Here’s a Viewpoint article by Mary Hatch that appeared in the August 23, 2023, issue of the Mecklenburg Sun titled “A nation of immigrants“.
My great grandmother, Margaret Maxwell, left County Mayo, Ireland at age 14 with her 16-year-old brother in the 1800s to escape the potato famine which had devastated over a million people in Ireland. Their parents sent them on a boat to America so they would survive and make a life for themselves. The boats then going to America for the poor were called “coffin ships.” But, they were young and knew there was no turning back — life for them in their beloved homeland was oppression from Britain and famine. When they landed in America, they knew the wild west was growing and walked across America with a wagon train to Anaconda, Mont., where copper mining and smelting were profitable and booming.
Great Grandma Maxwell was hired at 16 by the Copper King, Marcus Daly, to manage a boarding house for the silver and copper miners. She excelled and he appreciated her work ethic and smarts, then loaned her money to build her own. She later married a successful blacksmith in town, Charles Flood. They purchased a block-built a hardware store and high-end boarding house and restaurant. They sent their children to college and lived the American dream. But, they never forgot their roots. They were generous to the miner immigrants who worked the copper and silver mines.
I am relaying this story because I was devastated when I read the news that Texas Gov. Greg Abbotts’s response to immigrants crossing the border was to order border patrol guards to throw children and mothers into the Rio Grande River, with some of the children floating into barbed wire fences strewn across the river to deter them — mothers and children crying and screaming! I wanted to drive from Virginia to Texas and throw myself into the river — pick the children off the wire and hold them and tell them they were loved — to express how sorry I am at the way they were treated by a country I am starting not to know. My great grandmother Maxwell Flood must be crying in heaven watching how heartless her much-loved adopted country has become.
Have we forgotten that it was the immigrants that came with their trades and passion that built this country? They were not handed anything except a job and 12-hour days. Today, farm and construction immigrants do the work that Americans living here don’t want to do, or are not trained to do, nor do they receive the benefits like us: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and more. They come here to make a better life. No one in their right mind travels on foot from Venezuela and Mexico with children and what they can carry in a backpack unless they are fleeing oppression, starvation, persecution or poverty. People love their homeland and families they leave behind. It took starvation for Grandma Maxwell to leave her beloved Emerald Isle and parents whom she knew she would never see again.
Don’t Gov. Abbott and fellow MAGAs realize that we have a labor shortage in this country? My generation, the Baby Boomers, have retired and the rest are retiring soon. We were the main workforce. Many Baby Boomer parents had four-six children; however, the younger generations today are having fewer children. So, the U.S. is experiencing a labor crisis. There are also shortages in skilled tradespeople because trade schools in the ‘80s and ‘90s started closing down because my parents’ generation wanted their children to get a college degree. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill is helping fill the void with the rollout of apprentice programs throughout the country in all trades. But, we need more time to train workers and we still have a huge gap in available labor. According to Brookings Institute, there are 1.7 million workers needed just in the retail, hospitality, and construction industries. This is not even counting agriculture where 73 percent of workers are immigrants, nor immigrant healthcare workers which account for 2.8 million providers in the U.S.
What Abbott, DeSantis, Trump, and the MAGAs need to understand is that the immigrants actually help reduce inflation because with more people picking crops, we have more produce at grocery stores and prices go down and there’s more food on our tables. With more skilled construction workers able to build homes, our home prices go down (NBC News, 5/11/23). My brother is a builder; Trump’s heavy-handed deportation of immigrants and the tedious slow process of acquiring help hurt his business. He says he pays a lot more for domestic help that aren’t even trained, nor motivated to work like many immigrants. He said most of the Hispanic workers he hired know almost every phase of building a home, they work fast, have a great work ethic, and actually show up.
Many people don’t know that undocumented workers pay around $12 billion a year in taxes: federal payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes. Their payroll taxes go into our Social Security trust fund, from which they will receive no benefits unless they work 40 quarters in a row (Source: ssa.gov).
President Reagan set it up so payroll taxes would be paid by undocumented with ITIN tax numbers. But, Reagan also wanted amnesty for three million undocumented workers for many reasons. When they became legal citizens, more would be paying the taxes and he knew without legalization they would be exploited by employers. But, Reagan also had stipulations: they were required to pay back taxes and fines which brought in millions to lower the deficit. It took Reagan 15 years to get the amnesty IRCA Act finally passed into law in 1986.
George W. Bush also believed there should be a pathway to citizenship as immigrants grow our economy. Bush spelled out a comprehensive immigration plan in his State of Union address in 2007, wanting to create a better temporary visa program. Reagan and Bush both believed in strong, but humane borders. Bush offers a comprehensive study on immigration at his Bush Institute website.
MAGAs should heed how icons of their party (Reagan and Bush) developed humane policies for handling the immigration crisis which made for a win-win all around. Even if the MAGA GOP doesn’t have a heart left, if they have any common sense left at all, they would see how our nation needs immigrants as much as they want to be here. But, instead of finding solutions, they are wasting taxpayers money (congressmen are paid on average $174,000 per year) by using misdirection and conspiracy theories and hate rhetoric to score votes, because hate is easier to rally up the troops than reason, compassion and actual intelligent solutions.
By incorporating laws based on propaganda and fear, we are digging our own pit as a nation and are lesser for it. And maybe the MAGAs have overlooked a couple of Bible verses: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33-4. “I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of your brothers, you did it to me.” Mathew 25:40.