« April 2006 | Main | June 2006 »

May 30, 2006

Working in the military to gain U.S. citizenship

In 2003, 2.6% of the American military were non-citizens. There were over 37,000 non-citizen active duty members of the armed forces, out of a total of 1,414,000 on active duty. About 6,000 enroll each year. Until recently a non-citizen had to serve three years, have already permanent resident (green card) status, to become naturalized. That is today reduced to one year. Normal minimum wait time for green card holders for naturalization is five years. These rules for military members are laid out in section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

May 29, 2006

10% of young working ago persons in U.S. are non-citizens

And half of them are undocumented. This I derived from 2000 year estimates of 18-24 year old non-citizens by Jeff Passell, now of at the Pew Hispanic Center. Passell estimated that there were 2.9 million non-citizens in this age range. These young adults were 16% of the 18.5 million non-citizen population – a markedly higher rate than for the entire population – 9.6% were in this age group in 2000. Passel estimated that 51.3% were undocumented; 35.4% had green card (legal permanent status), 5.3% were refugees, and 7.4% were non immigrants (temporary workers, students, etc. There are about 600,000 foreign students in America. It just seems more). Bottom line: we are depending on foreign workers for one tenth of our new entrants into the workforce.

May 26, 2006

Roll call vote for S. 2611 62 yes 36 no

Akaka (D-HI), Yea
Alexander (R-TN), Nay
Allard (R-CO), Nay
Allen (R-VA), Nay
Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Bennett (R-UT), Yea
Biden (D-DE), Yea
Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
Bond (R-MO), Nay

Boxer (D-CA), Yea
Brownback (R-KS), Yea
Bunning (R-KY), Nay
Burns (R-MT), Nay
Burr (R-NC), Nay
Byrd (D-WV), Nay
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Chafee (R-RI), Yea
Chambliss (R-GA), Nay

Clinton (D-NY), Yea
Coburn (R-OK), Nay
Cochran (R-MS), Nay
Coleman (R-MN), Yea
Collins (R-ME), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
Craig (R-ID), Yea
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
Dayton (D-MN), Yea
DeMint (R-SC), Nay

DeWine (R-OH), Yea
Dodd (D-CT), Yea
Dole (R-NC), Nay
Domenici (R-NM), Yea
Dorgan (D-ND), Nay
Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Ensign (R-NV), Nay
Enzi (R-WY), Nay
Feingold (D-WI), Yea
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea

Frist (R-TN), Yea
Graham (R-SC), Yea
Grassley (R-IA), Nay
Gregg (R-NH), Yea
Hagel (R-NE), Yea
Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Nay
Hutchison (R-TX), Nay
Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
Inouye (D-HI), Yea

Isakson (R-GA), Nay
Jeffords (I-VT), Yea
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Kennedy (D-MA), Yea
Kerry (D-MA), Yea
Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Kyl (R-AZ), Nay
Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea
Leahy (D-VT), Yea

Levin (D-MI), Yea
Lieberman (D-CT), Yea
Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
Lott (R-MS), Nay
Lugar (R-IN), Yea
Martinez (R-FL), Yea
McCain (R-AZ), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea

Murkowski (R-AK), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Nelson (D-NE), Nay
Obama (D-IL), Yea
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Yea
Roberts (R-KS), Nay
Rockefeller (D-WV), Not Voting

Salazar (D-CO), Not Voting
Santorum (R-PA), Nay
Sarbanes (D-MD), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Nay
Shelby (R-AL), Nay
Smith (R-OR), Yea
Snowe (R-ME), Yea
Specter (R-PA), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Nay

Stevens (R-AK), Yea
Sununu (R-NH), Nay
Talent (R-MO), Nay
Thomas (R-WY), Nay
Thune (R-SD), Nay
Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Voinovich (R-OH), Yea
Warner (R-VA), Yea
Wyden (D-OR), Yea

May 25, 2006

Senate passes S. 2611 62 to 36

The vote by region. I am trying to get the vote by senator:


Midwest, 16,8, 0
Northeast 16,2, 0
South 13,18,1
West 17,8,1
Total 62,36,2

Senate ready to vote on final S.2611 with guest worker provision intact

Go to Shusterman.com for amendment by amendment summaries of the bill. I could not find any that materially affected the guest workers provisions. In fact, the Senate decisively turned down on 5/16 an amendment to remove the guest worker title to the act (see below). As I have noted before, the whole issue of identification requirements is held hostage by bureaucratic delays and confusion about getting these IDs in place, and that will take yearsto resolve.

