Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Cumulative Immigration Reform

January 23, 2010

While the Obama administration vowed to take on comprehensive immigration reform in 2009 and has now shifted its goal to legislation in 2010, several positive changes have recently begun to nudge the broken system towards increased fairness.  On Wednesday, December 16, ICE assistant secretary John Morton stated that asylum seekers would no longer be detained indefinitely as long as they could prove their identity,  that they were not a flight risk, and that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. (AILA Leadership Blog).  Although this has been official policy since 1996, Morton’s statement in late 2009 intimated that asylum seekers would be evaluated as soon as they make their claims, rather than sitting in an ill-equipped, makeshift detention center, often with violent criminals serving sentences.  Such a practice would begin to treat asylum seekers as we treat others in judicial proceedings – innocent until proven guilty. The administration also responded to the humanitarian crisis not simply by pledging financial aid and committing troops but by alleviating the immigration laws which were denying Haitians or even deporting them despite the catastrophic conditions of that island.  DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on January 18 that the United States was extending humanitarian parole to Haitian orphans seeking care.  The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security are working to get visas or paroles for these children, and once the unaccompanied minors arrive in the United States they will be in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Some of the children will qualify for permanent immigration status, while others will just be granted a visa, but either way these children will get the care they need in time.  In an area of legislation that often takes decades to move, it is refreshing to see the Obama administration react quickly to the urgent needs of Haitians. (DHS Fact Sheet).

In addition to the humanitarian parole for children, Haitian adults now qualify for temporary protected status (TPS) if they have resided in the United States since January 12, 2010, and maintained a continuous physical presence here.  For all the individuals in removal hearings, for all those awaiting an immigration decision with bated breath, for all those wondering when they would be put on a plane and send back to a country with few to none working airports, this announcement also reinstills hope that this year may be the year when comprehensive immigration reform escapes partisan politics and actually gets implemented.  (Christian Science Monitor). Hopefully comprehensive, rather than cumulative, immigration reform will finally pass in 2010.

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Guilty as Suspected

December 21, 2009

After listing off his numerous legal options over the phone and across the plexiglass, Fidencio looks right at me and says, “Yo quiero salir. Quiero regresar.”  I translate to the Minnesota Detention Project attorney that he simply wants to leave, to return home.  She explains briefly that this will result in a ten-year bar to his re-entry, that it will be very difficult for him to get back in again.  Fidencio shuffles his feet, chains jangle, and he crosses his arms across his orange County prison jumpsuit.  “No importa, I just want to get out. I can’t stay another week at Ramsey. Every day I stay in here I cannot make money for my family.  Just get me out ahora.”

And so another father and husband is deported back to Honduras, his family left here to continue living in the shadows or to return to a country with little opportunity.  About 8,000 people in Minnesota are currently in deportation proceedings, and some 200 to 300 are housed in one of five county jails where Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents space.  The Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul typically houses 50-75 detainees, most of whom do not have any criminal conviction and are merely suspected of illegal entry.  They share residence with indicted murderers, rapists, burglars, and drug addicts.  Since most county jails are designed for one-night stays, few have outdoor yards and, as a result, detainees rarely see the light of day.  At Ramsey County, detainees are incarcerated an average of 100 days.  Most immigrants, by the time their day in Immigration Court finally arrives, will argue their case pro se before the Court and simply beg the judge to deport them back to their country of citizenship. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR]

The number of immigrants detained each night in the United States is roughly 32,000.  Many of that number have not been convicted or even charged with a crime but are, according to ICE, a flight risk.   Immigrants represent the few civil court defendants incarcerated in such a way.  Despite the obvious flight risk of certain delinquent fathers awaiting judgment on child support or traffic offenders awaiting their day in court, few other civil defendants are held in jail at all, let alone for months on end.  Although anklet transponders are used by parole officers in oyhrt areas of law, ICE has so far rarely used such minimal safeguards for supposedly “innocent until proven guilty” immigrants, opting instead to pay $80/night for a total of $1.8 million/year. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR].

