Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Expensive, Porous Fence

Last week the Government Accountability Office, which watches over the funding that Congress has voted, gave a scathing report on the "virtual" fence being built on the Southwestern border. It's way behind schedule, costs a lot more than expected, and doesn't do much good. Already determined immigrants have devise ways -- some unquestionably dangerous -- to get around it. As the New York Times editorializes fences are no solution to immigration problem, rather we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Evidence has been growing that the immigrant population, especially of undocumented, has been declining. Most experts attribute it to the recession. Fewer are trying to cross the borders and a few, though not all that many, are returning home. The Los Angeles Times reviewed the findings of the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey and suggests the biggest impact of the decline has been in California -- as well as Arizona and Florida. These states have long been identified with large immigrant, mostly Hispanic, populations. Texas -- thanks to a healthy economy -- is still attracting immigrants, as well as the ancient doorway to the immigrant -- New York. The Times quotes experts on immigration flows to the effect that the current patterns are not entirely new because of the recession. Already in the 90s, immigrants -- especially the undocumented -- have shunned the ethnic enclaves East LA or South Phoenix for the more exotic climes of Minnesota and Iowa or Georgia and North Carolina. Georgia in fact continues to attract immigrants. In part the shift that started before the recession was due to aggressive enforcement of immigration law. But over the last year it has been in Connecticut, North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa that we witnessed the most aggressive factory raids. Immigrant have remained faithful to the new pattern, simply because -- even in hard times -- that's where the jobs are.

Friday, September 18, 2009

GAO Report Creates Doubts about the Fence

The Government Accountability Office, Congress's watchdog on program it finances, has a scathing report on "the fence" -- the jumble of cameras and sensors along the Mexican-US border known as the Secure Border Initiative. The reports finds the project seven years behind schedule, seriously overrunning costs, and no ideas on how to measure "success". (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More on the Undocumented and Health Care Reform

Michael Hiltzik. a Los Angeles Times columnist, responded to the nay-sayers to health care reform who objected to the Census Bureau recent estimate of 46 million uninsured in the country. A 46 million figure gives urgency to reform, and so to defuse concern the nay-sayers explained away the numbers. Many of the uninsured are voluntary drop-outs of health insurance -- the young and wealth -- and many are too dump to know it's available -- the poor who qualitfy for Medicaid or Children Health Insurance System, but don't apply. Still others are only temporarily without health insurance. The undocumented, they say, don't deserve it. Hiltzik picks apart their specious arguments and misreading of the census figures to reveal the horror of 46 million uninsureed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Push Back on Immigration Restriction in Health Care

Before Joe Wilson's outburst on the floor of Congress, most immigration advocates had seemingly accepted the exclusion of the undocumented from health care reform -- at least in so far as government payments or subsidies. But in an effort to quell nativists' suspicions that aid to the "illegals" will sneak into a government-run public option, President Barack Obama extended his exclusion to even banning the undocumented from the proposed insurance exchanges -- even when they out of their own pockets. That was too much for many Democrats and immigration activists. They are now organizing to make sure the Obama administration cannot automatically count on their votes. Their point is that it is not "a reward for breaking the law" in paying for something out of your own pocket. As it is, the undocumented underutilize the health system and in the insurance exchanges their money would be a wind-fall for the insurance companies. Immigrants are younger than the general population and so less of a risk for insurers. Also they tend to be more reliable when taking on financial obligations. But Obama's scruple seems to be a last straw for many immigration advocates and Democrats. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Considers the Undocumented

The Senate Finance Committee, which is working up a version of health care reform expected to be "the compromise", began considering the issue of the undocumented alien and health care insurance. It's not a question of whether they will be eligible for any benefits -- with the exception of emergency room care -- but whether they can traffic for health insurance at the "exchanges" or "marketplaces" that would be created. A Republican idea, not yet accepted, is being discussed whic would require verification of status to purchase on the exchange -- even with cash out of the pocket. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Undocumented to be Barred from Health Insurance Exchanges

A White House aide said the Obama plan to establish an exchange for health care insurance would excluded the undocumented from purchasing a policy -- even at their own expense. All the congressional bills voted out of committee exclude most immigrants from subsidies, but one allows them to purchase insurance at their own expense. It seems the politics of the moment has won out over the morality of the issue. (See New York Times article.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Common Sense on the Undocumented and Health Care

The rude interruption of a South Carolina representative during President Barack Obama's speech on health insurance reform has embarrassed the GOP and knocked them off their argument, The incident seems to have quieted the discussion around the eligibility of undocumented workers for federal support in health care reform. The New York Times addressed the issue "with common sense" in an editorial, but the issue must go beyond "common sense". The president shifted the discussion to moral and political grounds. Politically, it's not wise to advocate for benefits to those Illegally here. But I don't think you can argue that morally. While the Catholic bishops don't highlight care for the undocumented, by implication they believe some minimal benefits beyond caring for the undocumented in emergency rooms or allowing to purchase private insurance is not enough. Health care is not just an American right, but a human right. While it's not politic to bring up the issue at this time, any successful reform will eventually have to face up to care for all -- even those here illegally. Pragmatically it cost issue. Now much of the costs are swallowed by private medical providers who truly believe health care is a right for all. We don't know yet how reform will impinge on their charitable efforts. Even some counties and municipalities use their own tax dollars to provide a modicum of care with no questions asked. Other developed economies often provide health care even to visitors. (I had an in-grown and infected toe nail care -- gratis and with any fuss -- in England and Germany. Excluding the undocumented -- while good politics now -- will eventually have to be dealt with. And it will have to be more than just emergency-room care. Rep. Wilson, if for the wrong reasons, was on to something.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheating the Undocumented Worker

The Center for Urban Economic Development surveyed the wages and work condition of low-income workers -- many of whom are undocumented. (See Center's report: Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers.) They found wide-spread violations of labor laws by employers. Even though the undocumented are here unauthorized, they still are protected by wage and safety laws. While often low-income workers do hazardous, work excessive hours or are under age -- all of which is against the law __ still most abuse of workers by employees is cheating on wages -- usually not paying the minimum wage or for overtime is the most common violation. (See Washington Post editorial.) The Obama Labor Department is increasing the number of investigators and promises to be more aggressive in enforcing the law.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Undocumented

During the hectic town hall meetings in August, the issue of affording health care benefits to undocumented immigrants was often raised with some heat. Democrats took to quoting from the bills that the undocumented would not be eligible for the subsidies to pay for health insurance. They are already barred from Medicaid and Medicare. What led to the confusion is that the undocumented must be cared for in emergency rooms at government expense. This is a public safety measure. But the GOP, notwithstanding the provisions of the bills, saw an opening. The Democrats were not explicit enough in banning the undocumented. They should have demanded "citizen verification". That was excluded from the bills because expert testimony and state officials said it would be too costly for a problem that was not large. The GOP, smelling an popular issue, intends to raise it once Congress returns. (See New York Times article.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Phoenix Undocumented Population Drops by a Third

The recession has obviously cut into the undocumented population. But how much? The census bureau hasn't a way to measure it. Yet we know the number of detentions at the border has declined. If the border patrol is catching fewer crossing, there must be fewer undocumented in the States. Still those here already, are they leaving and going back home? The evidence is weaker on this, but the indications are some are returning. Now the Arizona Republic, in a brief survey of the recession's impact on Phoenix, quotes the Center for Immigration Studies that the decline was about 16% nationwide, but for their city almost a third. CIS is no friend of the immigrant, but some of its studies are fairly reliable. The reason for the decline is the slowdown in industries that attract and employ the undocumented -- light manufacturing, domestic service, restaurants and especially construction.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Massachusetts Cuts Back on Health Coverage to Immigrant