The Liberty Post summarized the floor debate and final vote 69- 28 against an amendment to repeal the guest worker provision.

Senator Dorgan then offered amendment #4017, to repeal the guest worker program in S.2611 (Title IV).

The Senator stated that if you read the paper or see the news, you see the new corporate strategy everywhere: export good jobs and import cheap labor. This, he said, was probably a good strategy for profits, but a horrible strategy for America. We built the middle class with good jobs and good wages, he said.

"What if the U.S. had no immigration laws at all?" Senator Dorgan asked. Massive numbers of immigrants would come. It is not selfish, he said, to be somewhat protective of our standard of living and our way of life. There are many voices here speaking for immigrants, but we have a responsibility to our citizens and there is precious little talk about them in this chamber these days. "Let me speak for a moment on behalf of American workers."

Senator Dorgan decried the argument that "guest workers" are needed to take the jobs Americans won't do. He argued that Americans want these jobs and are doing these jobs. The Senator criticized the 325,000 cap coupled with the automatic 20% escalator provision. He stated that this formula would result in 10 million guest workers in 10 years. He concluded that the guest worker provision of the bill wasn't about filling empty jobs, but was about "importing cheap labor." The Senator said that guest workers could more appropriately be termed "low wage replacement workers."

Senator Specter spoke out against the Dorgan amendment. He said he agreed with the argument that these are jobs Americans won't do, although he said it perhaps was not universally true.

Senator Boxer stood up in favor of the Dorgan amendment. She said while she felt there was a need for agricultural guest workers found in the AgJOBS portion of the bill, the guest worker program in Title IV was entirely too open-ended. She said she did not believe the argument that these were jobs Americans won't do, adding that these jobs are already being done in large part by Americans. Senator Boxer argued that if the guest worker provision were taken out, the bill would be better for it.

Senator Sessions also spoke in favor of the Dorgan amendment. He argued that there was nothing "temporary" about the guest worker program. The guest workers can apply for a green card through their employers the first day they are here. Or, after four years, they can apply for a green card on their own. He explained that with a beginning annual cap of 325,000 combined with an automatic 20% escalator, the increase in immigration is "extraordinary." He urged his colleagues to think seriously about what they are doing.

Senator McCain opposed the Dorgan amendment. He thanked President Bush for his speech Monday night and said the President gave an outstanding depiction of the situation in the U.S. The Senator said he agreed with the President's statement that all elements of the immigration problem need to be addressed or none will be solved at all.

Senator McCain then stated that the reason the 1986 bill didn't work was because it did not have a guest worker program. He said our population is getting older, restaurants are locking their doors because there is no one to serve the food. We need a viable guest worker program to stop the flow of illegal aliens, he said. He compared the immigration crisis to the so-called "war on drugs" and said that like drugs, there would always be a demand for foreign workers.

Yet no one should mistake this for another Bracero program, said Senator McCain. One of the biggest evils of illegal immigration is how innocent people are exploited. He said that the guest worker program was a fundamental part of the bill—if this is taken out, the country will be faced with the same economic pressures of the past.

Senator Specter moved to table the Dorgan amendment. The motion prevailed, 69-28.

