Thursday, April 30, 2009

ICE to Go After Employers

The Department of Homeland Security is to release today new guidelines that may reduce factory raids to round up the undocumented and focus more on criminal investigations and prosecution of employers. That does not mean ICE will be giving up on raids, but now they'll be part of an effort to build a case against employers. This sets tougher standards for raids. Immigrant advocacy groups had complained that raids under the Bush administration was "picking low hanging fruit" or merely increasing the number of detainees. There was little guidance on building a case against employers. The new guidelines might reduce the frequency of raids, but not eliminate them. They also will make greater provision for humanitarian considerations. (See New York Times article.)

From an unlikely source -- the Center for Immigration Studies which has a goal of restricting even legal immigration -- comes something of a quantifying of the impact of the recession on immigrants -- legal and undocumented. As expected they are hurting more than native-born American workers. The Los Angeles Times , following up with sources more sympathetic to immigrants, confirms the impression. The hurt is not just with the obvious sectors -- e.g., the hard hit construction and home-building industries -- but with higher tech and more educated workers.

Senator John McCain who attached his name to the failed immigration reform bill in the last congress and who generally anticipated to be an important actor in future efforts is to be challenged in the Republican primary next year by Chris Simcox, the founder of the self-appointed guardians of the borders, the Minutemen. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Temporary Foreign Workers Programs to be Scrutinized by Congress

Tomorrow (April 30, 2009) a senate subcommittee will hold hearings on immigration and specifically on the temporary worker programs. Revision of these programs was part of the comprehensive reform proposals in the previous congress. Labor was ultimately split over the specific reforms. Change to Win which represents many immigrants in the service industries and light manufacturing was especially attracted to the legalization provisions. The more traditional AFL-CIO, while supporting legalization, objected that the temporary worker provisions did not protect American workers -- nor the temps for that matter. Now both union organizations are agreed in supporting a new comprehensive reform that will contain legalization and meet the AFL-CIO's objections on temporary workers. The business groups that were allied in the fight for the Kennedy-McCain Bill are outraged. The key to unions reform is establishing a commission that would determine when and how many temporary workers are needed. Business is used to the lax administration of the program under the Bush administration and to the control it afforded over workers -- e.g., temporary workers could not change employers. The unions want a program that gives more freedom for the workers to change jobs and tougher enforcement of safety, housing and wage regulations. With the shift of Arlen Specter to the Democrats and a united union support, prospects for comprehensive reform seem to have improved. But the unions might have a hard time convincing their own membership to support the reform and business may drop out of a pro-reform coalition. Most Republicans are already opposed. That will make the task to passing reform in late summer or fall even more difficult. The devils in the details, as they say in Washington. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Mixed-status Families" -- A House Divided

There are an estimated 400,000 households in which some persons are undocumented and others are here legally. These are called "mix-status families" and have their own sets of problems. Often these have to deal with the diverging paths siblings take in adjusting to American society. The undocumented off-springs are denied the full opportunities of education and employment and live in fear of being caught and returned to a country totally unfamiliar to them. Their legal brothers and sisters, by contrast, have all the benefits of citizenship and are unmotivated to take them.. Ironically, however, the undocumented children often are more appreciative of what the sacrifices parents made in bringing them to this country and so work harder to assimilated. The New York Times' Remade in America series tells one such story of an Ecudorean family in Queens, NY.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Detained Immigrants in Danger of Losing Custody of Their Children

The step-up factory raids during the last months of the Bush administration created an outcry over separating detained mothers from their children. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement had to respond by releasing such mothers to care of their children. Now the full consequences of the separation is beginning to show up in local courts. Because child welfare laws differ from state to state, parents could be losing custody of their children. The New York Times reports on one case in Missouri. A Guatemala woman got caught up in a raid, used a false identity and as a consequence is serving a jail sentence and faces deportation on release. Her son of 6 months was placed with relatives, but because they were poor and undocumented they gave him to the care of others. That family began procedure to adopt. The Guatemalan woman did not want to give her child up, but because she could not easily follow the court process and had no Spanish-speaking representation the Missouri Court declared she had abandoned the child and gave him over to adoption. She is appealing. Homeland Security is now investigating the problem.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Colleges Support Passage of the Dream Act

The College Board, which is made up of 5,000 institutions of higher learning, has come out for federal legislation similar to the Dream Act. Known more for its administration of the SAT college admission test, the Board urged a policy of affording undocumented college students in-state tuition, educational aid and legal status. (See Los Angeles Times article. See also the debate of pros and cons of the Dream Act in the New York Times' "Room for Debate" column.)

