Opinion: Look beyond rhetoric about immigrants to see the real people, including children

A protester holds a sign at a recent rally in Texas in conjunction with the increased federal and state focus on undocumented students. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sireesh Ramesh is a north Fulton high school student who has written for Teen Ink magazine and won medals in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

In this piece, Sireesh looks at the life of a fellow teen who entered the United States illegally and is trying to send money home to his family and earn a high school diploma. Sireesh met Roberto through a friend who volunteers with immigrants.

By Sireesh Ramesh

With President Trump making illegal immigration a central focus of his presidency, the 11 million illegal immigrants reportedly living in the United States are now under a national spotlight, much of it negative.

I met one of these immigrants, a 17-year-old who crossed the border to provide a better life for his friends and family back home in Mexico. (I changed his name to protect his privacy.)

Roberto comes from a small village in northern Mexico where his parents worked as laborers in the maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories dotting the border. His family’s struggle to survive increased with the birth of a baby sister. His parents were too poor to take care of two children. Sympathetic to Roberto and his family, some villagers contributed to hire a “coyote,” someone who helps immigrants cross the border illegally, to transport Roberto to America. They believed, Roberto said, that it would easy for him to get a job and pay them back.

So, Roberto tucked a photo of his parents in his pocket, met the gray-haired coyote and made the 18-hour drive to Atlanta. The old man knew someone in Atlanta who would give Roberto housing for two weeks while the teen attempted to find work.

Sireesh Ramesh is a student at Chattahoochee High School.

The day before the two weeks were up, Roberto found a job as a restaurant dishwasher. He also found a local charity, which eventually secured him a room to rent and helped him enroll in a local high school where he has met teachers sympathetic to his plight.

Roberto hopes a high school diploma will eventually enable him to quit his 10-hour shifts as a busboy and dishwasher and graduate to a more stable job. He talks about his dream of one day saving enough money to go to college. He does yet realize that Georgia has a law requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, making his dream of higher education all the more elusive.

Roberto agreed to let me shadow him for a day, beginning with his morning walk to school. As Roberto walks to school, he slides his fingers across walls sprayed with gang signs and bouncy, colorful letters signifying a drug corner. He keeps his eyes to the ground to avoid the groups of gang members he passes in his 20-minute route to school. Walls of the school, built in 1972, are saturated in graffiti.

He walks hurriedly to his first-period class. He tells me in his broken English that his parents taught him to never be late. Although he moved to Atlanta only eight months ago, his grasp of the language is growing quickly. But many times he is still unable to understand the fast-paced classroom discussion.

A teacher calls on him in class. Unable to convey in English that he does not know the answer, he pouts and twists his wrists, hoping the gesture can cross the language barrier. It diverts the teacher’s attention, but stirs laughter from his peers. Roberto laughs with them, saying later the class was laughing with him, not at him. Many of his classmates are also immigrants.

Roberto gazes into the distance as the teacher’s lecture becomes too much for his tentative English. He thinks of his family in Mexico, the smell of sandalwood on his mother’s clothes, and his home. The ringing of the school bell awakens him from the daydream. He slides his backpack on one shoulder and runs out the door. He has only a few minutes before his 3:30 p.m.–1:30 a.m. shift starts at the restaurant. He rushes down the cracked streets to his apartment where he quickly changes into his uniform before sprinting to his job.

In a corner of the restaurant kitchen, unwashed plates tower all around him. Most are filled with more than half-eaten food, an insult to Roberto who struggles to afford three meals a day. Humidity rises from the steaming water until Roberto’s once clean white uniform is soaked in sweat. It does not break his concentration.

After his shift ends, Roberto goes to the only vendor open at 1:30 in the morning, an old man who sells food from a rusty trolley with a faded yellow umbrella. Roberto buys the food and cracks a quick joke. They both chuckle. Before he leaves, Roberto nods his head at the vendor, who silently nods back, both acknowledging their temporary struggles in a hope for a better tomorrow.

Roberto goes back to his apartment and finishes dinner. He manages to squeeze in a little bit of homework before showering and sleeping. He goes to bed at 3:30, setting his alarm at 6:30 for the next school day.

