Our guest blogger is Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.Today, Demián Bichir was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor In a Leading Role for his portrayal of undocumented day laborer Carlos Galindo in the film A Better Life. Demián immediately dedicated his nomination to the undocumented. As he told me when we spoke recently, “I played a role that 11 million people play in real life. They don’t get the attention I do, but they deserve our respect and a chance at a better life.”
On its surface, A Better Life is a moving portrayal of the relationship between parents and their children, and the lengths that people go through to provide for their families. But dig a bit deeper, and the movie pulls back a curtain that 11 million undocumented immigrants live in fear behind.
In our everyday lives, we constantly see the undocumented — some, like Galindo, do our landscaping, others raise our children, prepare our food, and contribute greatly to our economy and tax revenue. At the end of the day they are no different than the rest of us, save for a piece of paper.
Yet the debate around immigration is polarized as never before, and the partisan stranglehold is so intense that meaningful immigration reform is elusive. The undocumented are left with little hope that their status can be changed and their lives normalized. Republican candidates “debate” the issue by pretending that immigrants will leave if we make conditions sufficiently hostile.
Carlos Galindo shows us otherwise. He struggles daily to live and work under the radar and provide for his teenage son. Like millions of immigrants, he must avoid seeking help from the police, even when his truck is stolen. He reminds us that our nation’s immigration policy is not simply a question of more enforcement, visas, or unauthorized entry, but is instead a deeply human story.
Demián’s performance was certainly exceptional, but sadly the story is not – it’s all too common for the millions of unauthorized immigrants living in the country.
Consider this: undocumented immigrants make up 5.2 percent of our workforce, and over 60 percent of them have been in the country for more than 10 years. And while we might think that the plight of undocumented immigrants doesn’t affect U.S. citizens, 4.5 million U.S.-born children have at least one unauthorized parent.
Undocumented immigrants contribute more than $11 billion in taxes every year. The nation’s agriculture industry could not get by without them. The cost of deporting the undocumented population would total $285 billion over five years, which amounts to $922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country.
Hopefully the publicity from Demián’s well-deserved nomination will stir policymakers to act in the interest of the newcomer and native-born alike, and move the Galindo story from the red carpet to Rose Garden ceremonies.