Undocumented Workers Stories

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From Chinese Progression Association Boston Newsletter Summer 2010

Interview with Mr.H

Q: Why and how did you come to the US?

A: I couldn't make a living in Tianjin, China anymore. Every month I made about 300 RMB delivering sand and rocks for a factory. In 1992 the factory closed, and I was out of a job. I then borrowed money from friends and relatives to buy a taxi. But I couldn't make a living.

My friends kept saying how good it was in America. I sold my taxi and borrowed money from friends to hire a snakehead to help me come over to the United States in 2000. I spent 11,000 RMB to come over. I have to support my parents in China. My father is over 70 and has health problems. There is no one to take care of my parents, but I cannot go back to China because I do not have documents. I have no family here, and it is lonely. 

Q: Tell us about your work here?

A: When I first arrived, I worked in the 88 Supermarket doing cleaning. It was very hard work. I worked from 5 pm to 12 mid¬night six days a week and made only $1400 per month. Because I wasn't making enough money, I left to go to work at a tofu factory in Dorchester. I lived at the factory. I earned $1800 a month. I worked from 8am to 6pm six days a week. When business got bad, I had to leave.

Q: What kind of workplace rights problems have you had?

A: In 2005 I started working at a construction company. I found the job through a friend. I earned $90 per day, working 9 hours a day doing hard labor. I worked there for over 2 years.

But in 2007 I injured my foot when I fell off a ladder. My foot was all purple, and I couldn't stand up. My co worker called the boss, and he came over to drive me to the hospital. At the hospital, I was told the bone was broken. I did physical therapy and also used Chinese medicines. I couldn't work for 5 months.

During this time, I didn't have any money. I borrowed money from friends. My boss still owed me unpaid wages. Each month my boss kept owing me wages. He would only give me $1000 per month, for example. At one point, my boss owed me $13,000 in back wages. He kept saying that he'd give me the money soon. To date, my boss still owes me $500 in wages.

My boss would sometimes hire Latino or African American workers, but he would never owe them money. He did it to me because I am undocumented. He treats other undocumented workers he hires this way too. If you are documented, your life is much better. It is really difficult to get documents these days.

Today, I can't walk properly on my left foot because of my injury. Despite my foot pain, I would still work sometimes because I have to eat and pay rent, but I would only get paid $60 a day because I can't do as much work.


Mr. S' story

When my wife and I married, we had no land be¬cause I was raised an orphan. We both worked hard and we gradually saved enough money that we could buy a little land and build a simple house. In recent years my country Ecuador has stopped using its own currency and now we use US dollars. Many things including the food we buy, costs the same as here in the US but wages are still very low. Performing agricultural work for others I was able to able to earn $5.00 a day or $30 a week. I could not feed my family on what I could earn.
To come to the US I paid 12 thousand dollars to the coyotes which I borrowed putting up my home as guarantee. Like many of those from the mountains of Ecuador, I have worked here in Massachusetts mostly putting roofs on houses. We are paid by day for our work: as little as $80 for a laborer working on the ground and as much as $220 for an experienced roofer. Because the contractors bid against each other offering to do the jobs for less than the others, we must work quickly to complete the contracts profitably. There is no time to wear the harnesses when working and many have been badly injured falling from the roofs.
Less than a year after I arrived in the US, I was detained by immigration agents. In the town where we lived, there was a lot of tension about the immigrants from Ecuador and Immigration arrested about 20 of us. I was detained for 2 months before being released. During the time I was detained I couldn't make the monthly payments I owed for the fee I had paid the coyotes. We were at risk of losing the home where my wife and children live. To cover the monthly payments, twelve of my relatives had to contribute their earnings so that we would not lose the house.