As the daughter of two Central American immigrants, I know firsthand what it's like to have to defend the general misperception of a developing country.
My parents were forced to leave their beloved Nicaragua due to the Contra War in the 1980s. While their paths were separate in Nicaragua, they somehow ended up at the same Bay Area party where they met, and the rest is history.
But my parents have never stopped loving their home country of Nicaragua. The small Central American country is not only a tropic beauty, but also rich with vibrant art and dance, culture and traditional cuisine. I'm fortunate to have experienced everything Nicaragua has to offer during numerous visits to the country to see my family. In the past few years, the country has quickly become a popular vacation destination for its beaches and surf, lakes, abundant volcanoes and friendly people.
I grew up in a small Northern California college town where I was one of the few people of Central American descent in the area. I was frequently asked by my predominantly white peers, "What part of Mexico are you from?" and "What's Nicaragua?"
I was asked if my parents had lived in dirt huts. It was unfathomable to many of my peers that people from Central America could live in regular, comfortable homes-- in neighborhoods that resemble those we see in the States. There's no argument that the country is poor-- about 30 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day-- but to write it off as a country with nothing but "dirt huts" to offer is inaccurate.
Details in reports of President Trump making disparaging comments about El Salvador, Haiti and African countries sounded sadly familiar to me. In fact, I'm used to hearing the assumption that developing countries are just clusters of misery-- and nothing else.
Contrary to President Trump's reported comments, Sub-Saharan African immigrants have much higher levels of educational attainment than the U.S. as a whole, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an independent, bipartisan nonprofit think tank based in Washington, DC.
Last year, MPI found that in 2015, 39 percent of sub-Saharan Africans ages 25 and older had a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 29 percent of the total foreign-born population and 31 percent of the U.S.-born population.
In 2015, there were 1.7 million sub-Saharan African immigrants living in the U.S., accounting for four percent of the immigrant population in the country.
While their population is small in comparison to other immigrant communities, their contributions to the country are important. A recent study from New American Economy (NAE)-- a coalition of leaders who support immigration reform-- not only backed up data from the MPI, but also added that sub-Saharan immigrants are more likely to have earned their degree in a STEM field.
Additionally, the NAE found African immigrant households contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy through spending and tax dollars. In 2015, African immigrants earned $55 billion and paid $10 billion in federal taxes and nearly $5 billion in state and local taxes, giving African immigrants the spending power of about $40 billion that year.
In the same year, about 30 percent of African immigrants were working in the healthcare industry compared to just 13 percent of the U.S.-born working population, despite the high demand for employees in the field.
If you like films, you've likely seen African immigrants or children of African immigrants in your favorite movies. Hollywood boasts the talent of actors such as Star Wars' Lupita Nyong'o and John Boyega, as well as Thandie Newton and Djimon Hounsou, who all have African roots.
In November, the Trump administration ended temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants after determining there is no longer a need for the program since the status was granted after the 2010 earthquake.
Haiti was one of the countries President Trump reportedly disparaged. Sacramento is home to Skal Labissiere, the Haitian-born Kings player who survived the devastating earthquake before coming to the U.S.
The 21-year-old is in his second year in the NBA and is an example of the contributions immigrants of smaller countries make not only to the workforce, but to entertainment and sports.
Haitian rapper and former Fugees member, Wyclef Jean, is a three-time Grammy Award winner and even attempted to run for president of Haiti in 2010. Jean's bid was rejected since he did not meet the requirement of having lived in Haiti for five consecutive years.
The 2015 Kate Steinle case became a point of conversation on U.S. immigration policies, and President Trump used the tragic incident to push the idea that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to society.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a five-time deported undocumented Mexican immigrant, was acquitted in December of murder after a jury concluded he accidentally shot and killed Steinle as she walked down a San Francisco pier. He was sentenced to time served earlier this month after being convicted on gun charges.
The jury's decision led to outrage from those pushing for stricter immigration reform and backlash from the President and U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, despite the clear-cut evidence presented in court.
During his campaign, President Trump ran with the promise of extending of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S. He recently asked for $18 billion to extend the border wall over ten years, further pushing the narrative of keeping people from Mexico and Central America from coming to the U.S.
While it is true that Mexico and Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador suffer from high levels of street violence and crime, research shows evidence contrary to his remarks that immigrants are more prone to crime in the U.S.
A libertarian Cato Institute study published last year found that all immigrants-- including undocumented immigrants-- are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. The study also found immigrants do not increase local crime rate and are less likely to commit crimes than their native peers.
A study by the National Academy of Science, a nonprofit research association, mirrored the Cato Institute study and found immigrants are associated inversely with crime.
While President Trump's reported remarks might have attached a negative connotation to immigrants from the nations mentioned, it's important to remember that immigrants from even the smallest developing countries contribute to the U.S. to make it the diverse country it is today. Your neighbor, barista, favorite actor or local reporter could be a product of one of these countries.
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