An estimated 40,000 health care workers with DACA or TPS status risked their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic but don't have the certainty of permanent residency in the U.S. and could still be deported, Padilla said.
“These immigrants have put their own health and their family's health on the line to keep America running,” he added.
Two immigrants who have cared for COVID-19 patients testified at the hearing: Rony Ponthieux, a TPS holder who works as a nurse in Miami and is the father of a U.S.-born son in the Army; and Manuel Bernal Mejia, a DACA recipient who is an emergency room physician in Chicago.
“I'm honored to serve my community during this pandemic and to help save lives when our country has collectively experienced great loss, even as I face my own uncertain future,” said Bernal Mejia, who grew up in Tennessee. “And while it is true that most Dreamers are not doctors, we all contribute to this country in our own special way. America is our home.”
The Judiciary Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the American Dream and Promise Act yet, an aide to Padilla said.
Congress created TPS in 1990 to provide relief to immigrants in the U.S. who could not return safely to their home countries because of natural disasters, armed conflict or other conditions.
DACA recipients must apply to renew their permits to live and work in the U.S. every two years, while TPS permits typically last six to 18 months, before the Department of Homeland Security decides whether to extend them. Immigrants from El Salvador and Nicaragua have been eligible for TPS more than 15 years.
The Trump administration took multiple steps to terminate DACA, as well as TPS for most holders, but was halted by the courts. A case challenging DACA's legality is still pending in a Texas district court, injecting more uncertainty into the future of current recipients.
Over the last 20 years, several versions of the DREAM Act failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate. Meanwhile, public support for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children has grown, with about three-quarters of Americans in favor of granting permanent legal status to Dreamers, according to the Pew Research Center.
At Tuesday's three-hour hearing, some Republican senators expressed sympathy, especially for DACA holders, but seemed unwilling to move forward on a deal without beefing up border security measures and narrowing the scope of who would be eligible for legalization.