Saturday, January 31, 2009

E-Verify in House Stimulus Bill

The economic stimulus bill that passed the House last week contained an amendment to require businesses that receive any funds from it to use the Social Security Administration's E-Verify system to confirm the identity of workers. If there is a "no match", the employer must dismiss the worker. The Bush administration had required by executive order that all federal contractors be required to use E-Verify. But because of the complaints from labor and immigrant advocacy groups that the system is founded on a faulty database, the Obama administration has postponed the date to begin till the issues are studied. As for the stimulus package, two Republican senators will introduce amendments into the Senate version during next week's debate. Critics like the Chamber of Commerce object that, not only is the system open to error, but also is so burdensome that it will slow down getting the money quickly into the economy. (See LA Times article.)

Most New York Democrats were stunned by Gov. David Paterson's selection of Kristin Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator. As a congresswoman she was no friend of gun control or immigration reform. She hardly paid attention to the needs of metropolitan New York City. So Democratic challengers were beginning to line up for next year's primary. The new senator, aware of being outof step with her Democratic colleagues, began to tour the state to get to know its diversity and problems. In two years she have to face an electorate that's not just disillunioned and unrepentent Republicans. She seemed to have been unaware that over 30% of NYC is foreign-born or that people there are nervous about guns. Maybe up-state guns are used to shoot deer, in the Bronx they're used to shoot people. The New York Times editorially suggests that Sen. Gillibrand begin reconiling to all New Yorkers by changing her attitudes on immigration. The paper characterizes he record in the House as "exclusionist Republican".

Friday, January 30, 2009

Expansion of E-Verify Halted for Review

The Bush administration planned to require government contractors who do more than $100,000 of business to verify all new hires through the E-Verify system of the Social Security Administration. Critics have claimed that the system is notoriously unreliable. It's as likely to hurt legal workers as the undocumented. The Obama administration is putting a hold on requiring it till it can be further studied. Homeland Secretary Janet Nepolitano has faith its problem can be resolved, but immigrant advocates would prefer the issue be part of a comprehensive immigration reform. (See Washington Post article.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Remittances Drop Worldwide

For the first since records were kept, remittances from immigrants in the U.S. had dropped -- 3.6% -- to families back home in Mexico. This is not unique. Remittances are dropping around the world -- in Eastern Europe as much as 40%. The significance of the decline is not so much as an indicator of reduce migration or of the impact of the recession on migrants. Poorer, developing countries had come to depend on the growth of remittances for economic development, rivaling foreign investment. They have been an effective poverty-reduction tool. Remittances have allowed for the education of children, building homes, purchasing another field, municipal improvements. As the global recession stems economic growth, remittances are turned more to survival than to development. (See LA Times article.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Immigrant Dies in Detention

A man held as an undocumented alien in a Virgina jail died recently. This particular jail had previously been cited and investigated for providing poor and inadequate health care to detainees. The final report of the investigation states "Detainee health care is in jeopardy". Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) never released the report. Now a second death under similar neglect has occurred. (See New York Times article.) Another aspect to the case is tragic. The man was brought to the U.S. as a young child and grew up in the here.

The newly appointed replacement to Hillary Clinton's vacant senate seat has a record 180 degrees opposite the Secretary of State. Kristin Gillibrand as a congresswoman generally opposed what she called "amnesty", favored closer cooperation between local police and ICE, opposed granting driver's licenses to the undocumented, and favored English as the official language of the U.S. To add insult to injury, she co-sponsored the SAVE act which would have provided for speed-up deportations. Hispanic political leaders and many fellow Democrats wondered what the governor was thinking in appointing one so out of step with them on immigration -- as well as on gun-control and the economic stimulus. For a state that is 21% foreign-born -- 36% in the NYC metropolitan area -- it was cultural shock. Already many are plotting primary challenges in two years. Sen. Gillibrand recognizes she has a problem and has been "reaching out" to city political leaders. But she hasn't budged on "amnesty". Immigration advocates will be pressing her hard to change her views. (See New York Times article.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

U-Visas: Underused Relief for Immigrants

Eight years ago Congress created the u-visa both to give relief to the undocumented who were victims of a crime and to fight crime. Only last summer the first such visa was granted and as few as 65 to date. Those who have applied and are waiting are grant temporary or interim relief, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work. Not every victim of a crime qualifies. The undocumented must cooperate in the prosecution of the perpetrator and usually testify at trial. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services attributed the slow up to the complexity of cases. Immigrant lawyers and advocates feel USCIS, not your model bureaucracy, is simply "dragging its feet." There are 13,300 immigrants waiting for a u-visa and Congress had authorized 10,000 a year. (See LA Times article.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nashville Votes Down English Only

The voters of Nashville, TN, rejected a proposal requiring all city documents and business, save for a few safety and health matters, to be conducted in English. (See posting for Jan.11, 2009.) English is the official language for Tennessee, but official materials can be published in a number of languages other than English in the city. (See New York Times article.)

