The Immigrants Role in Today’s America
Samuel Pittman: GALEO Intern
July 26th, 2018
For decades, immigration reform has been a topic of discussion in America. This past month, President Bill Clinton held an event, A Conversation with President Bill Clinton, which served as a discussion forum concerning issues currently impacting communities and the political climate across the country.
During his discussion, the topic of immigration was discussed in depth. Clinton addressed growing concern over the handling of immigration policy in America. In addition, the former President offered words of encouragement. Clinton outlined the importance of immigrants in our communities. He referenced the role immigrants play in our workforce, the role immigrants play in keeping birth rates at a level that perpetuates a healthy and active workforce and accentuated the violence immigrants flee when facing the decision of whether or not to come to America.
The points in which the former President shed light on are relevant to understanding the debate surrounding immigration as a whole.
As the Trump administration has stirred up controversy over its Zero Tolerance Policy, the current climate only reemphasizes the importance immigrants and their families play in our communities.
David Nakamura, a columnist for the Washington Post writes that the debate surrounding immigration has not emerged out of the blue but rather been on our plate in relation to policy since President Reagan’s administration. Nakamura points out that the last major piece of immigration reform legislation was under President Reagan, known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Nakamura writes that “The Immigration Reform and Control Act put 2.7 million people on the path toward citizenship, marking the largest legalization program in U.S. history.” However, Nakamura goes on to say while the bill was a cornerstone of major progression, it was plagued with a multitude of loopholes and did not conquer issues such as a long-term plan for a pathway to citizenship or how to handle a guest worker program that was not sufficient enough to handle to influx of individuals wanting to enter the country and obtain work.
During President Clinton’s discussion held in Atlanta, he highlighted on the importance of this exact issue. He emphasized the importance of passing immigration reform, as he himself acknowledged that immigration reform has been long in coming and reaffirmed the importance this issue holds to communities all across the country. Without sound and modern-day immigration reform in place, the consequences immigrant families face is severe. In addition, we as a country do ourselves little favors to ourselves when we consistently target immigrant dominate sections of our workforce.
In addition, the former President took the issue a step further. He acknowledged that individuals coming to our border today come with little to nothing on their backs. In relation to immigration, President Clinton illustrated the narrative of both sides of the border. During the 1980’s, violence in Central America was ramped. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the areas of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make up the area known as the Northern Triangle. Rocio Cara Labrador and Danielle Renwick, both background research developers for the CFR, assert that “a region known as the Northern Triangle, [was] rocked by civil wars in the 1980s, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile institutions.” The CFR notes that the repercussions of civil unrest have consequently resulted in towns and communities fleeing their homes and migrating towards the U.S.
What we know about the civil unrest in Central America only supports Clinton’s claims that the repercussions of civil unrest have consequences that are unfolding every day at the U.S/Mexico border.
The former President also highlighted the immigrants’ role in our workforce. The role immigrants play in our communities and workforce cannot be understated. In a study conducted by the Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Giovanni Peri found that “immigrant workers, both newcomers and those already working in the United States, are more willing than natives to move in order to find jobs.” Fields such as agriculture, construction, and maintenance are jobs in which immigrants play a significant role in. However, Peri’s report also found that many immigrants also bring an educated skill set. In 2006, “immigrants founded 25 percent of new high-tech companies with more than $1 million in sales, generating income and employment for the whole country.”
The study conducted by the Berkeley’s Latin American Studies Department supports the claim that immigrants are beneficial to the American economy but also active contributors to a greater American society.
While President Clinton outlined an understanding towards the immigrant’s struggle, recognized the role immigrants play within our workforce, and addressed the growing cry for immigration reform, we have also seen a significant regress in achieving comprehensive immigration reform.
While the Clinton administration did not address immigration with a long-term fix, the points in which the former President addressed this past month in Atlanta ring relevant today.
His narrative speaks to the notion that we have been a country of inaction. While we have provided money to countries in Central America, we must remember that many countries in Central America have governments that are corrupt and do not seek to serve their people. We must remember that we as a country have not passed comprehensive immigration reform since the late 1980’s. We must remember the stories of those who arrive at the U.S./Mexico border with nothing on their backs. We must remember the stories of people such as Marco Antonio Muñoz, a father who crossed the border from Honduras, who committed suicide after suffering a mental breakdown as a result from being separated from his wife and child. We must remember the vital roles immigrants play in our workforce. We must remember that immigrants contribute and serve as active citizens within our society.
The role immigrants serve in America is one that is vital. From economic benefits to innovative businesses, and to the culture in which they bring to our country; America would not be America without the courageous stories in which immigrant families embody. Above all, we must remember that we are a nation of immigrants. It is now up to us to call on our state legislature and our federal government to cultivate policies that reflect our values of liberty.
Labrador, Rocio, and Danielle Renwick. “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 26 June 2018, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle.
Nakamura, David. “Why It Never Seems to Be the Right Time to Reform the Nation’s Immigration Laws.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Feb. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/for-more-than-25-years-its-never-been-the-right-time-for-immigration-reform/2014/02/15/90a4ff08-93f9-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dc5e49c753d4.
Giovanni Peri. “IMMIGRATION: The Economic Benefits of Immigration.” Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), 24 Sept. 2015, clas.berkeley.edu/research/immigration-economic-benefits-immigration.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only. It is not to be assumed that the opinions are those of GALEO or the GALEO Latino Community Development Fund. For the official position on any issue for GALEO, please contact Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO at firstname.lastname@example.org.