On the morning of November 9, 2016, I wrote, “[This] was an election about culture, values and who we are as a country.”
2020 is the same. The differences between the candidates’ visions for America could not be clearer.
While at this point, more Americans have voted for change than not, whether or not that leads to a new occupant of the Oval Office, we do not know. As a result, the federal government’s approach to immigration may not change.
What lies ahead is unpredictable and worrisome, on many levels.
On the other hand, looking past the election, there are things we know to be true, and people that give us a sense of what will be.
We know it is true three-in-four undocumented workers — an estimated 5.5 million people — have stood shoulder to shoulder with other Americans in jobs considered by the federal government to be essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure. Among these workers are an estimated 331,000 DACA recipients and 219,000 TPS holders, who are putting their lives on the line in frontline occupations.
We know it is true immigrants represent 17% of the health care workforce overall; 24% of direct-care workers such as nursing, psychiatric and home health aides; and 28% of highly skilled professionals such as physicians and surgeons. There are almost 351,600 undocumented workers in the healthcare industry, including at least 42,000 DACA recipients in the healthcare industry. And, more than one in five immigrant workers in the direct-care industry is currently undocumented.
We know it is true foreign-born workers make up 76% of all farmworkers and 42% of all food packers. 1,085,200 undocumented workers, nearly 20% of all essential workers, work in the essential retail sector, including in restaurants and grocery stores.
All of which makes new research from the Public Religion Research Institute remarkable in that we now know 79% of Republicans say immigrants are hardworking, and 76% say they have strong family values. Among white evangelical Christians, more than half support a way for undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers, to earn legal status and eventual citizenship.
These are some of the things we know to be true.
But so much of what lies ahead depends on new leadership in conservative parts of the country. Which is where unlikely people in unlikely places are to be found.
Five young women who grew up in rural Iowa — Joanne, Naomi, Laura, Lan and Ofelia — gave me a glimpse of the future.
Lan Nguyen, arrived in the Hawkeye State at the age of seven as a refugee. Throughout the conversation during our statewide convening last week, she spoke to the need to provide information to those outside of the immigrant community. Lan believed schools in rural America should, “[B]uild a foundation for people to understand the issues … Teach them the correct perspective, they carry it with them for a long time.”
Or, the immigration attorney from Galva, Iowa, population 418.
Generations ago, Laura Jacobsen’s family arrived from Germany. Now, she sees the “similarities and differences” between her ancestors’ experiences and today’s immigrant community. So, regardless of what her friends or family say about immigrants, Laura said she is, “[N]ot going to agree to disagree on whether or not somebody deserves the same human dignity that I want to have.”
And, Naomi Marroquin remembers growing up in Iowa and driving to Sioux City with her family to process their immigration papers. She now realizes the risks people took then, and take now, to drive without a license because there is no other choice. She said that when the community health center arrived in Storm Lake, “It was the gates to heaven so people could get affordable health care.” Now, Naomi advocates for migrant farmworkers in Iowa.
We know the rural Midwest is changing. And, we know that change, and leadership, is coming from immigrant families, and the native-born families who have come to love and support them.
So, regardless of what happens this week, we know there are immigrants helping all of us through the response and recovery to Covid-19, and there are leaders at the local level, native-born and immigrant, making America a better place.
I feel good knowing that.