Archive for the ‘social services’ tag
Prior to attending his Thought Leaders talk, I looked up Frank Sharry online. Anti-immigration reform pundits take great delight in characterizing Sharry as a fanatical supporter of immigration amnesty—all at the expense of American families, jobs and culture! Sharry is Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, a long time advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. After my internet research, I was curious. What would Frank Sharry be like? Could he really be the crazy misguided man some people believe? On Tuesday, April 21, at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, I heard Sharry make his case.
From the moment Sharry stepped onto the stage in his no-nonsense, pin-striped suit, until he stopped talking because he was “tired of listening to his own voice,” he outlined his position for comprehensive immigration reform with conviction and humor. He’s done a lot of research, and he’s been thinking and advocating about these issues for a long time. Sharry knows immigration reform is a hotly debated issue—in other cities he’s had people yell at him while he tried to speak. He’s not above laughing at himself or sharing the irony of the immigration predicament that faces us. For example, Sharry told the story of how early in his career, he stood in front of a large crowd and announced that he was there to talk about immigration reform. From all over the room, people started shouting, “I’m tired of immigrants, send them back!” This continued for a few minutes and Sharry said he looked for somewhere to run and hide. All of a sudden someone shouted for everyone to be quiet, and her voice rose above the din, “I’m Native American, and as far as I’m concerned YOU’RE ALL ILLEGAL!”
The fact is, the United States has a broken immigration system—where an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live and work. During the last 40 years, the number of immigrants coming to the US has risen. Half of all immigrants are here illegally. While they represent global countries of origin, 80% came from Latin American countries, and 37% from Mexico. This means that 1 in every 20 workers in the United States is undocumented. Although these workers are a big part of our economy, the United States does not grant enough work visas in proportion to the demand on the US side of the border.It should be noted that the downturn in our economy has put us at a current point of net zero increase in immigration since many workers unable to find work have returned and fewer are coming. As our economy recovers this will change again. Some Americans believe these “illegal” people should be rounded up and returned to their countries of origin. This may seem like an easy solution, if we let a minority convince us that these immigrants are all thugs and criminals, or if it was actually possible. Other voices, like Frank Sharry’s, offer a more nuanced response to the reality of twentieth century immigration to the United States.
In the last election, the majority of Americans voted to let our representatives and politicians know that we want them to do their jobs. We want them to stop arguing, and take care of business. We want a solution to the problem, not arguments that ask us to consider some people as less than human. Here’s Sharry’s plan to address the reality of our predicament:
1. Smart and professional border enforcement. Building walls does not work. For every wall that’s built, a ladder can be made taller. To actually round up existing undocumented immigrants and deport them would probably take the next 80 years, while more keep coming. To effectively police the border with human security officers would involve massive resources—the US/Mexican border is the most frequently crossed international border in the world It’s 1,969 miles long with about 250 million legal crossings every year. Sharry’s solution is to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers and exploit them. Desperate people will continue to take risks for possible jobs, even jobs that exploit them and pay them less than American workers need. He argues that it’s at this point of contact that we can better control the chaos of our patchwork immigration law. If we are a nation that values the rule of law, we can use our laws to enforce fairness. We don’t have to terrorize human beings or make exceptions for Americans who illegally benefit from the situation. Shouldn’t Americans who employ undocumented workers also follow the law or be legally prosecuted?
2. A controlled increase in legal visas for the future flow of needed workers and close family members. More visas would give immigrants the opportunity to come legally. Because of limited visas, currently there is no legal line to stand in, which forces desperate families to often come illegally. Sharry points out that many undocumented workers pay federal taxes in the United States, and when polled, say they want to participate as citizens. The US has amassed approximately $500 billion in Social Security contributions that are not linked to authentic Social Security numbers. Sharry added that in areas most impacted by immigrant influx, some of this money collected from immigrants could be used to help communities and states (like Colorado) fund social services, health care and education.
3. An earned citizenship program that requires those here illegally to get on the right side of the law by passing background checks, studying English, paying taxes, and getting to the back of the citizenship line. It’s important to understand who we are talking about here, and this is Sharry’s point that really affects my understanding of why we need immigration reform. About half of all undocumented workers have children, and 73% of undocumented immigrants have children who were born in the United States and are US citizens. When immigration officials round up “illegal aliens,” they deport parents (often one parent is a US citizen) and
devastate families. A third of these children and a fifth of adult unauthorized immigrants live in poverty. This is nearly double the poverty rate for children of U.S.-born parents or U.S.-born adults. Between 1997 and 2007 the parents of 100,000 American citizens were deported. Arrested parents face the agonizing decision of whether to take their children with them or leave them behind in the United States, sometimes only a few miles across the border, but where they can never be together physically. Can you imagine trying to raise your teenage children from the other side of a fence? These families are our neighbors. Neighbors, whose members disproportionately cut our grass, build our buildings, make our hotel beds, landscape our yards, process our food, wash our dishes, and still pick our vegetables.
In summary, Sharry doesn’t argue that immigration reform will fix everything. Over time, we’ll have to address efforts to reduce migration pressures in countries like Mexico where daily life can be extremely harsh. But we can live up to our founding ideals as a nation if we reform immigration law instead of resorting to fear and terror by hunting down human beings. Don’t we value parents who do what they can to make a better life for their children? To me, Frank Sharry provides common sense solutions to immigration issues that I can live with. Solutions that put families first and don’t force me to value my family more than one that lives next door, or some miles across a line drawn on a map! What do you think?
There are events all over the city that celebrate our enormous human family, our different perspectives, ask us to think, and give us the opportunity to meet each other! I hope you are participating in this thought provoking month of programs in Fort Collins that focus on immigrants and immigration. On Sunday, I’m taking my daughter to hear Dan Zanes & Friends, to hear about his neighborhood. Many of our neighborhood restaurants have food specials for the day — check out Austins American Grill where kids eat free with purchase of an adult entree; Backcountry Provisions, Eliot’s Mess, La Luz Mexican Grill or Enzio’s where you get 10% off your entire order; Coopersmith’s where you get one free kid’s drink with a kid’s meal; and for dessert, try Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream where you can get 10% off adult cup or cone with the purchase of kids cup or cone or Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream where when you buy one ice cream, you get one free or 10% off your purchase. Sounds like some serious family fun! Remember to check out beetstreet.org. for more information!
Home isn’t only where it used to be!