No documentation, no rights, immigration lawyers say

By Katherine Briante
May 11, 2016

People who enter the country illegally often come here in hopes of a better life. But the when they get here, they find that things are a lot harder than they expected. They escaped the awful things that are happening in their home country. But they need to struggle and fight when they get here to even get basic rights.

One of the main rights that they do not have is the right to vote. They live in this country, they work in this country, and they are subject to the law and legislation passed in this country. But they have no way to make their voice heard.

“In terms of political process, obviously [there are] no voting rights, so there’s a large community here that doesn’t have a voice politically,” Abel Rodriguez, an assistant professor of religious studies and immigration lawyer, said. “They’re not able to choose people who may look out for their interests because there’s no process for that, they’re just unable to vote.”

It’s not just the federal election that they can’t vote in, they can’t even vote in smaller local elections, meaning they have no say in who represents them even down to school board or mayor.

“It’s not just in federal elections, but none of the fifty-states allow undocumented immigrants to vote and there’s maybe only a handful of cities that allow undocumented immigrants to vote in school board or municipal elections.,” David Bennion, an immigration lawyer, said. “That has a whole lot of knock-on effects because the affects your ability to stand up for rights or organize to change a system.”

The United States is their home and due to the laws in the US they are unable to vote for people that represent their interests.

There is no system in place for people with no status to get access to regular health care. Emergency rooms can’t turn people away, but unless it’s a true emergency there’s nothing they can do. This means that people’s lives, especially children’s lives are at risk everyday..

“They’ve basically no access to health care, with limited exceptions,” Bennion said “Like in Philadelphia, there are free health clinics that do serve people regardless of immigration status and in other big cities and in counties you might have that sort of a thing but that’s really not a substitute for health insurance”

They are constantly at risk, always gambling with their health, fearing that they or someone they love will get sick, and there will be nothing that they can do about it.

People who are undocumented also are not fully protected under the law. Being undocumented also means they are more likely to be the targets of crime.

“That’s part of the issue when they’re flying under the radar, often times people don’t open bank accounts,” Rodriguez said. “They get paid in cash so they’re often carrying cash, and keeping it in their houses and then if they are victims of crime they are afraid to interact with the police, or to report things or to exert their rights in that way.”

They are here illegally so that means that they don’t get the full protection of the police. They are afraid to exercise the the rights that they do have, or fear of getting caught.

“I’ve specifically talked to people who have told me ‘my house has been robbed three times in the past few months’ and I’ve asked them if they’ve reported it and they always say no,” Rodriguez said. “They’re afraid that if the police come, they’ll start asking questions and they’ll end up in immigration or deportation proceedings.”

Access to government aid programs like food stamps or welfare are also a problem. If they suddenly lose their job or there’s another emergency in their family they have no safety net.

“Any kind of public benefits [they don’t have access to],” Rodriguez said. “So if they needed a hand, which happens sometimes, somebody loses a job and they need unemployment or something happens and they need food stamps for a while, they wouldn’t have access to any of that.”

Not being citizens means that they don’t have access to the same things that Americans do. Being undocumented means that they have even fewer rights than that. Many people argue that being undocumented doesn’t make them any less of a person and that they deserve the same rights as everybody else in this country.

“Some people say ‘well they shouldn’t be here’ and other people (advocates) answer is ‘well let’s document people so they can do the things that they are very willing to do, like pay into social security and pay taxes and have health insurance, they’d be thrilled to do that,” Rodriguez said. “They’re trying to live their lives in the way that everyone else is, go to work, take care of their families and have a family unit and yet doing that in fear of always having contact immigration.”

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Katherine Briante

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