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Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency – OpEd

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By Sarah Schulz*

Midland, Michigan, where my husband and I are raising our two young children, is a small town surrounded by rural communities. Many of us living here have seen, generation-by-generation, that we’re falling behind.

Our anxiety is real, but we wholeheartedly reject attempts by those in power to blame immigrant families who have their own struggles, or to suggest that a made up “national emergency” is any kind of solution. We know better.

One of my friends and her husband both work full time and each have separate health insurance through their jobs — but their three children aren’t insured. Their income is too high for the kids to qualify for the MIChild insurance the state offers children of working families. But their income isn’t high enough to allow them buy coverage independently.

Their third child was born just a few months ago. She doesn’t have paid maternity leave, so even though she should’ve recovered at least six weeks after a necessary C-section, she went back to work after three weeks.

“We shouldn’t have to just get by each month,” she said to me. “We should be able to get ahead like our parents did. But we can’t, and now we are just kinda living here — where one unplanned $20 expense means you can’t buy groceries, and you’ve lost hope of ever paying your bills.”

Her family is falling through the cracks. Like so many Michigan small town and rural families, they’re working hard, doing all the right things, and just barely getting by. Forty percent of our households in Michigan struggle to afford the basic necessities, like housing, food, and health care.

In situations of growing desperation, it’s natural to want to blame someone or some group of people, especially when our loudest leaders are constantly presenting us with an enemy to focus on. We’ve been inundated with messages in the last three years inciting us to blame immigrants for all our troubles, whether it’s lack of jobs or the cost of health care.

Baloney. We all know that our system of unchecked capitalism is to blame.

Too many profitable companies don’t insure their employees or their families. Mega-corporations like Amazon pull in billions — and pay no federal income taxes — while their workers go on food stamps. Others, like General Motors, take tax huge tax breaks only to ship thousands of jobs overseas.

My small-town Michigan neighbors understand that other people, struggling just as we are, aren’t the ones to blame for these harms.

As parents, we share the impossible agony of the mom at the southern border forced to return to her country of origin without her 5-year-old child. As neighbors, we recognize our immigrant friends attending church, school meetings, and soccer practices beside us.

These one-on-one interactions prove over and over that we all desire the same security, stability, and community. We all have the same love for our families, and hopes for a better future.

The mantra of “immigrants are taking our jobs” comes from people with virtually no first-hand knowledge of any immigrant taking the job of any citizen we know. The jobs held by immigrants are often either the low-skilled jobs that U.S. citizens often don’t take, or high-education jobs in our science labs, hospitals, and engineering firms that similarly benefit us all.

Up here, we’re the first to see through the fallacy of walls as we look across our lakes and rivers to Canada. There’s no talk on this border of a permanent concrete wall to stand as a forever monument to xenophobia and the ego of our current leaders.

We know at heart there’s only one reason — sheer racism — that we’re asked to believe the need for a wall on one border is an emergency, while there’s no talk of one on the other border at all.

Powerful people stoke this racism and fear to keep the poor at each other’s throats. That kind of thinking isn’t our way and shouldn’t be welcome in our communities, our state, or our nation.

*Sarah Schulz is a human resources executive, community organizer, and activist. She lives in Midland, Michigan with her two children and her husband,a public school teacher. She’s a member of Michigan United, part of the People’s Action network.

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Other Words

OtherWords distributes commentary and cartoons aimed at amplifying progressive analysis in the national conversation. It empowers readers to become more engaged citizens.

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