This week, a video from an Mexican immigrant who is undocumented and works at a restaurant inside a Donald Trump hotel has gone viral: so much so that it even appeared in The New York Times. According to the Times, 24-year-old Ricardo Aca uploaded the following video “on Facebook on Monday, where it attracted more than 300,000 views in 24 hours.”
Aca was specifically addressing Trump’s continued focus on immigration and characterizations of undocumented individuals. As Aca told the Times: “I was offended because this is not who we are, this is not who I am, this is not anybody I know who is an immigrant.”
Aca’s video is getting a lot of digital buzz this week. Just check out how many outlets are covering it by going to this link.
What do you think of Aca’s video? Add your comments below, or tweet @LatinoUSA or me @julito77.
Last week, Studio 360 featured Latino USA’s Marlon Bishop, who recently visited Arizona with Maria Hinojosa for our upcoming BORDERWORLD show, premiering August 28. Part of the BORDERWORLD show will feature the Tucson Samaritans, who, according to their site, “are responding directly, practically and passionately to the crisis at the US/ Mexico border.”
To read more about the artists feature in the podcast you just heard, visit the Studio 360 site. And stay tuned for the rest of our BORDERWORLD episode on August 28.
Feature photo of Deborah McCullough, holding a toothbrush she picked up on U.S.-Mexico border. (CREDIT: Alicia Fernandez). Photo of BORDERWORLD graphic by John Moore/Getty Images.
In the current quest to cover All Things Donald Trump, I haven’t found any major media outlets exploring or dissecting the ideological similarities between Trump’s highly-publicized immigration planand the policies promoted for years by controversial groups such as Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). These three organizations (and others) have direct links to John Tanton, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) called “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”
The Tanton Network has been around since 1979. In 1993, Tanton wrote, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
Since then, many outlets have covered Tanton and his organizations, including The New York Times (read: “The Anti-Immigration Crusader”). The Times report led Tanton to write a letter to the editor, where he stated this: “The truth is that my role in pushing one of the stickiest issues of our time into public debate was far more modest than your article implies.” FAIR also responded to the Times piece with its own response. Before the Times 2011 article, CIS wrote a rather lengthy piece in 2010, defending its efforts and calling out the SPLC and the National Council of La Raza for “smearing” Tanton-founded organizations.
Tanton and his organizations have been scrutinized for years, even from conservatives. In 2013 piece for The Hill, the vice president of governmental affairs for National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference called Tanton’s network “a front for some fringe figures that advocate for population control, Eugenics, and abortion on demand.” Cafe con Leche Republicans, a prominent digital organization of Latino Republicans, has written several pieces about Tanton, with one post saying this: “The Tanton lobby’s messaging to conservatives about immigration enforcement resonates well, but most conservatives don’t support cutting legal immigration levels. Conservatives need to be wary about how these faux conservatives are manipulating the conservative movement.”
In 2012, the “self-deportation” strategy of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign —which many observers concluded was the one of the key reasons why Romney garnered only 27% of the U.S. Latino vote— had several Tanton advocates, including CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who said this: “Self-deportation is the core of a policy of attrition through enforcement, which has been the strategic framework for all the pro-enforcement measures of the past several years, at both the federal and state levels.”
Even though a Republican National Committee 2013 memo tried to move away from an immigration rhetoric strategy that did not resonate with U.S. Latino voters, it looks like Trump’s latest immigration plan is straight from the playbook of the Tanton Network. The Washington Post reported on Trump’s plan without mentioning Tanton-linked organizations, saying the campaign’s immigration plan was a series of ideas that “once languished at the edge of Republican politics, confined to think tanks and no-hope bills on Capitol Hill.”
1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.
Numbers USA shares similar ideas:
“The ethics of closed-immigration are based primarily on the belief thata country’s ethical priority is to its own citizens. To the extent it has ethical obligations to other people, a country should help those people where they reside, not by bringing them into the country and posing harm to its own citizens.”
