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Let’s not forget the 11 million and the fight to legalize them

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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: 

During the intense debate generated by Title 42, its eventual cancellation, and all of the drama that followed and continues to take place at the border with migrants who come seeking asylum, little is being said about another important segment, the 11 million undocumented people. Yes, those who already live among us, work in essential industries, pay taxes, have children who are citizens, and are an intrinsic part of U.S. society.

It’s a segment of the country’s population that has not only made the economy grow in an important way, but also its demographics, profoundly, giving a new face to this social experiment that has been boosted and enriched by waves of immigrants throughout history. 

We are talking about people and families who have been waiting decades for a migration solution that will legalize them. The last amnesty in 1986 will celebrate 37 years of becoming law this November. That’s almost two generations. 

And while much has been said and many bills have been introduced that, in a polarized Congress, have no possibility of approval, undocumented people continue to march forward with their lives, working, contributing, supporting, and living with the specter of deportation always at their backs.

It’s curious, but this dichotomy in which they live and which the country keeps alive, with almost everything against them, should be sufficient reason for this large group of migrants to be recognized not only through kind words, but also concrete actions like a well-deserved legalization, especially because they represent in and of themselves everything that is known as the American spirit: they are workers, brave and protective people, entrepreneurs, with obvious family values. Why ignore them, then?

And they continue to contribute and risk it all, even when Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Republicans in Congress demonize and blame them for all of the ills in the country: criminality, unemployment, drug trafficking, and the fentanyl crisis, to name a few. 

But once immigrants are exploited through this type of hate rhetoric, in order to satisfy their most anti-immigrant base, those very same Republican politicians see how the economies of their states suffer when undocumented people abandon their jobs or stop making purchases in stores, which is what Florida is going through at the moment.

Although he does not admit it, DeSantis knows that his state’s economy is suffering due to the exodus of undocumented people to other places in the country. In fact, the governor is making an appalling political calculation by focusing his strategy on something as despicable as it is insidious, that radiates racism and discrimination under the cloak of “legality.” Florida refusing driver licenses from other states is another act of bad faith, politically. It seems more and more like a type of state of siege where all of the entrances are closed due to the will of one person, and that certainly has very little to do with democracy.

That’s why it is never a bad time to review the contributions of undocumented people to the U.S. economy, which measures everything in dollars and cents.

Basically, their presence in essential industries in the country has generated, for example, more than $100 billion in the last decade for the Social Security program, according to data from the New American Economy, with a total fiscal contribution, at least through 2018, of almost $250 billion, in addition to their purchasing power of more than $200 billion. Annually, this translates to around $13 billion to Social Security and $3 billion to Medicare, according to a piece from Telemundo.

Essentially, without their presence, industries like construction, agriculture, and the hospitality and service sector, to name a few, would go down.

Obviously what undocumented people contribute to the economic-financial strength of this nation is not small. Their dizzying economic activity keeps both small and large cities where migrants and their families are distributed afloat. They are, at bottom, an undeniable value-add to a nation that needs them, despite those anti-immigrant voices who want them gone from their privileged and supremacist spaces.

To read the Spanish version of this article click here.