The AP reported on the case of an African under a deportation order. He had applied for asylum, married a U.S. citizen, and had a U.S.-born child. He had petitioned for a stay of deportation so that his case might be reviewed. Immigration court and appeals court had both denied his petition. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court for reconsideration.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unions and Immigration

The major alliances of labor unions, the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win, have agreed on a broad outline and strategy for promoting comprehensive reform. (See posting for April 14, 2009.) Implied in their agreement is the belief that undocumented immigrants do not harm the position of American workers, rather it is employers who exploit the fear of those who work in the shadows. Legalization would more likely, in their view, benefit all workers. So unions are agreed on a comprehensive reform that would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented. But they also insist that the programs for temporary workers must be reformed. This may cause a problem, since such business groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Associate of manufactures had joined in the alliance to pass the Kennedy-McCain Bill. Their goal was to lift the burden on employers who were hiring the undocumented, but also to support or even extend the temporary guest worker programs. Labor's objection is that the determination of the need for temporary workers has been so laxly supervised in the Bush administration that the temps were indeed undercutting available American workers. Also the current programs tie the guest worker to a single sponsoring employers, providing no opportunity to legally change work. This opened the temp to threats by employers to rescind permission to work in this country and fear of being sent home. The Bush Labor department, at least in the eyes of the unions, was equally lax in enforcing wage and hourly standards and fulfilling other obligations under law for housing and safe work conditions. The New York Times editorially praised and supported the unions' position, but also warned them they have some convincing to do among their own membership. Even union workers it easily succumb the nativist logic that in a recession it's the foreigner who threatens their jobs. It worked in the past. Let's hope it doesn't work now.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sheriff Joe's Nemesis Win Pulitzer Prize

Reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Gillin of the East Valley Tribune (suburban Phoenix) wan the journalistic Pulitizer Prize for local reporting by exposing Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration round-ups for the fraud they are. (See Immigration Policy Center release.)

The Immigration Policy Center (IPC) reviewed academic and government studies on the impact of undocumented immigrants on the economy. Its conclusion is that their contribution, rather than costing American workers their jobs or raising citizens' taxes as nativists generally claim, has been generally positive. It would be even better, for the immigrant and all workers and tax-payers, if there were comprehensive immigration reform.

Just some of IPC's conclusions:

  • an "enforcement only" immigration policy is costly (not only for wallsm and increased enforcement personnel), but also is ineffective;
  • more than half the undocument workers pay taxes and shore up Social Security with payments while not eligible for benefits;
  • workers "in the shadows" are often "paid off the books" and so cost federal and local government lost income;
  • with legalization workers would be free to demand better wages anupdate their skills, thus raising their own income -- workers legalized in 1986 have increased their standard of living by 15% -- and provided better for their families;
  • Hispanics and Asians, many of them immigrants, are entrepreneurtial and so with their small businesses have create millions of jobs and earned billions of dollars.

These are just some of the conclusions of the IPC report. It can be found at it website --

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rainbow Assimilation -- Children of Latino Immigrants

One is four American youth is either an immigrant or child of an immigrant. While most of these youth are progressing well enough that they are creating well adjusted lives in the broad American culture, the number who will not is about one in five (20%) according to some scholar. The new immigration is not unlike the old European immigration before World War I. And many of the same issues seems to confront the new immigrant from Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The process of assimilation is complex. Some do not even like to use the term because it means "being like the whites" and depreciates the contribution of the new immigrants. But many observers still find it useful -- mutatis mutandi (changing the thing that are needing change in the comparison) -- and are adding their own wrinkles. Two scholars, Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Ruben G. Rumbaut of the University of Califonia, Irvine, have come up with a concept "rainbow assimilation".

All immigrants experience some measure of assimilation, even those who seemingly thrive in an ethnic ghetto. Most, stage by stage, adjust the dominant culture in postive and creative ways, contributing some elements of their old cutlture to the new mix -- as Mexican cuisine is now found in the super-markets and not just in the supermercado. But some some immigrant youth, Rumbaut estimate 20%, experience a "downward assimilation" reflecting the violance and gang culture. poverty and shadered dreams that had emerged in previous immingrant groups and poor black migrants from the south to northern cities.