Massachusetts's state health insurance is often put forward as a model of the national health care reform President Barack Obama is proposing for the nation. The program is the closest thing to universal coverage -- all but 2.7% of the population -- and includes legal immigrants. While there are some limits to immigrants' coverage, the benefits are rather generous. Now, because of the recession and a state budget deficit, Governor Deval Patrick proposes to cut some benefits, such as dental or hospice care. Immigrant will still qualify for a rather good basic package, but the reorganization will create such hardships as changing doctors. (See New York Times article.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Elderly Immigrant

The fastest growing segment of the immigrant population are seniors. They make up more than a tenth of the immigrant population. Not many of them are undocumented, save for those who have come earlier and have aged here. Most have come legally, brought here by children for family unification. They have made a lesser impression on the public than young immigrants who may be sucked into gangs or who overcrowded schools. But attention is now turning to their problems. (See New York Times article.) Older immigrants often come unprepared for the new society. They do not know the language and lack skills -- like driving -- needed in an urban society. They often have a self-imposed isolation or live in "ethnoburbs" . As a consequence many are suffering from loneliness and depression. Since they have limited access to health care and social services, many of their physical and mental ailments go untracked and unmet.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Letter to Obama about the 287(g) program

Homeland Security has promoted the "Secure Communities" initiative that supposedly focuses enforcement on the criminal and fugitive element of the undocumented population. One part of that is the 287(g) program that promotes cooperation between ICE and local police. More than 500 civil-rights, immigrant advocates, religious and labor groups have signed on to a letter to President Barack Obama protesting the recent expansion of the program. The basic objections are that the program will lead to racial profiling and that it has not been restricted to ferreting out the dangerous criminals. Many have been deported for minor offenses under the program. Many also question the competence of local police to enforce immigration law and the abuses of the past. The Arizona Republic brings up the criticism of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Office as the worse offender. Meanwhile Los Angeles County, which is thinking seriously about demanding E-verify for all its contractors, will now begin to send the files of all inmates to ICE to verify their status. Ironically, ICE complains that it's not ready to take that number of referral's. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Los Angeles County Government Contemplates E-Verify

Los Angeles County, which has responsibility for schools, hospitals, jails, roads, records and much more, has enormous economic power in letting contracts for services. Now the County Supervisors have voted to explore adapting the use of E-verify to require contractors to vouch for the legality of their employees. The federal government is making this a requirement for its contractors, as does six states. Immigrant advocates and labor leaders oppose the use of the system. It was created by the Social Security Administration for other reasons but is used to verify the status of workers. If there is a "no match" -- i.e., if the worker's Social Security number does not match the administration's records -- then the employer will have to dismiss the worker. The program is currently voluntary, but being made compulsory with immigration reform. LA County will be one of the largest public jurisdictions to require verification, if it's adopted. The system has been unreliable and has created a number of court challenges. The Obama administration claims to be perfecting the system. The county is only studying the possibility and will later act on a recommendation. (See Los Aneles Times article.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

ICE Begins to Fly Detainees to Mexico City

Over the last six years, ICE has been repatriating undocumented aliens deep into Mexico as a way to get them away from the border and discourage them from going to the coyotes to try re-entry. They are flown ro Mexico City and then buses to their home villages. There are two daily flights from Tucson, carrying 150 each. (See Washington Post article.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Washington Post on ICE's Clean-up of Detention Centers

The Washington Post editorially welcomed many of the changes initiated by the Department of Homeland Security in how it held aliens for deportation in detention centers. But the paper joined immigrant advocates to deplore the unwillingness of ICE to release new mandatory regulations.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Impatience Grows Among Immigration Advocates

Notwithstanding a surprise appearance of President Barack Obama and Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano at the White House with advocates of comprehensive immigration reform, many came away disheartened by hints that reform may take as long as two years. They were grateful by the president's reaffirmation of his commitment and also at the reduction in household raids. But many advocates, especially Hispanic, were upset by the stepped up workplace enforcement and Homeland Security's reluctance to issue new rules for detention centers and on quotas in its fugitive operations. Some even warned that further delay may lead to an electoral backlash in 2010. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

HBO will air a documentary -- Which Way Home -- following the journey of a 9 year-old Honduran boy illegally into the U.S. in search of his parents. In Chicago the program airs at 9 pm on Monday, August 24, and probably will be rebroadcasted a number of times during the week. Consult local TV guides or HBO station for the times. (See the Los Angeles Times article.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ICE Drops Quotas in Fugitive Operations

The Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that the agency's "fugitive operations" will not set "quotas" in its apprehensions. The program, which grew since 2003 with eight teams and $9 Million budget to 104 teams with $225 million, was intended to track down criminals and those who defied a deportation order. With Bush administration's stept-up enforcement, pressure was put on teams to make more arrests. In some regions that pressure led supervisors to set "quotas" and the arrests skyrocketed. According to a study of the Migration Policy Institute, 73% of those apprehended had no criminal records. Agents who enter a house or apartment in search of an individual would leave with whomever they suspected of being undocumented. The suspicion was that the agents were under orders to meet the quotas. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Undocumented

The debate on health care reform has rarely touched on the undocumented, though it is a live issue in the southwest border states. But even there the issue is old, raised because of their already burdened emergency rooms. The undocumented cannot be denied help in the emergency room, though they do not qualify for Medicaid. Often costs then are shifted to the community tax base with miserly reimbursement from the federal government, or are subsidized by other patients. On top of that, emergency room care is more expensive. Still one of the House bills (HR 3200) expressly denies any tax-payer funds to buy health coverages for the undocumented on the insurance exchanges the bill sets up. A debate could be raised from the public health perspective of extending some basic services to the undocumented. But if "death panels" and "public options" have raise a public outcry to irrational levels, extending health insurance to the undocumented would drown out all other discussion. An L.A. Times editorial suggests that the issue be kept out of the current debate, but must be raised again in comprehensive immigration reform

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lawyers Prey on the Undocumented

Immigrants are susceptible to legal scams in seeking green cards and work permits. We often warn them that a "notary" does not have the same powers and function in the U.S. as a "notario" has in Mexico. If they have immigration problems, they should consult a "lawyer" or "abegado". Now. however, lawyers are joining in the scams, taking money from desperate families with promises of getting a green card or temporary work papers (H-2B visa). Not only do they fail to produce, sometimes they even get their client deported. (See New York Times article.) One lawyer in Salt Lake City is being charged by the Justice Department with having files fraudulently for 5,000 H-2B visas. As many as 300 lawyers have been suspended from pleading in immigration courts. This also creates problems for other immigration lawyers in cleaning up the mess afterward. The situation is also undermining the trust that should exist between lawyer and client.

The Los Angeles Times editorially has sided with critics of the ICE's detention centers and deplored Obama's Homeland Security in continuing most of the Bush administrations policies. It would have preferred new binding standards to redress the deplorable conditions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Napolitano Talks Tough on Immigration

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in a speech at University of Texas, El Paso, defended the enforcement policies of the Obama administration and claimed the result were more effective than the Bush administration's. "Make no mistake," she asserted, "our overall approach is very, very different. It is more strategic, more cooperative, more multilateral and, in the long run, more effective." To underscore her point about effectiveness, the secretary noted that, already this year, ICE has arrested 181,000 undocumented and deported 250,000 -- twice as much as in 2007. She also claims that ICE isn't going after those who have not broken any other laws. Immigration advocates were disappointed and noted that Secretary Napolitano was defending and utilizing laws and practices both she and the president had previously claimed were "broken". All she is doing is prolonging human misery and should be pressing forward on comprehensive reform. (See New York Times article.)