As you dig deeper into the two platforms, additional ideological similarities between Trump and the Tanton Network emerge. Here are just a few verbatim examples:
Trump: End birthright citizenship. “This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.”
Numbers USA: “Birthright Citizenship is the practice of granting automatic citizenship to children born in the United States. Under current federal law, nearly all children born in the U.S. receive automatic citizenship, regardless of whether their parents are lawfully in the country. This practice has created a magnet for foreign nationals who want their children to have U.S. citizenship and spawned creation of a cottage industry devoted to helping pregnant “tourists” illicitly enter this country for the purpose of giving birth.”
Numbers USA is also touting The Birthright Citizenship Bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, the same Rep. King who in 2014 said the following about children who entered the United States with their undocumented parents: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Trump’s quote also linked to a 2011 Rasmussen Reports poll. Yet it didn’t link to a recent Gallup poll, which stated this: “The U.S. public demonstrates no clear preference on what U.S. immigration levels should be. On this contentious issue, 40% say levels should remain where they are, but only slightly fewer (34%) advocate a decrease in the stream of immigrants. One-quarter of the country prefers an increase in immigration levels, the sole response of the three to see a general increase in support over the past 15 years.”
Besides the birthright citizenship similarities, both Trump and Number USA are quick to also pit Black against Brown. Here are some examples:
Trump Put American workers first. “Decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed our middle class. Today, nearly 40% of black teenagers are unemployed. Nearly 30% of Hispanic teenagers are unemployed. For black Americans without high school diplomas, the bottom has fallen out: more than 70% were employed in 1960, compared to less than 40% in 2000. Across the economy, the percentage of adults in the labor force has collapsed to a level not experienced in generations.”
Later in the platform, the campaign says the following:
“We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow, get teenagers back to work, aid minorities’ rise into the middle class, help schools and communities falling behind, and to ensure our immigrant members of the national family become part of the American dream.”
Finally, there is the national security threat:
“Additionally, we need to stop giving legal immigrant visas to people bent on causing us harm. From the 9/11 hijackers, to the Boston Bombers, and many others, our immigration system is being used to attack us.”
What does Numbers USA have to say?
Numbers USA “Amnesty for illegal workers is not just a slap in the face to black Americans. It’s an economic disaster. I see illegal immigration and the adverse impact that it has on the political empowerment of African Americans, and the impact it has on the job market.” T. WILLARD FAIR, PRESIDENT OF THE URBAN LEAGUE OF GREATER MIAMI, FLA.
Then there is the connection between jobs and the middle class:
“New foreign workers compete with the laid-off and underemployed highly skilled Americans in most professions and occupations, but most foreign workers compete directly in the construction, service and manufacturing industries where unemployment is the highest and where Americans have the least margin of financial security.”
As for terrorism threats, Numbers USA quoted a CIS post threats to national security:
“A retired government employee with extensive national security experience, points to Anwar al-Awlaki —a terrorist with links to jihadists including Umar Farouk Abdulmutullab, who attempted to bomb a jetliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear as the plane prepared to land near Detroit, and Nidal Malik Hasan, who massacred 13 people in 2009 at Fort Hood, Tex.— as an example of how Birthright Citizenship has the potential to benefit enemies of the United States.
It is too early to tell whether Trump’s immigration position and how it is similar to the views of the Tanton Network will play out in a national election. However, there are recent indications that the type of rhetoric and talking points being discussed this week in the mainstream media will alienate U.S. Latino voters even more. For example, this past April, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda —a group of the country’s top Latino advocacy groups and one of the key players in pressuring NBC to drop ties with Trump— called any attempts at changing birthright citizenship “disastrous:”
“Birthright citizenship proposals seek to undermine well-established precedent by altering the legal interpretation and application of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. These proposals would deny citizenship to an entire class of infants born in the United States based on the immigration status of their parents.
