By José T.
In this Carolina blue town it’s visibly graduation time. While it sure is a time of celebration, I can’t help but think that behind the smiles of more than one of these grads walking around is an undocumented youth thinking about what’s really next. Yes, for them the occasion is bitter sweet. It reminds me of my graduation at my university. It was hard. I had entered college in the fall of 2006 and I thought surely by graduation time the DREAM Act will have passed and I will be very happy, very accomplished, very secure and very ready for my next steps. Four years later the only thing I could think of, as I walked the stage, was that I was still very much undocumented. No kidding! I had successfully avoided all invitations to job fares my senior year and stopped buying ties and printing resumes. Perhaps the hardest thing on graduation day was hiding my anger, my disappointment, my frustration and insecurity from my family. I was determined not to ruin this day of pride for them. The truth was, though, I was really scared. I was scared of not having a real plan or the ability to get a paying job, other than the temporary dead end ones, without a social security number.
However, after a couple transformative moments after graduation, I reworked some of my thinking and set out to find a job… any job. But, if I was going to do this then I was going to do it on my own terms. I would let go of fear and be intentional in demanding recognition of my existence with every job opportunity. I resolved to be undocumented and unemployed. This meant I would have to learn how to drop the I-tin word on potential employers and still get hired. Yes, I know it’s really an acronym but deal with it!
And so my challenge began. Since then I’ve had several jobs, undocumented status disclosed, and have learned a few things about dropping the I-tin word. So if you are on the job hunt here are some of my suggestions. Enjoy.
Secure an interview. This is the most important thing for us because you can’t really let employers know how broken our immigration system is on a simple job application and expect them to take a leap of faith and hire you. So, securing an interview, no matter what kind of job it is, will put you in a much better position to drop the I-tin word. As a result, you will increase your chances of a job offer.
In my experience, I usually wait towards the end of an interview, given that everything is going well, to bring up the “minor inconvenience” and explain that
it’s something that can be solved with some creative thinking from both sides.
Let them know you are more of an asset than a liability by telling them a little bit about your story from an angle of survival and highlighting your resourcefulness and critical thinking skills. Be prepared to challenge negative notions they have of undocumented people and let them know that as an immigrant youth you are just trying to survive. Reaffirm your ability and willingness to work hard.
Negotiate. This means negotiating responsibly and it is something you owe every dreamer out there because what you negotiate can set a precedent for what is
on the table for the hiring of other immigrant youth. Since you will most likely be hired as a contractor then you will most likely not be eligible for benefits such as health insurance through the company. Ask for this to be compensated with a higher pay rate.
Hold your ground. You will have to hold your ground and understand the worth of your skills as to not devalue your work. Remember, just because you only have
an ITIN does not mean you will be less of a value to the organization.
Show them a sample contract, timesheet, and check request form (usually used by companies doing contract work for a project). This can go a long way in
explaining how it can all work.
Be ahead of them and go in prepared with answers to potential questions they may have, such as, how an ITIN works, who normally uses it and what type of
identification you have.
If the employer still seems a bit hesitant after you have dropped the I-tin word, then shift your tactic and ask for an opportunity for a part time position with the possibility of full time down the road. This allows a trial period for both sides. Your employer can see that an ITIN number works just as good in their books and you can get a better feel for the support you will actually get from them.
Have references of others who have hired you and can lend credibility to what you are saying. This will ease some anxiety from that employer.
Be confident, tap into your networks (especially the active immigrant youth networks) and be willing to ask for the job! While some dreamers have
specifically been approached for an interview without even asking, this will not necessarily be the norm, though, this should let you know that it can be a very good side of being active within the immigrant youth movement.
Prospective employers could be all around you so zone in on job possibilities. Take notice of who is around you and understand that every interaction is a job interview.
Get an idea and feeling for job opportunities by researching what other dreamers are doing for work. I know more than one who is hired and actually gets benefits!
Take a well prepared resume highlighting the skills you have learned through organizing in the immigrant youth movement or whatever else you have been
Research the company/ organization and prepare leading questions to give you an idea of the politics of the org.
Figure out who ultimately makes the hiring decision. If the person sitting across from you is pushing back even though they have indicated that you would be
great, then chances are that person isn’t calling the shots and doesn’t have the power to give you the green light. If you really want that job then keep an eye out for who does have this power and go for it.
Make sure you are getting paid. If you do get hired but your employer is not paying you the accorded amount then take it to the court system! You can do this
all yourself and legal status does not matter. Stay tuned for a blog on how to do this.
Be prepared for rejection. Not everyone will be willing to meet you half way. At the end of the day it will be more their loss than yours so move on.
The following are some paying jobs I’ve had (legal status disclosed):
• Camp Counselor (first aid and CPR trained)
• Assistant Director for a summer camp
• Program Manager for a year round leadership program
• Office cleaner
• Gas Station attendant and cashier (right after graduation)
• Pizza boy (hated my boss but I got free pizza)
• Other random jobs I found on craigslist (all legit ones)
• Resource Specialist (Current job)
For my part, once I went on the job hunt full force, I did some cold calls, looked through craigslist ads, and made some on the spot visits to turn in resumes and applications. I was patient and always looked out for any potential job. When I heard of one, I was prepared to go talk to hiring management on the spot, lined up a few interviews and went for it. At every interview, from the pizza job to the office assistant one, I was upfront and cautiously but confidently dropped the I-tin word. I found that the beginning of interviews went well but I would be very nervous about the ITIN part.
I knew that it was going to come up. So before they brought it up I decided I would beat them to it. As interviews would come to an end I would recap my desire to work for them and reaffirmed that I would work very hard. I also let them know I had a minor “inconvenience” but that it could be solved with some creative thinking from both ends. By this point I could always tell they were intrigued and that’s when I knew it was the right moment to drop the I-tin word on them. At the end of a couple months and while being heavily involved in the fight for the DREAM Act I had two job offers!
I know that this is not an ideal situation for us as undocumented youth to go through. I must say that when our supposed “friends”, the democrats, killed the DREAM Act I was really upset but I also learned an important lesson that December. I learned that while legislation will always be important to win, most of our fight is in demanding respect and opportunities to survive in our everyday lives where it matters most. I learned that in the absence of legislation we will have to change the status quo on the ground one person at a time, if need be. This is our home and making it work here with what we have is part of our challenge. So, in this spirit, everyday is an opportunity to challenge expectations and when it comes to getting hired, our generation of immigrants has been
doing it for decades.