Life of an illegal immigrant in WNC

TIME magazine published a story about illegal immigrants who are coming out and being open about their status wanting a resolution. The article is written by one of them – Jose Antonio Varga, journalist who one year ago came out very publicly and said he is in USA illegally. Jessica Duncan did a story on another illegal immigrant who lives here in Western North Carolina. We don’t use his real name and we don’t have a photo of him.

He is the father of four and the employee of four.

As I watch him hard at work on an exquisite piece of woodwork, outside his Haywood County home with two and three-year-old boys running around and admiring their father’s skills, it’s hard to believe that this man is doing something illegal.

Adan Flores (name changed) came to the United States 8 years ago as an illegal immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico. Guerrero is one of the 3 poorest states in southern part of Mexico.In 2002, Flores risked his life by sneaking across the Mexican border into Texas with his brother. It costed the brothers $2,500 a piece for a driver to pick them up once they crossed.

“The price, I’m sure, has gone up for a driver since I crossed ten years ago. It is getting riskier and riskier,” said Flores.

The Flores brothers were caught by U.S. guards during their first attempt and sent back. They made it across in their second attempt.

“If you are caught by Mexican guards, you should consider yourself dead,” said Flores. “U.S. guards will only send you back to where you came from.”

Flores paid $10,000 for a driver to bring his wife and daughter to join him in the U.S. a year later. Since then, he and his wife have been building on to their family.

Flores’ life consists of family and for the most part – work.  He works at a local restaurant, does carpentry, builds beautiful woodwork, and paints homes.

Like many illegal immigrants, Flores works in the formal economy (not under the table) under a fake social security number. Which means Flores will never receive taxes at the end of the year, nor social security or unemployment benefits.

Roy Germano, director of the documentary “The Other Side of Immigration” says that undocumented immigrants pay about $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim. According to Pew Hispanic Center 6.5 million immigrants, illegal, came from Mexico in 2010. The same organization puts North Carolina as the ninth highest state in the U.S. for unauthorized immigrants with 325 thousand unauthorized immigrants.

“I do what I have to do to take care of my family,” says Flores. He estimates that he puts almost 80 hours into work a week (when the restaurant is in season, which is 8 months out of the year).

A few months ago, Flores had a problem that required police intervention. He discovered through a text message sent on his 13- year-old daughter’s cell phone that she had sexual relationship with their 17-year-old neighbor. Like any father would be, Flores was furious and ready to take this boy down.

“In Mexico, there would be no cops involved. I would have taken care of this boy myself!” explained Flores. If fear of putting his family’s security in jeopardy, Flores was at a loss of what to do. “It’s not so easy to call up the cops and get their help when you’re an illegal immigrant. I felt so helpless; like I had let my family down,” said Flores.

“I knew I couldn’t let him get away with what he had done, so I did what I had to do as a father.” He ended up calling the cops and reporting what had happened to his daughter.

Flores explains that the police officers were nice and helpful. They assured him that nothing bad would happen to him and his family. “They told me that they are fathers too and would have done the same thing,” shared Flores. “They seemed just as mad as I was!”

The boy spent about four months in jail as court dates kept on getting pushed back. In the end, the boy was released with a promise that he would never speak to Flores’ daughter again. The boy still lives in the Flores’ neighborhood. “I still worry about it every day,” said Flores.

Surprisingly, one positive thing did come from this experience. Flores met an attorney who told him she would help him become naturalized (the process of becoming a United States citizen with full citizenship rights). Flores shares that he has tried since to contact her three times and has received no response. “The help [to become legal] is hard to find,” said Flores. And it costs. As CNN reporter Kiran Khalid discovered the process is complicated and requires from immigrants to go back in their home country to file the documents. The State Department is in the process of simplifying the procedure and enabling them to file it from U.S. However with the toughest immigration laws popping out all over U.S. the hopes for faster legalization are not big.

The data from the Department of homeland security shows that in 2010 around 620,000 persons were naturalized which is lowering the number of people becoming U.S. citizens.

An article from the New York Times publish on 1 February 2011 said that about 11.2 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States in 2010, a number essentially unchanged from the previous year, according to a report published by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

The U.S. census bureau shows that for 2008 and after, 19 percent of immigrants come to the U.S. from Mexico. The second largest percentage being from China, with 5.4 percent.

“I came to America to give my family a better life, just like everyone else,” said Flores. “The thing that people forget is how much we leave behind. Me and my brother had to leave our mother. We love our mother!” said Flores. “We miss her all the time.”  The Flores brothers have not seen their mother since they left Mexico 8 years ago. The phone is their only way of keeping in touch.

Frontline, in October last year broadcasted a documentary on the present administration immigration policy in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton said that 396,906 people were deported during the 2011 fiscal year, the largest number in ICE’s history. But in the same process, as the Applied Research Center reports, more than 5.100 children in 22 states in U.S. are placed under foster care as a result of their parents being deported.

The fact that Flores and his wife added on to their family in the United States only complicates things, if indeed the Flores family was discovered as illegal aliens. “I fear everyday what would happen to my native born children. Our family would be split up,” said Flores.  It will be a hard decision for Flores to leave behind or bring his U.S. citizen children back to a place that he wanted so desperately to escape if he and his wife are deported.


Shortly after Jose Antonio Vargas’ story on  the issue of the undocumented was published in TIME, the U.S. Department of  Homeland Security announced that it would no longer deport young undocumented  residents who qualify for the DREAM act. Those eligible will receive work  permits.
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