(This series features people I have met on my travels who want to get to the U.S., or have been deported from the U.S. Names have been changed. They would only share their stories with me under the condition of anonymity. I do not support illegal activity in any way – I simply am sharing migrants’ stories, starting with this man, who learned English in a U.S. prison.)
Jon made $11 on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. He didn’t mind getting up in the middle of the night, working in weather so cold his hands hurt. He didn’t care that it was hard, smelly work or that he was far away from his family, because to him, the money was fantastic. He liked working long hours at the dairy farm because it meant more money – not overtime pay, but another $11 for each hour worked beyond 40 hours. He was able to send a lot of money back to Mexico for his family.
It was great money compared to the roughly $11 a day he made as a guide for tourists when I met him in Mexico. The average general worker in Mexico makes $4.20 a day. But Jon missed what he earned in the U.S. and wanted to be a better provider for his family. At the time I met him, he was practicing how he would ask his boss for a raise.
“I’m worth it,” Jon said. “I know English.” And his English is good – he learned it while in a U.S. prison.
Police pulled Jon over one night when he was driving somewhere. It was the second time he was caught living illegally in the U.S., so he said the judge sent him to jail. That’s where he said he was given an opportunity to take English lessons. Eventually he was deported but he continued to practice his English.
He said he was grateful for the lessons because he used that language skill to leverage a decent paying job – decent enough by Mexican standards.
Even though Jon’s job as a guide earned him nearly three times the average wage of a Mexican general worker, he wanted a bump in pay.
“ I get (my boss) most of his business because I know English – he doesn’t,” Jon said. “Without me, he wouldn’t make as much money.”
If Jon didn’t get a raise, he said he’d either move to another tourist hot spot in Mexico, or try to find work at a different business in the city where I met him.
Jon told me he would never try to go back to the U.S. because the judge said if he was ever caught sneaking into the U.S. again, he would spend a lot more time locked up. Jon said he wasn’t willing to risk that. Also, he said crossing the border was always a big gamble — and he was lucky to have successfully crossed it twice.
“I have a baby now, and he needs me here,” Jon said. He also has a toddler. “I’ll make it work in my country now that I know English.”
I do not know if Jon got his raise.
Migrant definition by Oxford: A person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.
Most of the people I meet are economic migrants or climate migrants. For simplicity and for identity protection, I’m simply using ‘migrant’ with no qualifier. When and if I write about any refugees or asylum seekers, I will switch the adjective, but likely still won’t use a qualifier.
Also, I am not against the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal migrant” despite media abandoning those phrases a few years ago. I take an objective view to the terms, and in my opinion, if a migrant is in a country without authorization, ‘illegal’ is a qualifier describing a person’s migrant status. I see it as similar to use of the term ‘illegal driver’ – a term often used by media.
All of that said, I understand the concern the ‘illegal’ qualifier might have on mainstream views – that migrants could seem less human. If I really felt migrants were less human, I would not be sharing their stories.
More on the newly accepted, politically correct terms can be found here.