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Stereotypes cloud immigration debate

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Public Insight Network.
July 3, 2013

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The term illegal immigrant is out of style for some media outlets. The Associated Press moved away from it, instead going with phrases like “person who is in the country illegally.” We turned to you for an answer – what would you call someone who fits that description? On Tuesday, I outlined those responses through the Public Insight Network. Today, we go beyond that, to hear the stories of two men.

“We as a people have been in this region, and by this region, I mean the southwestern United States, and what’s called Meso America, Central America and South America, for a long, long time.”

I met this native of Mexico, let’s call him Alex, inside a nondescript office building on the busy North Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.  Sporting the standard dress shirt and slacks combination, he shared his family’s history.

“My family goes back in the region of Coahuila, Mexico, which is northeastern Mexico, centuries, it’s very well documented, at least until the 18th century.”

It’s been extensively traced. There’s more to all of this, and we’ll get back to it. Let’s meet the other man, he’s a British native, we’ll call him Joe.

“First off, someone I found a job at a hotel in Hollywood, just doing maintenance and odd jobs. I was early 30s, so it was easy.”

“From there, I got a job in an office, a court reporting office, and worked there for many years.”

“I then worked for AT & T.”

Joe then moved out to Oklahoma in 1999 when Sprint opened up a call center here. And he wasn’t done.

“And I joined this Fortune 500 company that I work for now.”

Joe went from hotel maintenance to court reporting to Sprint and now a Fortune 500 company in Oklahoma. Alex worked as an independent translator and interpreter for a dozen years, before making the jump to Legal Aid. Joe came to the US in 1978, while Alex split time between Mexico and the US growing up. They’re both active in the community, and both spoke of their love of Oklahoma. Not everything is the same though.

“I’m an illegal immigrant.”

Wait, what?!

“I’m an illegal immigrant.”

Joe, here for more than 30 years, paying taxes, working for industry giants for years, doesn’t have documents. Legitimate documents that is…

“Someone said that they would sell me a social that was good, and it was a person around my age. So I took that number, changed my name and got my driver’s license and so on, and been working ever since.”

He used to leave the country, go off to Mexico for a couple days for vacation, but that was before he says they got strict at the border and started demanding a passport. So now, he’s resigned to never leaving the borders again. After I asked, Joe pulled out his driver’s license, and fake social security card. There it was, sitting on the table.

“I was talking to an INS agent just what, three weeks ago? We had this long conversation. She asked me where I was from, she never asked me whether I was a citizen, a resident alien, what I was. Never challenged it.”

And yet, for Alex, who I can now say is US citizen Ari Nuncio, not the same story. He gets a pass when he’s out and about, but things change when the group swells to more than one.

“You know, I speak English well and I’m very white. When I’m with my family, a Mexican, Spanish speaking family, then people do assume that we are Hispanic, but it takes me being in that context.”

“It was hard for her to get a driver’s license. My daughter has been told, by a uniformed police office, to speak English. We’ve been in a restaurant where the waiter was complaining we were speaking Spanish.”

And there it is. A British guy who overstayed his visa back in 70s gets no questions, no complaints from people here legally. And yet the family of Mexican American, who went through the immigration system and followed all the steps, confront the opposite reality. Never mind what term we should use to describe people here illegally…what about how we treat those here legally?

4 Responses to “Stereotypes cloud immigration debate”

  1. Charlotte Woods says:

    When there are so many illegal aliens who are hispanic and so very arrogant, what are we expected to feel? I'm sorry for the legal Hispanics who are here and mistreated. They need to realize that illegal invaders are a problem for them too, and help us to get them deported instead of taking their side.

  2. K. Simmons says:

    Joe is NOT an illegal immigrant. He is an alien who broke the law to come here, broke the law to get a bogus SS# and broke the law when he got employment here illegally. I'm pretty certain that dope dealers, bank robbers and sneak thieves think that what they do is pretty much okay, too. But I don't think we should let dope dealers, bank robbers, sneak thieves and aliens change our laws for us.

  3. Thomas Ronayne says:

    Immigration, where an individual applies for and waits in line to enter a country (not just the US, mind), doesn't need any "reform." Illegal immigration, where somebody sneaks across a boarder to take advantage of better living conditions than the miserable place they live in is something else entirely. Your British guy? A sneak, equivalent to a thief in the night (yeah, he's paying taxes but he's still a thief). Your Mexican guy? Legal, citizen, taxpayer, unfortunately lumped in with the illegals. Sorry about that.

    My father's parents: grandma came off the boat from Italy (speaking English, learned at the insistence of her father knowing where the family was going). Grandad, first generation Irish, fully fluent in English; his parents came in the 1860's, dad went to work as a carpenter, built houses, built streetcars, made a good living to raise his family. Had an accent, had to deal with anti-Irish nonsense, so did mom. So did my Italian grandmother.

    The Italian side of my family refused to speak Italian at home or out and about, they didn't want and would have been shocked if government documents were published in English and Italian — Why? They would have asked, This is America. Speak English.

    This country is a melting-pot. Folks from everywhere coming, fitting it, contributing. Many kept their native traditions – for a while – and that gradually became fond memories. Nobody ever insisted that everybody else speak their language or adopt their traditions, they kept those things at home, withing families, possibly within neighborhoods, but not forced upon other people.

    Try sneaking across a border anywhere in the world and work — ain't gonna happen, kids: you apply, prove yourself worthy, learn the language then maybe, maybe, you get to move. Just try moving to Canada for a close to home example, you're not going to just pick up and move across the northern border.

    So, tell me why we should be warm and welcoming to the millions who sneaked across the southern boarder?

  4. Dianne says:

    Joe is a great example of how illegal aliens are NOT just taking "jobs American's won't do". The stereotypical poor Mexican illegal immigrant who makes a living picking oranges is only one part of a much larger problem.

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