How immigrants help keep the American Dream alive
The hard work of immigrants is an essential part of the growth of our state and local economies
My great grandmother, Rose America, immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico in the early 1930s. She was alone, frightened, and expecting a child. But she was also a fighter, and she fought to make a better life for herself and her child. She worked 12 hours a day in a hairnet factory and rented the extra room of her Washington Heights, New York, apartment to make ends meet. She loved our country and was deeply thankful for the opportunities it provided. Her friends and family called her Nuevo Mundo, or “New World” in Spanish.
Her story fits a common theme for millions of immigrant families since our country’s founding. There is a misconception that people come to America because they expect a hand-out or need our government to take care of them. Rather, they come here for the security, freedom, and opportunity that they lack in their native countries.
A friend of mine, Laz Ayala, narrowly escaped war-torn El Salvador as a 14-year-old in 1981, just days after the Salvadoran Army wiped out the village of El Mozote, killing over 800 men, women, and children. Today, Laz is a successful real estate entrepreneur, developer, and philanthropist living in Ashland, Oregon. Laz often tells the story about how he came to America, and his mission to humanize immigrants and reform immigration policy.
Immigrants bring new cultures that enrich our own, and like Laz, many are very entrepreneurial. They start small businesses that employ their friends, family, and others in our community. Immigrants reinforce the ideals that made and still make America the land of opportunity -- hard work, family values, and service to our communities and to our country. Many immigrants are proud active-duty servicemen and servicewomen. Immigrants are, in many ways, how many Americans used to be. And they are incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to live, work, and raise their children here as Americans.
Too many Americans today do not share the same admiration for our country. They disparage our history, our economic system, and have lost faith in the American Dream. They believe capitalism is a form of racism and oppression, believing financial success only comes from corruption and exploitation, not hard work. This thinking has become so institutionalized that it is now part of the instructional guidelines offered by the American Federation of Teachers. Democratic Socialists have been working hard to convince Americans that it is the government’s duty to redistribute wealth and only the political left represents their interests. Those who immigrated here from socialist countries know first-hand that when the government redistributes wealth everyone ends up poor.
Immigrants trust in the American Dream and want to participate in it. I welcome immigrants to our state and want to make their transition into our communities as seamless as possible. I believe that immigrants support the ideals that made America the land of opportunity. The hard work of immigrants is an essential part of the growth of our state and local economies.
Here is my plan to keep the American Dream alive for all Oregonians:
Close the Achievement Gap: Oregon’s education system does not fulfill its mission to educate all of Oregon’s children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or first language. To reverse this trend, we need legislation and programs that address achievement gaps and give students every opportunity to earn their high school diploma. Fluency in a language other than English should be considered an asset, not a barrier. Two-way language immersion benefits both immigrants and native-born students and should be available to all Oregon public schools.
Post-Graduation Support: If a student graduates from high school but must take remedial courses in college, those courses should be offered at no cost to the student and include all of the support systems needed such as tutoring and bilingual support. This will ensure students fulfil their academic requirements and set them on a path toward a lifetime of success.
Statewide Youth Apprenticeship: One of the best ways to keep students engaged is through meaningful career technical education. Measure 97 enabled schools to bring back career technical education. It’s time to take this to the next level with a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship Model. Starting in 11th grade, students should be offered the opportunity to work in their industry of choice, earn a workplace credential along with academic credit, and learn a trade. These programs would be designed to last beyond high school, providing a smooth transition to full-time employment and higher education programs.
Student and H1B Visas: As the United States pivots to diversify our global supply chain and encourage U.S. manufacturing, employers across industry sectors like advanced manufacturing, semiconductors, and biotech, are struggling to find skilled workers to fill critical positions. Our current student visa system and H1B visa lottery system should be modified to better address the gap in available workforce. We must work with federal partners to advocate for changes to these programs that support Oregon’s economic growth.
Guest Worker H-2A and H-2B programs: Agriculture is built into Oregon’s DNA and is vital to our state’s economy, representing $50 billion in economic impact. Much of what we produce is harvested seasonally, and for many producers finding enough skilled workers at the right time is a constant challenge. Guest worker programs have long been mutually beneficial for farmers and skilled agricultural workers, but have recently become more difficult to participate in, leading to an increase of undocumented workers. I will advocate for simplifying and streamlining these programs to improve access to labor for small farmers, ranchers, fisheries, and food producers.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. The people of Oregon have long represented that pioneering spirit. Whether their story began as a single mom working in a hairnet factory or a frightened 14-year-old escaping a horrific civil war, they came to America dreaming of a future filled with the freedom and opportunity many today take for granted.
As a child, I was often reminded that my great grandmother came to this country so that our family could build a better life, and that it was my responsibility to honor her sacrifice by always working hard and doing my best. My grandmother, Laz, and countless others are living proof that the American Dream is alive and well for those who work hard to achieve it.
As governor, I will fight to preserve the American Dream and ensure all Oregonians have the opportunity, through hard work and perseverance, to build a more prosperous future for themselves and their families.
Jessica Gomez is Founder/CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices and serves on the OIT Board of Trustees, Oregon Healthcare & Oregon Business Development committees. She is running for governor.