Deaf Immigrant's American Dream on Ellis Island

Jose Gutierrez
Jose Gutierrez, a deaf immigrant from Mexico, was forced into slave labor in New York City before being rescued in a police raid and given a job cleaning the exhibits at Ellis Island.
In case you had any doubts, America is still the land of opportunity. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane has the story of one young man who's living proof.

He's so quick, so quiet that one could easily overlook Jose Gutierrez. But his story is as inspiring as the exhibits he polishes at the museum on Ellis Island.

As a kid in Mexico, he'd seen pictures of the Statue of Liberty and dreamed of a better life in the U.S. At just 15, Jose crossed the border without his parents, a journey made more difficult by the fact that he's deaf.

"Friends told me I'd be able to work" in the U.S., Gutierrez said through a sign language interpreter. "But when I got here everything fell apart."

By 17, Jose was living like a slave, forced to sell trinkets on the subways and streets of New York City and turn over the money he made to the bosses of a smuggling ring in exchange for shelter.

Then, in July of 1997, New York City police raided the smuggling ring.

Jose was allowed to stay in the U.S. and learned of a non-profit group, Fedcap,which helps people with disabilities find work.

"He set out to work every day, support his family, and he did what he needed to do to get the job," a spokeswoman for Fedcap said.

He found a job Ellis Island, the entry point for 12 million immigrants to the U.S.

"I think about all the different places that they came from," Gutierrez said, "and all the things that they went through - just like I did - coming to America."

He works in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

"I saw it and I had goose bumps," Gutierrez said. "I couldn't stop looking at it."

Now he has a daughter - and a green card.

"It was a dream to be able to come here and to get a job and to succeed," he said. "I love it and I love America and I love working."