Monday, March 30, 2009

Weak Links in the War on the Drug Cartels

The U. S. press has clearly identified why the war on the drug cartels will not be easy. The weak links are the Mexicans -- the corrupt police and army, customs and the judiciary, the politicians on the take, the prison recruiting grounds for cartel foot soldiers, and the like. Now it directs a little attention to the weak links on the U.S. side of the border -- the gun smugglers and dealers, corrupt border patrol agents and local police, drug users and the like. A few are beginning to ask whether the new Obama administration has a correct strategy. Critics claim it's a make-over of the Columbia strategy and does not sufficiently address the Mexican reality. Others question President Felipe Calderon's whole approach to the war as deflecting from the poor economy. Some see the cartels caught in its death throes in the level of violence. Many think there is not solution. What is clear the migrants crossing the border are being caught in the fighting and are likely to be dragged deeper. (See New Times article.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shift on Raids May Be Coming

Homeland Security Secretary Janel Napolitano has order a review of ICE's factories raids. Her own preference on enforcement is to concentrate on criminal elements -- drug smugglers and employers that exploit the system. Next week she is to release a set of protocols that may shift ICE away from mass arrests on factory raids. Last week the Obama administration release plans to cooperate more aggressively with Mexico to stop the drug violence on the border. A shift may be part of that new initiative. As a spokesman for the immigrant-friendly National Immigration Forum put it, now ICE will "prioritize drug smuggler, not window washers." (See Washington Post article.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Obama's New Border Initiatives

The New York Times editorially praised the "sensible steps" taken by the Obama administration last week to assist Mexico with its drug wars on the border. The paper was pleased that the administration clearly rejected the nativist tarring economic migrants with the same brush as criminal violators of the border. But it warned that comprehensive immigration reform must be part of the ultimate solution to our troubled borders.


The New York Times series, "remade in America", takes up the pressures of immigration growth on public health. It studied the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis which has been impacted with ther growth of Hispanic migrants and Asian and African refugees. They come often will ailments not usually seen in the U.S. and quickly pick bad American eating habits that leads to diseases new to them -- obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The most obvious issue is the need for translators, but some are not so obvious. Immigrants often don't follow the doctor's advise, Muslim women refuse to be treated by male doctors, the undocumented get no government help, and costs rise so quickly nativists scream the immigrants are bankrupting the health system.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Strategy for Immigration Reform

While details of new initiatives for comprehensive reform has not yet come up in Congress, immigration-reform advocates have nonetheless been active behind the scenes. Some, like the National Immigration Forum, have been talking with labor unions which were lukewarm at best for the Kennedy-McCain Bill because of the provisions to admit temporary workers. Now that the political landscape has changed and the deepening recession threatens jobs, the Los Angeles Times reports, immigrant advocates seem ready to split the temporary worker provisions from the reform package to gain stronger labor support for legalization and family unification. Congress may take up reform in late spring or the summer, though some think is won't come up this year.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken pains to assure Mexico the U.S. does not consider it a "failed state" or without control of all its territory. Such soothing talk didn't work, because rumor out of Washington is that President Barack Obama seems to favor Carlos Pascual of the Brookings Institute to be new ambassador to Mexico. His speciality when previously in the State Department was in -- you guess it -- "failed states". (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Recession and the Immigrant

Evidence has already accumulated that most undocumented immigrants intend to ride out the recession here. Some labor economists think they might do better than native workers. For the most part low-income workers, they are more mobile, skilled than the native low-income workers because of their backgrounds. So few economists anticipate -- at least in the short run -- competition for jobs among low income workers. But the Center for Immigration Studies, never friendly to any sort of immigrant, feels the continued presence of the undocumented in the workforce will depress wages. More friendly observers will put responsibility for the depression of wages, as well as neglect of wage,health and safety, and labor laws, on the employers taking advantage of workers in hard times. The New York Times published in its "Room for Debate" series a discussion on the issue of the recession's impact on low income workers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tensions on the Rise Between U.S. and Mexico

The Obama administration, during its first months in office, was preoccupied by the financial meltdown and recession and by wars in the Middle East and South Asia. As a consequence, festering problems along the U.S.-Mexico grew, yet recently burst with news of a spill-over of the drugs cartel wars to Phoenix and Houston and a string of complaints from Mexico City. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now in Mexico, the first of a parade of cabinet members (the attorney general and Homeland secretary) that will end in mid-April with President Barack Obama. The flurry of activity from Washington has not just been to assuage hurt feelings south of the border, but also reflects concern for the danger of the drug wars spreading to American cities. Just Tuesday the administration announced stepped-up assistance to Mexico, and Obama himself has hinted at sending troops to the border.

