Part of being American involves grappling with our complicated history of colonization and immigration. Some of my ancestors arrived in America on the Mayflower ship and others immigrated to the United States several hundred years later. Those arrivals to our country represent some of the strongest aspects of our society, as people who came here worked hard to create opportunities for their children, opportunities that accumulated over generations to make us the most affluent society the world has ever known. But our greatest strength has also been our greatest weakness, as those opportunities came at the expense of native people in America and slaves brought here to make our agricultural enterprises competitive against our European neighbors. Our affluence is not accessible to every American equally.
With all the changes we’ve seen in our society, this legacy has persisted in the way we think of immigration and labor and competition. We have continued to benefit greatly from the enterprise and energy of immigrants who come and work in every sector of industry in America. But we’ve also created a system where undocumented people provide critical labor at low cost and often poor work conditions. Every trip we make to the supermarket is touched by this system of labor.
As Americans, we need to reform our federal immigration laws to address this legacy and the reality of our economy. People who have come to work in farming and other low-paid industries and who have raised children and contributed to our success need a path to becoming full citizens. We can debate the costs and benefits to our social welfare system for these families, but the simple fact is that we have created the conditions that have brought them to the United States, and we need to take responsibility for that and claim these Americans for who they are now. And we need to develop programs to address the demand for low cost labor in certain industries so that we aren’t encouraging illegal immigration into the future.
Diverse people coming together to create enterprises, solve problems, and identify opportunities continues to be our greatest asset. It is our greatest chance to solve some of our biggest challenges in healthcare, the environment, and even defining for ourselves what work will look like in the future. We can work together at the federal level to accomplish the following:
Pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented families living in the U.S.
Protect immigrants from violence, wage theft, and discrimination
Be a place that welcomes and protects refugees fleeing violence, persecution, and war in their countries by implementing reasonable programs to screen and support refugee arrivals and assist with resettlement