For these women, immigration reform clouds the future
WHEN Herminia A., a middle-aged Mexican immigrant, started working as a maid at a local motel last year, she was expected to clean 14 rooms a day. Now, because she is an undocumented worker, Herminia says, she must clean 16 rooms, while documented employees still clean only 14. In addition, she claims, undocumented women are required to wash windows and walls - chores once assigned to male workers.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
``If the owner says windows have to be cleaned, the head housekeeper will assign all rooms with dirty windows to undocumented workers,'' says Herminia, who cannot allow her last name to be used. ``Documented workers get easier rooms. The manager tells me, `Well, if you don't like the work, then leave, because there are plenty of other people I can bring in.'''
But losing her $6-an-hour job is what Herminia, a former art and home economics teacher, fears most on the eve of a massive amnesty program, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, scheduled to become effective today. As an illegal alien who came here in 1983, she does not meet the five-year residence requirement to apply for amnesty. And although her boss cannot be fined for employing her - she was hired before Nov. 6, 1986, when the law was passed - he knows she will be unable to find another job.
``Come May 5, it's going to be very hard to work,'' says Susan Quinlan, coordinator of Latina outreach at Options for Women Over 40, a non-profit service organization. ``So employers are taking advantage of undocumented workers. They can make heavy demands on them. If they did fire a worker, that person would be completely vulnerable.''
Herminia explains her plight: ``I tell the head housekeeper, `I hope God gives me the strength to finish the work, so you'll call me back.'''
Beyond this fear of unemployment, Herminia and other illegals find that employers' heavier demands are creating another challenge: a growing divisiveness between documented and undocumented employees. ``Immigration law has always created these divisions,'' says Ms. Quinlan, ``but the new law further accentuates them.''
With the threat of deportation hanging over them, many illegal aliens express sadness and fear that everything they have worked hard to attain may be taken away.
Herminia, neatly dressed in an embroidered blouse and pink skirt, hides some of her concern behind a friendly smile and animated eyes. But she remains somber as she describes the three stages she has gone through as an immigrant.
The first stage, she explains, speaking sometimes in English and sometimes through an interpreter, was ``complete misery - not knowing the language, not knowing anybody, not knowing how to look for work.''
The second stage she calls ``making connections - figuring out how to look for work, getting on my feet emotionally and financially. I suffered a lot the first couple of years. Now I don't feel I'm suffering. I've established myself and I'm making a meager living. I'm quite happy here.''
That sense of well-being may end soon. Now she is struggling with the third stage: ``the immigration law - knowing I don't qualify for amnesty because I came in after the deadline - and the fear of losing everything. ''
This fear, says Quinlan, ``is something very many people are going through. This law has set them back. They're struggling to keep what they've worked so hard to get.''