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Stories from the heart: Running from a community under siege

By Sydney Stevens

For the Observer

Published on September 12, 2017 1:34PM


“I didn’t grow up exactly middle-class. But, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be homeless and living in parking lots. By choice!” Her exuberant laugh filled the airwaves between us!

Blond, blue-eyed Alice graduated from Ilwaco High School and she could still be mistaken for the proverbial ‘girl next door’ — never mind that she is a new “over the moon” grandma and, also, a “fairly recent” bride. Alice is energetic, upbeat, and determined that her family’s life will not be disrupted by bigotry, by racial profiling, or by becoming the target of an ICE arrest. And yet…

“We were introduced by a mutual friend three and a half years ago. Two years later we were married in the best setting on the Peninsula — in that same friend’s garden gazebo at her historic home in Long Beach! Right there, facing the ocean!” Alice glowed over the telephone connection.

“We moved into a junky old trailer that we bought from my husband’s cousin for a case of beer. And I mean junky! It was a mess — right down to holes through the floor. But Oscar worked and worked on it. For two months. He completely redid it. Now it is darling! The outside is still a mess, but it fits right in with some of the other places nearby. People are so surprised when they walk in and see how Oscar has transformed it.” Her enthusiasm for “this first house I’ve ever owned” is unequivocal.


Little Tijuana


Too, the neighborhood, called ‘Little Tijuana,’ was different from the neighborhoods of Alice’s childhood. “When I was a kid, my dad made good money as a vacuum cleaner salesman… but he also had a gambling problem. We moved around a lot and lived in rentals. When he’d get down on his luck, we’d move in with the relatives for a while. We came to Ocean Park to stay with my grandma when I was in eighth grade.”

Alice lived here on the Peninsula the longest of anyplace. After graduating from Ilwaco High School, she married and settled in Ilwaco. “Finally! I felt perfectly middle class. Even so, we always rented. There was never quite enough money to buy a place of our own. And there always seemed to be expectations and pressures.” They made it work… until the children were grown.

“When I met Oscar and we moved to Little Tijuana, it was such a relief. I immediately felt embraced by the Latino community. They liked me just for who I am. I never felt I had to prove anything — never that feeling of having to keep up with the Joneses. Total acceptance! It was wonderful.”

In the first few years, Alice always felt safe. “I was so naïve in so very many ways… I never gave a thought to the shadow under which so many of our friends and relatives were living. Not until Oscar’s cousin’s husband was taken by ICE. It was a nightmare. But, he was bonded back into the community and things seemed more-or-less back to normal.”


‘But he’s my husband!’


Then one morning a few months ago the unthinkable happened. “We left for work, as usual — Oscar going one way and me, another. I stopped at Okie’s to pick up some lunch items and as I was returning to the parking lot, a friend ran up to me and said that ICE had Oscar. In the parking lot at Jack’s.”

Alice’s memory of the next few moments is a bit sketchy. “I went brain dead,” she says, “and my body seemed to take over. I got in my car and raced to Jack’s, stopped right in the middle of the parking lot behind Oscar’s car. There were two or three ICE vehicles and five or six ICE officers surrounding him. I didn’t take time to count but it seemed like army! I shoved my drivers’ license into one of their faces and flat out screamed, ‘You can’t take him! He’s my husband and I’m an American citizen! You can’t take him!’ Over and over I screamed it.”

One of the ICE officers was a woman and Alice remembers that she kept talking softly to her “like you would to an upset child. But by then I was pointing to my neck and telling them, ‘You see this wound? I just had a thyroidectomy. For cancer! I need him here. He needs to drive me to the doctor’s. You can’t take him!’ One of them had a clipboard and on it was a paper telling everything about us — the names of my children, Oscar’s children, their ages, everything…”

By now in her narrative, Alice’s voice was high and shaky. She paused and took a deep breath. “The red-headed officer approached Oscar and he said, ‘We aren’t going to take you now. Bring us that information tomorrow. We’ll see you tomorrow.’ Apparently, they wanted a phone number for one of Oscar’s relatives but we both thought that the ICE man was sending us pretty clear signal. We went home, packed up both cars with as much as we could fit in them, and left the Peninsula for good.”


