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  • Tiago Rodrigues da Costa

The problem with illegal immigration isn't the immigrants themselves, but the businesses behind

Immigrants have been moving to America since even before the foundation of the country. The topic of immigration has always been a highly debated one, and this topic has divided or united the American public in different points of time. Since 1787, when the Constitution of the United States was written, until today, immigrants have been crossing the border while seeking a better life for them and their families.

As a result of that, the United States became the greatest example of the melting-pot metaphor, where people from many different cultures “melt” together to become part of a single shared-culture and identity.

Either moving to the United States to work, seeking asylum from political persecution, or finding a safe environment with less conflict and more peace, immigrants do it mostly for necessity. Most immigrants would not do it it if they didn’t really need to. Most immigrants don't like to be called “illegal,” because most of them don't really like to be in the position where they have to work illegally in order to provide for their families.

But, most of them don’t have a choice. The state of despair, typically results from an extreme environment and it's what makes immigrants pack everything and move. Therefore, immigration can’t be debated without considering desperation. And, immigration can’t be debated without considering the smuggling businesses behind it—a market which is worth $35 billion a year.

Before judgments of value, one should understand the process of illegal immigration. One should know that for every time an immigrant crosses the border illegally, there are several American citizens which benefit from the work done by that immigrant. And one should know that immigrants are people too, and their life is at risk at any time. In fact, the risk is real, either they stay or move.

A memorial outside the ICE Facility in Portland, Oregon, shows pictures of some of the 24 immigrants—a lot of them children—who died (as of June, 2019) in ICE custody during Trump's Administration. ©

Crossing the border illegally puts immigrants' life at risk at any time. Throughout the years, the U.S. government and Congress passed bills which were aimed to strict border policy. Some of the first ones were the Immigrant Act of 1921 and 1924, which targeted Europeans, and some of the most recent ones under President Donald Trump’s leadership in the White House are the intention to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which started in 2017, and the Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements signed as well in 2017.

Many of these policies have the goal to control the number of people in the country, but studies show having strict border policies increase the number of death-related events and violence toward people crossing the Southern border illegally. The number of immigrants who died while crossing the border between 1998 and 2009, especially in the Sonoran Desert, increased 17 times as a result of dehydration, starvation or exhaustion. In the meantime, many of those who successfully crossed, but were detained, reported agents confiscated their money, mobile phones and identification documents, without ever returning them. In addition, one in ten undocumented immigrants in U.S. Detention Centers reported agents subjected them to physical and verbal abuse, and discrimination.

“We actually tried to cross the border before … but that time it didn’t work out,” Fabian Jacobo, 22, a Southern Utah University student under DACA, said. “We had a bunch of people who were being smuggled in the back of a pickup truck. Somewhere along the desert, the truck started breaking down. Then, [agents] ran into us and they started chasing us. Finally, the driver crashed into cactuses and the truck started smoking. That’s when everybody started running. … At some point, my mom just said ‘Hey, we should just turn ourselves in. Because, we are here in the middle of the desert and we don’t know what we are doing. We’re gonna die over here.’ So, we turned ourselves in."

In the case of Jacobo, a boy who was brought to the United States when he was only 8-year-old, the crossing had a happy ending. Jacobo said, later his family met some people in Mexico who agreed to drive him and his sister across the border with fake documents. They were supposed to be elementary school students from California.

However, not all stories have similar positive results as the one from Jacobo. About ten days ago, Pro Publica published a frightening video of a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in custody in a South Texas' prison.

The story of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez is one those that shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately happened. And in this case, the Vasquez' story gains a higher public interest because the public can see the young boy dying, while officers in the facility did nothing. Reports showed Vasquez had been diagnosed with the flu, but he didn’t get the correct treatment. Most importantly, the video shows officers lied in a written report published the day after Vasquez dead in March. In the report, officers said they had seen Vasquez dead in the morning, while the video shows it is Vasquez cellmate who wakes up after several hours and sees Vasquez dead.

