Long Beach residents Joel H. and Rigoberto M. are undocumented fathers with children in the United States, and in their homelands of Honduras and Mexico. They’re both here to work, and they both avoid normal social interaction because they worry about being discovered by authorities and having their already thinly-stretched family broken by the process of deportation.
While official sources cite that more than a quarter of the city’s population is foreign-born, others estimate that there are much more. As one of the most diverse cities in the nation, many immigrants in Long Beach live with the fear of deportation.
Joel H. is one of these shy and hard working elements of Long Beach. He has four children.
“I’m scared every time I walk outside alone,” Joel said. “I never know what’s going to happen to me or who will stop me. [Undocumented] people all over the world live with that fear.”
The fear does not prevent them however from seeking work. Joel said the only reason he is working is to support his kids. Two of his children live here in the United States, but the other two are still in Honduras, a Central American country whose government has been hobbled by civil unrest, and whose murder rate is the highest in the world according to the UN at 86 per 100,000. Six American Citizens were murdered while traveling in Honduras during the first six months of 2012.
Nearly one quarter of persons deported from the United States over the last two years have been parents of citizen children, according to information released by the federal government. As it stands there are more than 5,000 children in foster care because of the 90,000 undocumented parents deported annually.
Despite recent legislation like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which deferred deportation for over 100,000 youth, there are still over 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS).
Deportations are breaking families apart every day, and even for those who have not been deported, many live in fear.
Rigoberto M. came here 6 years ago planning to open a restaurant like the one he owned in Michoacan. He couldn’t start a business without his citizenship, so he started working at a Mexican restaurant, but when the immigration raids began to be a problem, the owner liquidated all staff without a green card and Rigoberto had to find new work. He has two children, one in the U.S. and another in Mexico.
“I’m a plumbing specialist, and I learned all of those skills here,” Rigoberto said. “But if I had my papers, I could request permits from the city and earn more than 30 dollars an hour for the work that I do right now for about ten bucks an hour.”
A visit to the day-laborer stand in Signal Hill where many Long Beach workers find work can paint a colorful picture of the working class people that comprise our immigrant population- and who stand to lose their children if they are deported.
People from central America and all over the globe including Guatemalan, Honduran, Chilean and even Russian immigrants line up every week outside the Home Depot on Cherry Street looking to market the construction skills they have for jobs. They settle for a hard days work anywhere to avoid deportation and poverty.
Many of these men say that when they solicit work at other locations, police or other people have been more aggressive in questioning and asking for identification.
A. Gomez of Mexico City said that there are many ‘funny’ jobs the day laborers have done including being paid to be ‘ethnic extras’ in a studio, and walking poodles for $10 an hour (plus $5 per feces collected in separate dog-waste bags). Gomez said that once he and a friend were even driven to Hollywood to take part in a photo-shoot with a mock-celebrity who was confused with Lindsay Lohan.
Any person seeking laborers at the stand is met with intense stares as dozens of eager workers inspect their person for any sign that they have work to be done. As one approaches the corner of the parking lot where the pop-up shelters are, shouts of “Trabajo!” (work) can be heard- and dozens of men, young and old, stand in the hopes of being selected to earn a days wage. The workers estimate that as many as 85 men seek work here every Saturday, the busiest day for day-laborers.
The labor stand was created in 2007 after the anti-immigrant group, Minutemen, started accosting undocumented workers who were offering their services outside the shopping center. The city of Signal Hill along with businesses surrounding The Home Depot, the Police Department, and local non-profits used private donations amounting more than $10,000 to create a make-shift labor center for solicitors. The labor center has benches, portable shelters, and a portable toilet for workers.
There is no safe-soliciting center in Long Beach similar to the one on Signal Hill.
Workers believe that police seldom harass workers waiting at the Day Labor Center because they worked with the city of Signal Hill create it. The only people questioned at the labor stand are those sought in connection with specific crimes, according to the workers. However, language barriers and confusion have led to some wrongful arrests of workers who have similar names to those the police are looking for.
“If you’re walking and the police say ‘I.D.’ you just stop,” Joel said. “We know that we’re usually safe here, but some people get confused and just go with the police,” he said.
The Long Beach Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) could not report an official figure on the number of deportations in our city. A congressional statement from July 2010 mandated government monitoring of the number of parents with children who are American citizens being deported each year. The federal government is required to issue the parent deportation reports every six months but have failed to release the last 18-months-worth of numbers.