Invisible undocumented workers
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.
Steven E. Levingston
July 1, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: undocumented workers; immigration debate;
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