Anklet Transponder

Nationally, the housing and transfer system is so haphazard that some detainees are moved to a new detention facility without ever being served a notice detailing why they are being held.  From 1999 to 2008 some 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred, often moving longtime residents of New York and LA to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far away from friends, legal counsel, or evidence for their immigration case.  These detainee transfders typically send immigrants to the Fifth Circuit, the most hostile jurisdiction toward immigrants and the worst ration of immigration lawyers to detainees.  [Bernstein, Nina. “Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed. NYTimes].

This week, Rep. Gutierrez from Illinois introduced the first of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform bills, this one entitled C.I.R. A.S.A.P.  As Congress wraps up healthcare debates and begin to take up the issue  Obama shelved until 2010, any comphrensive bill must seek to alleviate and remedy the current system of criminal detention of civil immigrant cases.

Detention Watch Network MAP

“American” Apparel, Kidnappings, and Fines in Depression-era Immigration Enforcement

October 12, 2009

Despite the persistent high rate of unemployment in the United States, the need for comprehensive immigration reform is as urgent today as the first day Obama took office. A recent Pew Research Center poll noted that the United States still has a magnetic pull for Mexican citizens, citing that some 57% still would leave their homes to try to make a better life in the United States [Preston, Julia. “Survey Shows Pull of the U.S. is Still Strong Inside Mexico”].  Although immigration is down currently, the push and pull factors are still there and, without any real change in the immigration laws, the self-same issues will persist long after the Lehman Brothers are forgotten.

With Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s “enforcement only” strategy, the flawed laws continue to be administered with the same tragic results.  Two owners of the Yamato plant in Bellingham, the first ICE raid to take place after Obama took office and highlighted as a model of the sort of small-scale raids that this administration prefers instead of massive workplace operations like that in Postville, escaped with fines of $100,000 but no jail time for hiring and exploiting undocumented immigrants [Associated Press, September 22, 2009].  While this workplace raid strategy honorably focuses more on the errant employers than the exploited workers, $100,000 fines without jail time seem an inconsequential deterrent for multi-million-dollar companies.

In another glimpse into the current administration’s immigration tactics, American Apparel was compelled to fire 1800 workers with identification irregularities rather than undergo an ICE raid.  Far from a sweatshop, this factory was praised for paying well above the industry standard, for keeping their clothes “Made in the USA” (albeit by the hands of New Americans), giving health benefits and recently giving $18 million in stock options to employees [Preston, Julia. “Immigration Crackdown with Firings, not Raids”].  While technically illegal, the main rationale for workplace raids, that of depressed wages and exploitative conditions, were not present here. Perhaps a reprioritization of  workplace audits might be in store.

Similarly, although Napolitano and DHS has publicly come out against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s use of program 287(g) to racially profile and go on immigrant sweeps of Maricopa County, Arizona, still immigrants live in fear of going to the proper authorities after hearing stories like that of Ms. Gurrolla. Last Tuesday she was stabbed and her newborn child kidnapped by a woman posing as an ICE official; Saturday she was reunited with her son Yair Anthony Carillo; shortly thereafter the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services came and took all four of her children away. This story highlights the vulnerability of immigrants, undocumented and longtime, as well as depicting the very real fears they face from exploitative parties and government agencies. [Associated Press, Mother Briefly Loses Baby to Kidnapper, then All Her Children to the Authorities”]

As Napolitano finishes her first year as Secretary of Homeland Security, may we all urge her to aim for integration rather than reprisal, safety over fear, a real balance of workplace power rather than fines and deportations, real change instead of a façade of “fixing” the symptoms.