“Such legislation would result in an underclass of Latinos that would be subject to disparate and adverse treatment based solely on their ethnicity, the national origin and race of their parents, and signal a return to a pre-Civil War constitutional era.”
Is the Trump campaign strategy just looking beyond the U.S. Latino vote and admitting that it has no chance of winning it or even attempting to win it?
Does this become a question of numbers and who actually votes in national elections?
For all the talk about U.S. Latino voting power, it is important to point this out from Pew: “Overall, 48% of Hispanic eligible voters turned out to vote in 2012, down from 49.9% in 2008. By comparison, the 2012 voter turnout rate among blacks was 66.6% and among whites was 64.1%, both significantly higher than the turnout rate among Hispanics.”
Trump’s immigration strategy is saying that more immigrants have led to fewer opportunities for African Americans. Will that type of strategy (Black vs. Brown) play out? Has Trump also tapped into those who would tell Gallup that they believe in the same levels of immigration or decreased numbers—a position the Tanton Network has been pushing for decades?
Nonetheless, it is also important to note these factoids from the very same Pew study:
“The voter turnout rate of naturalized Hispanic immigrants who arrived in the 1990s increased from 41.2% in 2008 to 47.2% in 2012.”
“Much of the growth in the number of Latino eligible voters was driven by Latino youth. Among the 3.8 million Latinos who became eligible to vote between 2008 and 2012, 3.7 million were U.S.-born young Hispanics who entered adulthood. Annually, about 800,000 U.S.-born young Hispanics come of age, making them newly eligible to vote.”
Will these numbers translate to larger voting power in 2016? Can Trump or any other GOP candidate play to the John Tantons and Steven Kings of the world and become the next President of the United States? That is the gamble candidates like Trump are taking. However, if more and more Trump piñatas become the norm for U.S. Latinos, a GOP White House will be extremely difficult to achieve.
Yesterday in California, governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 432, which, according to The Los Angeles Times, would remove “the word ‘alien’ from California’s labor code because it is seen as a disparaging term for those not born in the United States.”
“I applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 432. My bill modernizes the Labor Code and removes the term ‘alien’ to describe a person who is not born in or a fully naturalized citizen of the United States. Alien is now commonly considered a derogatory term for a foreign-born person and has very negative connotations.”
Mendoza also added this:
“California is among the top destination states for immigrants in the United States. Given the abundant evidence of their many contributions, it is imperative that any derogative references to foreign-born individuals be repealed from state law.”
Mendoza’s release linked to a 2013 Pew study which reported this: “The use of ‘illegal alien,’ a term considered insensitive by many, reached its low point in 2013, dropping to 5% of terms used. It had consistently been in double digits in the other periods studied, peaking at 21% in 2007.”
Reaction on social media to the news has been intense. Here is just a sampling of tweets opposing the act:
Alien is being removed from the labor code in California? Because of negative connotations? So are things that are illegal now not negative?
Earlier today, Gallup released the latest results of an ongoing poll about immigration—a topic GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush described as a “wedge issue” during last week’s Republican debate.
Bush’s “wedge issue” characterization is not that far off, if you take into account what Gallup shared as part of its Minority Rights and Relations survey. Here is the topline:
“The U.S. public demonstrates no clear preference on what U.S. immigration levels should be. On this contentious issue, 40% say levels should remain where they are, but only slightly fewer (34%) advocate a decrease in the stream of immigrants. One-quarter of the country prefers an increase in immigration levels, the sole response of the three to see a general increase in support over the past 15 years.”
If you look back to the beginning of when this poll started, the push for less immigration peaked at 58% in 2002 a few months after the 9/11 attacks. Support for more immigration was only at about 8% around the same time. Why the changes 13 years later?
Could it be that this country has is getting more and more Latino? More from Gallup:
“Preferences for changes in immigration levels vary considerably by the respondents’ race or ethnicity. Hispanics —half of whom say they are immigrants themselves— are most likely to say immigration levels should be increased (36%), while non-Hispanic whites offer the least amount of support for that proposition (21%). Blacks fall in between the two, at 30%. Despite these differences, the overall trend is similar for all three groups. Support for allowing increased immigration levels hit a low ebb for all races/ethnicities in the years immediately after 9/11, and climbed to new or nearly new highs in 2015.”
