Jennifer Sagan: I Support the Dream Act

I support the Dream Act. I am a second-generation Polish/Irish American, whose grandparents came legally into the U.S. in the 1920s as steel mill workers and domestic servants. A decade ago I viewed illegal immigrants with outrage and was unsupportive of their presence. Since then my view turned 180 degrees as I learned about the gross mismanagement of immigration policy and inability to provide living wages in our country that has resulted in illegal immigration. I now not only support the Dreamers but also their parents who came over illegally. Below I explain why.

Illegal immigrants provide a source of labor for at least three main industries in the US: agriculture, housing construction, and hotel services. They come to our country knowing there is a need for their services as well as an acceptance of their presence by those hiring. Not all business owners employ illegal workers, but many do.  Industry leaders’ “acceptance” spans a range from “turning a blind eye” to active recruitment and transport of illegal immigrants to fill vacant jobs. This is done for a variety of reasons, including:

  • a real need to fill vacancies that U.S. citizens–because of demographics–will not fill or are not available to fill;
  • extreme cases of exploitation of an illegal workforce that can be paid low wages and forced to work under “slave-like” conditions.

California State Controller Betty Yee, in an article for Public Radio International, has said undocumented immigrants’ annual labor is worth more than $180 billion ​to California’s economy. Labor from undocumented immigrants is fundamental not just to agriculture, but also to childcare, restaurants, hotels, and construction. Even President Trump applied for 70 H-2 Visas in order to fill hotel service positions for his Mar-a-Lago resort because he could not find U.S. citizens to fill those low paid positions.

Our government needs to acknowledge facts: we need a program that allows streamlined entry of low-wage workers and their families so they can legally and fairly work in the U.S. Instead, we hear the demonization of illegal immigrants, not the raids on plants or worksites that jail or fine the owners. Why are owners not targeted for violating laws? Because our political leaders know these industries would collapse without illegal immigrant labor and that these industries are cobbling together a workforce that our immigration policy cannot provide legally. So instead of enacting real measures to allow these workers to come over and provide the work force that we need, they use them as political scapegoats and trumpet “Build the Wall!” diversions. The consequences of this extreme rhetoric to immigrants can end in hate crimes, and/or the separation of young children from their parents.

Once I understood the hypocrisy of demonizing, jailing, and expelling illegal immigrants who have been invited, recruited, and abetted by industry leaders, I came to support a pathway to legalization and absolutely insist that the Dream Act be enacted. The very least we can do is provide protective status to the children of these workers by enacting the Dream Act. This is a short-term acknowledgement to those who are providing economic stability to our country. The larger issue of providing living wages to U.S. Citizens is the next step.

By Indivisible: Gainesville member Jennifer Sagan

(For more information, please Google “California agriculture illegal immigrants” and read two primers on the subject of our exploitation of immigrant farm workers: Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook and Close to Slavery published by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

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