Miguel is a man in his 30s, working as a caregiver for the past seven years in a private home nestled in a suburb of Los Angeles. His days from Monday through Friday are long ones, stretching from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and for those 60 hours each week he earns a mere $300 monthly, $75 per week—to go with his room and board in the home of the disabled person he cares for.
But despite how dire his circumstances seem, Miguel can’t simply pick up and find another job—and it’s not just because of the bad economy. Miguel (not his real name) is one of an estimated 11 million undocumented workers living in the United States, otherwise pejoratively known as “illegal aliens,” who help raise children, care for the elderly, tend lawns, pick crops and keep restaurants thriving. These 11 million people have had children (who are citizens), have been in the country for years and have made themselves a vital part of the American economy. In short, they are like most other Americans—they just aren’t in the country legally.
"We have a responsibility to view this issue as Christians first and Americans second." —Jenny Yang
“It’s frustrating, and I have a sense of powerlessness, of not being able to apply for jobs or submit applications without fear of being recognized and persecuted legally because of my country and lack of work permits,” Miguel says. “But on a daily basis, I know residing in the country is not an issue—as long as I stay away from trouble, I should be fine.”
Even now, Miguel is one of the relatively lucky ones among the “undocs” (a slang term for undocumented workers). He doesn’t have to stand in front of stores or on street corners with dozens of other men each morning, hoping for a truck to come by so he can negotiate a day’s low pay for backbreaking work in the sun.
While Miguel dreams of finishing college and becoming a psychologist, he found his job because a cousin told him the person he now works for was looking for help. He had been living in the northern California town of Placerville after illegally crossing the border from Mexico, and felt his prospects there were at a dead end.
“My cousin said, ‘A group of us are living in Los Angeles’ and had a structure for themselves. I didn’t think twice, even though I knew I would be working for $300 a month, and room and board,” he recalls. “There was not access to English as Second Language at schools in Placerville, and my cousin said I could access them here, so I didn’t think twice and headed for Los Angeles.”