As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I call to order this field hearing on “Los Angeles: The Regional Impacts and Opportunities of Migration.” It is an honor for the Helsinki Commission to be holding a hearing in Los Angeles today on migration; a topic that is not only a center of great debate here, but also abroad.
As members of the Helsinki Commission, we work closely with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where the migration debate has also been a central focus. Like California, European countries that border other countries are experiencing massive increases in migration. And while migration is needed to support specific labor markets, the lack of clear policies governing that migration have resulted in a strain on resources, services, and infrastructure for local governments. Additionally, these strains have impacted how migrants are perceived and accepted in their new communities. This perception of migrants has fueled entire platforms for political parties, discrimination in the workforces of some countries, as well as increasing rates of hate crime.
In my own capacity as Special Representative on Mediterranean for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have observed the extension of these migration related phenomena in North Africa and the Mediterranean. However, I have noticed that there are also many similarities and opportunities for mutual learning. With over 190 million people throughout the world migrating annually, we must reconcile human needs for a better life with the needs of our global economy.
Often in focusing on the problems, what is forgotten is that first, we need and have always needed migrants. We must recognize that since our country was founded, our nation was built by a diverse immigrant community throughout our history. Second, migrants have made great contributions, be they social or economic, to the fabric of this country. My good friend Congresswoman Solis, is a testament to this as the daughter of a proud family of immigrants. However she has not limited her contribution to the United States. As a result of tirelessly advocating for migrant rights, she has also been selected to serve as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Migration to focus on migration across Europe as well.
Today, we are here to discuss the commonalities of migration in Europe with that of the US in the hopes of developing partnerships and learning from one another how to best to manage the economic, labor, cultural, and social aspects of migration to benefit us all. Of great concern, is that many of these debates have not included the voices of migrants themselves. Today we seek to add their voices to the debate.
In Florida, my own district is a vibrant multicultural community of immigrants from throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world. Some cultural communities, including Cubans and Haitians, have established civic organizations and service initiatives to promote positive integration into the South Florida community. Such initiatives have included small business development cooperatives and remittance mechanisms which have had varying degrees of success. However, despite these efforts, some of my constituents continue to express to me their concern about immigration and request comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately at times, some of these requests can be tinged with xenophobia and hatred, which do not reflect on our heritage as a nation of immigrants, nor the economic contributions of immigrants.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of our panelists and learning more about their important work and research in a city that has been aptly called a “laboratory” for immigration policy. In Los Angeles County alone there are an estimated 3.5 million foreign-born residents, over one third of a population of 9.9 million. I am looking forward to hearing how our panel will characterize this population, what they recommend for meeting the needs of this population and how they suggest we find common ground that encourages solidarity in our nation.
In the interest of hearing from our distinguished witnesses, I yield back to the hearing Chair.