Posts Tagged ‘deportation’

Integration- The Ongoing Immigration Reform

March 16, 2009

As school budgets dry up and the immigration debate remains tabled for the moment, immigrants are often left without the resources needed to integrate into American society. A long article in the New York Times this past week highlighted some schools in the Northeast that are struggling to overcome the isolationism of immigrant students, but this is an issue in every state in the U.S. Without an effective English-as-a-Second-Language program and a school that actively works to engage immigrant students with the entire student body, these new Americans often feel isolated, discriminated, separate. Currently more than 5.1 million students are ESL or ELL learners – 1 in 10 of all students enrolled in public schools- a number which has increased by 60% from 1995 to 2005. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

Some of the immigration influx is from Mexico’s downturned economy in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the Mexican baby boom that followed on the heels of the American one. But this only explains a portion of the immigration phenomenon in the United States in 2009. Our immigrant population is growing more and more diverse, with refugees coming from Somalia, Sudan, eastern Europe, Central America, south Asia. Our workforce is now made up of new Americans from India and China, Liberia and Guinea, Iraq and Laos.

ESL teacher Ms. Cain explained the current situation succinctly. “I used to tell my students that they had to stay in school, because eventually the laws would change, they would become citizens of this country, and they needed their diplomas so they could make something of themselves as Americans. I don’t tell them that anymore. Now I tell them they need to get their diplomas because an education will help them no matter what side of the border they’re on.” As the Obama administration nears its two-month mark, immigrant advocates and international families are growing worried that some of his campaign promises might get overshadowed by the economic times, that comprehensive immigration reform might get side-staged by stimulus checks, although immigration reform arguably promises a more sustainable and enduring change for our economy. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

One of the groups who could use some comprehensive immigration reform is Liberian-Americans. If their temporary protected status [TPS] is not renewed by President Obama, they could be deported beginning March 31. President Bush extended TPS in 2007 to this group of 3600 refugees who fled Liberia two decades ago during a grisly civil war. Here in Minnesota, nearly 1,000 of the 3600 Liberians who call Minneapolis “home” could be deported in March, sent back to a country that held elections in 2006 but is far from stable. Many of these families have lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years and are active members in the community and local economy. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., previously introduced legislation that would provide Liberians with an opportunity to apply for permanent residency, but it has not been passed yet. Therefore, it’s up to President Obama to ensure that these refugees are not only permitted to stay in the U.S. until their country is repaired but also extend to them the hand of permanent residency, an act that would greatly aid in this community’s integration into American life. (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/41056182.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:UthPacyPE7iUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr)

Similarly, some 30,000 Haitian immigrants face deportation in the coming months, despite the fact that their country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, is ill-equipped to handle such an influx. Already short on water, food, housing and natural resources since the tropical storms last summer, some say such deportations could tax the tiny country beyond what it can handle. Despite appeals from the Haitian government to stay such deportations, the Department of Homeland Security has stated it intends to continue deporting undocumented Haitian immigrants. (Thompson, Ginger. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04brfs-HAITIANDEPOR_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

Recent news highlights our failure to adequately integrate certain immigrant groups into our nation. This past week, several Somali leaders from Minneapolis testified at a Senate Homeland Security Meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting’s purpose was to probe the mysterious disappearance of several Somali youths over the past few months, including one Shirwa Ahmed who was a suicide bomber in Somalia. Osman Ahmed, president of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, and Abdirahman Mukhtar, youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Community Center both testified at the DHS meeting. The concern arises from the alleged recruiting of Al-Shabaab — meaning “the youth” or “young guys” in Arabic – which has been able to attract some disaffected, un-integrated, jobless youth in the Somali community. With more than 200,000 Somalis living in the United States, Al-Shabaab poses a problem; however, it is paled in comparison to a failed integration and immigration system which creates such easy prey for extremist groups. While homeland security demands we investigate such terrorist recruiting claims, it is vital we do not forget that empty hands are very easily formed into closed fists. (Star Tribune)

Our government has not totally forgotten this root tenet of community integration. Congress recently passed Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2009 (Public Law 110-329), creating the Fiscal Year 2009 Citizenship Grant Program.  Awarding approximately $1.2 million of federal funding in the form of $100,000 individual awards, this grant program is aimed to support citizenship programs for legal permanent residents (LPRs). When LPRs make the shift from residents to citizens, everyone wins. The naturalized citizens gain the right to vote and receive benefits; our communities gain involved members and a greater constituency; and our nation integrates one more immigrant family. This grant for community-based organizations will do more than facilitate ESL classes, civics review sessions, and N-400 applications – it will serve to more fully involve and integrate denizens into American life. We can all hope to see more initiatives like this through the Obama administration. (USCIS)

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A Labor Day Salute to All Resident Workers

September 1, 2008

This September 1st, it is only fitting to laud the accomplishments of the unnoticed and disenfranchised of America’s workforce – the Immigrant.  In a nation that is still bent on building a wall and has popular public figures campaigning for mass deportation, immigrants still managed to excel in 33 of the spots on the American Olympic team. In a nation where immigrants legal and extralegal quake at the thought of ICE raids like that which detained more than 350 workers this past week in Laurel, Mississippi (New York Times), immigrants of undocumented parents (desparagingly referred to as “anchor babies” by American media) like Henry Cejudo worked tirelessly to upset the heavily favored Japanese free wrestler Tomohiro Matsunaga in the gold-medal match in Beijing (Navarrette, Ruben).  With hard workers like these thankless millions, Labor Day means a day without work for most of us.

