Marco Werman: A tough new immigration law went into effect last July in Georgia. Some of its more controversial parts were blocked by the courts, but one measure that did go into effect allows police to check the immigration status of drivers who are stopped for minor violations. Many undocumented immigrants in Georgia have stopped driving, using cabs instead to get to work. That's been a boon for several taxi cab companies in Gainesville, GA. Maria Romero drives a cab in Gainesville. She explains that as of now, police can't ask her passengers their immigration status.
Maria Romero: If I'm driving and I get stopped for any violation I committed, that doesn't have anything to do with whoever is in my cab, it's just me. But if they're driving and they don't have a license, they're in jail.
Werman: Tell me about your customers, your fares. Where are they from, generally?
Romero: Well, we have all kinds of people from different countries. We have El Salvador, we have Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico. We even have Chinese people...yeah, it's a lot of different places.
Werman: And for the most part what are they doing in Gainesville?
Romero: Well, most of them work the chicken plants, but here in Gainesville there's a lot of them. It's like the capital of the world of processing chicken.
Werman: And these immigrants make enough money at the plant to take taxis back and forth to work?
Romero: Well, we try to work it out for them. Some of the cab drivers, they have like a crew of people where they take them back and forth to work and they charge them by the week.
Werman: You provide flat rates for your regular customers?
Romero: Yes, we do. It's a law that we have to have a meter, but we can't be charging with the meter because that's too much. So we came up with the idea of having the flat rate depending on which area the customer lives. And it'll be easier for them and it'll be easier for us because we won't be like making the people pay money they don't even have.
Werman: I imagine at this point you've got some regular customers. Have you befriended any of these people who are using your service?
Romero: Well, me myself, I've been doing this for like 11 years and we know these people forever. And I try to treat them like friends, like family because I live off of them and they live off of me, so we need each other and we get along pretty good.
Werman: Not everybody understands your situation though.
Romero: The way it is you've gotta have a heart and be a human being to understand other people's needs. Me, myself, I used to be illegal many, many years ago before the amnesty because that's how we got legal, my brothers and me. And before that we had to hide from the law. They had to work really hard in California fields. And we had to struggle for stuff, and be hungry, and be wanting things and couldn't go get them because of the immigration situation. So we know how these people feel.
Werman: We should say that you are, Maria, born in Mexico and are now a US resident. You're a single mother putting two kids to college. I would guess the local authorities might not look very favorably on what you're doing with your taxi. Why are you doing this?
Romero: This is a job. I'm just doing a job that I need to provide for my house. I really didn't want to be a cab driver before. I didn't know how it worked. I thought it was something weird, but I came into a situation where I was struggling really bad and I was not making enough money to pay for my house and to pay a babysitter and everything when my children were little. Then I lost my car, but it came to my head, I said well, I guess I should be a cab driver because they provide the car. So then I end up having a car to go home and a car to work. And this job, even that I have to work a lot of hours, has been helping me more than the one I used to have before. That's why I stayed as a cab driver.
Werman: Taxi driver Maria Romero speaking with us from Gainesville, Georgia, thanks a lot.
Romero: Thank you, sir.
Werman: You can see Maria Romero driving her car around Gainesville. The video is at theworld.org. This is PRI.
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