Whenever the candidate who later became United States President Donald Trump spoke of undocumented immigrants those words were usually followed by talk of building a wall, deportation squads and bad hombres.
In his first speech to the nation, President Trump spoke of the possibility of a path to citizenship. We’ll see if that happens and what requirements come with it.
Yet, if the president changes his mind and makes good on his campaign promise to deport 11 million undocumented workers, I wonder who’s going to take their jobs.
Do the wine producers in Napa Valley have a B-team ready to harvest their grapes? Do Silicon Valley millionaires have green-card carrying Romanian nannies ready to oversee their children’s playdates? Are white teenagers going to start bussing tables in Mexican restaurants? Who’s going to clean the McMansions in Brentwood and Scarsdale, office buildings on Fifth Avenue and on the Magnificent Mile?
Will we bring in Canadians? Who’s going to do the cash-under-the table, below-minimum wage jobs on which employers sometime forget to pay taxes?
My father and my uncle owned a factory in Houston. During good times, the 1950s to the early 1980s, they employed 20-30 workers, mostly women, who cleaned and sewed bags in an unairconditioned warehouse. Most of their workers were Mexican immigrants.
Growing up, every meal I ate, every stitch of clothing I wore, every book or movie ticket I purchased was due in part to those Mexican men and women’s hard work.
Those immigrants’ toil helped send four children to college. Their labor helped pay for ski trips to Aspen and family get-togethers in New York and New Orleans. Mink coats, diamond rings, Chevy Impalas, remodeled kitchens and color TVs were affordable because these women who crossed the border heard there were factory jobs on the industrial side of downtown if they could work a sewing machine eight hours a day.
Our family’s story is not unique. Millions of Americans have profited off the backbreaking work of documented as well as undocumented foreign nationals.
Every day when I stand at the head of my high school classroom and call roll – de la Mora, Hernandez, Martinez, Ocampo — I am looking at kids who could be the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those factory workers who provided me with a privileged life.
I don’t know how to repay those men and women who have long since passed. Or how to repay their progeny.
For the moment, I’m trying to help a few of my American-born students of Mexican and Central American descent graduate and get some money for college.
Hardly compensation for what I owe those Mexican immigrants who provided me with a comfortable life.
In his speech, President Trump shined a spotlight on families who lost loved ones at the hands of undocumented criminals.
Not highlighted were those Americans whose lives have been made better, more comfortable by the millions who crossed our southern border, worked hard and did no harm.
Dennis Danziger teaches English in the Los Angeles, California, Unified School District. He is co-founder of POPStheclub (Pain of the Prison System), a series of high school clubs that serve as support groups for students whose lives have been impacted my incarceration or deportation.