Friday, July 31, 2009

Immigrant Advocates Sharpen New Stradegies to Push Reform

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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Study on the Decline of Undocumented Population

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama Administration Stonewalls on New Rules at Detention Centers

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

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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Obama Administration Moving Ahead on Immigration

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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New ICE Regs Rein in Sheriff Joe

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

Thursday, July 23, 2009

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Deportees Fill up Mexicsn Border Towns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Legal Mind behind Anti-immigrant Laws

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Drugs Cartels Prey off of Undocumented

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fiscal Crisis in State Budget Impearls the Immigrant

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2009

New York Times Editorial on the 287(g) Program

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

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Immigfration Judges Under Stress

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

Friday, July 10, 2009

The New Undocumented -- The Irish

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

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

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

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Push for E-Verify

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Undocumented and Health Care Reform

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tale of Two Borders

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

Friday, July 3, 2009

Obama's Alternative to Factory Raids -- A Letter

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

Thursday, July 2, 2009

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Arizona Anti-undocumented Trespass Law Defeated

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

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