The Human Side of Immigration

By Camila Thomas

“If it wasn’t for my daughters, I would not be in this country,” Susana Berges said frankly, when asked about her reasons for migrating to the United States. Berges, who has two teenage daughters nineteen year-old Ana and fifteen year-old Lia, came to America five years ago from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Her eldest daughter Ana started college last year. Berges says she used to work at Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo before coming to New York with her daughters together. ”I had a nice job over there, but after you have children, its not about you anymore. I have to think about them first.”

For many immigrants, life in the United States is about sacrifices for the ones they love. Although Berges came to the United States legally, that is not the case for all immigrants in the country. Documented and illegal immigrants face challenges in their daily lives, as they struggle to make a living and live the “American dream”.

Victor, who declined to give his full name, said he came from Santiago, Dominican Republic, with a tourist visa. Victor’s mother, an American citizen, requested residency for her son but because of his records, he was denied a full visa. Victor’s permission to stay in the country was a maximum of 3 months, but he only bought a one way ticket.

“I wasn’t planning to leave. Five years, and I’m still here,” he said.

Victor said he knows some English but can’t read any. He said he’s been wanting to learn since he got to New York but cannot stop working because he has two young kids. Victor’s wife Jeimmy works at a hair salon three blocks from their apartment in Kingsbridge Heights. Victor works as an assistant for an assistant to a superintendent and does odd jobs to get extra money.

“I remember I was walking with my friend to a bodega and we were talking. Out of nowhere a black man yelled, “This is America. No Spanish”. “It happens all the time.” Victor said. “People make it like all immigrants are doing crimes. I’m not saying we are angels, but we’re not devils either.”

Juan Polanco, who’s been living in the United States for about 12 years, says things are easier for immigrants now compared to when he came to live in New York.”Before, white people didn’t want anything to do with Latinos. Now, all of them want to learn to speak Spanish.”

Polanco said he has lived in all five boroughs of New York. He left his wife and son in the Dominican Republic and they later came to live with him. Meanwhile, until they could get an apartment of their own, they lived in a relative’s house for a year. “It’s hard to live in someone else’s house, even if they’re your family. I couldn’t get an apartment because of my credit.”

With the immigration reform bill being debated in the Congress, immigrants in Kingsbridge Heights and New York who are in the limbo are hopeful that the bill will change things for good and improve their lives in America.

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