More than just the Rio Grande divides El Paso from neighbor Juarez, Mexico. The level of violence does most dramatically. Juarez with 1.5 million inhabitants reported more than 1,500 murders last year, while EL Paso, admittedly half the size at 600,000, reported only 16. That made the city the third safest in United States. Obviously Juarez carries the burden of a nasty drug war, that has led to slaughter of young men brought into fight for cartels mixing it up over turf. The killing has spilled over to the civilian population, including U.S. citizens either working in Juarez or visiting. With the violence tourism and commercial business has drastically declined between the two cities.(See New York Times article.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Last Minute Spending on the Fence

The Bush administration is engaged in setting regulations and starting new programs that do not exactly please the incoming Obama administration. Much of "11th hour" measures will probably be undone in a few months. One such action is a resolution of a dispute between the Department of Homeland Security and the Interior Department over environmental damage over building "the fence". Much of the land is under the jurisdiction of Interior and impacts on rare and endangered species of animals. At times Interior had stop the progress of the fence temporarily and has been in negotiations with DHS. Now Michael Chertoff, the outgoing Secretary of DHS, announced an agreement with Interior and a commitment of dedicating $50 million for environmental fix up. For environmentalists it's "too little, too late." In her senate hearings Gov. Janet Nepolitano expressed no view on the issue, but is known to be doubtful about the need of a fence. (See NY Times article.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Government Report Condemns Medical Care of Detained Immigrant

A report by officials of Immigration and Custom Enforcement condemned the treatment of a Chinese engineer being held at Wyatt Detention Center in R.I. The man had cancer and found it difficult to walk. When he asked for a wheelchair, he was denied and yet nonetheless forced to travel to Hartford, CT, for examination. The man died while in custody. (See posting for July 3 and August 13, 2008.) The report is so damning that the man's attorney is asking the Boston federal attorney to bring criminal charges. Some employees had been fired, but there seems to have been a cover-up as well. The treatment of the immigrant by guards and medical staff had been captured on surveillance cameras. (See NY Times article.)


Gov. Nancy Napolitano, president-elect Obama's nominee for Homeland Security, had an easy time with her confirmation hearings and is expected to be approved next week. She was questioned a bit about immigration and seemed to favor tougher treatment of employers and a little bit of fence. Critics note that she signed a tough employers' sanction bill as governor, but was somewhat lax in enforcement. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hispanics and the New Administration

The Pew Hispanic Center released a post-election poll on the expectations of Hispanics of the new administration of Barack Obama. It revealed that the economy had replace immigration as their first pre-occupation. In fact, immigration had also been been passed by education, health care, national security, beating out energy policy. But an integral perspective would see the issues interlinking and united around the working and lower middle class status of most Hispanics. Had the survey included workers' rights -- wages and work condition -- that too may have eclipsed immigration. Despite their concerns Hispanics look more optimistically to the new administration then most Americans.

The survey also indicated that a higher percentage of Hispanics went to the polls in November. The get-out-the-vote campaign seems to have worked. There were significantly higher averages of first-time and young (18-24) voters among Hispanics.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sheriff Joe At It Again

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ) is back out "sweeping the streets" clean of crime by undocumented immigrants. Newly reelected, his first action was in the rough southwest section of the county, which America's "toughest sheriff" describes a hotbed of immigration smuggling and crime. His latest sweep rounded up 14 suspected undocumented immigrants. Critics describe his sweeps as publicity stunts and fault the sheriff for neglecting real efforts at fighting crime. (See Arizona Republic article.)


Hard times are supposedly encourage immigrants, especially the poor and undocumented, to return home. There is evidence that the flow of migrants has stemmed but not stopped. More likely the immigrant is suffering through hard times like others and perhaps working for less and sending less money back home. This is the gist of a study released by the Migration Policy Institute. Legal immigrant, having waited so long to get visas, are not likely to pass up the chance to come to the United States. Besides they have relatives here to help them. Undocumented immigration may slow, but the recession is global. The US may still offer the best bargain. The danger for newcomers and those already here is that they may settle for lower wages and poorer work conditions -- perhaps even undercutting other workers. This underscores the appointment of Rep. Hilda Solis as new secretary of Labor. Securing workers' rights may be as important now as comprehensive immigration reform. (See Washington Post article.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Health Insurance for Children Extended to Immigrants

The State Children Health Insurance Programs, popularly known as SCHIPs, ends March 31st. Last year the House and Senate had sent two bills to President George W. Bush, renewing the program. He vetoed them, arguing that the program should not be extended to middle class children so long as it has not reached all the poor children for which the program was originally intended. A legitimate argument, but in the politics of health care is was a smoke-screen for less coverage even to the poor. The high-income states had asked for the extension because many middle class families were losing their health insurance.

