As the August recess approaches, the debate surrounding immigration reform and citizenship will shift away from Washington and into town hall meetings and events in local communities. In anticipation of this, today the AFL-CIO hosted an event on citizenship featuring among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA). Both men emphasized the importance of recess town halls as opportunities for lawmakers to discuss immigration reform with their constituents. Sen. McCain said he plans to tour Arizona over the recess and take the pulse of his constituents. Both McCain and Becerra were optimistic however. McCain emphasized the broad public support for the pathway to citizenship, sharing polls that show that well over 70% of the American people think immigration is good for our Country and Rep. Becerra reiterated the need for full citizenship by saying “I don’t think this country is ready to go back to the 20th or 19th century where we have a second class of citizens.”
The event also included a discussion about the economics of citizenship where, Dr. Manual Pastor of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration discussed data that show citizens make 8 to 11 percent more than non-citizens. Pastor explained the multiplier effects and impacts that come from citizenship to the entire economy which include aggregate earnings increase on the order of $21 billion to $45 billion over a decade, adding the “impact on the GDP can be even larger.”
However, the importance of citizenship goes beyond economics. Every panelist had their own anecdote to share about individual immigrants that they know who have been affected by a lack of citizenship. Dr. Pastor shared the story of the PTA president at his children’s school who was deported the night after making an eloquent speech in English about the need for more ESL courses. DREAMer and activist Gaby Pacheco shared her family’s struggles with deportation orders. Alejandro Ruelas, CEO & Managing Partner of Latinworks shared his elderly father’s struggle to pass his U.S. citizenship exam for the second time because of his language skills. Sen. McCain rounded it out by describing a citizenship ceremony he attended for service men and women where seats were left empty by immigrant soldiers who had recently been killed in the line of duty.
As attention turns to local communities and conversations brew locally, it is important that members of Congress carry back to their constituents the fact that citizenship matters. It matters to the individuals who want to fully commit to America and it matters to the country who will benefit from that commitment.
Photo Courtesy of Jessica Eise and AILA.