Outburst Over Immigrant Health

September 13, 2009

Wednesday night at Obama’s speech, several shameful acts occurred.  Rep. Louie Gohmert from Texas wore a sign around his neck reading, “What Bill?”, as the President spoke on healthcare reform just a day after his speech to America’s schoolchildren raised protests from certain school districts as well.  As Obama finished stating that his health plan would not insure undocumented immigrants, Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted, “You lie” in one of the most overtly disrespectful acts of uncivil discourse seen in political discourse.  While many politicains rightfully spoke out against Wilson’s sad outburst, they all centered on the disrespect it directed at the Executive office. [CNN.com]

There was “no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.”  – John McCain on Larry King Live

“It was crude and disrespectful. I think the person who said it will pay a price.” – Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

“I was always taught that the first sign of a good education is good manners. I think that what we saw tonight was really bad manners. And having a spirited debate is one thing, exercising bad manners is another. That was beyond the pale — and I would hope that he would publicly apologize on that same floor to the president of the United States for that insult.” -House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina –

While it is  certainly a sad day in our nation’s history when civil discourse devolves to hateful, warrantless vocal fussilades, it is even sadder when the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants Obama was talking about go completely ignored.  Wilson has defended his nativist stance by stating that he has been an immigration attorney and that he is all for “legal immigration,” yet his xenophobic comments exhibit a powerful antagonism toward our nation’s immigrant community.  The current plans being discussed would require “resident aliens” under tax law to buy health insurance, though it would not provide federal subsidies to undocumented immigrants.  It is bewildering to try to decipher Wilson’s vehemence.  Was his “You Lie!” comment directed at the fact that immigrants would be paying into a healthcare system largely targeted at providing healthcare to our nation’s aging, largely native-born population? Is Wilson frustrated that immigrants, legal or otherwise, pay their taxes and therefore have been supporting Social Security for years while never receiving an M.D. dime for it?

Surely everyone watching Wednesday night’s charged speech felt a repulsion at watching a civil debate turn into a heckler’s vaudeville act.  The saddest thing, however, is that nativism once more got publicity on national television.

Kennedys’ Nation of Immigrants

August 28, 2009

With the tragic passing of Edward Kennedy this past week, countless individuals and organizations have eulogized his 47 years of service. Most eulogies have focused on his health-care bills and speculate how he would have impacted the current public debate.  However, Kennedy will be missed for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the immigration reform in which he so passionately believed and our country so sorely needs. 

            Maybe he was influenced by his big brother Jack’s bestselling book A Nation of Immigrants. In the introduction to that book, Bobby Kennedy wrote, “Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal.”  Perhaps Ted saw in immigrants a continuation of the fight for civil rights. Whatever his inspiration, Sen. Edward Kennedy was a champion of immigration reform in his later years. In 2006 he partnered with Sen. John McCain in crafting bipartisan legislation which nearly succeeded in passing Congress. 

            Edward Kennedy will most certainly be missed by all, both in the political arena that so badly needs bipartisan cooperation as well as in the immigrant community which needs real reform. While Obama once promised comprehensive immigration reform within the year, he has since moved the deadline back to sometime next year. For our President, Congress, and all the men and women in this great nation, Ted Kennedy’s “Introduction to A Nation of Immigrants” should remain a lodestone.

[W]e will have ample inspiration in the lives of the immigrants all around us. From Jamestown to the Pilgrims to the Irish to today’s workers, people have come to this country in search of opportunity. They have sought nothing more than the chance to work hard and bring a better life to themselves and their families. They come to our country with their hearts and minds full of hope. I believe we can build the kind of tough, fair and practical reform that is worthy of our shared history as immigrants and as Americans.

The End of Hutto, The Beginning of Something New

August 11, 2009

Although programs like 287(g) are still being expanded by the Obama administration, last week saw a positive shift in immigrant detention policy. The administration announced that it hopes to create a “truly civil detention system,” which, if achieved, would be a much-needed change indeed.

