How would the American Dream and Promise Act benefit immigrants in Pennsylvania?
Pressure is mounting across the state for its congressional reps to back the immigration reform.
The state of Pennsylvania is home to about 890,000 immigrants, according to 2019 data from the research and advocacy organization New American Economy. During that year, these residents paid about $9.9 billion in taxes and accounted for $24.9 billion in spending power.
Economic health and continued growth in the pandemic recovery period is one of the many reasons why Pittsburgh activists have joined the call for the U.S. Senate to quickly pass expansive immigration reform legislation.
Pittsburgh residents and members of advocacy groups know how valuable the immigrant population is to their communities and to the overall economic well being of Pennsylvania.
During a panel on Monday, June 7, the state director with Americans for Prosperity, Ashley Klingensmith, commented on this truth with a simple, yet powerful statement.
“When immigrants work alongside citizens, we all end up benefiting,” Klingensmith said.
I’m joining leaders in business, community, immigration & agriculture to discuss how immigration reforms can benefit PA’s economy, workforce, essential services & communities. Register to attend here (there's still 10 minutes!): https://t.co/wHRh7flLSs pic.twitter.com/cGQBw6noTn
— Ashley Klingensmith (@Ash8156) June 7, 2021
According to New American Economy’s data, more than 222,000 immigrants in PA were homeowners in 2019. PA colleges and universities also had about 50,070 international students attending them.
Additionally, there were more than 62,000 immigrant entrepreneurs who accounted for $1.7 billion in income.
One of these entrepreneurs is 30-year-old Jacqueline Romero, who moved to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was eight years old.
Romero now lives in York, PA and runs a real estate business with her mother. Together, they manage 10 rental properties and four homes on the market.
Romero and her mom are able to legally work in the states due to a temporary permit program, but are required to reapply about every two years.
On Monday, June 7, the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual panel discussion, where Romero advocated for federal legislation that would create pathways to citizenship for immigrants in the workforce.
“We can’t continue asking folks like myself and my mom to keep renewing their permits,” she was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
She said Pennsylvania has become her home, and her and other PA immigrant workers “can’t wait any longer” to live the way they have earned and deserved.
Romero is one of the many activists in Pittsburgh and across the state calling for federal lawmakers to pass the American Dream and Promise Act.
TPS holders are our neighbors, friends, & members of the community.
The House has passed the American Dream and Promise Act, and the Senate should do the same.
This crucial piece of legislation would provide greater protections & offer a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders. https://t.co/cbFI0hb03z
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) June 7, 2021
The American Dream and Promise Act would offer a clear pathway to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship for certain immigrants who have been learning or working in the U.S.
It would also apply to individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The designation allows individuals to remain in the states for a short period of time.
In June 2019, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act. It gathered dust in McConnell's Senate.
So in March, the House passed it again. It cannot gather dust in this Senate.
To Dreamers and TPS recipients everywhere: @SenateDems are fighting for you. #HomeIsHere
— Senate Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryDems) June 7, 2021
Romero’s TPS status along with her mother’s allowed them the stability to start their business, but the risk of becoming business owners is not one most immigrants are able to take, she said.
A spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is a supporter of the Act and is pushing for immigration reform.
“Pennsylvania is fueled by the work of the undocumented immigrant community, as well as the rest of the Hispanic community. We want to work. We want to create. We want to contribute,” said Melanie Boyer, a small business owner and director of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Agriculture is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest industries, and according to Peter Gray, a mushroom farmer from Chester County, immigration reform is needed to fill in the gaps that the domestic workforce can’t plug.
Gray estimates that about 75% of the state’s mushroom farming workforce is Hispanic. He employs about 900 people on his farm, but like many of his colleagues, he struggles to find workers.
“That narrative where immigrants are taking American jobs, at least in the produce sector, is just not true. We can’t find anybody to do the job,” he said to the Post Gazette.
Speaking about the immigrant workers he has employed on the farm, Gray said that they have come here to build a better life for themselves and their families.
“Why not give them a chance?,” Gray said.