Quick Hit Tuesday December 3rd, 2013, 2:55pm

Op-Ed: Why I'm Participating In The Fast For Families Immigration Reform Action

The following op-ed was written by Laura Garza *SEIU Local 1 Secretary Treasurer and Vice President about today's national day of action for immigration reform, which centers around a 24-hour fast.

Three weeks have passed since three long-time immigration activists, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon, and Cristian Avila, pitched a tent outside of the Washington Mall to begin their Fast for Families calling the nation’s attention to the moral crisis caused by our broken immigration system. Today marks a national day of action where thousands in Chicago and across the country are joining them in solidarity—including me. Fasting is a small act of sacrifice in light of the immense economic and social harms suffered by exploited immigrant workers and torn apart families.

The bipartisan immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate in August, although not perfect, would keep families together while making our country safer and our economy stronger. But despite being closer than ever to achieving real immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, Republican House leadership refuses to even allow a vote to take place in Congress. This is unacceptable.

While immigrant workers and their families have helped fuel unprecedented economic growth in our country—counteracting population loss, keeping social security funded, increasing economic purchasing power, and supplying an essential workforce—our economy has grown too dependent on the labor of undocumented immigrant workers who are vulnerable to exploitation and live in constant fear of deportation. And that fear is felt deeply by millions of families across the country. In Illinois alone, 56,108 children have lost a parent to deportation in the last six years.

An immigration system that lacks legal channels for workers to fill available jobs is just like a financial market lacking adequate regulation: a catastrophe waiting to happen. Indeed, as President Obama has said, comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary part of any plan for sustained economic growth. Until every worker has a path to legalization, with full protections under U.S. labor laws, our efforts to restore economic fairness for all workers will be fruitless.

Like Eliseo Medina, I am fasting not out of desperation but out of hope. I hope that we can realize an immigration system that protects our children, reflects our values and recognizes the contributions that immigrants continue to make to the prosperity of our country. Fully integrating undocumented immigrants into our economy is something that we cannot afford to overlook while we continue to climb out of the recession. Research shows that the implementation of commonsense immigration reform would lead to $1.5 trillion in economic growth, 900,000 new jobs, and $5.4 billion in increased revenues.

I hope our fast will compel Republican leaders like Congressman Peter Roskam and House Speaker Boehner to act. Allowing Congress to vote on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill could fix our broken immigration system, strengthen our faltering economy and fully integrate millions of aspiring Americans into our society.

* The SEIU Illinois State Council sponsors this website.

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