Pro Publica © Graphical Content

The story of young Vasquez gained a greater public impact, because it shows immigrants are real people with real struggles. However, not everyone sees it that way. On Twitter, President Donald Trump provides a service that many say is inappropriate for the leader of a nation such as the United States of America.

In June, the president tweeted: "If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!" By using angry discourse and emotion as a way to gain popularity, President Trump loses some of the logic behind the reason why immigrants move to the United States. Evidence and reports show immigrants don't even consider detention centers while traveling to the States. They do it for necessity; to find a prosperous life and to live out of misery.

"It doesn’t help at all [to have a president that promotes anger toward immigrants]," Jacobo said. "In fact, it made things worst. ... He pretty openly admitted not liking immigrants. It made the climate more hostile. … It made a lot more difficult for the rest of us. I know there are people who are really careful about sharing their status and their stories, and anything. It just made them more cautious now that we have the president that we have now."

Trump's major goal as president is to build a wall and close the Mexican border. However, closing the border actually has unexpected results in relation to the number of undocumented immigrants in the country.

A study shows that by having strict policies, the number of undocumented immigrants in the country actually increases. The reason why is simple: About half of the immigrants who illegally cross the border every year, come here for seasonal jobs like construction or agriculture. Within a few months, a great amount of these immigrants return to their countries with more money in their pockets. However, in the current situation, when the border closes, what happens is that many of those who are already in, decide to stay for being afraid of leaving and not coming back. That results in an increase of the overall number of undocumented immigrants in the country.

A different study shows reducing the number of immigrants and undocumented immigrants in the country would have a devastated consequence in the direct care industry, specifically for the aging population over 85-year-old. Nearly one-fourth of the direct care workers (e.g., nursing assistants or homecare aides) are immigrants, and 20% of those are undocumented immigrants. If those 20% were to be deported, this would represent around 200,000 of workers who would be out of work with nobody to fill the gap. Also, immigrants have shown they are willing to learn new skills, to be satisfied and motivated with their tasks. Therefore, the immigrant direct care workers are an important supply for American citizens, even though most of them experience high poverty rates.

There are multiple reasons why undocumented immigrants can be valued or undervalued. Another study shows many employers in the agriculture industry would actually prefer Mexican immigrant workers, to Puerto Ricans. The reason why isn't because Mexican workers are better, and therefore, have the merit to get more jobs. The reason is: For being part of the United States, despite being an unincorporated territory, Puerto Ricans are given the U.S. citizenship, even though aren't allowed to vote. However, they are seen in the United States by many employers as "illegal aliens." That excludes them from "recruitment efforts" and competition against other workers. Employers can easily fire an undocumented immigrant worker, while the Puerto Rican has more rights in the workforce.

While studying the immigration topic, it's important to recognize the impact undocumented immigrants have in the American society. But, it's also important to understand how the moving process functions. Crossing the border illegally is a complex process, and most of the time requires extraordinary mental, physical and financial efforts.

Almost all immigrants who are undocumented, and who want to cross the border illegally, have to hire a coyote (i.e., a smuggler). In a 1986 book named "Coyotes" by Ted Conover, a character by the name of Don Berna explains to the author and documentarian Conover that coyotes "are the most suspicious creatures on earth." Coyotes, the animal, are one of the smartest. They look both ways before crossing any road, don't like sunlight and they trust nobody. This is the reason why smugglers are called coyotes. And coyotes, the smugglers, are similar that way, but they cost a lot of money to help people crossing the border. Some of them would charge around $3,000 just to help immigrants crossing the American border. Other immigrants coming from farther places would pay much more. For instance, an African immigrant may have to pay as high as $15,000 to get to the United States.

The money gotten by smugglers isn't just for their own service, the business is much larger than that. In fact, the level of corruption seen in the smuggling business is somehow surprising. First, it's important to understand that there are three levels of complexity in the smuggling business: 1) The lowest level is the "seasonal simple networks." Here, this cell has a leader and maybe a few assistants, and operate just at specific times of the year. 2) The medium level is the "systematic simple networks." This is a similar network to the one before, but operates throughout the whole year. 3) The highest level is the "systematic complex networks," in which are composed by several cells, it has a hierarchical structure with a main leader, and cell leader, and usually transport up to 600 immigrants per year.