The plan announced by the Department of Homeland Security, stipulated that it would be reviewing the detention of the 400,000 immigrant detainees that come through the system annually. The review will focus on the mistreatment of detained individuals and families, as well as the medical care, or lack thereof, received by immigrants in these centers. [Bernstein, Nina. New York Times]

Marking this noticeable shift from the Bush-era DHS operations is the closing of the T. Don Hutto Center north of Austin, Texas. This 512-bed center was a for-profit jail run by the Corrections Corporation of America, one which netted $2.8 million per month. Opened in 2006, it is one of two such family detention centers in the United States, the other being in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Its closing comes at the end of years of lawsuits by the ACLU and protests by immigrant advocates like Jay Johnson-Castro, as well as a scathing expose by the New Yorker in 2008.

The conditions at Hutto were deplorable. According to Vanessa Gupta, the lead ACLU attorney on the case, before the 2007 lawsuit some children under 10 stayed longer than a year, were confined to cells with open toilets, and received only 1 hour of schooling a day. Now, children are allowed to have crayons in cells and pajamas for the evenings.

While DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week that she expects the number of detainees to remain constant or increase over the coming years, assistant secretary of homeland security and head of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) John Morton stated that ICE will be exploring alternative options to monitor non-dangerous immigrants awaiting trial dates. [Talbot, Margaret. The New Yorker]

Hutto will not be used for family detention from now on; instead, it will be used to house women. While the family detention center in Berks County will still remain open for the time being, new alternatives are being explored such as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program. This program utilizes electronic monitoring bracelets, curfews, and regular contact with caseworkers while the immigrants live in the greater community. The pilot program has been established in 12 cities and reports more than 90% attendance in court. This seems like a much more cost-effective and humane way to treat immigrants awaiting their day in court.

Obama’s Bipolar Immigration Stance: Comprehensive Reform in the Future, Expanded Enforcement Now

August 6, 2009

While the Obama administration did nominate the first Latino Supreme Court Justice [who was just confirmed today], they have been repulsing a lot of their immigrant and Latino advocates for helped them win the election last November.  According to an article by Julia Preston in the New York Times, the administration’s decision to not only keep but also expand controversial Bush-era immigration enforcement measures has propelled several immigrant groups to begin a national movement to make them make good on campaign promises.

The Obama administration has initiated employee audits at more than 600 employers nationwide, expanded the E-Verify program, increased criminal prosecutions for immigrant violations [up over 30% since this time last year, according to a study by Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse], created a program that runs immigrant checks on everyone who enters a local jail in some cities, and extended the 287(g) program made infamous by Arizona Sheriff Joe ArpaioSecretary Janet Napolitano, formerly governor of Arizona, stated that she wouldn’t call of immigration raids entirely, though they have subsided since Postville, Iowa, little more than a year ago.  Napolitano said, “We will continue to enforce the law and to look for effective ways to do it.”

The problem lies in the fact that some of these programs are not “effective ways to do it.”  Immigrant and business advocates have sued to stop E-Verify because of its woeful inaccuracies.  While the program touts a .3% error rate for the 137,000 employers now enrolled. With 6.4 million queries, however, a .3% error rate still means that over 19,000 legal immigrants or citizens have received false denials so far in 2009.

Additionally, the seriously flawed 287(g) program that deputizes local police agencies to carry out federal legislation encourages civil rights violations, racial screening, and vigilante justice.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, the self-titled “toughest sheriff in America,” is currently under investigation for his long laundry list of civil rights abuses, from parading prisoners through the streets in shackles, making prisoners wear pink underwear, feeding them green bologna, and racially profiling Latinos for “random” traffic stops.

While President Obama stated that immigration reform would be passed within the year, Napolitano’s actions with the Department of Homeland Security have been anything but.  Perhaps it is political jiujutsu, designed to convince certain political affiliations that this administration will be hard on those who break the law and will not allow another 12 million undocumented immigrants to enter the country again.  However, by not only maintaining but actually revamping failed immigration enforcement mechanisms, the administration is sending a very mixed message about what that “immigration reform” will resemble.