Roberto told me there had been many times when his employer refused to pay him or threatened deportation if he did not sacrifice sleep to work four or five hours overtime. A simple work permit or temporary visa could stem the problems Roberto faces, but many politicians don’t want to offer either to illegal immigrants. There are charities, including several in Atlanta, that assist the thousands pouring across the border with no skills or money, but without a permit or visa, Roberto will continue to work overtime and have little chance of going to college.

Adrian Godoy, a volunteer at the English teaching section of one local charity, said, “Most of the immigrants we help came here illegally. But I’ve been noticing more and more illegal immigrants coming to our charity without any money or even a family to support them.”

The struggles of those like Roberto should lead Americans to confront an important moral question: Are we okay with perpetuating the suffering of 11 million people simply because they came into the country illegally?​

 

 

Reader Comments 0

128 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

The fact remains that the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986 granted amnesty to over 3 million illegals.  Since then, an additional 3 million illegals have been granted amnesty through various back door legislation (i.e. attach a rider bill to another piece of legislation that targets a specific group such as the Haitians in 1998).


Both the Democrats and Republicans have been kicking this can down the road since 1986.  The illegals have nothing to fear as there is really no consequence for their breaking our laws and if they're lucky, our spineless politicians will enact another amnesty and they can bypass the normal immigration process we have in place.


There are an estimated 11 - 30 million illegals in this country at any given time, depending on whose estimates you use.  The annual cost to American taxpayers is estimated at over $120 BILLION per year.


There is a limit to our patience and our largess.

As Human as Humane
As Human as Humane


Crime is crime, blacks usually murder blacks, white usually murder whites, and it is the same with other ethnicities....we kill, rob, and rape who we know...usually. 

Ignorant comments posted by race baiters are not worth discussion b/c all they do is repeat the same tired message.  Grow-up and be American; white, brown, yellow or black, real America is for real Americans and not just the descendants of our Founders.  Registered Independent since Ross "The Boss" Perot, a great American.    

Starik
Starik

@As Human as Humane Crime is crime but who are the criminals?  Ignoring black crime also ignores the mostly black victims.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@As Human as Humane

"....real America is for real Americans...."


I'm glad we agree.  Real America is for REAL AMERICANS, not for the ILLEGAL ALIEN who sneaked across the border and thumbed his nose at our laws.

readcritic
readcritic

For those of us who pay the piper (Uncle Sam), it is not smart to continue to allow a free ride for wild and unchecked illegal immigration. Property taxes are high to pay for education and at the tune of 11 million plus illegals in the U.S. and more sneaking in daily and multiplying while here due to the anchor baby law (birthright citizenship), it is just the tip of the financial Titanic iceberg to legal citizens. Our liberal politicians are ever so generous with other people's money. It just encourages more illegal law-breakers to keep coming as they cash in on subsidized housing, medical, dental, food, and voting rights with drivers licenses that do not distinguish their illegal status. Citizens suffer beyond the fraud and money issues too. They are exposed to the diseases that cross over due to lack of immunizations; they endure the threat of becoming crime victims; they lose jobs and suffer decreased wages; their children lose the opportunity to attend college that citizen tax dollars pay for due to diversity quotas and scholarship re-allocation; and neighborhoods lose value as illegals deteriorate the locale. It costs the judicial system to extend lawyers and trials and incarceration, and pay for numerous deportations and appeals. Just what does any other country do for Americans in their country? Even those who come here and become citizens or hold dual citizenship have an advantage over the native-born taxpayer. The U.S. allows the dual citizenship holder to deduct his native country's tax portion from that owed to the U.S., yet their children immediately qualify for benefits as American citizens even if they have not contributed to the tax base long enough to cover expenses. Georgia allows the HOPE scholarship to go to those who have the grades despite the length of contribution to the system. This instant pay-off to illegals and new and dual citizenship holders will bankrupt the country. Insurance companies require one to pay for a required term before one can claim any coverage, but our government automatically gives away the goodies without a waiting period which would allow financial recovery.  It has been proved that the working middle class is always hit the hardest and has the least money to keep as his own. The politicians need to tighten the screws and enforce the laws using more common sense for its own citizens. 

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad @readcritic We could deport anybody with funny names, like Italians. The simple fact is that we need immigrants as workers, and we need their children as well. Who's paying Social Security taxes? Young people. These people are contributing to our labor force in a big way - bigly to you - and commit fewer crimes than natives do. These are good people. Legalize them and they'll pay taxes, if they don't already, to a far greater degree than the unproductive, sometimes criminal underclass who consume most of the "goodies" and contribute nothing.

time for reform
time for reform

American workers also want to provide a better life for their family. But illegals such as Roberto drive down wages and steal jobs.

