Undocumented Living : In the land of the free by Daniel Ali


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In June 2014 I travelled to Houston, Texas in the United States of America with the aim of documenting individuals working and living in a country where thousands strive to find a better life.

These people are from all over the world, but largely from Central and Southern Americas, are widely referred to and labelled as undocumented immigrants.Despite the numbers deported by President Barack Obama during his term being larger than his predecessor George Bush it was unsurprisingly easy to see evidence of undocumented immigrants living and working in the city of Houston.

Finding individuals who were willing to take part in this series was a little challenging and for the sake of their security and protection their faces have been avoided and are referred to by a name of their own choosing.
In this series the five subjects I met were open, honest and forthcoming with their stories and experiences. All of whom generally choose to live undocumented and illegally in order to provide themselves and their family with a fair chance of living a life unthreatened by the violence, corruption and anguish caused mainly through political instability and the familiar story of the drug industry rife in this part of the world.

Arturo (images 9-11), his wife and their six year old daughter have been in the United States of America for four years. It took them just over a month to make their way from their home in El Salvador, travelling approximately 1500 miles by buses, cars and a plane until they made their own way crossing an unofficial part of the border, arriving in Rio Grande City, Texas.
Arturo borrowed money from his friends back in El Salvador which he is still paying back so he could get his family to the USA, escaping the violence and ever growing problems associated with the drug industry.
After spending less then a year in Rio Grande City working, Arturo and his family moved further north to Houston in order to find more work. Back in El Salvador Arturo specialised in fixing, buidling and painting classic cars. Now Arturo waits at well known locations under flyovers and near to hardware stores where
undocumented immigrants are regularly picked up for all kinds of manual labour. Despite Arturo’s skills and experience he accepts any work including carpentry, painting and physically hard but tedius labour such as house removals.
Arturo expressed the constant fears of being asked for papers proving his right to work and the right to reside in the USA but also stressed to me that he feels safe in Houston and plans to continue providing a better life for himself and his family.

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Briseida (images 15-18) lives in Houston with her two children. She came to the United States of America in 2001 when she was twenty-four years old. Briseida left Mexico due to common tourbles and fears. Despite studying, there was lack of work and she was afraid for her own safety due to the growing violence that threatens many people in their daily lives.

Leaving behind her parents knowing she may never be able to see them again, Briseida decided to follow her brothers to Houston. When crossing the border Briseida had to cross two check points, one controlled by Mexico and the second by the USA. Through connections and bribery she crossed the Mexican border with ease, but to cross into America Briseida had to be zipped into a large holdal which was then stowed beneath a child’s car seat with a child sat in the seat. Simple hiding places are normally discovered by generally thorough searches, however on this occasion Briseida was extremely lucky because the vehicle she was hidden in was not subject to a search.
Briseida’s life in the USA is comparatively less stressful compared to other Mexicans; she explained that this is due to her pale complextion. She is spared racial profiling and to this day despite coming into contact with the police for minor driving offences and having close calls at work with spot checks by
immigration officers, she has managed to avoid her residence status being
questioned or looked into. Despite her luck to date, Briseida lives one day to the next avoiding any possible altercations with the police. Breseida made it obvious that in order to give the best possible start to life she can for her two young children she would continue to live her life undocumented and illegally.

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Jose (images 6-8) arrived in the United States of America in January of 2013. In order to protect the lives of his family and himself Jose was forced to leave his home in Honduras and attempt to claim asylum in the USA. Honduras currently suffers from the highest murder rate in the world and in light of this, Jose explained to me that he and his family were at risk purely for the sake of his political stance.
Jose legally arrived in the USA and began the process of claiming asylum, however due to the fear of being denied approval and forced to leave he decided to abscond and search for work.
I met Jose at one of the thirty Home Depot stores in Houston where he and many others wait everyday, all day, in the hope of getting manual work, usually paying around $10 per hour.
Jose fears he can never return home and may never see his family again. He told me that he plans to continue finding work in Houston so he can provide for his wife and sons back in Honduras.

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Norman (images 12-14) works at a mechanics as a car body shop paint sprayer, and has been in the United States of America and his current job for four months. Aged
twenty-two, Norman has travelled between his home country Honduras and the USA a few times over a period of nearly ten years. He does this as he has two children back home in Honduras as well as a wife and two children who live in New York.
Norman has made each crossing with varying methods, his most recent entry into the USA was simply by plane using a visa specifically allowing him entry so he could visit his children who have American residency. The first time he crossed the border however it took Norman a month to make his way from Honduras to the north of Mexico, and a further three days to cross into Texas with the aid of the coyotaje. Coyotaje is used to refer to the people smugglers often associated with the cartel who charged Norman about one thousand dollars in order for them to lead him across the border.
When I asked Norman about his reasons for choosing to live in Houston, he told me it was partly because his brother lives there and was able to set Norman up with work, but also because it is the most convenient and central location between his four children.

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I met Norvim (images 1-5) as I drove into the car park of a shopping strip off Highway Six in Houston. He was one of about fifteen that noticed my pick up truck and ran towards the vehicle in the hope that I was looking for workers.
Norvim is twenty-two years old and came to the United States of America back in 2012 arriving by plane with a tourist visa. Overstaying the visa Norvim found work in restaurants and found salvage in churches. He left the majority of his family back in Nicaragua apart from his mother who also lives in Houston. Norvim told me that his mother struggles to support herself so he tries not to put any added pressure on her and only asks for help when he is too physically exhausted to work and with no other options.
Norvim was proud to inform me he aims to attend college and/or university to study either engineering or business administration. Without hesitation or sarcasm, Norvim said he dreamt of being the president of his country Nicaragua and if that became impossible he plans to run his own business. [Official Website]

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