Savannah is a tourists’ dream destination. Being able to stroll through the Historic District (cocktail in hand) and sample the award-winning local cuisine makes this the perfect weekend escape. I should know. I’ve spent seven years in the hospitality industry, and visitors are constantly raving to me about our famed city and its charm.
But national immigration policies are threatening tourism in places like Savannah — which benefited from nearly $3 billion tourist dollars last year — because the White House is making cities like ours less welcoming to the people who serve these visitors on a daily basis: Dreamers like me who account for a significant portion of the hospitality workforce. From what I’ve seen, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of openings in these fields. We could fill these open jobs — if only Congress would act.
Sept. 5 was the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and so far Congress has failed us. Now, four lawsuits are arguing over the issue; last month, a federal judge in D.C. ruled that no new DACA applications had to be accepted. Soon enough, my fate and that of 800,000 Dreamers will likely be in the hands of the Supreme Court.
If the law doesn’t fall in our favor, that would be bad news for Savannah. According to New American Economy, three of the top 10 industries employing Dreamers are hospitality-related, including food services, accommodations and maintenance. That’s almost 185,000 tourism workers that cities like ours would lose should the Trump administration be allowed to strip DACA recipients of their right to work legally.
Without immigrants, there’d be fewer people to make the beds and set out those tiny bottles of shampoo. And Dreamers like myself provide more than physical labor. Over 80 percent of us have at least some college. Since I graduated from Armstrong State University, I’ve been promoted up the ladder to my current position as sales manager and now use my bilingual language skills to lead Spanish-language training programs.
I want award-winning publications to keep promoting our beautiful city as a must-visit destination. I want couples to continue hosting destination weddings at our venues. And I want Hollywood to film more movies like Baywatch here. Our status as a destination city could be at stake if we don’t protect the immigrant workers who help make it all possible.