Mexico's grievances are real.The drug demand that nurtures an illegal drug industry is in the U.S.; the armaments that the drug cartels uses to outgun Mexican troops and police come from the U.S. The economic promise that was suppose to come from the North American Trade Agreement has not been totally realized, and the U.S. has recently welshed on the agreement by denying some Mexican trucks access to the Interstate. Mexico is staggering from the recession. U.S. assembly plants are laying off, remittances back home from immigrants are drying up, and even some workers are returning home. And the ancient grievance -- that the U.S. doesn't take Mexico seriously except to take advantage -- has been revived by comments out of the Obama administration. defense planners believe Mexico to be a security threat to country second only to Pakistan; officials warn that is not safe for college students to take their semester break in Mexico; unnamed officials refer to Mexico as "a failed state" and infer that it is not in control of parts of the country. President Felipe Calderon hit the ceiling with the last remark and complained of "a campaign against Mexico". So the Obama administration has much fence mending to do on the border. Maybe it can stop building new fences.(See articles in New York Times and Washington Post.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A New Look at NAFTA

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week and President Barack Obama is soon to follow. Stories have been filling the press and airwaves about the violence on the U.S.-Mexican border. The administration has announced a stepped up campaign with Mexico to stem the violence in Juarez and Tijuana. (See New York Times article.) But there are other issues between the two countries just as demanding of attention. While the flow of immigrants has declined a bit, they still are comin and in circumstance more difficult and dangerous. And still there are 12 million undocumented in the U.S.

The New York Times reviewed the progress of the Free Trade Trade Agreement after fifteen years. Nafta was promoted in Mexico as a liberalization of the economy that would greatly increase exports and create a large middle class in the country. The first response, however, was the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. For the U.S. there was promise the new trade order would cut of the steady undocumented flow of people. But opening the border to the free flow of food forced small Mexican farmers to cease production and head north looking for jobs. Nafta disrupted Mexico's economic balance and didn't particularly help the U.S. bleeding manufacturing jobs. While new plants grew around Mexican cities, the new jobs were mostly low-paying assembly ones. Eventually many ofthese then moved to China. The auto industry flourished, but with auto parts manufactured elsewhere. With the recession, auto sales have dropped in the States and employment has followed in Mexico. Secretary Clinton and President Calderon will also be talking about Nafta.

Many immigrant advocacy groups are coming to wonder whether President Barack Obama has the backbone to lead a fierce fight for comprehensive immigration reform. As the New York Times indicated editorially, the president had back down from appointing attorney Thomas Saenz of Los Angeles as head of the Justice Departments civil rights division. As a lawyer for Mexican-American Legal Defence and Education Fund, he had effectively defended the rights of undocumented immigrants. Obama had offered to appoint him to the civil rights division and a fire storm from the nativists seemingly forced him to turn to some else. That candidate is worthy in his own right, but one wonders about the commitment of the president.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mexican Drug Cartels Expand into Human Trafficking

Federal and state officials are alarmed not only by the drug wars on the Mexican side of the border, but also its spill over into the U.S. Most U.S. border cities have not seen anything like the level of the violence in their neighbors across the border . But southern Arizona is the exception. Drug-related violence is beginning to plague Tucson and Phoenix. (See New York Times article.) And the violence is not staying on the border but drifting northward as far as Boston and Canada.

Another trend disturbing to law enforcement officials is the expansion of the cartels into human smuggling. In the past they might have demanded tribute from independent coyotes for passing across their drug-smuggling turf. Now that the crack down at the border has made passage for both drugs and people difficut, and so the cartels are looking for new sources of income and are crowding out "your friendly local coyote". The shift has been very bad for the immigrant. Now journeying northward he/she may have to back-pack marijuana. Rival gangs may hijack shipments of "chickens", as they call immigrants. Fees are exorbitant and in "safe houses" in Tucson or Phoenix the immigrant will be held hostage, beaten, raped and not released till families back home send more money. Taking a lesson from Asian and Eastern European flesh smugglers, immigrants might be held in peonage and virtual slavery. Women are sent into prostitution. Federal and state law enforcement have neglected the problem because of their own turf wars. Immigration, drugs and arm smuggling have been the jurisdiction of differing agencies, not working together very effectively. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hard Times and the Undocumented

