Posts Tagged ‘undocumented’

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.

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The Pulse of The United States – May 2009

May 2, 2009

Last night, I spent almost half an hour filling out the 2009 American Community Survey, part of the 2010 census.  As my wife and I filled it out, I wondered what the census would show this year.  Many predict that Minnesota will lose a seat in the House, that some serious redistricting will go on, and that the answers from the census will be analyzed and implemented in everything from political campaigns to television commercials.

Although the American public won’t get the results from the 2010 census for a while now, and when it does immigrants and minorities will still probably be underrepresented, this past week saw some encouraging polls released from the New York Times, CBS, ABC, and the Washington Post, just in time for the initiation of immigration reform discussion before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee on Thursday, April 30. (Belanger, Maurice). The New York Times and CBS polls asked:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.: 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs, and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but NOT to apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S. [NYTimes]

44% said they favored allowing immigrants to stay and eventually apply for citizenship, while 21% said they should be allowed to stay in their jobs as temporary guest workers.  Refreshingly contrary to national pundits who typically pit African Americans against recent immigrants, 55% of African Americans favored allowing undocumented workers to stay and work, with only 19% stating they should be required to leave their jobs and the U.S. (Belanger, Maurice)

The Washington Post/ABC poll released on Thursday was similarly encouraging news.  The survey asked,

Would you support or oppose a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements? [ABC]

61% said they favored allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to live here and have a viable path to citizenship.  Liberals supported this (70%), Democrats supported it (68%), Republicans and Independents supported it (59%), and moderates (63%) and conservatives supported it (56%). (Belanger, Maurice) Despite the repeated statements from nativists that this is a partisan issue and that humane immigration reform is contrary to rule of law in the United States, the poll speaks loudly that the majority of Americans are in favor of treating these new Americans humanely and reasonably.

With 73% of Americans under 30 supporting such legislation (compared to 42% of seniors), this comprehensive immigration reform seems to be the mandate of the future. As the Senate debates the finer points of specific immigration bills, it is highly encouraging to know that the American people have not caved in to nativist and xenophobic fears during this time of economic depression, but instead have chosen to recognize that as Dr. King said, we are all “inextricably linked in the garment of destiny.”

Pulitzers & Unlikely Cooperation

April 21, 2009

Colbert Report with Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Yesterday, a Pulitzer Prize went to a team of largely unknown reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune based in Mesa, AZ.  The prize was for their unflinching coverage of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s local immigration law enforcement under 287(g), its “successes” and its hefty costs for Maricopa County and the nation.  Their reporting uncovered the fact that Arpaio’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants sacrificed his unit’s response to emergency calls, contributed to an overtime pay increase which forced the department to close several other sites around the county, and uselessly focused on low-level immigrants who had merely broken a border-crossing law rather than felony or human smuggling charges.  Additionally, the five-piece set of articles entitled “Reasonable Doubt” highlighted the racial profiling inherent in Arpaio’s 287(g) campaign.  The most common pretext for arresting undocumented immigrants were traffic violations, ranging from speeding (and in some cases “poking” along too slowly), obscured license plates, “unsafe” lane changes, and broken lights.

The key findings of the East Valley Tribune’s report were:

“Deputies are failing to meet the county’s standard for response times on life-threatening emergencies. In 2006 and 2007, patrol cars arrived late two-thirds of the time on more than 6,000 of the most serious calls for service.

MCSO’s arrest rate has plunged the past two years even as the number of criminal investigations has soared.

The sheriff’s “saturation” patrols and “crime suppression/anti-illegal immigration” sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods are done without any evidence of criminal activity, violating federal regulations intended to prevent racial profiling.

Rampant overtime spending on immigration operations drove the agency into financial crisis and forced it to close facilities across the county. Although MCSO officials have said state and federal grants covered all the expense, illegal immigration arrests actually are costing county taxpayers millions of dollars.

Despite the money and manpower expended, the sheriff’s office has arrested only low-level participants in human smuggling rings: drop house guards, drivers and the immigrants they ferry.

