Posts tagged with 'Immigration'

#WhoCounts?

Posted Jul 25, 2016 @ 2:14 pm by
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Media Consortium Launches Who Counts? A Reporting Project Centering Immigrant Voices on Voting Rights

Come to one of our events!
WhoCounts Chicago: October 5
WhoCounts NewYork: October 8
WhoCounts Durham: October 14

The Media Consortium, a network of progressive independent media organizations, announces the launch of Who Counts? – a project that centers the voices of marginalized immigrant communities who seek the same rights as all other U.S. citizens. The project will focus on these fundamental questions:

  • Who counts as an American?
  •  Whose vote counts?   And just as important,
  • Who is doing the counting?

While the dominant media narrative has amplified the voices that inflame nativism and racism during this charged election season, independent media is harnessing the transformative power of journalism to tell stories by the people most directly impacted by the political debate on immigration.

“The current political conversation falsely casts recent immigrants as “Others” who want to take away “our” life, liberty or property. By centering the voices of immigrants seeking to participate fully in US political life, we aim to shift this conversation away from immigrants to focus on those who are undermining the American dream: those working hard to deny citizenship and take away voting rights from the newest Americans.”—Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, Executive Director, The Media Consortium

As part of this project, the Media Consortium will hold a series of town halls that will put journalists from our network in conversation with immigrant advocates, local leaders in voting access and racial justice, and the media that serve immigrant communities.

Follow #WhoCounts on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to find stories from this project.  See the first story on the #WhoCounts Tumblr blog: The Impact of Islamophobia via Rethinking Schools.

Contact: Manolia Charlotin, The Media Consortium manolia@themediaconsortium.com, 646-770-2687

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Weekly Diaspora: What Homeland Security Looks Like After Bin Laden’s Death

Posted May 5, 2011 @ 12:15 pm by
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by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Nearly a decade ago, America’s War on Terror began as a manhunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But over the next nine years, that anti-terrorism effort evolved into a multi-faceted crusade: birthing a new national security agency, blossoming into two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, institutionalizing the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans and even redefining unauthorized Latin American immigration as—of all things—a national security issue. Now, in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which elements of that crusade will persist or expand and which—if any—will dissolve?

Muslim Americans celebrate bin Laden’s death…

Following the announcement of bin Laden’s death last Sunday, Americans feverishly rejoiced at the news that a mission actually was accomplished in the War on Terror.  Profoundly, the celebrants included scores of individuals who had unwittingly become targets of that crusade—Pakistani immigrants and American Muslims.

Mohsin Zaheer of Feet in Two Worlds reports that Islamic groups in the United States wasted no time applauding President Barack Obama for Bin Laden’s death, taking the opportunity to distance themselves and Islam from the legacy of the slain terrorist. And while many Americans forget that the 9/11 terror attacks killed nationals from 70 different countries, Zaheer notes that the many immigrants who lost loved ones that day took some comfort in knowing that justice has been done.

But Muslims in the U.S. also had another cause for celebration. Bin Laden’s death coincided with the termination of a grossly discriminatory federal program that has targeted, tracked and deported thousands of immigrants from predominately Muslim countries since 2002. ColorLines.com’s Channing Kennedy describes the program (called NSEERS or the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System) as “one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America” which “functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target.” The Department of Homeland Security has been vague about its reasons for ending the program, but the decision  amounts to a victory for immigrant rights groups that have been protesting the effort since its launch nine years ago.

…but still face an uncertain fate

That said, the fate of Muslims in America is far from rosy. As Seth Freed Wessler notes at ColorLines.com, the Department of Homeland Security continues to target, detain and deport Muslims “in equally insidious, but less formal ways” than the NSEERS program.

Pointing to investigations by “Democracy Now!” and the Washington Monthly, Wessler explains that the Department of Justice “has repeatedly used secret informant-instigators to manufacture terrorist plots” and advocated religious intolerance, racial profiling and harassment in its search for homegrown terrorists. Through these means, the quest for security has degenerated into the systemic persecution of American Muslims and countless other immigrants deemed threats to national security becaue their race, religion or nationality. And that didn’t die with bin Laden.

