In January 2004, the White House issued a fact sheet in which it stated that “illegal immigration . . . creates an underclass of workers . . . vulnerable to exploitation.” Despite the rhetoric, the fact remains that our society has always depended on an underclass of workers vulnerable to exploitation.
From indentured European servants to African slaves to Chinese railroad workers to Braceros to the Italian, Polish, and Irish immigrants who flocked to East Coast cities at the turn of the last century, the U.S. has always been a willing recepient of the “huddled masses” of the world. And these poor immigrants have always taken work that was too dangerous, too dirty, or didn’t pay enough for American citizens.
Immigrants have served the U.S. with their labor in the military, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work and other low-wage, low-skill work. The U.S. in turn has always rewarded these hard-working people with citizenship, granting them the right to full participation in our society.
Today’s immigrants are no different. They risk their lives to come to the U.S. to seek a shot at a better life. They work hard at jobs most Americans would never take. They harvest our food, clean our homes, raise our children, build our condos, repair our roads and they deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. They keep coming because we keep hiring them, because we need them.
We need to do right by these people and fight to make sure they are given the right to live and participate fully in our society.