May 24, 2006

Summary of Senate Bill 2611

This is the bill passed by the Senate. The summary below, taken from the Library of Congress' leigslative website, is for the 4/7/06 version of the bill. I copy from below the critical section missing in the House bill: a guest worker program: Establishes a temporary guest worker program (H-2C visa). Provides: (1) that the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine H-2C eligibility; (2) for a three-year admission with one additional three-year extension; (3) issuance of H-4 nonimmigrant visas for accompanying or following spouse and children; (4) for U.S. worker protection; (5) for implementation of an alien employment management system; and (6) establishment of a Temporary Worker Task Force.

S.2611 Title: A bill to provide for comprehensive immigration reform and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Specter, Arlen [PA] (introduced 4/7/2006) Cosponsors (6) Related Bills: H.R.4437, S.2454, S.2612 Latest Major Action: 5/23/2006 Senate floor actions. Status: Considered by Senate.SUMMARY AS OF 4/7/2006--Introduced.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 - Sets forth border security and enforcement provisions, including provisions respecting: (1) personnel and asset increases and enhancements; (2) a National Strategy for Border Security; (3) border security initiatives, including biometric data enhancements and a biometric entry-exit system, document integrity, and mandatory detention of aliens apprehended at or between ports of entry; and (4) Central American gangs.

Border Tunnel Prevention Act - Provides criminal penalties for construction, financing, or use of illegal border tunnels or passages.

Border Law Enforcement Relief Act of 2006 - Authorizes a border relief grant program for a tribal, state, or local law enforcement agency in a county: (1) no more than 100 miles from a U.S. border with Canada or Mexico; or (2) more than 100 miles from any such border but which is a high impact area.

Sets forth interior enforcement provisions, including provisions respecting: (1) alien terrorists; (2) alien street gang members; (3) illegal entry and reentry; (4) passport and immigration fraud; (5) criminal aliens; (6) voluntary departure; (7) detention and alternatives; (8) criminal penalties; (9) alien smuggling; (10) tribal lands security; (11) state and local enforcement of immigration laws; (12) expedited removal; and (13) alien protection from sex offenders.

Makes it unlawful to knowingly hire, recruit, or refer for a fee an unauthorized alien.

Establishes in the Treasury the Employer Compliance Fund.

Provides for additional worksite and fraud detection personnel.

Provides for a report examining the impacts of the current and proposed annual grants of legal status, including immigrant and nonimmigrant status, along with the current level of illegal immigration, on U.S. infrastructure and quality of life.

Establishes a temporary guest worker program (H-2C visa). Provides: (1) that the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine H-2C eligibility; (2) for a three-year admission with one additional three-year extension; (3) issuance of H-4 nonimmigrant visas for accompanying or following spouse and children; (4) for U.S. worker protection; (5) for implementation of an alien employment management system; and (6) establishment of a Temporary Worker Task Force.

Expands the S-visa (witness/informant) classification.

Limits the L-visa (intracompany transfer) classification.

Fairness in Immigration Litigation Act of 2006 - Sets forth provisions respecting remedies for immigration legislation.

Sets forth backlog reduction provisions respecting: (1) family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant levels; (2) country limits; (3) immigrant visa allocations; (4) minor children; (5) shortage occupations; and (6) student and advanced degree visas.

Widows and Orphans Act of 2006 - Establishes a special immigrant category for certain children and women at risk of harm.

Immigrant Accountability Act of 2006 - Provides permanent resident status adjustment for a qualifying illegal alien (and the spouse and children of such alien) who has been in the United States for five years and employed (with exceptions) for specified periods of time.

Authorizes mandatory departure and immigrant or nonimmigrant reentry for a qualifying illegal alien who has been present and employed in the United States since January 7, 2004. Establishes a three-year mandatory departure status, and sets forth immigration prohibitions and penalties for failure to depart or delayed departure. Subjects the spouse or children of a principal alien to the same conditions as such alien, except that if such alien meets the departure requirement the spouse and children will be deemed to have done so.

Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act of 2006, or AgJOBS Act of 2006 - Establishes a pilot program (Blue Card program) for adjustment to permanent resident status of qualifying agricultural workers who have worked in the United States during the two-year period ending December 31, 2005, and have been employed for specified periods of time subsequent to enactment of this Act.