As recently as last March, in fact, Republican Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—during which numerous witnesses repeatedly reiterated the dire threat posed by radical Muslims in the U.S. At the time, Behrouz Saba of New America Media noted that the hearing lacked any discussion of U.S. military presence in the Middle East and its impact on radicalization. Rather than critically examine the many ways in which U.S. foreign policy and military conflict breeds the monster it aims to destroy, the hearing instead served to demonize a growing, well-educated and largely law-abiding population of the United States.

The Latin American link

But the War on Terror has deeply impacted other marginalized communities as well. Even the circumstances of bin Laden’s death bears an alleged connection to the frought issue of Latin American immigration to the U.S.—an issue that has, itself, undergone massive scrutiny and regulation following 9/11.

ThinkProgress reports that one of the Navy Seals involved in Bin Laden’s extermination is, purportedly, the son of Mexican migrants. While the veracity of that claim has been contested by some, Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King argues that the rumor nevertheless “raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.” She continues:

Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq rank highest compared to other groups of soldiers of color. Yet while the military actively courts Latino youth and immigrants with one hand, it’s aggressively deporting them and their families with the other.

It’s worth noting that, within the government, the most vocal proponents of the DREAM Act supported the legislation because they expected it to dramatically increase Latino enrollment in the military. While the DREAM Act ultimately died in the Senate, proponents of its military provision are perpetuating a troubling and persistent dichotomy that is only reinforced in the wake of bin Laden’s demise: immigrants are welcome on our battlefields, but not in our neighborhoods.

It’s comforting, albeit naïve, to believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will cap a decade of military conflict and draw a torturously long anti-terrorism crusade to a close. More likely, our multiple wars will persist longer than they should, and our domestic security apparatus will continue targeting the most vulnerable members of our society under the misguided notion that such enforcement strengthens rather than divides us.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: One Year After SB 1070, What’s Changed?

Posted Apr 28, 2011 @ 10:46 am by
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by Catherine A. Traywick, Medica Consortium blogger

A year ago this month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, effectively pushing an already vibrant anti-immigrant movement to a new extreme. Over the following months, immigrant rights advocates prepared for the worst, and grappled with multiple setbacks as other states threatened to follow Arizona’s example.

Looking back, though, it’s clear that the draconian immigration law hasn’t quite measured up to its bad reputation—in part because a federal injunction blocked several of its more pernicious provisions. Kent Peterson at New America Media/Frontera NorteSur suggests that anti-immigrant policymakers “overreached” with SB 1070, pushing the restrictionist movement to its own peak with the controversial law.

Arizona’s political influence has waned

Certainly in the long term, the law seems to have done more harm than good to the movement. While it initially added plenty of fuel to the restrictionists’ fire, it has ultimately failed to spread through other states the way many expected it to. While a few states (see Colorlines.com’s infographic or Alternet’s rundown) are still considering SB1070-type laws, most others have backed off the idea.

As Seth Hoy explains at Alternet/Immigration Impact, “states learned from Arizona — the numerous protests, Supreme Court challenge, costly litigation, economic boycotts that are still costing state businesses millions — and rejected similar laws.” Peterson similarly notes that a number of states have moved away from Arizona’s example because of SB 1070’s unexpected economic consequences—chiefly, an estimated $769 million in economic and tax revenues lost as a result of boycotts.

Immigrants still marginalized

That’s not say that the law has had no effect on immigrants. While a federal judge stayed several of its provisions last summer, SB 1070 proved to be a precursor to other insidious state laws targeting immigrants. Empowered by their success with SB 1070 and the ensuing media frenzy, state legislators quickly moved forward with several other harsh laws. As Feet in Two Worlds’ Valeria Fernandez explains, many immigrants in Arizona continue to live in fear even though SB 1070 is only partially enacted. She writes:

When you talk to immigrants in the street, they’ll tell you that not much has changed. Some continue to live in fear that they could be stopped by the police and deported. Others are having a difficult time getting work due to another Arizona law that harshly sanctions employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

At Colorlines.com, Seth Freed Wessler elaborates on the real impact of bills like SB 1070. He writes:

[The bills] send waves of fear and confusion into immigrant communities. … In the period since SB 1070 passed, uncounted numbers of immigrants have fled their homes in Arizona. … And the provisions in the law that were not blocked by the court, including one that makes it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, put everyone at risk.

