Coming To America
Hyattsville’s official and immigrant advocacy group says Hispanic immigrants still face discrimination locally
Luis Hernandez came to America 20 years ago to earn enough money to educate his children.
His wife and two children stayed in their home town of Morales Izabal in Guatemala to wait for the financial help Hernandez said he promised to secure.
"I had to educate them," he said. "At home, there is no money. For one day, people earn $25."
Hernandez, 49, first arrived to Los Angeles in 1990 where he spent seven years as a tailor. And when he realized that a wage of $5.50 per hour was not enough to support the needs of his family overseas, he decided to move east, ending up and staying in Hyattsville – for the last 13 years.
His reasons: "No discrimination in Hyattsville," Hernandez, who is a gardener for the Southern Management Corporation, said. "Here, they pay a lot of money to all who work hard."
Yet Hyattsville's officials and immigrant advocacy groups argue that immigrants, particularly Latinos, face discrimination both locally and nationally. Maryland enacted several new immigration provisions this year, including a law that requires international marriage brokers to provide basic rights information, criminal background check and marital history to a recruit, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.
"The perception of immigrants in Hyattsville is the same as in the most conservative, right-wing oriented parts of the country," Hyattsville Councilman Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4) said. "We are treated like nothing."
Annual estimates of the Hispanic resident population in Maryland in 2009 equaled 411,133 or 7.2 percent of the total population, while the total Hispanic population for Prince George's county was almost 113,000 or 27.5 percent of the total Hispanic population of Maryland, according to Maryland Planning Data Services in the Department of Planning.
"When people see us, they discriminate," said Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Casa de Maryland, an advocacy group fighting for equal treatment of low-income Latinos and other immigrant communities. "When we don't speak the language, they discriminate. When we have a Hispanic last name, they discriminate."
Even the discrimination within different ethnic immigrant groups is prevalent, Lizanne said.
"My perceptions are that the immigrant laws favor European white immigrants and discriminate against other immigrants, particularly those from third world countries who are of a different race," he said.
The solution to the current immigration laws that created controversy in midsummer when Arizona introduced immigration regulations, would be a comprehensive immigration reform, he said.
"There is a lot of work that has to be done," he said. "Instead of getting better, the situation is getting worse. Under these conditions, it is cynical to call America democratic."
Despite grim predictions about a comprehensive immigration reform, Hernandez, who has permanent residency, said he is saving money for the $3,000 visa applications he plans to file in January for his two children to come to America.
"It may take two years," he said. "But here is good. Much better than in Guatemala."