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Union Says Pennsylvania Needs Immigrants

At the Philadelphia International Airport, many immigrants work as airport cleaners, wheelchair assistants and baggage handlers. (Björn Wylezich/Adobe Stock)
At the Philadelphia International Airport, many immigrants work as airport cleaners, wheelchair assistants and baggage handlers. (Björn Wylezich/Adobe Stock)
April 29, 2019

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania's population growth rate is one of the slowest in the country, but a bill now in Congress could help many immigrants come out of the shadows.

In May, Congress is expected to vote on H.R. 6, the "American Dream and Promise Act." That bill could help hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and other immigrants participate fully in the workforce by removing the threat of deportation.

Daisy Cruz, mid-Atlantic Director for Service Employees International Union Local 32-BJ, pointed out that immigrants contribute billions of dollars to the nations economy.

"They own homes, they pay taxes, some of them have businesses,” Cruz said. “They're contributing at least, just in the studies that we've done, over $7 billion over a decade in Social Security and Medicare."

She added Pennsylvania has been losing congressional seats to states in the South and West where the population is growing faster.

Cruz noted while immigrants in the workforce pay into federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, as non-citizens they can't receive benefits. So, contrary to anti-immigrant rhetoric, they are not draining national resources.

"It's a big myth,” she said. “They are actually paying and giving into our economy and not getting anything back from it."

As Pennsylvania's largest city, Philadelphia has a large immigrant population. Cruz said many work as building and airport cleaners, wheelchair assistants and baggage handlers, and they're a growing part of the membership of 32-BJ.

"These are the people that are in the shadows, so people don't see them,” Cruz said. “A lot of them do the work that a lot of Americans don't want to do themselves."

Nine of Pennsylvania's 18 representatives in Congress have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 6.

Disclosure: 32BJ SEIU contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Immigrant Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA