I Am Literally Fighting for My Life

A Jamaican native shares the challenge of living in the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

As the debate over immigration reform heats up in Washington, D.C., Black immigrants hailing from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America are fighting in communities around the nation to ensure that their voices and stories are not ignored. More than 200 immigrants and their supporters descended on Capitol Hill in March to rally and lobby lawmakers for legislation, and they'll be back a similar event in April. caught up with several to capture their frustrations, successes and dreams from a variety of perspectives, presented in a series of first-person narratives. In this installment, we have necessarily withheld the person's name because of her undocumented status. Joyce Jones
I will turn 37 this week and have been living in the U.S. for 12 years. I work as a cater waiter for banquets and have seen a lot of things. I've seen the 1 percent. For nearly 10 years, I had my own apartment, but I was always fearful that I couldn't pay my rent. Being a banquet waiter, there are times when you're very, very busy and then there's the down season, like January to March.

I used to come here as a teenager for vacation and during my final year in college in Jamaica, the U.S. government had a program that allowed international students to work here for a couple of months. That's how I got my social security number. But I can't get unemployment benefits even though I pay into the system, so sometimes I worry. I also want to go to school and it hurts me a lot because I want to do so much with my life and I can't.

If I was forced to return to Jamaica, I don't know what I'd do because I don't have anybody down there. I've lived here since I was 25 years old. My father died when I was five. My mother and brother are documented because my brother got married and sponsored her, but it will be 10 to 13 years before he can sponsor me.
I know there are people who might say I broke the law, but everybody on this earth makes mistakes. I've tried to live my life to show that I'm worthy, and I want to contribute to this country. I've made a lot of sacrifices and sometimes it hurts, but I have to believe I'm on this journey for a reason.

A lot of people don't want to talk. Nobody wants to say anything, but every Caribbean person knows somebody who's undocumented. I started my activism by posting articles on Facebook. I do that because I know somebody who knows somebody whose employer is taking advantage of them. I know somebody who knows somebody who's in a marriage and the [spouse] is holding the green card over their head. But nobody wants to talk.

So, that was my way of giving people hope, that every time I read [something about immigration reform] I put it on Facebook. When somebody calls in the middle of the night, your family member, your friend, and they're crying, you say, 'You know what, I read something. This is hope. This is hope.'"

Central Brooklyn has the largest concentration of Caribbean people in America. I went to my pastor and said we need to say something. We had a little forum with different groups like Churches United to Save and Heal and DREAM Scholars and people gave me good support. There are a lot of people out there fighting, and it made me realize that, you know what, I am not waiting passively for somebody to give me my life. I am fighting for it, no matter how minute it is.

That's why I went to the rally in Washington on March 20. Anything I can do, it might be small, but I am fighting for my life. If I do have kids or grandkids, I can say I did not wait passively. I took my fear and did something about my life.

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