On 20th April, 2017, Isabella Ruiz shared her experience migrating to the United States from Mexico. She recounts the reasons that led her to America. She was living in the town of Guadalajara in Mexico. She was living in the poor part of town together with her husband and their three children. Due to the poverty that riddled their part of town, her husband used to work in the nearby ranch as a stable hand while she used to work at a local pub as a waitress. They never really did make enough money. One night after coming back from a long night of work, she found out that her husband had been killed. “It was devastating for me,” she recounts “but this was Mexico, people get killed all the time, it is nothing new. It happens every day there, but this does not make it any less painful.” (Ruiz, 20/4/17). She recalls that she was completely devastated, having lost the love of her life and left to raise their two sons and a daughter alone. This devastating loss was what propelled her to move to the States in order to provide security for her children and offer them a better future. She was eager to leave the violence that prevails in almost every part of Mexico, and as a result, ended up sneaking into the country with her children. She arrived in the country with the hope of being able to provide her children with a brighter safer future so that they can live a good life. However, she was aware of her undocumented status and had to constantly live in fear of discovery and eventually deportation form the country.
Ruiz’s story is one that joins many undocumented immigrants, but hers provides us with a first-hand account of exactly what it is like to be undocumented in the States and the constant fear of discovery everywhere you go. Undocumented immigration is a controversial topic that affects not only the government but the immigrants themselves and the community they live in. Fitting in in a foreign country is often difficult for anyone due to varying beliefs, culture, behaviours and language (Chavez, 203). For Ruiz, she encountered similar problems, her English was poor and as a result, communicating with others in the locality was somehow difficult. However, the most prevalent reason why undocumented immigrants do not feel like they belong in their settled community is their citizenship status. This leads to Isolation which is also a key characteristic of undocumented immigrants since they fear that if they mingle too much, someone might discover them and report them to authorities (Chavez, 203). Ruiz recalls that she kept to herself for the first two years that she was in the country, except for talking to some of her neighbours who were legally in the country and who assisted her to find a job to support her family. She particularly recalls her friend Marisela with a smile, as her first friend who has remained a support system for her all these years. She helped her get a job as a maid in some of the houses in the rich neighbourhood and assisted her in enrolling her children in school.
Most undocumented immigrants, over time, develop economic, social, linguistic, cultural and personal ties to the country and the communities they live in. Anderson (16), asserts that America is “a deep horizontal comradeship” meaning that citizens readily accept and perceive immigrants, even undocumented ones as part of the community. However, after speaking to many undocumented immigrants as well as citizens, Chavez discovered that a large part of society does not recognize undocumented immigrants as part of the community (Chavez, 208). As a result of this, many of them find it difficult to ever be full members of society since the community does not fully incorporate them into the society. Mexicans being of a different race, culture, belief and language, the larger society perceives undocumented immigrants as a threat to a nation that is conceived of a singular, predominantly Euro-American, English Speaking culture (Chavez, 208). Ruiz asserts this to be true, after many years in the States, she still feels like an ‘outsider’ even after eventually gaining legal citizenship. The community she lives in has also never accepted her as a full member of society.
During the 2 hours interview, Ruiz recounted to me how she became legal. During one of her working days, she met an American man and their connection was instant. She did not want him to discover her immigration status but eventually they grew too close and he proposed marriage to her. Ruiz did not want to marry him with this secret in her heart and so she had to reveal it to him. To her surprise, he was more than understanding and assured her of his love. They did eventually get married and she gained full citizenship. In addition to her three kids, they had two more children and are currently living a happy life. She does not regret any of her decisions and asserts that all the hardships she went through as an undocumented immigrant were all worth it because she has finally found happiness and peace. Although Ruiz found her happy ending and ended up providing her children with the life she had always wanted for them, many undocumented immigrants end up deported and if they manage to not get deported, never feel like they belong. Until the larger society accepts undocumented immigrants as part of the community, they will always live as ‘outsiders’ in America.
I found the interview to be enjoyable and insightful on many issues that I had taken for granted. Prior to the interview, I believed that all individuals in the United States are equal and enjoy similar opportunities. It is during this interview that I learned that immigrants are unable to exploit most opportunities that are in their community due to the fear of disclosing their illegal status. As a result, they are unable to realize the ‘American Dream,’ of realizing their full potential.
In addition, I have realized that most immigrants come to the US with the hope of finding a society that will fully accept them. In this regard, the US has a positive image of being a welcoming and loving country that accepts people from all societies irrespective of their religion and culture. In reality, this is not the case. In Ruiz interview, I learned that despite her living in the US for more than 10 years, she still feels as an outsider and the community has never fully accepted her.
Finally, the illegal immigration issue in the US is more complicated than it is portrayed. Firstly, most immigrants engage in legal economic activities with an aim of improving their lives. In addition, most of them, such as Ruiz, are always fleeing from social, political, and economic hardships at home. Therefore, the deportation of these individuals exposes them to the hardships that they are escaping. For example, if the US government deported Ruiz and her family, it would be exposing her to violence and crime in Mexico. In this regard, the government should find a holistic approach of dealing with immigrants; one that ensures they are safe and still ensures the US continues to excel in social, economic, and political spheres. In fact, deportation of individuals without considering their wellbeing will simply result in them sneaking back to the country as they attempt to escape the hardships in their country. Such a situation is costly to the government and dangerous to the immigrants.
Anderson B. Imagined Communities. London: Verso. 1983.
Chavez Leo R. Shadowed Lives: Undocumented immigrants In American Society. Cengage Learning. 240 pages. 2012.
Chavez Leo R. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigration, Citizens, and the Nation. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008.