Immigration justice topic at luncheon for LWV Sanibel
Did you know that illegal immigration into the United States is less than 0 percent? More illegal immigrants are leaving the U.S. than entering, and this has been true since 2007.
Or that foreign immigrants have an outsize positive impact on Florida’s economy?
These and more surprising facts were presented at the League of Women Voters of Sanibel luncheon on Feb. 21. The speaker was Indera DeMine, a nominee for Fort Myers’ Young Professional of the Year. She is an immigrant and immigration attorney practicing in Fort Myers.
We learned that 21 percent of Florida’s residents are foreign immigrants. They make up 26 percent of Florida’s labor force and are essential to a range of industries in the state. Immigrant-led households in Florida paid $17 billion in federal taxes and $6.4 billion in state and local taxes, and Florida’s undocumented immigrants paid more than $598.7 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
Florida’s immigrant entrepreneurs accounted for 30.7 percent of all self-employed Florida residents and generated $5.6 billion in business income (2015). Seventy-five percent of these immigrants arrived legally, and that more than half of all immigrants in Florida are naturalized citizens. Foreign immigrants account for about half of the state’s population growth each year and this trend is forecast to continue at this level. Fortunately, immigrants – especially undocumented immigrants – are more likely to be in the workforce and much less likely to commit a crime than native-born citizens of the United States. Moreover, undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are ineligible for most federal public benefits and are much less likely to receive welfare than U.S. natives.
DeMine’s family had been rice farmers in Guyana, with no electricity or running water; the children often missed school because of fear of violence. When she was about 12, her parents moved to the city, where her father drove a cab and was lucky enough to become the personal driver for a staff member of the U.S. Embassy in Guyana. This person befriended the family and assisted them in obtaining visas. The family sent DeMine at age 15 and her brother at age 16 to live with an aunt in the Bronx. There was no one to help the teenagers integrate into America. Her brother started working immediately, while she took English as a second language and went to school. Like DeMine, her brother is now a college graduate and is employed professionally. Unlike DeMine, her brother is not yet a citizen, but is a Dreamer – DACA – and like other DACA recipients, could be subject to deportation.
DeMine noted that it is virtually impossible for families like hers, with little education or money, to enter the United States legally. Gaining entrance by filing a petition takes 15 to 20 years, with waits for those from Mexico, India, or China averaging about 23 years. She said that she and her family recognize their extraordinary good fortune, and they hope to give back even more than they have received from this country.