To reach New York City, Ana crawled into the United States through a moonlit drainpipe, trudged across the Arizona desert, scrunched onto the floor of a car to Los Angelesand landed at La Guardia Airport with almost nothing. She had not planned to stay long--only enough to pay back her sister the $1,000 smuggler's fee, work off some debts in Mexico and give her somespace from a soon-to-be ex-husband. She couldn't imagine separating for long from her two children, left in the care of her mother.
That was six years ago, and Ana (not her real name) has yet toreturn to Mexico. Now 35, she has climbed through the ranks of the service economy from laundrywoman to maid to a successful broker for illegal cleaning women. Last year Ana made $50,000, and because herbusiness is off the books, the money is tax-free. Such success has not come without a price. Ana cannot go home. To her children, she is now just the things she sends home: the latest videogame, thepiles of clothing and the wired cash that has turned her relatives into the royal--and resented--family of an impoverished neighborhood.
[...]Like most people who sneak into the United States, shewas simply following a family trail. Relatives had arrived illegally a few years before, and they took her in to their apartment in the New York borough of Queens. From there, the trail led to ajob-placement service that charges $100 to find you work, papers or not, usually in less than a day. "If a restaurant required papers, nobody would work there," says the boss. "Who ever heard of an Americandishwasher?" Ana took a job in Manhattan folding and delivering clothes for a laundry, 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $200 a week, paid every Wednesday in cash. It was eight times what sheearned in a sock factory back home.
While many undocumented immigrants cling to the world of illegals, Ana cultivated American friends. On a laundry delivery, Ana met Christina, a teacher who offered...