After the Amnesty: 20 years later
In 1986, the US government offered amnesty – legal status – to 3 million illegal immigrants. Here are seven of their stories.
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Rohan Baichu says that he has "a lot of jewelry." Mr. Baichu came to the United States from Guyana in 1981, wanting to become a boxer. Instead, he earned three World Series rings as a massage therapist and assistant training coach for the New York Yankees as well as a league championship with the Houston Astros. He is a certified pilot and masseur.
But during his first undocumented years in America, "just the day to day was a battle," he recalls.
Constantly worried about getting picked up by immigration officers, he had to give up his boxing dreams to work night shifts as a security guard.
Baichu was even offered a job with the city of New York by a police chief, who never suspected he was undocumented.
Disappointed with his prospects, he gave up on New York, packed two suitcases, and left for Canada in February 1986. His mother, a Canadian citizen, had offered him a new start through a residency card. But a few days later, he received a call from his girlfriend in New York. She was pregnant. Baichu came back immediately and took up his old job.
By this time, he had lost hope of obtaining a better career. Then came the amnesty. "At first," Baichu says. "I thought it might be a trap." He was so hesitant that he waited a year and applied right before the deadline.
With legal documents in hand, Baichu applied for a supervisor position at the security company. He even did a short stint working for a Wall Street technology company.
But Baichu regretted that he had never gotten an education. So he took out several loans and and moved to Colorado where he went to a community college and where he also earned a pilot's license at the age of 33.
By the time he got his pilot's license, though, flying jobs were scarce, and Baichu was soon looking for another career. So he turned to what he knew best. After years of running track and reading books on nutrition, he aced a professional-trainer exam and got a license in massage therapy.
One day while working at a New York gym, a friend told him the Yankees were looking for a staff trainer. Some weeks later, the team flew him to training camp in Florida for an interview. "When they saw me, they said: 'You're the man.... Can you start tomorrow?' "
Baichu has been in professional baseball ever since. During his time with the Yankees, he crisscrossed the country, shook the hands of two presidents, and earned three World Series championship rings.
He became so well regarded as a trainer that when Roger Clemens was traded from the Yankees to the Houston Astros, the pitcher asked his new team to hire Baichu from New York. He is grateful to "his good friend" Clemens and is proud of his friend's work ethic, describing it as one of the best in the game because, at the age 44, Clemens "works like an immigrant."
Baichu attributes his success to his determination and the possibilities that opened up to him after the amnesty. But he also points out that even those immigrants who haven't been as successful as he has still benefited a lot from the law. "They got their own success," he says. "Even if they ended up living in a rented apartment, they got peace, tranquillity, and values that carry them through."
This year, Baichu became a United States citizen and started a group that raises civic awareness through voter registration. Now that he's able to vote, he says he would support the passage of any legislation that benefits immigrants.
As an immigrant, Baichu says he's proud that one of his daughters – now a student at the University of Southern California – encouraged him to tell his story. "She understands the odds that we had to overcome and feels satisfied about where I'm at."
Baichu sees his future split between coaching and taking care of his two daughters and his adopted son, a 22-year-old Haitian athlete whom he met practicing track one day. Baichu is sponsoring him to attend college.