The Obama administration is expected to sign bills similar to last years, but the issue now has become extending coverage to legal immigrant children. Most social services like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is denied by law to immigrants for the first five years. That includes eligibility for immigrant children in SCIPs. The new law would continue to deny coverage to undocumented immigrant children, though some states can and do use other funds. But Republicans are expected to argue that the undocumented would sneak in. This is not a quibble -- 400,000 to 600,000 children will be affected. The bill should sail through the House, but might have a more difficult time in Senate. (See New York Times article.)


The New York Times argues editorially that president-elect Barack Obama should not put comprehensive immigration reform on the "back burner" till he deals with the economy. The Times notes that suffering of immigrant families continues and ought to be immediately addressed, but reform can also help the economy by turning our resource to where they are needed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Immigration Prosecutions Clog Federal Courts

The number of immigration prosecutions -- both felony and misdemeanor -- has jumped 40% since 2000, clogging the federal courts in the southwestern borderland to the extent that prosecution for other crimes -- white-collar to drug and gun smuggling -- has dropped drastically. It's all part of the war on terrorism! But the sentences are only for a few months and done en mass -- up to 200 a secession. The practice of voluntary departure has given way to plea-bargaining. Meanwhile gun-smuggling from the US across the border has grown precipitously to fuel the drug-wars in Northern Mexico.. (See New York Times article.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

English Only in Nashville, TN

The "English Only" movement expects a shot-in-the-arm from a special election in Nashville, TN, to require the city to publish all announcements and documents in English only. There are a few exceptions for health and safety. Most "English-only" cities are relatively small. If the measure is voted in, Nashville will be the largest jurisdiction with such a law. The natural alliance in opposition -- civil libertarians, immigration advocate, academia and the churches -- are joined by the local Chamber of Commerce. Such an ordinance would complicate business as usual, but also be a disincentive to new businesses moving to Nashville. There also is the tradition of tolerance and liberality that gives Nashville the title of "Athens of the South." Proponents argue that the annual cost of making official documents and announce available in other languages amounts to over a $100,000. Yet the special election will cost three times that. Also the argument that by some mysterious way liberality on the language issue is costing real Americans their jobs in a tight economy only goes to show that nativist sentiment and solutions have historically accompanied hard times in this county. (See NY Times article.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Bush Justice Department and the Immigrant

In the last days of the Bush administration the Justice Department has released two decrees that infringe on the rights of immigrants. Attorney General Michael B.Mukasey ruled that immigrants who received a deportation judgment from an immigration court -- which are administrative law courts under Justice -- have no right to appeal because of errors or incompetent representation by their lawyers. The rule was rushed through before Barack Obama's inauguration, apparently because his Justice Department would be more inclined to allow appeals. (See NY Times article.)

The other action by Justice was to allow collecting DNA samples from immigrants. These, along with other categories expanded by the department, would go into a national database and be "used to fight crime." Immigration advocates and civil libertarians will challenge the Justice Department's action in federal court as an invasion of privacy. (See LA Times article.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

In-State Tuition Challenged Before California Court

An immigration issue around the country has been allowing undocumented students that have graduated from state high schools -- U.S. law requires states to educate the undocumented -- to enroll in state university and colleges paying the in-state rate. This is substantially cheaper than what is required of out-of-state students. The rationale is that the skills and talents of students educated by the state should not be squandered, but encouraged. The argument against is simply it's not fair to real American students. Forget that many of the students were brought here as children and that they are not eligible for student aid or loans from the federal government. Now the constitutionality of the state law is being challenged in the California State Supreme Court. A decision would impact thousands of students, perhaps making a college education unaffordable for them. The issue is controverted in many other states, so that an adverse decision could be a fatal blow to providing the benefit. (See LA Times article.)

Good-bye Smugglers Gulch

The historic Smuggler's Gulch lies just east of the Pacific Ocean between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California. Padre Junipero Serra is believed to have passed through it on his way to the San Diego Mission. But as its name suggests, the gulch has been made famous for other reasons -- usually to avoid Mexican or U.S. customs. First it was used to move cattle illegally across the border, then booze and cigars. By the 1980s it was undocumented migrants. The gulch also gained a reputation for preying on the migrants -- robbing , raping or murdering them or more benignly asking a toll for passage. Plans have long been readied to fill the gulch, but conservationists and environmentalists has held up work by court order. Now those restraints have been lifted and work has begun. By May there will be no more Smuggler's Gulch, only a double fence. (See LA Times article.)

New Secretary of Labor

The choice of the new Secretary of Labor has pleased the New York Times . In an editorial it praised her long record as an advocate for the immigrants -- her parents being immigrants. But it noted also her strong support of workers' rights. The Times sees this as important for immigration reform. A path to citizenship is not the only immigration issue. There also is the issue of exploiting a fearful immigrant workforce by unscrupulous employers. The Kosher meatpacking firm in Postville, Ia, is now in trouble more because of its unfair and exploitative practices towards workers than for its immigration violations.