Deputies regularly make traffic stops based only on their suspicion that illegal immigrants are inside vehicles. They figure out probable cause after deciding whom to pull over. (“Reasonable Doubt”)

This Pulitzer is priceless, in that Gabrielson and Giblin reported on the extent to which immigrants are human beings and “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  As the Department of Justice and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano look into Arpaio’s doings and the general concept of 287(g) [the program which charges local law enforcement officials with enforcing federal laws], this Pulitzer and the ideas it has spurred will undoubtedly play a part in ending these tactics of discrimination and terror.

In another victory for the civil rights of immigrants and anyone yearning for comprehensive immigration reform, last week saw the rival labor federations AFL-CIO and Change to Win go public with a cooperative immigration reform statement. The new accord advocates legalization of some of the nation’s 12 million undocumented individuals and the near abolition of the ad hoc temporary guest-worker programs.  Instead, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Change to Win President Joe Hansen have proposed a national commission charged with determining the number of temporary and permanent visas which should be offered annually based on the current American labor markets.  Surely, the current temp worker program needs significant overhaul (along with the rest of America’s immigration legislation), in that immigrants sponsored through these programs cannot change jobs, are tied to one employer, and can be refused future labor opportunities for criticizing their sponsoring employer. (Preston, Julia and Steven Greenhouse. “Immigration Accord by Labor Boosts Obama Effort.”)

As I work with migrant farmworkers in Rochester, Plainview, and Owatonna, Minnesota, this summer, I am heartened that these two rival labor federations are articulately and bipartisanly advocating for comprehensive immigration reform in year which the Obama administration promises will see some immigration legislation.  Between this unlikely labor collaborative and the expert reporting from Pulitzer Prize winners Gabrielson and Giblin, hopefully compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform got one day closer to realization.

* To protest Arpaio’s tactics and 287(g), please fill out this petition.

Migrants, Minors, and the Many Unintended Consequenses of Militarized Immigration Enforcement

April 10, 2009

A new Urban Institute report prepared by Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney reported on America’s immigration policy’s effect on children. Entitled “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” this comprehensive publication released last week highlights the 3.1 million American citizen children who are adversely affected by the increasingly militarized form of American immigration enforcement. Of the 900 immigrants arrested by 2008 ICE raids in Worthington (a December 2006 workplace raid of the Swift plant), Willmar and Austin, MN (sites of several home raids), for example, more than 500 children were affected, 2/3 of whom were legal American citizens.(“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Estimates from the Urban Institute suggest that for every 2 adult immigrants detained 1 citizen child is affected. More than 1.9 million immigrants have been deported this decade, likely affecting almost 1 million citizen children in our nation’s Boys and Girls Clubs, high schools, soccer teams, cross-country meets, honor rolls, Dairy Queens, debate tournaments.

Despite the insatiable demand for lower-skilled immigrant workers, currently only 5,000 permanent visas are offered for lawful entry each year. Temporary work permits are similarly limited. Under current immigration law, moreover, citizen children under the age of 21 cannot petition for the lawful re-entry of a deported parent or the naturalization of their parents. Those parents will often be barred from any type of legal re-entry for 10 years (often longer than their children have been alive). Although nativist rhetoric often cries that these immigrants should wait in line, currently the line winds ‘round the world for a mere 5,000 spots.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Furthermore, the Dorsey & Whitney report documents that ICE’s “knock and talk” searches are particularly harmful for children. Under pretextual excuses, ICE agents are permitted to enter the homes of suspected extralegals without a search warrant if the scared, often-confused, immigrant opens the door. In these raids, children have seen their parents harassed, racially profiled, interrogated on the living room couch, and sometimes led away in handcuffs. Or, worse yet, sometimes children have come home from school expecting an afternoon snack only to find their home abandoned in the wake of a raid.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

The report also touches on other questionable detention techniques, such as the practice of forum shopping (whereby an immigrant detained in the generally lenient 9th Circuit might be moved the next day to the immigrant-hostile 5th Circuit) or isolation (typically, detention centers are isolated with little contact from the outside world). Such techniques employed by ICE hamstring immigrants’ efforts to get effective legal representation, contact their distraught family members, or gather evidence of their legality or asylum claims. When immigrants under these conditions sign “voluntary removal” orders in hopes of seeing their families sooner, the legality of our immigration system is seriously called into question. (“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Pointedly, the report makes several laudable recommendations including:

• Changing legislation to allow citizen children younger than 21 to petition for lawful re-entry of deported parents.

