Our VoiceImmigration

One More Thorn In The Heart of America

Axel Fuentes • May 13, 2010

From coast to coast in the United States, thousands of hard working families have marched to raise their voices against Arizona’s recent law S.B. 1070 which represents another thorn in the heart of America. I hope the voices of immigrants in the U.S. are heard. Lawmakers should not put their political careers ahead of making important decisions in favor of these families.

There are already enough thorns hurting the hearts of millions of human beings – especially those who are feeding Americans and strengthening the economy of this nation through their hard work.

Several people have said to me, “I am okay with immigrants, but only legal immigrants.”

I always ask them, “Do you know what the immigrants need to come to this country legally?” The answer is always, “go to the embassy and apply for a visa” and “ then why don’t all immigrants do that?” I ask.

I can tell right away that many people do not understand the cost and process to obtain a visa. In other words, getting a visa to the United States is like winning the lottery. There is a considerable cost to immigrants from countries such as Guatemala where an interview cost $300 and does not guarantee a visa. $300 in Guatemala represents the salary of 1½ months of work for a teacher. They have to prove that they have enough money to support themselves in the United States in addition to having a good career.

There also must be a need for the job they are seeking. If you have a good career and you have money in the bank, those wishing to go to the United States are asked ‘why would you want to leave your family behind and move to the United States to do the hardest most dangerous jobs?’

The truth is, there is no way a teacher making $8 a day is going to be able to save enough money, especially when a gallon of gas costs $3.60 and one pound of meat costs $3. Now the question is, ‘how is that teacher going to prove that he has enough money to support himself in the United States and pay for the application to get the visa?’

The fact is there are very few people who will ever qualify to get a visa.

Remember too that teachers earn considerably more than someone who is a laborer and makes only $5 per day. Is this person ever going to be eligible to get a visa? Of course not.

This person wants to get away from poverty and hunger with hopes of getting a better life and providing more for their family. They are putting their lives at risk by passing the border to the United States. If this person makes it to the United States, they will do the most difficult and least desirable jobs. They will be exploited by employers and since they are undocumented they will be afraid to stand up for their rights.

They will be asked to speak in English yet be denied access to an education. In addition, they could get injured or sick while working under harsh working conditions, but still access to healthcare will be denied. If they need to go to work or go to the grocery store they cannot because they are also denied a drivers license. Every single week taxes are being taken out of their paychecks but at the end of the year they cannot file an income tax return.

And now they are being criminalized for the color of their skin and the way they dress.

Poverty and hunger are the driving forces of immigration in most cases.  Here are just a few examples of the conditions people face in countries like Guatemala.

In 1954 the Guatemalan government tried to distribute pieces of land to each of its citizens, so that everyone would have land to grow their own crops and harvest their own food. Immediately the United Fruit Company – which owns enormous expanses of land in Central America – started a propaganda campaign to halt the program. Not long after, this ignited a full-blown war in Guatemala.

Two years ago when the financial company CitiGroup took over the local Central American bank, they gave the workers two options: work for almost half their salary or quit. This put the workers in a difficult financial situation.

Finally, an independent business owner who used to own five shoe stores in Guatemala and employed 12 people now only owns two stores with four employees because of the arrival of a well-known, multinational company. This small business owner will probably end up being an employee instead of an employer and may be forced to immigrate to the United States.

This is like a fight between an ant and an elephant. Examples like these are frequent but there is not enough time or space to mention them all now.

When you are enjoying your vegetables and your meat, do not forget that immigrants are the ones who are harvesting and processing these foods, and when you see the marvelous white house remember that it was built by our brothers of color who were slaves. Don’t bite the hands that feed you, do not whip the backs of those who build your house, and do not go to church every week to give thanks while supporting initiatives that hurt the people who give you so much to be thankful for.

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