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Helly Lee's picture

Members of Congress from both parties are, once again, becoming more vocal about the need to address our broken immigration system. It seemingly happened overnight (the night of November 6th, election night, to be exact), and has been gaining momentum since. This momentum brings excitement to an issue that is long overdue for reform and a hope that lawmakers now have the will to come together to work on immigration.

Immigration policy is one of many issues that matter to immigrant communities. Our economy is still recovering, and like many across the country, immigrants are heavily affected by high unemployment and low wages. In a November 29, 2012 Gallup poll, Hispanic voters listed health care, unemployment, immigration policies, economic growth and the gap between the rich and the poor as top priorities. Similarly, an election eve poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) listed the economy, health care, education reform, civil rights/ immigration, and foreign policy as the most important issues facing the Asian American community. Some of these issues may intersect and come into play in future immigration debates such as the ability of immigrants to access health care, and some are happening now in Congressional decisions around taxes and spending.

While many workers have struggled in recent years, immigrants have been particularly affected by the recession. In 2011, the median usual weekly earnings of foreign-born workers were 78 percent of their native counterparts. Foreign-born workers were more likely to be employed in service occupations such as production, transportation, material moving and others such as construction and maintenance. Many day laborers and construction workers face work shortages as fewer jobs are available, due to the ongoing weak housing market and the slow economic recovery. Many low wage immigrant workers, such as domestic workers, continue to fight for fair pay and better working conditions. Immigrants also face numerous barriers to critical safety net programs that have been shown to help lift families out of poverty.

Many immigrants arrive with little but the hope of working hard to provide a better future for their children. Immigrant parents must surmount some of the same hurdles many other families face, including the lack of affordable child care and early education opportunities for their young children. However, additional barriers unique to many immigrants -- including legal, cultural and linguistic challenges -- exacerbate their struggles to ensuring a secure future for their families.

Immigrant issues are American issues. As the polls show, immigrant communities care about a range of major, far-reaching issues that affect all people. Addressing immigration and the many social policy issues that affect struggling families and individuals across the country and ensuring the inclusiveness of immigrant communities will make us a stronger nation. While the barriers are abundant, the renewed commitment to immigrant communities brings hope and the opportunity to hold elected officials accountable for creating and acting on well-thought-out policies that will address the diverse needs of communities.

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