The Fifth Congressional District and Minnesota are blessed with some of the largest African communities outside of the continent. Everyday, we see the value that immigrant families add to our community.
Nearly 40 percent of African immigrant workers in Minnesota work in healthcare or public service. Many in our district, especially women, work in high-need healthcare roles, including in long-term care facilities and as home care aides. These are extremely important—but highly underpaid—jobs that care for our most vulnerable residents. Many East Africans provide essential services in low-wage jobs. African immigrants and their families are also prolific business owners and entrepreneurs, providing services, innovation, and jobs for Minnesotans.
Through conversations with countless African immigrants who call the Fifth home, I’ve learned first-hand how many in our community have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and associated economic crisis.
Workers have been forced to risk their health in order to serve the rest of Minnesota in essential roles. In addition, many families are “cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on housing. The severe recession and high unemployment rate have added to this housing crisis. African immigrant business owners have faced difficulty in accessing state and federal aid, in part due to language, cultural, and technical barriers.
These communities need and deserve immediate assistance. I’m running for Congress against Rep. Ilhan Omar because the Fifth Congressional District deserves a representative who will deliver results to our communities on urgent issues.
COVID-19 has exposed how many of our lowest-wage jobs are essential to our society. As a result, we must fight for hazard pay for essential workers so that wages reflect the risk they are being asked to assume, and oppose efforts to allow companies to avoid responsibility for ensuring a safe workplace. We must also fight for permanent paid family and medical leave so that no one has to choose, now or in the future, between taking care of themselves or a family member and their income.
Moving forward, we need to ensure that this recession doesn’t erase the wealth and security of immigrant communities. That’s why I’m calling for immediate rental and mortgage assistance to struggling families. I’m also calling for Congress to provide more funds specifically to help minority-owned businesses that were left out of previous rounds of assistance.
This crisis is falling disproportionately on our Black and African immigrant communities and we must ensure they are not simultaneously left out of relief and recovery efforts.
It has become crystal clear that this pandemic is compounding long-standing inequities. Our African immigrant communities deserve not just short-term assistance but long-term solutions.
Many families are facing housing instability not only because of our immediate crisis, but because of the severe shortage of affordable housing. I have a plan to change this, by investing significantly in public housing and housing vouchers to make housing affordable for all families. I will also fight to expand affordable homeownership opportunities and rid our credit system of systemic racial bias, so immigrant families can build generational wealth. I have a plan to pay for all of this, too.
It’s also past time that underpaid workers got a raise. A $15 minimum wage is a start but we can do better. I will fight for a national living wage, tied to inflation, so no one has to work more than one job just to pay the bills.
We must also make our public schools work for immigrants and second-generation students. The Fifth is home to some of the worst educational achievement disparities in the nation. We must diversify our teacher workforce so that our educators reflect the student body and our educational programs are culturally competent. We need to ensure that students and their families receive the wrap-around services and resources they need to support educational success.
Our African immigrant communities are shining examples of the value of being a country with humane immigration policies that accepts refugees. We must end Donald Trump’s Muslim ban that has separated many people in our community—especially our Somali residents—from their families. We must recommit to welcoming refugees and immigrants seeking a better life.
African immigrants and their descendants enrich our district and our state. It’s time that our government begin to work for them and reflect the value they bring to our country. This is what I’ll work for as the Fifth District’s congressional representative.
Antone Melton-Meaux is a progressive Democrat, mediator, and attorney. He is a candidate for the DFL nomination for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District in the August 11th DFL Primary.