Karen Celestino-Horseman: Immigration is not about politics, it’s about people

Xenophobia—a “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”—is tightly woven into the tapestry of the history of the United States and Indiana and continues to be the weft of today’s politics.

Politicians tell us unauthorized immigrants are determined to harm us, but that if we vote for these politicians, we will find safety in their walls, and increased border patrols and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. They do not tell us that removing the community of unauthorized immigrants from America will hurt our lives and country.

There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. In 2016, an estimated 8 million were working or were unemployed and looking for work. While this represents 5 percent of the civil workforce overall, unauthorized immigrants exceed that 5 percent in farming and construction jobs.

The United States was not peopled with unauthorized immigrants overnight. It has taken decades of administrations—Republican and Democratic—to continually turn a blind eye to the tide of people quietly working the least-desirable jobs offered. Business needed these laborers because our young Americans were refusing to harvest crops, work in the slaughter yards, etc.—the hardest and dirtiest jobs.

Unauthorized immigrants are also moving into less-desirable neighborhoods and, with pride of ownership, are helping to increase property taxes and make those neighborhoods strong again. Millions of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes and do so because it demonstrates their intent to be law-abiding citizens if they are required to appear before an immigration court. In 2010, it was estimated that the employers of unauthorized immigrants paid $13 billion in payroll taxes, a number that has likely grown over the last eight years.

And then there is Social Security. Unauthorized immigrants, using the Social Security numbers of others, have paid billions into the program with the near certainty that they will not be able to collect Social Security. Instead, their payments have helped keep Social Security intact despite the increasing number of baby boomers.

No one disagrees that our immigration system needs reform. But instead of simply ripping out the community of unauthorized immigrants, the current administration needs to address it with the precision of an experienced seamstress, reinforcing weaknesses and reworking the threads to make the fabric of all lives beneficially joined.

Businesses established by unauthorized immigrants need to be able to operate within the law, increasing the tax base and their ability to offer jobs. Young, unauthorized immigrants who have grown up thinking of themselves as nothing but Americans need to be able to step into the full light of the community so we can ensure their potential, talent and skills will be developed to benefit the people of Indiana. And businesses employing lesser-skilled, unauthorized immigrants could pay a wage that offers hope to these immigrants, knowing that future generations of their families will benefit.

No matter how many walls are built, no matter how many men and women patrol our borders, no matter how many people are deported, the tide of unauthorized immigrants is not going to stop. Entry of immigrants into America—both authorized and unauthorized—is the very first thread of our American history and has continuously acted as the warp that builds the history of this country.

Our politicians need to quit making immigration a political issue and instead recognize it as a people issue and use immigration as a beneficial tool for the well-being and economic growth of our country.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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