We are back from Austin and can safely state that we thoroughly enjoyed the conference and learned a lot of interesting and important information to share with you.
One of the keynote speakers at the Amnesty International Texas State meeting was Mr. Luis Figueroa (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; MALDEF), who presented on the much discussed and contentious issue of immigration. Some pieces of interesting and important information he provided included: 1) 2/3 of immigrants are in the US legally; 2) almost half of all undocumented immigrants enter the US legally (and overstay their visas or are in transition); 3) many immigrants pay income taxes even though they do not benefit from most federal and state local assistance programs; and 4) all immigrants pay state and property taxes.
Mr. Figueroa analyzed the new Immigration Law in Arizona and emphasized the need for a comprehensive immigration reform that will create a pathway for immigrants to legally obtain work visas instead of being treated as criminals. He stressed America’s reliance on immigrant labor, specifically in the areas of agriculture, construction, and service industry. As he explained it, many citizens will not voluntarily work in those fields. The labor is much needed but since the available legal means to obtain a job in these fields are limited, immigrants enter the workforce illegally, many becoming victims to human traffickers and exploitation.
Mr. Figueroa also discussed the Dream Act and the fact that, unfortunately, it is still just a dream. He urged people to educate themselves and realize that the goal of the Dream Act is to help children of immigrants, children who arrived in the US at a very young age and stayed because their parents stayed. These individuals have, in most cases, limited connection to the country of origin, have adapted to life in the US and sometimes, have been forced (usually by parents) to forget the native language of their relatives. Those individuals, for all other purposes, consider themselves Americans. And yet, even though they are now allowed the opportunity to obtain knowledge and skills through higher education, when it comes to utilizing this education and becoming productive members of society, all doors are closed. This increases the danger of these educated young adults to search for illegal means of supporting themselves. Should the money spent on educating them be wasted in such an illogical way?
The United States we know was found and built by immigrants and sustained through the years by immigrant labor. I am not quite sure at what point in time immigration turned into a dirty word and immigrants into an affliction to be afraid of and avoid.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not fond of lazy people searching for chances to take advantage, cheating the system, and trying to live off of others, hard-working, tax-paying individuals. With the same passion, however, I am not too fond of ignorant people and the side effect of misinformation and blind belief in what is presented on TV. For more information on the issue and to learn how to become involved in the fight for a comprehensive and working immigration reform, please visit the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund site.