Remarks courtesy of George Kanuck, Lowcountry Immigration Coalition Co-Chair and our intended April meeting presenter
Immigration issues: a complex history
The complexity of the immigration issue is overwhelming, stemming from the matter of undocumented individuals living and working among us, to the issue of people trying to enter the country as refugees and asylum seekers. These matters are intertwined and present the nation with stark choices about how we deal with immigration. Let’s review quickly the matter of immigration in general. Except for individuals brought into this country as slaves, and the matter of the indigenous people of the land, the United States is an immigrant nation. The first influxes included Germans, French, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, and finally Eastern Europeans. Now we are dealing with those from Mexico, and South and Central America.
Compassionate immigration legislation as our mandate
We are now in a situation where we will not be a truly civilized nation if we don’t deal judiciously with the many millions who already exist in the country, including the reported 20% who are children —citizens born in the U.S. in accord with the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Not to mention the estimated 7000 young people in South Carolina, our Dreamers, who were brought here at an early age without knowledge of what that would mean.
The Lowcountry Immigration Coalition since 2010
I serve as co-chair of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, along with my co-chair Eric Esquivel, long-time Hilton Head resident and publisher of La Isla Magazine. Our Coalition was founded in 2010 with the mission of supporting the Latino community by educating, informing, communicating, and advocating for our community by bringing together the Anglo and Hispanic communities. Our Coalition opposed the anti-immigrant legislation, SB20, which was modeled on the Arizona 1070 law pushed by, at the time, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Federal Court agreed to invalidate that law. Over the subsequent years, we have had modest success in supporting the Latino community, but more hard times were ahead, and I speak of the anti-immigrant policies of the current Administration.
The local immigrant population, an economic engine
My purpose in this note is primarily to concentrate on the matter of our local immigrant population which provides much of the economic engine of our lives and lifestyle in the Lowcountry. Need I be bold to say that immigrants and immigration are good for America. New arrivals help drive business creation, fill labor shortages, and strengthen the concept of achieving the American dream. Immigrants are a net plus for our nation. Undocumented immigrants pay sales, vehicle, food, and other taxes. According to the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, over the last ten years, undocumented immigrants may have paid as much as $230 billion into Social Security for which they will never benefit.
Dreamers in jeopardy
Locally, as I mentioned, our Latino population serves as the backbone of our economy working in resorts, contracting, landscaping, restaurants, home care, and numerous other activities. I remind you that this population is not able to collect welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), or SSI (Supplemental Security Income). In the case of the Dreamers, of which there are 600 in the Lowcountry and almost 7000 in South Carolina (most whom were educated in our local school systems), the Dream Act gave these individuals an opportunity to work, pursue higher education, have a Social Security card, and a driver’s license. Unfortunately, the current Administration has opposed this Executive Action of the previous Administration and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn this program and potentially deport these young people.
Widespread support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
America has been, and always will be, a nation of immigrants. No one advocates for open borders, but we do encourage Congress to consider Comprehensive Immigration Reform which will include a requirement to learn English, have a clean criminal record, ensure payment of back taxes, pay significant fines, and wait for almost 10 years before receiving the opportunity for a path to citizenship. National polls have repeatedly indicated that such a program is supported by almost 70% of Americans. In the meantime, we must not stigmatize the efforts of people who only wish to feed and house their families and achieve the same American dream that many of our ancestors sought as they passed the iconic lady in New York Harbor.