Fingerprinting, Home Raids, and a Rare Apology to Immigrants

July 27, 2009

The Obama administration this past week opted to vastly expand a George W. Bush program to run fingerprints through immigration scans in Houston, TX.  In the past, only serious criminals were fingerprinted and screened for immigration conflicts.  With this program though, even those accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes are fingerprinted and checked in the USCIS database. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Federal officials stated that the automatic fingerprint checks in Harris County resulted in the deportation of 94 people for felonies and 1,624 people accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Cesar Espinosa of the immigrant advocacy group America for All said, “People are getting deported for even minor offenses like not having an ID or a driver’s license.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Another symptom of America’s flawed immigration enforcement was chronicled in a report released by the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law this past week. The Cardozo Justice Law Clinic partnered with several law enforcement experts like Nassau County’s police commissioner, to analyzing 700 arrest reports obtained from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] agency through Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] lawsuits.

In the home raids scrutinized by this report, the ICE agents acting without a search warrant were required to obtain consent. However, 86% of the home raids in Nassau and Suffolk counties, no consent was recorded as required by law. The report condemned the “cowboy mentality” that ran rampant throughout these raids: in Paterson, NJ, a nine-year-old legal citizen of Guatemalan descent was threatened at gunpoint while his legal resident mother was in the shower; in a Staten Island case, an immigration judge ruled that similar agents’ actions were an “egregious violation” of basic fairness; an email message exchanged between an ICE agent in Connecticut and a state trooper invited him to a set of raids scheduled for New Haven, stating, “We have 18 addresses – so it should be a fun time! Let me know if you guys can play!”

Such an abuse of power stems from having a system which criminalizes individuals merely suspected by their ethnicity of being guilty of a civil violation.  The Cardozo report suggests that these ICE home raids should be “a tactic of last resort, reserved for high-priority targets,” and accompanied with a search warrant.  The report also recommends that supervisors be on site and home raids videotaped. Lastly, the report states that agents should have to note why the initially seized or questioned any person, rather than merely waiting for the results afterwards [i.e. in law, “the end should not justify the means”].  Hopefully DHS Secretary Napolitano reads this insightful report and begins to deescalate the fear and violence perpetrated against our nation’s immigrant population through such negative programs. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/nyregion/22raids.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

As California worked around the clock to vote on a budget that would alleviate its 26 billion dollar deficit, they also passed an important public apology a long time coming.  The California Legislature apologized for its states’ past persecution of Chinese immigrants who worked on the state’s railroads, farms, and gold mines.  On Friday, the State Secretary released this public apology for the 19th and 20th century wrongs done to Chinese Americans.  If only the United States as a whole would apologize for the xenophobic, nativist legislation it passed in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all Chinese-Americans, and later all Asian-Americans, from legally immigrating to the United States for some 60 years. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23brfs-APOLOGYTOIMM_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

It is entirely possible that in 70 years, the United States will be uttering its own apologies to third and fourth-generation immigrants for the inhumane home raids and invasive fingerprint checks we are conducting now.

The State of the State of Minnesota, Re. Immigration

June 13, 2009

While the 2009 spring session for the Minnesota Legislature just ended amidst a controversial decision by Governor Pawlenty to balance the budget by himself, many important immigration bills were debated in this past session. Admirably, the Land of 10,000 Lakes voted to prohibit state compliance with the Real ID Act, a catch-all piece of 2006 federal legislation which enabled the Department of Homeland Security to waive any and all laws in the construction of our border wall and would have required a national id card to be carried by everyone in the U.S., a thinly cloaked anti-immigrant measure. This bill, HF 988, will protect Minnesota’s growing immigrant community in this particularly vulnerable time of economic turmoil from an intrusive federal law.

SF 1514 was also passed  on May 21 by the Minnesota legislature, recognizing the crime of sex trafficking for the first time with harsh penalties of up to 25 years in jail while also granting victims a means of legal recourse regardless of their citizenship status.