• That Congress grant immigration judges the discretion to consider the “best interests” of the citizen child in deportation and removal proceedings.

• The appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect and advocate for the interests of the child in all immigration proceedings.

• U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement develop guidelines for conducting home raids to ensure that enforcement actions are truly “targeted” and minimize the prospect of harm to children.

This past week, President Obama revealed that he plans to begin addressing our nation’s inadequate immigration system, including solutions for extralegal immigrant workers to become legal. While his statements were met by the usual tumult from NumbersUSA and FAIR (organizations identified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center but curiously referred to as “group[s] that favor[] reduced immigration” in the New York Times article). As Obama looks to make some positive changes in immigration laws which could have positive ramifications on our nation’s workforce and economy by legitimizing millions of people already working, his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano must also seek to make some serious changes in the way undocumented immigrants and their legal children are treated. One great start to meeting both the needs of citizen children of immigrants and the international community would be to sign on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This 1989 UN treaty has been signed on to by every country in the world but two – Somalia and the United States.  Article 10 of that convention has been a sticking point for the US in the past, but it would help solve the problems highlighted by the Dorsey & Whitney report.  It reads: “applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.”  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we can join the rest of the world in protecting the rights of all children, immigrant and citizen.

Post-Postville America

March 6, 2009

Though it only occurred last May, the ICE raids in Postville, Iowa, keep resurfacing to the forefront of immigration policy in the United States. On February 25, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a review of a raid the day before. This raid on the Yamato Engine Specialists engine repair shop in Washington resulted in the arrest of 28 individuals and the first such raid under the new Obama administration (Stark, John and Anna Walters. Bellingham Herald). A top official suggested that Napolitano did not know of the raid beforehand, stating that, “She was not happy about it because it’s inconsistent with her position, and the president’s position on these matters.” The fate of these workers, most of whom await trial in a Tacoma detention center, will also signal the resolve of the Obama administration to focus more on noncompliant employers rather than the employees. So close to the events of Postville where nearly 400 immigrants were arrested and adjudicated in rapid fashion, Napolitano’s review of the raid will demonstrate how far we’ve come as a nation in ten months. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/washington/26immig.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

Also last week, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Flores-Figueroa v. United States. This case is a test case aimed at getting the Supreme Court to issue a binding national ruling on identity theft. 18 U.S.C. §1028 is an aggravated identity theft statute which extends criminal sentences by two years per charge. §1028 intersects with immigration law, however, when undocumented immigrants make up Social Security numbers which happen to belong to real people.

Six District Courts are evenly split over the extent of mens rea (foreknowledge) required for this crime. Currently, six District Courts are evenly divided in the interpretation of the ambiguous term “knowingly” within 18 U.S.C. §1028(a). The 4th, 8th, and 11th Courts have ruled no mens rea as to the person’s identity is necessary, while the 1st, 9th, and D.C. Circuits have ruled it a requirement. United States v. Villanueva-Sotelo, 380 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 515 F.3d 1234 (D.C. Cir. 2008)(explaining necessity for mens rea because theft is not mere misappropriation); United States v. Sanchez, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 35460 (E.D.N.Y. April 30, 2008)(requiring government to prove scienter for identity theft); United States v. Mejorada-Cordova, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44634 (D. Utah, June 5, 2008); United States v. Salazar-Montero, 520 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (N.D. Iowa 2007) (mens rea needed due to statutory ambiguity).

