Mexican immigrant Claudia Ramos is a member of the largely invisible army that keeps Las Vegas’ tourist economy booming. She cleans guest rooms at the Paris Casino to serve some of the nearly 43 million people who visit southern Nevada annually.
People don’t realize the work that we do. But it is important.
Ramos is a member of the Culinary Union. Among other protections, the union has negotiated with Las Vegas Strip casino and hotel employers to ensure that staff members have a realistic workload — especially when they’re stuck cleaning “trashed” hotel rooms. Yet she’s concerned for the all the undocumented workers who do not have such protections. They work jobs that are essential to the local and national economy, but they are often treated with disdain. Plus, their undocumented status prevents them feeling secure in their jobs or from collecting on the Social Security benefits and healthcare benefits that many pay into through their work. Studies show that undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $11.64 billion a year. Through those taxes, undocumented immigrants generated a $100 billion surplus in the Social Security program in the last decade and a $35.1 billion surplus in the Medicare trust fund from 2000 to 2011.
Ramos says it is time for immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants who are estimated to be living in the United States. “I have friends who have been living here 25 years already, and they don’t even have their green cards,” says Ramos. “They don’t have a good job, and they aren’t treated with respect.”
Ramos is a U.S. citizen, but she has been part of the immigrant community since she first arrived here in 1994 as the 21-year-old bride of a construction worker. Her husband had a green card, having benefited from a government program that had allowed his own father, an agricultural worker, to apply for residency in the 1940s. Today, programs like this no longer exist, and deportations of undocumented workers are on the rise following stepped-up immigration enforcement.
Offering undocumented immigrants a more secure future is the right thing to do, says Ramos. By treating them as human beings who deserve rights, the government sends a message that they and their work deserve respect. In fact, the Las Vegas economy couldn’t thrive without them. Immigrants account for nearly one-third of workers in the category of arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services in the region.
Leaving so many people’s lives in limbo is an injustice that needs to be rectified, says Ramos, who has recently taken an activist role encouraging eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship and helping register people to vote. She was part of an effort that resulted in the election of Nevada’s first Latina U.S. senator in 2016. “People don’t realize the work that we do,” she says. “But it is important. We are important. We are strong workers. We are not afraid to work.”