I met an illegal immigrant today.

I was walking down the street when I heard Bulgarian speech. A delivery boy was sitting on the stairs in front of a pizza place talking on the phone in his mother tongue . I said “Zdrasti!,” and he immediately hung up the phone and came to greet me. We introduced each other and told each other how we’ve both ended up in Boston, so far from home.

He had come as part of a student work brigade in New Jersey a few years ago, and now his visa was “a little expired.”

 In other words, he stayed in the States illegally. He took on low-paid jobs, so that he could make ends meet. He used to  live in New Jersey and had recently moved to Boston. He had started college in Bulgaria but came to the States before he could graduate, so he never earned a degree. 

For the past couple of years, he has been saving up the minimal salary he receives, so that upon returning in Bulgaria (if he does return), he could have a small fortune of American dollars. The “black stamp” he will get in his passport doesn’t scare him at all.

Unfortunately, he is not an exception. Many young people from Eastern Europe come to the States to study or work for a while and stay past the end of their visa term. They don’t have work permits, so they work on low-paid positions and live very modestly. Their presumption is that life is better in the States and that any salary they receive here is much higher than the salary they would receive at an equivalent job back home; plus, their savings would triple when converted into their own currency. What they don’t take into consideration is that the cost of living here is higher as well, that they are alone here, in a foreign culture, and a way of life that is too different from what they are used to.

I refuse to believe that people earn more as illegal immigrants in American than as college graduates and honest working people in their home countries. If indeed they are better off having limited opportunities in the foreign country, then there must be something really wrong with our country and our social system.

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