Another local undocumented immigrant, who wants to be identified only as “Maria” for this story, went to Boulder High with Monica. Like Monica, Maria is from Zacatecas and came to this country with her family when she was 12 years old. She, too, attends CCD. Maria got certified at the Boulder School of Massage Therapy, but she can’t get licensed because of her undocumented status. She tried to apply to the CCD nursing school, but couldn’t get in without a Social Security number. “It becomes challenging, finding ways to get through the system,” she says.
Maria, who has a 7-year-old sister who is a citizen because she was born here, doesn’t want to return to Mexico because of the violence there and because she would risk never being able to get back across the border to see her mother and her sister. “This is my life,” she says. “Everything and everyone I know is here.”
Maria says she and others like her live in constant fear of being discovered. She says she is even careful about crossing the street, because if she were ticketed for jaywalking, it could mean deportation. “It’s the little things, like not being able to drive,” she says. Those who do drive without a license are likely to flee the scene of an accident for fear of being discovered.
Maria told Boulder Weekly that one of the biggest misconceptions about undocumented workers is that they don’t pay taxes. She says they are consumers, too, and they pay sales and property taxes, not to mention those who pay income tax, even though they don’t enjoy the same benefits that other taxpayers do. “But I don’t want to be looked at as a victim,” she says.
Emily Gendler Zisette, like Blum, acts as an ally for undocumented young adults like Monica and Maria. As a labor and human rights activist, she has seen the inside of a Tijuana deportation shelter and a local detention center for undocumented immigrants.
“I still have nightmares about screaming children trying to see their parents through Plexiglas,” Zisette says.
She explains that she felt obligated to get involved, because as a U.S. citizen, she couldn’t stand idly by and allow her own elected government to treat fellow humans in this way. “This is a crisis of morality,” Zisette says, calling it an “epidemic of silencing. … This is just as important as health care. This is just as important as gay marriage.”
Maria adds, “Living so oppressed in a country that’s all about freedom, it’s all lies.”
And they both say U.S. citizens need to raise the issue, since it is difficult for the undocumented immigrants to speak out when they are trying to keep a low profile. “We can’t straight up come out and say, ‘This is what we need,’” Maria explains.
Unfortunately, Zisette says, most people aren’t aware of how they are affected by the situation. “Everyone is touched by the broken immigration system,” she says, adding that those who are opposed to legalizing this population may not realize how their quality of life depends on undocumented immigrants — and how much it would change if that population were ejected from the country. “What allows me to live in luxury and buy cheap things is the broken immigration system,” she says.
Zisette urges people who are concerned about the situation to talk to their friends and family — and more importantly, contact their elected officials.
Zisette and Maria say U.S. trade patterns with Mexico — whether it’s guns or corn — are largely fueling the current situation, as are large, multinational corporations. “It’s easy for people to blame someone other than themselves,” Zisette says. “People have to start looking at themselves and taking responsibility.”
Maria says another big misperception is the idea that undocumented immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens. Herndon explains that the “flow of immigrant labor has always met the business demand. It’s just that the flow has not been authorized.”
She says undocumented workers’ contributions to the economy often go unnoticed. “These people helped create the economic boom of the ’90s,” she explains. “It doesn’t seem right to turn on them at this point. We tacitly invited them. This is where they’re going to stay, and we need a process for incorporating them into society. These are entrepreneurs who are anxious to help grow the economy.”
And Herndon, like the others, wants to get the word out about the no man’s land for undocumented youth. “It’s a terrible situation,” she says. “We’re setting them up for failure and setting the community up for unnecessary failure, when these young people could contribute.
“The average American voter has no idea that there could be a young person who has been here since age 2, goes through school, is named valedictorian, and then is stuck.”
Boulder VOICE is hosting a free screening of the film Papers at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Boulder High. The feature-length documentary is about the challenges faced by the 2 million undocumented children who were born outside the U.S. but raised in this country. The event will feature opening remarks by Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico, poetry by Ana Cruz of Denver and performances by recording artists Molina Soleil and Aju. A discussion on immigration issues will follow the film. Snacks will be provided, and childcare is available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.