By Coral Lu
Indian native Raj has no legal status in the United States even though he has lived in Chicago for nearly 20 years. He has no passport, no credit card, no driver’s license and, most important, he has no identity here.
“I don’t have a job; I help people in my community do some work, and then they pay me cash,” Raj said.
Raj’s work is unloading trucks and stocking shelves in one of the shops in the Albany Park neighborhood. In return, he is paid $350 per month, which he uses to pay for groceries and rent for the two-bedroom apartment he shares with 10 other people, and all of them are also undocumented immigrants.
Now, 58, Raj is worried about his medical condition the most. He pointed to his chest and said he has a “serious heart disease.” If he asked the government for help to send him back to India, he would die because country’s technology and health care level are not efficient enough to keep him alive.
“Now, I am only here for the medication because I couldn’t find the right doctor or treatment for my heart in India,” Raj said.
Raj recalled that everything began in 1998.
Raj and his wife owned a small convenient shop back in his hometown Ahmedabad, a city in west India. He has two sons and three daughters; he said five children placed an overwhelming burden on his family, and his shop’s earnings couldn’t cover the daily expenses.
Because of his low income, Raj decided to leave his country and planned to sneak into the United States.
“I’ve heard people talking about how wealthy America is, so I wanted to come here to earn money,” Raj said.
Raj said he flew from Ahmedabad to an airport that he couldn’t remember the name of, but it was somewhere in England. Then he went to Guatemala and then went to Mexico to meet with a group of 15 people. Eventually they crossed Mexico-Texas border and entered the U.S.
“We had a leader who led us by walking to enter the border,” Raj said. “It was a three-day trip with continuous walking and little rest.”
Raj said in order to gain access to the United States, he paid the group leader $10,000 that time, almost all his savings.
But after Raj arrived in the U.S., his dream did not come true.
“Whenever I go to buy something, I show my finger and point to the thing that I want to buy and give them money, that’s it,” Raj said through an interpreter.
Raj called his family in India three times per week, and he said if he could make the decision again, he would choose to go back to India.
“I have kids there. I miss them a lot,” Raj said.
Last year, Raj felt a sharp pain in his chest during his heavy work, and his boss wasn’t willing to send him to the hospital because his illegal status would have been shown in public. Raj had to call his only friend in Chicago to help him.
His health condition has been becoming worse since he has been getting older, so he had to receive medical treatment. The doctor installed an Intracardiac Echocardiography device in his chest to maintain his life last year, and he is able to work and support himself again.
Raj said this particular device is not available in his hometown. Without that particular device, Raj said he could die at any point.