Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Undocumented immigrants have prosperous careers

Published:Tuesday | April 26, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Kelsey Burke, 27, of Honduras, signs the Attorney’s Oath as Palm Beach county Judge Lisa Small looks on after swearing Burke in as South Florida’s first undocumented immigrant to pass the Florida Bar and be allowed to practice law in the state in West Palm Beach, Florida.


The world of undocumented immigrants includes maids and farmworkers, several families under one roof and people living in the shadows.

But it's also the world of a North Miami couple that owns a successful remodeling business, an elegant condo and a Mercedes-Benz.

It includes Kelsey Burke, a lawyer practicing personal-injury law in West Palm Beach.

And Wilfredo Noguera, an accountant at a Miramar firm.

All four embody the American Dream. Yet none has a green card, a path to legal US residency, or a guarantee they won't be deported.

How is this lifestyle possible?

It's not easy to deport undocumented immigrants who don't have a criminal record or a removal order. The process can take up to six years or more because of backlog in immigration courts, federal officials said.

But while the chance of deportation doesn't necessarily preclude an undocumented immigrant from holding a high-profile job or live in a nice home, it does require planning that most Americans never have to think about.

Mauro Kennedy and Maria Bilbao, the Argentine couple who own the remodeling business in Miami, have learned to navigate a system that allows them to own a business and pay taxes but denies them benefits like driver's licenses and medical insurance.


They pay state and local fees to keep their business in good standing. But they make the payments online; websites do not ask about their immigration status.

Kennedy and Bilbao obtained Florida driver's licenses when they arrived as tourists in 2001. They insured their cars and have been making payments online and on time ever since, they said.

But when their driver's licenses expired in 2007 and 2008, they were unable to renew them. Because they're undocumented, they don't have the required identification a green card or Social Security number to get a new license.

Citing public safety concerns, about a dozen states have enacted laws to allow the undocumented to apply for driver's licenses, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Florida is not one of them.