OMG! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Immigrants weathering the storm of tough immigration legislation

Immigrants entering the United States through ...

Ellis island Immigrants entering the United States

There is a shell-shocked quality to all the frenzy surrounding tough immigration reform laws. It’s as though America has woken up from one long dream to find a wretched economy where only the citizens are suffering but oddly enough, immigrants are quietly going about managing their businesses and jobs. It’s as though the scales have finally fallen and bewilderment has set in, unable to fathom why immigrants are starting and running businesses while citizens are lining up in unemployment lines.

Immigrants, whether legal or illegal know they don’t have the luxury of time when they get to the United States. They either have to accelerate their academic goals, start a business or obtain employment because they often have to support family members both here and at home. This is clearly evidenced by  a Small Business Research Study, that showed that small businesses owned by immigrants were responsible for $67 billion in income. Immigrants own 11.2 percent of all businesses in the country and these businesses range from low skilled jobs to highly skilled jobs.

Despite any and all adversity coming their way, immigrants know they have one thing they can do that no one can take away, and that is Work, Work Work. This simple philosophy however is about to be tested as jobless Americans try to grapple with the harsh realities of an ailing economy.

Following the economic crisis, the who can we blame for our lack of jobs immigration reform has made it once again to the top of America’s to do list.  A string of tough immigration reform laws led by first Arizona Georgia and most recently Alabama, tough measures are being implemented to stem the flow of immigrants working illegally in the country. The toughest measures yet are to take effect soon due to the latest Alabama immigration law signed by Governor Robert Bentley which is due to take effect on September 1 making  it illegal for a US citizen to give a ride to an undocumented worker. As though it weren’t enough for illegal immigrants to be arrested at home, at work, on the road and basically anywhere, it makes it also illegal for a US Citizen to house an undocumented worker.

For working  immigrants who own businesses or go to school, these laws hit close to home because most immigrants reside or run businesses in areas inhabited by other immigrants of the same culture. The tension is ostensibly felt in any given immigrant community when one of their own is arrested. In the moments when an illegal immigrant is arrested, immigrants, typically from the same country of origin, pull together in a manner that is very much collectivist and get to work to solve as much of the new problem as they can. This usually takes the form of marshaling resources in the form of securing legal representation or taking care of families of those detained.

This collectivist approach that has served to help immigrants start businesses and go to school may actually come in handy during this period of hostility following the harsh laws being enacted. The storm of immigration reform is bound to get worse before it gets better. In the quiet manner that is very immigrant-esque, and very much in the immigrant tradition that is all American; Immigrants will continue to adapt, quietly working hard and finding ways to educate and support each other.

One can’t help but wonder what will be left in the wake of this recent storm. Will anti-immigrant sentiment spread and create a hostile environment to what has mostly been a homogeneous and tolerant society here in America? Or will immigrants become more insular, only hiring other immigrants and essentially cutting out other groups from job opportunities? If churches and schools are now breaking the law when they house and feed immigrants, does that mean there will now be more people out in the streets? It will be interesting at best to watch the effects of the tough measures being passed on what is already the changing face of America.


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