Nonetheless, does this mean that immigration and the politics surrounding this very contentious topic will begin to show some signs of alignment? It is too early to tell, but a Pew poll from late spring would suggest that the “wedge issue” will still remain a “wedge issue” for the 2016 elections, especially when the topic of immigration focuses on the issue of the country’s undocumented population. A few things to note about the Pew findings:
“…most Americans (72%) continue to say undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.”
“About half (51%) say immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41% say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care. The share saying that immigrants strengthen the country has declined six percentage points since last year.”
“A majority of Republicans (56%) support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. At the same time, far more Republicans say immigrants are a burden on the country (63%) than say they strengthen the country (27%).”
So the question remains: where does this country stand on immigration? Depending on who you support and how the immigration picture is presented, this “wedge issue” is just as partisan as it has ever been.
What do you think of the Gallup and Pew polls? Tweet me @julito77 with your thoughts or add your comments below.
Main photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images. Charts via Gallup and Pew.
In Vermont, migrant dairy workers are agitating for better working and living conditions. A campaign known as Milk With Dignity, initiated by advocacy group Migrant Justice, is pushing for minimum wage, days off and paid sick leave. Yet instead of pressuring overburdened state agencies to step up enforcement, they’re going directly to corporations —starting with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream— to guarantee better conditions for the workers in their supply chains. Ben and Jerry’s, which is owned by the multinational corporation Unilever, wants to include farmers in the negotiations, too.
Immigration paperwork can be really confusing – endless pages of forms, lawyer fees, and legalese.
Undocumented immigrants with limited English – and in many cases low education levels – face tougher obstacles when navigating the immigration system.
There are a lot of people out there trying to take advantage of all the confusion – and make a quick buck in the process. They are often known as notarios.
Angela Fernandez works toward helping the public solve immigration issues. She’s the director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a nonprofit in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Fernandez said the process can be long and daunting for new immigrants applying for citizenship.
For every organization like hers that offers free, quality help, said Fernandez, there are many more that prey on immigrants.
“We know that well over fifty percent of individuals that come through here have had some sort of interaction with an individual who has promised them legal status but they weren’t able to help them with it,” says Fernandez.
Immigration fraud has many faces. There are the dramatic stories of big-time scams – immigrants cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars. But more commonly, it takes the much more banal form of work done poorly by people who aren’t licensed.
“If you make a mistake on your taxes – the worst that can happen is you have to pay a fine. When you make a mistake in any kind of immigration application, you can be torn from your family and your community,” Fernandez says.
Notarios advertise their services all along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York (Photo: Sarah Rocha)
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
All over immigrant enclaves such as this one there are signs, banners and flyers offering help with immigration. They often advertise as a “notario público” – Spanish for “notary public.”
Valeria Treves runs a non-profit in Queens called New Immigrant Community Empowerment, or NICE for short. She said that in Latin America a notario público is actually a very high end attorney.
“Many Latin American immigrants actually confuse notary public for notarios publicos, and there are notarios out there that take advantage of that confusion and misrepresent themselves as lawyers,” Treves says.
By law, notarios cannot provide legal advice. A study from NICE titled “Dreams and Schemers” found that over 20 percent of the notarios in Queens advertised legal services. It also found that these businesses are required to post signs that state “not an attorney.” Treves says that business aren’t displaying those signs.
There are a few things notarios are allowed to do. For example, they can procure documents for immigrants, set up appointments, and they are allowed to help fill out immigration form with answers given by the clients. “But it’s a very fine line between filling out a form and giving people advice,” says Treves.
A VISIT FOR THE NOTARIO
We visited one notario in Washington Heights named Jay Mercado. He runs a business called “New Age Multi Services.”
