A change in the wind
Undocumented Los Angeles workers are uneasy under Donald Trump
By Tatiana Prophet
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Gabino González was finishing up repairing a small wall where a tree had fallen after rainstorms in this Los Angeles suburb, mere minutes from the beach.
As he finished cleaning up the job site, he pulled out his cell phone and said, “Este es mi dádi, this is my daddy.” Then, with difficulty, he added: “Mi vida es esto, my life is this.” In the photo is a vaquero, a cowboy on a horse, who he said works out in the country in the state of Hidalgo. His father is 78 years old, and he has not seen him in six years.
A heavy tear fell from his left eye. But it was not the only one. Once they started, the tears did not stop.
It’s hard to tell if the tears are flowing more easily because of the anxiety they feel these days. As with so many others in construction, domestic work and food service, these days are full of trepidation for González.
Earlier, he and his two co-workers took a somber tone at the mention of President Donald Trump.
“We are in a sad way,” said Juan Ochoa, who became a U.S. citizen under President Ronald Reagan’s mass amnesty in 1985. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“The streets don’t feel safe,” said González, a 39-year-old father of two, in Spanish. “They’re stopping people because of nothing more than physical appearance. And they’ll deport you.”
González’s 29-year-old brother, Jesus, said he just got off the phone with their cousin, who told them that Los Angeles police had stopped him while driving and asked for his documentation. Luckily, the cousin has a green card.
Jesus flashed a brand new drivers license he had received, saying "I don't know how much good this will do me now."
All three men said they thought those who commit serious crimes should be deported. But they added that this is not what appears to be happening.
“All we have is our work,” said the older González, who came here 21 years ago from the Mexican state of Hidalgo. “And I am paying taxes.”
He said he pays about $600 a year in taxes, and receives about $1,000 in child tax credit for each of his daughters, aged 4 and 14. His income in maintenance and tree trimming is about $600 per week. Gabino makes more money in a week than a college professor would make in a month in Mexico. Not only are salaries legendarily low, but there are fewer jobs available.
“I came here because there was no work there,” he said. “Even doctors, lawyers and engineers are coming here because they pay them very little.”
Their opinion on why? Cronyism and corruption. “If you know an elected official, they put you in a good job,” said Jesus. “There’s a lot of corruption. It’s the friends of our leaders who end up making policy.”
When asked what their ideal world would look like, Gabino said: “Fewer racist laws. Everyone having equal opportunity.”
Is there racism in Mexico?
“Of course,” he said. He added: “The cartels dominate everything. The patrones are the government.”
AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES
Yvette Rivera, 41, came to the United States from Nicaragua ten years ago. Born without her left hand, she was unable to find work at home.
“Many people are prejudiced there,” she said. “They thought I could not work. My mother taught me to be useful. I’m happy here because people don’t have that kind of prejudice. I’ve never felt rejected because of my hand. That makes me happy.”
In Nicaragua, she said, taxi drivers will not even pick up a disabled person because they don’t want to be responsible for them.
“That’s why I came to this country, because they don’t have the same backward way of thinking. I see many professional people with disabilities, and they are working.”
Rivera, who has a 4-year-old daughter, has worked as a housekeeper, first in Miami and then in Los Angeles. She has been fortunate, encountering some homeowners who speak Spanish. She makes between $15 and $20 per hour, and files taxes with a tax preparer.
She has become increasingly uneasy when she watches the Spanish-language news. She mentioned a case in Arizona, where a woman was deported for having used a fake social security number to obtain work.
She often worries that if she were deported, there would be no one to pick her daughter up from school.
If she manages to stay here for the next four years, and Donald Trump is reelected to a second term, she will take her daughter and go back to Nicaragua, she said.
“This is the best country in the world,” she said. “I never thought they would elect a crazy man like that to lead it. I pray to God to allow me to work two or three more years. ... If he says, we’ll remove all the criminals, OK. And I agree they should prevent more people from crossing because the coyotes make it very dangerous. But that’s not what’s happening. I see it on the news. We don’t trust him.”
WITHOUT HER CHILDREN
Lisseth Victoria Guzman, 32, came to Los Angeles 12 years ago to live with her father. He had left El Salvador when she was small, and she did not know him. So he paid a coyote $8,000 over two years for her to make the trip. And it took her one month to travel here.
All this time, she has worked in fast food, making $10.50 an hour at a fast-food drive-through in Malibu.
“It’s where I first found work when I arrived, and I’m comfortable here,” said Guzman, who travels one hour each way by bus from downtown L.A.
Guzman always has a smile on her face for her customers. At the drive-through, one would never know that two weeks ago, her two daughters, aged 8 and 9, were placed in foster care as a result of stalking of Guzman by their father, from whom she separated 4 months ago. His personality had suddenly changed, she said, and he had became jealous and insecure.
Speaking from home, she began to cry, and continued to sob from missing her daughters.
“The court said I could not ensure their protection, if their father could break in,” adding through tears: “I have never been separated from them.”
Guzman said she has had brief conversations by telephone with her daughters. The children’s father has since moved away, knowing how serious the situation was. She is hesitant to complete her domestic violence paperwork for fear that she might be deported.
“I feel insecure. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I still have to work, I still have to pay rent.”
For one thing, she will be going back to court next month so she can be reunited with her daughters.
“I’m going to go,” she said. “I have to go.”
Public Information Officer Sal Ramirez with the Los Angeles Police Department said that the LAPD is not stopping anyone to request their immigration status.
“We are not doing that. We are not stopping people and asking for their immigration status. We’re not immigration officers, we’re not ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), we’re not asking for people’s immigration status.”
He added: “Whether you’re legally here in the U.S. or not and you report a crime, and you don’t have any papers, like I said, we’re not immigration officers, we don’t check for immigration status when you’re a victim of a crime.”
LAND THAT THEY LOVE
A common theme for many undocumented is that would prefer to live in the countries of their birth, oftentimes where they have left loved ones. Many feel they simply had no choice but to leave.
“I would never have chosen to leave my country,” said Rivera, from Nicaragua. “I had to, out of necessity. People condemn us for breaking the law, but men made the borders. The land does not belong to men; it belongs to God.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Tatiana Prophet