THE AMERICAN DREAM
BUILDING A FUTURE OF GROWTH AND PROGRESS FOR OUR COMMUNITY
“According to the American Immigration Council, 1 in 8 Virginians are immigrants and
51% of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote.”
Our Commonwealth has a sizeable immigrant community that is poised to have a significant impact on current state races, but an even greater effect in the future as Virginia continues to diversify. Immigrant households strengthen the economy by representing more than 27 billion dollars in purchasing power in the state and close to 3 billion dollars in local and state taxes: one in six workers in Virginia is an immigrant and 20% of business owners are foreign born entrepreneurs, making up a vital part of the state’s labor force across industries.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2016, almost 20% of the population of State Senate District 13 was born outside of the United States, which is the reason why over half of our community views immigration reform as the most important issue, including me. Immigrants are so essential to Virginia’s economy that there needs to be leaders at the state and federal level that support programs like SWaM (the Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned Business certification program) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), like the DREAM Act and SB-1090 - that would allow immigrant students that meet certain criteria, to apply for in-state tuition, to name a few. All these programs not only lift up our community, equalize the playing field, and provide us with economic opportunity and the power to succeed, but they also incentivize growth and development.
When we talk about building a future of growth and progress for our community, it is important that we understand the forces that affect our society: we need to have a vision that focuses on people and their quality of life. A vision that emphasizes diversity, and inclusion and provides direction and motivation for change. People ask me all the time why I am so passionate about Immigration Reform, and my answer is always the same: because I am an immigrant myself.
I am originally from Mexico City and came into this country in 2011 after marrying an officer of the United States Navy. Even though I have two masters degrees, studied two undergrads, have three post graduate certificates, professional designations, licenses and have worked in three of Wall Street’s power houses, I was still sometimes treated as a “Class B” citizen. Nobody ever said that moving to a different country would be easy. Making a life change is scary, but the one thing that's even scarier is regret. Doubts kill more dreams than failure ever will.
As a first generation immigrant, I know what it is like to arrive into a country with a different language, a different culture, a different religion... with no childhood friends or family and fight to build a life and a career in spite of it all. I have lived and experienced firsthand all the struggles that come with being a first generation immigrant, from the lengthy and painful process of changing your resident status, hoping to become a "legal resident alien" someday; filing for a visa, a work permit, a social security number, applying for a green card, and everything that comes with the process. The stress, the paperwork, the background checks, the fingerprints, the interviews, the pictures, the tests, the waiting periods where you cannot leave the country, but yet you cannot work or even volunteer or get a driver’s license in the meantime. The thousands of dollars in attorney fees and filing charges, and all of this on top of sometimes being victim of racial profiling and discrimination... but believing in the American Dream is what keeps you going: the hope that someday you will not have to worry about being deported or over extending a visa and will have a shot at life in the land opportunity. The hope that you will wake up some day and will be lucky to be able to call this country home. And once you finally succeed in becoming a permanent resident after months or even years of waiting, things do not get easier: you get to wake up every day behind the eight ball. You don't have a credit history so everything is harder: you cannot own a home because you cannot qualify for a mortgage or buy a car. Even getting a credit card is a hassle and if you are lucky enough to qualify for any of the above, which is very rare (especially after 2008), you end up with the lowest of credits and the highest of rates. If you are one of the lucky professionals whose degrees is recognized in this country, not only do you need all the official translations, certifications and apostilles required by The Hague Convention, but even then you still cannot get any job you are qualified to do, simply because you have no track record. No experience in this country and no referrals. Nobody knows who you are, or where you went to school. It takes years to catch up, years working twice as hard and running twice as fast, while embracing American values and having an impeccable record to finally have the opportunity, 7 to 10 years later, to become a citizen of the United States of America.
Even though deciding to leave my country was one of the hardest choices I have ever made, I have found a home here, in Virginia. A state whose driving factors encompass economic development, a strong military presence, quality of education, employment for future generations, safe and stable neighborhoods, urban and cultural opportunities, and recreational and environmental preservation.
