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There are nearly 11 million undocumented migrants in U.S. Advocates want Biden to protect them

Rights advocates are calling on President Joe Biden to expand protections for long-time undocumented immigrants who face uncertainty at work and at home, because of their status. 

There are nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, many of whom are longtime residents, like DACA recipients, spouses of U.S. citizens and caregivers. 

Josephine Kalipeni, executive director of the rights group Family Values at Work, says many immigrant workers lack access to healthcare, paid family leave and other job protections — despite paying taxes.

"Immigrants like me are doing critical work everyday that keeps this country’s economy going, and yet we’re being left out of the promise for prosperity and safety," she said. 

Kalipeni said President Biden could use his executive authority now — as he did at the border this week — to expand protections. 

Long-time undocumented immigrants with significant caregiving responsibilities in the U.S. can be granted protection from deportation by an immigration judge. But those cases can take years, and advocates argue they aren’t realistic for most people. They say Biden could streamline that process by giving Citizenship and Immigration Services employees the same authority. 

Ai-Jen Po, president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and executive director for the group Caring Across Generations, says immigrant women account for a large portion of the caregiving industry. 

But without legal status in the U.S., she says those workers are at risk. 

"Domestic care work is the part of our economy with the largest concentration of long-term undocumented workers. And the majority of domestic workers are also mothers and caregivers for their own families," she said. 

Advocates said finding long-term solutions to the immigration system would require legislation in Congress. But in the meantime, Biden could expand immigrant protections and provide citizenship pathways now through executive orders, like updating an existing caregiving law, extending Temporary Protected Status for eligible countries, and enacting parole authority.  

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.