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My Other Me

by Elizabeth Rodriguez

"You never worked at this store. Who is this?"

(PNS) -- I was glad to hear that President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox met yesterday to discuss immigration, and that Bush is pushing for a guest worker program and amnesty for illegal immigrants. But immigration reform has been stalled for years in Washington, and no one was making any promises that things would actually change.

In the meantime, some of us who are in this country legally, but have immigrant roots, are finding the issue landing right in our own laps.

A few years ago someone asked me if his friend could use my social security number to work. I was mad. How could he ask me about such a sensitive subject over the phone! On the other hand, how could I say no?

"Well, I don't know anything if you do use it," I said, and hung up.

I hadn't thought of it since, until a few weeks ago when this same friend dropped off some tax returns to me. They had my name and social security number on them, and he thought maybe I could get the tax refund.

I carelessly left the documents on the kitchen table for my dad to find. He looked them over and said, "You never worked at this store. Who is this?"

"My other me," I said, trying to act like I had no clue.

"Well, you better fix this right away. It can mess you up."

I still haven't filed my own tax return, but I don't plan on using the "other me's" returns, even if later I have some complication for not filing. At the same time, I don't think it is such a bad thing that I let a stranger use my identity.

Why not give up my number to someone who is just searching for work in a country that needs her here but isn't willing to admit it? Half of my family are recent immigrants, and some didn't take official measures to get here, but they have made their lives here, raised families here, and have to live with the constant worry that they are going to be found out and deported. Those of us who do have our legal situation in place wish we could do more for those who have been here for years and have no legal status.

A new report says that there are now 10.3 million undocumented workers in the United States, more than half of them from Mexico. I have never believed that immigrants take U.S. citizens' jobs. They take the jobs that "Americans" think they are overqualified and underpaid for. Undocumented workers have an urgency about work. They don't have the luxury of waiting around until someone offers them more than $12 an hour.

At my job, I work with people who are obviously using someone else's identity -- the business constantly gets notices about certain people's social security numbers needing to be checked. A lot of those people move on quickly, but others have remained, and I know they don't have other options besides working long hours and clocking as much overtime as they can.

One of my co-workers is 19 and works more than full time. I know he would love to do more than work a service job, but getting an education is a challenge because of his immigration status.

People like my co-worker and my "other me" have such a messed-up deal that I don't know how much it helps to lend them a social. Having no documentation means working hard and paying taxes that they will never see come back to them as benefits. And it only helps for a job; it's not like a free pass in the country.

My alter ego will still have to live outside the system, using someone else's numerical identity so that her own identity isn't revealed. If it were discovered that she'd committed the crime of working hard at a low-wage job, there would be no hesitation about deporting her, regardless of all she has done and contributed.

The United States should focus less on trying to catch people like her, who are just trying to make a living, and be more concerned about restoring the dignity to work, by creating jobs with living wages that allow people to do more than just survive.

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Albion Monitor March 23, 2005 (

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