This new generation of immigrants who I represent, is made up of educated people with family values and high ethical standards. Some of them have an extensive academic preparation, some of them were denied that opportunity, but all of them are part of this community, of the workforce and of your everyday life. Some of these immigrants work in agriculture and construction, others are teachers and professors in academic institutions, some started their own businesses, or work for the largest companies in the United States, but there is one thing we all have in common: we are all now a part of this country. We are all immersed in the development of America, a country that has given us the opportunity to grow, to learn and to apply our knowledge and experience in different fields. Just as this country has offered us the chance to be a part of it by employing us in its workforce, each and every single one of us is also directly contributing to improving the economy and in making this country a better place for everyone that lives here. Growth and progress come into practice through public policy and fiscal incentives. At the end of the day, it is not about the left or the right, the color, or the hat. It is about doing what is best for this country, for the community and for our families.
Immigrants were object of denigration during the presidential campaign. That is wrong and someone needs to call it out. The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" America didn't take the tired and the tempest-tossed, but took the greatest, the bravest. Welcomed the people that left their country, their culture, left their language, their families, and everything they knew, in the search of opportunity, in the name of freedom. The people that came to America were not “criminals and rapists”, but rather the most energetic, courageous, entrepreneurial people were the ones that made it here. And that is the reason why America is great right now. But we need to have representation that mirrors America’s and Virginia’s new demographics, incentivize people to come and to invest; to make the economy prosper and generate jobs, rather than put a stop sign on Statue of Liberty and economic development.
If a comprehensive immigration reform was approved, America's deficit would be reduced by a trillion over the first decade; the economy would grow 3%; and the GDP would have 4.5% in growth over 20 years. And comprehensive immigration reform is not handing citizenship away like candy: it's a process. A pathway to citizenship. It takes at least 7 to 10 years of background checks, of embracing American values, and countless other requirements and even then, not everyone can become a citizen. However, it would benefit the economy greatly to integrate these people into society not only because they will be paying taxes, since the undocumented immigrant contribution is estimated to rise to 356 million dollars per year if they could receive legal status, but also because immigrants have a pivotal role to play when it comes to America being number one. Take the technology sector, for example, which has increased +13.3% YTD. Even though it remains the leader by a wide margin, the reality is that Information and Technology companies are understaffed. They need to be able to recruit talent from oversees to be able to keep up with the industry's exponential growth. Every emerging state in the World is trying to develop a technology growth, and that is the backbone of Virginia’s economy, and of Loudon County. If America as a nation is to continue being number one is because of technology, and a large part of growth has been sustained by immigrants working in these major companies.
A more diverse and inclusive representation not only makes sense socially and economically but is also what honors history: America is a country of immigrants. You cannot be successful if you continue preaching from a gospel of intolerance. And we must remember that the judgment of our character is more important than the color of our skin. This country has a blueprint that is now not being followed so it is time to fight for what is right, we need to take a stand, and change the course of events as they exist.
My mom always showed me with her own example how "We make a living from what we get, but we make a life from what we give." So this is why I get involved. This is why I care. This is why I want to run: to fight for the promise of the American Dream. I have not lost faith in this country, in its history of inclusion and diversity and its history of being welcoming to immigrants. I have not lost faith “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” and will stand behind what is right, what is just, what is honest. I have not lost my faith...
Great things never came from comfort zones and we have the responsibility to leave this world a better place for our children and for future generations to come. Even if we don't have the power to control the things that happen to us we do have the power to decide where do we go from here, and my children will not grow up in a country where families live in fear of being torn apart, if there is something I can do about it. So we have to take a stand. For freedom. For justice. For equal opportunity. For everyone who said #metoo. Because people worked for us and people fought for us and people suffered the burdens of prosecution, so that we would someday enjoy a more inclusive America. And I do believe that things can get better. That things will get better, and we will not live in a country where children are ripped away from their parent’s arms to be put in cages. I have not lost my faith in America. However, what happens from here is entirely up to us. So I invite you to join me, to take a chance! Get involved! Let’s work together to make a difference. It will not be easy but I can promise you it will be worth it. It is time to fight for what is right. It is time we take a stand and help the American Dream become the American reality...
... and plant the seeds of progress in the land of hope.