You Are No One. You Are Without Papers.

Stephen Franklin

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.

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