For The Undocumented, ID Can Be Bought
By Andrew Moesel
Since illegal immigrants and undocumented workers are exactly that – they lack the legal status and identifying documents that are needed to acquire housing, employment, etc. – many have found ways around the law to lead relatively normal lives as typical U.S. citizens.
Perhaps the most common method has been simply to acquire forged or fraudulent documents, which are then shown to employers or landlords. If you know where to look, it’s not hard to acquire a driver’s license, Social Security card and even a birth certificate.
Roosevelt Avenue, which runs through the heavily immigrant populated communities of Corona, Jackson Heights and Woodside, has become a virtual marketplace for these forgeries, according to City and State officials. Last summer, authorities raided the area for suspected hotbeds of the forgery industry, taking numerous people into custody.
“We have a lot of people come here that don’t have documents. It’s a big issue in our community,” said Manuel Castro, an event organizer for the Latin American Integration Center, an immigrant advocacy group in Woodside. “Some people, they come forward and say ‘I don’t have documents,’ but some people are really hesitant to talk about those things. That’s reality.”
Employers who want cheap labor often look the other way when presented with forged documents, but a federal pilot program started in 2003 would require business managers to run an applicant’s personal information through a government database to verify its authenticity.
That measure still may not deter many employers, who simply pay workers off the books. Migrant workers and day laborers perform many of these unofficial jobs, where one’s boss changes from day to day, making any legitimate paperwork an unneeded formality.
Aside from work, finding shelter can also pose difficulties for illegal immigrants. Many apartment buildings require a credit and tax history before renting to a tenant, and the wages that many workers earn already puts a constraint on the housing they can afford.
The situation forces many to seek illegally converted houses or apartments, where numerous families pile into rooms designed for a fraction of the inhabitants. Basements and attics have been converted into apartments all over Queens, and artificial walls have turned buildings into mini-dormitories.
Those who overstay their visas usually live under better conditions than those who enter the country illegally, immigrant advocates said. It’s easier to establish a life as a legal resident and then avoid background checks than it is to sidestep them initially.
Either way, with millions of illegal immigrants living in the country, it’s apparent that immigrants have managed to blend into society with few hitches.