A Life of Predictable Emergencies: Undocumented on Dialysis

Margarita came to Indianapolis 13 years ago to help her sister, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. After her sister died, Margarita stayed, but then a few years ago, she began having health problems of her own. When she went to the hospital, she was told that her kidneys didn’t work anymore.

There are an estimated 5,500 undocumented immigrants in the United States who have been diagnosed with kidney failure. The standard treatment for kidney failure is dialysis, a process that cleans the blood, every couple of days. For U.S. citizens, Medicare will pick up the bill, even if they’re not elderly. But for undocumented people in this country, a diagnosis of kidney failure can turn life into a series of predictable emergencies—with no end in sight.

Featured image by Jake Harper

Inside Woman: Undocumented on Wall Street

Julissa Arce is no stranger to working sun up to sundown. She traveled on a Greyhound bus for 80 miles every weekend to sell funnel cakes to pay for college, studied in her down time, just to wake up and do it all over again. All of that hard work landed at the top of her class at the University of Texas at Austin, and eventually an analyst job at Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest investment banks in the world.

She grew up in Taxco, Mexico, and stayed with her extended family while her parents traveled back and forth from Taxco to Texas, importing silver. She moved to the U.S. to be with her parents when she was 11, and her tourist visa expired when she turned 14. Since that moment, all of her actions hinged on this secret. To stay in the U.S. and keep her high-powered job she worked so hard for, she had to hide the fact that she was undocumented, but she stayed strong-willed and pushed through the barrier—just like her parents. The three of them ran a funnel cake cart in Texas for income. But one day as her mother was operating the roasted corn machine, it exploded, throwing her into the air, causing her to hit her head on the sidewalk. She sustained brain injuries and landed in a coma. Julissa’s parents eventually returned home to Mexico so that their family could tend to her mother, leaving Julissa, at this point a senior in high school, alone in the U.S.

Being on her own meant she had to work harder than ever before. By age 27, she became a VP at Goldman Sachs, earning over $340,000 annually. Having all that money in the bank sounds like the life, but it came at a price. She had to endure working long hours, foregoing lunch and bathroom breaks, and work under a workaholic boss, all while keeping her undocumented status a secret, which led to debilitating migraines and back pains that left her laying on the floor for hours. One night in the summer of 2015, the weight of her secret grew so heavy that the stress drove her to the hospital.

But she kept pushing, and sent the money she earned from her job on Wall Street to her parents in Taxco. While she sent money across the border, she had to stay in the U.S. out of fear of getting caught and deported—even when she got the call the her father was dying in Mexico.

As a high-powered go-getter, she felt powerless living in the U.S. undocumented. But in 2009, she married a U.S. citizen, secured a green card and became a naturalized citizen. From that moment forward she vowed to leave Wall Street and use her voice to fight for immigrant rights and education equality. Her memoir is called My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive.

Featured Image: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for INGENUITY

Report: Undocumented Immigrants in US Contribute More Than $11.6 Billion to State and Local Taxes

A new report released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) said that the country’s undocumented population each year has paid more than $11.6 billion in state and local taxes. The study also concluded that the contributions “would increase by more than $800 million” if President Obama’s executive actions on immigration were to be fully implemented and “by more than $2.1 billion” if comprehensive immigration reform were to pass.

In a statement that accompanied the study, ITEP State Tax Policy Director Meg Wiehe said:

Regardless of the politically contentious nature of immigration reform, the data show undocumented immigrants greatly contribute to our nation’s economy, not just in labor but also with tax dollars. With immigration policy playing a key role in state and national debates and President Obama’s 2014 executive action facing review by the Supreme Court, accurate information about the tax contributions of undocumented immigrants is needed now more than ever.

The full report is below:

Undocumented Immigrants' State and Local Tax Contributions by Latino USA

Report Says Country’s Undocumented Population Has Dipped Below the 11 Million Mark

A new report released from the Journal on Migration and Human Security concluded that in 2014 there were 10.9 million undocumented individuals living in the United States, the lowest number since 2003.

According to the report’s executive summary, “the undocumented population has been decreasing for more than a half a decade.” The report also said that “the growing naturalized citizen populations in almost every US state and the fact that, since 1980, the legally resident foreign-born population from Mexico has grown faster than the undocumented population from Mexico.”

The report contained several charts and figures to represent their findings. The following graph shows a decline in the country’s undocumented population since 2008:


This chart shows the year-by-year change since 2003. According to the graph, there have been significant decreases since 2007.


This table lists the undocumented population from 2010–2014 for the country’s top 20 states. While states like California (-1%), Florida (-9%), Illinois (-23%), and New York (-11%) and  have seen significant decreases, Texas’ undocumented population has remained flat (1% increase). Besides Texas, only Virginia (7%), Michigan (12%), Colorado (1%) and Pennsylvania (4%) have seen increases.


Other charts included undocumented population data from specific countries. Here is the one about Mexico, which shows a decrease:


Finally, the report also presented undocumented data by country of origin. The only countries to see increases from 2010–2014 were El Salvador (3%), Guatemala (7%), Honduras (11%), India (7%), China (7%) and Vietnam (8%):


You can read the full report below. Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @julito77.

US Undocumented Population Drops Below 11 Million in 2014, with Continued Declines in the Mexican Undocumen… by Latino USA

Featured image: David McNew/Getty Images

Serving The (Still) Uninsured

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, resulted in millions more people being signed up for health insurance. But some folks are still uninsured, especially the undocumented. Reporter Lisa Morehouse takes us to places in California where the struggle to care for–and insure–undocumented Californians is still going on.