Border Control statistic of apprehensions over the last year seem to indicate that fewer workers are crossing to work illegally in this country. (See postings for Mar. 8, 2009.) But only a few undocumented workers are returning home. Most are riding out the economic downturn with hopes things will improve. Still they are without unemployment benefits and so have a harder time than legal workers. The New York Times profiled the plight of laid-off undocumented in Morristown, TN, and contrasted how legal workers who have unemployment and retraining benefits are handling the recession more comfortably.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama Urges Comprehensive Immigration Reform

At a townhall meeting in Costa Mesa, CA, President Barack Obama reiterated his desire to work with Congress and Mexico to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It would provide a path to citizenship and worker protections. Citizenship could follow in exchange for a fine and lrning English.(See AP article.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Year of Hate -- Growth of Hate Groups Spurred by Immigration

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a large jump in the number of hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis and skinheads in the last year. Spurred partly by economic distress and racist fears of a black man in the White House, SPLC attributes most of the growth to anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic fears. Historically, there always has been a tie between Nativism and hard times. SPLC estimates 926 hate groups across the country in 2008 -- up 4% in 2007 and from 602 in 2000.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Health Care for Detained Immigrants Criticized by Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch usually ferrets out gross violations of human rights in the obvious places -- the Sudan, Belarus, and the like. It had tweaked the Bush administration on Guantanamo and Abu Ghaif. Now it joins with Florida Immigration Center in implying that the dreadful health care afforded detained immigrants is a violation of international human rights standards. (See AP article.) Two years ago the issue was raised by ICE's own inspector general. The poor condition of health care to detainees was attributed to "non-compliance" to ICE's own standards because of the incompetence or indifference of the staff. The same charge is now made about detainees in Florida. ICE reports there have been 77 deaths of detainees. The advocacy groups argue that some were caused or hasten by neglect.

The Los Angeles Times reports that local law enforcement agencies like L.A. County Sheriff Office, confront by a budget crunch, has become addicted to housing detainees for ICE. There is big money in the practice -- more than $55 million last year going up to $57 million this year. Some other cities in Southern California are similarly addicted -- it amounts to 15% of Santa Ana's law enforcement budget..

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Education and Assimilation in a Hiugh School

The New York Times is beginning a study of contemporary immigration called "Remade in America". These are in-depth studies of various aspects of the immigrant community as it settles in U.S. society. This first is on education and how well immigrant students are adapting in a high school in Woodbridge, VA, outside Washington.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Judge Halts ID Theft Case

A state judge in Colorado halted prosecutions of undocumented workers rounded up by the Weld County (Greeley) district attorney for fraudulent use of Social Security numbers. The DA had used tax records to check for discrepancies in the numbers and charging those whose numbers didn't match with ID theft. (See posting for Feb. 2, 2009.) The judge is looking into whether the action was illegal and will make a judgment next month. (See New York Times article.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Many Stimulus Jobs to go to the Undocumented

Both pro- and anti-immigration groups estimate that many of the jobs to be created by the recently passed economic stimulus package with go to undocumented workers. The immigrant friendlies say it's logical, since much of the money is to go to "shovel-ready" construction projects. Before the downturn it was estimated that 15% of construction jobs went to undocumented workers. The fault in the eyes of the not-so-friendlies lies with the U.S. Senate. The stimulus package as it came out of the House of Representative carried a requirement that employers use the E-Verify system to check the legality of workers' documents. The Senate rejected the requirement and the House went along. Now the anti-immigration organizations are making a drum-roll to raise the issue, charging that "honest real American" workers are being shortchanged for the much needed jobs. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fewer Arrest at the Border

The number of arrests of those trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border without legal authorization has dropped dramatically last year to levels not seen since the 1970s. In large measure it results from tougher border patrolling and enforcement -- the number had been declining for a few years -- but has accelerated with the economic recession. The decline has been about 25% in the last year. This is taken by experts to indicate that the number of illegal entries has declined proportionately. Even the Mexican border towns feel the decline. There are fewer prospective bordercrossers sleeping over night in the central plaza, and many of those are going back home. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