“There’s a basic problem here,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.. “You get an extra two years if it just so happens that the number you picked out of the air belonged to somebody else.” Kevin Russell, attorney for the defendant, is arguing that, at the very least, the rule of lenity requires that ambiguous statutes such as §1028 be resolved in favor of the defendant in criminal cases. Ignacio Flores-Figueroa worked with false identification for years at a steel plant in Illinois. After six years, he changed his false identification documents and was arrested shortly thereafter. The Eighth Circuit convicted Flores on the basis that he knowingly used false identification, despite the fact he was ignorant of a true person’s identity. (Faitek, Adam. New York Times)

10 months ago in Iowa, 270 of the 400 immigrants working in a kosher meatpacking plant were criminally charged with using false identification. A marked departure from past instances where immigrants had faced only civil charges, the predominantly Guatemalan Spanish-speakers were penned in a cattle-barn and hurried through the mobile trailer-courthouse. Prof. Erik Camayd-Freixas of Florida International University, an interpreter who risked his professional life to speak out against the atrocities he witnessed that May, stated that most of the immigrants had no idea what a Social Security card was, let alone that they had “stolen” someone’s identity.

While much of this may seem like obscure legal arguments, what this realistically means for immigrants charged under §1028 is that, rather than the speedy deportation for which they were hoping, they may have to spend years in an American jail. Anxious to return to any jobsite to earn precious money for their families, the long sentences associated with §1028 condemn them and their families to a meager existence. Moreover, the arbitrary nature of §1028’s application means that some unlucky individuals who picked the wrong number are serving the same jail sentence as professional thieves who bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting internet users.

With the oral arguments in, the Supreme Court is now deliberating. Their published opinion will be released later this year, and it will certainly have far-reaching repercussions for the immigrant community. Hopefully their decision will ensure that in a post-Postville America immigrants will be guaranteed a fair civil trial.

The Tragic Use of Words to Criminalize Human Beings

January 29, 2009

Last Friday, the Minnesota Daily ran an article about the Asylum Law Project at the University of Minnesota.  The headline read, “Law Students Help Illegal Immigrants.” While the main thrust of the article was very pro-immigrant and gave voice to numerous groups involved in immigrant advocacy, the inclusion of the term “illegal” somewhat marred its message. After letters of protest from as near as the East and West Bank and as far as California, the Minnesota Daily Editor-in-Chief Vadim Lavrusik published statement explaining the misunderstanding, reiterating the Daily‘s 2006 commitment to use the term “undocumented,” and the editing of the article.

The Associated Press style book currently prefers “illegal immigrant” over “undocumented worker” or “illegal alien.”  While not as bombastic as the latter, “illegal immigrant” still criminalizes people and implies an overgeneralization.  For example, the cases the Asylum Law Project worked on were asylum seekers, who are neither legal nor illegal.  These people declared to the United States government they were seeking asylum from their home country; as a result, they are kept in detention centers until their case is decided.  To dub people like this “illegal” is to hold individuals guilty until proven innocent, a sad digression of American justice.  It is sad that the AP style book still persists in continuing a journalistic tradition that perpetuates such divisive and alienating terminology.

The common use and acceptance of derogatory terms in mass media track the same public discourse that laid the ground for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Called “Coolies” and “Asiatics” for years, accused of depressing wages and bringing subversive politics, decried as failing to integrate and having “anchor babies,” Chinese-Americans were discriminated against for decades preceding this first racially-based immigration legislation.  Chinese immigrants were effectively barred from citizenship until the act was repealed in 1943 with the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act.   As has been the case historically, the ways Chinese immigrants were framed in the media affected the way they were viewed nationally.  Associated Press should be pressured to change their practice of using “illegal immigrant” in articles throughout the United States.  Please write a letter or email to the editors, telling them that no human being is illegal and that we are capable of more civil and exact nomenclature for migrants.