Mercado said it’s true that a lot of notarios are scammers – they overcharge for simple services, or promise they can get work authorization for people who are not eligible for it. But he said he’s one of the good guys, doing honest work, and that in most cases, the forms are easy to fill out correctly.
“Like everything—once you learn the procedure, it’s like changing your car oil – you learn the steps and it’s boom boom boom,” Mercado says.
But sometimes, it’s more like “boom, boom… oops we messed up your papers.”
Immigrants receive legal help at a Queens non-profit called New Immigrant Community Empowerment (Photo: Sarah Rocha)
“THEY TOOK ADVANTAGE OF HIM”
Recently, Juan Ramirez’ father – a long time legal permanent resident – decided to apply for citizenship. A social worker referred his father to a storefront church in Upper Manhattan that runs an immigration service on the side.
“They took advantage of him,” Ramirez says. “They filled out his applications poorly and they charged him $125 for it. A lot of questions were left blank, a lot of questions were answered incorrectly.”
Most gravely – Juan’s father had some legal problems years ago that the preparer who submitted his application didn’t include. It put his application in jeopardy.
“There are no guarantees and my father got a guarantee… and it could have ended badly. My father could be deported, he could be in removal, my father could have gotten his citizenship – it doesn’t matter. They got their $125 and that’s the bottom line for them,” Ramirez said.
When Juan Ramirez tried to follow-up on his father’s case, his questions were avoided and phone calls went un-returned.
Ramirez’ father should have been referred to a lawyer. Despite the evasive behavior, the church may not have done anything against the law. It was legal for the church to fill out his father’s forms, so long as they didn’t give any guidance.
“And that’s part of the problem,” says Valeria Treves of NICE. She thinks unlicensed people shouldn’t be able to do this delicate work. But as long as they can, they will.
“We live in a capitalist society and people will extract a dollar anyway they can, and this is identified as something people really want, they really want papers, so you’ll find providers to provide that. Some that are legitimate, and some that are not legitimate,” says Treves.
Notarios in New York City often are located in close proximity with actual law offices, heightening the confusion for immigrants looking for professional legal help. (Photo: Sarah Rocha)
“A HOLE IN THE SYSTEM”
Immigrant advocates are split on the issue. Some want to train the notarios to do better; others want to shut them down completely.
Last week, the New York State assembly passed a bill creating new regulations for notarios – forcing them to provide clear contracts and offer no-questions-asked refunds, for example. The bill also establishes “notario fraud” as a crime. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign it into law soon.
But Angela Fernandez from the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights said the problem goes deeper than anything the courts can solve. She said it’s systemic.
“There are very few resources that can guide people through regularizing their status. So, because we don’t have those resources it’s very easy for these storefronts to pop up,” says Fernandez.
She said funding from the city for organizations like hers has gone down over the years. Most immigrants simply can’t afford to go to a lawyer, and there’s just not enough free help to go around. So, the notarios fill the vacuum.
Despite these challenges, immigrants do their best to figure out how to navigate the immigration maze. Back at the waiting room at Fernandez’ Washington Heights offices, about a dozen people wait to speak with trained paralegals. Gustavo, who declined to give his last name because of his status, says his grandmother warned him about notarios after she was scammed twice.
“Take it slow, talk to different people,” Gustavo said. “And don’t rush into anything.”
Cover photo by Marlon Bishop
Additional reporting and production assistance by Sarah Rocha
If a couple of states legalizing pot is significant, the number of states which have approved in-state tuition for undocumented students, or DREAMers, is a tidal wave. And for states, education of immigrants can mean big business–and big tax revenue. From Minnesota, to Florida, to Utah, we hear from students what affordable college means to them. And then we learn about one state-Georgia-where students are fighting for their educations.
Elly Yu is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta. She has reported for WNYC, WABE, and the New York Daily News, among others. She is a 2014 immigration reporting fellow with the Institute for Justice and Journalism. Elly has a master’s in journalism from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s in international relations from the University of Southern California.