This past week, the national spotlight was turned to the perilous job of the window-washers in New York City.  On Tuesday, August 28, two window-washers were narrowly rescued while a third plunged to his death in Manhattan.  49-year-old Robert Domaszowec was a Ukrainian immigrant who had received his dangerous calling from his father (New York Times).  Much of the City’s window-washers are first or second-generation immigrants who quietly risk their lives day in and day out to improve the view of millions.

Like so many immigrants, their lives are largely invisible to mainstream American culture.  Unless we read about a rare crime committed by an extralegal immigrant or watch an incendiary nativistic talk show on television, these workers who earn their Labor Day often work in underpaid jobs with scant hope for advancement.  When they are noticed, it is often with disdain, xenophobia, or worse.  This past week Tennessee changed its state law to allow pregnant inmates to be unchained and uncuffed during childbirth.  This came only after a Mexican immigrant, detained in Davidson County on the charge of “careless driving,” was left handcuffed to the bed for all but a few minutes of her labor.  The Sheriff went on record as saying this recently overturned policy was, “a little more than may have been necessary in every case” (New York Times.

On this Labor Day, it is vital we appreciate our nation’s success over the years and the people to whom we owe a deep thanks.  At the risk of sounding repetitive and Kennedy-esque, our nation truly is a land of immigrants, new and long-established, coming and going.  On Labor Day it is important to remember those who are not even allowed to join labor unions but still work 10-hour days in our factories and fields, houses and skyscrapers.  This Labor Day let us say a prayer for our nation, that it may not forget those things which make it strong (such as immigrants) and that it may cease those things which weaken it daily (such as the wars of the past 40 years).  If our nation would rise to its self-proclaimed status as world power, if we would acknowledge both the push and pull of immigrants coming to this country, if we would work to incorporate and integrate and empower every resident within our borders, then Labor Day could truly be a holiday celebrated by everyone in the United States instead of just those with papers.

Immigration in all its Designs

May 4, 2008

Touring Spain, I am quickly being reminded of immigration in all its designs.  In the United States, we tend to imagine Mexican braceros or refugees, but often ignore or forget the host of reasons people migrate from place to place.  I am reminded of this at a long lunch with Rotarians in Coruña.  Jim, a British expatriate, keeps refilling my wine glass and inviting me to imbibe more alcohol as a fellow hailing from the British Isles (however long ago my Irish ancestors crossed the sea from County Mayo to Penn´s Woods).  Jim was just one of many ex-pats who willingly came to Spain some 40 years ago on business and never left. His friend and fellow Rotarian Richard was born in the heartland of Kansas, and his English still drawls like corn in the rain.  For every immigrant who returns, which historically comprises 30% of immigrants, countless more find much to love in their new country. 

The very idea of Rotary is one of international brotherhood and universal goodwill, and it squares with aglobal and historical view of immigration.  We are still departing from the hateful philosophy of eugenics, but people are coming to an understanding that there are no pure races, that the Irish of our stereotypes are really just descendants of Viking raiders who intermarried with the Gaels who hailed from northwest Spain since migrating all the way from India.  Immigration is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something to be contained or perceived in an epidemiological mindset.  People will inevitably travel, people will seek out lands where they can make the most impact, people will settle and integrate and assimilate because it is necessary for satisfaction.  The nativistic worries about racial blocs and unassimilable immigrant groups are unfounded, for as much as there have been concentrations of immigrant groups, their children undoubtedly grasp the culture which surrounds them in order to attain contentment. 

Though far from perfect, Spain is much closer to realizing a humane and accurate perception of immigration.  There are no deportations in Spain.  Though boats are turned away in the Grand Canary Islands and immigrants are refused from some ports, once those persons are here the Spanish government uses fines to oust extralegal residents who refuse to enter public society through the liberal immigration routes.  Here in Spain, it takes but 3 years for an extralegal worker to attain authorization, which is a significant step en route to full citizenship.  In the United States, similar immigrants must wait in an endless lottery which can take upwards of ten years to never.  Immigrants from Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Romania, Hungary, Brasil, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Uruguay – all these people are viewed as possible citizens by a system which tends to treat people as assets rather than criminals. 

