work. If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have more than 3 million jobs open. Extending work permits to long-term immigrant contributors, including the spouses of US citizens, farm workers, and Dreamers without DACA can fill critical labor shortages, strengthens American businesses, families, communities and the nation. 

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have used their statutory authority to grant work permits for immigrants and strengthen the economy. This proposal is politically popular, backed by decades of legal precedent, 300+ employers and associations; 80+ Members of Congress; labor and immigrant advocates; and the right thing to do. Work permits and legal status alone for spouses of US citizens will generate an additional 16 billion in new tax revenue. A recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that immigration makes America rich — by $7 trillion. In a new Wall Street Journal poll, 59% of voters expressed support for bipartisan border security measures, while an even larger percentage — 74% — supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US.