New York Times (Op-ed)
By Roberto Gonzales
September 12, 2016
At the turn of the 20th century, reformers established a web of support in American cities to assist growing numbers of immigrants toiling in physically demanding jobs and living in crowded and squalid conditions. These programs provided an array of social services to integrate these newcomers into their new settings and reduce the effects of poverty.
Undocumented immigrants today face even greater challenges. Backbreaking jobs have produced chronic ailments. Many families have been left with the struggle to pick up the pieces after loved ones have been deported. Even long-term residents are prohibited from participating in important aspects of community life. And undocumented youngsters have faced the disappointment of blocked opportunities.
Since it’s unlikely that Congress will create comprehensive solutions in the next year or two to provide long-term stability to today’s immigrants, a constellation of services at the state and local level could address many of the needs of immigrants.
States could commit more resources for adult education and literacy programs. Access to subsidized day care and workforce development could help immigrants get a leg up on a changing economy.
At the local level, neighborhood institutions can offer a menu of legally permissible pursuits — job training, recreational programs, community service and opportunities to serve on local councils.
Schools can provide sensitivity training for their staff, and offer safe spaces and trusted adults to work with undocumented students in K-12 schools, which can help build better bridges to college.
Community clinics with health professionals sensitive to the unique circumstances of undocumented immigrants could address the mental and physical consequences of legal exclusion and the trauma of deportation.
Finally, local police, service providers, health care professionals, and school personnel should be shielded from performing immigration related duties, to bolster levels of trust.
Our policy makers have created a problem that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, by state and local governments as well as by local foundations and charitable organizations. While states and localities may be reluctant to spend money on immigrants, the potential payoff of integrating immigrants far exceeds local costs. Undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated $11.64 billion a year to state and local taxes. With increased opportunities to integrate themselves into local communities and economies, their contribution could be even greater.
From a public policy standpoint, it is better for the health and life of communities to invest in integrating immigrants and leveling the effects of poverty.
Legalization is the tide that will lift all boats. But in its absence, communities can still act.
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