In conversations with Jim and Richard, they air some criticism about Spanish immigration policies but are quickly silenced when I mention the proposed border wall, detention centers such as Hutto, and the xenophobic talks of massive deportation in the American immigration debate.  Though there is no such thing as a perfect, fully replicable immigration system, we must be moving towards comprehensive, compassionate immigration legislation which supports immigrants of all designs. 

 

What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’

January 24, 2008

        Yesterday, a good friend of mine in Austin pressed me about my oft-repeated phrase of “real immigration reform.” He was in agreement that there are some social and moral dilemmas with our current immigration system, but he couldn’t honestly see a better, more direct answer than the border wall. I had to thank him for his honesty, and his desire to candidly grapple with the problem and its solution. However, legislation would solve the problems at a much deeper level and in a more sustainable manner.

    One component of transformative immigration reform is prohibitive penalties for companies which employ undocumented workers. We do not need illegal immigrants – we need immigrants who are sponsored here in the United States and who come with a purpose, but we most definitely must not continue our current method of refreshing a grossly under-paid, right-less pool of workers. Stiff penalties for businesses would follow the same trend which has been adopted with corporate white-collar crime (think Enron). If the tremendous resources of the U.S. Border Patrol could be used, instead, to police the businesses which are pulling immigrants from their homeland under false pretenses, the border would be a very different place indeed. Immigrants come either from a push or pull motive – either because of the conditions of their home country or the promises of the new one – and to the extent that we can diminish the false pull of exploitative businesses, illegal immigration could be greatly curtailed. The few workers who might still come across illegally would find it very difficult to get a job, and because of their close proximity to their home country, would return like 1/3 of immigrants.

    A second key piece of meaningful immigration reform is to extend a means to legal citizenship for the 12-14 million extralegal working residents here in the United States. Earned citizenship would necessitate that person have a steady job and a place of residence. The main problem with our current immigration laws is that people migrate here and then are stuck between D.C. and the border checkpoints. Unable to secure legal citizenship, they are caught in a revolving door of underpaid, exploitative work which is both dehumanizing and compounding to their dilemma. Earned citizenship measures would greatly decrease the number of long-term extralegal residents, so that ICE could focus solely on those residents who are not moving towards such legalization. Countless immigrants who simply overstayed their visas could become much more productive members of society, no longer lurking in the shadows, if only they saw hope of citizenship.

    The third crucial element of far-reaching immigration reform would be an overhaul of the current quota system. While many immigrants and refugees come to these United States outside the current quota, this system allotting 26,000 immigrants to each nation, irregardless of its population, still forms the foundation of our current immigration legislation. These quotas, in theory, allow just as many people to immigrate from Vatican City and Luxembourg as from China, India, or Mexico. More egalitarian “quotas” would be relative to a country’s population. American universities already have a complex and accurate system of ranking students coming from schools as divergent as my alma mater Troy High School in Pennsylvania (100 graduates/year) and Philadelphia high schools (2,000 graduates/year). Another possibility, instead of quotas, would be to highlight specific industry vacancies which are prohibitively under-staffed and draw immigrants for these specific fields. This would assure an excellent pool of workers for American businesses, and it would also ensure that immigrants come to the U.S. with steady, well-paid occupations already lined up.

    While these three components are fundamental changes which must be made if we are to change the future of immigration in this country, several other ideas would help to make our nation significantly better for those populations which are so often overlooked. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass last year in Congress, would provide much-needed funds to qualifying immigrant students who have already demonstrated a readiness and dedication to academics. The DREAM Act goes much deeper than simply rewarding immigrants who work; this legislation assures that these young residents will not be stuck in the cycle of underpaid jobs which fail to utilize their contribution potential and talents. Another immigration reform which would greatly aid our current state is speedy deportation. Detention centers like our nation’s largest at Raymondville are a pock on our country in the same vein as Japanese internment camps and Guantanamo Bay. Immigrants who are employed illegally and are slotted for deportation should have the right to a speedy process. Currently, they are stripped of all rights and incarcerated for a month on average (though some are left for years). The companies which hire undocumented workers should receive much stiffer penalties than the workers who were exploited, but if we are to return them to their home country so that they can begin a new life, this must happen speedily. The alternative is what we currently have, an expensive detention process which has not been proven a true deterrent to re-entry but has most definitely been proven to be dehumanizing, unconstitutional, and an affront to basic human rights.

    While immigration should be at the forefront of American thought for the next fifty years or more, the three changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders, dismantle the need for a Secure Fence Act, and provide the most basic American rights to some 12-14 million people who are living in inequality. It is my solemn prayer that one day all residents in these United States will truly be treated equally, that people will receive better treatment and fairer taxation than corporations, and that no group of people will be denied a future because of dehumanizing legislation.