My family was undocumented
by Angie Wei
We’ve been holding our breath all of June, waiting for yet another Supreme Court decision that could change the lives of millions of Californians. Heartbroken, disappointed, but not surprised, this Court denied our dream of opportunities for the millions of immigrant workers who are at risk every day. At risk of getting separated from their families, at risk of employer exploitation, at risk of returning to a country they hardly remember, at risk of losing their children.
I’m an immigrant. My family was undocumented. My dad was a janitor who got reported at work and INS came to get him at work. Luckily, my mom had applied for a job creator visa that got us on a path to a green card. We had to leave San Francisco and move to Houston, Texas…I still remember driving away in our station wagon. I didn’t learn why until I was 30 years old.
I took my parents to Angel Island to visit the immigration barracks. They definitely connected to the carved poems by Chinese immigrants who had left everything behind for a new life. They came filled with hopes and dreams, yet forced to live in fear and shadows. Walking down from the barracks, my dad said “it’s time to tell her.” And they slowly, still hesitant and fearful, told me about how 28 years prior, we were all put into deportation proceedings. Their dreams, their opportunities, their investment in the next generation shattered. I asked my Dad…where would we have gone? I was born in Korea and we were Chinese. He said…I don’t know.
Striking, it took them 28 years to tell me. After I’d been an immigrant rights activist and advocate for years. I knew our immigration story was missing pieces but the inherent fear that they still carried forced their silence.
In the end, thanks to my Mom as she forever reminds us, we got papers, green cards, naturalization certificates. We have lived the American dream, my parents worked their asses off for 30 years, running a family restaurant, my brother and I learned the values of hard work and frugality.
Heartbreaking that those six million Californians, our families, our neighbors, our union members, our friends, our colleagues….the dream remains elusive. Their futures murky and unclear. That inherent fear … no end in sight.
Today’s decision is another reminder that we cannot wait for 8 or 9 Justices in robes to determine our future, to fulfill our dreams. That only happens when we organize and fight. I’m proud to say in California the Labor Movement is leading the way to creating “de facto state citizenship” for all residents. We’ve helped get a driver’s license bill signed and over 700,000 undocumented immigrants now can drive more than home to work. We’ve gotten protections and a $10,000 penalty against employers who use immigration status as a weapon to retaliate against workers asserting their rights and organizing a union. We’ve helped get immigrant children health care coverage.
The Labor movement will continue to defend the rights of immigrant workers no matter what the Supreme Court says and what Congress refuses to do. We’ll lead the charge to guarantee that immigrant workers have the power and the tools to fight employer exploitation, wage theft, and immigration raids. And we’ll work with our allies to win a Congress that will finally grant a path to citizenship.
Angie Wei is the California Labor Federation Chief of Staff