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Six Reasons to Welcome Immigrants

March 5, 2014

Six Reasons to Welcome Immigrants

As some of you know—and some of you don’t—I spent three years working with both documented and undocumented immigrants; first, in Philadelphia, PA, where I cofounded the Brazilian Organization for Social Services, and second, in Framingham, MA, where I served as an intern for the Department of Community and Economic Development in a town with one of the highest concentrations of Brazilian immigrants in the nation. Naturally, I spent much of my time assisting Brazilians but also collaborated with agencies and nonprofits that supported immigrants from around the world.  I (gasp) also dated an undocumented immigrant for two years.

While immersed in the world of immigrants and immigration law, I developed a deep respect for immigrants and a deep disdain for current immigration policy. Most important, I learned a great deal about the truth of this subaltern world of which many Americans are largely ignorant.

Few things anger me more than the rhetoric I hear used against immigrants and “illegals” living and working in the United States. Below are six reasons why it upsets me so and why, rather than resent immigrants, I feel we should welcome and applaud them and ease our immigration policies so that it is easier for them to work and live here.

Reason #6

Unless you are of Native American heritage, your descendants are immigrants. Your ancestors came here for the same reasons that current immigrants come here: to build a better life for themselves and a better future for their children.

Reason #5

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants do not steal jobs from American citizens. Many take jobs that American citizens shun such as picking produce while others take jobs that American citizens leave vacant through their laziness and unreliability. In Philadelphia, the chamber of commerce regularly supported the actions of the various immigrant organizations in the city because its businesses preferred to hire immigrants over American citizens, who were notorious for missing work, arriving late, and quitting without notice.

Reason #4

Building off of #4 and #5 above, immigrants, far from threatening to destroy our national culture and values (if our nation could even be said to have a single culture or set of values), promise to strengthen the values of hard work, family, and community that our nation is supposedly built upon. Anyone willing to undergo the hardship of crossing an inhospitable frontier (literally and figuratively) and to work upwards of 60 hours per week for the sake of their future and family is the sort of person many Americans could use as neighbors and role models, such as those Americans whose work ethic has become so poor that businesses would prefer to hire immigrants in their stead, even despite the risk of being caught employing undocumented workers.

Reason #3

Spanish will not take over English as the national language if we allow more immigrants (a majority of whom are Spanish speaking) into our country legally. English has survived hundreds of years of influx from all corners of the globe and was never threatened. There are indeed enclaves of non-English speakers in our nation, but in my experience, no one living in these enclaves expects Americans to know or learn their language. To the contrary, they make arrangements for English-speaking family members to conduct transactions on their behalf, while those without family learn the English they need to conduct basic transactions on their own. Even if it became prudent for American citizens to learn more than one language, it would be a boon to our nation rather than a threat; a large body of research shows that people who speak more than one language score higher on intelligence tests of all sorts and are better able to multitask. The need to communicate across languages also creates additional jobs in the service sector for those with dual-language capabilities. The United States is one of the few nations in the world where the average citizen speaks only a single language.

Reason #2

Our population is aging and there are not enough young people to fill the upcoming vacancies in the medical and home health care professions, let alone enough tax payers to keep social security solvent. We need additional workers to keep our economy functioning, and we could use more legal, naturalized workers to pay into our social security system as well as workers’ comp, medicare, etc.

Reason #1

Immigrants are not going to go away. Research has shown that tightened border security and increased restrictions on immigration do not discourage immigrants from coming to our country—to the contrary, tightened border security has actually encouraged immigrants to stay longer in our country than they otherwise would because the risk of crossing is so high that they do not want to risk the journey again, so they stay longer to make and save as much money as possible before returning home (my own experience with immigrants validates this research). Also, seasonal workers who used to cross the border for, say, the picking season but returned south for the winter instead now stay year round, again because the border has become increasingly difficult (and expensive) to cross. Tighter border security benefits bandits such as coyotes (ruthless guides who bring undocumented workers across the border) and drug dealers because it increases the prices they can charge for their services while punishing the honest, hard working people simply trying to come and make a living.

After nearly a decade of stalled talks and legislation, it is time to pass immigration reform that makes it easier for immigrants to live and work in our nation legally. As American citizens, we should support our legislators in this endeavor rather than attack them for sharing the spoils of American wealth, for a large portion of that wealth stems from the very immigrants we have scapegoated for so long.

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