Revises the H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) program.

Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2006 or the DREAM Act of 2006 - Eliminates denial of an unlawful alien's eligibility for higher education benefits based on state residence unless a U.S. national is similarly eligible without regard to such state residence. Authorizes cancellation of removal and adjustment to conditional permanent resident status of certain alien students who are long-term U.S. residents.

Sets forth provisions respecting: (1) additional Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice immigration personnel; and (2) the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act - Provides that fingerprints provided by a qualifying individual at the time of military enlistment shall satisfy naturalization fingerprint requirements. Requires the Secretary of Defense to establish the position of Citizenship Advocate at each military entry processing station.

State Court Interpreter Grant Program Act - Provides state courts grants to assist individuals with limited English proficiency to access and understand court proceedings, and allocates funds for a related court interpreter technical assistance program.

Border Infrastructure and Technology Modernization Act - Provides for: (1) a port of entry infrastructure assessment study; (2) a national land border security plan; and (3) a port of entry technology demonstration program.

September 11 Family Humanitarian Relief and Patriotism Act - Provides permanent resident status adjustment or cancellation of removal and permanent resident status adjustment for a qualifying alien who was on September 10, 2001, the wife, child, or dependent son or daughter of a lawful nonimmigrant alien who died as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

Sets forth provisions respecting: (1) noncitizen Armed Forces membership; (2) nonimmigrant status for athletes; (3) extension of returning worker exemption; (4) surveillance programs, including aerial and unmanned aerial surveillance; (5) a Northern Border Prosecution Initiative; (6) reimbursement of Southern Border State and county prosecutors for prosecuting federally initiated drug cases; (7) conditional nonimmigrant worker-related grants; (8) border security on federal land; and (9) parole and status adjustment relief for qualifying widows and orphans.

May 22, 2006

A good source for info about working immigration news

Try the About.com website. I have mentioned it before. Very practical and informed.

My prediction for an immigration reform bill this year

I predict that Congress will not resolve in conference committee its bicameral differences over the legilsation. Thus, every member of Congress will be able to report to her or his district at least one vote on immigration reform, without there being a bill that gets to the President to sign.

All parties now, having taken the measure of public sentiment and having inspected their voting constituencies, feel that being on record for passing a bill is at least marginally better in terms of the November Congressional races than not being on record for passing a bill. A conference committee deadlock allows everyone to say that she or he has tried to pass a bill.

I have a very hard time with the notion that House Republican conservatives will retreat from their anti-guest worker stance. And the Senate will nevet drop its relatively strong guest worker program.

How much illegal workers pay to Social Security: over $6B

One of the many ironies in the country’s upheavals over the illegal immigrant issue is that, right now, Social Security is collecting over $6 billion a year in payroll deductions from these workers. This is the size of the annual take – the estimate for 2002 is $6.4 billion – flowing into a suspense account because the social security number used for the deduction was not recognized on the government’s database. None of this money today can or is claimed by the workers making the contributions.

The total recorded payroll associated with this inflow is over $200 billion and growing by about $50 billion, suggesting that more and more illegal immigrants are participating in formal wage income as opposed to cash compensation.

The total take adds up to about 1.5% of American payrolls. Assume that these workers are being paid on average one third of legal Americans. This suggests that 4.5% of the contributors to social security today are illegal workers.

-- from the NY Times.

May 20, 2006

Millions of illegal working immigrants may be here on expired visas

According to an article in the Boston Globe, a large minority of illegal workers may have entered the U.S. with a valid visa, then stayed on after the visa’s expiration. The Globe estimates that 40% of all illegal immigrants (which it estimates at 12 million) are here in this manner. This expired visa figure seems to be very high, but I am willing to grant that there are many over-extenders of visas and that a large share of these people work. I expect that the vast majority of non-Hispanic illegal workers in the U.S. are here by way of visa overstays. It is possible that the total 12 million estimate needs to be increased to reflect their numbers, for instance in computer-related jobs.