Not just Sheriff Joe Apraio has problems with the feds. The Maticopa County (Phoenix) Board of Supervisors must answered to the U,S. Department of Justice about a complaint that the county does not provide translators at public meetings in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Immigration advocates want the investigation to take in all agencies of the county, especially the Sheriff's office. (See Arizona Republic article.)

The Southern Poverty Law Center has just published a report on the revival of violence-prone right-wing militias. One of militants' fantasies is fighting to save America from the wave of undocumented immigrants who are just one tool in a design to reclaim the Southwest for Mexico. Also SPLC reports on the exploitation and abuse of Hispanics throughout the south.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Undocumented and Health Care Reform

Under every scheme for health care reform, health insurance coverage to the undocumented immigrant would be denied. They will still qualify for emergency room care and in same states their children -- even those brought here illegally -- might qualify for some care. Health care advocates have made a point of informing people that the undocumented do not qualify -- even the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They don't want to jeopardize passage of health care reform. The nativist groups otherwise would be quick to pounce on the issue. NumbersUSA claims any inclusion of the undocumented would be incentive to sick Mexicans and Chinese to storm the U.S. border in search of care. But excluding the undocumented, however politically astute, is medically folly. Disease knows no borders. At least some diseases have to be monitored. Doing that through emergency rooms is going to create its own set of burdens, especially in California and the Southwest. The Los Angeles Times tells the story of one undocumented youth who manages to get some care in Chicago for his kidney ailment. It also tells of the plight of other immigrants dealing with serious health problems for whom returning to Mexico is no realistic option.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Corruption Grow on the U.S.-Mexican Border

The Associated Press reported that, just as law enforcement has grown rapidly to stem the traffic of humans, drugs and contraband across the U.S.-Mexican border, the arrest of local police, border patrol and custom officials for corruption has grown just as fast. Long suspected that border officials have look the other way -- even Mexico's President Felipe Calderon complains about it-- corruption is now a real hindrance to stepped up enforcement. Immigration advocates had warned that the rapid build up, especially of the Border Patrol, will create its own set of problems and not help the situation on the border.

President Barack Obama, meeting in a North American summit with the President of Mexico and Premier of Canada. said that immigration reform must wait till his administration and Congress have dealt with other priorities -- especially health care and climate change. (See New York Times article.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mercy Sisters Minister to Detainees

I have known Mercy Srs. JoAnne Persch and Pat Murphy for over twenty years and admired their dedication and hard work for refugees and immigrants. They started Su Casa as a refuge for Salvadoreans fleeing the dirty war in their homelands and more recently have rallied the religious community to the plight of the deportees and detainees around Chicago. Their hard work paid off recently when the Illinois legislature passed legislation that allowed religious ministers access to state facilities that house detainees for ICE. Now JoAnne and Pat regularly visit McHenry County Jail, the largest dentention center in Illinois. (Cook County does not have a detention agreement with ICE.) At ICE's Broadview center in the western suburbs of Chicago, the sisters have been denied the same access. But they publicized the plight of the deportees by holding a prayer service each Friday morning at the gate of the center. Bus loads of deportees hear the refrains of the rosary as they're moved to catch their planes. (See Chicago Tribune article.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Homeland Security's Detention Reforms

The New York Times editorially welcomes the revision of the detention system for immigrants facing deportation. Still Homeland Security has taken only a first step to revise a Rube Goldberg contraption of abuse to the personal dignity of immigrants who are not criminal. Time will only tell how effective the reforms will be. The advisory role of community organizations and immigrant advocates must be more than window-dressing. Some of the abuses -- especially the treatment of minors at the soon-to-be-closed the T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin -- has schocked the nation.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plans to Revamp Detension Centers

Homeland Security (DHS) will embark on a revamping of the network of detention centers for immigrant about to be deported. It will review the current contracts it has with local jails and private prisons and may create its own centers. It is looking to house more suitably noncriminals to be deported. As an indication of its seriousness, DHS will close the infamous T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, TX, that had created a stir because of its abuses of children detained with their mothers. To facilitate the make-over, it will create a new office -- Office of Detention Policy and Planning -- which will have two advisory boards of experts and immigrant advocates. The current Office of Detention Oversight that directs the program will also be revamped. Immigrant advocates welcome the closing of Hutto, but are still cautious about the rest of the remake. (See New York Times article.)


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the Legal Arizona Workers Law which imposes sanctions on employers for hiring the undocumented. It uses the same basic argument that has already been rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- that immigration belongs to federal jurisdiction -- but adds that allowing one state the power to penalize employers on immigration would invite a thousands of others to do the same -- as it has happened. That would be bad for business. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sheriff Joe Ponders Cooperation with ICE

After one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "criminal suppression operations", ICE refused to accept any detainees whose only "crime" was being in the country illegally. That has given pause to "America's toughest sheriff" -- not because he is getting soft on the undocumented -- and he has now 9o days to reflect on his cooperation with ICE. He defends his sweeps, not just for rounding up the undocumented alien, but because he has caught other criminals. They have netted over 550, less than half have been undocumented. Still, if the restriction now demanded by ICE were in effect, 150 of those picked up would have had to be released. Immigration advocates had criticized the sweeps as racial profiling. Most have happened in highly Hispanic neighborhoods and cars stopped generally carried Hispanics. The sheriff's office claims to have strict policies against profiling and had warned deputies, but anecdotal evidence charges that deputies do it nonetheless. Also many in the community charge that the sweeps only feed Sheriff Joe's appetite for publicity and are needlessly expensive. Other programs are more effective and less costly in identifing and detaining the undocumented. still, even if Sheriff Joe drops his cooperation with ICE because of the new restrictions, newly enacted state laws give him ample opportunity to pursue the undocumented and headlines. (See New Republic article.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Obama Disappoints on Immigration

The many Hispanics that voted for Barack Obama anticipated as president he would move quickly to propose an immigration overhaul that would provide a legalization process. They have been disappointed that the economy, global warming and health care reform pushed immigration back in his agenda. But the administrative moves he has made are also disappointing. His stress has been as much on enforcement as the Bush administration in an attempt to convince the American public that he will not condone violations of the law. While he has cut down on ICE plant raids, Obama in other way has not only continues, but actually accelerated nefarious Bush policies. In April of this year, for example, the number of federal criminal prosecutions has increased by a third. Homeland Security has continued to favor the flawed E-verify system -- checking of employees' Social Security numbers in which "no-matches" will lead to dismissal. The administration has asked for more money to "perfect the system" and now requires it of all private contractors doing business with the government. Rather than wrapping up its 287(g) program that promotes collaboration between ICE and local police -- which Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano knows first-hand is much abused by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- it is expanding. ICE still gets reports from local jails on the immigration status of all prisoners -- even those brought in solely for DUI. Napolitano justifies "expanding enforcement" because now it's being done "in the right way".

President Obama himself is not taking the heat from immigration activists. They do recognize that other issues take priority on his legislative agenda and seem satisfied that he will take up immigration before the new year. Much of their disappointment has transferred to Janet Napolitano. Apparently, the adminstratioin has convinced itself that it can't look soft on illegal immigration. Senator Chrles Schumer (D, NY)' who will lead writing the new bill, approves of the direction of enforcement and would extend E-verification to an universal ID card for all workers. Even he counsels his Democratic colleagues to drop the euphemism "undocumented" for "illegal". As for the GOP, it does seem impressed by Obama's recent moves. Senator John McCain (R, AZ) threatens to sit out the debate unless the administration pursues this strong enforcement policy. So the fight for comprehensive reform may split much as the health care reform has shaped up -- nay-saying from most Republicans and timidity from many Democrats. The Blue Dogs in the House have as many problems with the national party on immigration as it does on health care. (See New York Times article.)

