Looking through the eyes of the undocumented

Looking through the eyes of the undocumented
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Looking through the eyes of millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, life could be a bit stressful when faced with the threat of deportations.

According to pewresearch.org, the number of undocumented immigrants has dropped in the United States since 2009.

That number being 11.3 million with 8 million being a part of the United States civilian workforce.

Of that workforce, 26% is in the farming industry, and 15% works in construction.

Areas that some say can be abused when it comes to workplace treatment of undocumented individuals.

"They treat them like they want to, they don't pay them what it is and that is not right," said one person who works with undocumented immigrants in the fields.

Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said when this is the case, it is just like human trafficking.

"You are just as guilty as that person is here illegally if you are knowingly taking advantage of that person by basically using them as a trafficking tool and working for nothing."

Boyd said having power over people who are here illegally does not give you the right to treat them illegally.

He said from a law official's standpoint, he has no sympathy for actions such as that and encourages everyone, documented or undocumented, to obey the law and things will go accordingly.

Obeying the law also means taking the necessary steps to become a legal resident in the United States.

However, that process to citizenship is not an easy one and could be impossible to some, according to leaders in the Hispanic community.

"It could be a lack of education, or in some cases, a lack of information that interferes with that process," said Gina Gomez, the executive director of Hispanic Community Services Inc. in Jonesboro. "There is not just one way to do it. It depends on how you come to the country, how you enter the country. Whether you are filing for your spouse, whether it is an employee-based petition so it depends on each case."

It took 10 years for Gomez to become a permanent resident of the United States. A total of 14 years to become a citizen.

"It is a process that keeps changing," said Gomez. "The law keeps changing all the time and the requirements are tough to meet."

David Nunez is the Northeast Organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition at the Immigrant Resource Center. He said because of that reason some undocumented immigrants don't even meet the requirements to begin the process to citizenship.

"If you complain about people breaking the law but you are making it harder for them to be in accordance with the law, whose fault is that?" asked Nunez.

Migration Policy Institute said there are about 56,000 unauthorized individuals in Arkansas alone.

Gomez said as a humanitarian program, they see many families with several of the undocumented immigrants coming to the country for a better life.

"They are hardworking people who are here to find opportunities that are not available in the countries they come from," said Gomez. "They are here caring for their families and the education of their children."

Because of this, Gomez said it is hard for these families to live in fear every single day.

"It is very stressful for you and for your children who hear about this topic all the time," said Gomez. "And for those poor children to be thinking, 'What is going to happen with my parents? Are my parents bad people because they are undocumented?' No, they are not."

In other situations, there are undocumented immigrants who break the law which is something Sheriff Boyd said they will not turn a blind eye to.

"We are not out to get you. We are not out to chase you if we don't have to," said Boyd.  "At the same time, we do have a job to do and we will do that job whether sometimes you personally agree or disagree, it is still the law and we are going to enforce that law."

Both Boyd and Gomez agree that it is important to follow the law by taking steps to become a legal resident of the country.

Olga Vasquez, a now permanent resident of the U.S., took those steps while living in the country illegally for 25 years.

"When you don't have documentation, you are basically living but some way, dead," said Vasquez. "I had to work in the shadows."

Vasquez said through those years she felt stressed and isolated.

"It is the feeling of being alone even if you have so many things surrounding you, it just always feels like you are alone," said Vasquez. "Whenever you don't have documents, you always feel like you can't go up, you're always going down."

But now, that life is behind her after being a permanent resident for over two years.

"Fortunately I feel like now I have the possibility to succeed," said Vasquez. "You start life, and you basically get your identification."

Nunez said having people like Vasquez in the Hispanic community gives others hope.

"There is definitely a lot of work to be done," said Nunez. "There are definitely things that need to be fixed in the immigration system, I mean, it is broken."

Until then, the Hispanic community wants people to base their opinions on facts and not assumptions.

"I believe we have a God so let's let him do the judging," said Gomez. "I don't think we are here to judge people for the decisions they have to make."

Something Boyd agrees with adding no matter the circumstances, never give up on making that change to your immigration status.

"Don't keep saying that I can't do it or I can't because you have to start," said Boyd. "That's the deal if you don't take that first step and start, it will never resolve itself."

For more information on how to take those steps to becoming a legal resident in the United States, visit www.usa.gov, speak with local Hispanic organizations such as the Hispanic Community Services Inc or the Immigrant Resource Center, or contact your immigration attorney.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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