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Invisible undocumented workers

Guest Blogger

The contentious issue of immigration needs a practical solution that is politically viable, argues Jorge Ramos in “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto,” published today by Vintage. He outlines why immigration reform is necessary and why it’s beneficial to incorporate undocumented workers into the nation. A first step, he says, is to recognize that these immigrants are not mere symbols of a debate but productive, law-abiding individuals who have come to the United States in search of freedom and economic opportunity. Ramos was born in Mexico City and has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. He is anchor of a nightly news program on Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States. In this excerpt from his book, he describes the experience of undocumented workers as invisibles.

By Jorge Ramos

Nobody notices them.

Sometimes they pass right in front of us, and we look through them, as if they are not there.

But they are here, and the United States would be a very different country without them. People don’t realize just how important they are to our way of life.

Those who go through each day unseen are undocumented immigrants. The invisibles.

They go out of their way not to be noticed by authorities, or counted by census takers. It’s not always easy to distinguish exactly who is an immigration agent. In order to avoid the risk of making a mistake between the two, they talk to no one.

They stay away from the police. The ‘Invisibles’ keep their distance from them even though many times they need protection from the violence of those who want to do them harm. The less they’re seen, the higher the chance that they will be left alone to work and earn their wages in peace.

They live in the shadows. Being seen is a great risk, and could mean deportation from the country that they have called home for years, the country where their children were born, and for many, their grandchildren too.

They live in silence. They don’t often complain, though they certainly have reasons to. Complaints lead to questions. Questions lead to trouble.

When we cross paths with them on the street, they quickly avert their eyes. Not being is their way of being. For them, not having an identity is their identity.

Nevertheless, the United States could not function without their labor. They do this country’s most difficult, least desirable, lowest paying work. They clean what nobody else will clean, harvest the crops no one will harvest, cook our food, and build our houses.

It’s likely that you’re hardly aware of their presence in hotels and restaurants. But they’re there. They’re like ghosts. They walk without making noise, and only speak when it’s absolutely essential for them to do so.

They work behind-the-scenes, in kitchens, doing anything from washing dishes to preparing the finest cuisine. They learn quickly, and they are adept at making things—anything—because they are determined to survive. Getting through the day gives their children opportunities they never had.

They accept working conditions that no legal citizen can imagine. They don’t have the benefit of minimum wage; it’s unheard of for most. They don’t get health insurance, do not have labor organizations to support them, and operate under the perennial threat of being unjustly fired or reported to the Immigration Services and thus deported—often forced to leave children behind.

They clean up after us in public bathrooms, spending as many as ten hours a day steeped in filth for virtually no money. And though they are taken advantage of by so many, they continue to believe in the dreams that brought them here.

Without them our lives would be far less comfortable.

They are forced to sleep in trailers, or entire families are piled into a single bedroom. Mom, dad, and the children share a single, ramshackle bed, because it’s all they have. Many times, they are forced to make room for an aunt or grandmother or the cousin of a neighbor’s friend who just happens to show up one day. And they do so gladly, because to them family is all-important. They take care of their own. No one else will.

Despite all of the negative things that are said about them—that they’re criminals and terrorists—we let them into our homes, we allow them to clean up after us, and we even let them care for our children.

They are the nannies nurturing future presidents, governors, lawyers, doctors, mayors, actors, inventors, football players, Broadway and Hollywood stars. They care for the next generation so these parents can work and go out at night.

They take our children to the park, they feed them, they protect them, and they care for them as if they were their own because—as is so often the case—circumstances made it necessary for them to leave their children behind, in their home country. It may be only a few hours away by plane, or a phone card, or mouse-click away, but for these immigrants their children might as well be on another planet.

They’re here because they were dying of hunger in their countries of origin, or because they don’t want to condemn their children to the lives of poverty that their parents and grandparents had no choice but to endure. They came here in search of opportunities that are absent in their native lands. And that is exactly why, even though many don’t even bother to realize that they exist, those immigrants are the strongest, bravest, most innovative, most persistent, most courageous, most devoted individuals you will ever meet. And each is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed in the United States.

But the cost is great. They become invisible. And now the time has come to offer them the recognition, respect, and eventually, the visibility they deserve; the opportunity to co-exist with us.

There is no better source of self-esteem than being seen, and being recognized for your labor, without feeling fear and without being forced to avert your eyes.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  July 1, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: undocumented workers; immigration debate;  
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You guys should stop complaining cuz one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed give it a try u guys are too hard on democrats they went to college and we voted for most of these if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. as for obama people are just tryin to make it look like america made a mistake he has done things to help us and we had a full 8 years of a terrible president and i will be so as happy as ever when a obama fixes bush's mistakes. You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price from obama has to put up with the wo0rld judging his every move and trying to fix the mess we are in we are lucky anyone wants to be our president. STOP COMPLAINING AND GIVE HIM A BREAK. i wanna see one of yall do what he sas done. some people are just so ignorant.

