Illegal Immigrants Fight Their Eviction One Cab At A Time
When there's a detour in your route, you just take another one. The drive to evict illegal immigrants from the U.S. has seen its most famous policy manifestations in Arizona, with policies ranging from a controversial racial profiling law to the phasing in of a program called E-Verify. The latter measure mandates employers to scan potential recruits to confirm their immigration status.
While E-Verify has been embraced in other states including Mississippi, states have enacted other creative means to drive out undocumented workers. But now, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the workers are fighting back. Few states have seen an upswing over the last two decades in both their Hispanic and undocumented worker populations as Georgia.
In July, the southern state saw the activation of an anti-immigration law heralded as "one of the toughest in the nation," which empowered law enforcement officials to check suspects' immigration status, among other similar provisions. And embattled immigrants are responding to another measure that enables the police to comb prisons for undocumented individuals, therein creating a problem for any caught driving without a proper license.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the documented immigrant community of Gainesville has seized the opportunity presented by its undocumented counterpart, helping members get to work while keeping them away from the wheel. There are no laws requiring commercial taxi drivers to check the immigration status of their clients, and so the city's 177 licensed cabs, all owned by eight Hispanic-run companies, are fully within their right to shuttle undocumented workers. Of course, not all illegal immigrants are of Hispanic background, and any business in the city is going to want to tap into the community. As the Times reports, 42 percent of the city's 34,000 residents are of Hispanic origin.
No one presents the shuttling program as a panacea for either fixing the country's immigration system, or providing a completely safe haven for immigrants, as their advocates may want. But the plan is seen as a tonic among supporters of the undocumented, who bear in mind the backlash experienced by all Latinos.
"The problem here is, if you're Latino and you're legal, you still worry," said Jose Luis Diaz, owner of the Gainesville-based Fiesta cab company.
The Gainesville taxi-support system draws on a rich history of using transportation systems to bolster embattled minorities. There are very clear differences between populations who enter a country illegally, and those suffering from second-class treatment because of innate characteristics like skin color. But the history of the African American struggle saw many instances of both slaves and Jim Crow-era blacks fighting back via transportation. Harriet Tubman famously helped slaves arrive to the free North via the Underground Railroad. Of most relevance, though, is the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which saw the city's black residents create their own private cab system. The move was done out of solidarity with Rosa Parks, who had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. Indeed, it was widely said the city's officials only agreed to negotiate once their bus businesses were on the brink of bankruptcy over the loss of black customers.
The debate ultimately comes down to economics, as much for the undocumented workers entering the country as for that country questioning how the immigrants affect the economy. Many immigrants, both legal and illegal, take jobs that few native-born Americans would willingly occupy. For many immigrants, their hope is to make it in a new land, or send remittances back home. In fact, the State Department notes that every year $60 billion is sent from the U.S. via remittances to Latin American countries. In the case of the Georgia taxis, it's doubly beneficial for immigrants as the commute is being made possible by legal immigrants chasing their own dream. Diaz, of Fiesta cab, has used the money from his cab company to buy a suburban house for his wife and three kids.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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