The Remade in American series in the New York Times addresses the plight of Latino youth assimilating in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Half of Latino youth are now in the suburbs, 40% of the Latino poor as well. The alienation and problems of the inner city have followed them. Gangs flourish, school drop-outs and teen age pregnacies are as high, violence is only slightly mitigated. But the suburbs reluctantly received the immigrant and is rarely ready to assist them. Some more far-sighted communities are adopting an old formula to meet the needs of the immigrant -- community centers looking much like the settlement house of the early twentieth century. The Times story decribes the problems confronted by one such center, The Latin American Youth Center of Langley, MD. Langley is now a predominantly Latino town, mostly Salvadoreans and Mexicans, in black majority Prince George County. The article also follows the odessey of a young Salvadoran woman who seems on a downward path into long-term poverty.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama in Mexico City

President Barack Obama's meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon was smothered in the press with emphasis on drug and gun running. Both presidents were outspoken in the support of renewed efforts by both countries to join forces in taking on the drug cartel. On immigration -- the real issue between the two nations -- there were only bland remarks of how good immigration has been for the U.S. Undoubtedly behind closed doors there were more serious discussion. But with the U.S. deeply divided on how to move on immigration reform, many thought it politically safer to hit the hot button issues of drugs and guns. (See Chicago Tribune article.)

The pressure of growing unemployment had moved the voters of St. Helens, Ore, to pass a referendum fining employers of undocumented workers $10,000 for each hire. The law is being challenged in court. With the timber industry and the paper mills around town laying off workers since the fall, the sponsor the ordinance said it would drive the undocumented back to Mexico. It hasn't yet, but a few might be drifting to friendlier nearby towns where there still are jobs. They are not leaving to return home. (Read about the St. Helens story in Time Magazine.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Estimates on the Undocumented Population

The Pew Hispanic Center has updates its previous estimates and profile of the undocumented immigrant population of the U.S. from recent census bureau information. It still estimates that 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants are in the country. That amounts to about 4 % of total population. Fifty-eight percent is from Mexico and another 22% from the rest of the Americas. The undocumented make up 5.4% of the country's workforce.

The children of all immigrants are 6.8% of elementary and secondary school students. One important aspect of the study is to underscore that the children of the undocumented are twice as likely to live in poverty than other children and to drop out before high school graduation. Also the number of children in immigrant households where at least one parent is undocumented, yet born in the U.S.A., is growing-- about 4 million of 5.5 million overall in such families. (Pew Hispanic Center's website contains the total report. See also New York Times article.))

The Houston, TX, area has more than 1,500 gun dealers and, because of non-restrictive laws, lax enforcement and an idolatrous gun culture, is considered the shopping mall of convenience for the Mexican drug cartels to get guns for their border wars. Often a U.S. citizen with no criminal record will be recruited to make a "straw purchase" -- even of semi-automatics -- with few questions being asked. The guns are turned over to the cartels' agents for shipment to Mexico. The issue of gun-smuggling will be high on President Barack Obama's agenda as he meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon tommorrow. (See New York Times article.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unions United to Push Immigration Reform

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) resolved differences with the break-away unions of Change to Win over immigration reform. The AFL-CIO had weakened its united support for the Kennedy-McCain Bill over the provisions on guest workers. Change to Win strongly supported reform because these unions heavily recruit Hispanic workers, many undocumented -- janitors and office cleaners, dishwashers and waitresses, homecare workers and house cleaners. The new agreement is to support Obama's expected announcement. Both groups had generally supported legalization. If undocumented workers can come out of the shadows, it is less likely their employment will drag down the wages and work conditions of all workers. Hispanics also seem more drawn to uniionization.

The dividing issue was the guest worker program. The Kennedy-McCain Bill did not change the program enough to meet AFL-CIO objections . It want better management of the program so that in reflected a real need for additional foreign workers. Also it want the program structured to give a better deal to the temporary workers, especially the chance to change employers and the hope of a green card. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were drawn into the coalition with immigration advocates to support comprehensive return to take pressure off employers who hired the undocumented, but also to extended the guest-worker program much as it is.

The new emphasis of the union's campaign, worked out in discussion with immigrant advocates, is to approve legalization. But the guest worker program will not be renewed without serious change. The old grievances of being tied to one employer and poor worker conditions would have to be remedied. Competition with American workers will have to be carefully monitored. There were many complaints about how the program was implemented rather laxly in the Bush years, especially the provisions on the need of foreign workers because of labor shortages. The unions are proposing a "national commission" to determine how many temporary workers would be admitted each year, The Chamber of Commerce already objects as does the pro-business ImmigrationWorks USA. Most observers think the united front of the unions have given import impetus to comprehensive reform. (See New York Times article. See also supporting The Times' editorial.)

