By Dora Muhammad, Congregation Engagement Director, Health Equity Program Manager

More than 100 people participated in our Day of All People listening session held Jan. 21st with immigrant leaders of LA RED (Liberation, Action, Respect, Equity, Dignity), a campaign of Faith in Action, one of our national advocacy partners.  Last week, campaign managers delivered its essential workers letter to U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders.  The letter calls for a provision to be added to the second COVID Relief Bill that would grant work authorization and a pathway to citizenship for the 5 million essential workers who are undocumented.

Signed by more than 1,600 clergy and faith leaders, the letter stressed the injustice of the exclusion of immigrant essential workers from health insurance, unemployment relief, and federal stimulus.  It read, in part, “Workers in meatpacking, agriculture, warehouse and delivery services, cleaning services, health care, childcare, public transit and other industries have provided the basics needed to sustain families and communities across the United States. Workers in these roles during the pandemic have exposed themselves and their loved ones to Covid-19 and have disproportionately experienced illnesses and deaths wrought by the coronavirus.  The risks they have borne and the contributions to the common good they have made have yet to be fully acknowledged by our society.”

These words hauntingly resonate the experiences of Blacks who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War while Jim Crow segregation was still the law of the land.  Disproportionately sent to the front lines, they were denied support by Veterans Affairs when they returned from war.  Black veterans faced isolation and exclusion at home after their bodies and lives endured the burdens of war abroad.  This is trauma.

Undocumented essential workers during the COVID pandemic are experiencing similar trauma.  The inclusion of this provision should not be determined by political calculations.  It is a health and justice intervention.  It will become an immediate benchmark of health equity.

VICPP’s advocacy push for health and safety protections for essential workers at the start of the pandemic led to Virginia becoming the first state in the nation to set a robust standard.  Virginia should continue leading in the fight for essential workers but surprisingly Representative Gerry Connolly is the only Virginia Congressional lawmaker to publicly express support of this provision.  He signed onto a letter from 100 House legislators to Senator Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi submitted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

In a few weeks after the Virginia General Assembly concludes its current session, we will pivot our membership to support this campaign.  We must advocate to make its slogan #WeAreHome a reality for undocumented essential workers.