Arizona has become one of the fastest growing states in the country and is one of only four states that shares a border with Mexico. Given its new economic muscle and its geographical location, Arizona is in a perfect position to understand the balance between border security and the mutual economic benefits of immigration.
Arizona’s congressional delegation represents families, business owners, workers and students, many of whom have been personally impacted by federal immigration policy. The pain that results from inadequate federal immigration policy is shared. For individuals and their families, the impact is harsh. But business owners also feel the pinch of policy that impacts pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, essential workers, farmworkers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, or immigrants who have been given temporary status because of armed conflicts or natural disasters.
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While the media may focus on legislative jockeying or the stories of impassioned advocates, we should not lose sight of the opportunity we now have to address much needed federal immigration policy.
The recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework proves that, when Democrats and Republicans sit together and work out their differences, agreement is possible. So, let’s begin here: The majority of members in Congress support the principle of a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
As the president of Arizona State University and the chairman of the board of trustees of the ASU Foundation, we see firsthand the incredible contributions that Dreamers and undocumented students are making. We strongly support a new proposed regulation from the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen the legal underpinnings of the DACA program in the face of legal challenges.
America needs talented young women like Dalia Larios, who graduated from ASU with a 4.0 GPA and went on to Harvard Medical School, and promising young men like Oscar Vasquez, who started a robotics team at ASU and served two tours in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army. These Dreamers are doers.
Arizona is home to more than 36,900 DACA-eligible young people like Dalia and Oscar. Ninety-five percent are employed, hold a spending power of $617 million, and pay over $180 million in local, state and federal taxes each year. Providing legalization and citizenship for Dreamers is a non-partisan issue: 69% of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 – when he pledged to deport Dreamers – say that they should be protected.
Along with Dreamers, essential workers would also be served with improved immigration policy. A silent force that became very visible during the pandemic, essential workers have kept our businesses running and our communities moving forward.
Nationwide, 74% of undocumented immigrants are essential workers. They are putting their own lives on the line to care for Arizonans as healthcare workers, home health aides, and personal care aides. While many of us worked from home, these essential workers served us by cleaning buildings, providing transportation, working in grocery stores, and caring for children. Undocumented essential workers quietly sacrificed and stepped up during the pandemic for one reason: We need them.
In Arizona, we know what it means to need a labor force of undocumented workers. Here, like other places across the nation, we rely heavily on undocumented farmworkers to handpick fresh fruits and vegetables. Many farmers find the H-2A visa program, which is intended to bring in farmworkers temporarily, to be expensive and burdensome. Providing pathways to citizenship for farm laborers will create more stability for workers, their employers, and the nation’s food supply chain. Our university and others will also benefit from the expanded economy that legal status for farmworkers will bring.
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Reforming our immigration system will grow our Gross Domestic Product, spur job growth, and raise wages for all Arizonans. One recent study found that legalization and citizenship will boost the U.S. economy by $121 billion annually, including adding $31 billion per year to federal, state and local tax collections. In Arizona alone, our economy would grow by an estimated $3 billion per year. It is also politically popular as a recent poll of Arizona voters commissioned by the bipartisan American Business Immigration Coalition and FWD.us found that 61% of 2020 Trump voters in Arizona support a path to citizenship for Dreamers, 58% support a path for farmworkers and 50% for essential workers.
Americans share a common heritage when it comes to immigration, and it is public policy in which we have a shared interest as citizens of this democracy. We believe there is every reason for Americans of different political points of view and politicians of different parties to come together on this important economic issue, as they did earlier this year when it came to advancing our national interest by investing in microelectronics in a bipartisan support for federal action.
It has been 35 years since Congress last modernized our immigration laws. The time is overdue. As it has in other areas of life and policy, let the pandemic serve as an accelerator for what was already in motion. We have before us the best chance in a generation to provide permanent legal status to the Dreamers, essential workers, farmworkers, and TPS holders who have contributed so much and stand ready to contribute even more.
So many immigrants lacking legal status in Arizona have done much to advance our economy and our health and well-being. We ask that Arizona’s congressional delegation now work together to provide them with a path to citizenship.
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