Ronnie's Kids: Today, Amnesty Is a Dirty Word. So What Happened to the Immigrants Given a Fresh Start by Reagan in 1986?

Ronnie's Kids: Today, Amnesty Is a Dirty Word. So What Happened to the Immigrants Given a Fresh Start by Reagan in 1986?
On a hot Tuesday night in Jackson Heights, in a storefront next to a Rent-a-Center on Roosevelt Avenue, a meeting room fills rapidly. Over the din of the elevated 7 train, the large hall buzzes with Spanish dialects from various Latin American countries.

The space is the Queens home of Make the Road New York, an advocacy group that fights on behalf of immigrants. It's standing-room-only for a dozen of the 60 people there; the room is humming by the time Segrereo Mendez arrives. Quite a few of the people there know the 61-year-old native Honduran, a longtime worker in the garment industry, as one of its most dedicated activists. But they don't necessarily know her own story.

When President Ronald Reagan re-lit the Statue of Liberty torch in July 1986 and then, later that year, signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act (also known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act), Mendez got lucky. An illegal immigrant herself, she was granted amnesty.

Reagan relit the torch and signed the amnesty bill in ’86.
Reagan relit the torch and signed the amnesty bill in ’86.

Details

Additional reporting and translation by Araceli Cruz

A one-in-a-million outcome for Mendez -- or, more precisely, one in three million. A quarter of a century later, the number of illegal immigrants who would now be eligible for another amnesty has swollen to an estimated 12 million, and, in large part thanks to the flames fanned by fervent nativists of the tea party movement, the issue is far more heated.

But what about the three million immigrants who, like Mendez, were granted amnesty and became U.S. citizens? What happened to them? What did they do with their lives? Those questions are mostly forgotten in the newly hot debate this century. These are three of their stories.


The borough of Queens is the most diverse county in the United States. But it's Arizona that is on the minds of the mostly Latin American immigrants gathered in Jackson Heights. Once the meeting at Make the Road begins, most people want to talk about the Draconian state law recently enacted in Arizona, known even back here in New York as SB 1070. Under the law, local law-enforcement officers would get greater power to investigate immigration status.

People at the Queens meeting fear that their families could be torn apart -- even though it is an Arizona law -- because it could spur a nationwide wildfire of anti-immigration laws. More than one person expresses a feeling of betrayal by the current administration because they campaigned for Obama in 2008, hoping he would tackle immigration reform early. Instead, raids by ICE (the Orwellian acronym for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) have actually increased since George W. Bush left office.

"Democrats always have to prove they're tough, so raids go up" under them, Make the Road Deputy Director Javier Valdés tells the Village Voice Media. The Democrats, he says, see immigrants as "being like the girlfriend you like, but you won't bring home to your parents. It's like, 'Baby, baby, I love you -- I just don't want to be seen with you.' "

Segrereo Mendez's immediate personal concern, however, is not Arizona, but Florida. She has just returned from Tampa, where her son had been briefly jailed after a traffic incident. His wife had paid his bail, but because he was an immigrant -- even though his work permit was in order -- he was held in custody for two more days while authorities checked out his papers. It didn't have to be this way: When she became a citizen through Reagan's amnesty program, she was allowed to sponsor her two Honduran sons for legal status, but one of them chose not to become a full citizen. Now that was causing him trouble -- at a particularly touchy and turbulent time for immigrants.

Before amnesty, Mendez survived her own brushes with immigration officials. She came to the United States from Honduras, by way of Tijuana, in 1976, bringing one son with her and leaving one behind.

"It made me very, very sad" to leave him, she says, speaking in Spanish but with a tension that is recognizable in any language. After crossing the border illegally, she came to New York, where she had previously -- and legally -- spent a year on a visa.

Mendez got a job in the garment industry, stitching towels. She would work for the same company for 27 years as it moved its factory from Manhattan to Hoboken to Brooklyn. Before she started, she paid $50 to get a Social Security card in her own name. It was a legitimate number, and she didn't use it to sponge off the system. Mendez worked and paid taxes, while also sending money back to Honduras. While helping her family there, she built a life here. Working a tough, manual-labor job, she quickly established credit, got a loan for a bedroom set, and even got an American Express card.