An immigrant's trip to the U.S. from Mexico or Guatemala without papers has always been perolous. Now that drug related gangs are pushing into the turf of the coyotes and supplementing lost drug income with people trafficking, the trip is becoming even more dangerous. Often a successful crossing ends in being held hostage in Phoenix, or LA, or Compton. (see Los Angeles Times article.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Toxic Remnant" of the Bush Administration's Immigration Raids

The system of detention for the undocumented created by George Bush's get-tough immigration enforcement is still with us. The Rube Goldberg network of federal, local and private detention centers has long been faulted for abuses of the rights of detainees. Yet under the Obama administration the American gulag still holds as many as 30,000 any given day. The New York Times editorially denounced the system as a "toxic remnant" of Bush's "war" on the immigrant. When the National Immigration Law Center released a summation of the complaints against the detention centers -- A Broken System -- Homeland Security the next day refused to upgrade its rules for inspection to rid the system of abuses. The Times urges the Obama administration to get moving on the issue. Still the only final solution is to dismantle the American gulag through comprehensive reform, But a lot can be done administratively to relieve the hardships of detainees -- who after all are not criminals.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Immigrant Advocates Sharpen New Stradegies to Push Reform

A sense of frustration that President Barack Obama is moving too slowly and too hesitantly on comprehensive immigration reform has moved immigrant advocates to rethink some of their tactics and ideas and to rev up the machine that succeeded last year in voter registration and citizenship campaign to lobby legislators. Much of this came out during a workshop at the convention of the National Council of La Raza last week in Chicago. Mostly the stress was put on mobilizing the troops for the lobbying, but there were other ideas. One was a tour of the country, already organized by Rep Luis Gutierrez and others, to demonstrate the hardships of deportation on families and to an end to factory raids. Another, especially in view of a legalization process that would include onerous fines, is to pay them off by community service. (See Associated Press report.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Study on the Decline of Undocumented Population

A new study by the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports restrictions on all immigration, claims that the undocumented population has declines 14% over the last two year -- in Arizona even more dramatically by a third. Most immigration study groups generally agree that the undocumented population is stabilizing because of enhanced enforcement and the down-turn in the economy. But there is wide disagreement on how much a decline, why and the make of the decline. CIS claims a "significant number" is due to the undocumented returning home. The Pew Hispanic Center does disagree that some are going back, but attributes most of the decline to new immigrants not coming .There is a suspicion that the differences are ideological. CIS supports the argument that tough enforcement will entice, if not push, the undocumented out of the country. Whereas Pew argues that most undocumented don't have much to go back to in Mexico and will sit out the recession. Not all see the decline of the undocumented population, especially in Arizona where it has been most severe, as a good thing. Even the undocumented are consumers, and the loss of that many consumers in the Phoenix area will impact adversely on business. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama Administration Stonewalls on New Rules at Detention Centers

Immigration advocates had already demonstrated that the treatment of detainees have often not met standards that the U.S. prides itself on affording to criminals in jails and prisons. Legal rights, the separation of parents from children, the detaining of children, the neglect of sick detainees, even the death of detainees have been documented. Tours of facilities have sporadically uncovered enough of these abuses that the federal courts are beginning to take notice. A report by the National Immigration Law Center draws evidence from Homeland Security's own documentation. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Homeland Security has been pressed by immigrant advocates to publish new rules for inspection of detention centers that would correct the abuses. When the Bush and then the Obama administrations failed to move on the issue, a federal judge intervened and ordered Homeland Security to respond. They did, and they refused to publish new rules. This has disappointed immigration advocates who expected better of the Obama administration. Homeland Security seems to be stonewalling. They argue that news rules would be laborious and time-consuming and reform can be done administratively by providing decent and human treatment. But immigrant advocates argue that the system has a culture of abuse that needs to be strictly watched and regulated. Many centers, for example, are run by private contracts. There was a much publicized case in Conneticut, last year, in which a man complaining of a back pains was given a pain killer when his problem was cancer. The scandal was part of the complaint that led to demanding new inspection rules. (See New York Times article.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Obama Administration Moving Ahead on Immigration

While Congress has staled immigration reform until after health care and climate control legislation is finished, the Obama administration has moved ahead in changing policies that have won some praise, however faint, from immigration advocates and lots of damnation from the nativists. The Los Angeles Times attributes this to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security. Her policy changes have been mostly on the cooperation with local police, on the E-verify requirement for governments contractors and upgrading government databases. On all of these there is still plenty of criticism from immigrant advocates. On the positive side,the new restriction on local police has turn Sheriff Joe Arpaio to rethinking his cooperation, and the E-verify requirement has turn enforcement from plant raids to employer accounting. The database upgrade is more frightening, but more from a civil liberties point of view. Also deportations are now expected to stress rounding up criminals -- the so-called "Secure Communities" program. But the New York Times review of it in Houston indicates serious flaws in the Obama approach.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New ICE Regs Rein in Sheriff Joe

The Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff's Office was ordered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release nine undocumented taken into custody in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's high-profile "crime sweeps." Sheriff Joe is perfectly free to conduct his sweeps under Arizona law, but ICE is under no obligation to accept everyone he rounds up. The nine released had no other criminal charges outstanding against them, other than being in the country illegally. Over the two years the sheriff's office has cooperated with ICE, it had handed over 110 undocumented under similar circumstances (119 with attached criminal charges). Now Sheriff Joe is considering not renewing his agreement with ICE which is up for renewal in a few months. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Police Chiefs Push for Comprehensive Immigration Reform -- "soon than later"

About a 100 chiefs of police gather in Phoenix at a "national summit" on local immigration policies. The tone was similar to a letter from chiefs of some of America's largest cities (see blog for July 2, 2009) asking for comprehensive immigration reform. There was a certain urgency to their request -- "soon than later," said Chief Jack Harris of Phoenix. The chiefs support a legalization process, an effective temporary worker program, and enforcement stressing employer sanctions. Officials were present from Homeland Security and the Obama administration, and they welcomed the chiefs support. A study of local police policies by Arizona State University indicated that a fifth of departments had police non-cooperation with immigration enforcement, 28% cooperated to some extent, and 46% had no policy. (See Arizona Republic article.).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pew Hispanic Center Finds Fewer Immigrants from Mexico and Fewer Returning Home

The Pew Hispanic Center released a study on the migrant flow across the U.S.-Mexican border. As expected fewer are coming -- a trend that began in mid-decade. This is generally attributed to the beginning and development of the recession. But this year fewer seem to be going back. The Mexican-born population of the U.S. is estimated at 11.5 million in 2009, only 100,000 less than last year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Deportees Fill up Mexicsn Border Towns

The American tourists are gone from the restaurants and souvenir shops of Mexican border towns -- driven off by recession, drug violence and new passport regulations. Taking their place are deportees left off on the U.S. side and then marched across the border. They are no substitute for the Yankee dollar. They come already impoverished and in need of assistance from the Mexican government.

These are "voluntary deportees. Rather than challenge the deportation order and risk losing any future hope of return to the States, they agree to go quietly. Some are recent border-jumpers -- picked up by the border patrol in the desert, often arriving only with the ragged clothing on their backs, sometimes victims of violence and theft in their journey north. Others arrive well dressed and with a little money that doesn't last long. These latter are those who had been in the country some time -- often decades -- but picked up on the streets of Chicago or Los Angeles. Some come not knowing much Spanish, totally unfamiliar with the country. They were brought to the U.S. as children and have never been in Mexico. Some, usually women, arrive with children who have a right to stay as U.S. citizens.

