You Don’t Have to Put Out the Welcome Mat For Immigrants, But Give Them a Doorbell to Ring

>>Farm workersI find it ironic that immigration has become a dirty little word over the last couple days in a country to which most everyone immigrated at one point or another. My mother’s family came over from Eastern Europe around 1906 and, like so many, worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania to make a living.

Whether we know exactly when our family came to this country or not, I think we’re all a little hypocritical to criticize our country’s undocumented workers. Immigrants fill a vacancy in our workforce that many Americans aren’t willing fill. It’s backbreaking and often dangerous work in our fields.

North Carolina’s policies force undocumented immigrants to live in the shadows with no path to citizenship, and the threat of deportation forever looming over them like some big bad wolf. Families are being torn apart. Children are being thrown into foster care while their parents are deported. Despite these obstacles, many undocumented workers are managing to make a living in our country, support their families, and in some cases employ other people in need of a job.

So if the humanity of what I’m saying doesn’t get you – let’s look at it from a practical standpoint: North Carolina’s economic wheel of progress couldn’t turn without undocumented workers.

According to the Pew Research Center, >>undocumented workers are on the rise in North Carolina and the neighboring state of Georgia – largely because our economy is doing better than other states like California. There are as many as 400,000 undocumented workers in NC — and before you go on about the “drain” they place on our economy, consider what they add. They pay an estimated $288 million in taxes each year. We need them to support agriculture in our state. According to Legal Aid of NC, undocumented workers make up more than half of our agricultural workforce and each worker contributes more than $12,000 in profits annually to the state’s agricultural economy.

And if you still want to shout “Go home!”, consider the disproportionate impact our current immigration system is having on women. Women now make up more than half of refugee arrivals to the U.S. Once here, these woman are ready to work and make a life. According to the Center for American Progress, >>immigrant women – documented and undocumented – start businesses at higher rates than American-born women.

Undocumented workers don’t always get a very friendly welcome. One study by Domestic Workers United found that 33% of domestic workers in New York – many of them immigrants – have experienced some form of physical or verbal abuse. This is while they’re having difficulty securing health care. >>Legal immigrants, including children, who have resided in the U.S. for five years or less are barred from using federal Medicaid for even preventive health services such as prenatal care.

Do I think we should open up the floodgates and let everyone pour in? No, but there needs to be a mechanism for them to attain citizenship. Obama’s temporary fix doesn’t really do that, but it does buy some time for Congress to get its act together. Let’s hope it does just that.

And speaking of that: stay off the “Obama-is-a-dictator” bandwagon. American Presidents have utilized their executive order privilege 39 times over the last 60 years. President Obama waited six years for Congress to pass immigration reform. When congress failed to take action, the President had the balls to do something about it – even if it’s just a temporary fix. It’s something President George W. Bush wanted to do too, but didn’t.

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