You are a worker and you are an immigrant and suddenly you feel unwanted, hunted, frozen out.
You are Latino, Asian, European. You are working without papers and you know that’s become an even bigger problem. You know that because you hear that a number of states want to change their laws to take away your livelihood.
They want to bar you from standing on a street corner and waiting for a job in Arizona In Montana. They want to bar you from getting workers’ compensation.
You might one day soon be stopped in Kentucky, Georgia, Florida or South Dakota and asked to show your papers. You may have heard that the new governor of Maine has already changed the state’s policy, which had ordered state workers not to ask about your citizenship. If you don’t have any papers, then you will probably be in deep trouble.
So what do you do?
If you get hurt on the job, you don’t go to the hospital even though it is an emergency and they should not turn you away. You can’t take the risk.
If your job is dangerous, you don’t tell anyone. It can only hurt you.
If you are being cheated out of your wages, you swallow it. If you are getting less money than others for the same job, you don’t complain. If the boss is menacing or abusive, you pray it stops.
If someone at the factory says the company might call the government if you say you support the union, you quit and find another job: a lower-paying job, a job with lots more dangers and more people like you and who also haven’t got much of a choice.
You can pick up and go to another city and another state, hoping they don’t think they same way. But that is getting harder to do day by day. And you don’t have much money for moving. So you take whatever you can get. Farm work is a choice even though it breaks your heart and your back and you know you are worth more than this. You pack the kids into the trailer the farmer gives you and you don’t say anything about the filth or the drugs being sold at the camp or the men hanging around your daughters.
You just keep traveling so there’s no trace of you and if you run into problems, you forget what you’ve seen because nobody wants to hear from you.
You are no one — someone who does the work others don’t want to do.
Stephen Franklin is a former labor and workplace reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was until recently the ethnic media project director with Public Narrative in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.