Friends can be as close as family. In rural Alabama, two people who needed support managed to find each other. Fred is a gay male pastor. Gwen is a bisexual Latina activist. When a touch anti-immigration law passed in Alabama three years ago, they found themselves relying on each other.
Ashley Cleek is a radio reporter and producer living in Birmingham, Alabama. Before moving down South, Ashley reported stories in Turkey, Ukraine, India, and Russia for American, German and British radio. Her stories have appeared on radio shows like The World and Marketplace and on websites like PBS’s Tehran Bureau, Global Post, and the Atlantic.
Some lessons are learned in school. Other lessons are taught in the home. Or more specifically, in the kitchen. Two generations of women – a mother and daughter – remember what they learned from Jesusita, who fled Mexico for Texas during the Mexican Revolution. She was the matriarch that made them the women they are today.
Lesley McClurg is a reporter and producer for Colorado Public Radio’s daily interview program, “Colorado Matters.” She came to CPR after getting her start in public radio as a freelance reporter and producer for KUOW in Seattle, Washington.In addition to her work as a journalist, Lesley also has extensive experience in documentary filmmaking and writing. A seven-time Emmy Award nominee, she won an Emmy Award in 2009 for the documentary, “Green Prison Reform.” Lesley holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Louisiana State University
Photo of immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution, courtesy of U.S. History Scene
The border patrol is best known for working in the Southwest. But regulations authorize them to operate within a “reasonable distance” of 100 miles of any border–creating a zone the ACLU claims is a “Constitution Free Zone.” We hear from people who experience border patrol checkpoints and complain of harassment and racial profiling. And on the flip side, we hear from a border patrol agent about the difficulties of balancing enforcement with community policing.
Check out additional information about Constitution Free Zones here.
Feature Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
A.C. Valdez is Latino USA’s Senior Producer. A.C. Valdez comes to Latino USA by way of public radio shows like America Abroad, The Diane Rehm Show, WAMU-FM’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show, and Tell Me More. He’s worked with reporters from around the world, coordinated performances with groups like The Noisettes, and done in-depth work on the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. A native of Washington, D.C., A.C. Is a graduate of Emerson College.
One in four Latinos say they personally know someone who has been detained or deported by the federal government in the past year. For Jorge Narvaez, that someone is his mom, who is currently being detained in Arizona. Jorge became Youtube famous when he uploaded a video of him and his 6 year old daughter, Alexa, singing “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.”
Since then, they’ve been on the Ellen Degeneres Show, America’s Got Talent and have starred in a Hyundai commercial.
Jorge is using his social media platform to bring attention to his mom’s case, and to talk about the hundreds of thousands of mothers being held in immigration detention, most who have committed minor crimes or no crimes at all.
There’s no fence to divide it. There are no bridges to cross or checkpoints to be checked at. There’s no desert to lose oneself in.
The other border is a 60 mile stretch of ocean between the island of Hispaniola – shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti – and the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, known as the Mona Passage.
The Mona Passage is the main route for unauthorized immigration to Puerto Rico, mostly from the Dominican Republic. The migrants are brought over by smugglers in small wooden boats called yolas. Each boat can be packed with 100 people or more.
Undocumented migrants arrive in Puerto Rico (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).
“THE MONA IS TREACHEROUS”
“The Mona is treacherous,” says US Coast Guard Captain Drew Pearson, the man in charge of patrolling the Mona. “It can be nearly calm one minute, and then have 8-10 foot seas the next minute. And that can lead to a boat capsizing or people being ejected into the water.”
For migrants, the chance to dramatically better their lives makes the journey worth the high risk. Puerto Rico is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state, but it’s still almost five times wealthier than the Dominican Republic.
Before immigrating to Puerto Rico 10 years ago, domestic worker Altagracia Pablo had been living in deep poverty in a rural region of the Dominican Republic. “We didn’t even have a house – it collapsed in a storm, and we were sleeping wherever people would let us,” she says.
