FEAST OR FAMINE

How the city’s restaurants would collapse without undocumented workers

By Annie Nova

After working as a baker for 12 years at Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Hector Solis, 45, was told by his boss one morning that he had 10 days to produce his legal work papers or he would be fired.

More than 30 other employees were given the same ultimatum in March, after the Department of Homeland Security opened an investigation into the bakery. Most of the workers had no papers, and are now scrambling to find another job.

“It made me feel so sad and angry,” said Solis, who moved to New York from Mexico in 1995 to escape poverty. “Most of my co-workers have been there 13, 14, 17 years. We have to start from the beginning now.”

The drama unfolding at Tom Cat Bakery made headlines because the undocumented workers at the 30-year-old establishment fought their termination and possible deportation by organizing and protesting. But President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration policies are threatening New York City’s entire food industry.

Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to broaden its focus for deportation from undocumented immigrants who’ve committed crimes to all individuals who are in the country illegally. Restaurants will become a primary target, advocates say, since it is well known that many kitchens are populated with undocumented immigrants.

Daniel Gross, the executive director of the labor rights group Brandworkers, said undocumented immigrants play a major role in every stage of the food market.

“From the farm, to the manufacturing facilities, to the distribution, to the grocery stores, to the restaurants, it’s going to become increasingly clear in the coming months that we’re not going to be able to have a food system,” Gross said. “This immigration policy is so senseless, so heartless, and it makes absolutely no economic sense.”

More than 30 percent of New York City’s cooks are undocumented immigrants and 54 percent of the city’s dishwashers are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Undocumented immigrants take these jobs because many restaurant employers don’t ask prospective employees if they are here legally and the work often guarantees them more than 40 hours of work a week. In turn, many restaurant owners depend on undocumented immigrants for dishwashing, delivering, line cooking and busing because they say that Americans usually only apply to be waiters or chefs, jobs with more pay and prestige.

“Americans have no interest in the kitchen,” said Robert Pascal, owner of Le Charlot, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side.

“Dishwashers are all illegal,” said Annstius Theodorou, manager of Patsy Pizzeria in Midtown. “Ten hours of your hands under water. Who’s going to do it if you’re legal?”

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Laura Rodriguez, an attorney who represents undocumented immigrants in restaurant labor disputes, said these workers often don’t know their rights and will therefore accept wages below the city’s minimum wage, which is $10.50 or $11 an hour, depending on a business’s size.

In interviews with undocumented workers in restaurants across New York City, many of them said they make $5 or $6 an hour. One man, who has been a deliveryman at Flor de Mayo, a Spanish restaurant on the Upper West Side, for 15 years, said he’s never earned more than $6 an hour.

“These are often people who work insane amounts of hours for insanely low amounts of money,” said Rodriguez. “They’re holding the hospitality industry together.”

Many restaurant owners said that the city’s high rents—the average Manhattan restaurant pays $120 a square foot – leave them with a small profit margin. If they had to hire Americans, they’d be forced to pay their employees a minimum of $35,000 a year. Most undocumented immigrants who work in restaurants, on the other hand, are paid an average of $14,560 a year, assuming 52 weeks of work at $7 an hour.

Reynaldo, an undocumented immigrant, said he earns $7.50 an hour cooking, cleaning and delivering food for Trend Diner on the Upper East Side. He earns around $1,000 a month—barely enough to support his wife and two young daughters. He knows that he’s underpaid, but he doesn’t look for another job, he said, because the pay is the same everywhere for undocumented immigrants.

“I have no future,” Reynaldo said.

Solis’s wage was much higher than the average pay for undocumented restaurant workers. After a dozen years of professional baking, Solis got so good and fast at churning out bread that his boss paid him $17 an hour. He said he’ll never earn that wage again.  “To be a baker was a career for me,” Solis said.

On a bright Saturday morning in April, Tom Cat Bakery workers stood beside politicians and activists outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, chanting, “No borders, no walls, immigrants they feed us all!”

April 20 was Solis’s final day at Tom Cat Bakery. He and his undocumented co-workers left work early, unable to get through the day knowing it was their last. “I’m going to miss the place,” Solis said, adding that he’s begun to search for another job. His voice was heavy and interrupted with his deep sighs.

