SAN JUAN, April 20 - This past week I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) conference.
It was a trip that further enhanced my understanding of the economic strength that immigrants bring to the United States.
The city of Charlotte and like many other communities across the country are emerging Latino communities that have transformed average communities into thriving economic engines. I had some side chats with several Charlotte residents like the taxi driver and a banker, both who credited the massive economic growth of Charlotte to immigrants. “In every corner there is a Latino business, there are immigrant owned restaurants, car shops, car mechanics, all houses and other construction are being built by Latinos and other immigrants,” they said.
What I saw here was not something I didn’t know, but certainly helped reaffirm to me the natural connection of migration and economic opportunity. Simply put immigrants come for a better life, for economic opportunity, and a chance to integrate and contribute to the democratic experiment of the United States.
Although immigrants have been able to withstand enormous obstacles and contribute to this country, the full potential of our immigrants has yet to be seen. For many decades now we have seen the built-up of a broken immigration system that has been unfair to all immigrants and citizens alike. The inhumane separation of families have terrorized communities, undocumented immigrants have been vulnerable to unlawful work wages, young talented dreamers have been told NO to their American dreams, and millions have been living in fear and in the shadows.
This past Wednesday a group of eight Senators, also known as the “Gang of Eight,” formally introduced immigration reform called “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.” This is a bi-partisan group that seeks to create a large bi-partisan effort to pass this proposed bill. In it is an 844-page document that details many sectors to the bill that include path to citizenship, border security, the dream act, economic opportunities, among much more.
Although border security is part of the package, I believe that the true strength of this bill is its approach to economic opportunity and access to citizenship. In the NALCAB conference I attended I had the opportunity to meet some of the most well-known Latino entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in the United States. From them I heard amazing stories of immigrants and of their economic innovation.
These stories aren’t very different from the stories of immigrants in South Texas. Living in the Rio Grande Valley and connecting with my immigrant neighbors help remind me that they are the greatest asset to our community, and we are their greatest asset when we respect their hard work, entrepreneurial innovation, and when we help integrate them into the realm of opportunity.
It is a fact that the fruit and vegetables we eat daily were picked by an immigrant farm worker, it is a fact that many of the unnoticed service workers in our restaurants and hotels are immigrants, it is a fact that our school children are both immigrant and non-immigrant, it is a fact that immigrants are creating businesses and adding jobs, it is a fact that hundreds of thousands of young talented people with a U.S college education are immigrants, it is a fact that thousands that feel the duty of serving in our military can’t because they are undocumented immigrants.
The strength of immigration reform is in fully integrating the amazing contributions that immigrants offer to our country and to our improving democracy. For centuries immigrants from all over the world have landed our shores for greater opportunity, for a chance to a new fresh start and contribute to the idea of the American dream and American democracy. This idea is no different today, and immigrants are more than ready to make this country a stronger and richer country.
Daniel Diaz is a community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.