I feel sorry for the American workers Roberto competes against. Not for Roberto.

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell

Who made the decisions that put him in this position? Although, I admire his willingness to work and go to school.

someonesdad
someonesdad

Crimes committed by natives can't be stopped. Crimes committed by illegals can be 100% stopped at the border.  Love how all these silly liberals are compassionate, but only because illegal immigration hasn't affected them, and they believe it won't.  


Roberto is a clueless high school student.

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad Illegals have a crime rate considerably lower than natives, particularly the black underclass. Address that problem first if crime bothers you.

someonesdad
someonesdad

@Starik @someonesdad Crime RATE has nothing to do with it.  These are additional crimes that wouldn't be committed if illegals were stopped at the border.  You can't prevent crimes committed by citizens.


Liberals love to play the stats game, even though stats are irrelevant here.  Kate Steinle is more than a stat.  Her murder could have been prevented.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Starik @someonesdad

"Illegals have a crime rate considerably lower than natives, particularly the black underclass."


A bit of racial realism from Starik.  Yes, the black crime rate is exponentially greater than the white crime rate  with the VIOLENT black crime index about seven to ten times higher than the corresponding  white crime rate.  The hispanics?  Slightly less than the blacks, but still exponentially higher than whites.

Also consider that for years, the hispanics were lumped in with whites, driving the white crime rate higher.  Only in the past few years have they begun to break those demographics out.


So.  The question remains.  Why in the hell do we want to import a demographic that has a high crime rate?

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad @Starik Who's a liberal? Be sensible. Crimes committed by immigrants are few, but get more publicity thanks to advocacy news media from the right.

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad @Lee_CPA2 @Starik They do not have a high crime rate. Who's going to do the work? There's a shortage of construction workers, farm workers and other jobs that require a willingness to work hard but don't require much education or a fluency in English.

someonesdad
someonesdad

The key is stop any more from coming across the border.  THEN deal with those who are here.  In that sequence.

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad OK, if you quit deporting people without felony convictions in the meantime.

someonesdad
someonesdad

@Starik @someonesdad The focus is on convicted felons.  Stop those at the border first.  If they make it across, deport them immediately.

As Human as Humane
As Human as Humane

@cswayt
I feel safe.  There will be tragedy yes, but we triumph over terrorists because normal folk of their ethnicity cooperate with out intel and local LEOs (law enforcement officers); embrace all Americans and the extremist is isolated.  Lump all into the same basket and create sympathizers.  Be American, help the immigrant assimilate and never hate. 


someonesdad
someonesdad

@As Human as Humane BS, you crazy liberal.  You say "there will be tragedy, yes" simply because you haven't  been affected by it yet.  It's easy to be nice when you're immune from the consequences.  

When your son, daughter, or parent is raped and murdered by an illegal, I'm sure you'll say "oh well, at least we helped illegals assimilate."

cswayt
cswayt

The problem is we love immigrants but not terrorists. How do we screen?

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@cswayt


We have screening procedures in place. Granted they are not perfect. But we are not having terrorist attacks here on a regular basis so its working to some extend.


Unfortunately we do give into fear very easily. That we are quick to find a group to blame rather then improve the process. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@class80olddog @McGarnagle @cswayt


Screening is for refugees, work visas and such.


For immigrants that have been living here for years and have a family and rooted in the community, then safe to say they are not terrorist.


As far as them being rapist or murders. Then even more reason to separate the good ones from the bad ones. That would make the job of finding the real criminals much easier.

someonesdad
someonesdad

@cswayt No, we love immigrants, but not illegal immigrants.  Know the difference?

someonesdad
someonesdad

@Starik @someonesdad @cswayt It's the difference between a bank customer and a bank robber, or the difference between a guest and a trespasser.  OK with trespassers in your home?  Do you lock your doors at night?

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad @Starik @class80olddog @McGarnagle @cswayt Only if you stop illegal immigration...you can't, unless you legalize more immigrants from the South. The only was to stop criminals is better law enforcement and more, and better prisons. Does 5hat sound like a liberal position to you?