He wonders who will fill all those empty positions at the bakery. In the summer, the massive ovens bring temperatures to over 120 degrees.

“It gets really, really hot,” Solis said. “Who’s going to do the job?”

Breakdown of where undocumented immigrants work in New York City

  • Services 40%
  • Operators, fabricators & laborers 19%
  • Technical, sales and administrative support 16%
  • Managerial and professional 12%
  • Precision production, craft & repair (includes skilled construction trades) 10%
  • Farming, fishery and forestry 1%

Source: Fiscal Policy Institute analysis of Center for Migration Studies estimates of unauthorized population. CMS estimates are based on the augmented 2014 American Community Survey.

BUILDING THE CITY

Undocumented workers have some of the highest fatality rates in NYC construction

By Samia Bouzid

The sun isn’t up yet, much less the shutters of local shops, but outside a paint store in Jackson Heights, about 40 men stand in a cluster. A No. 7 train roars overhead. The silence breaks to let the train pass, then closes behind it.

Soon, vans began pulling up outside the shop. Construction contractors call out their offers: three workers, demolition, $120 a day. Others need workers for stucco, wallpaper, plumbing or paint jobs. The workers who have the skills step up and contractors take their picks: you, you, you. The ones chosen climb into the vans.

Starting around 6 a.m., the same ritual is taking place around the city, at various paradas, unofficial gathering places where day laborers, many of them undocumented, wait for work.

Undocumented workers make up an estimated 19 percent of construction workers in New York City, according to an analysis of 2014 census data by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization. They typically earn less than natives and other immigrants, so many contractors have come to depend on their labor to keep costs of production down. While President Donald Trump has called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants to open up more jobs to Americans, these efforts could have uncalculated impacts on the construction industry.

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Many undocumented construction workers are day laborers, who get picked up for projects that last anywhere from days to months.

Contractors typically seek out undocumented labor for residential or small-business projects, which make up about one-third of the city’s construction, according to an affiliate of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In general, large public projects such as airports or hospitals are required to go through unions, which largely exclude undocumented immigrants. Other projects that require highly skilled workers often favor union work, leaving mostly small-scale, low-skilled work to undocumented workers.

Yet even for day laborers who land longer projects, work from one day to the next is not guaranteed. While some of them try their luck at the paradas, others collect in day labor centers, nonprofits that help connect employers with workers.

In the small office belonging to the New Immigrant Community Empowerment center, labor organizer Lynda Cruz sits at a table with eight men, making calls to potential employers. In between calls, she asks the group in Spanish, “Who still needs to get OSHA-certified?” “Is anybody a plumber?” “Who speaks English? Anyone?”

The median hourly wage of all construction laborers was $16.25 nationwide in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But most of the jobs coming through the labor center pay between $11 and $15.

One contractor who hires undocumented workers said that the explanation is simple.

“It’s just the money,” said Nick. “Let’s say a job costs $50,000. No documents, they can give just $35,000.” By hiring undocumented workers, Nick can charge $15,000 less over roughly three months.

Giovanni Peri, a labor economics researcher at the University of California, Davis, said that employing undocumented workers also has more subtle advantages. Money saved gets invested: in part in more low-skilled workers, but in part in expanding the company at all levels.

“You need more supervisors when you hire more workers,” he said.

But recent political rhetoric and reports of deportations have shaken the community of undocumented workers.

“We could be arrested at any moment,” Eudes, an undocumented day laborer, said in Spanish.

Eudes believes the uncertainty plaguing the undocumented community has also affected employers, who may be thinking twice about hiring undocumented workers. Normally, he said, contractors will hire workers as long as they provide an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, which ensures that both the contractor and the employee pay taxes. The ITIN does not legally authorize a person to work, but many independent contractors accept it anyway as a way to cut corners.

Peri said that the concept of simply replacing undocumented labor with American labor is naive.

“All the rhetoric is ‘Oh, take away the immigrants and the natives will find those jobs,’” he said. “But the problem is that a lot of those jobs will not be there at all.” The reason, he said, is that paying higher wages to American-born workers will leave less money to fill all the job openings left by undocumented workers.

Edwin Vargas, a labor organizer with various community groups, said he doesn’t believe any other community would do the work of undocumented immigrants for the price they are paid. To Vargas, a New York City without undocumented labor is unimaginable. From the bathrooms and private offices to the skyscrapers, undocumented labor is cemented into the city.

