Hiding In Plain Sight: New York’s Undocumented Immigrants and Hurricane Sandy

11/15/2012 11:20 AM |

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In my experience, there are two types of undocumented immigrants. There are the ones who keep their heads down and stay silent forever. And then there are the ones who proudly go out there to say that they’re undocumented, even if it means that they get deported. This second group tend to be younger, and eligible for the DREAM Act, emboldened by their possible new status. My mother and I belonged to the first group. I never went out when I was younger because that way I could never get in trouble. I carefully chose my friends so that they wouldn’t be the type to get me in risky situations. I never told anyone of my situation until I was sure that I would be able to achieve legal status. Even then I was still careful. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if my mother and I had been flooded while still illegal. I suppose we would have tried to find a friend who would let us stay with them. The problem with that, though, is that most undocumented immigrants keep their social circle small and are normally only friends with people that live in the general same area, which would mean that all our potential friends could have been flooded too. As a last resort, we could have tried looking for a new place, but that’s a time-consuming and costly decision that I’m not sure my mother would have been willing or able to make right away.

Undocumented immigrants may not be police officers or firemen, but they are as essential as anyone else to the survival of this city. They are the reason your friend who just had a baby can afford a babysitter and is able to come out with you instead of staying home. They are the ones who take care of your elderly parents or grandparents when you can’t. And they do these jobs—that Americans never tend to want to do themselves—for very little money and no benefits or vacation days.

The people I am describing are not troublemakers. And most of them, contrary to popular belief, do not send everything they make back to their home countries. Much of the time, they use their money to better the lives of the children they have here, who won’t ever qualify for financial aid but still want to get a quality education. These people would gladly pay taxes and go for jury duty. They gladly do low-level jobs for any amount of money. They deserve to be recognized for this work and have the opportunity to work without a cloud of fear constantly hanging over them. So, today, when you go into your deli and order a coffee, think about the guy on the opposite side of the counter and what his life is like Post-Sandy. Because, unfortunately, no one else is.

3 Comment

  • How many Americans actually want to wash dishes, clean toilets, and do other menial jobs for 7 dollars an hour? We’ll, I washed dishes for minimum wage salary ($1 an hour) for a summer job. That was a long time ago when this was a great country that protected its borders, had affordable housing, affordable college educations, and lots of jobs. Mainly because there were about 150 million people, rather than over 300 million.

  • good article

  • Erik, immigrants didn’t suddenly pop up out of nowhere in the last few decades. They were always here; the difference is, what started this country is now a crime. And mainly, you’re (not you, but the people behind the bureaucratic crap) denying lots of hardworking people the chance to prove themselves. I’m pretty sure if one of them became a scientist and found the cure for cancer and selflessly gave it out without any demands, you would have no problem with that – and let me tell you, you’re not going to see an American (someone who was born here and “has no immigrant ancestors” – I put that in quotation marks because that is pretty much impossible, as this country was built on immigration) come up with the cure for cancer. If and when it’ll happen, it’ll be by someone who had to earn their place in this society. And really, no one is asking for amnesty. People today, the ones that had the * privilege* to grow up here legally are mostly spoiled. Maybe one or two out of ten of those kids will take on dish-washing jobs, or cleaning toilets; but for the most part, they won’t – and kids that work legally would certainly not do it for a dollar an hour (that had to be a REALLY long time ago, proving my point that the current generation just doesn’t have it in themselves to work hard, because their parents DID work hard and the parents don’t want their children to do the same).
    Regardless, my whole point is, there were always a lot of immigrants, and they all would love to contribute to this society by paying taxes (think about all the money it would bring in to have those immigrants pay taxes!) and going to jury duty and doing all the jobs that no one else wants to. You can’t ban immigration, but you can control it.