She made the difficult decision to leave her two daughters and look for a better life in Puerto Rico. She borrowed $1500 to pay the smugglers. They told her to pack a single change of clothes and brought her to Miches, a town on the eastern edge of the island.
The journey took 28 hours. She remembers vomiting over and over again. And there were other problems.
“Water leaked into the gas supply, there were problems with the motor. There were fights between passengers with knives and bottles,” she says. “But in the end, thank god, we made it safely.”
US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Altagracia arrived undetected by the authorities, but had she been caught, she might have ended up at the Border Patrol station in Aguadilla, a few hours west of San Juan, where migrants who are apprehended are taken to get processed.
“The best analogy is a door,” says Jeffery Quiñones, a communications officer for US Customs and Border Protection. “You have to knock on the door and say what your purpose is. If you come to a place that’s not the door, it makes it a crime punishable with immigration law.”
A group of Haitian migrants, just arrived from the sea, await processing at the Border Patrol station. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)
While I’m at the station, a new group of migrants is brought in, just picked up from the sea.
One of them, a Dominican man in handcuffs I’ll call Pedro, had lived undocumented in Puerto Rico for 11 years, working as a welder. One day while he was playing dominoes outside, he was picked up by immigration agents and sent back to the DR.
Since being deported, he’s tried to return to Puerto Rico five times. Each time the boat turned back due to ad weather. Finally, this time he made it across, but his vessel was caught by the Coast Guard. As a repeat migrant, he’ll be prosecuted, and could serve jail time.
“TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN”
Pedro shrugged off his misfortune. “You take a risk knowing you will either win or lose. Either way – amen. They’re two sides of the same coin,” he says.
Most of the other migrants at the station aren’t Dominican, however, they’re Haitian. They look scared and exhausted as they wolf down plates of rice and beans.
Their presence reflects the changes in immigration patterns to Puerto Rico. Recently, fewer Dominicans are arriving as the Dominican economy improves. At the same time, there’s been an explosion in Haitian migrants. In 2006, only two Haitians were apprehended by Border Patrol. Last year, the number was 600.
WET FOOT, DRY FOOT
The reason so many Haitians are crossing the Mona is what amounts to a de-facto “wet foot, dry foot” policy. When Haitian migrants reach American soil, including the tiny outlying islands that are part of Puerto Rico, US immigration authorities allow them to begin asylum proceedings based on the requirement of “credible fear” of persecution in Haiti.
Those asylum proceedings can take years to resolve, and having an open case allows you to stay and, in many cases, work in the US in the meantime. But if the migrants are caught at sea, even within American waters, they are turned back to Haiti.
As word spreads in Haiti that migrants arriving in Puerto Rico are being allowed to stay, more and more are showing up. The possibility of asylum has created a cruel reality: you’re allowed to live in the United States, if you can make it here alive.
Photo 5: The rectory at Father Olin Pierre’s church in San Juan has become a makeshift refugee center for Haitian migrants. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)
HELPING THE WEAK
The Haitians who do make it find help from Father Olin Pierre, a Haitian priest in San Juan.
“It’s a main role of a priest to help the weak,” says Father Olin. “And, they’re my people.”
Puerto Rico has no system in place for dealing with Haitian arrivals, so Father Olin has taken up the slack and turned his church into a makeshift refugee camp. Now, whenever a new Haitian boat comes in, authorities take the migrants straight here.
Cots are laid out all along the floor of the rectory. Women cook a meal of seafood as the guys watch a DVD on a portable player. One of them is 27-year-old William Joseph, who witnessed tragedy in the crossing.
“The trip was not easy,” says Joseph. The waters were rough as they were approaching land, and the Dominican smuggler forced his passengers out of the boat so he could head back quickly. They would have to swim the rest of the way. “But some of us didn’t know how to swim. I tried to save some of them too but… in the end we have five people missing.”
