House Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic to make the case that farmworkers and other essential workers who are undocumented should get legal status.

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, told the House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday that the next Congress should use an economic stimulus bill to provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers. Those workers "will be essential to rebuilding our economy,” he said.

A young California farmworker, DACA recipient and college student, Vincente Reyes (above), told the lawmakers that undocumented workers are reluctant to speak up about dangerous job conditions for fear of being deported. “We are exposed to extreme heat, pesticides, to the risk of getting COVID-19. More recently, to the wildfires, and air that's unhealthy to breathe.”

Reyes said the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would legalize undocumented ag workers, would allow him to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer for NASA.

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Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., expressed astonishment that Democrats were pushing for legalization of undocumented workers during a pandemic and time of widespread unemployment: “How tone deaf can you be?”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., opened the hearing saying that ag work “is more dangerous than ever. Many farmworkers must now quickly harvest at-risk crops in areas where the air is filled with ash and smoke.”