Inspire! Immigration

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I’d like to introduce you to Wilmer and Martir.

Last October, I lead a group from Grand Haven to Honduras for a Coffee and Culture Immersion experience. One of our local guides was Martir. At the end of our trip, Martir brought us to his home for dinner. That was when I met Wilmer.

Honduras is a story telling culture and after dinner we were gifted with one of the most chilling stories I have ever heard. Wilmer spoke for an hour and half about his illegal immigration to the United States of America.

He started at the beginning. His parents roof was leaking and he had no means to repair it. He tried to find work all over Honduras and there was no work to be had. So with great difficulty he crossed into Guatemala. Again, he could find no work. So he made the decision to enter our country. His plan was clear. He would travel to the US where he would work and earn money for 7 years. And then he would go home.

I am not going to tell you his harrowing story because I can’t begin to do justice to it. After listening to him, I am left not with a narrative to remember, but a series of pictures I cannot forget. Pictures of men hiding in barns and on top of trains, pictures of women injured and being left behind to die in the dessert, pictures of people being shot in cold blood. Pictures of terror and fear and somehow, woven through it all, the power and force of the sheer will to survive.

When Wilmer finally arrived in the US, the people who were supposed to meet him never appeared. Somehow he was able to make his way to the East where he connected with people who had shared many of his own experiences. And where he learned that the image he had of the US wasn’t exactly accurate.

He explained that Honduras has a culture that promotes the façade of success. While our own culture might leave us wanting to talk about the horrors we had overcome, the people he knew who had come to the US, sent stories to the homeland that glorified their travel. They never spoke of difficulty or hardship. And more. They would speak of the money they were earning – but never about the cost of living – of rent and food and electricity and clothes. He explained that it’s common for men from Honduras to go into a clothing store, try on an expensive outfit that they cannot afford to buy, and take a picture of themselves to send home.

Wilmer had no idea how intimate his relationship to death and suffering would become when he left home for the land of opportunity.

True to his word, he worked for 7 years and then he went home. Wilmer repaired and improved his parents home and built a home for himself – but then he traded homes with his brother Martir so that he could live further away from the community. Physical and emotional scars remain.

Immigration Helps the US Financially*

•Add $2 trillion to the US Gross Domestic Product

•Contribute to Social Security and Medicare

•Paid $13 billion to Social Security, received $1 billion in services

•Paid $35 billion more to Medicare than they used

•Paid almost $12 billion in state and local taxes

*Center for American Progress

The Center on American Progress have posted their Immigration Fact Sheet for 2017. They point out that immigrants like Wilmer support the growth and vitality of the U.S. economy.

•In fact, immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2016. Immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force and also boost productivity through innovation and entrepreneurship.

•Unauthorized immigrants contribute significantly to Social Security and Medicare. Contributing far more than they ever receive. In 2010, unauthorized immigrants paid $13 billion into Social Security and received only $1 billion in services—a net contribution of $12 billion. Further, from 2000 to 2011, unauthorized immigrants paid $35.1 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew.

•Unauthorized immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. Immigrants—even legal immigrants—pay to support many of the benefits they are statutorily barred from receiving.

 

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Immigrants and refugees are entrepreneurs, job creators, taxpayers, and consumers. And their economic importance will only increase as America’s baby boomers retire, spurring labor demand and placing an unprecedented burden on our social safety net. We could benefit even more if we would modernize our immigration system and provide unauthorized immigrants in the country today with a path to citizenship.

But that is not the strategy our current administration is pursuing. Instead, the environment has shifted to increased restrictions for immigrants and refugees. Increasing detentions and deportations not only costs taxpayers billions of dollars but also breaks apart families and place vulnerable individuals—such as survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States, as well as women and children fleeing violence in their homelands—in peril.

Foreign-Born People in the US*

*Center for American Progress
 

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So what kind of numbers are we talking about?

Approximately 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States: 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens. Of the noncitizens, approximately 13.1 million are lawful permanent residents, 11.1 million are unauthorized migrants, and 1.7 million hold temporary visas.

Today more Mexican immigrants are returning home than arriving in the United States.

Fewer than 1 in 5 immigrants live in poverty.

Compared with all Americans, U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to go to college, less likely to live in poverty, and equally likely to be homeowners.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Unauthorized immigrants are increasingly entering the United States legally and overstaying visas rather than crossing the border. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the largest source country of visa overstayers is…

…Canada – followed by Mexico and Brazil.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave. So, of course, they stay.

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Some individuals come into the US like Wilmer, looking for an opportunity to get ahead, with no desire to stay permanently in our country. More often, they are like Basel Alyasin one of the 18000 refugees from Syria who have settled in the US. You might have seen the letter he wrote on Facebook. Basel owned and operated Restore Electronics in Zeeland. He wrote…

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I am heartbroken at this too appropriate indictment of our country. Basel’s letter highlights the fear that is gripping our immigrant community. Not surprisingly, this fear is especially acute among undocumented immigrants. Now imagine the panic of parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation.

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About five million children under the age of 18 are living with at least one parent who is in the country illegally and now those parents are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. And in the meantime, they are writing letters to their children – telling them what to do if mom or dad doesn’t come home. Should they stay or leave? Where should they go and how would they get there? What should they do about food? What do they need to know to be safe? Can you even imagine what that must be like? Well, you’ll get a chance to do just that in a moment.

In the end, immigration is more than a numbers game. It’s about more than a percent of population or the dollars added or subtracted from our financial bottom line. This is about Wilmer and Basel and millions of children. It is a matter of recognizing genuine human need and the need to respond with genuine human compassion.