Whittling Away Immigrant Rights

January 15, 2009

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ring truer than ever on the heels of Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s latest ruling on January 8, 2009. Mukasey issued a ruling concerning appeals to the deportation of three different immigrants. The immigrants appealed on the basis of attorney error, but Mukasey stated that, “neither the Constitution nor any statutory or regulatory provision entitles an alien to a do-over if his initial removal proceeding is prejudiced by the mistakes of a privately retained lawyer.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)


A case five years ago, In re Assad, established precedence which prompted the Board of Immigration Appeals to routinely allow immigrant appeals on basis of attorney error. However, the Attorney General’s ruling is now prevailing law, barring an appeal.


While some support this eleventh-hour ruling by the departing Attorney General, others argue that immigrants are often preyed upon by extortionary attorneys or have to settle for less-than-competent counsel. The 9th Circuit said in one opinion last year that often “vulnerable immigrants are preyed upon by unlicensed notarios and unscrupulous appearance attorneys who extract heavy fees in exchange for false promises and shoddy, ineffective representation.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times) I can personally attest to this, having worked on asylum cases where families in removal proceedings were charged $10,000 and then asked for another $12,000, all with nothing to show for it but lost time inside a drab detention center.

Extreme lawyerly error, as determined by the court, is now the only way immigrants can appeal cases based on the quality of their defense. Mukasey negated the most common method of appeals in immigration cases by explaining, “There is no constitutional right to counsel, and thus no constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, in civil cases.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)

By the time Obama gets established in office, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants could potentially have been deported due to Mukasey’s new ruling. Mukasey and other supporters of this ruling argue that this appeal was too often a delay tactic by immigrants attempting to stay their removal proceedings. What is certain is this – immigrants’ Constitutional rights shrunk five sizes last Thursday. And when anyone’s civil liberties are threatened, all our rights are. As another of Dr. King’s statements elucidates, we are “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” For extralegal immigrants, 12 million and growing, this latest legal decision strips Constitutional rights the rest of America takes for granted. Mukasey’s latest ruling creates a dehumanizing distinction between Americans with rights and those without. Until this ruling is appealed, as we should all hope, we must be vigilant that the most vulnerable Americans aren’t exploited under the auspices of new controlling law.

Throughout the chilling allegory of Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Constitution or Commandments by which the animals live slowly change.  Although they begin their society with the fundamental premise that “All Animals are Equal,” it is soon changed to “All Animals are Equal, but some are More Equal than Others.”  This is the essence of Mukasey’s new ruling, that immigrants, like detainees at Guantanamo Bay, have little to no rights because they are not recognized as citizens of these United States.  What held true in Animal Farm will surely hold out here; if we allow some people to be more equal than others, we are setting up a system which necessarily exploits the most vulnerable. We must take heed not to read into the Declaration of Independence the word “citizen” where it has always said, “All men are created equal.”


Immigrants did not cause the Economic Crisis, but they can help us rebuild

December 14, 2008

The Anti-Defamation League recently published a thoughtful article warning all of us to be careful in assigning blame to any one group of people (Nathan, Martin. Houston Chronicle)  The ADL’s article focused on Susan Carroll’s Houston Chronicle series which highlighted problems in our criminal system.  While study after study like that of Harvard Sociology Professor Robert Sampson has shown that recent immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes (45% less likely than 3rd generation Americans in his study), xenophobic rhetoric abounds on blogs, comments, and media posts concerning immigrants.

What’s more alarming, yet inextricably linked to such polarizing rhetoric of hate and “otherness,” are the increasing hate crimes against Latinos and other immigrant groups. The Houston Chronicle article highlighted FBI statistics that show from 2005-2007 hate crimes against Latinos grew from 475 to 595.  Indeed, several high-profile hate crimes against immigrants have occurred in New York City alone, that emblematic heart of the American melting pot.  Ecuadorean brothers Jose and Romel Sucuzhanay were brutally beaten in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Sunday, December 7, by three men shouting obsenities which were “ugly, anti-gay and anti-Latino” (McFadden, Robert. New York Times).  On November 7 in Patchogue, NY, seven teenagers fatally stabbed 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean returning from his late shift (Finn, Robin. New York Times).