The role of the federal government

Nevertheless, Wessler points out that the federal government—not SB 1070 and not Arizona—is to blame for the brunt of the damage inflicted upon undocumented immigrants in the last year. Besides deporting record numbers of immigrant detainees and significantly expanding border enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork for SB 1070 with its 287(g) program—which enabled local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. Adding insult to injury, President Barack Obama never came to close to fulfilling his campaign promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Whether he will do so this year is up for debate, but many reform advocates remain skeptical after last year’s ups and downs. As Marcos Restrepo of the American Independent reports, several immigrant rights activists voiced disappointment after Obama convened a White House meeting on immigration last Tuesday. Chief among the critics was Pablo Alvorado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who said in a statement:

While we appreciate the President’s effort to keep immigration reform on the national agenda, his actions belie his intent…If the President genuinely wanted to fix the broken immigration system, he would respond to the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the secure communities program and move to legalize instead of further criminalize our immigrant communities.

The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana is similarly skeptical of both the president’s approach to the problem, and his ability to enact meaningful reform:

On one hand, it is laudable that the president has revived the immigration debate, but there is a reason it died last year, even with Democrats in firm control of Congress and the executive branch. Instead of trying to tack immigration reform to an enforcement bill, the president should change the frame and stop talking about immigration as a national-security issue rather than an issue in its own right.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: How Bad U.S.-Latin American Policy Fuels Unauthorized Immigration

Posted Apr 21, 2011 @ 10:55 am by
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By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Too often, the immigration debate in this country ignores the role U.S. foreign policy plays in fueling unauthorized immigration. But as the Obama administration continues to stall on immigration reform in the United States—all the while moving forward with two contentious trade agreements with Colombia and Panama—the connections between the two are worth examining.

CAFTA impoverished Salvadoran famers

During President Obama’s tour of Latin America last month, ongoing mass protests underscored the U.S. government’s own hand in stimulating unauthorized immigration to its borders. Reporting on the president’s visit to El Salvador, for example, Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! notes that hundreds of Salvadorans gathered to demand the renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which devastated the country’s agricultural sector, impoverishing and displacing farmers. Considered alongside the country’s tragic history of U.S.-backed military repression (which Democracy Now! explores in greater detail), it should be no surprise that El Salvador is the second largest source of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

NAFTA displaces one million Mexican farmers

The first, of course, is Mexico—which has its own sordid history of U.S. involvement. As Michelle Chen at Colorlines.com explains, “the deregulation of agriculture under [the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s] coincided with the devastation of Mexico’s farm sector, displacing some one million farmers and driving many northward across the border in search of work.”

While NAFTA created considerable economic opportunities for U.S. businesses eager to conduct business in low-wage Mexico, it also allowed American farmers to flood the Mexican market with government-subsidized corn—destroying the country’s own corn industry and bankrupting thousands of agricultural workers.

Obama’s 180 on Latin American policy

It’s worth noting that Obama, during his presidential campaign, promised to overhaul NAFTA on the grounds that “our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it [sic] should also be good for Main Street.” Yet, as Steve Ellner argues in the latest issue of In These Times, Obama gradually abandoned his initially critical stance on Latin American policy—choosing instead to “placate rightist critics.” Ellner adds that Obama’s shifting position on the pending (CAFTA-modeled) trade agreement with Colombia—moving “from opposition…to lukewarm endorsement…to vigorous support—is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy.”

While Obama has taken some steps to address potential labor abuses in the agreement (NAFTA and CAFTA’s absence of such measures is a key criticism of the deals), trade unionists in Colombia and the United States alike have voiced skepticism:

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”

Big Business funds paramilitary killings in Colombia

The skepticism is well founded, as the United States has a long history of favoring business interests over the rights of workers—both at home and abroad. Earlier this month, for instance, evidence surfaced that the Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International may have hired Colombian paramilitary groups “responsible for countless killings” as security for its Colombian facilities. This is in spite of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded an investigation of Chiquita in 2007, ruling that any money paid out to the paramilitary groups—one of which was a designated terrorist watch group—was extorted, and that “Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.”

Jim Lobe and Aprille Muscara of Inter Press Service report that the documents were released by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent research group, on the same day that President Obama met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss labor rights in the pending trade agreement. According to Michael Evans, NSA’s chief researcher on Colombia, the evidence against Chiquita is clear.

“What we still don’t know is why U.S. prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions,” he told IPS.

