WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Democrats say Congress should create a path to citizenship for immigrant farm workers who stayed on the job during the pandemic.

“More than 7,000 farm workers died of COVID-19,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, said. “Despite this essential work, they are at risk of being separated from their family. … It is an embarrassment to this great nation that we allow this injustice to continue.”

A bill before Congress would streamline the visa process, improve housing opportunities and open the door to citizenship for immigrant farm workers “after a payment of a fine, taxes and making sure they can pass a criminal background check,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explained.

Senate Democrats held a special hearing on the bill Wednesday, with Vilsack testifying that the move would help farmers dealing with labor shortages.

“Fix this broken system,” Vilsack called on Congress.

Republicans say the bill is shortsighted.

“As we saw in the aftermath of the 1986 amnesty bill, many agriculture workers who received legal status ultimately left the agricultural sector,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “Employers then turned to a new pool of undocumented immigrant workers.”

Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says nothing can be doing before the border is secured.

“You don’t give amnesty and hope people won’t keep coming,” he said. “You secure the border, then you provide legal status.”

Democrats say that without Republican support, they will try to include a path to citizenship inside their proposed $3.5 trillion family and jobs plan.