No thanks to He Who Can’t Be Named of the Republican Party*, people are speaking out about immigration more than ever. Many of these comments mention walls, “illegals,” and “going back to where you came from.” One of the most common statements- “undocumented citizens take [goods and services] away from hard-working Americans who live here legally.” This is an incredibly problematic statement. I have a single story that exhibits why and shines light on the story that millions of people live every day.
Do you remember a time when you worked 12-15 hours a day with no minimum wage, overtime, or legal protections? Yeah, me neither. Thanks to the hard work of those before us, the average American officer worker gets a reasonable salary, time off, and a 37-40 hour workweek. These same office workers get cubicles or offices, desks, and computers. Many of them even get a lunch break! Trust me, I know as well as the next person that these jobs can be tough and exerting mental energy can be exhausting. My tune quickly changed however after spending the summer working retail. A job where I am on my feet all day and make minimum wage (after graduating from a pretty good school I might add!) But still, I am afforded paid time off after 6 months, am already in line for a promotion, and receive perks like discounts and store money. Although I complain, it is still not terrible.
Remember when I asked about working 12-15 hours a day with no minimum wage, overtime, or legal protections? Remember how we determined those times haven’t happened in a long time? Right? Wrong! That is a reality for millions of people everyday. When you say “undocumented citizens take goods and services away from hard-working Americans who live here legally,” you are really saying that your work is more important than theirs or that a piece of paper makes you more entitled. And frankly, a lot of time undocumented citizens are not eligible for goods or services from the government, yet still pay a variety of taxes into the system. It is a false statement that needs to be eradicated from white American vocabulary.
I recently heard a story about undocumented citizens who work 12-15 hours days without breaks, are shafted on tips, and barely earn enough money to make ends meet [because their employer doesn’t pay them minimum wage.] In no way is this moral or legal. Because of their citizenship status, workers don’t report these horrific conditions though in fear of fines or worse, deportation.
And for those of you, who say they “deserve it” since they are here illegally, let’s discuss why they choose to live in America. One of the workers said that they came to America because of the dollar’s buying power. They could have anything they wanted in America, if they just worked here for it. Little did he know, he would be working over 80 hours a week. And where does that money go? That money goes to rent that he is overcharged because it is under the table. It goes to a food for his family. It goes to his family in a Latin American country to survive. Not just survive with food and shelter, but to pay off gangsters who hold people and their homes for ransom. People come to America to obtain a dream that does not exist for them. They come here because for some it’s their only chance to live without fear of death. By having all loopholes and waiting lists to live here legally, our nation forces people to stay in unsafe conditions and puts lives in limbo.
One man, who has obtained citizenship since moving here, is also still subjected to these work conditions at times. He wants to bring this up to the authorities, but knows his coworkers would be in jeopardy. He is stuck between justice and existence. In addition to this job, he rents apartments, which has shown to be a difficult endeavor too. One tenant asked him to let her skip a month or two of rent, due to a financial situation. After the tenant missed a few payments, the case was brought to court. Many of you would expect a court to demand that she pay rent or be evicted, but that did not happen. The court ordered him to excuse rent for a few months, and a follow up hearing gave her an even longer extension. How is he supposed to make ends meet if the justice system is allowing people to not pay him rent? Even as a citizen, our nation is telling him that his possessions and work are not deserving of reasonable compensation. It’s a cycle that pushes people back into poverty, immigrant or not.
A woman was asked how she liked America, she said that is was very different than she imagined. She said that she likes it here, but all she does is work. She hopes that she can go back to her birth country one day, when things clear up, because she misses her family and the freedom from working all the time to live. When someone mentioned this feeling to her manager, he said, “Oh, it’s fine. They love to work.” This overused and dangerous stereotype needs to be erased.
People believe immigration is a “new problem.” That people coming in now are what is “bringing down society.” But with 11 million undocumented citizens already here, we need to re-evaluate how we respond to their existence. The landlord and worker mentioned above has lived in Boston for over 20 years, where he raised a family and contributed to society through his work. Without supporting his rights as a workers, documented or not, we are perpetuating the notion that undocumented workers don’t matter in our society. We are also allowing people to work in conditions that have been deemed illegal, unhealthy, and unsafe. A piece of paper should not dictate how workers are treated. Period.
I write this post from a position of privilege. I know this. I can speak out against the atrocities against undocumented citizens without fear of fines or deportation. I hope that this posts makes you go beyond the “who is coming into our country” narrative. I hope you think about why people come here, how they are treated in America, in their birth country, and how we as a nation can remember that all people have a right to humanity no matter what a piece of paper says.