Before amnesty, of course, her life here was much more precarious. One day, in 1982, while on the bus to her job in Hoboken at the Abouchar Co. with her co-workers, they arrived to an unpleasant surprise. As she got off, Mendez recalls, "Someone just shouted, 'Immigration!' But it was too late. By the time I heard, they were in my face."

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34 comments
Cyndyarose
Cyndyarose

The problem is they take jobs away from American workers, they don't pay taxes and they want to use all the things taxpayers have paid for. These people do not want to become citizens they are only over here where they can work and not have to pay taxes like they would in Mexico. If they became citizens they would forfeit any propertiies or rights to inheritance in Mexico.If you wonder why we have a budget deficit here in Arizona they are the answer.

extremezone
extremezone

Nice empathetic (pathetic) peice. As a memeber of the Mayflower Society through George Soule my ancesters came to help build America, many died, went hungry and fought to establish this great country. Now these new immigrants want to ignore our laws in persuit of various entitlement programs that hard working Americans (including Ronnie's Americans) bust their butts to pay for all while spitting on the values established by our founding fathers. Allowing millions of un-screened people in per year is not sustainable and should not be allowed under any circumstances.

vc
vc

BTW I love Baresterns_2 comment"The people of Mexico ( the majority of the Illegal Aliens) are a nation of cowards who find it easier to escape and bring their problems to another country instead of fighting for the country that they claim they love so much. Cowards do not make good citizens."

Isn't that how this great country was made??? People unhappy with their counrty finding a better place to live and care for their loved ones? Did not your family immigrate to our great country at some point? Was your great grandfather a filthy coward from a country of cowards? hmmm just asking.

VC
VC

Has anyone stopped to think that many not all are criminals, those exist in every race not just Mexicans. Most of these people are just hard working, loving, caring individuals who only wanted a better life for their childern. Before we enact this law we need to remove the signs from The Statue of Liberty to state "No Vacancy" and then wait for the LEGAL born children of these families to move with their parents into a poverty stricken hellhole where they don't even have a cardboard box to live in... then watch their parents and siblings die from lack of food and any type of medical care. WHEN ALL THEY WANTED TO DO WAS WORK FOR A BETTER LIFE. You think we have problems with terrorists now. Whats going to happen to the citizens who will be forced out of this country because their parents have worked for 10-20 years paid taxes and build a life not bothering anyone. No not all of them are like that and you can send all the lazy f's of every race over there if you want. The ones sitting on welfare for years selling their foodstamps for booz and cigs. Get rid of those lazy bastards. Because in 10 or 20 years there are going to be a LOT of english speaking educated and very pissed off American Citizens just outside our doors. Think about it.

Freddie Mac
Freddie Mac

If I get pulled over by the police and do NOT get asked for my legal status papers, I will sue the state.White Boy

Baresterns_2
Baresterns_2

Are we to infer that 3 stories out of the 3 million represent the success of that program. How many of the three million were subsequently deported for Illegal activity or sent to jail for rape or murder. There could even be 3 lottery winners in that group. If three people out of three million succeeded doe it mean that the program was a success. If there are three murderers in this group would it mean that all of the people who received amnesty were murderers or drug pushers. Making that statement would be racist but it is not racist to infer that three people succeeded. I also enjoy the "editors note" at the beginning of this article. That note is reflected at the beginning of all of their articles. "Latinos lived in America before many territories became states. Indeed much of our country was their country." From this we can conclude that the editor is saying that "Latinos have a greater right to be here than we do." But why stop there. Before the Mexicans claimed that territory the Apache nation was here. The Mexicans claimed it and had settlers there but they never controlled it. They couldn't control the Apaches.Finally, my family once owned a house in Long Island NY. Someone else owns it today. Is the editor suggesting that every time I go to Long Island I can occupy that house and declare that I have a greater right to be there because my family once owned it.The purpose of your article is not to inform or enlighten but advance your own agenda. Another Amnesty for Illegal Aliens who have, once again broken our laws to satisfy their needs, wishes and desires. Let them fight to fix their own country that they are so proud of. The problem is, they really don't love their country. They love the idea of their country. The people of Mexico ( the majority of the Illegal Aliens) are a nation of cowards who find it easier to escape and bring their problems to another country instead of fighting for the country that they claim they love so much. Cowards do not make good citizens.

