Washington, DC – Below is a column by Maribel Hastings and David Torres from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish. It ran in several Spanish-language media outlets earlier this week.
Judging by media coverage, “A Day Without Immigrants 2022” accomplished its goals of underlining the importance of undocumented immigrants in the daily economic activity of the United States through their services, labor, and purchasing power. These demonstrations are not new and have taken place during both Republican and Democratic administrations, like today.
Indeed, another big opportunity to demonstrate the organizing power that the immigration issue has always had was in February 2017, during one of the most racist and anti-immigrant administrations this country has ever experienced, that of Donald Trump, who followed the dictates of xenophobic characters like Steve Bannon, and especially Stephen Miller, to the letter.
More important yet, this type of event keeps front and center the fact that immigration reform that legalizes nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States—granting them a path to citizenship—is the elephant in the room, one that many Democrats want to ignore in an election year, with the hope that no one will realize that, once again, their promises did not stop being only that: promises.
That is and will continue to be impossible, because the claim right now is met with frustration and disappointment, as the palpable evidence that nothing has been accomplished tends to open the eyes of a group of people like immigrants even wider, confirming that they were only used for political ends.
As if the legislative impasse were not enough, add to that the fact that, with it being an electoral year, it’s almost certain that Republicans will resort to the same-old playbook: using undocumented immigrants as scapegoats when they need to, according to the states and electoral districts where this message of hate seems to be beneficial.
Faced with this new wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric that emerges with ever more intensity, the current administration fails to articulate even one of its promises to the 11 million people, while the other hand—the one that knows how to attack the most vulnerable sectors—returns to its same old gripe and turns it into a political message, filled with violence. For example, just look at the barbarity of the candidate for senator from Arizona, Jim Lamon, who shoots his gun, Old West style, against figures of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Biden, and Arizona US Senator Mark Kelly.
A year ago, the organization FWD.US reported that more than 5 million essential workers in the United States are undocumented, which means that one out of every twenty essential workers in this country are undocumented. They work in all the vital industries including health care, agriculture, and food service, as well as construction and other essential industries.
Moreover, the Center for American Progress reported that the economic contributions of undocumented immigrants on various fronts are vast. Undocumented people pay almost $78 billion in federal taxes annually and $41 billion in state and local taxes. And, although they cannot benefit from Social Security and Medicare, they continue to contribute through their employers, adding $17 billion annually to the Social Security coffers and $4 billion to Medicare.
This data reflects, of course, the enormous economic importance of undocumented people, without whom many of the institutions and service and manufacturing businesses would not have the same impact that they have today, much less the same competitive reach in this developed nation.
If to this one adds, per the same report, that a total of 1.6 million undocumented people are heads of their households, and pay $20.6 billion per year in mortgages and $49 billion per year in rent, the panorama of their contributions is filled out, one that no one—not even the most anti-immigrant of Trump and the Republicans’ followers—can refute, without risking the absurd consequence of “shooting one’s self in the foot.”
And it goes on from there: their spending on food, clothing, cars, and services. The country benefits from the labor and services of undocumented immigrants, and the purchases made by these millions of people and their families. But when it comes to legalizing them so that they can contribute even more, xenophobia and a message of hate matters more.
Republicans are sinful racists and the Democrats are afraid, because they run from the issue like the devil from the cross.
“Give me some words in Spanish,” says a character from that legendary 2004 film, A Day Without a Mexican, which tackled the topic of the importance of immigrant labor and the chaos that their sudden and complete disappearance from the state of California would provoke. “Familia, qué pasa, 5 de Mayo,” responds the other character, using tired cliches. “And how do you say, ‘I really miss you?’” the first one asks again, to underline that, indeed, this absence of indispensable human beings would be difficult to fill. Just like this new iteration of “a day without immigrants.”
Read the Spanish version of this column here.