State treasurer, auditor among Latino officials asking Biden for work visas for immigrants

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Apr. 22—New Mexico State Treasurer Laura Montoya and State Auditor Joseph Maestas are among dozens of Latino elected officials calling on President Joe Biden to establish three new work permit programs for undocumented immigrants.

"As representatives of vibrant immigrant communities across the nation, we appreciate your recent efforts to provide work permits for newly arrived immigrants," states a letter to the president signed by 13 Democratic members of Congress, including New Mexico U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, and endorsed by 70 elected officials from California to Maryland.

"We hope you will consider our recommendations to continue supporting these deserving immigrant communities," states the letter, which is also addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ur Jaddou.

In all, four elected officials in New Mexico signed or endorsed the letter: Leger Fernández, Montoya, Maestas and state Rep. Cynthia Borrego, D-Albuquerque.

The letter urges the Biden administration to establish new work permit programs for the following groups:

* Undocumented spouses and immediate family of U.S. citizens by updating the military parole-in-place program for spouses and parents of military personnel. The program "allows a foreign national who came into the United States without authorization by an immigration officer to stay for a certain period of time," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

* The estimated 600,000 so-called Dreamers under 18 years old who do not qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

* Long-term workers who have paid taxes for years but have been denied a path to legal status.

"We commend your use of executive authority to expand work permit access for recent arrivals from various countries," the letter states. "However, we believe it's time to extend this dignity to America's longer-term communities, who have waited for relief for decades."

Maestas called work permits an important element of immigration reform.

"In the past, Congress has been dealing with it in a piecemeal fashion, and it's literally impossible in this political climate to expect Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform," he said. "So, the default approach would be pursuing important elements like work permits."

Maestas said "it's no secret" undocumented immigrants are working without work permits across the nation but are living in the shadows.

"This could really address a lot of negative perceptions with regard to immigrants, like they don't pay taxes," he said. "If they come out of the shadows without protections, they face risks of deportation. But if we incorporate them into the system, they'll ... be among all of us contributing to our local economy because I think it's no secret that immigrants do contribute to our economy in a positive manner."

In a news release, Montoya said "extending economic opportunities to long-term undocumented immigrants through" work permit programs "can restore their dignity while officially recognizing their belonging in the communities in which they live and work."

"Immigrants are long-term contributors to our country that work hard, pay taxes, and add strength to our economy," she said in a statement. "As the first elected Latina state treasurer, I will always advocate for our immigrant communities to have the opportunity to live the American Dream."

In an interview, Montoya said there are both financial and social benefits to work permits for undocumented immigrants, who are sometimes "super stressed out" because they don't have work permits.

"It's a struggle that I think needs to be addressed, and it's a simple fix — and it's a group of people that have been forgotten that have been building our economy and been a part of our communities for a really long time," she said.

Montoya and Maestas both disputed critics' assertions that establishing new work permit programs would encourage illegal immigration.

"I think people forget that this economy and this country was built on the backs of immigrants, and it still is today," Montoya said. "They're not taking anybody's jobs. They're working at jobs that are really important for us to build our economy. ... I think people need to look at things more holistically."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.