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The Life of Illegal Immigrants


Immigrants are torn by conflicting social and cultural
demands, while facing the challenge of entry into an
unfamiliar hostile environment. The migratory process, for
whatever the reason, seems to enhance the sense of
solidarity among those who migrate, who are often united by
bonds of kinship, community and ethnicity, as well as
class. Symbols of ethnicity, such as language and religious
behavior serve as reminders of their origin to the migrants
themselves, while at the same time marking these people as
outsiders in their new locale. Some migrants make a
conscious decision to abandon an old unsatisfactory way of
life for what they believe will be paradise on earth, land
of the free, the place to find the American dream, never
thinking about why or what the leave behind. For others,
migration leads to a new existence, one that incorporates
two or more ways of doing things, and a declining sense of
national loyalty. Many only stay migrants, come to the United States and return to his/her origin either on their
own or through deportation. Few actually have the chance of
becoming settlers and staying in the US for years to come.
For undocumented immigrants, crossing the border is a
territorial passage that can be divided into three
important phases: separation from the known social group or
society, transition (the liminal phase), and incorporation
into the new social group or society (Chavez, 4-5).
Separation from a way of life can be difficult for
immigrants. The meaning of why many choose to leave their
country of origin can be socially or culturally constructed
and be very significant for the people involved. Statistics
show that most undocumented immigrants are primarily
between the ages of 19-29 with a complex array of motives
for leaving home (Chavez 126). One reason why immigrants
come to the US is to work and earn money for a specific
purpose. Mostly young unmarried men and women who are apart
of an overall strategy to provide income for the family
come to the US for short periods of time and then return
home. One immigrant came to earn money to continue his
studies, while another one came to earn money to get
married (Chavez). The most common reason why both Mexican
men and women come to the US is due to lack of
opportunities in the Mexican economy. Job scarcity is very
common and even those who do find employment are paid low
wages with poor working con!
ditions. Employers have come to rely on undocumented
immigrants labor and view them as dependable and hard
working. Immigrants are willing to accept jobs that
requires lots of physical work with long hours involved.
Many jobs such as farming requires 12-15 hours a day in
hot, dry fields and pay below minimum wage. Most Americans
would not even think twice about working in such
conditions, and only consider jobs that contain high salary
structures and elite social status. US citizens show greed
and want more and more material items as their disposable
income increases. Immigrants only want enough money for
survival and provide basic living needs for their families.
Another motive for separation, seeking "the Immigrant's
dream" relates to "the American dream" to gain upward
mobility and more economic opportunities. Other motives
involves females who want to continue relationship
connections with men follow them to the US, or some even
want to flee from existing relationships, family conflicts
or simply out for adventure and satisfy curiosity (Chavez
Crossing the border marks the beginning of the transition
phase, many never gaining enough links to continue on the
next phase in becoming a settler. This phase, usually a
time of ambiguity, apprehensiveness and fear, the migrant
does not know what the outcome will be or the obstacles
they will have to endure (Chavez 41). When many immigrants
separate from their loved ones they become transnational
families, with one or more members in the US and one or
more in the home country. These families usually experience
emotional, financial and physical stress. Many wives worry
for men's safety as they cross by the Border Patrol and
fear they will never return home. With a family member
gone, the rest have to assume more tasks and try to make up
for that one's lost income. Some finally end up moving to
the US with their loved ones, while others simply wait and
pray for them to return. Hector and Feliz Gomez are a prime
example of a transnational family. Hector went to the US !
to earn money, for his family. Feliz was left behind to
care for the home and children. She had to do all the work,
such as chop wood, cook, bathe and provide food for the
family. This had an emotional hardship on the family
structure and the marriage. After Hector began making a
little more money he decided to bring his family to the US
(Chavez 119-121). Even though they would still experience
financial hardships, at least the family would be together.
Single immigrants, many who live in an extended family,
stay in the US, marry and start families of their own. Work
plays an important role as to whether or not immigrants
settle or return home. Many accept any job initially,
mainly because they lack experience and/or education. Some
eventually make lateral moves by staying in the same career
path or moving upward and attaining a different job with
better monetary rewards. US citizens relatively function
the same way, especially young college graduates. Many
believe !
that if they leave their home place and seek other
geographical locations, that the "grass is greener on the
other side". That theory can prove to be wrong, especially
if they do not earn the money they thought they would or
have to return home due to family responsibilities. 

Everyday living for immigrants is very different in
comparison to Americans. The campsites are variously
scattered, with shelters made from old pieces of wood and
plastic. They are small and dark, with the only source of
light coming from the sun. Spiders holes, which is a hole
in the ground, help immigrants remain hidden from the INS
and border patrol. There is no running water or toilets,
with the only water source being from the hoses used in the
irrigation process in the fields. Food must be bought
everyday since there is no refrigeration or adequate
storage place. Weather can hender living conditions with
severe rains, sometimes even flooding, cold nights, and hot
dry days. With poor housing and an unsanitary environment,
this poses a health threat. Many workers complain of
recurring headaches, stomachaches and diarrhea, but do to
lack of proper hygiene, one can understand these illnesses.
Many workers are reluctant to seek health care for fear of
being deported!
, losing their jobs, losing money and many don't even know
where to seek help since they rarely leave campsites.
Immigrants try not to draw attention to their presence and
generally do not attend church services, school or go to
the movies (Chavez 63-82). Americans are just the opposite,
in that they more publicity they can get the better. The
living conditions are greatly better in that most American
households consist of one or more bedroom and bathrooms,
sitting areas, play areas, kitchens with major appliances,
running water and electricity. Health care may seem complex
to Americans, but at least we know where to find medical
assistance and are not turned away. Many immigrants never
complete the transition phase and move on to incorporation
due to lack of cultural, social, job security, and personal

In the incorporation phase, immigrants secure employment,
form families, establish credit, accumulate net worth and
become competent in English. Undocumented immigrants that
secure work and develop strong relationships with employers
establish economic links to American society. Another link,
social incorporation, is made possible by an increase in
family and friends and through children born in the US. If
children are born and raised in the US they feel reluctant
to return to a country they never actually knew, even
though that is a part of their family history. Cultural
incorporation is established by learning the English
language and becoming socially influenced by American
television and schools. Personal incorporation varies from
person to person and is based upon one's beliefs. Many find
it hard to change beliefs, behaviors and languages. They
also feel apart from the US due to it's societal view of
undocumented immigrants, and some never get to attain their
l citizenship (Chavez 173-85). Many have found that even
though individuals accumulate a large number of these links
they may still find full incorporation into the new society
challenged by the larger society's view of them (Chavez 5). 

Immigrants will continuously move in and out of the US but
how we handle the situations associated with this is up to
Americans. Human population has always moved, like waves,
to fresh lands but for the first time in human history,
there are no fresh lands, no new continents. Many feel that
if immigrants come to America they should adopt the
American ways of life and live by American rules. What we
must realize is that people can have a common goal and
still have their own identity, therefore retaining their
culture and still having a sense of patriotism to the
United States. We will have to think and decide with great
care what our policy should be toward immigration since our
children will have to pay the price of uncontrolled
Chavez, Leo R., Shadowed Lives:Undocumented Immigrants in
American Society. New York:Harcourt Brace College
Publishers, 1992.


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