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.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Haitian Undocumented

Haiti is the poorest country of the Americas and has suffered the most grief over its history than any other country of the Americas. Their suffering continues to this day as the recent capsizing of boatload of undocumented refugees and the death of nine illustrates. Fear of deportation keeps many Haitians in the same shadows as other undocumented immigrants. But in a sense their plight is even more desperate. Deportation to Haiti is to return to the extreme poverty, threats of natural disasters, and high levels of violence. Many immigrant advocates are urging the US to extend to Haitians "temporary protected status" that had been given in the past to refugees of civil war and natural disasters who could not return safely to their countries. The Obama administration has reiterate US policy to deport the undocumented and 30,000 cases are at that stage. But the recent re-evaluation of ICE raids has turned the focus on searching out "the criminal element". Critics of temporary protected status object that it would only encourage more reckless attempts to enter the country. But these groups speak less out of compassion and more out of their cross-the-board hostility to all increse in immigration. (See New York Times article.)

One in five children in the US is Hispanic and by 2025 it will be one in three. Already most of those children are born in the USA. A few trace their heritage all the way back to the Hispanos of New Mexico and Colorado, the Californios and the Tejanos that were here before the Americanos. But most are children of 20th and 21st century immigrants. There are about 11% born outside the country and brought here as children, and a goodly number were born to the children of early 20th century immigrants. But now a majority, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study of census data, are second generation born to immigrants since the 1980s. Of these 40% have at least one undocumented parent. This is quite a change from 1980 when six of every ten Hispanic children was from a third or higher generation. Projecting into the future, as the second generation has its own children, the 2025 estimate will reflect more third or higher generation children. While currently the rate of second and third generation children in poverty is about the same, the second generation is more vulnerable. They have less command of English and do poorly at school and tend to be caught up more in the gang culture. But they also are more likely to live with both parents in the household. (See Washington Post or Pew Hisanic Center article.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Can Sheriff Joe Get Prisoners to Court on Time?

Justices in the Maricopa County Courts complain that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's officers are not getting prisoners on time for court appearances -- or at all. The country's toughest sheriff pleads a shortage of personnel, but county bean-counters says he has more than enough deputies. Justices are speculating, quitre publicly, that Sheriff Joe's "crime sweeps" -- round-ups of undocumented -- is distracting his department from its constitutional duties. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Putting Together the Pieces for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The basic mantra of the Obama administration on immigration reform has been "secure borders and a pathway to citizenship" -- or sometimes "to legalization". That leaves a lot of details in-between and it's precisely the spelling out of those details that could cause a repeat of the failures of 2006 and 2007. The Arizona Republic, generally favorable to comprehensive reform, highlighted in an editorial what will be the crucial issue -- the issue of labor after an amnesty. The Republic argues that just technically improved enforcement at the border will never be enough. Eventually the job market for cheap labor will revive and the attraction to cross the border will follow as well. There always will be enough employers looking for a bargain.

So the issue will seem be: How does the demand for the cheap labor get met after legalization? The wages are not cheap in the eyes of desperate Mexican campesinos, but after an amnesty the foot-loose undocumented, now out of the shadows, won't even thinks of taking those jobs. Next month a serious discussion will begin in the Senate on how to structure a comprehensive reform that will address the need for future workers. Any proposal of creating special visas for temporary workers must include a couple of important provisions. Visas for temporary labor must not tied the guest worker to one employer. He/she should have some freedom of movement or right to change employers without penalty. Second, US labor, safety and health laws must strictly be enforced. Workers should be allowed to bring their immediate families with them. And finally workers who abide by the laws should have at the end of the visa (usually proposed as six years) the option to get permanent residency. Such a flexible system of work visas -- already proposed in the AgJobs Bill -- would provide a workable reform.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Much Diference Between Bush and Obama on Immigration

President Barack Obama had campaigned promising to move away from George W. Bush's tightened immigration enforcement. But in the first months of his administration, the president has done little. In April Homeland Security did modify the raids policy, shifting the enforcement more toward employers than workers. But the administration has allotted more money for the deficient E-Verify program. Obama has stressed border enforcement and continued the "fence" -- even though now it's more virtual than real. Much of the policy drift is understandable in view of the state of the economy and the fact his appointment to run ICE has only recently been confirmed by the Senate. The judgment of immigration advocates is at best on hold, but street activists are restless and losing hope in any positive action soon. (See Washington Post analysis.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Janet Napolitano Considered for the Supreme Court

Some speculate that Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is in the running for President Barack Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice David Souter. She's a long-shot -- in part because she has never expressed an interest in being on the court and in part because she has never been a judge. Most observers see her as an executive type, better suited to remain in the cabinet. But other are nervous about what she stands for and how she comes to decisions as reflected in her political career in Arizona. She has not been a liberal and certainly not a conservative. Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsed her for her first elective job, yet she had veto some punitive state immigration legislation. She favors the death penalty and has been protective of abortion rights. She has prized her independent stances on many issues as evidence that she can get things done and bring competing interests to compromise. Still to immigration advocates she is still something of a cypher. That's why they seek more leadership and action from Obama on immigration They're not sure what they would get from Napolitano. (See New York Times profile.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Anti-Latino Feelings Rise in PA. Town

A young undocumented worker, escorting a 15 year old woman, was accosted by four white youths in Shenandoah, PA. The youths were under the influence of alcohol and words soon led to blows and kicks. Luis Ramirez died a few days later. The youths were arrested and charged. One pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violation and testify at the trial of two others. Those two charged as adults were let free by an all-white jury; a third is still to be tried as a minor. The incident and the acquittal created a national stir and has civil rights and immigration advocates calling for federal trials and stronger hate-crime legislation from Congress.In Shenandoah the community seems divided and Latinos complain of a atmosphere of racism. Taunting and fights have irrupted at the local high school. Shouts and slurs from passing cars have greeted Latino pedestrians. There has been some vandalism against Latino businesses. Latinos avoid some neighborhoods. Community leaders seem at a loss on how to restore calm, with whites resistant to change and getting ugly and Latinos fearful. (See New York Times article.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Immigrants Down on the Farm

Last year many fruit farms in the west and nurseries in the midwest experienced a shortage of workers. They had depended on legal H2-B and undocumented workers. There were fewnof each. Provisions in the failed comprehensive reform bill had addressed farm needs. Growers and immigrant/labor activists had compromised on immigration and labor issues in what came to be called AgJobs. In exchange for more legal foreign workers growers would support new protections of all farm workers and a path to legal status for the foreign workers. When the comprehensive packaged failed, there was hope that some features would pass as separate bills. Only more sanction and more wall seemed to survive. Both the Dream Act and AgJobs, which has wide support, just couldn't make it out of committee. A bipartisan group of representatives and senators have re-introduced the AgJobs Bill. Whether pieces of immigration reform like the Dream Act or AgJobs should go ahead separately is much debated among comprehensive reform advocates. Nonetheless the AgJobs Bill must certainly be part of reform. (See New York Times editorial.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mexican Census Data Conirm Decline in Migration

Mexican census data confirms U.S. data from the border and the U.S. Census Bureau that border crossing have declined drastically.. More Mexicans are returning home than are leaving. The most obvious analysis is that the dismal U.S. job market is responsible. But nativits are quick to give credit as well to toughened border enforcement and factory raids for the decline. No doubt border enforcement has made crossing more precarious and more expensive, still immigrants continue to come and most here are staying put. An upswing of the U.S. economy and job market will probably be accompanied by an upswing in migrants. (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hispanic Population Slows

The U.S. Census bureau released a report stating that the growth of the Hispanic and Asian populations that have been growing dramatically has slowed because of declining immigration. But both population still are growing because of lots of babies. Nearly half of all children in the U.S. under five years is Hispanic. The slow down is obviously due to the decline in the economy. Still minorities (Latino, Asian and black) are still moving inexorably toward becoming the country's majority. A couple of state and large counties in some states are already near that point. The recent slowdown only means that date for the nation is put off a couple of years. (See New York Times article.)

With the Obama administration shifting immigration enforcement more to charging employers for hiring undocumented workers, the employers are signing up by droves to use the E-Verify check. E-verify basically is matching Social Security numbers to pay checks. If they don't match, then the employer is expected to terminate the worker. Federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to use the system by the end of June. Critics fault the program as unreliable because of numerous errors. The government claims it is 96% accurate, but 4% error rate represents millions of workers who might be mistakenly terminated. Still employers are signing up, if only to get the government off their backs. (See Los Angeles Times article.) More than 124,000 employers have used the system and a thousand are signing up each week. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the system before Congress and the administration is budgeting more money to bring the cost of the program up to $112 million. Employers report being generally satisfied, though agribusiness still seems reluctant to use it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Immigrants Hold Their Own in Housing Crisis

The Pew Hispanic Center studied how well minorities fared in the recent housing boom and bust. As expected, home-ownership increased for minorities 1995-2004 and plunged as the bubble burst. Foreclosures multiplied for blacks and US born Latinos -- all except for immigrants. They suffered slightly and held their own for thw most part.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Postville Anniversary -- Two Towns in Decline

