The Wall of Shame
Statement on Immigration by Hector M. Flores, National President, LULAC
I have had the opportunity to travel to all parts of our nation these past four years. What I have found is that you don’t have to be an expert on population trends to know that Hispanics are now residing by the hundreds of thousands in the Carolinas, Arkansas, Nevada, Manhattan, Georgia, Chicago, and Wisconsin.
We are no longer concentrated solely in the Southwestern states. Los Angeles continues to be an important hub of Latino social, cultural and political activity, second only to Mexico City. However, Chicago, with more than one million Latinos, is in second place and the Dallas Metroplex is a close third.
Yet in all my travels, I continue to hear immigrant bashing of the worst kind. Editorials spew out ugly stereotypes, letters to the editor offer thinly disguised racial diatribes, and talk show hosts continue to malign the integrity and work ethic of Latino immigrants on a daily basis. As I write this, an increasing number of our elected officials persist in distorting the truth about the plight of México and the millions of immigrants coming to this nation from the south.
This ignorance and distorted truth is leading some elected officials to support building walls along the U.S. border with México reminiscent of the Berlin era and spending millions more for border enforcement in an effort to stem the tide of immigration from Mexico to the United States.
These same elected officials—many with Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, and German surnames—are only a few generations removed from ancestors who immigrated to the United States themselves seeking a better life. Yet their memory of history is very short and they fail to see the similarities between today’s immigration from Latin America and the immigration that brought their ancestors here. Why is this?
Over the past 20 years, the United States has increased spending on border enforcement more than at any other time in our nation’s history. Fences in southern California and Texas, high tech equipment, and ever growing numbers of border enforcement personnel have cost U.S.-American taxpayers billions over the past two decades.
Yet the leading experts all agree that these expenditures have done nothing to curtail immigration from México to the United States. In fact, the only documented effect has been to make the journey to the United States more dangerous and as a result thousands of migrants have died crossing the border in recent years.
Is this what our nation wants—a fence that will force many migrants toward more dangerous avenues of entry and even more deaths?
What kind of message do these desert deaths send to the rest of the world about the value our nation places on human life?
Contrary to assumption, study after study has demonstrated that Mexican immigration to the United States is a huge financial boon to our country and far outweighs the amount of public benefits that migrants are eligible to receive. The combined value of the labor performed by Mexican migrants along with the taxes they pay—including sales taxes, income taxes, and more—and the stimulus effect on our economy dwarfs the minimal amount that we spend on emergency medical care and public education for this hardworking population.
It is one thing to pretend to forget or simply ignore the hardworking people who pick our food, make our clothes, build our homes, care for our children and our elderly, serve us at restaurants and hotels, and perform countless other essential but low-paying jobs. But is quite another to advocate for shortsighted policies that are so clearly against our own self-interest solely to make the lives of these immigrants even more difficult.
In fact, Mexican immigrants pay far more in taxes than they receive in public benefits. For example, every year undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars of taxes into Social Security that they have no hope of ever receiving back because of their undocumented status. These payments have helped push the insolvency date of Social Security far into the future.
Undocumented immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes on income, gasoline, clothing, and other retail purchases. Some economists have estimated that the undocumented population pumps $500 billion into our economy every year and pays more than $90 billion in taxes, yet receives only about $43 billion in public benefits.
It is clear, even considering taxes alone and not the far greater value of their labor, that undocumented immigrants more than pay for themselves and in fact, help to sustain a system that even their most vocal critics say is vital in America.
Yet the myths and half-truths continue unabated on most editorial pages, fueled by immigrant bashing radio and TV pundits. Are these opinions based on ignorance or racism—or both?
Even more damning is the hypocrisy displayed by these individuals who themselves benefits from the services and contributions made possible by the labor of undocumented immigrants. Whether they are having work done on their house, eating a salad, enjoying a meal at a restaurant, or dropping off their children at daycare, chances are they are benefiting from the labor of undocumented immigrants.
Their comfort is being provided courtesy of immigrants who endanger their lives to travel thousands of miles, through harsh terrain, leaving their families and loved ones behind, to work the hardest jobs in U.S.-America for little pay.
And how do we thank them for their hard work? By constantly complaining about their illegal status and passing harsh immigration bills. It is not the way that one would expect a nation of immigrants and faith to react. But then, for all our greatness, U.S.-America has always revealed contradictions when it comes to race and ethnic relations.
I wonder what U.S. citizens would do if this part of our labor force were actually deterred by the fences, workplace raids, and other anti-immigrant policies that Congress is considering. Does the anti-immigrant crowd actually expect that unemployed U.S.-Americans will step forward and accept those low-pay, long-hour, back-breaking jobs that offer no benefits, no overtime, and no vacations?
Aren’t they concerned that many of these jobs will be sent oversees because businesses here can no longer compete? Aren’t they worried about triggering a drawn-out recession as our economy adjusts to the loss of 10 to 12 million productive workers and consumers? Will Congress pass the necessary tax increases to make up for the lost tax revenue from these workers and shore up Social Security whose insolvency will be much closer at hand? Will anyone stop to wonder why the heck we did this to ourselves when all we had to do was to provide for a legal avenue for these workers to come here in the first place?
There is a much better path for us to take—one that benefits U.S. citizens just as much as it will benefit the 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants working here.
LULAC and some of our elected officials like Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy support the following immigration principles:
1. We should reunite families instead of dividing them.
2. We should allow undocumented workers the opportunity to become full and legal contributing members of our society, without fear of retribution and deportation.
3. We should create a program for immigrants to work in this country legally and allow them, over a period of time, to become permanent legal residents.
4. We should begin assisting México and other Latin American countries through loans, grants and other strategic initiatives to economically jump-start key geographic areas that send large numbers of immigrants to this country.
Following these principles will improve the lives of millions of hard working immigrant families here in the United States whose labor we rely on every day. It will also make our own lives better and safer as we bring this workforce out of the shadows and allow our law enforcement personnel to concentrate on terrorists and drug runners.
These principles are clearly the right actions for our country to take, but for them to become law, we must overcome the “wall of shame” that the anti-immigrant crowd has been building around our collective moral consciousness.
Do the inalienable rights put forth by our Founding Fathers and exemplified by the Statue of Liberty still hold sway in this land of the free? Are hard-working immigrants who want nothing more than to contribute to our country and have a chance at the U.S.-American dream still welcome to our shores?
Or has the misguided message of hate overcome our U.S.-American values of liberty, hard-work and toleration?
In this New Year, millions of immigrant families across our country are hoping that the better angels of our nature prevail over those who would stoke old prejudices against the least fortunate among us. It is my earnest prayer that we come together in forging that American dream and not yield to those who to limit it.
Editor’s Note: Hector M. Flores is the National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Latino organization in the United States and Puerto Rico, which advances the economic conditions, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of Latinos through community-based programs operating at more than 700 LULAC councils nationwide.