There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, living in fear, without a voice and listening to empty promises. Every day some of these people go to work thinking that it could be their last day in this country. Students fear coming home from school to the news that a parent was deported.
In the recent presidential election cycles, they were promised strong immigration reform or amnesty but it has not been delivered nor prioritized because politicians do not need a constituency that cannot vote to stay in office. No matter how many times they have been used as scapegoats, the undocumented have given so much to make this country possible. Beyond their efforts, there are multiple parts of American foreign, trade and labor policy that make it not only that they deserve citizenship through immigration reform, but they are owed it, too.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to bring rapid economic growth to Mexico, but actually worsened many of its problems. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mexico’s economy and per capita income was growing at smaller rates than that of other Latin American nations.
The New York Times also reported that “As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living. Some two million farmers have been forced to leave their farms since NAFTA.” Many of those farmers had no choice but to immigrate to the United States.
Mexicans make up the largest portion of undocumented immigrants in America not only because they are our southern neighbors but because this country put forward a trade policy that negatively altered its labor force.
The United States has also attempted multiple regime changes in Latin America in the mid to late twentieth century. The U.S. played an influential role in the Salvadoran Civil War which lasted from 1979 to 1992. They provided millions in military aid, and by 1983, U.S. officers had taken over top Salvadoran military positions.
The U.S. backed the Salvadoran Military Government, which unleashed numerous death squads on its own people. During the Nicaraguan Revolution, we backed the dictatorship of the Somoza Family, which eventually fell. The U.S. used this revolution as a proxy war battleground for the Cold War as the Sandinistas, who were the opposition to the dictatorship, were backed by the Soviet Union. The U.S. currently faces an influx of migrants coming from the northern triangle of Central American, but it is to be expected, as this country’s own foreign policy blunders have led to the social unrest and destabilization that has forced millions of people to flee north. Today it is inhumane to want to deport millions of people to such unstable violent nations.In most cases, it is a death sentence.
Due to these immigrants not having documentation, they are relegated to working in manual or domestic labor for long hours and low wages. They make the lives of so many other Americans easier and our economy would be destroyed without them. Sometimes the work they do is not even officially recognized, as was the case for domestic workers in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia local Maria del Carmen Diaz came to this country 23 years ago after automation took her job as a telecom worker in Mexico. She has been a housecleaner ever since she arrived in Philadelphia and never thought she would do much more. She has never been able to go back to her native Veracruz, Mexico to see her family because of her migrant status and the violence carried out by the Zetas cartel in her home state.
Domestic work was not protected under local labor laws and codes, which meant that many like Maria were vulnerable to wage theft, discrimination and sexual harassment. In the summer of 2018, she founded the Philadelphia Domestic Workers Alliance. The group was just starting out but she did everything she could to unite domestic workers across the city and lobby for the cause in city council meetings.
On Nov. 26, 2019, the group’s fight was rewarded when Mayor Kenney signed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into law. She told many that her efforts made her have experiences she thought she never would as a housecleaner, finally making her feel valued.
Many will say that the U.S. government has made progress on the issue of immigration with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but it has barely tapped the surface. Under President Obama, DACA allowed the undocumented who arrived here as children to have protected status and pursue a college education. Under the current administration, DACA will not receive any new applications and the program has been under threat of dissolving entirely.
In 2014, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents was supposed to allow parents that were undocumented but had a documented child to have a pathway to citizenship, but because of a deadlocked Supreme Court decision, it was never enacted.
An estimated five million people would have potentially benefited from this program. This is why we need to pressure our members to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform after we do everything possible to elect a president that actually sees the value immigrants in this country have.