Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen

Immigrants built the rich tapestry that is America. In fact, most of us are immigrants; it is just a matter of when. For me it was my dad’s parents a century ago and my mom’s ancestors on the Mayflower in 1620. Of course, the first Americans arrived here 15,000 years ago, dwarfing the 400 years since the first Europeans came to live here.

By definition, immigrants are exactly who we want to come to America. They are bold, hardworking, risking everything and sacrificing much for the opportunity of a better future. Undocumented immigrants are half as likely to commit a crime as native-born Americans. Documented immigrants commit crimes at one-third the rate as native-born Americans. At 17% of the workforce, immigrants are essential to our economy, especially in the areas of food processing and distribution, construction, health care and education.

I recently met a young woman who came to the Jackson area 27 years ago, as a 3-year-old. She describes the horror of growing up undocumented — the constant fear of being deported, being fired from jobs, and denied a chance to go to college. She told me of her relief when President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, gave her protection from being summarily deported. She describes the elation when she finally got legal residency and a green card.

The story of her process in getting the card is gripping. After she spent thousands with a “big name attorney” in Idaho Falls, her first application was denied. The reason given by immigration officials was “late filing by the attorney.” She then found our local group Immigrant Hope, which helped her to re-file her application.

In her words: “I was driving home from work when I received a call from one of the amazing people at Immigrant Hope who informed me that my application had been approved and my green card was waiting for me to pick up. I was speechless for a moment. I thanked her, hung up, pulled over and cried. It felt unreal. My parents opened the door to opportunity when they brought me to this great country, and thanks to Immigrant Hope those doors will now stay open.”

Today, she is a successful small-business owner.

Refugees are a special class of immigrants. Coming from some of the most troubled spots on the planet, they have a strong appreciation of American freedom. As a group they commit almost no crime at all. Afghan refugees are at the top of this class. As our Gov. Mark Gordon put it, “They are remarkable people that have really stood by our side, risking their lives and their families lives. They deserve compassion from us.”

This summer, amid a deluge of support for Afghan evacuees who helped our soldiers, Wyoming is one of just two states, the other is South Dakota, that did not want to take in Afghan refugees. Wyoming is the only state that has no refugee resettlement program and the only state that has never had one. That makes the Cowboy State alone in a nation where red and blue states welcome refugees. Other neighboring states all plan to welcome Afghan refugees. Idaho expects 400, Utah 765 and Montana 75.

I hope Gov. Gordon works to change this and allow Afghan refugees to come to Wyoming. The Episcopal Church, with its long history in the state, can play a role. The vestry at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper voted unanimously to form a committee to explore hosting a family. I hope that St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson will do the same.

A July 2018 poll found that 84% support allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States if they arrived here as a child, completed high school or military service and have not been convicted of a serious crime. We should be proud that our town and county elected officials just unanimously voted to allow DACA immigrants to apply for workforce housing ownership. It is an action that says, “Welcome.”

Paul W. Hansen’s Common Ground column appears about twice per month. Columns are solely the opinion of their authors. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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