The hard pressed border towns try to provide some help and the federal government provides some. But most of the caring for the deportees, feeding and sheltering them is left to the churches and caring citizens -- sometimes even former deportees. The Arizona Republic has a touching article on the impact of deportees on Nogales, Mexico.

Some advocates of immigration reform are arguing to separate the "legalization process" from the future "flow of workers". Their reasoning is that, while we can't really deport 12 million, we can reduce the flow of temporary workers till the economy improves. That way we can take away an argument being used effectively by nativists -- "the illegals are taking jobs away from Americans'. Also it would cement the support of the labor unions. Later the country can fashion a workers' program that responds to real needs.

Two prominent immigrant advocates, Carlos G. Castaneda and Tamar Jacoby, argue in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, it won't work. The two elements must hang together, otherwise important Republican and Democratic support will slip away. Sen. John McCain (R. AZ) had warned as much last month.

There are more issues to immigration reform, but a separation of legalization and temp workers will surely kill the bill. The authors do not address, however, the grievance of the labor unions to the abuses of the temp worker program in the Bush administration. Nor do they address the argument that the nativists have been exploiting with the country's rising unemployment. If the two elements are held together, the temp working program has to be reformed as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Legal Mind behind Anti-immigrant Laws

The legal mind thinking up and promoting -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not -- all those nuisance ordinances restricting renting of apartments to the undocumented or imposing sanctions on local businessmen for hiring them or charging them with trespass is Kris W. Kobach. No red-neck nativist, he is a Harvard-Oxford-Yale lawyer. He claims his anti-immigration legal crusade was spurred by his shock to have learned that the 9/11 hijackers had entered the country illegally and were even stopped by police for traffic violations. Many of his legal tricks he learned from MALDEF -- often his opponent. The ACLU warns he's no push-over and a real challenge in court. He is active in many cases -- denying auto licenses or in-state tuition. He was at Hazelton, in Missouri, Texas and Arizona defending employer sanctions. While he claims not to be a nativist, he is closely linked to the leading national anti-immigration group -- Federal for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). For a profile of Kobach is the New York Times.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Drugs Cartels Prey off of Undocumented

The clamp down on the drug cartels' smuggling along the Mexican border has driven smugglers into the same desert corridors that migrants choose to cross illegally into the U.S.. This had created new hardships for the migrants. Moving along the same paths as the "bureros" -- smigglers who carry marijuana or cocaine into the country -- subjects them to the dangers of assault and robbery. The Cartel have begun to tax the coyotes and even engage in human trafficking -- often tied to smuggling drugs. Some analysts see in this one factor in the decline of undocumented crossing of the border, (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fiscal Crisis in State Budget Impearls the Immigrant

States are reeling from deficits in their budgets, which by law must be balanced. Most are loath to raise taxes -- but some are doing so. The chosen way is to cut spending. This is beginning to impact the immigrant -- legal as well as undocumented. Massachusetts is proposing to exclude legal residents from its historic health insurance program -- despite the fact they are usually tax-payers. (See New York Times article.)

In California, land of the referendum, Nativists plan to introduce a measure that would end public benefits to the undocumented, challenge the citizenship of their U.S.born chikdren, cut welfare payments to them and impose new birth-cerificate requirements -- e.g., a note their parents are undocumented. A similar proposition won public support in 1996, but was struck down by the federal courts as against the 14th amendment. The fiscal crisis in California -- with a $26 billion short-fall, a squabbling state legislature, an increasingly unpopular governor, and a real unemployment rate of nearly 25% -- seems to create a favorable atmosphere for another try at passing a punitive anti-immigration measure. However successful itmay be in the voting booth, it still faces a stiff challenge in federal court. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

New York Times Editorial on the 287(g) Program

The New York Times has editorially asked that the 287(g) program that authorizes local police agencies to cooperate with Immigration and Custom Enforcement be jettisoned. Rather Homeland Security has extended the program with promises to supervise the program more closely. The Times observes that the police chiefs of major cities oppose the program and is dubious whether Homeland Security can ride herd on overzealous patriot small town cops. The Arizona Republic agrees and feels the new rules should be called the "Arpaio Rules", since they'll only encourage more of the sheriffs "sweeps."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Immigfration Judges Under Stress

Georgetown University Law Journal puiblished a study of stress on immigration judges. The amount of work falling to them and the lack of support staff has contributed to this situation. Immigrations judges report being depressed and of low morale because of the work load. (see New York Times article.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

The New Undocumented -- The Irish

There have always been undocumented Irish workers. In the 80s and 90s many young Irish came to work temporarily -- legally or illegally -- and always a few remained. The lure of the U.S. job market faded as the Celtic Tiger emerged. Now many Irish returned home as the economy boomed with membership in the European Union. Now the Irish economy has gone bust and the Irish are following familiar paths to New York, Boston and Chicago in search of jobs. (See New York Times article.) This new illegal migration begins with a tourist visa and a warm welcome in generally prosperous Irish neighborhoods. Family ties and ethnic bounds are expected to generate jobs. But in this tight economy these are hard to come by. Still many of the new immigrants find it better than back home.

The new Irish immigrants, unlike the Mexican newcomers who are fleeing grinding poverty, are refugees from a boom. Well educated and use to better, they did well in Ireland. If they were in America previously, it was just for a couple of months to make a little bundle of cash -- and back to steady jobs in Ireland. Now there is little hope there and their intended here stay is indefinite. Still, like the Mexican experience (see Arizona Republic article on the impact of remittances on Mexico), most immigrants have close ties and obligations back home. Community advocates have commented that much of the new migration is of men who have left wives and children to keep heavily mortgaged, unsaleable home occupied.

The experience of the Irish has not been reflected yet with other old immigrant groups. There always has been an undocumented issue among the Poles. Every other new immigrant groups -- Asians, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Haitians -- have their own particular issues. True comprehensive reform must respond to all their needs and concern. So reform must be a coalition

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Push for E-Verify

The Bush administration had proposed a E-Verify requirement of all federal contractor to check immigrant status of workers. The Obama administration suspended it and had Homeland Security investigated it over the last months. Now E-Verify gets a green light and will go ahead as of September. All employers who receive federal contracts will have to submit the names of all employees for verification of status. These names will be matched to Social Security numbers and other documents. If the search indicates a worker is undocumented, he must be fired.

At the same time, Homeland Security dropped its no-match" requirement. If a worker's Social Security number did not match the agency's records -- usually a worker using a false number -- the employer was expected to fire him. But Social Security's records are replete with error. Immigrant advocates and business groups had challenged the program in federal court. Though the system had previously been been voluntary, it will now be mandatory for federal contractors and will include current employees as well as new hires. Some form of E-Verify is expected to be in any comprehensive immigration legislation. (See New York Times article.)

Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY), chair of the Senate immigration committee, promised a bill by Labor Day. The Arizona Republic reports, however, the issue of a guest worker program may foul up the timing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Undocumented and Health Care Reform

The unresolved immigration issue is complicating the move for health care reform. Theoretically, the undocumented ought not to have a right to health insurance, since they have not rights to work in this country But in reality about half are covered through employers. Insurance companies do not ask about status. Still 6.1 million of undocumented are without insurance and the number is growing quickly. That's one in five of the uninsured. Now the undocumented can get emergency treatment, which makes up 1 to 2 % of demand. Only in the borderland Southwest has this become a problem for hospitals. Most observers believe the undocumented do not generally cause an economic problem; rather it's more a political issue. (See National Public Radio report.)

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. This isn't the first time. He was investigated in the '90s for his treatment of inmates of the county jail. Those complaints he had denounced as politically motivated, as he does with this investigation. Now he refuses to co-operate, which includes his staff. The Justice Department will continue to talk to complainants, some of whom are Hispanic who object to his street weeps as racial profiling. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tale of Two Borders

This summer a passport or a passport card is necessary to cross our northern border -- at least coming in from Canada. This is more a reaction to 9/11 than a question for stemming undocumented immigration. The statistics on apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants last year clearly demonstrate this -- 662,000 from Mexico, 610 from Canada. The idea that fences -- virtual or real -- be set up along the 4,000 mile Canada border is easily dismissed as unworkable. But trouble does come across the northern border and that upsets many in the Southwest. The two borders are treated differently. The Arizona Republic reports that the issue is now being raised in the fashioning of new immigration law.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Obama's Alternative to Factory Raids -- A Letter

The Obama administration signaled in April that it would be shifting immigration enforcement from factory raids, which created much havoc for the immigrants' families, to auditing employers and penalizing them with fines and civil sanctions. ICE has begun sending out letters notifying companies of such audits. Immigration advocates welcomed the end to "the showboat enforcement raids", but anti-immigration activists hope the fines are more than a slap on the wrist. The auditing will target companies with large workforces, especially those that "serially" and knowingly employ those unauthorized to work here or that have taken advantage of the undocumented to cheat on wages and labor standards. While the shift is welcomed by immigration advocates, it still presents the undocumented worker with the prospects of job loss and deportation. The New York Times profiles the new policy in the case of Los Angeles' American Apparel which had been a sympathetic employers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Big City Police Chiefs Want to Bring the Undocumented out of the Shadows

Fifty chiefs of large urban police departments that have long experience dealing with immigrant communities asked Congress to support public safety measures to bring the undocumented out of the shadows. Their concern, of course, is for the public safety of citizens. To do that they need the trust of population. As long as workplace raids terrorize immigrant communities, victims of crimes or witnesses to crimes are reluctant to step forward, They also criticized the 287(g) program that gives the police a role in immigration enforcement. The police have neither time nor money for the job, especially with looming budget cuts. It is usually smaller police jurisdictions, new to large populations of immigrants, that are drawn to the program. Anti-immigrant groups, like the Center of Immigration Studies, dismissed the chiefs as "misguided" (See New York Times article.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Arizona Anti-undocumented Trespass Law Defeated

The Arizona House of Representatives failed to pass a law that would criminalize the presence of the undocumented in the state through the trespass laws. The bill also would have allowed police to cooperate with federal agents in enforcing immigration laws and would monitor the presence of undocumented children in the schools. A majority of votes were in favor of the bill, but no enough for passage. Significant absentees killed it. But the fight is not over. The Senate had passed the bill. So the idea is very popular. Now its architects are planning a campaign to place the measure on the ballot. (See Arizona Republic article.)

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is in the midst of an organizing campaign at Bank of America (BoA). Like other organizing campaigns -- e.g., to organize hospitals -- the union features claims as to unfair treatment of poor customers. In this case, former branch employees, some let go because of union activity, described how BoA pressured them into aggressively recruiting new customers in Hispanic neighborhoods and among the newly arrived. And the product lines they were pushing were no simple saving and checking accounts, but confusing high interest accounts. BoA strongly denies the SEIU claims and trumpets products that help the unemployed and working class customers. But California consumer advocates agree with SEIU's claims and have already caught BoA out in unfair practices. (See Los Angeles Times article.) SEIU is taking its complaints to congress.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Arizona Readies a New Batch of Anti-immigration Laws

The Arizona legislature ends its session on Tuesday, June 30, and is expected to send the governor a batch of anti-immigration bills -- e.g., charging the undocumented in the state with trespass, requiring local and state police to enforce federal law and instituting a check on undocumented children in schools. On this latter, the state has to provide education at the primary and secondary levels by the federal courts, but now their presence and progress will be noted by the school districts. Immigration advocates deplore the new assault on the undocumented, arguing it would lead to racial profiling. Even conservative municipal mayors and business leaders argue the new laws are too vague and impose too heavy burdens on local government. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NY Times Upbeat on Immigrtion Reform

The New York Times was upbeat on the recent meeting on immigration reform at the White House. The president expressed a firm desire for action this year and he brought Sen. John Mc Cain back to life on the issue. The paper even saw the caution on the guest worker program by McCain as itself an opportunity for real debate on comprehensive reform. The issue to be resolve now clearly is "future immigration flows". How are they to be managed? (See New York Times editorial.)

Recently, on the border in Arivaca, AZ, a group of maverick Minutemen -- Minutemen American Defense -- invaded a home looking, according to police, for drugs and money. They killed a man and his ten-year old daughter. They had devised a crazy scheme to protect the border by robbing drug dealers and using the money to watch the borders. (See New York Times article.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama Wants Immigration Reform Debated in Congress before the End of the Year

President Barack Obama, meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, asked for action on immigration reform before the end of the year -- at the latest, early next year. He has still set broad goals, but the most controversial is still "the path the citizenship". Rahm Emanuel, his Chief-of-Staff, feels the votes are not there yet. About forty Democrats from conservative districts -- :the blue dogs" -- are at best lukewarm, if not hostile. Republican votes will be needed. So the president announced a White House team, led by Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, to work with Congress.

The president sat next to Sen. John McCain (R, AZ) and praised him for bucking his party on immigration. But the senator raised another divisive issue -- the guest-work program. After a legalization and stronger enforcement that will be written in a bill as a kind of trade-off, there still will be the issue of a continuing demand for foreign workers. Business would be happy to expand the current program. But the unions want to restrict the use of the program in hard times and only allow it under strict restrictions in good times.They would change the program so that the worker would not be tied to one employer, would be allowed to bring his family, and after a time would be able to file for permanent residency. At no times would foreign workers be competitors to Americans. But McCain, after the meeting to reporters, insisted a generous guest-worker program was a deal-breaker. The onus of convincing the unions, he said, was on the president. (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama Meets with Immigration Reform Advocates

President Barack Obama meets today with immigration reform advocates at the White House. The meeting is meant to give some push for legislation urgently demanded by Hispanic leaders. But some of the message is mixed. The Senate immigration subcommittee is wrapping up a bill that includes some features sure to rankle some reformers -- "a national system to verify work documents", with fingerprint of eyescan ID, to upset liberal Democrats; and a lukewarm attitude toward guest workers, a "non-negotiable" demand of business supporters . (See Wahington Post article.)

The White House is expected to stick to its promise of finding the elusive "pathway to citizenship" so it doesn't look like "amnesty". And the president is likely to push a more "compassionate" plan for security on the border and an e-verify upgrade that will capture more employers than desperate workers. Some of these things he's trying administratively already. Nor has he given up hope of recruiting some Republican support of a "bipartisan bill". Now the target is no so much John McCain (R, AZ), whose previous support did not impress his own party, but John Cornyn (R, TX) with a growing Hispanic constituency. Some Republicans do read the election results. Still important Democrats believe there is not likely to be an immigration reform passed this year. In part because of the crowded and already controversial issues before Congress, and in part because there doesn't seem to be the votes. (See comments of Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Luis Gutierrez in Washington Post.)

