While the specifics of immigration reform may be a controversial topic in Arizona, we must not let policy debates undermine the values that I know the residents of our great state share about the positive impact of immigration. In fact, most of us are descended from immigrants, and some of us, like me, are immigrants ourselves. Many of our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers are also immigrants. We all must recognize that generations of immigrants have helped strengthen Arizona and contribute to our state’s unique character.
Therefore, I hope all Arizonans will join in the fourth annual nationwide celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month this June. It is an excellent opportunity to gather together and share inspirational stories of immigration in America. In past years, a number of state and local elected officials issued proclamations in support of the Immigrant Heritage Month, hundreds of corporate and nonprofit partners offered their support, and dozens of events have been held around the country. Hopefully, we can build on that success.
June is a great time to do something tangible to show you care. We have to live up to our American ideals, and that means making our country a welcoming place for all those who have traveled far to get here and give us so much.
I know this first hand. I grew up in Canada, but my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 10. My father had visited Arizona with a friend, and he fell in love with Phoenix. My family was sick and tired of the snow in Ontario! It took several months for us to move and my father had to have a job lined up. I remember we all were required to get physical exams as well. I didn’t receive my U.S. citizenship until I was 32 in the early 1980s. By that time, I had married a U.S. citizen and had a young American-born daughter with a son on the way. I took my citizenship very seriously, and was required to pass a test and have two sponsors who could vouch for my character. I am tremendously proud to be an American, and I wholeheartedly embrace all of our country’s unique traditions and celebrations.
Immigrant Heritage Month is all about telling the stories of immigrants. We all have a role in the American story. Perhaps you have your own stories to share about immigration, or you can tell the stories of your parents or grandparents. Remember your family’s sacrifices, struggles and successes. Now is a great time to share them with others, whether it is in person or on social media. And if you are an immigrant yourself, please use the hashtag #IAmAnImmigrant.
Amid all of the discussion on immigration reform, we cannot forget to show them how much we really do appreciate them. Even the little things count. Let’s remember that immigrants contribute to our economy, do important work, pay taxes, start and grow businesses and innovate, making America more competitive to keep our edge in an increasingly global marketplace.
This is especially true here in Arizona where 13.7 percent of our population is foreign-born. Our state can’t thrive without the $16 billion in spending power immigrants earned and the $5.4 billion in taxes they paid in 2014 (source: New American Economy). Furthermore, they’ve helped to create a more fair and just society for all Americans and added to our cultural diversity. We simply can’t afford to lose their talents and abilities to our rivals abroad.
While the focus is around June’s month-long celebration, an “I Stand with Immigrants” initiative will last for an entire year to provide avenues for individuals, companies, organizations and public leaders to take concrete action in support of the immigrants in their lives. You may think the immigration system is broken; but regardless, we have to stand in solidarity with immigrants across America. It’s time to applaud the heritage, culture and diversity that makes this country great.