Watch a multimedia video about undocumented immigrant’s struggles with the economy.
Story and multimedia by FLOR OLIVIO
The immigration debate often gets heated. In an effort to humanize the politics of immigration we see storytelling that some have classified as melodrama.
“I think it’s a very important part of the story, but I don’t think the opposition cares about that part, and why bother talking about something that is not going to get results,” says history teacher, Jodi Lopez.
We regularly find the faces of the people who this debate is really about buried in piles of statistics and dramatic stories. The turmoil between state and federal action is very clear even at a personal level.
The figures and facts both nationally and locally show a picture of an undocumented immigrant who among struggles, perseveres through American values.
Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. not only exist but they are here in the thousands.
Their contributions come in the billions. Regardless of immigration policy these people have the same basic necessities.
“A third of the children of unauthorized immigrants and a fifth of adult unauthorized immigrants lives in poverty,” according to the Pew Hispanic Center, “this is nearly double the poverty rate for children of U.S.-born parents (18%) or for U.S.-born adults (10%).”
Taking into account that undocumented children and families do not qualify for basic needs assistance like food stamps (SNAP), or traditional medical care (Medicaid), according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, community resources and family help become essential for undocumented families.
The Pew Hispanic Center found that “most unauthorized immigrant adults reside with immediate family members- spouses or children.” “Almost half (47 percent) of undocumented immigrant homes are composed of couples with children,” a considerably different picture from households of US-born residents (21 percent) or legal immigrants (35 percent).
The stories that remain untold are of families helping each other and their sacrifices through unceasing work that gets these new American families through the days, weeks and months.
“I sell everything that I can.” said Milvia, an undocumented immigrant woman who migrated to the US from Colombia. “I sell nutrition products. I clean offices at night, I earn about seven hundred a month doing that, and even with all this we could not afford to pay rent, and everything else the kids need. My husband had to travel out of the state to find work and has been working there since October of last year, with no hope to return.” Milviaʼs full name is excluded because of her current immigration status.
The facts that undocumented workers pay property, state, food and federal taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security pay-ins that they can never apply for or benefit from are also frequently left out.
A study published in April 2011 by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues, found that in 2010, “unauthorized immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. Which included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.” The states receiving the most tax revenue were California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. Utah received, 105 million in total revenue from undocumented immigrant taxes.
Regardless of their hard work, immigrant familiesʼ income is notably less than nonimmigrant families, and so immigrant children live in families with lower levels of income.
In a report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, nationally “the median hourly wages for all wage and salary earners in immigrant families were lower than the median wages for native families,” $14 versus $18.
“The current Utah economy affects these undocumented children directly,” says Elisa Bridge, a coordinator and family support worker for the Salt Lake School District, “jobs are not in abundance, and if you are undocumented itʼs harder to get a job.”
She explained the on-going situation with two parents working outside the home, two or three jobs at a time to be able to support families and provide their children with very basic necessities.
Students suffer when their basic necessities are not met, “This can affect their learning,” said Bridge,” when Iʼm talking about basic needs Iʼm talking about food, clothing or families struggling with bed bugs,” which is a big problem for undocumented families we come in contact with right now. It comes down to “a lot of people just living in horrible situations.”
These are very negative effects but hope seems to be abundant for the undocumented.
“There are students that see their parents struggling, so that might motivate them to fight harder to become something in life and obtain and education,” says Bridge.
Even with this motivation, these same students currently have no hope to actually go on to receive a higher education or to be able to work legally.
Legislation like the “DREAM Act” is geared to close some of these gaps for undocumented children who want to pursue a higher education or serve in the military and successfully navigate through American society.
Some programs that currently help undocumented youth are kept under the shadows in the same places these children reside. Northwest Middle School has an after school program where children receive homework help. The school also provides a dinner option for any student that decides to participate and because school districts do not inquire about immigration status these programs are sometimes the only way some of these students can get a good dinner.
In reality it is hard to document a group of people who live in constant fear of having their livelihood destroyed. It becomes just one more daily struggle.
Regardless unauthorized immigrants continue making it through the values that most Americans identify with hard work, honesty, family and the pursuit of happiness, these undocumented people continue living, surviving and in most cases creating a community of perseverance and hope.