And so, as the economy continues its downspin and people, unable to wreak justice on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, scan the nation for a proper scapegoat, preferrably one without a voice and lacking human rights.  It is this nativism fueled by the economic crisis which propels hate speech and hate crimes, as well as xenophobic legislation like New IDEA (Immigrant Deduction Enforcement Act), an attempt to massively expand the role of the IRS in aiding the Department of Homeland Security to crack down not on employers but primarily on unauthorized immigrants. Iowa Congressman Steven King, seemingly unfazed by the destruction the Postville ICE raid has caused his own small-town constituents, touts this bill he introduced as a means of wresting jobs from the immigrants holding 7 million jobs (as per the PEW Hispanic Research Center) and distributing them to the 9.5 million jobless Americans. While his Robin-Hood techniques may sound appealing in a time of economic depression, we cannot forget that immigrants are people too; this is not merely redistributing wealth or opportunity – this is redistributing people.

As we head into the New Year, looking back on our mistakes of 2008 and crafting new resolutions to see us through 2009, blame-shifting will help none of us.  No, we must turn from this simple scapegoating and look at real solutions which can help us all rather than profiting some at the expense of the most vulnerable (isn’t this the sort of predatory business model that caused the economic crisis in the first place?).  Immigrants didn’t cause the economic crisis, but they can sure help us rebuild.  Why? Because they are us and we are them; we are all in this thing together.

The ABC of Agriprocessors

December 7, 2008

Nearly seven months after their Postville processing plant was raided by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), Agriprocessors pled not guilty on all charges Friday, December 5, 2008. Their lawyer, who phoned in to make the plea, did not mention the plight of the 389 unauthorized immigrants or their families (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081205/NEWS/81205033). He didn’t highlight the fact that these hard workers were steered into cattle barns and misled to believe that if they admitted all charges against them the process would somehow be easier and more lenient. Agriprocessors’ attorney didn’t mention their Nebraska plant that closed down or the Chapter 11 bankruptcy the company filed on November 4 to “reinvigorate the company,” according to their bankruptcy lawyer Kevin Nash. (Preston, Julia. New York Times)

The saddest aspect of Agriprocessors’ court proceedings is that they are being tried for the wrong crimes. Agriprocessors will face a jury trial on January 20 on the charges of “harboring and aiding undocumented workers, document fraud, identity theft and bank fraud.” (http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=7&a=374130) They are not awaiting judgment for their notorious safety violations, underpayment of their immigrant workers, and mandatory unpaid overtime, all of which community members like Rev. Paul Oderkirk of Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church had been decrying for years. They are on trial for “aiding” unauthorized” workers that they intentionally recruited and then kept illegal so as to have a docile, underpaid workforce. They are on trial for helping immigrants rather than for the fact that they worked to keep their workforce illegal because unauthorized workers can’t unionize or lobby for better conditions. They are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law for helping immigrants but not even being chastised for filling the deported immigrants’ positions with Latino workers scooped out of Texas homeless shelters this past June (http://immigrationmexicanamerican.blogspot.com/2008/06/breaking-news-agriprocessors.html).  This kosher meatpacking plant that boasted revenues of $300 million will not be sitting before the jury for its criminal hourly wages or its exploitation of the most vulnerable community within our borders. No, they are on trial for “harboring and aiding undocumented workers.”


It is deeply saddening that immigrants are criminalized so deeply in this country that everyone associated with them becomes guilty by association rather than by exploitation. When people are made criminal by unjust laws, the worst crime imaginable is aiding and abetting them. Harking back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which were repealed just a few years later in the infancy of our nation, these laws are even more shameful in that they prosecute rather than protect the most vulnerable, unrepresented sector of American society, the 12 million extralegal immigrant workers living within our borders with little chance of effectively working toward citizenship.

