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Waukesha Man Works for Better Life While Living Undocumented

Jose with three of his four children. Both Jose and his wife are living in the U.S. illegally

Millions of immigrants are living in the U.S. illegally. President Obama put forth a plan to allow five million of them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation. His plan is on holdbecause 26 states, including Wisconsin, have sued.

WUWM spoke with a man and his daughter about living in limbo.

It’s late in the day and Jose is sitting in his living room. He rents a duplex in Waukesha.

“Yeah, it’s a good life, you know,” Jose says.  

Jose says that while life is good now, it hasn’t always been this way. He was born in central Mexico and lived there for 21 years. He says his family didn’t have money so he dropped out of school and took a job planting crops.

“If you find like a job, maybe you make like a $1 a day, maybe like $5 a week,” Jose says.

Jose says it wasn’t the life he wanted, so 17 years ago he decided to head north. He had friends in Chicago and they hired someone to help him cross the border.

“I crossed the river you know. Many people’s do that you know,” Jose says.

Jose says once he got to Chicago, he worked with his friends at a restaurant. He says the owners kept a house where they allowed their employees to live. After a couple years, Jose moved to Wisconsin where he met his wife. They’ve had four children. These days, he works as a painter making around $15 an hour.

“Where I work right now, the owners are like really, really nice people. Like really nice people. But it’s hard you know. In around like 2000 or 2002, I got laid off and I start to try and find another job, and it was hard because I start(ed) working for like couple weeks and after that, I be fired you know because no social security,” Jose says.

Because Jose has needed a social security number to get work, he admits he’s gone underground to buy one.

“It’s not (the) right thing to do in this country, but you know, some peoples make it like fake, you know? And I have to do that...To buy it, you know. Because otherwise how…how? How (am I) I gonna take food to the table. You know what I mean?” Jose says.

Jose also drives, even though he doesn’t have a license because of his illegal status. Despite the laws he violates to live here, Jose’s oldest daughter defends her dad. Leslie is in 7th grade.

“Because my parents are immigrants, we’re not criminals or anything, and my parents are hard workers and they deserve this,” Leslie says.

Leslie says her parents believe that life in America, even illegally, is better than what they face in Mexico. Yet she prays they’re not caught. She says she’s seen other families broken apart because parents were deported. Her dad Jose admits he’s often scared and sometimes sad about not seeing his family in nearly two decades.

“You know, it’s hard. Because sometimes I remember my family...like my mom, you know? Like around like six years ago my dad, he passed away and I can’t be there, you know,” Jose says.

Jose says he remains hopeful that one day he’ll be able to participate legally in American life. In the meantime, he’s taking English classes.

“My dream is to speak like very well English... I want like a better job, you know? Like 100 percent better job, you know?” Jose says.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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