The year since ICE raided the kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc, has not been good to Postville, Iowa. The population has declined by almost half, Agriprocessors is in chapter 11 bankruptcy, and many Guatemala women picked up last year are moving about town with court-ordered ankle bracelets. Many of the old packinghouse workers -- and some of the new -- line up for food hand-outs. Many businesses have closed up, the kosher butchers have moved on, and the new workers -- Somalis, Palauans and some Americans -- don't much like the work and the low pay even more. The plant is in danger of closing. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Still the misery has not been restricted to Postville. Now there is a nation-wide shortage of kosher meats with the fall-off of production. Nearby farmers who prospered by providing meat for the plant or grain to fatten the livestock are hurting. But suffering perhaps the most is the little Guatemalan village of San Jose Calderas from whence the detained workers mostly hailed. Now workers have returned home to idleness, and the remittances that once fueled local prosperity has dried up.(See Chicago Tribune article.)

Demonstrations are taking place in Postville commemorating last year's ICE raid. Church have rung their bells 389 times to protest the detention of the Agriprocessor workers. (See Associate Press article.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Citizens to Impact Politics and Public Policy

Last year more than a million immigrants became U.S. citizens. The largest group, of course, were Mexicans, but the next four large groups were Latino or Asian. The greatest numbers were predictably in California, Florida, New York and Texas. There were 300,000 newly sworn-in citizens in California. And since that states seems to lead the nation in every trend from fashion to auto emission curbs, many are looking to see what impact the new voters will have on politics and public policy in that state. Immigrant participation in last year's election was larger than in the past, and those votes favored the Democratic candidates substantially. Much of that is considered an "identity vote" -- a reaction to Republican opposition to immigration reform and the stereotyping of the Latino community that accompanied the campaign. Asian new voters, generally considered a more conservative lot, also went for Obama and the Democrats. But on public policy issues, they have generally supported an increased role of government in health care and education. The impact of the new immigrant vote is still speculative, especially as the Latino vote turns from "image" to "issues".

Still that impact will be great. The Los Angeles Times speculated on what that might be. Already the number of Latino office holders is growing, and after 2026 the current minority of the state's population will have passed to be the majority. There will be an expected fragmentation of the vote along income and ethnic lines. While the growth of the Latino or Asian vote can be impressive, it's still speculative as to what it will mean in terms of public policy. To take advantage the Republicans will have to move away from "nay-saying" on immigration and to issues that really concern the immigration -- jobs, small business, education and health. Democrats have repeated the benefits in the last election, so that young. ambitious Larino politicians pursue their futures in that party. But the Latino voter may not stay with the Democrats for long. There are conflicts on family and cultural issues. George W. Bush was intially successful in cutting into the Latino vote in running for governor of Texas and later for president. More than 8 million eligible citizens are still outside the electoral process, so that it much too early to concede the immigrant vote -- Latino or Asian -- to one party or even to one set of issues. Then, that's pretty much what happened to the European immigrants. Actually, comprehensive immigration reform could be used by Republican as the "wedge issue" to seperate the immigrant vote from the Democrats.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

California Nativists Target the Children Born to the Undocumented

Nativist activists are now collecting signatures for an initiative to the June, 2010, ballot that would require all parents of the newly born in California to provide proof of citizenship or legal residency in order to receive the child's birth certificate. The undocumented parent could still receive a certificate, but it would indicate the child's "Birth to a Foreign Parent" -- which the Los Angeles Times depicts as "a scarlet letter". The information will then be passed on to the Department of Homeland Security. The initiative also will deny health services to the undocumented, even though these are mandated by federal law. The Times believes the real intent of the initiative, especially with raised anti-immigrant feeling because of economic hard times, is to deny citizenship to children born here to undocumented parents.

