When you’re poor, you’re vulnerable.
I told my wife, “I’m going to America to do something.” I was 21 years old and a father. We didn’t have enough money for rent. I was discharged from the police and I couldn’t find a job. I told her I was going to come here for one year. Now it’s been almost eleven.
A parent will do anything for a child. I would have crossed no matter what because at that time my son was sick. He was a little child back then and needed to get therapy.
A border wall isn’t really a barrier. People will cross the border if they are in need or afraid. The poverty in Mexico is too extreme. Either way they are risking their lives. If we don’t cross the border, nothing happens. If we stay, there is violence.
When I made it to California, a man came by and asked me if I wanted work. I was in Encinitas and I didn’t have a job. I remained at home, locked up, when everyone else left for work. So the man came by, he gave me a job in Rancho Santa Fe. There were dirt trucks with wheelbarrows, it was raining, and I shoveled sand into the horse stables. It was so that the horses wouldn’t step on too much mud.
When you’re poor, you’re vulnerable. They paid me $30, $40 for working eight or ten hours. Some friends told me that I was working for free.
People take advantage. Betty’s Tacos would hire people without papers. We didn’t have papers and Betty didn’t ask for our papers. At first I felt fine working for Betty but then not so much. When I tried to get my money, she would get angry with me.
Asking for what we deserved was asking too much. She got mad just because we asked her for our money. She wouldn’t pay me and she would fire me. All of us who worked there were on the edge with our rent payments. She owed everyone.
There is so much fear, so much dishonesty. She called immigration on my friend Saul when he demanded to be paid. We worried she was going to do that with us. He filed a lawsuit against them for his salary. Betty reported him to the police and then the police got immigration involved. He was deported. She did what she did so that he couldn’t collect his money.
I felt like a prisoner. Betty took my papers. She called immigration on us and had us deported. Then she arranged for us to cross back, but she kept us in a hotel for two months before we could go. Once we got back, she gave me a bill for all the expenses. She took the money she said I owed her out of my pay and I got almost nothing. They threatened to kill us if we complained or didn’t do what they wanted.
I’m a respectful person. We went to a house to clean it up and she would lead me into a room and she would seduce me. She would tell me to finish this room, and then we would go our way. Whatever she did to me, I tried to get away. I honestly felt very bad because she was my boss and I didn’t want to disrespect her.
You should have rights even though you don’t have papers. There’s too much human trafficking, too much abuse. They think that you can’t do anything, but legally you can. When I went to the FBI offices I realized it was true what had happened. The FBI showed me several pictures and asked me if she was the person they were looking for. At the Human Trafficking program they helped me. It’s a long but safe process.
That was then, this is now. Today, people are more afraid. Right now every little thing can get you deported. It’s more complicated now. So people are not willing to report crimes to the police or to trust anyone. I felt bad when my friend told me he was being deported. Now all his friends are scared too.
Deporting decent people doesn’t make sense. I would say that before deporting anyone they should read their records. There are people with no criminal records and they have to leave. Good people who are dedicated to doing work in the United States in order to sustain their families. Then their families stay here, suffering.
No one is safer when there is that much fear.
Most immigrants are not in America to take. They are in America to give back. This country has given so much wellness and support to me and my family and the family I have back in Mexico that I am supporting. I am very grateful because, thanks to this country and my work, I have what I couldn’t have there. Now I want to help American communities that need support. If there is a disaster here, I would volunteer so I could give back everything that was given to me.
I’m proud of being legal now. I’m working without being afraid of the police detaining me, afraid of them coming to my job and deporting me. I’m doing everything by the book, I’m very thankful for everyone that helped me.
I gained a life here in America, but I lost things too. I have a daughter that I don’t know. She’s going to be 11 years old, she was nine months when I left her. I’m still supporting my kids over there because they’re in school. I’m still sending money back home, I want them to study.
You never lose your love of your home. In three years I can apply for residency. They have given me a permit for four years, but in three years I can apply for residency so that I can travel and see my kids. It has been ten years since I’ve seen them. My father told me, “I’m going to die and you’re not going to see me.” I want to see my parents.
But when I walk on the street now, I feel at peace. I don’t want to waste what I have been given.
Santiago Navarro works at a restaurant in the San Diego area, just got his driver's license, and is looking forward to becoming a U.S. citizen. His trafficker was convicted.