While in Miami recently, I met several immigrants who moonlighted as Lyft drivers. Henry escaped extreme poverty and political corruption in Venezuela and came to the US on a work visa. He is a chef. His wife is a professor. They work multiple jobs, outside of their training and expertise, in order to survive. Periodically they travel home, but because of President Trump’s travel ban, they have to walk from Venezuela to Colombia, to catch a plane to Panama, in order to get a flight into the US. John is one of eight siblings, and his family funded his trip from Haiti after the earthquake in order for him to earn money to send home. He has seven businesses that he, his brother, and father have started. A few are import/export businesses that bring vehicles, cellphones, and other goods into Haiti. Another is a house flipping business. All in addition to driving for Lyft.
I like to think of myself as a hard worker, but the hustle these folks demonstrate every day puts me to shame. Immigrants are twice as likely to start a business in the US as native-born Americans, and only earn 83% of what native-born workers doing the exact same job earn. As a staff, we toured the Cargill meat-packing plant in Fort Morgan last month, an industry that couldn’t exist without immigrant labor. The work is incredibly demanding, and only the toughest employees stay, which is why the workforce is almost entirely made up of immigrants.
The big lie of the American Dream is that with hard work, anyone can achieve great success. While it does happen, it’s rare; and, it fails to account for the immense barriers we actively construct to make the journey more difficult for some than others. Despite being a nation of immigrants, “immigrant” has become a dirty word, associated with otherness, suspicion, and danger. Hate crimes have increased substantially this year, we’re taking away opportunities we’ve previously promised, and arrests of immigrants without documentation have increased by 43% over 2016.
Anti-immigrant policies and sentiment are having a significant negative impact on the health of families across Colorado and around the country. A recent survey by the Mile High Health Alliance found that seven out of eight Denver-area health care organizations have seen a decrease in appointments made by immigrants and refugees, which mirrors national trends. Another study demonstrated the link between immigration raids and low birth weight babies. The toxic, chronic stress faced by immigrants will have generational impacts. Although many parts of Colorado’s health care system haven’t much engaged on immigrant rights issues in the past, it’s long overdue, and more important than ever before.
Center for Health Progress convened the Coalition for Immigrant Health to respond to both short-term challenges to immigrants’ health and the long-term vision of a health care system that works for all immigrants, regardless of their documentation status. These short-term challenges include everything from DACA to driver’s licenses, which is new territory for us as an organization, but with clear health implications.
We’re proud to stand with immigrants—they are our neighbors, our families, and our friends. People like Henry and John enrich our culture, strengthen our economy, and are vital to our future. As we head into 2018, our immigrant health work is one of our top priorities, and the focus of our Colorado Gives Day fundraising campaign. If you want to be a part of this important work, please consider making a donation on Tuesday, December 5. Thank you for your support!