Brenda P
Brenda P

I'm an immigrant and I would never ask for amnesty, because I know that to get your papers you have to deserve it. What everybody it's asking right now is not for amnesty as a present. Is for a immigration REFORM! Which means there are requirements to qualify, very easy as learning english, having a good moral record, and paying taxes. A lot of people who thank God they born at the right place at the right time think that it easy to be legal and to be illegal is a choice, is not true, and if you don't believe me investigate before judging. It's easy to judge but do it with knowledge. A lot of people who are against illegal immigrants... I just want to tell you that somebody in your family was illegal immigrants too. And if it wasn't for them you wouldn't be here either. (Unless you are a Native American).

chilly willy
chilly willy

Amnesty during Reagan's admin.... one big ass mistake. It didnt work and they never secured the border. In fact... in enboldened the illegal migrants.

Moly_b12
Moly_b12

heavens...who has problems with naturalized americans. illegal....illegal.....keep saying it, you'll figure out what it means sooner or later.

Robr_robers
Robr_robers

Good Lord, Talk about racist, sounds like the author of this atricle needs to be less racist and more open minded about other peoples view.

iamlegal
iamlegal

another bullshit article to gain sympathy for the illegals. im an immigrant, it took me 7 years to get permanent residency and another 5 after that to get citizenship. i never asked for amnesty. i followed laws of the land and worked hard in the meantime. this sense of entitlement that these pathetic people have is disgusting

Mateonelson
Mateonelson

obviously amnesty did not work, we now have more illegal immigrants than ever. If we grant the 15 million or do illegals amnesty, 20 years from now there well be 20 million more seeking the same. Secure the boarders and let our tax dollars benefit the legal citizens of this great country.

Gjtj21
Gjtj21

RE Reagan

It wasn't right then and its not right now..You go stand in line and earn your citizenship learn the language, not invade our country ILLEGALLY

Tomlin

Tomlin

Tomlin

pherc
pherc

That stupid poster on this report is outrageous. There isn't a "fervor to drive immigrants out." Theres a fervor to drive ILLEGAL immigrants out. There isnt a "groundswell of anti-immigrant sentiment." Theres a groundswell of anti-ILLEGAL-immigrant sentiment. Bogus racism claims is not a valid way to get away with breaking the law.

Gruffteddybear
Gruffteddybear

People who are in this country in violation of the law are nothing but criminals. Just because you haven't been caught doesn't mean you didn't break the law. No amnesty for criminals. Go back to your home country and work to make it better not make this country worse.

Mart_son
Mart_son

you have no idea of what you are talking about. if i were as dumb as you are, i'd keep my mouth shut most of the time, you don't give up any rights,when you become US citizens. DUMB ASS!

LadyeCatte
LadyeCatte

You have a "budget deficit" because is Arpaio is draining your coffers dry. And his lawsuits and Jan Brewer's are costing you more than any new citizenry, illegal or not. And they ARE Americans, those that Reagan swore in.

And the new Americans are not "spitting" on anything. That's white supremacist propaganda. They are doing EVERYTHING your so-called 'forefathers' asked: Come here, work hard, go to school, live free, love the country.The Mexican flag is brought out for TWO reasons: To remember where one comes from (like St. Paddy's day for whites), and when bigots try fomenting lies against them, like in the old days when you were allowed to gather mobs and kill anything nonwhite that fell under your eye.

Sick beyond nausea of the "forefather/patriot" crap. REAL patriots honor ALL Americans, not just the white ones. The forefathers allowed racial persecution...WE'RE NOT GOING BACK TO THAT. NOT EVER.

Save the 'Mayflower' crap for your KKK encounter groups.

extremezone
extremezone

Nothing wrong with seeking a better life, but all humans must obey the immigration laws of the nation they want to go to. I'd like to immigrate to Canada, but can't because I do not have the money Canada requires to immigrate. Should I just illegally do it?

NeoConJingo
NeoConJingo

How many of the 3 million were subsequently deported for illegal activity or sent to jail for rape or murder? Odd question. Do you have any evidence that those numbers are greater than the average for people who are similarly situated?

Dell_moss
Dell_moss

there were no immigrations laws in the native country, just fearce indians, Granted it was not right, but there were no laws broken

Joe
Joe

Thats a little too cerebral for most readers.

Rafael Garcia
Rafael Garcia

Good for you iamlegal! If your family had no future in this country and your kids were starving, and someone told you that in Canada you and your family had the posibility to live better (eat, live, prosper), would you go there? Or would you stay just because you did not want canadians to get angry at you. Would the fact that you couln't qualify for a visa prevent from going? You would be there in a heartbeat and you wouldn't give a rat what anyone thought of you. It's called: survival.

