Sunday, October 23, 2011


As election year campaigns ramp up again, we are already hearing the mounting attacks against the immigrant peoples living in our midst. In our rush to find scapegoats for all that ails our country we so quickly blame the current wave of immigrants.

As candidates for President debate various national issues it’s amazing that one of the new electability standard is whether an unauthorized worker was ever on one’s property doing any kind of work. It seems that being untouched by an immigrant in any way is the new litmus test to serve in elected office.

But why did the current wave of immigrants come here? For the same reasons every group of immigrants came: to find a better life for themselves and their families, to become better educated, and to contribute to making the American dream come true for everyone. We have 11 million unauthorized immigrants for one reason: we need them to do all of the monotonous, dirty, and hard work that the rest of us don’t want to do, regardless of the salary.

As one Alabama sweet potato farmer said recently, “If you all stop eating, the immigrants will leave.” He and countless others have tried to attract documented people to do the dirty, long, and difficult work in the fields. And as this farmer pointed out, “They last about an hour, sometimes two hours. Then they just leave."

Every time our national economy is increasing and unemployment falls down to 5% or less, we need every immigrant to take those jobs which are often behind-the-scenes, but essential to make our country run. Agriculture, the poultry and meat industries, hotels and motels, construction, clothing makers, restaurants, tourism, home care workers—these are just a few places where the millions of workers will be found.

Just look back a few years and you’ll find the same pattern over and over:immigrants come when they are needed, and once jobs are scarce, we blame them and try to distance ourselves from them. But that’s an impossible task. It would be far more helpful to our national discussion if we could set aside the harsh rhetoric blaming immigrants, and begin to address this issue in a rational and civil way.

You and I need and use the labor and services our unauthorized immigrants do day after day. These are real people with names and faces. Our brothers and sisters are not “those people” in some global and demeaning fashion.

I long to hear candidates for elected office buck the trend and point to our immigrant roots and history. Please remind us that we have so many unauthorized immigrants because our immigration laws have not balanced our need for workers at the lowest paying jobs with the availability of workers to do those jobs. Our broken immigration system was not caused by the immigrants.

It would be so helpful to our national discussion if candidates for elected office would set aside hurtful rhetoric against immigrants, acknowledge our dependence upon these workers in the lowest paying and more difficult service jobs, and offer ways in which we can bring these people out of the shadows and bring them into the mainstream of our nation’s life.

If we review our history as a nation and recognize the various waves of immigrants who built up our country, and if we look down the road into future years as we witness millions of baby-boomers retiring, we begin to get a better understanding of how today’s immigrants living in our midst without legal documents can be the key to our future labor needs.

I believe deeply that once the average American understands all the parameters of the role of today’s immigrants for our nation, they will open their hearts and minds to them and help find a way to bring dignity and respect to them. I firmly believe this because every poll taken supports this approach. When Americans are asked if they favor massive searches and deportations for all unauthorized immigrants, or whether they favor an earned path to legal residency, the vast majority always choose the earned path to legal residency.

The polls taken by by USA Today, the Pew Research Institute, and the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, even those people who agree with the new strict State laws also believe that it is totally impractical to locate, detain, and deport some 11 million people from our country.

The American spirit of welcome for immigrants seems to trump harsh and unrealistic solutions in dealing with undocumented people here.