Op-Ed by Luisa Santos The Miami Herald, April 10, 2022
I have seen and felt firsthand the need for immigration reform in the United States. I have also witnessed Congress fail to pass significant immigration reform as proposed by the Dream Act and the immigration relief provisions that were included in the Build Back Better Act. Passing immigration relief, such as those incorporated in these two bills, will change the lives of thousands of Floridians, help address the ongoing labor shortage, strengthen our economy, and support our local communities. This issue is a personal one. I was a junior at Coral Reef Senior High when I found out I was undocumented, and it changed my life dramatically.
Before this realization, I was a star student who aspired to attend college out of state. In one moment, all these open doors of possibility were closed. Through the guidance of my teachers, I was able to enroll at Miami Dade Honors College, while my family and I sought to attain legal immigration status. I feel incredibly lucky that I had these opportunities, as most undocumented immigrants face barriers that prevent them from pursuing higher education and employment. After graduating from Georgetown University and achieving permanent resident immigration status, I founded Lulu’s Ice Cream.
At Lulu’s, we treat our customers and community like family and work together to help everyone succeed. That includes buying our ingredients from local small businesses and providing programs for all employees to receive financial literacy training and personalized college advice. Just as I was able to pursue my dreams in this country, I wanted to ensure my employees had the tools necessary to follow their dreams too. I am by no means an outlier. Millions of immigrants like me are supporting our economy and workforce by starting businesses and working diligently at their jobs. Florida’s 4.5 million immigrants pay $8.5 billion in local and state taxes and contribute $98 billion annually to Florida’s economy. We’re also job creators; with Florida’s immigrant business owners employing more than 845,000 people. These contributions do not come easy. Immigrants work hard for the opportunity to build a better life. Despite facing countless hurdles, immigrants remain resilient and are passionate contributors to our economy, communities and workforce. I also have the honor of serving as an elected School Board Member in Miami-Dade County. I am buoyed by the efforts of district personnel to create an inclusive and supportive environment for undocumented students, who experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In my first month as a Board Member, I proffered item H-8, which refocused and recommitted Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) to providing post-secondary resources and supporting undocumented students and those from mixed-status families. As a result of this item, the work of District staff, and the support of community partners, M-DCPS now has a student-friendly comprehensive website filled with resources and student services staff receive targeted professional development. While this and similar actions taken at the local level are important, it is time for Congress to take clear and concrete action to meaningfully change that will positively impact Florida’s 74,000 undocumented students.
To me, and others like me, immigration reform is more than a partisan political football. It is the hopes and dreams of millions of students, families, and the workers who only want an opportunity to pursue the American Dream. I am a proud American and a proud immigrant. I know from experience the incredible contributions that immigrants can make to our nation. I urge you to join me in the work to reform our immigration system by passing comprehensive immigration reforms to keep families safe, boost our workforce and economy, and protect the cultural beauty of immigrants in our communities.