In the midst of all the economic turmoil I carry with me the last conversation held with several local immigrant families. Their hurt is highlighted by the fact that without work they have no other means of support. The regular unemployment and social security benefits are beyond their reach because they have been working without legal documentation. The taxes withheld from their paychecks will end up in fiscal limbo where they will have no access to them. In the case of those with an ITIN number (federal tax number assigned to those who do not have SS number in order to pay taxes), maybe they will be able to collect what it is owed to them, but for many others that is not a possibility.
During the meeting several of them stated that they were leaving, not because they wanted to, but for the simple reason that there is no work.
They came to work and brought their families to earn a better future for their children. In the process of working and living here they bought houses and cars. They spent money locally and paid the sales and other taxes that everyone pays.
They became part of the social fabric of this area. Offering and receiving services, becoming involved in the community as they learned English, attending parent conferences and dreaming of a solid permanence here while also sending money back to support relatives in their places of origin.
Depending on how long they have been here their roots are strong, their children speak English better than they, and they feel very proud of that. Nevertheless they also speak Spanish at home, not forgetting how to speak on the phone with Grandma and other relatives back in their country.
They love the warm weather but learned to live here in times of cold and snow. They love fresh fruits and vegetables and learned to restrict them from their diets during the winter months. They enjoy loud music, getting together in the middle of the street to talk and joke and they had to learn to keep themselves inside their houses.
They invested their work, their hearts, their health in this place and now they will leave as empty handed as they arrived, having lost their houses, not being able to be here, for as each one said: “ I will be here while I have work. If there is no work I have to leave”.
Once more I affirm, They came here to work; there is no work, so they are leaving.
In the realization of their fate they leave with gratefulness for what they lived and learned here, but proudly saying: “We need work, to support our families”
With their departure they prove wrong all of those who said they were here ‘enjoying the system’ and taking away benefits from the citizens of this country.
I admit that they leave behind plenty of problems; their empty houses with nobody to attend to them, the empty classrooms where many teachers and aides will not be needed, the car dealers, stores and restaurants that will no more count them among their clients. Add to that many of the non-profit and special services agencies that catered to them.
Farewell friends, may the tropical sun offer you a better future with the lessons that you carry now. May you continue to grow with the deep sense of family and responsibility for the welfare of others less fortunate than you as you return and are received again into your place of origin. You are leaving a big void here. Farewell to you and thank you for the privilege of meeting you!