Over the week end, a close family member posted a caricature stick diagram explaining the problem of illegal immigration, pitting a stick figure of “John Legal” who is white (okay, light peach, if you want to literally translate the color in the picture), and “Juan Illegal” who is brown. It then broke down the issue about how much money each of them made, with John paying taxes on his higher wage, with Juan getting paid under the table for a lower wage and not paying any taxes, both having children who went public schools, a quick discussion of healthcare, and ended, ultimately, with Juan’s children’s excelling and going to the head of the class because of “minority” scholarships. The takeaway is that John paid for everything and suffered for it, while Juan hasn’t paid a cent and is doing just great.
The one comment underneath this post was hand-clapping. Eep.
Even at a quick glance, I realized the claims regarding wages and taxes were incorrect. I didn’t even get to the end of the comic strip, because I knew there was something here that needed to be addressed and wasn’t sure how to address it.
My other family member, E, who is a legal, non-white immigrant family member began texting me—did you see “X’s” post? I’m so upset! I’m seeing red! I can’t believe she’d post that! E has a much longer history with the family as I do (having married into it just a few years ago), and her feelings were beyond hurt. She and I discussed everything that was in error with the post, and I found myself, while just as upset and infuriated, strangely calm as I hunted for facts to put together a public response. E said she was going to talk to the family member and spouse directly as she was going to see them soon—couldn’t deal with the hurtful implications just yet until she’d calmed down—all of which I understood and supported because I love E with all my heart. For my sake, I felt it was time for me to say something, in a measured, and even loving way, but also in a way that could shed some light onto the situation. I was hoping by appealing to our mutual love as a family she might listen. (p.s. my husband was like, um, not going to change anyone’s minds). And even with that lovely support, I thought, I have to try. I have to say my peace and put it out there.
So this is what I wrote:
I love you, XXX, you're my family, and I can see how this explanation puts the immigration challenges in a way that many can read easily.
I'd like to share my thoughts as your sister and immigrant, and hope you can see I say these things from a place of love. There are numerous reports that show undocumented immigrants do not take native born jobs, and in fact do pay taxes, contributing 11.74 billion to state and local taxes each year, including personal income tax. Also, the companies that hire them (construction, agriculture) who give them lower under the table wages, pay taxes for doing business. These same people who are paying taxes are not eligible for government programs that they are helping to pay for.
Re: wages, the wages for undocumented workers are much less than this diagram, instead of $15/hr, it’s more like $5/hr or a set amount for a job no matter how many hours (ie Texas reported $90/14 hour job). There are no protections, so those that hire them will use their status as a way to force them to accept deplorable conditions, and they are more vulnerable to exploitation.
I wish the challenge of illegal immigration, like many challenges that we face as parents who love our children and want to secure a future for them, had an easy answer. Like this one and many others, tax reform, education, healthcare, it's not easy. Life is messy unfortunately.
I.e., I can't figure out how to fit my friend's story in the stick figure diagram: She has a patient that needs hospice, this patient is undocumented. They are not here illegally, they were visiting family when this happened. Now, there is no way to get them home. And this person could have reasonably priced home hospice, but since they aren't an American citizen, they can't. According to her, they will, however, spend the next month or so in the hospital until she dies.
I also realize I am a brown, legal immigrant, and that I have grown up with lots of privilege, for which has implications and is a wholly different conversation. I hope to reach out with love and kindness and use my privilege as much as I can to help others and I thank you for listening.
After I posted it, I sent X a text saying I had posted (because I didn’t want her to feel blindsided), that I had put a lot of thought into it and that I loved her. And then…a few minutes later—she texted back, “I love you, too, I’m sorry if I upset you. I understand your view!”
Wow! Wow oh Wow! That was not the response I had expected, in fact I had been bracing myself (along with E) for a backlash. Later, when I went back to X’s page to say thank you for listening, I couldn’t find it—and E said I had changed the world a little bit because she’d removed the post.
I felt happy that X listened, that’s all I had hoped for. I don’t know if it really changed her mind about anything, but I thought, hopefully, this is something I can remember about how I can be the light and use my voice. That it’s okay to disagree.
As for E, she’s still very upset and hurt by how easily X could post something that is erroneous at best, ignorant and racist at worst, and I agree with her. It makes me sad to know how many people think and feel this way.
There’s an interesting, food for thought article posted at _The Guardian_ that discusses structural racism.
I see it that racism is a system, and that while we didn’t create this system, we inherited it, and privilege runs up and down the structure. Whether you’re white or of color, there are privileges that you may have based on your experiences and upbringing and advantages and disadvantages that are also inherited and it's difficult to understand one or the other because of them. But we can try. So let’s be the light, let’s shine, let’s use our privilege to uplift and help others where we can, when we can.