Immigrants and new Americans made up a large portion of essential workers during the pandemic, and Tennessee immigrant advocates joined a nationwide effort urging Congress to create an easier path to citizenship.
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) held a rally Tuesday night to call on representatives and senators to promote the interests of thousands of immigrants on a federal level.
The rally was a part of the nationwide movement, March to Victory: Relay Across America, seeking permanent protections and paths to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Approximately 7,000 DACA recipeints live in Tennessee, and undocumented workers comprised 3% of Tennessee’s workforce in 2016.
TIRRC spokesperson Judith Clerjeune noted that President Joe Biden’s election and Democrats gaining seats in the House and Senate have created a scenario where immigrant-rights activists are more hopeful than they’ve been in years that meaningful legislation will pass, but major obstacles still exist.
Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a possible filibuster, which is why activists are hoping to gain support from Republican lawmakers, adding that Tennessee Republicans need to represent the interests of all Tennesseans.
“This is beyond a partisan issue, this is for the people,” said Clerjeune.
At the rally, immigrant activists spoke of their experiences as essential workers, noting that they represented an important part of the economy but were barred from federal aid, such as the CARES Act. Local governments distributed CARES Act funds to residents and could decide whether or not to require a social security number.
Arturo Salomon Reyes, a Murfreesboro resident who came from Veracruz as a child, said he and his elderly parents continued to work in manual labor despite the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“The fear of being infected did not stop those who kept this country afloat,” said Salomon.
He and his parents have worn the title of essential workers as a badge of pride, but Salomon now calls on Congress to return the favor by allowing him to finally become a citizen after decades of living in the U.S.
“We are here to stay because this country is our home, and from here we will not go,” he added.
Activists are also calling on Rep. Jim Cooper to push immigrant relief and to condemn anti-immigrant legislation promoted by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who has opposed sanctuary cities.
“It is our moral duty as a country to take care of people, to make sure they have what they need, including a path to citizenship,” said Clerjeune.
TIRRC will host another rally in Memphis on Thursday.