NEW YORK - The images of drunk drivers and heartless criminals, showing the negative impact of immigration, do not present the true picture of the undocumented. The real face is that of millions of unknown individuals who work every day across the nation.
This silent majority is seldom seen in the news. Scarce are the times when their stories emerge, except when the much appreciated work of an undocumented home worker in a politician's house becomes an obstacle for the political ambitions of his or her boss. The problem isn't these undocumented workers, but the widespread hypocrisy of those who secretly take advantage of their services and then act horrified by their presence in the country.
For example, the revelation of an undocumented domestic employee kept attorney Zoe Baird from becoming attorney general under former president Bill Clinton, and Linda Chavez from becoming secretary of labor under former president George W. Bush. Now, the Republican candidate for California governor, Meg Whitman, finds herself in a similar predicament to the one faced by her campaign manager, Pete Wilson, when it was disclosed that, while serving as San Diego mayor, he contracted Josefina Klag of Tijuana to work in his home in 1978, even though she was undocumented at the time.
What an irony when this occurs with politicians who are trying to win elections by scapegoating the undocumented!
In reality, in cities with significant immigrant populations, interactions tend to be the type that happens right at home. It is the relationship with an employee who has the household's confidence based on her responsibility and hard work. She transports loved ones, cares for children and attends to the elderly. She works for the rich and famous as well as those less wealthy and powerful.
It is a shame that politicians "accused" of having hired the undocumented don't use the opportunity to share the high regard they feel for these workers, defend their contributions and call for legal redress for those like their employees. And, of course, there will always be a rival politician who will use the situation to his or her advantage.
In both urban and rural communities, millions of hard-working immigrants keep a low profile. In the news reports, we see the exceptions to the rule. Yet, out of ignorance or malice, these bad apples are used to characterize an entire class of people.
The word "illegal" should not cloud us from seeing the truth. The undocumented are an active part of the human geography of the nation. These hard-working people live in the shadows, in the midst of a great contradiction that occasionally becomes a thorn in the side of a politician's aspirations.