Monday, August 20, 2012


Recently I met a Hispanic man in his 50s who is surely the poster image for how immigrants are helping to establish small businesses and create jobs for others.  The man is from Mexico and is documented.

He had been working in the field of optical products, and eventually, he moved up the ladder and bought the company.  He has since expanded the company and employs 140 people, most of them with immigrant backgrounds.  The jobs require specialized training with optical equipment, and many have learned the skills needed.

However, he told me of a recent very difficult problem--agents from the government were coming to his company to check the documents of all his employees.  While he had on file documents for each employee, he could not verify the accuracy of each piece of paper.  Employers in our country are not required to take extraordinary steps to verify documents submitted by employees.

He informed all the employees that agents would be coming to their company on a certain date, and that they would want to question each employee and review their documents.

This announcement created panic among the employees, since in many cases documents had been supplied by relatives or others.  Not everyone would be able to verify each piece of paper.  As a result, 20 of his employees quit their jobs prior to the visit by government agents.

They feared that any irregularity would lead to their immediate detention, where they might languish for many months before their case would be resolved.  This would break up their families and impose great hardships on themselves and their loved ones.  So they just quit and left.

What is so sad about this case is that these 20 employees had learned highly technical skills and were producing optical products which people needed.  They were contributing to our country, to their families, and to their communities.  They were paying payroll taxes, they were helping a small business become successful, and they were part of building up the economic strength of our nation.

I commend the millions of small business owners across the country who have hired newly arrived peoples, have given them needed training, and who have given them the opportunity to provide for their families and the community.

Our current broken immigration system does not allow small businesses to hire, train, and utilize the labor of immigrants in our midst.  We all lose because of this broken system.

There are some 10 million undocumented brothers and sisters across the country in similar situations.  And like these 20 people, many were trained and fulfilling an important role for our economy.  But our hopeless immigration policies leave these people in the shadows, living in fear that their families will be broken up, and that their labors will be in vain.

As a nation we have a moral obligation to end this dreadful situation in which millions of people are not respected, are not shown basic human dignity, and are not permitted to regularize their legal status.

The new Deferred Action program to benefit DREAM students is a helpful step forward, but it only deals with a small portion of our immigrant population.  We need a comprehensive approach which creates an "earned" path towards legal status for all those in the shadows.

Both candidates for President have a moral obligation to lay out their plans for these 10 million undocumented and how their status can be gradually moved from undocumented to an earned legal status.  Members of Congress running for reelection have the same obligation.

Let us continue to stand with our undocumented brothers and sisters, and let us continue to point out the countless success stories across the country like the one I have outlined above.  Let us continue to raise our voices on their behalf, and let us expand networks among all peoples of faith to give a new and bright future for all of these brothers and sisters.