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Immigrants are ‘Our Colleagues, Our Employees’ Says Advocate

Maria Teresa Borden, a journalist-turned-communications professional, was born in the United States, but she has an intimate understanding of the reasons people leave their native countries to start new lives. Her parents were refugees who fled Cuba after the revolution. And in Texas, where she lived from the age of 12 through college, she knew many immigrants from Central America and Mexico who had fled difficult conditions. “I know about the injustices and the corruption that can infect governments. So when people come here seeking what we call better lives, it’s not just about economics,” Borden says. “It’s about basic justice. It’s about seeking institutions they can trust.”

We really need to rethink immigration in this country.

Borden decided to become a journalist after a high school trip to a local East Texas newspaper. After college, she spent 19 years covering immigration at publications like the Houston Post, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star, the South Florida Business Journal, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. During her career, she grew concerned with how combative people were about the issue. “A lot of misinformation was getting out there, and as a journalist I just wasn’t in a position to combat it,” Borden says. “You have to maintain objectivity.” She decided to move into advocacy.

Borden earned her master’s degree in Latin American studies in 2013 and began working for various nonprofits in the greater Los Angeles area that were advocating for reform, including the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.

“For me, immigration reform represents a fair and more equitable system by which we administer our immigration laws and take into account that immigrants have inalienable rights,” Borden says. In California’s 29th Congressional District, which includes the north-central San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles, immigrants comprise 44.2 percent of the population. California, meanwhile, is home to more than 10.5 million immigrants, the single largest foreign-born population in the country. Immigrants there play a vital role in the state’s robust economy, as job creators — immigrants are twice as as likely to be entrepreneurs as U.S.-born residents the businesses they start employ 1.5 million people — as consumers, as taxpayers. It adds up to money for everyone. Immigrants pay $99.4 billion in taxes every year and wield $268.3 billion in spending power, money that gets distributed throughout the economy.

Those earnings, however, are often hard-won, says Borden. “I’ve seen situations where people are cheated out of wages and are deemed exempt from workplace protections because they are immigrants,” she says. “We really need to rethink immigration in this country.”

Borden would like to see immigration policy that’s more welcoming and humane. “The fact is that immigrants are in our country, and they contribute to our domestic economy and are part of our domestic society. They are part of our communities. They are our neighbors. They are our colleagues, our employees.”

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