The Jewish Face of the Immigration Reform Struggle

Roy Naim Speaks Out on Overlooked Plight of Undocumented

By Yermi Brenner

Published July 28, 2013, issue of August 02, 2013.
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Adult life has been even more limiting. Naim worked for a while in the not-for-profit sector, where he was paid off the books. Today he’s unemployed.

The inability to work or drive legally has left him dependent on his family, both for getting around and for supporting himself. And on top of the practical obstacles, until last year he was also living a life of invisibility, minimizing public exposure in fear of the dreaded Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The change in Naim’s life started when he read “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” a New York Times article by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Philippines-born, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. In the article, the widely admired reporter revealed for the first time his own status as an undocumented immigrant. He told his story of entering the United States as a child, on a tourist visa, and staying illegally.

Roy Naim in a panel with undocumented, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.
Nancy Adler
Roy Naim in a panel with undocumented, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Naim identified with Vargas’s story, and also, for the first time, realized there were millions of others throughout the country who were with him in the same undocumented boat.

“It gave me hope,” Naim said in the living room of the south Brooklyn home he shares with his parents. “It gave (me) a reason to believe, a reason to stand up, a reason to go out there and speak up about who I am, about my story.”

Naim knew that his parents would not be supportive of his decision to expose himself, so he let them know about the Time magazine article — his coming-out event — a day before it was published, when it was too late for them to stop him. Naim said that his parents, who did not want to be interviewed, initially opposed his decision but became supportive when they saw how happy he was in his new role as a an activist.

The rest of Naim’s family members have already legalized their status. His brother and sister became citizens after marrying Americans. Then, the same brother applied for naturalization for Naim’s mother and father. The parents have been granted green cards, which signify permanent residency, and are awaiting citizenship.

So if anyone was to pay the consequences of exposure — possible deportation — it would be Naim, for whom that would mean going back to a society and a culture he knows little about. The former Israeli speaks only broken Hebrew with a heavy accent. He said that even though he’s spiritually connected to Israel, having to relocate to the Middle East at this point of his life seems like a foreign and crazy idea.

He also said that he’s not afraid. Naim seems to have completely bought in to the idea that going public about his undocumented status does not put him at risk.

“My being public protects me because America loves stories,” Naim said while checking Twitter on his phone. “And when we hear about a good person — a person who is nice, who cares — we don’t want him deported; we want him in this country.”


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