This week I bring up the portrait of the undocumented worker, student and human being. Dehumanizing labels such as “illegal”, “criminal” and “alien”and get thrown around in the media and find their way into everyday conversations. “They’re Taking Our Jobs” and other myths circulate and a fear of “the other” takes root in people’s preconceptions of undocumented migrants.
In 2013 alone, the United States government deported 368,644 people, according to an article in USA Today; 628 people were sent back to Canada while 241,493 were deported to Mexico. The article, titled “Bieber case draws attention to deportation issues”, touches on the matter of who is deportable and who is not. Mexican migrants take much of the brunt of the negative portrayals of migrants than their fairer-skinned Canadian counterparts. Under normal circumstances, an undocumented person would have surely gotten deported for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). However, Canadian pop star, Justin Bieber, who obtained a DUI and resisted arrest was not. This led undocumented folks and allies to photoshop pictures of themselves with blonde hair and blue eyes and tag their illustrations, #UNDEPORTABLE. Some said that the reason he didn’t get deported is because he brings in a lot of wealth to the United States. However, the same thing can be said of migrant laborers.
Today’s rampant profit-making economy requires stretching the U.S. dollar by finding the cheapest labor at home and outside home; the cheapest labor available is usually done by undocumented migrants. A study done by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled, “Injustice On Our Plates”, reveals the working conditions immigrant women face working in the agricultural industry. Depressed wages, no bathroom breaks, hazardous working environments, and the fear of deportation are among the things migrant laborers are exposed to in these jobs. Undocumented workers will endure this treatment because the journey across the border is perilous and the hopes of establishing a life in the United States is strong. There is extreme fear of deportation so workers tend to remain silent about working conditions. According to the study, 60 percent of farm workers are undocumented. Other jobs that migrants do involve hustles such as selling tamales, cleaning houses, or working in garment factories. This labor provides immense wealth and we all benefit from it one way or another.
I find that a lot of the ideas people make about undocumented migrants are uninformed and come out from a place of fear. The worst part is that they are not the ones who should be afraid because they don’t face the discrimination and hardships that come along with being a non-citizen in the United States. As I look, however, there is also great optimism and hope within the immigrant community. I see this hope every first of May during International Worker’s Day when the migrant community organizes to bring awareness to the issue of immigration, deportations, and family separations. I see this optimism in the artwork of Favianna Rodriguez‘s “Migration Is Beautiful” butterflies and Julio Salgado‘s “I am UndocuQueer” images. But I also see it, in the face of the man who sells elotes and nieves and in the posture of my parents proud to see their children getting an education.
[Alvarado, Pablo and Burgos, Alfredo. Migration Is A Human Right. JPEG. Photo retrieved from: http://www.artnews.com/2013/01/22/from-black-power-to-migrants-power/ ]
To see more of what people are creatively achieving from the experiences of being undocumented and around the issue of immigration, check out these sites: