Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Immigrants Uneasy about New Citizen Test

On October 1st, candidates for citizenship will be asked to take a new civics test to qualify. There are other aspects in the process, such as English fluency, that are tested. But the new test makes immigrants nervous. Critics think it's too abstract, though the intent was to raise it above the trivia of the current test. As a consequences, immigrant advocacy groups are organizing tutorials to prepare. (See NY Times article.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Calif. Court Threatens In-State Tuition Break for Undocumented Students

A Cakifornia state appeals court ruled that a break given to undocumented students in state universities violates a federal law that requires the same break must apply to out-of-state students who are U.S. citizens. (See LA Times article.) Any student who graduates from a school in the state and has been there for three years was entitled to in-state tuition rates. This was challenged in a class action suit on behalf of out-of-state students. The court found the practice in violation of The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1991. The ruling restricted only to California will probably lead to similar suits in the other seven states (Illinois included) that also provide an in-state break for all graduates of their schools.

A study of California immigrants by the U.S. Census estimates that they now make up a fourth of the state's population and a third of Los Angeles County's. While nativists give the impression that these hordes will create "a separate nation" -- a charge against German and Scotch-Irish immigrants before the Revolutionary War -- the study also found that the process of assimilation has quickened. More immigrants have become citizens and the English fluency of most Spanish speaking immigrants has increased. Some think this is because the new undocumented are driven to other states because of the economy and those who remain have been here longer. (See LA Times article.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Ad War for the Hispanic Vote

A NY Times editorial decried the shabby politics being played by both presidential candidates in their television ads in Spanish. John McCain started by accusing Barack Obama of killing comprehensive reform by adding "poison pills" to last year's Senate bill. The Obama campaign responded by "sliming" McCain "as a friend and full-bore ally of restrictionists like Rush Limbaugh". The Times does not think the Bush administration is helping with its ICE raids and ignoring of labor law when it comes to immigrants. It asks that the candidates return to a rational tone as they used in the early campaign.

A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Hispanic voters are favoring Barach Obama very strongly. While forty percent of Hispanic voters had supported George W. Bush in 2004, less than a third favor John McCain this year. That explains his targeting ads to Hispanics in the swing states of Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, The appeal of Obama, who they did not support in large numbers during the primaries, reflects the fear in Hispanic communities of the raids and economic stress because of joblessness and the foreclosures. Interestingly, substantially more Hispanics think race is an asset rather than a hindrance for Obama.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

AZ Employer-Sanction Law Upheld on Appeal

The Arizona state law that would withdraw licenses from companies that employed undocumented workers was upheld by a Federal Appeals panel in San Francisco. It ruled that a state can use its licensing powers to enforce immigration related policies and that a state can require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to screen new hires. While the lawyers who challenged the law will ask for a hearing by the full Appeals Court, they do not seem ready to go to the Supreme Court. There is a somewhat mitigated employer-sanction proposal on the ballot in November, but the decision has sparked interest in the current law in other states. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain AD Revives Immigration Debate

John McCain went fishing for Hispanic votes in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado by releasing a TV ad that accuse Barrack Obama of being no friend of them. The Democratic candidaye holds a substantial lead among Hispanic voters. But if the Republican candidate could shave a 5% or 10% of those votes in these critical states, McCain could carry them.

The ad attributes the failure of last year's comprehensive reform bill in the senate to Obama's support of some "poison pills" -- amendments that caused some on one side or the other to abandon the whole reform effort. Specifically the ad singles out the Democrats' support for a system of family preferences over education and skill for allotting visas and Obama's support for restrictions on the guest-worker program.

Immigrant advocacy groups were quick to denounce the ad, saying the real cause for defeat of reform was the wave of nativist hatred created by talk radio and spoked the Republicans. (See Arizona Republic article and NY Times analysis of the ad.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Immigrants' Advocates Organize to Spot ICE Raids

Immigrants' advocacy groups around the country have organized to deal with the aftermath of ICE raids by providing legal aid, shelter and help for affected families, transport of families to detention centers and the like. They have also done some preparation for raids by asking local agencies to stock food and clothing and schooling possible detainees or their families on their rights. Now advocacy groups have turned to gathering intelligence on when and where ICE will raid. This information is used to alert the undocumented of possible raids. (See LA Times article.) So far the watch seems not to have been very effective. Groups had warnings beforehand of the raids in Postville, IA, and more recently in Laurel, MS, yet hundreds were arrested.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bishops Ask Homeland Security to Stop ICE Raids

Bishop John C. Wester, as chair of the Bishops' Committee on Migration, has asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop the worksite raids of its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Such raids have "humanitarian costs , , , unacceptable in a civilized society". He specifically points to the burdens of family separation and asked that, if DHS continues the raids, it
  • refrain from raiding churches or places that provide humanitarian aid to migrants,
  • release caregivers so they may provide for dependents,
  • provide access to legal representation to detainees,
  • allow for families to locate relatives after raids.
  • allow families to communicate with detainees.
The raids have demonstrated the power of the state to enforce the law, but Bishop Wester writes it does "little . . . to solve the broader challenge of Illegal Immigration." It only reveals "the failure" of the current immigration law. (See press release and the statement at USCCB website.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Agriprocessors in Danger of Losing Kosher Certification

The woes mount for the Iowa kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc. of Postville. Ever since the raid by ICE in May, charges have been raised about its treatment of workers -- e.g., failure to pay overtime, child labor violations, safety violations. But they were kosher. That seal of approval is now in jeopardy because of these justice issues. Conservative Jews will consider these as an element in kosher certification. But more importantly, the Orthodox Union which is the most respected certifier of kosher has demanded changes at Agriprocessors or it will withdraw certification. (See NY Times article.)

"The Fence" along the U.S.-Mexican border -- both the physical and virtual -- is taking longer to put up and is getting more expensive. Homeland Security has admitted as much to Congress, citing the rising costs of materials and the resistance of landowners to welcome it. (See NY Times article.) The virtual fence in Arizona has run into technical problems and the resistance of the Interior Department. (See Arizona Republic article.) Homeland Security was hoping to finish 670 miles by year's end. About half has been completed so far.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Iowa Goes After Kosher Meatpacker on Child Labor

Agreprocessors, the kosher meat plant in Postville, IA, and the scene of a big and controversial ICE raid in May, has new legal troubles. Already faulted by Conservative rabbis for not including justice to workers in their slaughtering and cutting of animals, and bing investigated by the feds on wage and safety law violations, now the State of Iowa is charging them for violations of child labors laws -- specifically, hiring under-age workers and allowing them to work with dangerous equipment. Agriprocessors denies knowingly employing under age workers. (See NY Times article.)

After peaking this summer, the number applying for citizenships has declined because of the higher fees. (See AP article.)

The U.S. Department of State has been denying passports to applicants who claim to have been born in South Texas and delivered by a midwife. These are mostly poor and rural. Their birth certificates signed by midwives are useless, notwithstanding the applicant may have other documentation such as baptismal certificate, school records, even discharge papers from the military. This is no minor inconveniece to those denied, since by next June a passport will be required to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. The assumption of fraudulency arises from some court cases against midwives who sold birth certificates after 1960. The American Civil Liberties Union has initiated a class action suit on behalf of those denied passports, since in many instances individuals with a right to them have been denied. (See Chicago Tribune article.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Lawyer Shortage in Deportation Hearings

An estimated half of those facing deportation hearings are represented by attorneys. The crush of cases in immigration court makes it difficult to find lawyers who will take on cases pro bono. Unlike criminal cases the government does not have to provide legal assistance. There are efforts to increase the number of attorneys volunteering to represent impoverished aliens, but pro-immigrant activists insist that only a "public-defender" system would work. The results for the immigrant -- deportation, family disruption and the like -- are serious enough that care should be made that their rights are represented by counsel. (See LA Times article.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Texas Hospital Turns in Job Applicant

An undocumented woman was hoping to be hired for work in the cafeteria at Trinity Medical Center outside Dallas. During the prescreening process it was discovered that her Social Security number was counterfeit, and so the hospital reported her to the local police for identity theft. She eventually accepted deportation. Actually employers are not obligated to report undocumented workers that might show up in hiring or even reviewing payroll. They are only obligated not to hire or keep them on. Whether Trinity was being nervous because of the recent raids by ICE or sympathetic to the anti-immigrant sentiments of the surrounding suburbs is yet to be determined. (See AP article.)

The LA Times report that more and more undocumented day-laborers are drifting from the shape-ups at Home Depot back home to Mexico or Guatemala -- especially in the construction industry. The State of California estimates that more 84,000 jobs were lost in construction last year. Anecdotal reports tell of only 10-15% of those shaping up each morning for day-jobs are being hired.