14 days before Agriprocessors’ jury trial, ABC will be airing its new reality television show “Homeland Security USA.” This new series which profits off the often-fatal journey of immigrants through the most dangerous parts of desert borderland seems perfectly congruous with Agriprocessors’ charges of harboring and aiding extralegal immigrants (Stelter, Brian. New York Times). Something is fundamentally flawed in the United States when we are entertained by the criminalization, hunting, and deportation of people whose only crime is the desire for work and enough money for their family. Both ABC and Agriprocessors’ board of directors share this understanding and have figured out ways to profit from others’ painful, life-threatening choice to seek work in America.


Barriers to Integration

October 26, 2008

Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, California, has long stood as a symbol of Amistad and brotherhood between the United States and Mexico. 160 years after the border was established at this point, people now speak and kiss and sing through the wire fence. At times it is eerily reminiscent of prison visitations, with legal immigrants like Manuel Meza sharing coffee through the fence with his wife who was deported several years ago (Archibold, Randal). If they concentrate on each other’s faces, the fence almost seems to disappear as it moves out of focus…

The Department of Homeland Security, however, is repartitioning this monument to international goodwill. New fencing will create a no-man’s land barrier, ending Meza’s routine coffee hour with his wife, interrupting the yoga sessions that occur on both sides of the border concurrently, solidifying a distance which doesn’t exist between the Mexicans and Americans of San Diego. Another part of this new DHS plan is to fill in Smuggler’s Gulch with tons of dirt, yet one more sacrifice of beauty in exchange for control. Years ago, Pat Nixon came to this place and said, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.” Representative Bob Filner is opposing DHS’s plans to destroy this park & the cooperation it represents, while chief patrol officer Michael Fisher says, “It’s a real shame…[b]ut unfortunately, any time you have an area that is open, the criminal organizations are going to exploit that.” One might say it is akin to permanently shutting down the airports to prevent another 9/11, opting for maximum security at the sake of freedom.

But for now, San Diego and Tijuana are still united, if only here at Friendship Park. Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, still conducts communion through the fence to people like Juventino Martin Gonzalez who was deported last month after 20 years working and raising a family on the other side of that fence. It is easy to understand the real reason why a wire fence will no longer do – one look across that fence, north or south, can only remind the viewer that we are all united, all the same, all one. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/us/22border.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y&oref=slogin)

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Another barrier to immigration is the employers who would just as soon see extralegal immigrants remain illegal and undocumented. As long as our laws allow economy to trump dignity, this abuse of power will continue. This past week, though, Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn saw a victory for immigrant workers. After years of hard work, Andrew Friedman and the Make the Road New York organization have successfully brought civil suits against employers who extorted and took advantage of immigrant workers. The courts ruled that a local fruit stand owed $28,000 in back pay, a dollar store owed $70,000, a sneaker chain $400,000. Yet for every one of these employers, hundreds more continue to profit from the inability of their workers to achieve full citizenship status. (Clines, Francis)

If citizenship is the first step, education is the next on the path to integration. A Migration Policy Institute survey just found that 1/5 immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or working in unskilled labor fields. (Aizenman, N.C.) These 1.3 million legal and extralegal immigrants could be vital contributors to our economy, yet their lack of English fluency and nativist feelings keep them from using their valuable skills. More than half of Latin-American college graduates are working unskilled jobs, and that number only falls to 1/3 for those living here 10 years or more. African immigrants have the highest unemployed rates of all immigrant groups in the U.S.

Iraqi refugees are given three-month stipends when they come here. Pressed to find a job and integrate rapidly, many highly-skilled professionals are scrambling for a minimum-wage job. My friend and ESL conversation partner starts his job at a furniture factory tomorrow, despite the fact that he ran two such factories in Iraq. His friend, a nationally renowned sculptor, hopes to get a job laying bathroom tile.

Because few foreign credentials transfer to the United States and few immigrants are given the language education they need, we miss out on the contributions of so many. Surely we can do better.

(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/10/23/ST2008102300319.html)