More on Labor Day 2006
Immigrants of all kinds work hard, deserve respect
By Jon Pedigo (Mercury News - 9/7/06)
In our daily work with immigrants through legal services, social services, education, health care and pastoral care, we see too many immigrant workers who labor without sufficient rights or protections while the children and families they seek to feed and protect become the primary scapegoats of the broken immigration system.
We understand the fundamental reasons why people leave their country of origin -- survival, safety, freedom, work and hope for a better life for their families.
Yet the inherent dignity of migrants, regardless of their immigration status, is not respected. We see the degradation of immigrants through the daily border deaths, divided families, and decadelong waits for legal residency and citizenship -- like the Filipino veteran of World War II who is still waiting after 20 years for the federal government to let his family join him in America, or the woman from El Salvador, still seeking asylum after 13 years, who saw her family killed and raped in front of her.
We also see the devastation wrought on families living in the shadows: isolation, low literacy levels, low wages, domestic abuse, lack of access to health care, substandard housing and poverty.
Yet these same immigrants work hard, pay taxes, fill needed jobs and help create jobs. During the 1990s, half of all new workers were foreign-born, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses and contribute to a thriving economy.
As Alan Greenspan pointed out, 70 percent of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we haven't spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our Social Security system over the next 20 years.
Because of our firsthand experience of these hardworking immigrants and because of our daily assistance to families at the mercy of complex, punitive and bureaucratic federal regulations, it is natural for us to call for a more rational, humane and comprehensive immigration reform plan. Neither the House nor the Senate has proposed adequate legislation.
We call for a more comprehensive approach that will provide effective means for earned legalization, citizenship and naturalization, border security, worker protections, due process and family reunification. Only a bill that addresses all the broken aspects of our immigration system will begin to turn what is perceived as a crisis into an opportunity for America.
At the same time, legislation is only one part of the solution. We need our hearts and minds converted, to welcome the stranger who brings us the bounty of the harvest, who prepares the feast at the table, who cares for our children and our parents, and who builds the houses that shelter us. We are saddened that too many forget our common American heritage as immigrants. Past immigrants, with or without papers, came and made America stronger, just as the immigrants today are making America stronger.
Let us remember and tell each other the stories of our own immigrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who came to America fleeing oppression and poverty and seeking freedom and the opportunity to work. We cannot let this issue disintegrate into polarization, partisanship or legislative paralysis. Let us bring the undocumented workers out of the shadows and provide an avenue for accountable legal presence. Let us labor now to welcome them as our co-workers and neighbors.