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March 29, 2014 / stacieshap

From Punishing to Welcoming Immigrants: What’s at Stake for the United States?

by guest blogger Clark Taylor

 

The political season is upon us and there votes to be harvested in condemning those who cross the borders without proper papers.  But what if the office seekers who harvest the votes and the citizens who provide them have it exactly wrong in how they see the role of immigrants in our state and nation?  What if, instead of condemning immigrants who are building their lives in our neighborhoods—and consigning them to detention centers before summarily deporting them to their countries of origin—we seek ways to welcome them and their contributions to our economy and culture?

In welcoming and even recruiting immigrants to live in our communities we will be joining cities like Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Dayton that have seen their economies shrinking and, with the addition of immigrants, are turning them around. We would be joining whole states like Michigan and Tennessee and countries like Canada and Australia that realize how valuable immigrant contributions can be to their survival as healthy and sustainable societies.  In this respect, the US as a whole—an otherwise aging society with fewer workers supporting more elderly retired folks—has been able to thrive.

My own path to caring about and working for the rights of immigrants passed through a village in Guatemala which I first came to know in 1985 and have been to many times since. The village is populated largely by Mayan indigenous people, an ethnic group despised by the descendents of the Spanish conquerors.  I have come to know the people there as friends and fellow human beings. Many from the village have migrated to the United States, wanting for their families the same as we want for ourselves, a dignified life freed from the ravages of poverty they have suffered in their home countries.  They are willing to take huge risks to enter the US with the idea of taking jobs others don’t want to be able to send money home to their families for a better life.

Now consider the benefits we receive from their sacrifices, with figures provided by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.  Immigrants, regardless of their status, make critical contributions to our society through the taxes they pay and the labor they provide that increases the size of our economy.  Economists estimate that if our Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, the nation would benefit with $832 billion growth in our GDP over a ten-year period, along with $109 billion per year in new tax revenue and 121,000 jobs each year of the decade.  On the other hand, economists estimate that the removal of all undocumented immigrants would result in a loss of $2.6 trillion in the decline of our GDP.

Consider further, as pointed out by David Bornstein in an article, “Immigrants Welcome Here,” immigrants are twice as likely as non-immigrants to start businesses. “In fact,” he notes, “immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies.”

 

Given all this, are we not better off by far to find ways to welcome immigrants than to punish and deport them?  A national welcoming movement seeks to do just that and has demonstrated throughout the country that; where established residents of a community reach out and provide welcoming activities, everyone is enriched by the cultural sharing and friendships that develop.  Communities in the Boston area that have large immigrant communities, including Framingham and Milford, among others, are demonstrating the value of welcoming activities. In my own town of Needham I am involved in a campaign to welcome the immigrants in our community.

The breakthroughs to acceptance and caring don’t happen automatically, but rather when people of good will work together in an intentional way.  The result is an expansion of goodwill and a healthier sense of community.

There is clearly a lot at stake for immigrants and for all of us in our local communities, states and the nation as a whole that we get the immigration question right, by moving from punishing to welcoming.

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