Posted by: davidjones01 | July 1, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

This is all based on the fallacious assertion that if there were no illegal immigrants, these jobs would be the same and pay the same. Nonsense! Without these illegals -- our economy would adjust. And the adjustments would be for the better.

The illegals came and got jobs under these awful conditions because they broke the law -- not just the immigration laws but the labor laws. ALL of these jobs could be filled by citizens and legal immigrants if they were paid decent middle class wages and medical benefits. If the illegals were not here, almost of of these jobs (the ones that were important enough) would be filled. Our citizens and legal immigrants are forced onto the unemployment lines and welfare because their jobs are taken under these unconscionable conditions and wages.

If the illegals were forced to leave -- wages would go up for these jobs and those Americans willing to accept them. These are poverty level wages. It is not the employers' birthright to pay such low wages. Without illegal immigration the rich would be less rich and the poor would be fewer and less poor.

In some cases, the middle class might pay more at the checkout line. But they would pay less in taxes because the government would have to provide fewer services and less welfare. In other cases the costs would not be passed along because employers would absorb the costs. Wages would go up, profits would go down.

If you think that employers would actually pass along all the higher labor costs then ask your self -- why do the employers care? Of course that is why the employers lobby wants more "guest workers" to come and depress wages!

Posted by: kevin9 | July 1, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

And now the time has come to offer them the recognition, respect, and eventually, the visibility they deserve; the opportunity to co-exist with us.
Cognitive dissonance alert. Recognition adn respect are two-way, not one-way. If one party does not have the mutual respect to comply with American laws, then why should respect flow the other way?

Posted by: Paladin7b | July 1, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it is possible that jobs held by illegal immigrants would be done by legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. But that scenario is so remote it is laughable to even consider. The reality is that few citizens have ever sought and will ever seek to do any of the jobs described here.

Illegal immigrants cannot vote, so they cannot be blamed for the idiot politicians in office who irresponsibly drained local and state budgets causing endless reductions and closures of emergency or health services.

If anyone seriously believes illegal immigrants are the reasons for the majority of crimes, that they are the majority users of emergency or health or education services, that they steal 'our' jobs, what is your proof?

Show me valid, confirmed research that proves without a doubt that the majority of illegal immigrants have not made positive contributions to this nation.

Posted by: WarriorJames1 | July 1, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

"WarriorJames" --- What is the proof that they haven't taken jobs?

First, you have that backwards. Before we let them in, we should make sure we know it won't do harm.

I've lived in houses all my life and they had roofs built before we had illegals in the roofing business. That is proof that someone was doing these jobs before there were the massive amount of illegals.

For the last 40 years, since the current wave of illegal immigration began, the real wages of unskilled labor have going down. From the end of WWII until that time they had been going up (while the number of immigrants declined).

The real proof of the objective harm? One can infer it from the fact that when people worry about the effect of illegal immigration on America's poor, they aren't met with convincing counter arguments. None exist! They are just caused racists because those defending illegal immigration have no objective answer.

Posted by: kevin9 | July 1, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Unlike 90% of the comments that regularly accompany any story or opinion piece on immigration, Mr. Ramos' case is built upon both fact and understanding, and its eloquence speaks for itself. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Posted by: andym108 | July 1, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

If they go home they will be visible when they go home. Furthermore, if they are as good as the author suggests, they will wonderful contributions to their home country.

Its odd. Forty years ago the liberal intellectuals were all touting zero population growth. When we legalize twelve million illegal aliens, and they crank up legal immigration for their relatives, any thought of keeping our population in check will be out the window and log gone. All at the hands of those same liberal intellectuals. Methinks its all about flexing their moral/intellectual superiority.

Posted by: hipshot | July 2, 2010 6:29 AM | Report abuse

They come here and work under hard conditions because:
1. Mexico is hell.
2. Our greedy employers enable them to do so.
3. They can.
Mexican hell is not our obligation to fix or alleviate. A sovereign country's duty is to its own citizens.
Penalize the employers. Government is complicit in this outrage.
Close the border.
Everything else is hand-wringing weakness and/or dirty politics.
Our government is utterly broken. We CAN seal the border. We CAN deport. Mexico CAN solve its own problems.

Posted by: Delu0918 | July 2, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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