As Human as Humane
As Human as Humane

@Alt AJC
600K of those annual immigrants were already here; research Change in Status candidates.  Adding the extra "without any regard whatever given to their education or skills" is disinformation.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

For the record we currently allow in over one million legal immigrants each year, mostly from Third World countries, without any regard whatever given to their education or skills.

On top of that must be added the illegals.

As Human as Humane
As Human as Humane

Being American means accepting our special place in the world; we as a nation will be 241 year strong this year, the strength comes from immigration...all ethnicities are here, all religions are here; we get the good and the bad.  This acceptance is what makes America great and not the disgruntled lower-middle class dropout.  If they work and pay taxes they can be good Americans period.  Those who say "send them all back" might remember only through manifest-destiny and treaty violation do our European founders base legal hold on lands with Mexican names.  Colorado, California, Nevada, Minnesota are Native American or Mexican in origin.  They are already home....you just forgot real history.    

 

someonesdad
someonesdad

@Starik @someonesdad @As Human as Humane If they didn't sneak across the border, we could have a look at the individuals.  Instead, they'd rather break our laws.


Chaos isn't good for any country, and that's why other countries don't allow it.

JK1951
JK1951

@As Human as Humane "if they work and pay taxes"......remember 45% of legal Americans pay no federal income taxes. The illegal Hispanics don't pay tax but if they file they may well get a low income allowance. I don't have anything against the Hispanics but I'm not for keeping them up when so many Americans need help.

Starik
Starik

@someonesdad @Starik @As Human as Humane Our current laws don't permit us to screen immigrants from Mexico and Central America, because it's ridiculously hard to immigrate legally. Enforce the criminal laws.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So all of you caught up in the "compassion" movement - how do YOU propose dealing with the significant issues of illegal immigration?  Cost of English language education?  Uncompensated Costs of health care?  Lack of any vetting for previous criminal histories?  Displacement of Americans from jobs.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@class80olddog


If illegal immigrants have a pathway to citizenship then they can start paying taxes that will pay for all those services you suggested. 


And second generation immigrants will not have the problem with the english language as they will learn english as any other student born in the united states. 


Italian immigrants in the early 1900s had problems with the English language. But with time, they adjusted.

JK1951
JK1951

@McGarnagle @class80olddog They do have a pathway, they can join the military, do the time, get a pathway for citizenship and money for college. I have no sympathy for someone who is unwilling to do what millions of Americans have done to get ahead.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Interesting, but probably inevitable, that the concepts of national sovereignty, secure borders, and immigration laws have all been pushed aside or ignored completely. Today, I am considered "anti-immigrant" because the existence of our immigration laws (not created for individual and personal enforcement, nor to provide a plethora of exceptions for individuals, but to protect American sovereignty and American citizens) have been very purposefully removed from the discussion by the Dem/Libs and their lame stream fellow travelers. 


Americans are generous and compassionate. Few nations (if any) in the history of the world can compare in the amount of blood and treasure and lives that the United States, its religious and charitable institutions, and its citizens in and out of uniform have expended for friends, allies, and nations in need. But, it is a sad fact of life that if foolishly indulged, generosity and compassion can become self-destructive. And the indulgence of illegal immigration is proof of that. 


Of course, based upon the Dem/Lib and lame stream approach, if I am "anti-illegal immigrant" and want our immigration laws to be enforced, and do not believe that anyone should just be able to walk into America, have children ASAP, and stay forever, I am also a "racist" and probably a "xenophobe" "misogynist" "homophobe" and whatever other category of criminal I may qualify to be in the heady world of Dem/Lib and lame stream, slice and dice, identity politics. 


Pay no attention to your immigration laws. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Just look with compassion and generosity upon the individual. That is all you need to do, but we do so, as history teaches, at our own peril. 

Starik
Starik

@Ficklefan The current immigration laws are not working. Se need to do three things - legalize the hard working law abiding illegals, repeal and replace our current immigration laws, and try to improve border security.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @Starik @Ficklefan He didn't fix the immigration laws. The "diversity lottery" and other stupid laws were written in the 60s. He and both the parties ignored border security as well.

someonesdad
someonesdad

@Starik @Ficklefan Nope.  Seal the border, and then deal with those who are here.  Bank robbery laws aren't stopping bank robbers either.  Should we just make bank robbery legal?