Stereotypes cloud immigration debate
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.”
“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?