“They had already arrived,” says Father Olin, shaking his head. “They had a bright future ahead of them.” He trails off.
“IT’S LIKE PLAYING THE LOTTERY”
Five of Joseph’s companions drowned. Nobody knows how many migrant bodies lie at the bottom of the Mona Passage. Estimates vary – from single digits to the thousands.
“It’s like playing the lottery,” says Father Olin. For the winners who make it to Puerto Rico, and on to Olin’s church, life in the continental US is so close they can touch it. Olin raises money from his congregation to buy them tickets to Miami or New York, where family members are waiting for them. Almost no one stays in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, Dominican immigrants, who are generally not granted the “credible fear” status needed to start asylum proceedings, can’t just zip of to the US.Many do try, however. Flights to the mainland are considered domestic, so Dominican migrants just need a fake ID to get on a plane. But, it’s risky. Most choose to remain and work in Puerto Rico, even if they are undocumented. Journalist Carmelo Ruiz says the island completely relies on the Dominican community to function.
“It’s the same dynamic with immigrants in the United States,” says Ruiz. “They do a lot of the worst work and if they left all of a sudden – who’s going to fix my car? Who’s going to mow my lawn? Who’s going to work in construction? I don’t know what would happen but it probably wouldn’t be good.”
ONCE YOU’VE MADE IT
However, immigration in Puerto Rico doesn’t seem to stir up as much controversy as it does on the mainland.
“Illegal immigration is not necessarily an issue of public concern,” says Jeffery Quiñones, from US Customs and Border Patrol. “There’s no sense that there’s a conflict about their presence in the country.”
Kelvis Polo, the owner of a discount clothing shop in San Juan agrees – the presence of the Dominican just isn’t a big deal.
“Everywhere, you’ll find a few people who are racist,” he says. “But you don’t really see much of that here. You see it more in the States.”
Dominican immigrant Altagracia Pablo poses with her flag. She left dire poverty and immigrated to Puerto Rico 10 years ago. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)
“PUERTO RICO, I LOVE YOU”
Still, others I spoke to paint a more nuanced picture – Dominicans are the butts of a lot of jokes, and you might hear Puerto Ricans complaining about Dominican moving into the neighborhood. And, with no legal recourse to turn to, labor abuses are common.
“They treat you differently,” says domestic worker Altagracia Pablo. “You can’t complain about anything.
She says employers sometimes try to take advantage of her and make her do more work than she’s paid for. That kind of unfair treatment can make her pine for home. But overall, she says, life in Puerto Rico has been good to her.
“My dream isn’t to go back to the Dominican Republic. It’s to pledge allegiance to this flag, to the United States,” she says. “Truthfully, Puerto Rico, I love you.”
A previous version of this article stated that Haitian migrants are allowed to stay in Puerto Rico because of a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Haiti, as our reporter was originally told by US Customs and Border Protection officials in Puerto Rico. Haitians who have resided in the US continuously since 2011 are still permitted to stay in the US under TPS through 2016, but new arrivals are not granted TPS.
However, Haitians arriving in Puerto Rico by boat are currently being allowed to stay with a “notice to appear” before an immigration court on the US mainland and request asylum status. This occurs if the migrant claims “credible fear” of returning to their country of origin.
The de facto situation on the ground in Puerto Rico is that Haitian migrants are being allowed to stay, while Dominican migrants caught on land or sea are removed to the Dominican Republic.
Marlon Bishop is a radio producer and journalist with a focus on Latin America, New York City, music and the arts. He got his start in radio producing long-form documentaries on Latin music history for the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. After a stint reporting for the culture desk at New York Public Radio (WNYC), Marlon spent several years writing for MTV Iggy, MTV”s portal for global music and pop culture. Marlon has also lived and traveled all over Latin America, reporting stories as a freelancer for NPR, Studio 360, The World, the Village Voice, Billboard and Fusion, among other outlets. He is currently a staff Producer for Latino USA.
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Photo by Maria Loewenstein
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