The greatly disturbing rhetoric about immigrants that we hear these days does not take into consideration that children, mothers, and parents are just human beings traveling under brutal conditions to the United States to escape violence in their home countries and seek safety.
As a daughter of immigrant parents, I can say that my parents belong here, and worked hard to achieve the “American Dream” that is so much ingrained in their minds. My mom worked as a housekeeper and babysitter before becoming a dental hygienist, and my dad was a fumigator/exterminator in New York City before he became an aircraft technician. They continue to work long and unconventional hours even now as American citizens.
Working as a host at different types of restaurants, I can tell you that immigrants are the hardest working people I know. In the restaurants that I have worked in, the back of the house staff are all immigrants from Central and Latin America, the Caribbean, or Africa, and they are working hard in jobs few Americans want, to provide for themselves and their family members.
I have become close to the staff at the restaurant I work in now, particularly the bussers who only speak Spanish. One in particular, Florcita*, is a working single mom who came to the United States from Honduras with her daughters. Gang members in her town began to harass her 13-year old-daughter and almost raped her. She did what any mother would do to protect her children: she confronted the gang members, told them to leave her daughter alone, and threatened to go to the police if they did not. However, she knew she could not go to the police because they work for the gangs.
The gang members retaliated against her by destroying her house and all of her belongings. They cut the cables, slashed the beds, and destroyed the rest of the furniture in the house. They left a note that said “Luz verde” (Green light), signifying death. The neighbors told her the gangs were going to kill her if she returned to her house, so she traveled to the United States leaving everything behind – her family, her house, and her job as a manager. Florcita along with her 5- and 13-year-old daughters took a bus to the border of Guatemala and Honduras and crossed the river traveling for eight days before they got to the United States.
Once they crossed the river and walked towards the border, an immigration officer summoned them to the border. The officers helped them change into dry clothes and started the process of asylum by asking them questions about their journey. When she told me this I was so shocked and I asked her again for clarification and she said with a smile on her face, “Si mi Dany**, ellos eran muy amables y tambien me ayudaron conseguir representación gratuita.” (Yes, they were very nice and even helped me get a pro bono attorney.)
What a stark difference to what we are seeing now. This is what the United States should be, welcoming, kind, and empathetic to those who have traveled from their homes looking for safety.
“I came here looking for help, but I never thought it would happen,”Florcita said. Now she is thinking about buying a house and planting roots here in the United States, where she can work and keep her daughters safe. I want to say to immigrants seeking safety, “You belong here.”
Natalie Giron is a program assistant in KIND’s Washington, DC, headquarters.
*Name changed to protect identity.
**Florcita calls me by my middle name which is Daniela.