U.S. banks launder billions for Mexican drug cartels

Even more recently, news broke that the federal government failed to prosecute a number of U.S. banks guilty of laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels. New America Media/Al Diá reports that Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) alone moved $378.4 billion for cartels through money exchangers and $4.7 billion handled in bulk cash between 2004 and 2007. Yet this past March, the federal government formally dropped all charges against the bank, per a settle agreement reached the previous year, and despite Wachovia’s indirect role in financing a five-year drug war that has taken countless lives and continues to drive unauthorized immigration to the United States.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Texas Excludes Low-Income Latinos from Census, Expedites Visas for Wealthy Mexican Immigrants

Posted Apr 7, 2011 @ 10:50 am by
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By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Newly released census figures show that the Latino population in the United States surged by 43 percent in the last 10 years, comprising 50 million people. According to New America Media’s Nina Martin, this marks the first decade since the 1960s when the number of Latino births exceeded the number of immigrants. But, the this increase notwithstanding, it seems that a sizable portion of the Latino population may not have been counted at all.

As Claudio Rowe reports at Equal Voice Newspaper / New America Media, officials in Hidalgo County, Texas, are planning to sue the federal government for failing to count as many as 300,000 Texas residents living along the U.S.-Mexico border. The residents, most of whom live in unincorporated subdivisions called colonias, are predominately U.S.-born Latinos (65 percent). Though community organizers spent months preparing families to participate in the census, the federal government failed to mail census forms to 95 percent of colonia residents—allegedly deeming them “hard to count.” The omission could lose the state tens of millions of dollars in social services funding over the next decade.

But that’s not all, as Rowe explains:

Aside from money, census undercounts can drastically affect political representation by triggering the redrawing of electoral districts. So across the nation, inaccurate population figures could affect elections for thousands of government offices over the next 10 years – everything from school board members to state representatives.

Texas redistricting discounts Latino population

In large part because of high Latino population growth, in fact, Texas is set to gain four new congressional districts—and the battle over their geographic make-up has already begun, despite the likely exclusion of several hundred thousand Texans.

Patrick Brendel of The American Independent notes that, while U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith (R) and Joe Barton (R) feud over whether the new districts should favor a particular political party, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) has filed a redistricting lawsuit against state leaders, alleging “that the population numbers being used for the State’s 2011 redistricting process “severely undercounts Latinos.” MALC’s petition adds:

“The creation of redistricting plans for Texas election districts using the defective 2010 census data discriminates against Latino voters and is not legally enforceable.”

Opponents argue that non-citizens shouldn’t be included in the census at all, because redrawing political districts to accommodate undocumented populations dilutes the voting power of actual citizens. How the U.S.-born colonia residents who were excluded from this census fit into that schema, however, remains unclear.

The whole debacle does elucidate one important point, though: Low-income Latinos and undocumented migrants are similarly marginalized by both state and local governments—regardless of their citizenship status.

Texas welcomes wealthy Mexican immigrants, rejects working class undocumented

At the Texas Observer, Melissa Del Bosque reinforces that point when she notes that, while U.S. immigration policy has grown increasingly hostile towards Mexican immigrants in general, the government has been remarkably accommodating toward wealthy Mexican immigrants. She reports that Texas border cities are doing everything they can to encourage Mexican investment in the state, even brokering deals with the federal government to expedite visas for wealthy investors eager to flee Mexico’s security crisis:

“If you are in Mexico City you would call Progreso Bridge and say, this is our credit card number, this is our plane, this is who is on it,” Hernan Gonzalez, the Weslaco EDC executive director, told the McAllen Monitor. “They would already be in a registry … and then the officers would come and clear you based upon when you are going to land.”

By contrast, only 2 percent of the 11,000 Mexicans who have sought asylum from cartel violence gained entry into the United States, according to the Texas Observer’s Susana Hayward. Del Bosque adds that “Mexicans who invest $500,000 or more in a company that creates at least 10 jobs can obtain U.S. residency in a matter of months,” thereby avoiding the growing immigration case backlog in the United States. (As of February 2011, the average waiting period for immigration cases was 467 days—a 44 percent increase since 2008.)

