It’s time to start talking about the strengths that immigrants bring to our country



Let’s change the conversation about immigration. It’s hard not to hear the negative narrative today about the would-be immigrants who wait at our Southern borders. As people of faith, how do we respond to these negative messages? As members of Pax Christi at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, we have been wrestling with this issue.

It is important to recognize the contributions and achievements of immigrants and realize the importance of welcoming talented and hardworking individuals from around the globe. Most immigrants have had to struggle through hardships to create opportunities for themselves. They are hardworking people of good character who value family life. Unfortunately, unauthorized immigrants tend to live in the shadows, while a few notorious immigrants make the news and infect public opinion. It is important to keep in perspective that violence and social problems are caused by a small minority.

Immigrants also come with talents and skills. They are founders of high-tech companies, inventors and small business owners. A study by Sari and William Kerr in the Harvard Business Review notes that immigrants account for about one quarter of entrepreneurs and inventors, even though they represent only about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Some important points to remember when it comes to newcomers:

(1) Immigrants have also excelled in sports, the arts and other fields as well. Foreign-born journalists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, teachers and public safety personnel are part of the fabric of our society. We have favorite restaurants featuring ethnic foods of every description. Newcomers contribute to the economy by producing goods and by being consumers. They have the potential to grow the economy. They are often willing to take jobs that others would not want. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, 85 percent of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy are handpicked by farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants.

(2) Undocumented immigrants pay at least $7 billion in Social Security taxes. They also contribute an estimated $11.64 billion in state and local taxes.

(3) Many people think that unauthorized immigrants get welfare and public health insurance benefits. This is not true. Federal law requires that even legal immigrants must wait five years for these benefits.

(4) As Catholic Christians, we believe in the God-given dignity of each person. We are called to welcome the stranger and have compassion on those in need. How shall we treat those who come to the U.S seeking a safe place to raise their families, a living wage and the opportunity for a better life? Are these not the hopes and dreams all of us share? The current group of Central American asylum seekers are fleeing violence, rape, gangs and drug cartels on top of crushing poverty. They are risking everything in hope of entry to the U.S., even their very lives.

Internationally, the developing countries have taken in most of the world’s refugees, despite limited resources. U.S. policies have severely limited acceptance of refugee populations, while we can afford to accommodate them. In our Christian Scriptures, even the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to protect the life of the child Jesus. Like most refugees, they did not have many options.

Pope Francis has urged us to especially remember the plight of migrant children: “Among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group, because as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless: their precarious situation deprives them of documentation, hiding them from the world’s eyes; the absence of adults to accompany them prevents their voices from being raised and heard.”

(5) We are called to welcome, protect, promote and integrate newcomers. We need to keep families together and support them as they enter and adjust to a radically new life.

We have much to gain from opening our doors to immigrants. When we are talking with others about this issue, we should interject positive comments and not perpetuate the negative narrative. It is time to put aside fear and selfishness, and to share the American dream.

Jane M. Griffin, Elaine L’Etoile, Linda Johnston, Sheila M. Matthews, Elizabeth Monteiro

Members of Pax Christi, National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette