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.