From the Introduction: "We Are All Dreamers" THERE ARE ABOUT ELEVEN MILLION undocumented people living in the United States. You can't tell who they are just by looking at them, but we know they are here. As you walk down the street, ride the subway, or drive on the freeway, you may see them coming home from work, picking up their kids at school, waiting at the bus stop, cooking or cleaning rooms at fi ve-star hotels, or even running a little business out on the corner. While it's impossible to pinpoint exactly who's undocumented and who's not by sight, we know one thing with certainty: our daily lives wouldn't be the same without them. The work performed by undocumented immigrants is now a firmly entrenched and even essential part of the nation's economy, but attempts to resolve their status have merely turned them into political pawns. No president has dared to propose a process of massive deportation, nor has any administration openly recognized the essential role this cheap, effi cient labor force plays in the national economy. Undocumented immigrants have become the political currency of private negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, legislators and government agencies, and in campaigns for office. And except for when election time rolls around and minority voters must be courted, especially Latinos, immigration reform is a hot potato no politician wants to touch. The amnesty law passed in 1986, designed to solve the illegal immigration problem, went only halfway: it granted legal residency to three million people but didn't put effective mechanisms into place to ensure that the situation wouldn't repeat itself. It didn't establish programs to hire foreign workers in the sectors of the economy that needed them most, even though there would still be a demand for their labor. It didn't develop effective strategies to control illegal crossings along the border with Mexico. No sanctions were enacted to punish employers who hired undocumented workers, and the labor resulting from the exchange of falsified documents has become an essential moving part of the national economy's machinery. Almost three decades later, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fluctuates between eleven and twelve million; six in ten are from Mexico. Many of them work in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, or the service sector. Undocumented workers make up almost 5 percent of the civilian labor force. They are men, women, and teens who came here one, two, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Sometimes they stay here for relatively short periods before returning to their countries of origin to be with their families for a while, or to try and make a go of it there. But they end up coming north again because, even though they must live in the shadows, under the constant threat of deportation, they can earn enough money here to provide the loved ones they left behind a better standard of living. I remember a conversation I had with a woman who worked in a garment factory in Los Angeles while I was researching a story on sweatshops. The working conditions at the place were deplorable: employees worked twelve-hour shifts with no overtime pay, making seven dollars an hour, one dollar less than the offi cial minimum wage in California at the time, in 2008. When I asked her why she put up with it, she said she had done the same work in her hometown of Puebla, Mexico, under the same or even worse conditions but had earned only fifty pesos a day, or less than five dollars. "It's the same exploitation, but here it pays better. I can support my children on what I make here," she explained. After efforts to heighten security along the Mexican border in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, immigrants who occasionally used to return to their countries of origin stopped making those trips. The journey back was becoming increasingly dangerous and costly. The routes that undocumented immigrants had followed before, along the beaches in California or across the river in Texas, had been redirected through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, where organized-crime gangs were very active. Over the past decade, deaths of migrants from Mexico and Central America due to exposure and dehydration have increased in alarming numbers, as have kidnappings, extortions, and murders. Faced with this grim reality, many undocumented immigrants have chosen to take the risk just once and then pay someone to bring their family members across--women, adolescents, even small children--so they can live together permanently on this side of the border. For the undocumented immigrants' countries of origin, the immigrants' presence in the United States has signifi cant economic and political repercussions. For countries that heavily depend on the monies sent home, such as Mexico and El Salvador, the migration of their countrymen provides a major source of relief on two fronts: the dollars sent home help alleviate the effects of high unemployment and general lack of opportunity in the local communities. And the migrants' mere absence provides economic relief to the state, which does not have to provide basic services to the millions of citizens not residing in the country, such as public education for hundreds of thousands of school-age children, a cost now assumed by communities in the United States. The migrants' countries of origin tend to wash their hands of whatever may happen to their citizens once they set foot on US soil, as if their own governments no longer bore any responsibility for them. Far from recognizing the double sacrifice that migrants make by taking the risk to seek out a better life and then generously supporting their communities back home, people in their countries of origin often refer to them on Internet pages or in public debates as cowards and traitors. Excerpted from Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation's Fight for Their American Dream by Eileen Truax All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.