The Globe reports that “Immigration analysts say visa violators represent a greater portion of undocumented immigrants in the Boston area, with its huge student population and large concentration of European immigrants.

But no amount of border enforcement will have an impact on ''visa overstays," because they don't cross the border illegally in the first place, said Deborah Meyers, a senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. ''The overstay component has been overlooked," Meyers said. ''It's very important to make sure you're actually trying to solve the whole problem, not just the most visible parts of the problem. . . . From a security perspective, in some ways the overstay population is a bigger threat."
Two of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were in the United States on expired visas. At least six others had otherwise violated immigration laws but were nonetheless able to stay in the United States, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Of the $1.95 billion border security request Bush filed last week, only $30 million will go toward tracking down and monitoring those who overstay legally obtained visas, said Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

Department of Homeland Security had only 51 full-time agents assigned to track down the more than 4 million people who overstayed visas and were in the country in 2004. Of the 301,046 leads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency received in a one-year period on possible visa violations, fewer than half were investigated. Only 4,164 were referred to field agents to pursue, and 671 apprehensions were made.

There is a program called US-VISIT which photographs visa holders entering the country. But, according to the Globe, “US-VISIT has serious limitations. It tracks everyone entering the country, but it is a pilot program, tracking only those leaving through 12 airports and two seaports. Expanding that program nationwide is several years off. "

Mistreatment of H-2B immigrant guest forestry workers

In late 2005 the Sacrament Bee published the best expose of occupational dangers for immigrant Hispanic labor in some time. The focus: works who despite the supposed protections of so-called H-2B forest guest worker program for agriculture were exploited in the common fashion: exposed to job risks for which they were unprepared, cheating on payroll, and generally deficient working conditions. Some 10,000 works have come to the U.S. to “plant trees across the nation and thin fire-prone woods out West as part of the Bush administration's Healthy Forests Initiative.” The Bee reports: “A nine-month Bee investigation based on more than 150 interviews across Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and 5,000 pages of records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act has found pineros are victims of employer exploitation, government neglect and a contracting system that insulates landowners - including the U.S. government - from responsibility.”

Confined Space has summarized the Bee’s articles. In this posting and future ones, I will excerpt extensively from it, starting with….

…in the backwoods, where pineros often lack adequate training, protective gear or medical supplies, where they sweat, struggle and suffer, the current forest guest worker program casts a shadow across its future…..Across Honduras and Guatemala, 14 guest workers lay in tombs, victims of the worst non-fire-related workplace accident in the history of U.S. forests.
Over the past decade, forest contractors certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to hire foreign guest workers have shorted them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages and violated scores of state and federal laws. Some employers have taken workers' visas and personal papers, including deeds to cars and even a home - in effect, holding them hostage to hard labor.
The H2B forest workers toil in a regulatory void. Rules that protect H2A farmworkers - such as requirements for free housing and access to federal legal services - don't extend to forest guest workers.
In national forests, where the contractors are paid with tax dollars, federal officials overseeing the work witness the mistreatment and wretched working conditions. But they don't intervene. Responsibility for workers, they say, rests with the Department of Labor and the forest contractors themselves.
And, where government oversight of contractors exists, it's often inconsistent. Companies cited by one branch of the Labor Department for abusing forest guest workers are regularly certified by another branch to recruit and hire more.
This fall, 17 guest workers slashed through dense stands of pine and fir in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest for a contractor with a history of labor violations: Universal Forestry of Orofino, Idaho.

May 18, 2006

"Blood Sweat and Fear" - Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

The following is the executive summary of a 185 page report issued by the Human Rights Watch in January 2005. The report is entitled Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants. (The Summary is also available in Spanish: Sangre, sudor y miedo: Derechos de los trabajadores en las plantas cárnicas y avícolas de Estados Unidos.

This is probably the most referenced report on working conditions of immigrant workers in the huge meat processing industry. It is unfortunately light on injury and fatality data, but is worth looking at as it puts the problem of occupational health and safety of these workers into a broad, international context.