Offthemenu3
Offthemenu3

Perhaps u should talk to the people that apply to get some help..........if you are WHITE.......u can forget finding ANY help. They think white people aren't suppose to need help.......EVER! Another reason people are resentful of non citizens

Burt
Burt

"They are doing EVERYTHING your so-called 'forefathers' asked: Come here, work hard, go to school, live free, love the country."

And respect the law. Oh wait, not so much.

Offthemenu3
Offthemenu3

then PLEASE..go back where u came from........

Offthemenu3
Offthemenu3

If u r NOT a citizen......and broke our laws to get into the USA......which makes u a criminal to begin with........how in the world do u feel that u r entitled to ANY of our benefits that Citizens have paid for all their lives ..........Oh, and by the way......if you were soooooo poor and deprived in your country that you had to come to the USA........where in the world do u come up with $10,000 to $17,000 to pay the Coyotes to bring u here......hmmmmmmm

LadyeCatte
LadyeCatte

That's entirely up to you. Others have.

Baresterns_2
Baresterns_2

No I do not have any evidence that those numbers are greater than the average for people who are are similarly situated, nor am I required to. I did not write this article Steven Thrasher did. It is his responsibility to present all of the facts not just the stories that support a pro-amnesty agenda. Look at the title of the article "Ronnie's Kids: Today Amnesty is a Dirty Word. So what happened to the Immigrants given a Fresh Start in 1986?" The writer then includes 3 stories out of three million and presents it in a way to mislead the reader into believing that the 1986 Amnesty was a success. If the writer truly wishes to inform he should be compiling statistics on the entire group not cherry picking select stories. You say my question is odd. I suspect that any question raised by anyone challenging the credibility of this article would be considered odd especially by people who have a pro-amnesty agenda. I have read other articles written by this organization and it is quite apparent that it is nothing more than a pro-amnesty and pro-Latino propaganda platform. Lets take another article recently written by this organization involving Marriage Fraud. Apparently, Latinos are willing to break any law to achieve their objective, yet in the same breadth, organizations like La Raza declare that these so called "immigrants" are not criminals and that the end justifies the means. Our prisons are filled with people with that attitude. Is it any wonder that the Mexican government, its military and police are corrupt. These organizations represent the people of Mexico and that corruption apparently stems from the very core of the Mexican society. They will break any law to achieve what they want. The United States have enough law breakers included within the citizens of this country without importing them from south of the border. I refer to Mexicans in this comment because they represent the majority of the Illegal Alien population in the US. My comments are applicable to all Illegal Immigrants regardless of their country of origin. All Illegal Aliens have the right to be returned to their country of origin not just Latinos.

Brada460
Brada460

yerah , and DEMAND rights.. welfare. anchor babies . free schooling .. commiting crimes.. filling their jails.. setting up sanctuary cities..smuggling drugs.. demanding schools teach in MY language and not learning english..flying MY flag over their flag.. crying RACIST if there is ANY opposition... anyway ......

Chris
Chris

Of course I would move to Canada, but I also would be aware that what I'm doing is illegal and there is a chance for deportation so I would be very aware of the consequences. I agree with amnesty, but honestly you need to secure the border first because you would have a mad dash for the border.

Grzyadms4x4
Grzyadms4x4

OR Rafael, you could stay in your own country and fight to make it a better place. Fight the corruption and unfair treatment of your fellow citizens. You know, kinda like the founding father's in the US did to Britain. This, I think, is the biggest point that is missed in this debate. Why don't Mexican citizens overthrow their government, legalize the possession of firearms and provide a better life for themselves there. It's not like Mexico is without natural resources.

Rafael Garcia
Rafael Garcia

In theory your point is great! In reality..it's a little more complicated than that. In countries where the rich and wealthy rule and goverments are corrupt, there isn't much the poor can do to overthrow the goverment. Just ask people from South Africa, Guatemala, Somalia, Honduras and Haiti. Even if a big change happened, it would take dacades to come about. By then you and your kids would be dead. If you don't belive it, you should get out more. Get your head out of your pampered life and see how the othr half live.

When the founding fathers gained their independance, they did not build a fence and said "the hell with everyone else". If they didn't, why would you?

 
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