Raul Dominguez, the associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Cullman, Alabama, has moved his family from Mexico to the United States three times to comply with visa regulations. Throughout, he has remained deeply committed to serving the faith community in his small, north-central Alabama town. “The call that I received from God, especially given the stress that Hispanic families are under right now, is to stay here in the United States,” says Dominguez, whose 900-strong congregation includes both immigrants and people born in the United States.
That stress has led several congregants to ask that he take care of their children should they be deported, a request he finds stunningly revealing. “Take care of their children!” he exclaims. “When you see that, not with one person, but with a lot of people, it’s scary. When I see these people who are living in fear, I can’t leave them.”
They believe in this country and will give all they have because they love living here.
It distresses Dominguez that these immigrants live in fear even as they continue to contribute to the financial wellbeing of America. Immigrants in Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District, where Cullman is located, make up less than 4 percent of the population but play a critical role in the region’s economy. In keeping with national trends, the foreign-born in the district are more likely to be of working age — 71.4 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64 compared with 51.1 percent of the U.S.-born — and far more likely to have less than a high school education — 55.1 percent compared with 19.3 percent of the U.S.-born. As a result, they tend to fill low-skill jobs that Americans often don’t want; in manufacturing, agriculture, and construction the foreign-born comprise some 10 percent, or more, of the workforce. Combined, these workers paid $91.2 million in taxes in 2014, making them part of a vital contributor nationally to entitlement programs upon which all Americans depend, such as Medicare and Social Security.
“After living in a place where they were not secure or able to make a good living, they believe in this country and will give all they have because they love living here,” Dominguez says.
Dominguez would like to see more Americans educated about why immigrants come to the United States in the first place. “It’s not just because they are from a poor country and want to come to the strong, powerful United States,” he explains. For example, after the North American Free Trade Agreement was enacted in 1994, and U.S.-subsidized crops like corn and grains poured into the country, some 2 million Mexican farmers found themselves unable to make a living. “What are those families supposed to do when they no longer have a job in Mexico except to come to the United States and work on the farms that are here?” he asks.
In the end, towns like Cullman — an agricultural community founded by German expatriates in the 19th Century — benefit, as well, he says, given that immigrant workers spend much of their earnings locally. District-wide, the foreign-born own more than 4,300 homes and hold $291.4 million in annual spending power.
Dominguez says his church does what it can to help these new Americans assimilate into American culture and to succeed, even as immigrants continue to depend on one another for assistance. “Many times when a member in the community needs a loan but can’t get one through a bank or lender because they lack a credit history, neighbors will organize to support that person with their own funds,” he says. “That network of trust and support creates more opportunities for everyone.”