For the last few years hundreds of high school graduates visited the nation's Capitol for a graduation ceremony. Not uncommon, since thousands of high school seniors parade through the city each spring. This gathering was different -- made up of hundreds of undocumented students just graduated from American high schools. Since they are undocumented, their prospects for higher education and jobs afterwards are limited. The students came to demonstrate the unfairness and waste of talent in current law and to show support for the Dream Act. They held a mock graduation ceremony. (See Wahington Post article.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arizona Proposes "No Trespass" Sign for Undocumented

Once before Arizona tried to combat undocumented immigration by hanging a "no trespass" sign for the undocumented immigrant. But then-Gov. Janel Napolitano vetoed it. The Arizona Senate resurrected the bill, which is now being considered by the state House. The new governor will sign a bill if it comes through. The new proposal would authorize police in the state to inquire about immigration status if they have any suspicion someone is undocumented. Immigration advocates protest this is an invitation to "profiling" all Latinos and to police harassment. In effect, the bill makes every undocumented immigrant in Arizona liable to prosecution for trespass -- "criminalizing" them according to immigration advocates. Whether the law will stand up to court scrutiny is doubtful. But while it wends its way through the courts, Latinos in Arizona will be subject to endless Sheriff Joe's "sweeps". (See Arizona Republic article.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Immigration Advocates To Meet with Obama as Reform Seems to Recede

At Friday's Hispanic prayer breakfast President Barack Obama re-pledged himself to comprehensive immigration reform that provides "a pathway to citizenship" for the 12 million undocumented in the country. He also said he would meet with congressional leaders and immigration advocates at the White House next Thursday, but hope for action seems to be receding. The president's plate is already full with health care reform and climate control legislation tying up Congress through the summer, not to mention Guantanamo and the Middle East. The Los Angeles Times reports that nothing may be done till after the 2010 elections. Even now, notwithstanding the majorities of Democrats in both houses, there seems to be little appetite to move quickly. The Senate leadership on the issue is absent -- Sen. Edward Kennedy because of health and Sen. John McCain who is AWOL. In the House the weak link are the "blue dog" Democrats -- about 40 members from conservative districts who were either silent on, or hostile to, legalization. But advocates of reform are not without powerful support. The Democrats still strongly favor comprehensive reform and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants action this year. If the issue hangs on into next year, the legislators will then become reluctant to face the electorate having favored "a path to citizenship" -- especially for the "blue dogs". That could be obviated by taking a harder line on border security and workplace enforcement -- no one welcomes that direction. Still there is no prospect that things will be better after 2010, since traditionally the party in power suffers in off-year elections. A delay might give Obama an opportunity to solidify his gains among Hispanic voters and his chances for reelection in states like Florida, Colorado and New Mexico -- perhaps even in GOP bastions like Texas and Arizona -- by thumping the issue. But the fate of 12 million undocumented should not be held in the balance for electoral politics.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama Dragging His Feet On Immigration

President Barack Obama has twice canceled meetings with congressional leaders and immigration advocates on immigration reform. At the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast he renewed his commitment to seek comprehensive immigration reform, but in rather general terms.(See Associated Press article.) He also promised to sit down for a Whitre House conference on reform this Thursday-- including even opponents to his views. The New York Times editorially chides the president for his "inaction" and complained he's taking too long. The paper also thinks congress, especially the House, should get cracking and calls for Sen John McCain to step forward to extract the GOP from the grasp of the nativists. Still it urges the president and Home Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to move now to curb the "corrupt policing" of immigration as represent by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Two youths -- the case of a third is still pending -- tried in the beating death of a an undocumented immigrant during a drunken brawl were left off with simple assault rather than more serious charges like third-degree murder. They will spend six-months behind bars. (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Report Finds Immigration Courts Overwhelmed

Three years ago the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a private service to lawyers on court records, warned that the immigration courts were seriously overburdened. Congress responded by increasing the number of judges by 40, but the Bush administration only added four. There are now 234 judges. A new report by TRAC finds the situation even worse today. In 2008 the courts heard 351,477 cases, with almost half still pending at the end of the year. It also found that the judges had to make do with little staff assistance -- one lawyer clerk to three judges. This overcrowding leads to delays for those challenging deportation or seeking asylum. Often the immigrants are held in detention. (See New York Times article.)

One reason for ineffective action against drug smuggling has been a turf war between the Drug Enforcement Agency and Homeland Security. Now the Obama administration is extending enforcement powers over drug smuggling to ICE. (See New Yoek Times article.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Immigration Scam: Storefront Churches

New York State has aggressively gone after immigration scams and has come up with a source of deceit -- the storefront church. The reverends, usually self-ordained and leading minuscule congregations, offer their services to obtain green cards for congregants -- of course, with cash in the amount of $6,000 to $10,000 to cover costs. The immigrants usually see neither a green card nor their cash back. Since they're here illegally, they have been too afraid to go to authorities. The scam artists even threatens to turn them in if they complain. The New York Times tells of a case in Queens, NY, and how the state is responding. The victims were too believe the word-of-mouth news of a quick fix to their immigration woes and never thought a man of the cloth would lie and cheat them.

A suit has been entered in federal court to stop deportations of the plaintiffs' parents until there is comprehensive immigration reform. The kids argue that, if the parents are deported, they twould have to go with them. As U.S. citizens, that's depriving them of their constitutional rights. (See Washington Post article.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Hitch in Immigration Reform -- Worker ID Cards

An old idea has perked up its head again in the immigration reform debate -- universal worker ID cards. By "universal" is meant that all workers -- native and immigrant that are in the job market -- will have to carry them. Since the idea smacks of an internal passport -- and the idea was first floated when Americans roundly condemned the "pass-books" black had to carry in apartheid South Africa -- it was very unpopular and easily dismissed. But since 9/11 Americans have accepted many requirements to show identity -- at airports, at the Canadian border -- unheard of in quieter times.

This is the idea of Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY), chair of the Senate immigration subcommittee and expected to be principal author of new immigration legislation. The card would afford, so the theory goes, a surer way for employers to check on the status of their workers. To avoid discrimination it would be universal. It would also give the government a better fix on who is cheating. So far most employers don't like. They argue it would be cumbersome and costly. Civil libertarians argue it could lead to "big brother" intrusiveness, and labor unions fear it as a vindictive tool that can be exploited by unfriendly employers. Immigration activists have been divided on ID card before and are likely to be divided again. (See LA Times article.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jobs and Immigration Reform

With the jobless rate at a 25 years high, the debate on immigration reform will turn much on the issue of jobs. Do the undocumented take jobs away from American workers? Especially in these hard times? Immigration advocates argue "not really" because the undocumented and American workers are not competing for the same jobs. There has been not stampede in these hard times of out-of-work Americans to chicken plucking jobs or busing tables. Perhaps on construction sites. Still opponents of reform use the stark total -- over 9% official unemployment -- to shore up an exclusionary argument. But the job market is more nuanced than aggregate numbers. There some jobs that are unattractive to even the jobless. A more credible argument the opponent of reform use is that the very presence of the undocumented in the workforce brings down all workers wages. But advocates argue more persuasively that going after greedy employers looking for cheap labor or bring the undocumented out of shadows to demand fair treatment would be more effective and lasting. Still there is conflicting evidence on the impact of the undocumented on employment. (See Chicago Tribune article.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Arizona Proposal to Criminalize the Undocumented