Vargas still has vivid memories of the days after the Twin Towers fell, when vans headed to Ground Zero drove past the paradas, picking up workers for $150 a day.

He remembers, too, the day after Hurricane Sandy swept over Rockaway, undocumented workers lifting a boat out of the road, cleaning up the remains of people’s homes.

He said undocumented workers have helped pick up the city during some of its hardest times.

“Someone has to do it,” Vargas said in Spanish. “Who’s going to do it? God’s not going to do it.”

Country of birth for undocumented immigrants in New York City – (2007 data)

  • Mexico and Central America 27%
  • South and East Asia 23%
  • Caribbean 22%
  • South America 13%
  • Europe 8%
  • Africa and Other 5%
  • Middle East (includes Asian countries west of and including Iran, south of and including Turkey, Cyprus and North Africa) 2%

Source: Prepared for Working for a Better Life by Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew Hispanic Center, 2007. Average of estimates from March Supplements to the Current Population Survey for 2000- 2006. Augmented with legal status assignments and adjusted for omissions.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Domestic Laborers “Make all other work possible”

By Mallory Moench

Dianne, 53, is only supposed to work until 7 p.m., but she never knows when she will get a text from her employers: we have an urgent meeting, can you stay late? The Jamaican-born nanny always agrees. It doesn’t bother her after 14 years.

Dianne first held the bleached-blonde boy who became like her own son when he was six weeks old. Whenever his parents traveled for work, it was Dianne who stayed with him for days at a time.

“They are comfortable with me enough to know that they can leave me with their child, day and night,” Dianne said. “Through their financial changes and promotions, I’m here the whole time.”

For 14 years, she has cared for the boy – and now his dog, too – in the ninth floor apartment on the Upper West Side. She earns $640 for a 30-hour work week, studies for her college degree, and supports her daughter and granddaughter whom she left behind in Jamaica. For Dianne, who overstayed her tourist visa in 2000, President Trump’s inauguration leaves her in anxious limbo.

Private households employ the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants of any American industry. Twenty-three percent of the 947,000 people working in U.S. homes were undocumented, according to the 2014 American Community Survey.

There were nearly 100,000 domestic workers in New York City in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Most, like Dianne, are foreign-born women of color. Through their labor, these women enable thousands of other workers to contribute to New York City’s economy.

“Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible,” said Patricia, an undocumented 57-year-old immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago and domestic worker for 15 years.

“Behind the scenes these are the women that allow things to really happen in America,” said Alene Mathurin, an immigrant from St. Lucia, former nanny, and founder of a non-profit supporting domestic workers. “Through nanny care, the doctor who’s a parent can deliver a baby tonight. Through nanny care, the person in Wall Street can go to the meeting early in the morning. Because of nanny care, the CEO is in Japan.”

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Flora, a mother of two in Brooklyn, hired an once-undocumented Nepali nanny after her son was born five years ago. When Flora had her second child, she rested knowing the nanny was caring for her son at home; when Flora’s grandfather died in California, she flew to the funeral confident her kids were in good hands.

Flora pays her nanny $20 an hour, plus an unlimited monthly MetroCard and $140 for health insurance, but said the woman’s work is priceless.

“You can’t put a value on it,” Flora said. “I couldn’t do my job and my husband couldn’t do his job.”

Domestic work has two values – the labor itself and how that labor enables others to work – explained Hector Cordero-Guzman, a sociologist and economist who consulted on a 2012 study by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. But pay doesn’t always reflect economic contribution, he said.

Domestic workers interviewed for this story earned as much as $22 and as little as $5 an hour. In 2016, the average housecleaner in New York City made $15.88 an hour, and the average nanny $13.26, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. In general, undocumented domestic workers earn only 88 percent of what U.S. citizens do, a 2012 nationwide survey reported.

The National Labor Relations Act prohibits domestic workers from collectively bargaining in unions, so advocates rallied to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. The legislation covers the right to minimum wage, overtime after 40 hours a week, a day of rest every seven days and three each year, and protection against harassment and retaliation. But in the intimate and informal workplace of the home, not all employers follow the rules.