Last year the sheriff's office of Weld County (Greeley) in Colorado raided a travel agency seeking cases in its files of identity theft by those using other people's Social Security numbers. About 60 immigrants were arrested. The American Civil Liberty Union sued in state court that this was an invasion of privacy and an unlawful search. A state judge agreed and stop any further investigation by the Weld County district attorney. (See New York Times article.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Threat of Census Boycott

The U.S. Census Bureau is gearing up for next year's count and is intent on including the undocumented immigrants. The census form does not contain a question on immigration status. In the 2000 census, nonetheless, many undocumented were often reluctant to participate for fear the information would be shared by the bureau with "la migra". This year some immigrant activists, less concerned about sharing information with ICE, are urging a boycott of the census to protest the hypocrisy of the administration in moving on comprehensive reform. Hispanics had overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in the last election. After expected reapportionment because of an increased count in the Hispanic community, Democrats expect to crease their power in Congress and in the electoral college. The critics are not trying to be subtle in their blackmail. They are telling the Democratic administration to move now on reform or face a boycott of the census -- and frustration of their hopes of increased power.

That is a controversial strategy. The census count is not only related to reapportionment -- though that's what make the Democrats salivate. Sitting governors, mayors and legislator are more concerned about federal dollars. The amount that flows from Washington to build schools, roads, mass transit and other community services depends on the census count. Consequently, local administrators are cooperating with the census bureau's campaign. So are the churches, unions and community organizations. The Arizona Republic reports on the impact of a census undercount will have on Arizona. Note that one local official will not cooperate and will ply business as usual -- law-and-order Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tech Workers: The Burders of the H-1B Visas

More than half the engineers in the U.S. are foreign born, and most of these are in here on temporary H-1B visas. That is up from less than 10% in 1970. And half of the Silicon Valley businesses had temp technical workers as founders, co-founders or sources of new ideas. The country worried about the decline in U.S.-born engineering graduates in the 1990s and so had raised the number of annual to entice workers with high technical skill. But in recent years Congress reduced the number available visas, so that last year there were 163,000 applicants for 65,000 visa slots. Most temps long for a green card to stay permanently in the U.S. And Silicon Valley has become dependent on such workers. Ten percent of Google's work force has H-1B visas, but even more have become U.S. citizens or have green cards. The New York Times "Remade in America" series tells the story of one such visa holder.

The H-1B program, however, is controversial. There are usual nativist cries and the crocodile tears from Republicans about American workers. But there are real issues. Silicon Valley has a mixed history in caring for foreign workers. In the early stages of manufacturing some companies used Vietnamese workers to replace natives, til protests drove the companies to send production off-shore. Evan H-1B have grievances, especially the dependence on a sponsor employer, but generally are dissuaded from complaining lest their chances to get a green card are blown. American engineers also have an issue about the preference Silicon Valley has for foreign workers, but the fault does not entirely belong to employers. The U.S. educational system has not been effective in encouraging science and engineering. The big bucks for college grads was in financing -- until now. H-1B visas must be a significant part of a comprehensive immigration reform, but large issues will still be the plight of low-skilled temporary labor, family unification and the 12 million undocumented in the shadows. If the country is to continue to use high tech workers, then they also should be treated fairly and American students should be encouraged by public policy to pursue careers in the sciences and engineering.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Border Arrests Drop In Arizona

Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the border has long been used by friend and foe alike to determine the rate of illegal crossing. This year the number of apprehensions in Arizona and across the border has dropped. The Border Patrol has been quick to crow it was because of toughened enforcement. Human rights and immigrants advocates are more skeptical, attributing the decline to the recession or to the fact crossers are trying in more remote and dangerous areas. The news is welcomed by some as a spur to comprehensive reform and to redirecting law-enforcement to stopping drug and gu)n smuggling. (See Arizona Republic article.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

President Obama To Move On Immigration This Year

The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama will announce in May that he wants immigration reform this year. So he had promised in his political campaign and reiterated it as recently as last month in Costa Mesa, CA. But with the recession many thought reform would be pushed back to next year or later. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus got busy and held prayer services through the country to push the president. The announcement, Obama hopes, will kick off a summer-long debate or discussion that will include Democrats and Republicans, employers and unions, and immigration advocacy groups. The president's own stated goal is to find a path to legalization/citizenship for the 12 million undocumented in the country similar to the Kennedy-McCain Bill which required a fine, background check and English. But because of the recession, his proposals will probably include tighter borders and an upgraded E-verify system to check on the legal authorization of immigrants to work. Nativist groups are already gearing up to run a campaign charging that Obama's proposals will take jobs from Americans. The timing for when legislation will go before Congress depends on the president's other major domestic priorities -- health care and energy policy.