Also important were the bills rejected by Minnesota’s lawmakers, many of which were targeted specifically at the immigrant community.  SF 505, which would have required the removal of all head coverings in order to procure state ids, was defeated, along with SF 144, which would have made government employees liable if they knew of an undocumented immigrant and failed to report it.  SF 577 was also defeated in its efforts to make English the official language (interestingly enough, just before the turn of the 20th century the same debates were being had about making Norwegian the official state language).

A couple of important federal bills might also impact Minnesota.  AgJOBS, reintroduced in the Senate by Senator Diane Feinstein (S. 1038) and in the House by Representatives Howard Berman and Adam Putnam (H.R. 2414), would allow immigrant farm workers the opportunity to earn the legal right to permanently stay in this country through continuing work in agriculture while also amending the current H2A guest worker program to grant growers a safer and more stable workforce. (Souza, Christine. California Farm Bureau Federation).  Similarly, the Visa Recapture Bill (or the “Reuniting Families Act”) introduced by Senators Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer would go a long way in reforming the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. First, Visas unused due to lack of governmnet action dating back to 1992 would be added to the current year limits, and prospectively any surplus would added to the new year’s allowable visa limits. Second, spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents would be able to obtain visas (whereas now only citizens can really petition for immediate relatives), and it changes the age of minor children from 18 to 21.  Third, the overally level of family-sponsored immigrant visas would be expanded to 480,000/year, along with raising the number of employment-based visas to 140,000/year.

Advocates with the project Familias Unidas, along with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, have worked to include Minneapolis on this collaborative’s national tour to 20 cities.  In its attempt to encourage support for comprehensive immigration reform this year, Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Keith Ellison will hold a community forum at the Incarnation Church in Minneapolis on June 14 at 2:30.  This multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual event is aimed at getting Obama to follow through on his promise earlier this year to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2009.  The petition they will be signing at this event is as follows – feel free to print it off and send it to our President yourself:

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

My name is _____________________________________, and I am petitioning on behalf of my

______________________ who has no realistic options to gain legal status under our current

immigration laws.

President Obama, as a result of our broken immigration system, my loved one is at risk of being

deported/ has been deported:  causing the destruction and separation of our family.

This has caused us all to live with constant anxiety and fear about the future of our family.

As you eloquently stated in your inauguration speech,

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation:

the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their

full measure of happiness.”

On behalf of my family and the millions of other families like mine, I urge you to stop the

misguided raids and deportations that are tearing our marriages, our childrens’ lives, and

our communities apart.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise to work with Congress to move quickly to enact just and humane comprehensive immigration reform that includes

family reunification, faster due process, a reasonable path to citizenship, and workers’ protection.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise to work tirelessly to bring forth the change necessary to ensure that all people have an opportunity to dream, to live, and to pursue their full measure of happiness.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise of Si Se Puede; Yes We Can!

Sincerely,

________________________________________    ________________________________

Signature                                                                      Date

__________________________________________________________ (Address)

__________________________________________________________ (City, State, Zip Code)

__________________________________________________________ (Phone)

__________________________________________________________ (E-Mail)

Migrant Families Make their Way to Midwest Once More

May 30, 2009

Every year for decades, migrant families have boarded up their houses, told friends to check their mail, taken final exams a few weeks early, packed up their cars, and headed north to weed, tend, harvest, and process the foods we buy in the produce section of our local grocery stores.  Many families pay for the journey with their income tax return, arriving with scant assets and little more than a hope of a good growing season.  Migrant workers fall into one of three categories.  Some are recruited by a corporate employer, such as a processing or canning company.  They receive written contracts, sometimes are granted free housing in a labor camp, and are guaranteed work.  Others have a longstanding relationship with a particular farmer.  While the agreement might not be oral, some of these relationships extend back to a handshake between grandfathers.  This form of migrant work is more tenuous, however, than the corporate employer, as it hinges on good weather – if a drought or infestation should occur, the migrants could be 2000 miles from home with no money and no work.  Finally, some migrant families head North with only a hope of work – no contract, no contact, no housing, no plan other than to find a farm and pitch their services.

