Undocumented immigrants are contributing members of our society

To the Editor:

I was very disturbed by Arlene Shako’s letter to the editor in the Dec. 3, 2020 issue of The Enterprise [“Vaccinate undocumented immigrants last”]. It advocates that undocumented immigrants should be relegated to the bottom of the COVID-19 vaccine recipient pool.

Rather than prioritize the administration of vaccines based on the degree of risk to the individual, she prefers that it depend upon a person’s status in the community. Opinions like this are generated by the hateful, baseless rhetoric that has become so pervasive in our country. If we allow ourselves to believe everything we hear without question, we harm ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Ms. Shako’s letter suggests that everyone but undocumented immigrants should get the vaccine first because “We have worked and paid taxes our entire lives.” Well, so have many undocumented immigrants.

The report of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy titled “Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions” dated March 1, 2017, notes:

“Like other people living and working in the United States, undocumented immigrants pay state and local taxes. They pay sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services (for example, on utilities, clothing and gasoline). They pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Many undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes. The best evidence suggests that at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs), and many who do not file income tax returns still have taxes deducted from their paychecks. Collectively, undocumented immigrants in the United States pay an estimated total of $11.74 billion in state and local taxes a year…. (emphasis supplied). This includes more than $7 billion in sales and excise taxes, $3.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.1 billion in personal income taxes.”

Are you collecting Social Security, Ms. Shako? Are you on Medicare? If so, undocumented immigrants have personally contributed to your benefit.

According to the non-profit economic news organization Marketplace, citing New American Economy, “undocumented immigrants contributed $13 billion into Social Security funds in 2016 and $3 billion to Medicare … Since undocumented immigrants don’t have Social Security numbers and are not authorized to work legally in the U.S., they are not eligible for any Social Security benefits, whether they’ve paid into the system or not.” (See, “Undocumented Immigrants Quietly Pay Billions Into Social Security and Receive No Benefits,” by Nina Roberts, Marketplace, Jan. 28, 2019.)

In 2013, the Social Security Administration estimated:

“earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010. We estimate that future years will experience a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.” (See,“Effects Of Unauthorized Immigration On The Actuarial Status Of The Social Security Trust Funds,” Social Security Administration, Office of Chief Actuary, Actuarial Note Number 151, April, 2013.)

According to the aforesaid Marketplace article, “If all undocumented immigrants were deported today, next year’s Social Security trust funds would have approximately $13 billion less for benefits payouts. It’s a considerable loss of dollars, especially when it’s projected that the Social Security funds will be depleted by 2034.”

Finally, undocumented immigrants work hard just like you did Ms. Shako. Do you enjoy the apples you bought on your autumn trip to the orchard? If so, they may well have been picked by a hardworking undocumented immigrant.

Likewise, do you enjoy fresh milk and vegetables? If so, they also may well have been brought to your table through the back-breaking efforts of undocumented immigrants. Have you had a loved one cared for during an illness or advanced age? If so, that caretaker could very likely have been an undocumented immigrant.

Do you like to eat at restaurants? If so, the plate your meal was delivered on could well have been washed by an undocumented immigrant.

“Undocumented workers can be found working in almost every industry in New York City performing a wide variety of tasks. More than half of all dishwashers in the city are undocumented workers, as are a third of all sewing machine operators, painters, cooks, construction laborers, and food preparation workers. Undocumented workers also make up close to 30 percent of the city’s automotive service technicians and mechanics, waiters, maids and housekeeping cleaners, and carpenters. The five occupations with the most undocumented workers in New York City are cooks (21,000), janitors and building cleaners (19,000), construction laborers (17,000), maids and housekeeping cleaners (16,000), and waiters (15,000).” (See “Illegal immigration to New York City,” Wikipedia.)

According to a study of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, essential immigrant workers in New York:

“play a central role in safeguarding and sustaining state residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, often at great risk to their health and that of their families. Based on estimates drawn from 2018 U.S. Census data, the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) estimates that 1.8 million immigrants work in jobs in the “essential businesses” identified by New York State (New York State 2020). These businesses fall into 10 categories … that meet the health, infrastructure, manufacturing, service, food, safety, and other needs of state residents. The majority of the New York foreign-born essential workers — 1.04 million — are naturalized citizens, 458,400 are legal noncitizens (mostly lawful permanent residents or LPRs), and 342,100 are undocumented (emphasis supplied).” (See, “Immigrants Comprise 31 Percent of Workers in New York State Essential Businesses and 70% of the State’s Undocumented Labor Force Works in Essential Businesses,” April 30, 2020.)

The report concluded that “A remarkable 70 percent of the undocumented labor force consists of essential workers (emphasis supplied).”

Sadly however, some of these workers are exploited by their employers. They are subjected to substandard working conditions and unpaid wages thereby enriching their employers while placing workers at risk. (See, “Employers increase their profits and put downward pressure on wages and labor standards by exploiting migrant workers,” Economic Policy Institute, Aug. 27, 2019.)

In conclusion, undocumented immigrants are contributing members of our society and deserve to  be treated as such. Ms. Shako’s insinuation that their lives are any less important to save from COVID-19 than those of others is simply wrong.

We are all best guided instead by the age-old Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

Christine M. Galvin Esq.

New Scotland

Joined: 02/11/2019 - 12:11

All of this! Thank you Christine for taking your time to write all of this out.

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