Opinion: NAPAWF member Hedy Tripp on immigrants’ contributions to their communities

Published: Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Immigrants contribute, too

by Hedy Tripp, Times Writers Group
originally published at sctimes.com Nov 24, 2013

Immigrants are consumers, workers, taxpayers and entrepreneurs.

This is from the new report “The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Minnesota” by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which champions comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. The report further shows how immigrants are clearly assets (Asian and Latino buying power in St. Cloud was $45 million in 2009).

As part of a recent chamber panel in St. Cloud, I was impressed to see the openness displayed in listening to a diverse number of immigrant and refugee voices.

An important viewpoint shared by the panel was how first-generation immigrants sacrifice a great deal so their children have access to lives their parents could only dream about.

However, as some panelists pointed out, racism, discrimination and xenophobia are all common challenges for newcomers, especially newcomers of color, when they come to this country and to St. Cloud.

Long, sad history

This has been the history of immigrants to the U.S. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 was the first (and, at present, only) federal immigration law that targeted a race of people. It targeted Chinese workers and created a legacy of hatred against Asians in America.

As an immigrant woman, I am acutely aware that 75 percent of immigrants and refugees are women and children.

Gloria Steinem, speaking Nov. 19 at the We Belong Together National Press Club event, talked about why immigration reform is a top women’s issue. Steinem stressed we need to see immigrants as they really are.

She challenged us to question what this nation needs as a workforce besides high-tech jobs. She pointed out that as our population ages and lives longer, we are going to need workers for domestic care, elder care, etc., who are dominated by the “talented labor of women and often are immigrant women.”

We need more than 1 in 3 work visas going to women. We are still fighting for gender equality.

As an Asian-American naturalized citizen, I am also aware that Asian-Americans constitute almost 30 percent of our country’s immigrant population.

Time for reform

As part of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, I have been a strong advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Almost 1.5 million of the 11 million aspiring citizens who are living in the shadows are Asian-American. Asian-American communities also suffer the longest separations from their families due to visa backlogs — especially women from Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Immigration is about families. Immigrants have always relied on families for success. According to MomsRising, 5 million children in the U.S. fear being separated from their parents.

We need common-sense immigration reform that treats women and children fairly. The House needs to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that prevents families, including LGBT families, from being torn apart. Immigrants and refugees have rights, too — to health care and other assistance. They also need a clear road map to citizenship.

So the question goes back to whether we are willing — as the chamber report noted — to “act with economic and cultural self-confidence in the presence of globalization, and continue to welcome immigrants?”

Are we willing to live next to these new families and be open to learning new cultures? Are we willing to share the power of leading our city with our newer immigrants and refugees?

Are we willing to invite not only into our homes, but into our businesses, boards, commissions and councils qualified and diverse leaders from these communities and listen to their points of view?

The goal of racial justice and gender and economic equity will strengthen our communities and build a unified St. Cloud.

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