Migrant farmworkers are not immigrants; instead, they are either legal visitors with temporary work permits, legal permanent residents or citizens migrating internally within the United States.

This summer looks to be a difficult one for migrant families. Fargo remains inundated after the Red River flooding, and is months behind its agricultural calendar.  Other areas of the country are struggling with drought or other natural difficulties.  More importantly, however, is the economic depression. Farmers that once employed workers are either hiring less or none at all, in hopes of saving even just a few dollars.  Some farmers are using more pesticides or herbicides this year, in order to save money on paying migrant workers to weed or tend the rows.  Other farms have filed bankruptcy. Many farmers that have hired migrant workers for decades have called to tell them they will not be needing their services this year.

While the migrant families working for corporate employers or specific farmers will surely find this year a difficult one, the workers who just leave their hometowns in the Rio Grand Valley for the possibility of work in the Midwest could face a devastating summer.  Unable to find work and with little resources to return home, they will be easy prey for less-than-ethical employers. (Druley, Laurel. “Life on the Bottom Rung: No Place for Migrants”)

This summer, I will be working with the Migrant Farmworkers unit of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc. Under my supervisor Ana Maria Gomez-Gomez, I will primarily be working in Rochester, Owatonna, Plainview, and Elysian, though I will be covering cases in Dakota, Steele, Olmsted, Le Seur, and Waseca counties.  My work will focus on assisting migrant farmworkers with their adjustment to life in Minnesota, with any housing claims, employment wage claims, immigration questions, and any other legal questions that come up in the course of the summer.

I so look forward to working with migrant families from the Rio Grande Valley as they make their temporary homes here in southeastern Minnesota.  Having made that same journey myself, from Brownsville, TX, to Rochester, MN, I hope to be able to offer them some meaningful support and aid.  I wonder if any of the students to whom I gave early exams will be coming up with their families this season… Regardless, I hope to be able to help them get at least a minimum wage, secure decent housing, receive their security deposits at the end of the summer (something I have yet to ever receive myself), work in safe conditions, receive any public benefits to which they are entitled and require, renew or apply for new immigration status, and generally become adjusted to a new community.  It’s going to be a busy summer, but certainly one filled with meaning.

My work with SMRLS this summer comes at a dynamic time in immigration law, with Obama pledging to make progress towards comprehensive immigration reform in his first year of presidency. It comes less than a month after the first anniversary of the first large-scale ICE raid in Postville, IA, just a few hours south of here.  The work begins in a time when local law enforcement officers through 287(g) are attempting to enforce federal immigration laws in many of our nation’s cities and towns, resulting in racial profiling, arbitrary searches and arrests, and a terrified immigrant community unwilling to cooperate with the law enforcement they need and that needs them. (Moffett, Dan. “Cops aren’t Border Patrol”).  My role as Summer Advocate with SMRLS also comes at a time when Ms. Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina woman from the Bronx, has been put forth as Obama’s candidate to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court.  It also comes at a time that xenophobic individuals are seeking to place the blame of Wall Street on immigrants who don’t even own a bank account, when states and municipalities are balancing their budgets by cutting public welfare and other services to the indigent (in New York state, for example, elderly, disabled and blind legal residents will now get half of what they had previously received after the ruling in Khrapunskiy v. Robert Doar). But, my summer advocate role also coincides with bipartisan legislation like AgJobs, a bill supported by both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Farmworker Justice which seeks to relieve labor shortages while securing rights for migrant workers and discouraging agriculture’s exploitation of unauthorized workers (purportedly some 75% of the workforce by some estimates). (“Farms and Immigrants.” New York Times).

As I scan the cucumbers, corn, sugar, beets, potatoes, onions, asparagus, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes, I think of the migrant families making the drive to Minnesota and other states in the Midwest right now.  I look forward to learning from them and advocating for them, starting next week.