Waukegan, a suburb of 91,000 north of Chicago, is already half Hispanic. But the incumbent mayor, trying to stem the growth, had favored an aggressive collaboration with ICE against undocumented immigrants. In a recent election the old mayor, Richard H. Hyde, was defeated largely by Hispanic voters. The new mayor promises to be friendlier to Waukegan's Hispanics. (See NY Times article.)

The Los Angeles Times reported on the case of a man held for a domestic dispute who was nearly deported -- notwithstanding that he was an U.S. citizen and a veteran. He was victim of bureaucratic foul-up -- they misspelled his name on his naturalization papers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Foreign Tech Workers: Do We Need Them

Many immigrants with technical skills are admitted temporarily with H-1B visas and eventually qualify for a green card. But the program is controversial. To some it is "creaming" of talent that is needed in poor countries. To other it is cheap competition for American workers. The latter argument takes on added sting with the recession and growing joblessness. But employers argue that the talent is needed and the temporary visas is better than outsourcing the jobs. The New York Times' series "Remade in America" visits the issue from different perspectives.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hispanics and the Police

The Pew Hispanic Center surveyed Hispanic on their relations with the police. Taken in mid-2008 when immigration raids were on the rise, more than half of those asked expressed doubts that they would be treated fairly by the police. (See Washington Post article.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Justice to Farm and Domestic Workers

The New York Times reminds us that farm workers and domestics were excluded from many of the protections of the New Deal to assuage Southern Democrats. Most farm workers and domestics in the 1930s were black. Now that most are Latino, there is a renewed effort to extend worker protections to them. New York state is moving toward state legislation and a national coalition is forming in support of the Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Binghamton Shooting

The Binghamton, N.Y., shooting does not seem to be motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment. The shooter was Vietnamese and known at the center. While his motive is still unknown, it is speculated to be work related. (See LA Times article.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

L.A. Detainees Tahe ICE to Court

Detainees at an ICE detention facility in downtown Los Angeles are suing it because of poor conditions and denial of civil rights. The facility is meant to hold detainees only 12 hours while they are being processed -- photographed, finger-printed. But many are allegedly held in small, crowded and dirty cells for weeks and even months. Also some complained that they are denied access to legal recourse like bail and even to documents on their cases. (See LA Times article.)


The AP reports that a man attacked an immigration service center in Binghamton, N.Y., killing four and wounding at least 10. The gunman has barricaded himself in the building and is believed to be holding hostages. Immigrant advocates has feared the anti-immigrant feeling might break into violence. It has happened historically in the U.S. in period of high nativist feeling.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mormons Perplexed by Undocumented Immigrants

Proselytism is not new to Hispanic neighborhoods. Protestant, generally Evangelical or Fundamentalist, have been rather successful. Each neighborhood has its share of store-front churches. Among the proselytizers, incongruously, are short-haired Anglo teams in white shirts and ties pedaling the born-in-the-USA Mormon faith. Little in the belief system of the Church of the Latter Day saints would seem to appeal to immigrants from a culture in which the Virgin of Guadeloupe and the Day of the Dead loom large, but the appeal to family and upright living seems to have attracted Mexicans in large numbers. The growing attraction of Hispanics to the faith has also created a dilemma for the Mormon Church -- or at least for many Mormons. The young missionaries knocking on doors in Hispanic neighborhoods are persistent and they don't ask questions about immigration status. As a consequence, many converts to Mormonism are undocumented -- as many as 70% according to a Brigham Young University history professor. In the west, however, the Mormon Church is often viewed as the Republican Party at prayer. Many Mormons share the anti-immigration bias of most Republicans and, according to the Arizona Republic, lead the get-tough campaign against the undocumented in western states. Officially, the Mormon Church has no policy on immigration and preaches family unity and compassion. State of Utah has often a contradictory response to the undocumented.