Anger brewing against NAFTA and the TPP has changed the political debate.
Before the end of the year, presidents often consider grants of pardon and amnesty. This year, Pres. Obama should grant amnesty to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, excluding those guilty of heinous crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery and child abuse.
Undocumented immigrants work hard, make great sacrifices, save their earnings and rely primarily on themselves and their personal networks to survive in this country.
They take jobs commonly discarded by average Americans due to low pay and low social status.
From washing dishes to parking cars, from cleaning toilets to changing diapers (both for children and some elderly), from picking tomatoes to mowing lawns, immigrants toil daily in these so-called dirty jobs.
Yet, Republican leaders, conservative activists and right-wing talk-show hosts assail immigrants for allegedly taking American jobs and burdening our social welfare programs.
But undocumented immigrants don't qualify for many state and federally funded safety-net programs, thanks to former President Bill Clinton's welfare reform act of 1996 and other measures.
Also, while many undocumented immigrants incur payroll deductions and pay into the Social Security system, they aren't able to receive economic or medical benefits once they reach retirement age, such as Social Security or Medicare.
Essentially, these hard-working individuals put more into the system than they receive or consume -- the exact opposite of their "free rider" depiction that conservatives so often use.
Moreover, by working for low wages (and, often times, receiving below the federal minimum wage), immigrants generate labor cost savings for employers, who then sell their goods and services at lower prices to American consumers.
For instance, how much would a house salad cost at a local restaurant if employers hired non-immigrant laborers to pick, package, deliver, prepare and serve the lettuce and everything else that goes with it?
While it's easy for Republicans and their supporters to blame Latino immigrants for America's economic crises, it's hard for them to live without this important workforce and the services that immigrants provide on a daily basis to American consumers. It's almost impossible for the average American to go a day without experiencing the benefit of immigrant labor at the local dry cleaner, grocery market, restaurant, car wash, office building or hotel.
Instead of recognizing immigrants for their hard work by passing legislation that allows for these immigrants and their families to fix their legal status via amnesty, Republican leaders continue to balk at any just and humane reform that would offer a pathway to citizenship.
Given the obstinacy of the Republicans, Pres. Obama should take matters into his own hands and solve this problem once and for all.
He should issue a blanket amnesty to all undocumented immigrants who have not committed violent crimes.
It would be in keeping with this season of charity, and it would let 11 million hardworking people come out of the shadows.
Antonia Montes is an educator and advocate for immigrant rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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