Lisa-Morehouse-150x150Lisa Morehouse is an award-winning independent public radio and print journalist, who’s filed for KQED’s The California Report, NPR’s Latino USA and All Things Considered, Edutopia magazine and McSweeney’s. Her reporting has taken her from Samoan traveling circuses to Mississippi Delta classrooms to the homes of Lao refugees in rural Iowa.  She’s currently working on After The Gold Rush: The Future of Rural California, an audio documentary website and series. A former public school teacher, Morehouse also works with at-risk youth to produce radio diaries.



Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Patrick Pelster

Jose Antonio Vargas: Undocumented and Unafraid



Jose Antonio Vargas has a Pulitzer Prize, but he lacks a Green Card. Vargas came to the United States at age 12 to discover his immigration papers were fake a few years later. He went on to a brilliant career winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Maria Hinojosa talks to him about his upcoming documentary, the media bias against undocumented immigrants, and President Obama as the #DeporterInChief.


Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Undocumented Driving

North Carolina will finally issue driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants who applied to Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The only thing is these licenses won’t look like everyone else’s. Latino USA contributor Michelle Johnson reports.

Click here to download this week’s show.

michellesheadshotMichelle Johnson is a multimedia journalist who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When she is not working, you are likely to find her out with the dog, talking to strangers and collecting stories.


Maria Hinojosa talks to Ted Genoways, the author of an article in this month’s Harpers called “This Land is Not Your Land.” It explores the roots of anti-immigrant sentiments in the town of Fremont, Nebraska.

Click here to download this week’s show. Image courtesy of Harper’s Magazine.


Ted Genoways is a contributing writer at Mother Jones and editor-at-large at OnEarth. His book on Hormel and the American recession is forthcoming from HarperCollins.



How are colleges and universities in the US are dealing with undocumented students? We survey the nation and find a wide range – some schools, like the Illinois Institute of Technology, have a special liaison for them; other schools offer in-state tuition rates.  Some even offer “underground” classes. And not everyone agrees on what to do next.

Click here to download this week’s show. Photo courtesy of Freedom University Georgia. To find out more about Freedom University, check out their homepage. And to find out more about Tom Tancredo’s organization, The Rocky Mountain Foundation, click here.



Crowds of DREAMers – Undocumented Immigrant Youth – Get Legal Counseling as We Ask “What’s Next

Undocumented youth seeking legal advice. (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

The basement of St. Mary’s Church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side resembled a makeshift Department of Motor Vehicles office Wednesday, as undocumented immigrant youth waited in long lines to consult with lawyers about their deferred action applications.

In fact, the DMV is where many of the applicants planned to go once their applications are approved, a driver’s license being one of the perks of finally having legal status.

On the first day that U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services accepted applications for deferred action, 22 year old undocumented immigrant Eduardo Resendiz was among those seeking advice.  He told Fi2W that while he’s happy with the opportunities the program will give him, especially the right to work legally, he’s not “completely satisfied.”

Eduardo Resendiz (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

Resendiz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, said he will continue to advocate for a solution not just for students but for entire undocumented families.

“Like many undocumented immigrants, I consider this my homeland,” he said, “and I believe only the DREAM Actwill give us the sense that we are truly Americans.

Resendiz pointed out that even if his application is accepted, the rest of his family—living here since 2005—will remain undocumented including his 14-year-old sister and his parents who, as he put it, “continue to live in the shadows”

Sara Martinez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby, is planning to apply for deferred action but hasn’t managed to get documents together that prove she has been living here for five consecutive years. She has been organizing workshops across New York city as part of theNew York State Youth Leadership Council and is busy strategizing with other activists ways to keep the momentum going.

Sara Martinez (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

“Deferred action is not the same as the DREAM Act. We have to educate our communities about the risk involved in signing that application,” she said. Martinez sees deferred action as just a step toward passing the federal DREAM Act and also a New York state DREAM Act that would make undocumented students eligible for student loans.

Organized by the New York Immigration Coalition, the legal clinic at St. Mary’s had dozens of volunteer attorneys sitting in long rows meeting with applicants and going through their forms and documents.

Jacki Esposito, the director of immigration advocacy with the NYIC, is one of the organizers of the clinics. Although currently she is concentrating on helping people through the deferred action process, she thinks the next step is clear.

Deferred action, said Esposito, is a major victory that “builds momentum and mobilizes immigrant youth in a new way.” But it’s bittersweet: “Many DREAMer’s parents still live in fear.”

According to Esposito, the next phase will be to activate all the new members of the DREAM Act movement, youth who’ve become politically active for the first time through this process and feel empowered to take the change even further.

“It’s no question that the president’s announcement was a response to two years of advocacy,” said Esposito. “They know how hard they worked,” she said referring to the DREAMers, “and they won.”

New York wasn’t the only place where legal clinics were drawing crowds. A deferred action workshop in Chicago expected to help 1,500 undocumented youth with their applications ended up drawing an estimated crowd of 50,000. Many were turned away.

US Senator Dick Durbin, one of the original authors of the DREAM Act, was one of the hosts of the event. When Fi2W asked for his opinion on what should happen next, his staff pointed us to a speech he gave last month to the Center for American Progress.

Durbin believes that deferred action, far from being a permanent solution, is an important step toward, as he puts it, “sensible immigration reform.” He said deferred action “will forever change the debate.” His theory is that as the American public interacts with many of the beneficiaries of the program, they will see the contributions they’re making and be open to greater reform.

Feet in 2 Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. 

Aaron Leaf is a freelance writer and editor who has reported on human rights issues from Zambia, Liberia, Canada and Peru. He is a graduate of Ryerson University and the former editor of Ricepaper, a journal of Asian Canadian arts and culture.