After Fleeing Pinochet, Family Endures the Long Wait of U.S. Policy

Though born in Connecticut, successful entrepreneur and videographer Max Moraga has experienced xenophobia and the consequences of U.S. immigration policy firsthand. As a child, the first-generation Chilean-American was targeted for his Hispanic heritage. He was walking past the supermarket in his largely white, rural Connecticut town one day, when a bicycle flew up beside him. “There was somebody on the back seat,” Moraga says, “and they punched me as hard as they could. As I was falling to the ground, I heard one of them yelling, ‘¡Arriba, Arriba! ¡Ándale, Ándale!’ ” Though only 10 years old at the time, Moraga tried to act tough. “But you know, every time something like that happens, you are always shocked.”

Moraga’s family came to the United States in the 1970s, fleeing the repressive Chilean regime of Augusto Pinochet. In Chile, his father had worked as a sound engineer and musician, but in America he could only find a job washing dishes. Eventually, however, Moraga’s dad followed the route of many immigrants and worked his way to a better life. He completed a master’s degree in education from the University of Massachusetts and became an elementary school teacher. He married, purchased a home, and raised three successful sons. One of Moraga’s brothers works in banking, and the other works for the federal government, putting out forest fires.

In the Moraga’s home congressional district, immigrants make up just over 7 percent of the population. They own more than 12,400 homes and hold $1.3 billion in spending power. Immigrants paid $533.9 million in taxes in 2014, and they are — twice as likely as U.S.-born residents to start new businesses.

All the immigrant families that I have encountered just want to live, and just want to have a normal life and work really hard.

The children of immigrants also have rates of entrepreneurship. Moraga, for example, launched his own company straight out of college. He had been directing and filming his own movies since childhood, starting with zombie and action shorts and eventually making films that played in festivals. After college, he started shooting weddings, music videos, and promotional shorts. “Little by little, I landed bigger projects,” he says. “It was all word of mouth. When you work with passion, great things happen.” Today Moraga is director of photography for Frontline Productions, a company that produces video content for major corporations.

Despite the success of his family, Moraga sees how frustrating immigration policy can be. Like his father, his aunt and cousin also came to the United States fleeing political turmoil. Morella, the cousin, has lived in this country since she was 6 years old. She is now 33, married to an American, has a green card, and recently applied for citizenship. The long wait for permanent residency status has, however, hurt her job prospects and made her afraid to travel outside the country. “She shouldn’t be worried about going on vacation with her family to Mexico because she’s afraid that the current administration won’t let her back in the country,” Moraga says.

There is no question in Moraga’s mind that the outdated and overcomplicated U.S. immigration system is in need of an overhaul. “All the immigrant families that I have encountered just want to live, and just want to have a normal life and work really hard,” he says. “They just aren’t given the opportunity, and everybody seems to live in fear. That’s not right.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…