Highlighting that American communities would “grind to a standstill” without the labor of undocumented immigrants, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso is encouraging Congress to create more avenues to legal employment authorization for those with pending asylum claims.

“Without their contributions, American communities would grind to a standstill,” Seitz said in an April 15 statement. “Not only are they working in some of the most arduous conditions but frequently with limited legal protections, and they are more susceptible to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.”

Seitz, who is the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, noted that not only do undocumented workers have limited legal protections, but they are also more susceptible to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

There are at least 8.8 million undocumented immigrants currently in the labor force, according to data presented in a federal testimony on September 13, 2023, by Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Migration Studies.

Many of the top ten occupations where illegal immigrants are the largest share are manual labor jobs – plasterers, dry wall and ceiling tile installers, roofers, construction workers, among them, according to the testimony data. The top ten occupations with the largest number of illegal immigrants, meanwhile, includes maids and housekeepers, cooks, construction laborers, agricultural workers and grounds maintenance workers, the data shows.

Seitz noted the risks many undocumented workers take at work.

“Sadly, the risks faced by many immigrant workers were recently underscored by the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse, in which six immigrant workers tragically lost their lives,” Seitz said.

Seitz also sent a letter to Congress last week expressing support for further access to legal employment authorization for those with pending asylum claims – a number that the federal government estimates is more than two million people and growing given the backlogs that exist.

In the letter, Seitz noted the fiscal impact undocumented workers have on American society. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that refugees and asylees have made a net fiscal impact of $123.8 billion to the American economy at both the federal and state levels over a fifteen-year period.

In the statement, Seitz said the Church remains committed to securing rights for undocumented workers and made the case that society as a whole should be, as well.

“As a society, we judge ourselves – and will be judged – by our treatment of those who are least empowered to advocate for themselves because of social, economic, and political obstacles,” Seitz said.

“The Church remains committed to securing rights and justice for those who labor humbly in the shadows, and we urge leaders to undertake much-needed reforms that recognize their essential contributions,” Seitz added.