It’s a stark reminder that the escalating furor over immigration reform is as much about class as it is about race, nationality or culture.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: 100 Years After Triangle Fire, Immigrant Workers Still Fighting for Labor Rights

Posted Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:39 am by
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by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Last week marked the centennial of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. The tragedy prompted widespread labor reforms in the United States, but its commemoration underscores the plight of immigrant workers similarly exploited today.

As Richard Greenwald notes at Working in These Times, the disaster marked “the moment that a strong collective working class demanded its citizenship rights,” while today, “we are living in a time where organized labor is weak, fractured and leaderless.” He concludes that a rebirth of labor must come, as it did in 1911, from today’s new immigrant communities, which continue to bear the brunt of exploitative labor practices.

Immigrant workers rally for labor rights

Immigrant workers and union organizers articulated the same sentiment when they commemorated the fire last week. According to Catalina Jaramillo at Feet in Two Worlds, labor groups rallied Friday to call for safer working conditions and unionization—especially for the thousands of immigrants who face abuse and exploitation because of their immigration status. One union member articulated the similarities between today’s migrant workers and those who perished in the Triangle Fire:

“I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all,” said Walfre Merida, a member of Local 79, from the stage.

Merida, 25, said before joining the union he worked at a construction company where he was not paid overtime, had no benefits and was paid in cash.

“Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop,” he told El Diario/La Prensa. ”When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.”

Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times adds that, while workplaces in general have gotten safer, immigrant workers tend to be employed in the most dangerous professions and are disproportionately affected by workplace health and safety problems. In particular, foreign-born Latinos tend to suffer injury and illness at a much higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos. Lydersen writes:

Work-related injury and illness can be especially devastating for undocumented workers since they are often fired because of their injury and they often don’t collect workers compensation or other benefits due them. […] A 2009 Government Accountability Office report says non-fatal workplace injuries could be under-reported by 80 percent.

Crackdown on immigrant workers bad for the economy

Other labor rights advocates are drawing attention to the federal government’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant workers. Worksite audits which require employers to check the immigration status of their workers have resulted in thousands of layoffs in recent months. This sweeping trend hurts families as well as local economies, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.

The report specifically looks at the economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona, but its findings present much wider implications. Marcos Restrepo at The Colorado Independent sums up the key points:

  • The analysis estimates that immigrants on the whole paid $6 billion in taxes in 2008, while undocumented immigrants paid approximately $2.8 billion.
  • Increase tax revenues by $1.68 billion.

The report adds that the effects of deportation in Arizona would:

  • Decrease total employment by 17.2 percent.
  • Eliminate 581,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Shrink the state economy by $48.8 billion.
  • Reduce state tax revenues by 10.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the effects of legalization in Arizona would:

  • Add 261,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Increase labor income by $5.6 billion.

Restrepo adds that, in part because of such mounting evidence, immigrants rights advocates are exhorting authorities to recognize immigrants as workers, first and foremost.

Immigrant farm owners contend with exploitation

Of course, even when immigrants are owners, rather than employees, they still disproportionately contend with exploitative industry practices. At The American Prospect, Monica Potts reports on the unique experiences of Hmong immigrants operating chicken farms in the Ozarks. Specifically, Potts examines how behemoth agri-businesses like Tyson exploit the inexperience or limited English abilities of immigrants to sell chicken farms and secure contracts that often put the farmers deep into debt:

Many Hmong were signing contracts they couldn’t read and getting into deals they didn’t fully understand. At least 12 Hmong declared bankruptcy in 2006. […] The concerns are similar for other immigrant farmers, especially Hispanics, who moved into the area to work at chicken-processing plants but were also recruited to buy operations. Hispanic farmers sometimes pooled their money and bought farms without a contract, only to realize later they wouldn’t be able to sell their chickens on the open market. … Many just walked away rather than trying to save their farms.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Big Business Dictates Immigration Policy—At Workers’ Expense

Posted Mar 24, 2011 @ 10:54 am by
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By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona’s business leaders, frustrated by the deep financial fallout of increasingly radical immigration proposals, successfully swayed state lawmakers into defeating five extremist anti-immigrant bills.

New America Media’s Valeria Fernández reports that 60 executives from the likes of WellsFargo bank and U.S. Airways penned an open letter to state Senate President Russell Pearce last week, urging him to leave immigration policy to federal government. Julianne Hing at Colorlines.com has posted the letter in full, but here’s the gist:

Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined … It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image […] Arizona is looking like a nativist, restrictive and intolerant place, and that’s bad for business.