Republicans in the Arizona Senate have resurrected a proposal to make undocumented aliens in the state liable to arrest for "trespass". There would be criminal penalties attached. Also the proposal would prohibit any interference with the transfer of immigration information from local jurisdictions to federal. Finally, it would allow citizens to sue local jurisdictions for not cooperating in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. A similar bill had previously been vetoed by Janet Napolitano as governor. The proposal was also opposed by many local enforcement agencies because it would take away from real law enforcement. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Sees Comprehensive Immigration Reform "This Year"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, Nev) has promised comprehensive immigration reform will pass the Senate this year. Since he and Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY), chair of the Senate immigration sub-committee, are strong advocates of legalization and family reunification, it is expected the bill coming onto the Senate floor will be very favorable to undocumented immigrants. Action in the House will only follow a Senate vote. Whether Sen. Reid is being overly optimistic is a legitimate question. The legislative calendar is already crowded. Priority goes to health care and climate control. In addition there are the nomination of a supreme court justice, appropriation bills, a massive transportation bill, closing Quantanamo and other security issues. But Reid insists that immigration comes right after health care and energy. President Barack Obama meets with congressional leaders and advocacy groups June 17th. Whether this is merely a gesture to quiet immigration reformists or a real step toward action remains to be seen. (See Washington Post article.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Immigrants Restore Right to Appeal becuse of Ineffective Representation

One of the last hour executive orders sign by President George Bush was to deny the constitutional right of immigrants facing deportation to appeal because of bad legal representation. The immigration courts, which are administrative and under the US Justice Department's management, had allowed such appeals. Immigrants also have the right to appeal to federal courts. The Justice Department rescinded the order, returning practice to the previous status, and initiated a review of the issue. In federal courts, however, immigrants will not enjoy a right to appeal because of poor representation. The argument often delays deportation, even if it does not eventually succeed. (See New York Times article.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

ID Cases against Undocumented Tax-payers Appealed

The prosecutor of Weld County, Colorado, had pursued undocumented immigrants in Greeley by checking through income-tax preparation papers for identity theft. At least seventy have been charged and about 1,400 could face the same fate. Two state judges rejected the prosecutor's argument because federal taxes are a matter for the fed. But he insists the evidence came from tax preparers, not IRS records. So he is appealing. (See Washington Post article.)

Monies sent back home by Mexican immigrants have dropped sharply in April compared to the same month a year ago -- by 18%. For the first months of 200o they have drop 8%. No mystery why this is. Mexicans, immigrants and non-immigrants, are hurting because of the recession. The rate of remittance is also used by experts, friendly and hostile, to estimate the level of undocumented migration into the U.S. (See Washington Post article.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2010 Census: New Battle Ground on Immigration

The census has caused some fear among undocumented immigrants in he past. They ask: How's the information to be used? There have been urban legends circulating in the last few counts of la migra following the census takers to the front door. Yet the Latino community has been served well by including the undocumented in the count. The census is used first for apportionment of electoral votes, congressional seats and state or local distracting. The count has led to greater Latino representation in congress, state legislatures and city councils, and the electoral votes of some heavily Hispanic populated states contributed significantly to the victory of President Barack Obama. Since the 2000 census, for example, California gained an additional three congressional seats, reputedly because of the "inflated" Latino count; some other states lost seats. Another important aspect of the census is that federal and state money are distributed according to its figures -- that's money for school, mass transit, health and welfare, and the like. As a consequence civil groups in Latino communities have supported the census in the past, even for the undocumented, and this year are gearing up for a push similar to last year for voter registration. A good count means representation and need funds.

Churches have been part of the coalition urging participation in the census by the undocumented. But this year the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, a grouping of conservative evangelical and pentecostal ministers, is urging at least a million undocumented not to participate as to send the country a message -- that they are being treated unfairly with the delay of comprehensive immigration reform. This idea strikes more established Latino organizations as self-defeating. To many it like "stamping your foot" because your mad or shouting to the wind "I'm not going to take it anymore." It might make one feel good for the moment, but the consequence will show up later when the voice of the community is weakened in the halls of power or when the federal dollar does not come for early child education or a local development project.

Some look on the motives of the ministers as more sinister. The group is politically conservative and like many Evangelicals supported Bush and McCain in presidential elections. Some suspect their intent is to join with nativist to shore up the GOP. But it is gratuitous to question their sincereity. Nativists agree with them on principle that the undocumented should not be counted becuase they don't belong here. They tried in the past to exclude the undocumented, but were rejected by the Supreme Court. The constitution provides that everyone is to be counted and the result reported to the Congress. So far there has been little support for a boycott, since Latinos are beginning to appreciate their political clout and want to build on it for the benefit of the community. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Chubbing" to Death Voter ID

A spate over voter fraud between Democrats and Republicans before and after last year's election led to numerous state legislative proposals to require identification at the polls -- even at times photo ID. Those proposals, usually advanced by Republicans, are still kicking around state legislatures. Democrats, since they did pretty well last year, have been able to prevent voter id proposals to get very far. The Oklahoma legislature, controlled by the GOP, sent a bill to the governor, but the Democrat governor vetoed it. In Texas, where Republicans alsorule but noe with a governor, the Democrats reverted to an old state tradition -- "chubbing". This is merely talking something to death. The way the tactic works is to prolong debate on minor bills so that the body -- this time the House -- cannot get to serious debate and vote on crucial issues. The Texas Legislature meets for only 140 days and the delaying tactic has pushed the House up to adjournment. Important issues suc as home insurance for the hurricane prone Gulf coast and child health insurance might have to be put off. The Democrats hope this will result in the withdrawl of the voter ID measure. (See New York Times article.)

While the issue has many political overtones, it's not just politics as usual. True, the Democrats are protecting their voter base -- minorities, immigrants and the poor -- and Republicans are shocked by political shenanigans of their opponents. But those most likely not to have proper ID, especially photo ID, are minorities, the poor and the elderly. To get the type of ID the legislatures are asking -- driver's licenses or special photo ID voter cards -- are usually too bureaucratically burdensome for them. You don't have to go back to the disputed Florida elections of 2000, there were plenty of people turned back from the polls in 2008. There were few provable episodes of fraud, and mostly bureaucratic foul-ups. The question is more the rights of poor people.

The New York Times tells the story of the overdose death of a young Ohio man that traces all the ways back to Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. The drug cartels may be shooting each other up in Mexico, but in Ohio it's business as usual. And business is good. In the process the cartels are recruiting out-of-work undocumented immigrants and even sending naive camposinos to the country via coyotes. Two such were charge with manslaughter and sentenced by Ohio courts in the killing of a Columbus man to whom they sold heroin. After sentancing, the man's mother recognized that all were victims of the cartel -- the man who overdosed, the grieving mother and the two undocumented immigrants.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Survival Tool for Immigrants in a Recession -- La Cudina

Poverty and hard times have always been a fertile time for innovation among immigrants, especially during hard times. The burial and benevolences of the 19th century occasionally evolved into banks, credit unions and insurance companies in the 29th century. The poor are not totally helpless in providing for their needs, as the success of mini-credit groups like the Grameen Bank attest. Mexicans have long had their own vehicle of self-help -- in good times perhaps to open a small business and in hard merely to survive and pay pressing bills. The idea behind the "cudina" is to help oneanther by pooling a small amount of money -- usually on average about $1,000 --
amon a few friends and family as a rotating credit. Each member pays in a small amount, takes a sum out -- often by turns -- to meet a pressing need and pays back when he/she can. It's founded on trust and so restricted to family and close friends. Often it's a family secret. Cudinas are not without dangers -- for example, members pulling out, not keeping up with contributions or repayments, or simply fraud. However small the amounts are in terms of the larger economy, they are big to the participants and work for them. Cudinas are widespread in Mexico and came into the US in the Southwest. Not everyone trusts them and many think they are risky. Stll, as the recession brings on more unemployment or reduced income, Mexican immigrants are turning to them around the country. (See Arizona Republic article.)