By Francis García
Every day in the hotels that line the Las Vegas Strip, an invisible workforce roars to life. Inside the MGM Grand, where I work as a room maid, my coworkers and I plump pillows, scour restrooms, and attend to the everyday emergencies that arise when guests party a little too hard. We hand out floating tubes next to the Lazy River, offer kind smiles and Tylenol, and serve some of the state’s best cuisine in 23 on-site restaurants.
Collectively, we are the workers who welcome the 42 million people who visit Southern Nevada each year and pour $58.8 billion in spending tied to tourism into the local economy. Immigrants who make up 41.5 percent of the local tourism, hospitality and recreation workforce. It couldn’t exist without us.
Besides keeping tourism afloat, our city’s foreign-born workers contribute $2.7 billion in taxes annually, and hold $9.9 billion in spending power, according to data from the bipartisan nonprofit New American Economy (NAE). That’s why it’s exasperating, after 23 years in the United States, to find myself at risk of losing my legal status and being targeted for deportation.
It’s not because I’ve done anything wrong. The Trump administration has decided to rewrite the rulebook. Trump is seeking to deport virtually all of the 318,000 people living and working legally in America under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which grants visas to people from countries affected by violence or natural disasters.
TPS was supposed to end at some point, but the problem is that decades have passed. In my case, I’ve already lived here in the U.S. 23 years. My kids are U.S. citizens. Many TPS holders also have mixed-status families like my own, and we’re deeply rooted in our communities. This nation is our home.
New House and Senate legislation aims to protect both TPS holders and Dreamers, and give us a secure future in America. The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 passed the House, and now it’s fate lies in the hands of the Senate. Unless bipartisan legislation is enacted, we could all be targeted for deportation.
I was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and fled the violence and poverty there decades ago. My parents had passed away, and my life was difficult: I was in school during the day and worked nights. My country was struggling with increasing crime, political devastation and a very slow recovery, and then was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. A few years ago, San Pedro Sula was named the most dangerous city in the world, with 173 murders per 100,000 residents. I was granted TPS in the U.S. in 1999.
I settled here because I wanted to pursue the American dream: a life free from fear, and a chance to accomplish my simple goals of supporting myself and contributing to my community.
Because of TPS, I was able to do that. My three children were born here. Now 15, 19, and 21, they’ve never known the pain and fear that marked my own childhood.
All of that will change if the Trump administration has its way. The effort to gut the TPS program and forcibly deport TPS holders like me is not only cruel but economically nonsensical. Immigrants are the backbone of our state’s economy. Here’s why.
Almost one out of every five Nevada residents is an immigrant. There are also almost 103,000 immigrant homeowners in the Las Vegas metro area, supporting both the housing market and the local tax base.
Immigrants drive entrepreneurship. According to NAE data, 30 percent of Nevada’s entrepreneurs are immigrants. Our state’s immigrant-owned businesses generate $795.3 million in business income, and employ 61,196 Nevada residents, including lots and lots of Americans. Nationally, 3.2 million immigrant entrepreneurs employ almost 8 million American workers.
Such numbers are a reminder of the high stakes. For TPS holders, the administration’s effort to take away our immigration status is terrifying. My extended family back in Honduras tells me it’s still not safe to return. I don’t know how I’d support myself, or what would happen to my American children if I tried to move them to a country they’ve never known.
TPS holders are workers, consumers, taxpayers, entrepreneurs, and homeowners. It’s in everyone’s interests for us to stay and to keep on contributing to our communities. That’s why Congress should pass bipartisan legislation protecting both Dreamers and TPS holders, and refuse to treat us as political bargaining chips. It’s the right thing to do and the best thing for Nevada’s economy.
Francis García is a maid at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV. She was assisted by New American Economy (NAE), a nonprofit that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform through highlighting the economic contributions of immigrants to the U.S.