CRF Blog

American Limbo

by Bill Hayes

In American Limbo for the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin looks how the failure to enact immigration reform is affecting immigrant families.

Olga Flores, the seventh of eleven siblings, was born in a small town in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo thirty-nine years ago. “There was no work,” she told me recently. “The only thing for a woman to do was to get married, have children, and cook for her whole life.” A job in a nearby city would have required a high-school certificate, but her education ended in middle school. So in January of 1998, when she was twenty-one, Flores arranged to come to the United States illegally. She took her first trip on an airplane, to northern Mexico, and made her way to Sonoyta, a town on the Arizona border.

One of her brothers had immigrated to Columbus, Ohio, a few years earlier, and he helped her make arrangements to cross into the U.S. “There were about a dozen of us,” she recalled. “It was a small truck, with the seats taken out. They told us to lie down in the back, head to feet, feet to head, so there would be room for everyone.” They drove for about three hours, stopped at a mobile home in the desert, then continued on to Phoenix. A friend had set up another ride, which would take them across the country, to Ohio. “It was so cold, and I didn’t have a jacket,” Flores said. “We slept in the car and ate at McDonald’s. It was the first burger I ever had. It was very tasty.” When she reached Columbus, she paid her brother a thousand dollars, which he turned over to the guides, or coyotes, who had made the trip possible.

Eventually, Flores got a job as a cashier at a Wendy’s. “It was really hard for me, because I couldn’t tell what the Americans wanted,” she said. “When I learned more English, I started taking orders.” She soon met David Flores, who was also in the United States illegally. They got married and had twin boys, David and Luis, in 2000, and a third son, Iker, four years ago. “David has always been a really good person and a really good father,” Flores said. “In Mexico, we are used to men not washing dishes and not doing anything around the house, and he is the opposite.” Today, David operates a taco truck, which he stations in a parking lot near the small duplex apartment where the family lives, just outside Columbus. David is in the truck from 11 A.M. to 9 P.M. on weekdays, and on Sundays he works at McDonald’s. When Olga is not caring for the children, she is in her kitchen, preparing the rice, intestines, and tongue for the truck.

Like many people who have arrived illegally from Mexico, Flores has built a productive life here. She is a longtime resident, has no criminal record, and is the parent of American citizens. Through much of Barack Obama’s Presidency, there was a political near-consensus regarding the need to address the status of immigrants like Flores. Under the immigration-reform law passed by the Senate in 2013, she would have had a path to become a citizen; under the executive actions announced by President Obama in 2014, she could have obtained work papers and a driver’s license. But the House failed to vote on the Senate’s immigration bill, and a federal court in Texas has placed Obama’s initiative on hold.

The result is a comprehensive breakdown in public policy. [more]