The legislature subsequently voted down five controversial measures that sought to redefine citizenship and ban undocumented immigrants from hospitals and public schools, among other provisions.

Pearce, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering repeatedly saved the contentious bills from dying much sooner, has vowed to continue pushing his agenda by voter referendum, if necessary. If he does, he may have more success. Arizonans have repeatedly voted in favor of harsh anti-immigrant proposals, including measures that stripped undocumented college students of financial assistance, banned ethnic studies, and ended equal opportunity programs.

Arizona’s business leaders overlook immigrant workers

It’s worth noting, though, that while the letter’s signatories handily criticized the legislature’s immigration agenda for negatively impacting the state’s economy, they had almost nothing to say about its detrimental impact on the state’s workers—a considerable proportion of whom are  immigrants. Instead, they urge “market driven immigration policies” that will “preserve our ability to compete in the global economy“ — language that is more evocative of labor-exploitative capitalism than worker solidarity.

Their calls for “the creation of a meaningful guest worker program” are similarly suspect. While the notion of a “meaningful guest worker program” that would legalize certain undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. may, on the surface, seem like a sympathetic solution—particularly in light of the federal government’s failure to move forward with any kind of comprehensive immigration reform—it nevertheless poses dire implications for undocumented workers.

Utah’s guest worker proposal evokes Bracero program abuses

As David Bacon at In These Times posits, “guest workers” whose legal status is contingent on their employment situation are uniquely vulnerable to workplace abuse and exploitation, and could face labor conditions “close to slavery.” The Bracero Program, a guest worker initiative which imported Mexican laborers primarily for work in agriculture between 1942 and 1964, stands out as stark example of the dark side of guest worker programs. Bacon explains:

Braceros were treated as disposable, dirty and cheap. Herminio Quezada Durán, who came to Utah from Chihuahua, says ranchers often had agreements between each other to exchange or trade braceros as necessary for work. Jose Ezequiel Acevedo Perez, who came from Jerez, Zacatecas, remembers the humiliation of physical exams that treated Mexicans as louse-ridden.

“We were stripped naked in front of everyone,” he remembers, and sprayed with DDT, now an outlawed pesticide. Men in some camps were victims of criminals and pimps.

Arizona isn’t the only state to toy with the idea of establishing a guest worker program. In an effort to distance itself from Arizona’s contentious and economically disastrous immigration agenda, Utah—a fiercely red state and Arizona’s northern neighbor—is considering creating its own guest worker program, according to the Texas Observer’s Victor Landa. The law would grant legal residency to working, undocumented residents who do not commit serious crimes.

While Landa notes that the purportedly progressive measure nevertheless runs afoul of federal immigration laws (only the federal government can grant immigration status), the bill presents other issues. One must stay employed or lose residency—a circumstance that would strip employees of bargaining power while granting their employers an inordinate amount of license in the workplace. In practical terms, that doesn’t much change the existing workplace dynamics of undocumented immigrants, who frequently endure exploitation and abuse without recourse.

Labor unions vs. worksite immigration enforcement

What’s more: Exploitative employers generally get off scot free even when targeted by employer sanctions efforts; it’s the workers, not employers, who bear the brunt of the federal government’s worksite immigration enforcement. For this reason, a Services Employees International Union (SEIU) leader, Javier Morillo, has condemned the Department of Homeland Security’s emhasis on workplace raids and employer verification, according to Nicolas Mendoza at Campus Progress.

Responding to the termination of 250 unionized janitors in Minnesota following an I-9 audit—a verification process through which the federal government can ask businesses to check the immigration statuses of their employees—Morillo said:

Under the leadership of Secretary Napolitano the federal government has become an employment agency for the country’s worst employers. With each I-9 audit, the government is systematically pushing hardworking people into the underground economy where they face exploitation… Let’s be clear: I-9 audits, by definition, do not go after egregious employers who break immigration laws because many of them do not use I-9 forms. Human traffickers do not ask their victims for their social security cards. [emphasis added]

Mendoza notes that the federal government’s employer verification programs rely on the honesty of employers and rewards them for firing undocumented workers, rather than sanctioning businesses for hiring them. Workers pay the price, while employers get off.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: AZ Lawmakers Try to Ban Undocumented Children from Public School

Posted Mar 17, 2011 @ 10:44 am by
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by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona lawmakers are considering two bills that would block undocumented immigrants’ access to education to an even greater degree than current state law.

