Amanda Jewett, Contributing Writer
Growing up on the U.S./Mexico border in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area, I have always been immersed in a merging of culture, language and government. Combinations are not a new thing for the borderland. English and Spanish form Spanglish. Burgers and menudo are offered on menus simultaneously. Parties feature folklórico dancing as well as two-stepping. The Mexican and American cultures melt together in this valley of the Chihuahuan desert; however, an undeniable distinction separates the people – that of nationality.
Sometimes, during our drive to school along the Rio Grande border, we would see a group of Mexicans who had just crossed the canal, jumped the fence and run across the highway. The first time I witnessed this sight, I was horrified. These people were risking their lives by sprinting across a four-lane highway with cars going 60 miles per hour. I couldn’t comprehend the idea that something on our side of that fence was worth the risk.
Later in high school, I shadowed Catholic Relief Services to witness the plight of perhaps some of the same Mexicans at a migrant house in downtown El Paso. Catholic Relief Services offers immigrants without papers a place of refuge to sleep and to eat before they head out the next morning to find work. The floor was covered with men lying on mats, sleeping in dirty work clothes.
The issue of illegal immigration has been the cause of much debate recently. Many are concerned that providing citizenship to all who live here would entitle them to all the benefits of being American – which would include food stamps, social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Allowing millions of people to enter the United States and have access to our education and health care system would cost billions of dollars. As it is, too many Americans do not pay taxes, so adding to the burden of our already-suffering economy seems imprudent.
However, immigrants, documented and undocumented, already do make important contributions to our economy. In Texas, the labor force is 21.1% foreign-born, and 24.9% of Texas business owners are immigrants. These business owners generate $10 billion in income for Texas each year. Sensible immigration reform would increase workers’ income, resulting in more state and local tax revenue. Economists will agree that reforming our immigration policy through providing citizenship and building worker programs for immigrants would greatly benefit our country’s economy. This would provide the opportunity for a stronger, growing economy, which would create jobs, increase productivity and wages and foster entrepreneurship.
Our identity as a country of immigrants has brought innovative ideas to the nation’s workforce and built up our businesses. However, our current immigration policy is antiquated and broken. Applying for citizenship takes a decade. Today, many employers exploit the system and people by hiring from the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and paying them below minimum wage, contributing to the separation of families and the continuation of poor living conditions.
Comprehensive immigration reform is already in motion. The bill S. 744, which was passed by the Senate and drafted by Democrats and Republicans alike, seeks to strengthen our borders, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they earn their citizenship and streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.
Christ said to us, “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Mt 25:35). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (2241). The USCCB has also expressed support for reform, and President Keefe was one of 102 Catholic College presidents to sign a letter urging Congress to act on immigration reform. I hope that all University of Dallas students will educate themselves on this issue and realize that the time for reform is now.