“We told the people at the border that we were going on vacation, and just never left.” This is what the girl sitting across from me at Cafe Aunja said, our first time meeting, during a conversation about our origins which lead to her telling me that she had lived in the United States illegally for three years.
She is eighteen here, bright eyes staring through round Lennon glasses, smiley and talkative. Her name’s Maria, for the sake of keeping her identity concealed, and she spent the first thirteen years of her life in El Salvador.
According to the current president, the United States is currently facing a veritable illegal immigration crisis. One would think, then, that getting into and earning a living in the United States as an illegal immigrant would be a near impossible task. It turns out that this isn’t exactly the case.
Two weeks later, at another cafe, she goes into more detail about her story. She tells me that she left El Salvador with her father and stepmother. “My dad had money problems–a lot of debt. He said it was better if we went there [the U.S.]. He had a friend who could get him a job in construction that paid really well.”
She also tells me that the friend who was supplying her father with the job was from El Salvador as well, but had obtained a work visa, and was in the process of getting his citizenship so that he could live there legally. Her father later worked at another construction company, though this time through connections and friends he had made during his time at the first, all of which knew he was illegal, Maria tells me.
I had always assumed that if you were living in the country under the radar, then your quality of life must be destitute. But the image Maria paints of her life in Georgia is far different. “[We were living in] an apartment–a normal apartment. It was really nice actually. We were living normal; we were living good, going to school. We had two cars… to put it more in perspective, [her father] just bought a house.”
What took me aback the most, was when she told me that all the while her and her family were living there, her father was paying taxes.
One of the driving forces of the strong, anti-illegal immigrant sentiment ‘States, is that of Americans losing jobs to non-Americans. So why then make it so easy for the jobs to be taken? Better yet: why doesn’t the government focus more on weeding non-Americans out of the workforce to free-up space for citizens, instead of devoting all of their resources to upping border security?’
Alexia Campbell, former staff writer for The Atlantic, had something to say about this. The black market in fake documents is largely responsible for the vast number of illegals working incognito, she says. Many of them will buy fake social security cards. Others get employed without one, like Maria’s father.
What makes it so that they can file revenue taxes, is a thing called an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN. Getting one of these requires no proof of citizenship. Campbell says that “In 2010, about 3 million people paid over $870 million in income taxes using an ITIN, and according to the IRS, ITIN filers pay $9 billion in payroll taxes annually.” She also cites a statistic by Stephen Goss, where he calculated that these taxes payed by illegal workers put $13 billion into the retirement trust fund in 2010.
Three years after she moved to Georgia, at the age of sixteen, Maria immigrated to Canada with her mother and her brother–legally this time. Her father still lives in the U.S., and according to her has felt no pressure from the new Trump government. And why should he? Trump’s hit-list is comprised of “gang members, people with criminal records”, according to the Washington Post. He wants to keep the people safe. Illegal immigrants earning enough to buy a house, two cars, and contribute substantially to the national retirement fund, are not of sufficient importance. But he also promised jobs; America first. Clearly he has his own definition of what an American is: either a real citizen, or someone who can pay to play the part.