After his father’s cancer returned in 2016, Phillip Germain, then 18 and a college student, took care of him. It was a pivotal moment for the young man. His father’s care was contingent upon affordable healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Social Security. In short: public policy decisions allowed Germain’s dad to get the help he needed. It was a realization that inspired Germain to found CA25 United for Progress (25UP), a nonprofit dedicated to engaging Americans in local and national policy issues and holding elected officials accountable.
Previously, nobody in the family had been politically active. “Both of my parents kind of gave me a weird look when I jumped into this,” says Germain, now a 20-year-old political science major at College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, California. “My mother was like, where the hell did that come from?”
When you see the economic impact that immigration has in the United States, and then you see the diversity of culture it brings, it definitely benefits us.
Today, 25UP has some 300 members and 1,700 followers on social media, including students and area professionals. The organization holds monthly meetings in a local pizza parlor, and on its first anniversary state Senator Henry Stern gave a special address, encouraging the 100 or so people assembled to continue their advocacy work.
The group calls for a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States, as well as a path for Dreamers, young people who were brought to the country as children, and their family members. “We hold the belief that the United States should protect the very fabric which makes it great: immigrants,” states the 25UP website. “We cannot let Lady Liberty’s torch burn out by turning those coming here for a better life away.”
“It’s sad that we’ve come to a period in politics and in American government where these issues, which should be bipartisan and based on humanity and protecting people, have fallen to the wayside,” says Germain, who was recently chosen as a fellow by the progressive group NextGen America. “Immigration is included in that.”
Santa Clarita is a relatively affluent, small city in northern Los Angeles County; the median income is $83,000 per year. In California’s 25 Congressional District, where it sits, 20.5 percent of the population is now foreign-born, and, given its demographics, it is a population that is vital to the regional economy. In keeping with national trends, the foreign-born in the district are far more likely to be of working age — 77 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64 compared with 46 percent of the U.S.-born — and are more likely to have less than a high school education — 31 percent compared with 8.9 percent of the U.S.-born. As a result, they tend to fill low-skill jobs that Americans often don’t want, occupying between 35 and 40 percent of the workforce in construction, general services, and agriculture. Combined, foreign-born workers in the district wield $3.7 billion in spending power and pay $1.3 billion in taxes annually, also making them vital contributors nationally to entitlement programs upon which all Americans depend, such as Medicare and Social Security.
“Immigration has been the backbone of the United States since its inception,” Germain says. “When you see the economic impact that immigration has in the United States, and then you see the diversity of culture it brings, it definitely benefits us.” His own grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, immigrated to the United States after escaping Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp, and later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
After seeing the documentary “A Day without a Mexican” in one of his political science classes, Germain became acutely aware of the degree to which the U.S. economy depends on an immigrant workforce. “It drove the point home. A lot of the services that immigrants offer, and the job sectors into which they go, are wide-ranging, from coffee shops to CEOs,” he says. “If we were to cut off all immigration or send everyone back it would cripple the economy, especially here in California, with our farming, service sectors, and adult-care services.”
In California, Nearly 69.2 percent of miscellaneous agriculture workers are foreign-born. And a 39.4 percent decrease in that workforce between 2002 and 2014, combined with lesser decreases in other agricultural states, led to sales losses for U.S. farms estimated at $3.1 billion. At the same time, 36.5 percent of the hospitality and tourism workers in California are foreign-born, while the sector continues to add demand for low-skill labor, with 160,000 job postings in the state in 2015 alone.
“We are so intertwined with each other,” says Germain, “that without newcomers, the economy just wouldn’t survive.”