You probably don’t know me, but you may know my restaurant, Chaval, in Portland, which I own with my husband.

I’m a chef, a Maine small-business owner and a mother.  And I’m an immigrant. I was born and raised in Venezuela, and my career brought me to the U.S. I’m lucky – I was able to come here legally as a student, and I didn’t have to flee persecution.

I am also lucky because, about eight years ago, I was able to become a U.S. citizen. That means that, unlike millions living and working in the U.S, I don’t have to worry every day that I’m going to be deported, or that my status will suddenly change and I won’t be safe anymore.

I believe that no matter where we were born, the color of our skin or what we do for work, we all deserve to be safe, live in peace and raise our families. Most of us believe we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

But that’s not what our immigration policy says, and it’s not how the U.S. government – our government – treats people who come to this country. And that’s why we fight to create a fair immigration process that follows the Golden Rule and acknowledges the value these people bring to our nation.

For so many people who came here seeking lives free from danger from war or catastrophic natural disasters; people whose parents brought them here before they could even walk; and people who work keeping us safe, and fed, and healthy – that’s not the case.


Immigrants work incredibly hard, for criminally low pay and in dangerous conditions, without much or any government protection and with the risk of harassment, persecution or deportation.

This is fundamentally wrong, and that’s made even more clear by the fact that during COVID-19, over 5 million undocumented immigrants have been risking their lives as “essential workers.” In fact, over two-thirds of all undocumented immigrant workers serve in frontline jobs in health care, home care, transportation, agriculture, food production and construction.

The fight to create a fair and ethical immigration system recently had a setback when the Senate parliamentarian decided to block an immensely popular proposal to create a roadmap to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients (“Dreamers”), Temporary Protected Status holders, farmworkers and other essential workers.

This was disappointing. But this is a long fight, and it will continue, because the stakes are high for millions of undocumented immigrants: permanent status, citizenship and freedom, or detention, deportation and family separation.

Providing a roadmap to citizenship for these people is clearly the right thing to do. But as a small-business owner, my mind is also always on the numbers. So let’s look at them.

Here in Maine, undocumented immigrants comprised 9 percent of the immigrant population in 2016. Expanding that out, 5,334 people in Maine, including 2,206 U.S. citizens, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014. During the same period, 1,206 children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member. And as of March 2020, 50 active DACA recipients lived in Maine.


In 2019, immigrants paid $492.4 billion in taxes. And undocumented immigrants would contribute an additional $149 billion of spending power each year to the U.S. economy if they were citizens.

Polling also finds that most Americans, and over two-thirds of Mainers support a path to citizenship for undocumented essential workers, TPS holders and Dreamers.

So why don’t we have a path to citizenship? Because people who are racist, or xenophobic, or who want to continue exploiting the labor of undocumented workers have had the ear of our lawmakers for far too long.

I’m a voter, and like all of us in this representative democracy, I show my elected officials where my values lie by voting. And I’m saying to those officials now: Your voters want you to create a fair immigration process that respects the basic rights and protections that all of us, and our families, deserve.

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