New ICE Regulations May End Partnership with Sheriff Joe's

ICE's revision of the 287(g) program, whereby ICE partners with local police authorities to enforce immigration laws, may impel Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ, to take his posse and start a new game in rounding up the undocumented. The new regs will focus the program more strictly on its originial intent -- to assist ICE in rounding up felons (rapists, murders, and kidnappers) who are also undocumented. This would put a crimp in Sheriff Joe's opus operandi, casting a net throughout a neighborhood -- usually Hispanic -- and hauling in everyone for minor violations. Those here with proper proof of legal entry are held in Sheriff Joe's jail til they can be turned over to ICE for deportation. His is the largest 287(g) contract in the country -- and the most active. He has publicly stated he likes the way things are and sees no reason to change. He promises to continue his raids and round-ups, using state laws on human smuggling or employer sanctions. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Evangelical Hispanics generally have been quiet on public issues, often following the lead of their Anglo friends especially on social issues. But the immigration debate over the last few years has gradually brought them out of their isolation and now there are signs that they will be more assertive for comprehensive immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus are sponsoring a number of church events to highlight the human costs of deportation and appeal to the compassion of the nation. The target of this exercise in 17 cities is to send a message to President Barack Obama to make good on his campaign promises and make immigration reform a priority, notwithstanding the economic crisis. Catholics have long been associated with an immigration reform founded on family reunification and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. But in Providence, RI, New York City and now Atlanta the Hispanic Evangelicals have stepped forward with enthusiasm and in large numbers. (See Chicago Tribune article.) Hopefully, their hurt will influence their Protestant brethern in the conservative, Evangelical, and fiercely nativist South .

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Congressional Hearings on 287(g)

At congressional hearings on a report of the Government Accountability Office faulting the 287(g) program that allows Immigration and Custom Enforcement to train and use local police authorities to enforce some immigration laws has led to some promises of change. (See posting for Mar. 4, 2009.) ICE officials will rewrite its agreement with local agencies. This is a much criticized program by immigration advocates who charge that, as does the GAO report, ICE too loosely supervises the program. They have other criticisms of the program, but see any change as a way of reigning in the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricoba County (AZ) whose participation has led to charges of racial profiling. Sheriff Joe's office, however, see only good results from the program and no need for change. (See Arizona Republic article.)

The U.S. Census, reporting data from 2007, documents the growth of the minority population til the nation becomes a Hispanic white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native-American majority around about 2042.. That reality is already happening in the Southwest -- Texas to California -- in the schools and especially in kindergarten. (See Chicago Tribune article.) The largest and fastest growth is Hispanic. Already 54% of children in schools K-12 are Hispanic in New Mexico, with California, Texas and Arizona well over 40%. Now 23% of all school children in the U.S. are Hispanic. School population is not the only predictor of future demographics, but certainly a very reliable one. This also has implication for public policy -- from the distribution of public moneys to curriculum. Also it raises the issue of college education, since the census report indicates that Hispanic college attendance falls short of it growth in population.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

GAO Critical of Local Enforcement of Immigration Law

The Government Accountability Office, a research tool of the Congress, studied the 267(g) program of a 1996 law that allows local police authorities to be trained in immigration law and authorized to assist federal enforcement in the pursuit of "felon" or "fugitive" undocumented immigrants. Meant as a "get-tough-on-crime" measure, ICE stretched the meaning of "felon" and "fugitive alien" to include those picked up on minor offense -- as innocuous as running a red light -- or even picking up those who just happen to be in a house when ICE came serving a warrant -- even though that individual was not mentioned in it. The GAO questioned "the effectiveness" of the program. Critics have screamed it has create Frankensteins like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. (See New York Times editorial.) Congress will take testimony on the report today. One thing it doesn't address is the extent of racial profiling in enforcement -- a charge against Sheriff Joe. (See New York Times article.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stipulated Removal -- Fast Track Deportation

Immigration agencies have long had a tool in the deportation process to facilitate quick removal from the country and return of the immigrant to his native land. It's called "stipulated removal" by ICE and it's being used more frequently for economic reasons and to clear the crush in immigration court. It works this way -- theoretically: An undocumented immigrant taken into custody by ICE is given a choice to go into detention and wait an appearance in immigration court or agree to quick removal to his native country and so shorten time in detention. The method usually comes with assurance that the immigrant has not chance in court. ICE argues that these decisions are voluntary and the options are clearly explained to the immigrant.

Immigrant advocates challenge the practice in fear that the immigrant will too easily surrender rights under deceptive pressure. Most stipulated removals happen in the border states and have increased dramatically since 2004. A detention center at Lancaster, CA, deports as many as 95% of immigrants without access to attorneys -- about 130 a month or a third of all detainees. Now there is some question whether the practice alleviates the crush in immigration court. Judges still have to check the papers and the caseload increases with the ICE stepped-up raids. (See Los Angeles Times article.)