Second, evidence shows smugglers have the help of American immigration and customs enforcement in order to illegally cross the border. The majority of times, the money immigrants pay to smugglers include a fee for American employers and law enforcement. The increase of strict border policies and a higher demand in the United States for cheap labour, make corruption at the border and the smuggling business grow as well.

In a different study, an undocumented migrant said, "My boss is in contact with them [the border control officers] and he's going to tell us when we should go." Officers are given photos of the immigrants, for them to know who should pass when immigrants get to the port of entry. The study shows corruption at the border has increased.

Third, one of the Trump's greatest rhetorical weapons toward immigrants is to say they'll bring crime and drugs to the country. However, studies show the two businesses are highly different. The drug business is mostly "a separate activity from coyotaje because the drug trafficking, which is riskier and more profitable, uses routes that are more remote and difficult to detect," researcher Simón Pedro Izcara Palacios, said. However, at times, the businesses merge, because smugglers usually have more contacts in the States and they are constantly seeking new paths to cross the border. And that's an appealing motive for drug cartels to recruit smugglers. In addition to that, some smugglers may feel attracted to the drug business, because they can make more money. Truth is, for having more people to transport, smugglers have better changes of being caught by law enforcement while crossing the border. Thus, when a smuggler becomes a worker in the drug business, the smuggler must leave the smuggling business. Also, some may fear for their lives, because once they make the decision to work for the cartel, there's no way back.

Therefore, immigrants are depended on smugglers to cross the border. However, they have been showing that once they get here, they can be valuable members of society. Nestor Zapata was born in Mexico and brought to the States with only eight-months. During the majority of his childhood, he always thought he was a citizen. Only when he was 16-year-old, he tried taking the driving license, he understood something was wrong. However, he fought to work his way up. He applied for DACA, worked and became a student at Southern Utah University where he's a senior and the President of Undoc Migrant Alliance—UMA promotes inclusiveness and awareness on campus. Zapata studies strategic communication and hopes his role in communication can make a difference in the future.

“That’s one thing I hate about media, is that they show us in a different light,” Zapata said. “It’s not fair. It’s a necessity. It’s really the only reason we come here. ... We come here to work; real work. … They’re buying all the groceries here, paying all the rent here, they're paying all the utilities here, they're buying all these things for the kids here, and they're spending all these holidays here. Everything is here, here, here. And that’s not looked up. Why? If people say it’s all about money, ok then it’s all about money. Acknowledge the fact that immigrants are coming here to work; to work, work, work. And put that money back into the economy.”

Understanding the industry behind illegal immigration is important before drawing an opinion about it.

Undocumented immigrants will always be willing to do any kind of job that could take them and their families out of misery. As a result of that, today’s issue of immigration is not just a matter of infringing American law; it’s more than that: There’s a human crisis, and there’s an established idea and understanding worldwide that America is the safe space for everyone and a place to thrive, no matter the national origin, race, color, sex, or religion. Thus, understanding why people move—if it’s for money, for safety, or other reasons—is essential, and these are constantly changing. The crisis of undocumented immigration is then never solved, and never will be.

"I think the biggest thing [I like about the U.S.], and a lot of people tend to say, is just the fact that the American dream is real," Jacobo said. "You can really just come here to this country, and, out of nothing just build yourself up and become somebody great. There’s no other place, or other country in the world, that opens up as many doors for you. And it’s all just based on your own merit too. It’s like: Whatever you work for, [and] whatever you want to achieve, it’s as far as you’ll get. The only limitation is you. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in America."

Emir Saldierna ©


The "Journal" is updated with articles about society issues.

These articles are meant to be based in facts; not in opinion.

Contact me if anything regarding the information presented.


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