SB 1611 — sponsored by state Senate President Russell Pearce (R) — bans undocumented students from enrolling in Kindergarten through 12th grade and attending community college. It also requires schools to notify law enforcement agencies if parents are unable to submit proof that their child is a citizen or legal resident. The other bill, SB 1407, requires schools to submit data on the number of enrolled undocumented and authorized immigrants alike, under threat of funding loss.

Given the state legislature’s persistently anti-immigrant stance on public education, these new laws are plainly part of a larger strategy. The state was the first to pass a law prohibiting students from receiving public funding for education, including merit-based scholarships, and last year welcomed two new laws banning ethnic studies and equal opportunity programs. The measures being considered now would work in tandem with those other laws to categorically deprive undocumented students of an education, while subjecting even authorized immigrants to greater scrutiny than before.

Challenging Plyler v. Doe

New America Media’s Valeria Fernandez reports that the proposed measures are an attempt on the part of lawmakers to spur a challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe. The landmark ruling determined that children, regardless of citizenship, have a constitutionally guaranteed right to public education.

Anti-immigrant politicos have long taken issue with the decision, arguing that the public education of undocumented immigrants is an undue economic burden to the state. But many educators take the opposing view. As one Phoenix high school principal told New America Media, such hostile measures have already cost him 100 students, which means fewer financial resources for the school as funding is determined by the number of students enrolled. Other critics contend that failing to educate these students “would create an underclass and harm the state’s long-term interests.”

Public education undermined by older, white electorate

But, as Harold Meyerson notes at The American Prospect, the unfortunate fate of Arizona’s immigrant population is compounded by the fact that, while only 42 percent of Arizonans under 18 are white, 83 percent of Arizonans over 65 are white. As he states, the educational opportunities of a rapidly growing population of racially diverse youth are being determined — or undermined — by a class of much older, white Americans.

As racial demographics across the United States are shifting in much the same way as in Arizona, the political power dynamic could change accordingly. But until then, state lawmakers in Arizona are taking drastic measures to ensure that the state’s growing majority of Latinos — and especially immigrants — are deprived of the educational opportunities that would enable them eventually to shift the political status quo.

Labor groups jump into the fray

Perhaps that’s why organizations representing sectors besides education are now getting behind educational equality measures. As Seth Sandronsky reports for Working In These Times, prominent labor organizations including the AFL-CIO and the southern Arizona-based Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF) have recently announced their opposition to Arizona’s ethnic studies ban, and their support of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, which is allegedly in violation of the ban.

In an interview with Sandronsky, Rebekah Friend, the secretary-treasurer for the Arizona AFL-CIO, illuminates the links between educational equality, labor rights and civil society:

HB 2281 (the ethnic studies ban) in Arizona is part of a bigger, repressive attempt nationwide to control parts of the population, from women’s health care to workers’ and immigrants’ rights. … It’s a mindset to cleanse out ethnic studies, unions, and all social spending generally that we in unions and others have fought for, like the eight-hour working day, child labor laws and social security, and won.

California and Connecticut to pass their own DREAM ACT?

Meanwhile, as Arizona youth and their allies continue the fight for education, two other states are pushing the envelope on educational equality for undocumented students. Connecticut and California have both considered passing their own versions of the DREAM ACT. While the original DREAM ACT, which died in the Senate last November, would have created a path to legalization for certain undocumented youth who committed to attending college, these new bills are less sweeping, if similarly progressive, in scope.

Melinda Tuhus of the Public News Service reports that Connecticut’s DREAM ACT “would allow undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition at Connecticut’s public colleges, if they graduate after four years of high school.” And in California, the legislature’s Higher Education committee has already moved forward with its own mini DREAM ACT, which “would allow undocumented immigrants who graduate from a California high school to qualify for college scholarships and financial aid,” according to New America Media/La Opinion.

