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Immigrants: They Get the Job Done

Published in ChicagoNow, April 16, 2019

That’s a huge applause line from Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. We are a country of immigrants. Despite what @realdonaldtrump says, we do have room for more immigrants, and we need them to keep our country strong and productive.

Recently, chimney damage caused water to pour down a bedroom wall and ruin part of a hallway ceiling in our home. So, we needed a mason, a stucco repair person, and someone to fix the water damage and paint. People we had used in the past for chimney and stucco work had retired, so we reached out to friends for recommendations. The mason we hired is a Latino man who shared how hard it has been for him to find younger workers to help. At age fifty, he wants to train people to do this work and relieve him of what is becoming physically challenging work. Aside from two men in their forties, he has been unable to find workers who are dependable and want to learn a trade.

We were unable to find anyone to repair the stucco. The larger companies never returned our call and no one knew an independent stucco person. Luckily, the mason found someone, so we are good to go with the chimney repair. The inside work is another story. Over the forty plus years we have lived in our house, we have hired some wonderful painters and craftsmen. One Italian immigrant, who was near the end of his career, did amazing work repairing our cracked family room ceiling with a straw broom and plaster. He created an interesting pattern that remains to this day. Another immigrant used a faux painting technique to add interest our bathroom and hallway. Now, we will be lucky if our painter/handyman is able to repair the inside damage within a month. He’s a Polish immigrant who employs other countrymen, but is also plagued with the problem of not finding others to learn what he knows and help him.

My grandfathers immigrated to this country in the early 1900s. One was a skilled tailor who had been apprenticed at age ten to learn that trade. The other made a living in the cleaning business. They worked hard, paid taxes, learned English, and became citizens. This is likely a familiar story for many Americans. I have a hard time understanding why so many of our citizens fear the current crop of immigrants and asylum seekers so much that they want to build walls, separate them from their children, prevent them from seeking asylum, or ship them to sanctuary cities.

Actually, the last plan might work out pretty well. Chicago is a sanctuary city that has absorbed generations of immigrants. The people who are being told there is no room at the inn are fleeing terrible circumstances in Central America. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have become extremely dangerous places to raise families. I’m also guessing these people would be happy to learn a trade and make an honest living. Of course, the plan makes no sense because of the high cost of relocating all of them and the inability of our government to ensure they stay there. Human nature being what it is, they will migrate to areas where they know other people who have come here from their native countries.

Nevertheless, with low unemployment and retiring baby boomers, we need immigrants to get many jobs done. By 2030, people over 65 will outnumber children. The American birthrate is below the replacement rate. We are by no means full. Trades are dying because there are not young people who want to learn them.

On the 2016 Hamilton Mixtape, songwriters Keinan Abdi Warsame, Claudia Alexandra Feliciano, Rizwan Ahmed, René Pérez Joglar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeffrey Penalva wrote these lyrics to Immigrants, They Get the Job Done, performed by Somali-born Canadian rapper K’naan and others,

You know, and it gets into this whole issue of border security You know, who’s gonna say that the borders are secure? We’ve got the House and the Senate debating this issue And it’s, it’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants “Immigrant” has somehow become a bad word So the debate rages on and we continue…

Who these fugees what did they do for me But contribute new dreams Taxes and tools, swagger and food to eat Cool, they flee war zones, but the problem ain’t ours…

Immigrants, we get the job done


by Laurie Levy
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