Vilma Asencio left El Salvador in 1999 due to the high level of insecurity. She came to the United States of America in search of safety. When she arrived, she spent three days with her sister and brother-in-law before she was kicked out of their house.
She then rented out a room from a Salvadorian man, a friend of her sister, but he abused her. He also intimidated her because she did not have any papers.
“It is terrible when we do not have any identity in the United States. We don’t have any place to live, we don’t know anybody, we don’t have any transportation especially here,” Asencio said.
Unlike Asencio who has now gained legal documentation to stay in the country, there are several unauthorized immigrants currently living in the States. Unauthorized immigrants are foreign-born people who do not have legal rights to be in a country.
In 2014, there were 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. who were either working or looking for work, according to the Pew Research Center. This number has stabilized since 2009. According to the research, unauthorized immigrants from Asia, Central America and sub-Saharan Africa rose between 2009 and 2014, while the number of immigrants from Mexico decreased.
Don Balla, a former business professor at John Brown University, states that “One reason for the [decline of] Mexican workers is their proximity. Undocumented Mexican workers come and go according to our economy. Our economy invites them.” Balla said he believes that it is more expensive for Asians to return to their country so this is why they stay, while for Central Americans, the violence and hardship in their home countries prompts them to stay longer.
Trisha Posey, the director of the Honors Scholars Program at JBU, said, “If employers want to show they value their immigrant workers, then offering things like citizenship classes, multi-lingual information sessions, and immigrant community support would be steps in the right direction.”
The Guardian reported that according to experts, some employers are eager to hire undocumented workers and exploit them because they are willing to work for long hours for low pay.
“A possible solution to this problem is providing immigrant workers with the contact information and resources of organizations that are fighting against this problem. These organizations can educate them on the rights they have,” said Nephtali Cantu, senior music education major.
Organizations such as the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC) and Arkansas United are some of the agencies in Arkansas that help to empower immigrants.
Another program is the guest worker program, which is available to foreigners. This program provides foreign workers with a temporary, non-immigrant status that ties them to particular employers, according to Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers. If the workers want to obtain visas, it depends on the willingness of the employer to make a request to the U.S. government.
“Donald Trump favors programs like this [Guest worker programs]. I do not. These workers are bound to a single contractor. They are commonly paid less than they were promised. The living conditions of migrant workers is poor. They have no recourse if they are abused or robbed,” Balla said.
Asencio urges those in power to understand the reasons why people are in the United States. She believes that they are not just looking for money to survive, but for the safety and protection of their lives.