The Executive Summary:

Workers in American beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing plants perform dangerous jobs in difficult conditions. Dispatching the nonstop tide of animals and birds arriving on plant kill floors and live hang areas is itself hazardous and exhausting labor.1 After slaughter, the carcasses hurl along evisceration and disassembly lines as workers hurriedly saw and cut them at unprecedented volume and pace.

What once were hundreds of head processed per day are now thousands; what were thousands are now tens of thousands per day. One worker described the reality of the line in her foreman’s order: “Speed, Ruth, work for speed! One cut! One cut! One cut for the skin; one cut for the meat. Get those pieces through!” Said another: “People can’t take it, always harder, harder, harder! [mas duro, mas duro, mas duro!].”

Constant fear and risk is another feature of meat and poultry labor. Meatpacking work has extraordinarily high rates of injury. Workers injured on the job may then face dismissal. Workers risk losing their jobs when they exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in an attempt to improve working conditions. And immigrant workers—an increasing percentage of the workforce in the industry—are particularly at risk. Language difficulties often prevent them from being aware of their rights under the law and of specific hazards in their work. Immigrant workers who are undocumented, as many are, risk deportation if they seek to organize and to improve conditions.

Meat and poultry industry companies do not promise rose-garden workplaces, nor should it be expected of them. Turning an eight hundred pound animal or even a five pound chicken into tenders for the supermarket checkout or fast food restaurant counter is by its nature demanding physical labor in bloody, greasy surroundings. But workers in this industry face more than hard work in tough settings. They contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights.

Employers put workers at predictable risk of serious physical injury even though the means to avoid such injury are known and feasible. They frustrate workers’ efforts to obtain compensation for workplace injuries when they occur. They crush workers’ self-organizing efforts and rights of association. They exploit the perceived vulnerability of a predominantly immigrant labor force in many of their work sites.2 These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.

Any single meatpacking or poultry processing company which by itself sought to respect the rights of its workers—and hence incurred additional costs—would face undercutting price competition from other businesses that did not. What is required are large scale changes to health and safety and workers’ compensation regulations and practices and greater protection of workers’ right to organize, in particular that of immigrant workers, throughout the meat and poultry industry.

To date, the industry as such has shown little inclination to work collectively to increase respect for workers’ rights, either through trade association standards or through joint support for legislative safeguards. But an equal or greater responsibility for halting workers’ rights violations in the meat and poultry industry lies with government at both federal and state levels. Only governmental power can set a uniform floor of strengthened industry-wide rules for workplace health and safety and for workers’ compensation benefits. Only government agencies can effectively enforce workers’ organizing rights and ensure effective and timely recourse and remedies for workers whose rights are violated. Only government agencies can provide the strong legal enforcement required to deter employers from violating workers’ rights. Finally, only government policy can change the vulnerable status of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers in the meat and poultry industry.

Unfortunately, as this report shows, the United States is failing on all these counts. Health and safety laws and regulations fail to address critical hazards in the meat and poultry industry. Laws and agencies that are supposed to protect workers’ freedom of association are instead manipulated by employers to frustrate worker organizing. Federal laws and policies on immigrant workers are a mass of contradictions and incentives to violate their rights. In sum, the United States is failing to meet its obligations under international human rights standards to protect the human rights of meat and poultry industry workers.

Findings and Recommendations
Key findings of this report arise in three main areas of meatpacking and poultry workers’ rights: Workplace Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation.

  • Many workers suffer severe, life-threatening and sometimes life-ending injuries that are predictable and preventable.
  • Many workers cannot get the compensation for workplace injuries to which they are entitled.
  • Government laws, regulations, policies and enforcement fail to sufficiently protect meat and poultry workers’ health and safety at work and their right to compensation when they are hurt.

