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A Surprising Issue Will Change the Way Moms Vote in 2012

By Mary Olivella

Lily Eskelsen is a mother, grandmother and teacher with 20 years of classroom experience. While she’s not an immigrant, she has passionate views on immigration because many of her students have dealt with the struggles of being undocumented. “Some of those kids live in the shadows given the absence of a roadmap to citizenship,” she says. “They are good kids who work hard in school, play on the team, join the chess club, and sing in the musical…if we care about making our communities financially stronger, we must place these precious children into a path of legalization right away.”

Lily is just one of millions of mothers who are committed to making communities vibrant, and who recognize the role politicians play in that. With the upcoming elections, MomsRising, a grassroots organization working for economic security for all families, is pushing for a serious debate on issues that will turn around our economy, and the economic ramifications of our outdated immigration policies.

The candidate who is able to articulate this connection, and lay out a plan for creating a common-sense immigration process that benefits our economy, is likely to get the attention of this powerful sector of voters.

To ignore them would be a misstep for several reasons. Women voters outnumbered men voters by 10 million in the last presidential election. And given that more than 80 percent of women in our country become mothers by the time they’re 44 years old, the concerns mothers have about a family’s economic security are critical to the outcome of any major election.

Moms across the country are already struggling with financial woes. A survey from the Federal Reserve, states that the median U.S. family’s net worth fell nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2010. And 44 percent of children in our country now live in low-income families even though most of them have parents who work.

This is why we need a new immigration process that takes into consideration the depth of contributions immigrants make to our economy. And we’re not the only ones who see that.

Business leaders understand that immigration is a crucial economic issue, especially now. New York City Mayor and billionaire entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg recently wrote, “In fact, reforming a broken immigration system is the single most important step the federal government could take to bolster the economy.”

As Mayor Bloomberg points out, immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start businesses. During the recent recession, communities from New York City to places like Lewiston, Maine, and Perry, Iowa, have been revitalized thanks to immigrants who opened businesses, purchased homes, and contributed to the local economy.

According to polls, the vast majority of voters, including mothers, support the DREAM Act, a bill that would give a pathway to citizenship for youth brought to this country as children. While many so-called DREAMers will now be able to work through a new government program, allowing these aspiring citizens to reach their full employment capacity will increase tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments. That is a direct benefit for our communities, and for our families.

Without an immigration process that fits with reality, our nation will not experience a full economic recovery, and families will continue to pay the cost. If our upcoming presidential debates do not address the economic ramifications of immigration policies, they will have underestimated and shortchanged a significant portion of the American electorate: moms.

Moms will take note, and we will vote.

(This opinion piece was originally published at ABC/Univision.)

Mary Olivella is the chief strategy officer and director of diversity and inclusion campaign initiatives for

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