Alexandra Kennedy offers a unique perspective on why we need immigration reform NOW. In short, it is because we need immigration reform to give thanks for the important contribution that immigrants make in our country.
Here is the speech that Alexandra reads in the video:
My name is Alexandra Kennedy, partner and lead immigration attorney at Kennedy Garcia Law. The immigration debate is heated up and the window is closing for immigration reform this year. We have heard the talking points on each side, but I would like to give you my perspective, the perspective of a person who works with undocumented people every single day and the perspective of a person who is a product of immigration, which I certainly am, and most likely you are too.
There is no greater privilege in the world than being born in America. We are protected and safe. Our police protect us. The court systems allow us to have fair trials. We have access to mandatory education, and no children work in the streets. Our people have homes and food or have places to go where they can get it. Workers are entitled to safe work conditions with a minimum wage, and our government provides assistance to people who cannot make ends meet on their income. Women have every opportunity available; we can be lawyers, doctors, or stay at home moms. We can be safe from violence knowing that if the police come, they will help us. The grand majority of people follow the laws. Our country is not perfect, and it could be better, but let’s face it. We have it pretty great.
In contrast imagine working 6 days a week, a mandatory minimum, and 10-12 hours a day, all to earn $3.50 for your work. And imagine that is all that you will ever earn. Forever. And you will never, ever get a raise.
Let me put this into perspective. On average, the majority of my clients, thus undocumented people living and working in the United States, start working in the fields when they are between 6-10 years old. If they are lucky, they will earn the $3.50 a day minimum wage. As they get older, they can achieve that $3.50. But then they look at their fathers, who also started working the fields at 6 years old, and well into their 50’s they are making… that’s right, $3.50 a day. He has been on the same farm, doing the same work, working the same 6 day a week 10 hour a day schedule for over forty years, but the pay is the same: $3.50. Women are relegated to the home because cooking and cleaning without modern conveniences requires an entire day’s work. Women have children so the children can help in the fields; help the family earn something resembling a living, and so the cycle continues. Many women are severely beaten and abused. This is accepted in society. Women who walk with bruised faces are supposed to walk proudly, as that shows she has a husband. Police see them and do nothing. There is no help. Even worse, children are abused in the home, everyone knows about it, and police do not get involved.
In stark contrast to what we have just a border away, there is no mandatory education for children, or at least seemingly no consequences to anyone if a family decides that the children cannot attend food. There is no way to make more money. There is no protection. The small amount of food available can usually thwart starvation and nothing more. Malnutrition is a problem that people just endure, as medical care and sufficient nutrition are outside the financial means of the family.
Then someone hears that he can come to America, work the same long hours on the farms in often the same miserable and substandard conditions, but with the hope to earn maybe $50 in a day, an amount that sounds like a lot of money. The misery is the same, but maybe there will be a bit more food to fill his stomach, a few dollars left over so that his family can maybe eat meat for the first time this month. He makes the decision to take the long, dangerous journey to America, not because he has heard of the welfare system or because he thinks he will go to America and get a free ride, rather because he wants to merely survive. Not survive well, just survive a little bit better than the status quo of his village. Maybe in the United States he will get to live in a house that has a bathroom inside. Maybe he will be able to get away from his severe beatings that he endures at the hands of his father that everyone knows about and no one stops, not even the police.
It is with this dream of SURVIVAL that many immigrants come illegally to America.
And when they come, they do what they set out to do: they survive. They work incredibly hard. They send money back home so that their family members can have a full meal, maybe buy a small, two room home instead of living in a shack. While they are here, they often start families. They earn very little here, enough for their American born children to qualify for government assistance. They realize for the first time what it could be like if their government helped them out; assisted them in their simple quest for survival. The women are safe for the first time, knowing that they and their children will be protected by police that cannot be paid off. The men know that they can provide food and clothing for their families, and realize that though they will never be rich, their children will never know the depths of poverty that they themselves have known.
So it is with this understanding that I repeat that we have a great privilege to be born, to live, and to thrive in this great nation. And with that enormous privilege, we have the responsibility to help those who have not been lucky by birth as we are.
People often say that undocumented immigrants do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do; I see it as that we are so fortunate that they do these jobs so that many of us do not have to do them, My father never worked in a field, and that afforded me the lifestyle that I am used to, a life that most Americans enjoy; a life where my only job was to go to school, be successful, achieve my dreams, where I never had to once worry where my next meal was going to come from, instead where I had meals aplenty, books galore, and a mother who stayed home not to do chores, but rather to be able to spend time with us, educate us, and spoil us. All of this was made possible because I was born in the great land of America, and because my parents were born here. Their immigrant grandparents did not have it easy. They worked hard, were uneducated, and sacrificed so that three generations later, their great granddaughter could be a lawyer.
The transformations and contributions get greater as each new generation is born in America. It is the combination of the immigrant work ethic with the possibilities that America offers.
Many of the undocumented immigrants that come here do not have much more than a 6th grade education. Their children come here and get at least a high school diploma. Their children’s children get a college degree. And so on. And sometimes it doesn’t require this many generations to get that far.
Perhaps people look down on this in today’s society, yet many of those same people take pride in their Irish or Italian heritage, which often followed this exact same pattern. My Italian roots are no different. My great grandfather was a garbage man. He tried to learn English but he had a 6th grade education and learning came hard to him. So he became the best garbage man he could be, so his daughters could go to school. He tried to speak in English at home so his children would never suffer what he had to suffer in his life, but his skills failed him. My grandmother graduated high school, the first person in her family. My father graduated college, the first in his family. And I graduated high school then college and then law school, and became the first lawyer in my family. This is the immigrant dream. To sow seeds that you may personally never see produce, but knowing that the results will be more than you could imagine.
Though many of our ancestors “followed the rules” and came here legally, it is because there was a time when the borders were open. As an example, given the same circumstances of the horrible conditions that people were trying to escape in Ireland during those times, if it were to happen again there is no doubt that those people would flee to the United States with the hopes of bettering their lives and not dying of starvation, and if that meant entering here illegally, it is certain that they would do it.
Thus when we think of immigration reform in this country, we must face it with absolute gratitude. Gratitude for the comfortable lives that we have, gratitude for the security that this nation offers to us, and gratitude for the immigrants who have been the backbone of this country so that people like you and me can take internships in high school instead of picking corn in the fields or cleaning bathrooms at Mcdonalds.
The least we can do for these people is give them a legal way to make their living with the hopes that their children, grand children, and great grandchildren can live easier, be more successful, and continue to make America one of the best countries in the world.