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The Life of Illegal Immigrants
Immigrants are torn by conflicting social and cultural demands, while facing the challenge of entry into an unfamiliar hostile environment. The migratory process, for whatever the reason, seems to enhance the sense of solidarity among those who migrate, who are often united by bonds of kinship, community and ethnicity, as well as class. Symbols of ethnicity, such as language and religious behavior serve as reminders of their origin to the migrants themselves, while at the same time marking these people as outsiders in their new locale. Some migrants make a conscious decision to abandon an old unsatisfactory way of life for what they believe will be paradise on earth, land of the free, the place to find the American dream, never thinking about why or what the leave behind. For others, migration leads to a new existence, one that incorporates two or more ways of doing things, and a declining sense of national loyalty. Many only stay migrants, come to the United States and return to his/her origin either on their own or through deportation. Few actually have the chance of becoming settlers and staying in the US for years to come. For undocumented immigrants, crossing the border is a territorial passage that can be divided into three important phases: separation from the known social group or society, transition (the liminal phase), and incorporation into the new social group or society (Chavez, 4-5). Separation from a way of life can be difficult for immigrants. The meaning of why many choose to leave their country of origin can be socially or culturally constructed and be very significant for the people involved. Statistics show that most undocumented immigrants are primarily between the ages of 19-29 with a complex array of motives for leaving home (Chavez 126). One reason why immigrants come to the US is to work and earn money for a specific purpose. Mostly young unmarried men and women who are apart of an overall strategy to provide income for the family come to the US for short periods of time and then return home. One immigrant came to earn money to continue his studies, while another one came to earn money to get married (Chavez). The most common reason why both Mexican men and women come to the US is due to lack of opportunities in the Mexican economy. Job scarcity is very common and even those who do find employment are paid low wages with poor working con! ditions. Employers have come to rely on undocumented immigrants labor and view them as dependable and hard working. Immigrants are willing to accept jobs that requires lots of physical work with long hours involved. Many jobs such as farming requires 12-15 hours a day in hot, dry fields and pay below minimum wage. Most Americans would not even think twice about working in such conditions, and only consider jobs that contain high salary structures and elite social status. US citizens show greed and want more and more material items as their disposable income increases. Immigrants only want enough money for survival and provide basic living needs for their families. Another motive for separation, seeking "the Immigrant's dream" relates to "the American dream" to gain upward mobility and more economic opportunities. Other motives involves females who want to continue relationship connections with men follow them to the US, or some even want to flee from existing relationships, family conflicts or simply out for adventure and satisfy curiosity (Chavez 21-39). Crossing the border marks the beginning of the transition phase, many never gaining enough links to continue on the next phase in becoming a settler. This phase, usually a time of ambiguity, apprehensiveness and fear, the migrant does not know what the outcome will be or the obstacles they will have to endure (Chavez 41). When many immigrants separate from their loved ones they become transnational families, with one or more members in the US and one or more in the home country. These families usually experience emotional, financial and physical stress. Many wives worry for men's safety as they cross by the Border Patrol and fear they will never return home. With a family member gone, the rest have to assume more tasks and try to make up for that one's lost income. Some finally end up moving to the US with their loved ones, while others simply wait and pray for them to return. Hector and Feliz Gomez are a prime example of a transnational family. Hector went to the US ! to earn money, for his family. Feliz was left behind to care for the home and children. She had to do all the work, such as chop wood, cook, bathe and provide food for the family. This had an emotional hardship on the family structure and the marriage. After Hector began making a little more money he decided to bring his family to the US (Chavez 119-121). Even though they would still experience financial hardships, at least the family would be together. Single immigrants, many who live in an extended family, stay in the US, marry and start families of their own. Work plays an important role as to whether or not immigrants settle or return home. Many accept any job initially, mainly because they lack experience and/or education. Some eventually make lateral moves by staying in the same career path or moving upward and attaining a different job with better monetary rewards. US citizens relatively function the same way, especially young college graduates. Many believe ! that if they leave their home place and seek other geographical locations, that the "grass is greener on the other side". That theory can prove to be wrong, especially if they do not earn the money they thought they would or have to return home due to family responsibilities. Everyday living for immigrants is very different in comparison to Americans. The campsites are variously scattered, with shelters made from old pieces of wood and plastic. They are small and dark, with the only source of light coming from the sun. Spiders holes, which is a hole in the ground, help immigrants remain hidden from the INS and border patrol. There is no running water or toilets, with the only water source being from the hoses used in the irrigation process in the fields. Food must be bought everyday since there is no refrigeration or adequate storage place. Weather can hender living conditions with severe rains, sometimes even flooding, cold nights, and hot dry days. With poor housing and an unsanitary environment, this poses a health threat. Many workers complain of recurring headaches, stomachaches and diarrhea, but do to lack of proper hygiene, one can understand these illnesses. Many workers are reluctant to seek health care for fear of being deported! , losing their jobs, losing money and many don't even know where to seek help since they rarely leave campsites. Immigrants try not to draw attention to their presence and generally do not attend church services, school or go to the movies (Chavez 63-82). Americans are just the opposite, in that they more publicity they can get the better. The living conditions are greatly better in that most American households consist of one or more bedroom and bathrooms, sitting areas, play areas, kitchens with major appliances, running water and electricity. Health care may seem complex to Americans, but at least we know where to find medical assistance and are not turned away. Many immigrants never complete the transition phase and move on to incorporation due to lack of cultural, social, job security, and personal links. In the incorporation phase, immigrants secure employment, form families, establish credit, accumulate net worth and become competent in English. Undocumented immigrants that secure work and develop strong relationships with employers establish economic links to American society. Another link, social incorporation, is made possible by an increase in family and friends and through children born in the US. If children are born and raised in the US they feel reluctant to return to a country they never actually knew, even though that is a part of their family history. Cultural incorporation is established by learning the English language and becoming socially influenced by American television and schools. Personal incorporation varies from person to person and is based upon one's beliefs. Many find it hard to change beliefs, behaviors and languages. They also feel apart from the US due to it's societal view of undocumented immigrants, and some never get to attain their lega! l citizenship (Chavez 173-85). Many have found that even though individuals accumulate a large number of these links they may still find full incorporation into the new society challenged by the larger society's view of them (Chavez 5). Immigrants will continuously move in and out of the US but how we handle the situations associated with this is up to Americans. Human population has always moved, like waves, to fresh lands but for the first time in human history, there are no fresh lands, no new continents. Many feel that if immigrants come to America they should adopt the American ways of life and live by American rules. What we must realize is that people can have a common goal and still have their own identity, therefore retaining their culture and still having a sense of patriotism to the United States. We will have to think and decide with great care what our policy should be toward immigration since our children will have to pay the price of uncontrolled immigration. Bibliography Chavez, Leo R., Shadowed Lives:Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. New York:Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1992.


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