Civil liberties are an issue of advocacy for Wyoming Rising, a local 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. Immigration and non-citizen workers are a major component of civil liberties in our nation. Immigration always makes it to the top priority in political party platforms and policy discussions. With climate extremes becoming more commonplace throughout the world (droughts, huge destructive storms, floods, etc.) and violence and oppression occurring in many areas, people will be moving to escape those threats. Humans have always migrated. We are a restless species. It’s part of our basic biology. It’s one of the reasons we have survived for so long. It’s not just “those people” who migrate or move, it’s all of us. All of our ancestors migrated here. Native Americans migrated across the Bering Sea land bridge thousands of years ago. After them came other migrants from all over the world escaping violence, starvation and oppression as well as seeking a better life for themselves and their children. And it continues today. Over the past 5 years, just over 40 million Americans per year (7.5%)moved according to the American Community Survey (ACS). In the 1940s, one in five Americans (20%) moved each year. We are “them”.
Such human movement has generally caused both beneficial and challenging consequences depending on the perspectives of observers or those affected. From the immigrant’s perspective, the benefits include greater security, freedom from violence and oppression, and improvement of living standards.
Non-citizen workers under temporary visa authorizations earn money and experience American culture. Employers and our country’s culture also benefit from both immigrants and non-citizen workers. In March 2019, Wyoming Rising held a panel discussion about the vital role non-citizen workers play in Park County. Panel members included representatives from the Park County tourism, restaurant, hotel and agricultural industries. All these business representatives said they could not operate without the non-citizen workforce administered by the US Department of Labor. Every one of them said they are required to offer the jobs to American workers first. These employers said they never get sufficient American citizen applicants and many will quit soon after being hired. The employers were very pleased with non-citizen workers, and they strongly advocated an increase the quotas of these “guest” workers. All of them advocated legislation to streamline the inefficient, confusing, and cumbersome employment process. You can watch the fascinating discussion of the Park County non-citizen worker forum at https://vimeo.com/333451774.
Permanent immigration under US immigration law is based on reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the US economy, protecting refugees and promoting diversity. For employment-based immigration status, the sponsor or employer wanting to hire an immigrant must first test the US. labor market by advertising the job to US. citizens. Once a person obtains an immigrant visa and comes to the United States, they become a lawful permanent resident (LPR). They can apply to be citizens after 5 years residency. In FY 2019, immigrants admitted through the employment preferences category made up 13.5% of all new LPRs in the United States. The other 86.5% of immigrants were in the other categories mentioned above.
There are several misconceptions and challenges associated with immigration and non-citizen workers. A common concern has been expressed as “they are taking our jobs”. As discussed above current law requires employers to offer jobs to American citizens first before requesting that an immigrant or non-citizen fill a temporary or permanent job. As every member of the Wyoming Rising business panel stated they cannot get sufficient applications from American citizens, or many don’t stay on the job. They would go out of business if it were not for the non-citizen worker.
Another common fallacy is that these people receive US benefits (e.g., social security, health care, education, unemployment, SNAP), but don’t pay taxes. Most immigrants and non-citizen workers receive no benefits from the US government unless they fall into specific categories. These include those with refugee or asylum status, lawful permanent residents with 40 quarters of work credit, military personnel on active duty or veterans and their immediate families or people declared victims of human trafficking.
According to the IRS, non-citizens and immigrants must pay US income taxes on any income earned in the United States. They must also pay Medicare and Social Security taxes unless they are on a temporary agricultural worker visa. So, most of these foreign workers are paying taxes on income earned here.
There is a great deal of disagreement about illegal immigration which is not addressed here. According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of immigrants are here legally while 23% are not. The one area of majority consensus among both Democrats and Republicans is that taking in refugees from countries where people are fleeing war and violence is an important goal. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 12% of this category qualified as refugees or asylum seekers. Most of those are from Latin America. Some analyses have cited historic US interventions supporting authoritarian leaders in Central America as the cause of violence driving these people from their homes. As one of the farmers in the Wyoming Rising business panel said, it doesn’t matter how big a wall you build people will escape from violence and oppression The problem must be addressed at its source.
Let’s focus on common ground: immigrants and temporary workers are very much needed to support our local businesses and those fleeing from violence and oppression deserve our help. Wouldn’t we want those we love to receive such help? Do we have the political will to address these needs?
Wyoming Rising Vice-Chair