Living In America Without The Proper Papers11:12
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Immigrants prepare to become U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at Liberty State Park on September 19, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Forty immigrants from 18 different countries became American citizens at the event, held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), on Constitution and Citizenship Day. This week USCIS will have naturalized more than 27,000 new citizens at 160 ceremonies nationwide.  (John Moore/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Immigrants prepare to become U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at Liberty State Park on September 19, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Forty immigrants from 18 different countries became American citizens at the event, held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), on Constitution and Citizenship Day. This week USCIS will have naturalized more than 27,000 new citizens at 160 ceremonies nationwide. (John Moore/Getty Images)

As immigration emerges as a top issue on the presidential campaign trail, all this week Here & Now is looking at the U.S. immigration system. Host Jeremy Hobson talks with two women who are currently living in the United States - both are undocumented.

Alejandra came to the U.S. from Uruguay when she was 25. She asked that we not use her last name because she says she is afraid of being deported.

Greisa Martinez came to the U.S. with her parents from Mexico when she was a child. She is now an advocacy coordinator with United We Dream, the largest immigrant-led youth organization that advocates for fair treatment of immigrant youth and families.

Interview Highlights: Alejandra

On the experience of living undocumented in the U.S.

“It’s been very difficult. You are in constant fear. Fear of driving without a license. Fear that when you’re working, immigration is going to make a raid. Fear of someone knocking at your door. Fear that someone will get angry with you and call immigration on you.”

On working without papers

“I started working for plastic factories through agencies. It was a very tough job. It was hard. The work was hard and they don’t pay you overtime. It doesn’t matter how many hours you work. There’s no protections and there’s nothing that you can claim, you don't even have a check.

On the most difficult parts of being undocumented

“There are certain things that it doesn’t matter how capable you are, you will never get. My apartment, the lease had to be signed by my boyfriend because I don’t own anything to anybody. I don’t have credit. I am nobody, technically, so I cannot even rent an apartment here.”

On Donald Trump's immigration policy to deport all undocumented people

“They’re saying what a group of people that are afraid and not very well educated want to hear. And that’s what they’re selling and it’s unfortunate that people are not being serious about solving a problem we are having. And those 12 million people are family members of American citizens or people who were born here or have been living here for generations.”

Interview Highlights: Greisa Martinez

On crossing the Rio Grande at age 7

“I was 7 years old and my parents had been working the fields and for some reason we were still starving and still poor so they decided to take the big journey to come to America. But we had to cross the Rio Grande to get home. And I remember collecting seashells along the shore of the Rio Grande as we were looking for the right spot to be able to cross safely and leaving the bag of seashells by the right spot. And so I held onto my father’s hand, my dad and my mom held each other and walked the treacherous waters of the Rio Grande.”

On the human desire to seek out better opportunities

“I think many times people talk about dreamers like myself that we came here through no following of our own. But if a person is starving and doesn’t have any future in the land that they find themselves in, it’s only natural and human to go out and look for opportunities somewhere else.”

On the broken immigration system

“My family also loves the law and being able to do the right thing. As a preacher’s daughter that’s something that’s embedded in my head. What I say to them is currently there is no legal pathway for people like myself, like my family and the 11 million undocumented families in the country to take advantage of. So that is why I have decided to dedicate my life to figuring that out. And I know that the majority of Americans agree that the current immigration system is broken and we need real leadership that will get us to a real solution.”

On Donald Trump and the national conversation on immigration

“I feel that the conversation we’re having now that’s being led by folks like Donald Trump is one that is irrational and not grounded on the values that this country has for centuries now evolved and developed - that means values of family of justice and fairness and ingenuity and figuring out when there is a problem, we don't simply ignore it but we strive together as community to fix it.”

On struggling to pay for her mother's cancer treatment

“I remember being in college and coming back from out of all things a spring break vacation and we got a call from our mother telling us that she had been diagnosed with stage II lymphoma. And at that point I decided to leave school and join her in Dallas, Texas, so we could find the help she needed to survive. My sisters and I did everything we could, we took on two jobs and were able to navigate out of our pockets' pay. But in Dallas, Texas, we were really lucky. There was a program that helped us pay for her medical costs. Our family was suffering through the pain and how scary it was to think that you’re going to lose your mother. And as we were going through the process, it is unfathomable to think that if she were to be living in any other city and any other state, my mother would have died only because she’s undocumented. So I think that any American and person listening to this can sympathize with how scary that might be. I ask you to also think about, imagine not being able to help your family member and not being able to give them the tools they need to fight for their lives.”

Guests

  • Alejandra, immigrant from Uruguay who came to the U.S. when she was 25.
  • Greisa Martinez, immigrant from Mexico who came to the U.S. when she was a child. She's now an advocacy coordinator for United We Dream.

This segment aired on August 25, 2015.

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