“No one is knocking on doors to check on labor rights unless there are complaints,” said Ilana Berger, who founded the non-profits Hand in Hand and Sanctuary Homes for employers to protect their undocumented domestic workers. “Good working conditions and wages benefit the worker and employer alike. It’s not dignified to be an employer who treats the worker poorly, especially when they’re caring for the people that you love the most.”

Some employers value their undocumented domestic workers so much that they try to get them citizenship. Flora recently visited a lawyer to see whether she could help her nanny, without success.

Manhattan immigration attorney Ian Scott, who received several calls from employers who want to sponsor their nannies’ green cards, said it’s impossible to do so unless the worker already has some form of legal status. In the past, when immigration laws were not as strict, employers did sponsor workers – but it came with a cost.

When Sanaa immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago 32 years ago, she lived with a Long Island family who sponsored her green card. She earned $8 an hour and in 10 years working, only got two weeks of vacation and three sick days.

“Most people who hire you take you for granted,” Sanaa said. “There’s still slavery in this job.”

The situation is worst for live-in domestic workers, who stay with their employers and often work more hours than they agreed upon or for which they’re paid. Dianne and her fellow workers call live-in: “slave camp.”

Dianne’s first job in New York City was as a live-in nanny on Long Island in 2000. She earned only $325 for 14-hour days – less than $5 an hour.

“Live-in never stops. I was hired as a nanny, not a housekeeper. But because I was living in, they were pushing house things on me,” Dianne said. “You become a yes person, it doesn’t even matter, you just want to work. When you’re in the work place, you start feeling ridiculed and exploited. You compromise yourself.”

Some undocumented domestic workers said they’re targeted because of their immigration status. Dianne’s friend Patricia told the story of how she chided her male employer for speaking harshly to his daughter in 2009. He threatened to report her to Immigration Customs Enforcement, called her a “black bitch,” and punched her in the face. With the help of activists and attorneys, Patricia took him to court and won $1,300 – although it was only for wage theft, not compensation for assault.

“I’ve been threatened with immigration. They tell you they can take advantage of you because you’re undocumented,” she said. “I won my case, but not justice.”

For undocumented domestic workers, Trump’s presidency ignites terror. Dianne remembered crying the whole night after the election results. She feared being deported before she could complete her college degree. She is only two classes away from graduating.

When Dianne went to work the next day, she told her employers about those concerns. The couple reassured her that if she ever had a problem, she could come there, that it was a sanctuary home. Six months later, she repeated what they had told her that day.

“America is an immigrant country, so no matter what Trump says, there’s no way he can get rid of all the immigrants. How would America function? That’s how New York is. We need immigrants.”

SEWN SHUT

How the garment industry could suffer from deportation

By Frances Solá-Santiago

Amelia, 35, sits in front of her sewing machine in a garment factory on 38th Street. Her mouth and nose are covered with a white mask and she wears latex gloves. By now, Amelia knows better than to expose her body to the chemicals that emanate from fabrics.

“There is not much ventilation here,” said Amelia. “It’s sometimes hard to breathe.”

When Amelia moved to the United States 10 years ago, her biggest wish was not to work in the garment industry again. She had spent five years crafting and selling garments in her native Mexico, where she developed acute congestion from the fabric dyes.

She decided to cross the Mexico- US border to Arizona in 2007. After two weeks there, she hopped in a car with two other Mexican women and headed to New York City.

Initially, she lived in Queens and found a job washing hair at a salon in Midtown. After six months on the job, she asked her boss for a promotion. Her boss asked her for a cosmetology license – something she didn’t have as an undocumented immigrant.  Needing to make more money than the meager salary she earned at the salon, Amelia joined the undocumented workers who make up 20 percent of the apparel manufacturing industry in the United States.

But now, it’s not just chemicals that Amelia fears. President Trump’s immigration policies have put these garment workers on high alert. Many industry leaders say the garment industry will suffer from deportations.

In New York City, the fashion industry accounts for six percent of the city’s workforce, or 180,000 employees, and contributes $98 billion in manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales annually, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. It’s unclear how many undocumented immigrants work in the garment and fashion industries, although it’s clear that many do.

