Can I Get Your Digits?

Upon my return from a month in Guatemala, my Spanish had only moderately improved, but my love for Billy had definitely grown. We were together all the time and subtly hinting at plans for the future.

One evening, my roommate was having some friends over for dinner.  I called to invite Billy, but he was tired, “I’m not up for that tonight.”   His voice held a secret.  “Can we just have dinner alone?”

I started to protest that I’d already agreed and backing out now would be rude, but I couldn’t finish.  Something was going on.  Something you don’t discuss on the phone.  “ Ok. I’ll meet you at your apartment.”

When I arrived, he stalled with pleasantries.  “How was your day?”  I responded politely, nervous of the unknown. We talked briefly about work, but the air felt heavy.

“What’s going on?” I asked him.

He launched into a circuitous story.  “You know that I work for Frank?  You know that when I was hired I used a fake social security number for his payroll?”

“Yes,” I told him.

“Well, he knows that, too.  I mean, really, most everyone working for that company is undocumented.”


He rambled on.  He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Well, Frank told me today that it’s getting harder for him to keep paying me under that number.”  He leaned against the back of couch and stared away from me.  “He asked me today if he could put you on the payroll instead.”

“Wait… what?”

“He says most of the other guys do it.  Their wives or girlfriends have valid socials, so they are the ones that get the checks from the company.”

A construction company staffed predominately by women? Hmm.. interesting how that raises no red flags as long as all the numbers run through.  And yet, it continues to leave the workers vulnerable, not being able to truly claim their pay, and puts the women in risky positions as well.

I leaned forward in silence, allowing the idea to snake through my brain.  

The logical part: How will this affect my taxes?  My income will more than double, and it will appear that I’m working two full-time jobs.  What are the possible legal ramifications of this? 

The moral part: Absolutely not! 

The “in love” part: What other options does Billy have?  But how could this decision affect our future plans? 

The other moral part: Our immigration system is broken. It doesn’t work for citizens, employers, or politicians. But it directly hurt immigrants on a daily basis. Someone is asking me to use my privilege to stand in the gap for him.  How serious am I about my commitment to justice?

Billy started crying.  “I hate to ask you this.  I don’t want to ask you this.  I don’t know what the best thing to do is.  I don’t want to lose my job, but I don’t want you to be affected. “

I nodded and we sat in silence.  We pondered the possibility. 

We discussed it for a while, but I suspect we both knew we weren’t going to do it. Though unspoken, I think we both understood that we were going to get married and this situation was temporary. We didn’t want to make any choices that could jeopardize those longer-term goals. 

We decided to wait it out and thankfully, Frank never brought the subject up again.

In these circumstances I am always painfully aware that we have always operated as “best-case” scenario. As we drew closer to marriage, we knew that legalization was a likely reality for Billy, where it’s not for most immigrants.

If you want to catch up on all the posts about how we met, click here. If you want to read more about my husband's immigration experience, begin here. Keep reading if you are ready for us to get engaged!  

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