Freedom of Association

  • Many workers who try to form trade unions and bargain collectively are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized for their exercise of the right to freedom of association.
  • Labor laws that are supposed to protect workers’ freedom of association have fundamental gaps, and government agencies fail to enforce effectively those laws that do purport to protect workers’ rights.
    Protection of Rights of Immigrant Workers.
  • The massive influx of immigrant workers into meat and poultry industry plants around the country means that a growing number of workers are unaware of their workplace rights.
  • Because many of the workers are undocumented or have family members who are undocumented, fear of drawing attention to their immigration status prevents workers from seeking protection for their rights as workers from government authorities.
  • Meat and poultry industry employers take advantage of these fears to keep workers in abusive conditions that violate basic human rights and labor rights.
  • U.S. immigration and labor law and policy fail to respect and ensure the rights guaranteed to all non-citizen workers, irrespective of their immigration status, by international human rights law.

Detailed recommendations to employers and to federal and state governmental authorities are contained in Chapter IX. The findings of this report support the following broadly-framed recommendations:

  • On health and safety, new federal and state laws and regulations are needed to reduce line speed in meat and poultry plants to reasonable levels that do not create a constant, foreseeable and preventable risk of injury. Further legislative and regulatory reform should establish new ergonomics standards reducing risk of musculoskeletal injury due to repetitive physical stress. Government health and safety authorities must devise stricter injury reporting requirements and thoroughly audit such reports to end the chronic underreporting of injuries in this industry. Health and safety authorities must also apply stronger enforcement measures, including use of criminal referrals to the Justice Department in cases of willful repeated violations, to enhance safety conditions in the industry.
  • In state-based workers’ compensation programs, states must develop stronger laws and regulations to halt widespread underreporting of injuries to avoid claims by injured workers. States must also enforce anti-retaliation laws, which are meant to prohibit the firing of employees who file workers’ compensation claims, but are widely recognized as un-enforced and ineffective. Immigrant workers in particular must be informed of their rights under workers’ compensation laws and assured in their ability to file claims without fear of reprisal.
  • On freedom of association, employers must honor workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively and halt aggressive, intimidating campaigns taking advantage of loopholes, weaknesses, and delays in the U.S. labor law system that allow for the violation of those rights. Governmental authorities must enforce more effectively existing labor laws protecting workers’ organizing rights. Moreover, federal labor law reform is needed to bring the United States into compliance with international standards on workers’ freedom of association. Such reform should start with enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would allow workers to join unions and bargain collectively free of employer threats and intimidation and create stronger remedies for violations of workers’ rights.
  • For immigrant workers, new laws and policies are needed to ensure that their basic human rights, including rights as workers, are respected whatever their immigration status. Law and policy must also provide the same workplace protections as those applied to non-immigrants, including coverage under fair labor standards and other labor laws, access to the labor law enforcement system, and remedies when their rights are violated.

Scope and Methodology of the Report
This report covers workers’ rights in the U.S. meat and poultry industry in three broad areas of human rights concern: worker health and safety and related rights to compensation for workplace injuries, freedom of association, and the status of immigrant workers. It follows Unfair Advantage: Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards, a Human Rights Watch report published in 2000.4 Based on an examination of a dozen industrial and service sectors of the U.S. economy in as many states, Unfair Advantage documented widespread violations of workers’ organizing rights and severe deficiencies in the content of U.S. labor law and in the labor law enforcement system.

In Blood, Sweat, and Fear we focus on workers’ rights violations in the beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing industry. The report concentrates on workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation, workers’ organizing rights, and the status of immigrant workers because our research uncovered systemic violations in these areas.

The report draws from research, interviews, and visits in 2003 and 2004 to three geographic centers of the industry: Omaha, Nebraska for beef; Tar Heel, North Carolina for pork; and Northwest Arkansas for poultry. It also draws from research undertaken during 1999-2000 for Unfair Advantage. Although major areas of beef, pork, and poultry production exist in other parts of the United States, these three locations were selected for the geographic diversity among them and their reflection of each of the three major product segments in the industry.

