OPINION

Opinion: How about the undocumented who are not in the news for murdering?

Hispanic women shop at a farmers market outside of a Latino church in Union City, New Jersey.

Hispanic women shop at a farmers market outside of a Latino church in Union City, New Jersey.  (2011 Getty Images)

With the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco and Margaret "Peggy" Kostelnik in Painesville, OH, to the hands of two undocumented immigrants, we tend to forget that these represent a very small percentage of the crimes that occur in our cities and neighborhoods.  

The explosive headlines of these crimes have unfortunately created an unbalanced picture of how Latinos are helping to build America, not tearing it down. Cable news and radio talk show have sensationalized these crimes blaming it on immigration enforcement policies of the federal government, sanctuary cities, our local communities or even worse, the existence of millions of immigrants themselves. This has sadly tainted millions of hardworking immigrants who feel the heat of these crimes on their shoulders, despite that fact that they also believe these crimes were heinous and cannot be condoned.

Susana and Alberto are survivors; they made it against all odds. Their presence in this country has been a great addition to our economy. Even though they are undocumented, they are not in the news; you see, they are contributors, not murderers.

- Claudia Longo

Donald Trump’s rise in the polls precipitated by saying Mexico is sending criminals and rapists to the U.S. is based on the use of stereotypes and fear versus real empirical evidence. The American Immigrant Council’s report on the Criminalization of Immigration validates that: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than native Americans, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of both violent crime and property crime.

In fact, numerous studies over the past century have confirmed these powerful simple truths.

Most Latino immigrants, especially the undocumented, are far too busy working, trying to make their lives and those of their family better. The last thing they want is crime in their neighbor-hoods or where they work; in fact, thousands immigrated to the U.S. because of horrific crime situations in their home country. America is their new home whether they are here with a guest worker program, a special college visa, whether they are DREAMers, or parents of children who were born citizens.

Hispanic immigrants are here to work, whether creating new businesses or in a variety of jobs; their work efforts generate billions of dollars to our economy. In a March report, the American Action Forum said that removing these immigrants from the labor force would cost the economy $1.6 trillion.

Susana and Alberto emigrated to the U.S. in two different ways and at two different times. While Susana landed in Los Angeles in a flight straight from her homeland Argentina, Alberto took risked his life at age 17 and crossed the border from Mexico.

It's been 14 years since they met and fell in love. She works as a bookkeeper in the same construction company where he works as a plumber. They both work very long hours to build a future together and a family.

Susana, who learned plumbing from Alberto, sometimes takes plumbing jobs so they can save extra money while also going to college at night to earn a degree in computer programming. A few weeks ago, this young Latino couple bought their first home. Susana and Alberto had saved up enough money for the down payment and now make their monthly mortgage payments. They pay all Federal, state, and local taxes; contribute to Social Security and Medicare from their payroll deduction, and also pay for their own private health insurance.

Susana and Alberto are survivors; they made it against all odds. Their presence in this country has been a great addition to our economy. Even though they are undocumented, they are not in the news; you see, they are contributors, not murderers.

Andrea works as a cleaning lady in New Jersey. She came to the States with her daughter after a terrible economic recession in her home country, Uruguay, 18 years ago.

She works extremely hard, usually six days, 50-60 hours a week, to support her daughter. In addition to cleaning, to earn extra money for her family, Andrea has enhanced her skills to take on extra work as a server for special events and a cook for a local café and caterer. Amazingly, she does all this without driving, because New Jersey doesn't allow the undocumented to apply for a driver’s license. So Andrea takes the train, the bus and walks.

This past spring her daughter Maria, who benefited from Obama's 2012 Executive Action granting work permits and Social Security numbers to immigrants who came as children, graduated with honors for her associate’s degree and is now working on finishing her full college degree in education. She then wants to pursue her masters and Ph.D. in history with the goal of becoming a college professor. Maria is such a good student that she already has a sponsor that has offered to pay for her Ph.D.

They are not in the news either; you see, they are contributors, not criminals.

Manuel emigrated when he was 28 years old from South America.  He gets up at 3:45 am every day to start a very demanding daily routine. In the wintertime he bundles up with several layers and heads out to work at a bakery, by foot. Manuel’s walks take him to the darkest coldest streets of Cleveland, OH, rain or shine, in the snow or the heat, six days a week, after a 45-minute walk. He has no choice, because undocumented workers can’t get a driver’s license in Ohio.

Manuel dreams of one day being able to be a great actor and express himself through his art. To pursue his dream he joined the local public theater and has been performing whenever he can to improve his acting skills. Part of his dream is becoming true, but Manuel’s other dream to become a legal resident and eventually an American citizen sadly won’t happen anytime soon.

Hopefully, someday, Manuel will be on the news and people will talk about him, not because of a criminal act as an “illegal alien,” but because he turned into a very successful member of our society.

Manuel often talks about how for years he feared being pulled over during his long walks to the bakery or at the local theater workshop, and without doing anything wrong be deported simply for lacking papers.

Manuel wants to end this fear for millions of undocumented Latinos. He, like many others, has become a vigorous fighter for an immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. He also does not want undocumented immigrants like Susana and Alberto, Andrea and Maria to be stigmatized for the terrible crimes of a very small number of people.

Manuel wants them to be judged for who they are and how they help contribute to the growth of America. As an immigration reformer, he supports deportation of the undocumented Latinos whose criminal records make it impossible to stay in the U.S. — but the again, most Latinos with common sense would likely also support this, don't you think? They just want immigration reform that allows them to stay in America legally.

Claudia Longo, an immigrant from Uruguay, is an immigration reform activist living in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the co-founder of TNTweeters, a group that fights for issues that affect immigrants in the U.S.

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