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Why I Joined Thousands Of My Fellow Immigrants On Strike

Originally published by Huffpost

Agustina Cardenas, Contributor

Decades ago, I traveled from Mexico in search of the American dream. I settled in a place that felt like a completely different world: rural Washington. I didn’t have much. I barely spoke English. But the community here welcomed me and gave me a chance.

Like so many immigrants in my community, I came here so my children could have a better life. I work four jobs, seven days a week, to make ends meet, while caring for my adult son who has disabilities. But President Trump seems to feel that immigrants like myself have nothing to contribute to our country. For the past two years, we’ve heard our president call Mexican immigrants like me “rapists,” “criminals,” “illegals.”  Now, we’ve seen his administration enact unconscionably cruel policies that tear parents from their children.

That’s why, today, I drove three hours to protest with thousands of other immigrants striking from coast to coast. We sent the Trump administration a clear message: Every person who lives and works in this country, regardless of where they were born, deserves to be treated like a human being.

Every person who lives and works in this country, regardless of where they were born, deserves to be treated like a human being.

Immigrant families like mine just want to contribute to our communities.  I work full-time as a home care worker — driving 90 miles round trip from my home in Lind to Adams County six or seven days a week to care for my elderly client. Caregiving is in my blood — I was inspired to get into the profession by my aunt, who worked as a nurse, and my son, who requires full-time care. But ever since my husband passed away, it’s been hard to pay for the basics — like gas for my commute and repairs on my home. I’ve had to take three additional jobs cleaning homes just to survive.

My situation is not unique. In fact, 60 percent of Latinos are currently paid less than $15 an hour for their work in our country, which means that families like mine are hurt the most when profitable corporations try to pay their workers as little as they possibly can.

Paid caregiving jobs — which more often than not are done by immigrants and women of color — are typical of the wage gap many immigrants face. Home care jobs are one of the most in-demand, fastest growing professions in the United States — yet the average home care worker makes an average of just $13,300 annually.

My job — like those of so many immigrants — is worthwhile and necessary.

My job — like those of so many immigrants — is worthwhile and necessary. Our communities desperately need home care workers—and we fill those jobs.  But we need to make a living wage for our work.

As a member of the Fight for $15 — a national movement calling for $15 an hour and union rights — I know firsthand that striking works. When our movement began five years ago with 200 New York City fast food workers going on strike, many people did not take us seriously. But workers kept on walking off the job and protesting, demanding that their voices be heard.  Since then, we’ve won wage hikes for 22 million workers across the country —including a $13.50 minimum wage here in Washington — and 10 million workers who are on their way to a $15-an-hour wage.

I’ve seen amazing results in my own life. As a home care union worker, we are working hard to win a $15 living wage for caregivers by 2019 — a fight I’m proud to be a part of with the thousands of Washington state caregivers.

Today, the Fight for $15 put our same energy behind the fight for immigrants’ rights. That means standing up for commonsense immigration reform, which would work to end exploitation of immigrant workers and reduce employers’ incentives to hire undocumented workers. And it also means fighting for fair pay for immigrants nationwide.

America is a nation of immigrants. Our voices matter, and we will continue to speak out — no matter how hard the Trump administration tries to silence us.

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