Some people question if the deportations of undocumented immigrants would have a significant impact on the city’s garment businesses, since those businesses have already been so challenged by globalization. But even though the industry has seen production move overseas, there are some 20,000 manufacturing jobs remaining in New York City, 5,000 of which are located in the garment district. And many of those jobs are filled by undocumented immigrants, like Amelia, who are now in a state of unease.

“We were always fearful, but now it’s worse,” she said.

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The Council of Fashion Designers of America released a report in March to express fears about what could happen to the fashion industry under President Trump.

“Deporting the country’s undocumented population would be disruptive and financially damaging for New York and the fashion industry,” read the report. “Deportation would cause a reduction in the fashion industry’s workforce.” In 2005, 75 percent of the fashion industry, from the sewing machine operators to high fashion designers and models, was comprised of immigrants. 

Amelia works 30 to 40 hours a week for $11.50 an hour, depending on how bad her asthma is in a given week. She is grateful for that salary, as many other undocumented workers in fashion get paid less. This is especially true in Los Angeles, where 85 percent of factories broke wage laws in 2016, according to an investigation by the Federal Labor Department. Garment workers were found to be paid $5 or $6 an hour, far below California’s minimum wage of $10.50.

Although Amelia’s breathing grows more difficult, she’s learned to appreciate her days of sewing. It’s the working with fabrics that she most misses about her life in Mexico.

Recently Amelia has felt something other than fear: indignation. She’s been attending union workshops and is researching if there is anyway to attain her U.S. citizenship. 

“There is a lot of collective fear,” Amelia said. “But one has to stay focused on what you want. We need to keep fighting.”

CARWASHEROS UNITE

Unions lend support to undocumented workers

By Jeremy Ibarra

Juan Carlos Rivera, 29, stood in the shade wearing a blue hoodie outside the Cross Bronx Car Wash, where he works as one of the car washers. Surrounding him are men and women wearing red shirts emblazoned with the letters, “RWDSU” — the Retail, Wholesale and Department Union. They chant and sing in Spanish – the only language most of them know – to protest the owner who refuses to sign a new contract with his employees.

A union representative shouts, “They say get back,” and the crowd responds in unison, “We say no way.”

Like Rivera, hundreds of car wash workers across New York City have found support in their local labor union as they fight for better wages and hours from their employers.

Rivera is one of the thousands of car wash workers across all five boroughs working a job with unstable hours and receiving a paycheck subject to tip wage laws.

On April 24, RWDSU banded together with New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York to support workers at the Cross Bronx Car Wash in Mount Hope. According to representatives at RWDSU, car washes in New York City hire mostly immigrant workers, most of whom are undocumented.

The goal of the protest is to encourage the owner to meet with the union and settle on a contract deal. However, the owner’s goal is to eliminate overtime and hire part-time workers.

Hunter, 28, works about 43 hours a week at the Cross Bronx Car Wash and makes $300 a week. Though undocumented, he is one of several hundred members across New York City supported by their labor union. Hunter said they aren’t paid enough for their work, and the car wash closes down early when it so much as drizzles, which means cut hours and wages.

In New York City, the tipped minimum wage is $9.15 with $1.85 tip credit for employers with over 11 employees, and $8.75 with $1.75 otherwise. Car wash workers consistently report getting paid less than the tipped minimum wage. They also say they are made to pay for towels and uniforms, and go weeks at a time without receiving wages.

The workers, fed up over their treatment, are unionizing.

Juan Carlos Rivera was hired in 2012. As a legal employee, he acts as a spokesperson for his coworkers when dealing with the media. Rivera fled to the United States from El Salvador, and his first job was at a car wash.

“My father was sick, and I need to find opportunities elsewhere,” Rivera said. “When I left El Salvador, there were people trying to kill me. I don’t have that here.”

Rivera studied at UCA El Salvador in Ahuachapan, where members of Barrio 18 attempted to initiative him as a member. “When they see a man who can do what they want, you kind of either join them or you die.”

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Unwilling to engage in that lifestyle, he moved to the United States at the age of 17. Now, his mother lives upstate, and he has a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.

Depending on the weather, Rivera works anywhere between 52 to 60 hours per week. Before he came to the U.S., he lived in a small village where he farmed, cut grass, and cared for his land. Rivera said he feels protected in his current job because of the union, but if he wasn’t working here he could still find something in construction or landscaping through his relatives.