The measure builds on a California Supreme Court ruling last November, which upheld the state’s decision to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.  Both states’ measures run counter to the growing national trend of denying in-state benefits and public funding to undocumented students — a retrogressive movement that began with the passage of Arizona’s pernicious 2005 law, Prop 300.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

Posted Mar 10, 2011 @ 11:42 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona, according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authored another study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing notes that the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: The 2012 Budget and Our Unsecured Border

Posted Mar 3, 2011 @ 11:52 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

President Obama is taking heat from all sides this week for his 2012 budget proposal, which proposes increased funding for immigration enforcement and border militarization. While immigrant rights advocates are predictably up in arms over the proposal, House Republicans are (somewhat uncharacteristically) demanding significant cuts to border security funding — on the grounds that the Obama administration’s efforts to secure the border have been ineffective and fiscally irresponsible.

Obama’s future immigration priorities remain counterproductive

As Walter Ewing reports at Alternet/Immigration Impact, the proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget reveals the Obama administration’s consistently conflicted priorities on immigration. While the budget makes good (albeit modestly) on the administration’s promise to fund humane detention alternatives and better oversight of enforcement programs, the overwhelming bulk of the funding supports expansion of controversial and ineffective enforcement programs. Ewing writes:

The enforcement-heavy focus of the President’s proposed DHS budget is readily apparent in the top-line numbers. The budget for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would be $11.8 billion; up 3 percent from FY 2011. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would receive $5.8 billion, up 1 percent from the previous year. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would get $2.9 billion, down 5 percent from FY 2011. As is so often case, immigration services get the short end of the stick.

The administration’s continued emphasis on border security is particularly troubling in light of three recently released reports which suggest that increased enforcement efforts have proven to be totally ineffective at securing the border.

Despite increased funding, border remains unsecured

According to a newly released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), more than 93 percent of the American-Mexican border remains porous by DHS’s own standards. The American Independent’s Kyle Daly reports:

Of the 1,969 miles of the border stretching from California to Texas, just 873 miles are deemed secure, according to the standards of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Within those 873, only 129 miles were classified in the GAO report as “controlled,” meaning there are resources in place to either turn away or apprehend people attempting to cross into the United States illegally.

The finding flies in the face of DHS’s increasingly costly efforts to secure the border. Last August, the president signed into law a $600 million border security bill and, more recently, DHS raised funding for aerial border patrol drones to $32 million. The administration’s 2012 budget proposal is similarly gratuitous, including “nearly $300 million for border technology, $229 million for border personnel and more than 40,000 additional border patrol agents and officers,” according to Daly.

Costly border security fails to secure

Meanwhile, the National Immigration Forum and the Immigration Policy Center have each released policy briefs arguing that border enforcement has proven remarkably ineffective. As Nicolas Mendoza explains at Campus Progress, funding for border enforcement has increased exponentially in recent years with little apparent impact on either unauthorized immigration or crime rates at the border:

Border Patrol funding has been increasing dramatically since 2005, rising at an average of $300 million per year. […] This in spite of the fact that “crime rates were already down in the border region” before the National Guard was deployed, with border cities like El Paso, Texas and San Diego, Calif. boasting some of the lowest crime rates in the country. […] Meanwhile, the Immigration Policy Center’s report argues that “no specific policy decision to beef up border security in the last 20 to 30 years has significantly reduced the flow of illicit drugs and people into the United States.”

In fact, as one brief points out, the only thing that has managed to decrease unauthorized immigration is the economy; Inflows have decreased by 200,000 since the beginning of the recession, as employment (the chief pull factor for unauthorized migrants) has dried up.

House Republicans vote to cut border security funding

On the heels of mounting evidence that border enforcement is both costly and ineffective, House Republicans are retreating from their usual pro-enforcement stance on border security and demanding significant cuts to DHS’s 2012 budget.

Care2’s Robin Marty reports that House members would like to cut $272 million in funding for border surveillance systems and eliminate 870 Border Patrol agents — on the grounds that the Obama administration’s border security efforts have been ineffective at quelling unauthorized immigration. While that’s certainly true, Marty notes that the move may simply be an effort to obstruct Obama’s agenda — at whatever cost.

Unfortunately, if they succeed on the first count, they’ll likely succeed on the second. The GOP has long stated that it would not move forward on comprehensive immigration reform until the border is secured, and the administration has attempted to meet that demand by putting off reform in favor of increasing border enforcement funding and capacity. In return, House Republicans have thumbed their noses at Obama’s border security efforts, painting him as incompetent on immigration and security issues and, in doing so, making it quite clear they won’t help him move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.