In this Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis we are called to take a step back and concretely meditate on how our perception of immigrants reflects the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus tells us: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
With this in mind the faces and stories of several immigrants come to mind:
- Ignatio – who humbly declared “for me?” when given a set of materials for ESL class.
- Yolanda- who, after two years of ESL classes, told us she “had a dream to open her own bakery, so people from Mexico would have a little bit of home” when they purchased her homemade Mexican bread.
- Karen – a Peruvian surgeon who came one day with a simple question, “¿Puede ayudarme?” “Can you help me?” Karen studied English, received her resident card, passed the exam and, finally, became a citizen. She persevered in her studies and passed the oral and written Medical Board Exams to receive her US medical license.
- Sergiy – a computer engineer who, when he wasn’t able to complete even three letter answers in a crossword puzzle, created a list of over 300 words to learn and define. Two years later Sergiy obtained a position at Harvard University as a Senior Systems Analyst!
While these stories focus on the positives that can happen when “people help people,” a dark side still looms among us when we consider the negative views so many hold about immigrants, refugees and the marginalized.
Pope Francis urges us to listen to their stories. “The world can no longer ignore the human rights of those seeking a better life and safety.”
The Pope decried what he calls the globalization of indifference. “In this world of globalization, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others; ‘It does not affect me; it does not concern me; it is none of my business.'”
In his message released in advance of the January 19, 2014, World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis called us to a renewed attitude, “A change of attitude toward migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from the attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – toward attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”
In addition to the fear fed by indifference, we, may have repeated myths about immigration. To name a few:
- They don’t learn English.
- They don’t pay taxes.
- They take away Americans’ jobs and on and on…
We need to counter these myths with facts
While first generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91% of second generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97% speak English fluently or near fluently.
Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Between one half and three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay state and federal taxes. They also contribute to Medicare and provide as much as seven billion dollars a year to the Social Security Fund. Undocumented workers pay sales taxes where applicable and property taxes – directly if they own and indirectly if they rent.
A study produced by the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that “rapid increases in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers.” In fact, given that the number of native born low wage earners is falling nationally, immigrants are playing an important role in offsetting that decline. The Urban Institute reports that between 2000 and 2005 the total number of low wage workers declined by approximately 1.8 million while the number of unskilled immigrant workers increased by 620,000, thus offsetting the total decline by about a third.
For more information on these three points see http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/myths.shtml#sthash.tM0KEozw.dpuf
As we begin this new year, this is a good time to reflect again on the Gospel: “Who is my neighbor?” “When you saw me hungry you fed me; when you saw me thirsty, you gave me to drink; when you saw me a stranger, you welcomed me.”
How will we respond?