“My personal goals are really about my children,” Rivera said. “I have my two kids, and my focus is just making sure that they do well, and that they have a future.”

The contract the car wash workers are fighting for would stop the owner from hiring part-timers and cutting the hours of current employees. For Rivera, a contract would also serve as a show of respect.

Chelsea Connor, a RWDSU representative, spoke about the challenges of convincing immigrants to unionize.

“They don’t necessarily understand the fundamentals of a union,” Chelsea Connor said. “They are often fearful of any sort of group or organization that looks official in any way – that wants to come in and organize. There’s a whole process involved in going into a store – or in this case, a car wash. Talking to workers, understanding what their needs are. Do they want to unionize; do they need to unionize.”

The Cross Bronx Car Wash made news after an employee died in early 2016. A spokesperson for the city Medical Examiner attributed the death to natural causes. Still, the man’s co-workers cited his exposure to strong chemical cleaning products.

As of 2015, there were approximately 200 car washes in New York City employing 2,200 workers, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, workers paid off-the-books were not represented in the official data. Some estimate that more than 2,800 undocumented immigrants work at car washes in New York.

Ben Townsend, communications coordinator for RWDSU, said he believed all workers at the Cross Bronx Car Wash were undocumented, except one or two. Amid President Donald Trump’s attempted crackdown on undocumented worker, officials at the RWDSU and its members say all they can do is continue their work.

“It doesn’t affect me,” Rivera said. “If they want to kick us out, they can kick us out.”

HIGH SKILLS, HIGH STAKES

How undocumented immigrants bolster our professional workforce

By Scott Axelrod

Undocumented immigrants may not have their legal work papers, but many have diplomas, certificates and pretty good salaries.

The Mexican-born Julissa Arce, 27, garnered press in 2007 as the undocumented woman who went from food truck worker to financial analyst at Goldman Sachs earning more than $340,000 a year.

The New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents approved a plan in 2016 allowing certain undocumented individuals to apply for professional licenses and teaching certificates. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that undocumented immigrants who came here as children and got temporary protection from deportation under an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) may be admitted to the New York State Bar.

Around 12 percent of New York undocumented immigrants work in the managerial or professional ranks, while another 16 percent work in technical, sales and administrative support roles, according to an analysis of census data by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Jesus Barrios, 27, is one of these undocumented “white collar” workers.

Barrios was brought to Los Angeles from Tijuana when he was four. As an adult, he became a vocal advocate for LGBTQ and immigrant rights. Police arrested him several times at protests. He later enrolled in a two-year program at the CUNY School of Public Health where he earned a master’s degree. He shares an apartment in Brooklyn with his partner, Felipe, whom he met when they were both arrested during a protest in Alabama.

“Our goal was to get detained by ICE,” Barrios said. “It gave us leverage and press coverage to start a conversation about not only immigration reform, but the fact that many immigrant members of the LGBT community fled the prejudice policies of their countries to face a different type of prejudice in the United States.”

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Barrios maintains Temporary Protection Status as part of DACA, the 2012 policy that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a two-year renewable period of deferment from deportation and work permit eligibility.

Barrios has held a work permit since around 2013 and spends his days in a supervisory role at a downtown Manhattan-based public health clinic’s department of sexual health services. Overseeing a staff of 10, Barrios splits his time between administrative duties, and the hands-on treatment of clients. When he’s not drawing blood for sexually transmitted disease screenings and rapid HIV tests, he’s answering sex education-related questions.

“Our clinic caters mainly to LGBT, but anyone can come in regardless of their ability to pay,” Barrios said. “All different kinds of people come in seeking treatment. A lot of people actually say that they feel more comfortable with us because they don’t feel like they’re being judged.” Barrios earns around $50,000 a year and pays state, local, and federal taxes, including Social Security and Medicare.

“I give back more to the state, than the state gives me,” Barrios joked.

Barrios’s co-workers are constantly brainstorming ways for him to gain citizenship. Even as a DACA recipient, Barrios faces a litany of restrictions, including on his ability to travel.

“This is all some crazy sociological experiment,” Barrios said. “You’ll always be jailed within the U.S. borders.”

FARM WORK

Undocumented farm hands upstate feed New York City