A virtual fence made up of towers, cameras and sensors is progressing in the busy crossing point just south of Tucson, AZ. The $6.7 billion project -- often delayed because of technical difficulties -- is now moving toward a completion date around 2014 and will cover all but 200 miles of the southern border, (See New York Times article.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Immigration Reform Prospects -- A Business View

Tamar Jacoby had been every active in the last immigration reform effort, representing mostly a business constutuency. Now as president of ImmigrationWorks USA, which favors a way to legalization but also a more open policy toward visas for temporary workers, reflects on the current atmosphere for comprehensive reform in a Los Angeles Times op ed piece. She argues that. despite the recession, competition for jobs doesn't seem to be a big issue against. The obvious fact is that most undocumented workers hold jobs unattractive to most American workers, and many of these are disappearing anyway. Her other evidence is that employment has not been this year a big issue in state legislatures or with unions. She feels the political climate has changed with the election of Obama, especially since Hispanic electoral participation had grown and is likely to grow even more. All that is favorable for a new try at comprehensive reform. But her fear seems to be that the coalition of 2006-7 may pull apart. Latino leaders got out the vote because immigration for their constituencies -- even Puerto Rican and Cuban that had few immigration issues -- was an "image issue". Now the newly generated political participation may turn on "wedge issues" -- discrimination, jobs, education, health -- that could split the vote and pull them away from other coalition members. Also while unions have united in support of comprehensive reform, they are asking that any temporary worker program in a comprehensive reform be more tightly written and more fairly administered. That runs square against the hopes of friendly employers who want their "reliable" workers to come cheap. Still Jacoby seems optimistic that the reform coalition will hold.

The budget request of President Barack Obama sent Congress is asking $27 billion for border security. This reflects recently announced poliy changes and his view that a tighter border has to be part of immigration reform if voters are to buy it. (See Arizona Republic article. See Also Associated Press analysis piece.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Supreme Court Decision May Overturn Postville, IA, Convictions

Immigrant activists and lawyers have asked the Justice Department to throw out the guilty pleas of 300 undocumented workers to identity theft, made last year after the Postville, IA, raid. That plea carried a two-year mandatory prison term, followed by deportation. Federal prosecutors have already dropped a charge of identity theft against a management official, and so immigration activists want Justice to do a case-by-case review. The key to the Supreme Court decision was the understanding of "knowingly", which seems to exclude most undocumented workers from criminal intent. They, for the most part, did not know the false identity documents -- usually a Social Security number -- belong to some real person. Further they used the identity, not to hurt that other person, but to get a job. (See New York Times article. See also Times editorial.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Supreme Court Curbs ID Theft Charges Vs Undocumented Workers

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court decision that convicted an undocumented steelworker of "knowingly" using a Social Security number that belonged to someone else. The decision does not help the worker as to deportation, but he is free of the criminal charge of identity theft. "Knowingly" means "knowingly" according to the court. Prosecutors can not argue on the assumption the user knew the card belong to another person. This will have implications for the Postville, IA, raids, since over 400 workers were charged or threatened with identity theft which carries a prison term. (See New York Times article.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Smarter Version of a Bad Idea

The recent changes in enforcement by Homeland Security to go more aggressively after the employers of undocumented workers won faint approval from the New York Times. It's better than the "cruel idiocy" of raids that only rounded up the workers and led to the separation of parents from children -- often U. S. citizens. It made for good theater, but bad public policy. Rounding up 6,000 workers out of a 12 million population made for good headlines to assuage nervous voters. It also had the effect of greater creating fear among the 12 million and driving them deeper into the shadows and arms of exploitative employers. The new guidelines, however, are only "a smarter version of a bad idea." For one thing, the raids will not stop and so it will make employers nervous about federal scrutiny so that may "purge" their workforces of those with dubious documentation. Unscrupulous bosses will go the "Home Depot" way -- hiring in parking lots or at street corners, with cash and no questions asked. That would be inviting greater exploitation. The Times argues that only a comprehensive reform that affords legalization, family reunification and protections of workers from workplace abuse can only resolve the issue.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fewer Pro-Immigration Demonstrators Because of Swine Flu Scare

The number of demonstrators at pro-immigration demonstrations on May Day were drastically down, apparently because of the swine flu scare. But the New York Times speculated that the numbers were held down also because of discouragement on the economy or the lack of progress in the Obama administration toward immigration reform. The Los Angeles Times reports differently. In Southern California the tone was upbeat and hopeful. There were no reports of disturbances. Still in Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is to face the demonstrators today, is taking extra precautions to protect his jail and his tent city. (See Arizona Republic article.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Senate Begins Immigration Hearings

The immigration subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings yesterday on reform with general agreement across party lines that something has to be done. But the conversation is just beginning and still rather general. The details to come later will be more problematic and contensious. Yet there were some new ideas. Doris Meissner, commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Services under Clinton, suggested establishing a "commission" to advise the president and/or Congress on immigration policy in changing circumstances. Yet others had grave warnings if immigration policy is loosened. The Department of Homeland Security does not have the resources or track record of administering well an expansion of visas. If one considers the debacle of its Citizenship and Immigration Services last summer, there may be some truth to the warning. (See Arizona Republic article.)