Sonny Garcia’s single mother was born in South Texas, but she spent years working as a migrant laborer to support her family. “There are a lot of undocumented people in that space,” Garcia says, whose own father was undocumented. “I grew up learning about what that meant, hearing stories about how they’re treated, and learning about how to stand up for hardworking people.”
Immigrants are very important to, and have a huge impact on, our local economy.
Garcia now serves as a board member for Illinois People’s Action, a faith-based organization that fights for social justice, including immigration reform. Since the 2016 election, the organization has increased its efforts to provide Know Your Rights training and support to undocumented immigrants. It also works to get driver’s licenses for undocumented workers and supports the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as young children.
“Everywhere around the country, there are immigrants in every line of work,” Garcia says. “Here in Illinois, from construction to hotels to restaurants to new business owners, you name it, they’re on it. Immigrants are very important to, and have a huge impact on, our local economy.” He’s right: Illinois is home to 1.8 million immigrants, with total spending power of $40.1 billion and tax contributions of $14.9 billion annually, according to New American Economy research.
Garcia’s greatest hope for immigration reform is a clear pathway to citizenship and documentation for people already living and working in the United States. He is especially hopeful that the new administration will take care of the young people who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 program that allows undocumented immigrants who entered as minors to stay in the country on a renewable visa, working and furthering their education. “They’re ready to do the necessary work to pass reform,” he says. “But at the same time they’re realistic and afraid. Realistic, but ready to fight. . . . It’s just better for all of us to keep these hardworking people here.”