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Photo courtesy of Rep. Grace Meng's office

As immigrants — many of whom are serving as essential workers — help to combat the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, a Queens lawmaker is introducing new legislation seeking to extend their work permits. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng’s legislation, the COVID-19 Employment Authorization Document Extension Act, would automatically extend the length of all work permits by one year, beginning from the date that the coronavirus public health emergency declaration is lifted. 

The measure would also be retroactive, applying to work permits that were valid at the time of the emergency declaration but were expired before the enactment of this bill. 

“Everyone is playing a role to help combat the novel coronavirus and that includes essential employees who are working tirelessly each and every day to provide the critical services we need and depend on,” Meng said. “Many of these workers are immigrants who are transit employees, grocery store employees, health care workers, and so many other unsung heroes. The contributions and sacrifices that they are making are critical to saving lives and fighting this outbreak.” 

Pabitra Khati Benjamin, executive director of Adhikaar, a worker and community center in Queens fighting for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders since 2015, said the coronavirus crisis has drastically impacted the working-class Nepali-speaking community in Queens and low-wage workers in other parts of the country. 

“The COVID-19 Employment Authorization Document Extension Act would bring much-needed relief to the 15,000 Nepali TPS holders in the country,” Benjamin said. 

The legislation would also greatly benefit others in the community waiting for their asylum cases to be processed or are up for renewal during this time period, according to Benjamin. 

“These immigrants are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight right now and they live and work as essential workers in the epicenter of this crisis,” Benjamin said. “A valid EAD at this moment, more than ever, is vital to the survival of these communities. They must be protected.” 

Meanwhile, Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said the Trump’s administration’s attacks on immigrant women — their ability to work, access to health care, including reproductive health care, unification with their families — have been relentless. 

Immigrant women are working on the frontlines of this crisis at enormous personal sacrifice,” Choimorrow said. “Work authorization is essential to immigrants’ economic stability and allows them to make critical decisions about their lives — the right to work is fundamental and goes to the heart of agency and self-determination.”

Diego Iñiguez-López, policy and campaigns manager of the National Partnership for New Americans, said the coronavirus pandemic has confirmed how workers of various immigration statuses are essential to the country’s health and future, including those whose work authorization will soon expire.

“The COVID-19 Employment Authorization Document Extension Act moves us toward recognizing all workers on the frontlines, regardless of their immigration status, and affirms our interdependency,” Iñiguez-López said.

Meng’s legislation is endorsed by New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC); Adhikaar; National Partnership for New Americans; UnidosUS; Allianza Americas; National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF); OneAmerica; One Nation; and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

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