Homeless and hiding out


“Up until that worst-day-of-my-life, I had honestly thought that we had no worries. I thought that once a foreign-born person married a U.S. citizen, they were automatically safe. How naïve can you be?” This time, her laugh was self-deprecating. Not joyous at all. “Now I know better. I know we won’t be safe until Oscar is able to get on a path toward legal status. But that takes money — money we don’t have. The reality is that we are homeless and hiding out. We’ve been working and saving, but just recently I was diagnosed with more cancer and I had to quit work while I have the chemo treatments.”

Three months of treatments and then they will leave the state. “We have a plan,” she says. Suddenly, her voice is full of optimism. “We just have to catch a break so we can put our plan into action. Meanwhile…”

Meanwhile, they are living “here and there. “ They keep their eyes open and when they see an ICE vehicle on the road, they take a turn or a detour or park out of sight. “Duck, Oscar! I tell him. Duck! It’s a terrible way to live. I miss our friends and our home — my first ever owned-free-and-clear home! But, you know what? As long as we’re together, we’ll make it through.” Fear, wistfulness, hope — all rolled into one. Alice… the girl next door.

•••••••


A Fact-Checker Speaks

Falsehood # 1: They don’t pay taxes


Undocumented immigrants do, indeed, pay taxes. Like everyone else in the United States, they pay sales taxes. They also pay property taxes — even if they rent. As a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) points out, “the best evidence suggests that at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs), and many who do not file income tax returns still have taxes deducted from their paychecks.”

Currently, in Washington State, undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $316,624,000 in state and local taxes.


Falsehood #2: They don’t pay into Social Security


According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), unauthorized immigrants — who are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits — have paid an eye-popping $100 billion into the fund over the past decade.

“They are paying an estimated $15 billion a year into Social Security with no intention of ever collecting benefits,” according to Stephen Goss, chief actuary of the SSA. “Without the estimated 3.1 million undocumented immigrants paying into the system, Social Security would have entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover payouts starting in 2009,” he said. “As the baby boom generation ages and retires, immigrant workers are key to shoring up Social Security and counteracting the effects of the decline in U.S.-born workers paying into the system.”


Falsehood #3: They drain the system.


Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits. Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law, even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years.

A Congressional Budget Office report on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 concluded that a path to legalization for immigrants would increase federal revenues by $48 billion. Such a plan would see $23 billion in increased costs from the use of public services, but ultimately, it would produce a surplus of $25 billion for government coffers, CBO said


Falsehood #4: They take American jobs.


Removing the approximately 8 million unauthorized workers in the United States would not automatically create 8 million job openings for unemployed Americans, said Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, in his 2011 testimony before the House Judiciary Sub-committee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.

The reason, is two-fold. For one, removing millions of undocumented workers from the economy would also remove millions of entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers. The economy would actually lose jobs. Second, native-born workers and immigrant workers tend to possess different skills that often complement one another.

According to Griswold, immigrants, regardless of status, fill the growing gap between expanding low-skilled jobs and the shrinking pool of native-born Americans who are willing to take such jobs. By facilitating the growth of such sectors as retail, agriculture, landscaping, restaurants, and hotels, low-skilled immigrants have enabled those sectors to expand, attract investment, and create middle-class jobs in management, design and engineering, bookkeeping, marketing and other areas that employ U.S. citizens.


Falsehood #5: It’s just a matter of following the law.


Under current immigration laws, there are very few options for legal immigration, the costs are increasingly prohibitive and the wait for any kind of status can be long and frustrating. According to the State Department, that imaginary “immigration line” is already 4.4 million people long and depending on the type of visa sought and the country of origin, the wait can be years to decades long. In some countries, such as the Philippines and Mexico, people have been waiting over 20 years for approval of a family-sponsored visa.



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