Immigration activists want Americans to remember that the clothes they wear are often designed and made by immigrants living in the US.
In a press conference on Monday, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg appeared alongside Rep. Carolyn Maloney and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to announce the release of a new report from top immigration advocacy organisation FWD.us detailing the economic impact toll that the immigration system was taking on immigrants in the fashion industry.
“Today, entrepreneurs like me no longer have the same opportunity to come to the US and succeed,” von Furstenberg said, speaking at a fashion industry incubator in New York. “It is more challenging to hire and retain foreign talent.”
Von Ferstenberg and speakers like FWD.us President Todd Schulte repeatedly argued that fashion and retail were fuelled by the work of immigrants, many of whom live in the US undocumented. According to FWD.us, the fashion industry is the third largest employer in New York, where 20% of its industry employees are undocumented.
“As an industry, we are struggling to navigate uncertainty over the future of immigrating policy under the current administration,” Council on Fashion Designers of America CEO Steven Kolb added. “It has impacted the ability of designers, brands, and schools to recruit foreign talent and students.”
But Monday’s event also signalled the new defensive reality that immigration reform activists face under the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled congress.
While FWD.us has long lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support comprehensive immigration reform, Maloney said she would focus her efforts in the short-term on expanding special visas for high-skilled foreign fashion employees.
The congresswoman also said she would send FWD.us’ report to Ivanka Trump along with a letter calling for an increase in high-skilled visas for fashion employees. She hopes the president’s new adviser, who still owns her fashion line, will realise the impact the Trump administration’s immigration policies are having on immigrant communities.
“She’s become a valued person advising him, and she understands the fashion industry,” Maloney said. “What better advocate? We should have had her here today speaking.”
New York has emerged as one of the key battlegrounds in the fight over Trump’s immigration agenda.
The state set aside $US10 million earlier this month for pro-bono legal services for immigrants, including many who face Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention and potential deportation.
A New York judge ruled last week that the city could dump the personal information of thousands of immigrants who applied for and received the city’s municipal ID cards, which are available to all city residents regardless of their immigration status. Following Trump’s election, many immigrants and pro-immigrant activists feared the ID cards could be used to target undocumented immigrants living in the US.
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