No One Is Coming to Help Undocumented Workers
Whether they’re staying home or risking their health by working, they won’t be getting economic relief
I’m a New York City kid, with thick gold hoops and a nameplate necklace and bracelet, in three kinds of gold, handed down to me by my undocumented mother who made me practice Selena Quintanilla songs to compete in a Univision variety show when we lived in Brooklyn, then Queens. Ethnic shit. Until my brother was born in Brooklyn Hospital — named after Derek Jeter, in a year the Yankees won the World Series, 1998, when I was 10 — we were all undocumented.
I grew up knowing undocumented men like my father as mostly taxi drivers or restaurant workers. Day laborers seemed like an almost mythical archetype, groups of brown men huddled at the crack of dawn outside hardware superstores. Historically, legislators and immigration advocates have parted the sea of the undocumented with a splintered staff — working brown men and women on one side and academically achieving young brown people on the other, one a parasitic blight, the other heroic dreamers. I was valedictorian in middle and high school, went on to Harvard, then to Yale, and periodically cut baby bangs which contrasted with my self-harming scars. I would have been a fucking good poster child if I had wanted to be.
‘The Undocumented Americans’ Is the Immigration Punk Manifesto We Need Today
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s provocative and compassionate memoir is not for the white gaze
When I started writing about immigration, right after the 2016 presidential election, I decided to start with day laborers. Day laborers weren’t real to me, and what I heard about them wasn’t good. The New York Times described their work as “idling on street corners.” That didn’t sit right with me.
So I went off to Staten Island, the whitest, most affluent, most Republican borough in the city to meet a group of day laborers. I came to know them intimately over the last three years while writing my book The Undocumented Americans, which came out last month. I had learned what their long days look like, and their longer nights, especially for the men who live alone because their…