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted in-person interviews with dozens of meat and poultry workers and telephone interviews with several others. Most current employees did not want to be identified, fearing retaliation by their employer if their names appeared in the report. Workers who agreed to the use of their names are identified in the report. The report also draws on interviews with community organization and union representatives, workers’ compensation attorneys, ergonomics experts, government officials, and other professionals with relevant experience and expertise.

Human Rights Watch also conducted a lengthy telephone interview with representatives of Tyson Foods at company headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. Officials of Smithfield Foods chose to respond to inquiries in writing rather than in an oral interview. Human Rights Watch appreciates these companies’ willingness to respond to questions and to affirmatively state their policies and views. Officials of Nebraska Beef did not respond to telephoned, mailed, and e-mailed requests for an interview.

Finally, Human Rights Watch researchers examined legal pleadings, rulings, and transcripts of proceedings; injury reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workers’ compensation records, company memoranda, government and academic studies, books on the meat and poultry industry and on working conditions in the industry, and relevant newspaper and magazine articles.

May 16, 2006

House, Senate and Bush ideas on illegal immigrants compared

The NY Times published today a checklist comparison of these three points of view. You can find the president’s address in Workingimmigrants.com here.


Full Text of House Bill (H.R.4437) here

Full Text of Senate Bill (S.2611) here

Temporary Worker Program

House (passed): No such provisions. Eliminates the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.

Senate (not yet passed): Creates a temporary worker program, with a potential path to legal permanent residence for individuals currently outside the U.S. Employers seeking to hire foreign workers would first have to try to recruit an available American worker.

President in speech: Has called on Congress to pass a guest worker program for more than two years. Said that "to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program."

Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants

House: No such provisions.

Senate: Provides legalization criteria for three different groups. The major one, called the "Earned Legalization Program," would provide a path to legal permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who have been here for five years and employed for three of those and who meet other requirements.

President: While rejecting "an automatic path to citizenship," Mr. Bush said that immigrants should be given a chance to gain citizenship after they "pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law."

Worksite Enforcement

House: Requires employers to participate in an electronic employment eligibility verification system within three to six years.

Senate: Also requires employers to participate in an electronic employment eligibility verification system, but with a shorter timeline: within 18 months.

President: Mr. Bush also said that employers should participate in an electronic employment eligibility verification system but did not give a specific timeline.

Criminal Penalties for Existing Illegal Immigrants

House: Makes it a federal crime to live in the United States illegally. Individuals who help illegal immigrants to enter or stay in the country would also face criminal penalties.

Senate: Mandates penalties for smuggling aliens, but offers exceptions for those who provide "humanitarian" assistance to immigrants, including medical care and housing.

President: Said that "it is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border."

Border Security - Fencing

House: Requires the construction of "at least two layers of reinforced fencing" as well as "physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras and sensors" along approximately 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate: Also calls for "double- or triple-layered fencing" but only to replace "aged, deteriorating, or damaged primary fencing" in Arizona.

President: Said that "walls and patrols alone will not stop" illegal immigration. Instead, the focus should be on trying to reduce the number of people trying to sneak across.

Border Security: Personnel

House: Hires more Border Patrol agents "as expeditiously as possible." Nearly 12,000 Border Patrol agents currently stand guard. Hires at least 250 active duty port of entry inspectors for each of the next three years.

Senate: Increases the number of Border Patrol agents by 2,400 each year through 2011. Calls for at least 500 active duty port of entry inspectors to be hired in each of the next three years.

President: Called on Congress to provide funding for large increases in manpower and technology at the border. He said that "by the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000" and to help with the transition "up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border."

Bush's May 15 speech on illegal immigration in outline and full text

President Bush in his May 15 speech for the White House presented a five point plan – four substantive and one rhetorical – to resolve issues with illegal immigration. He did not address any other immigration issues, such as changing the quota for legal immigration

POINT ONE: Beef up border controls and handling of arrested persons. He said that by the end of his presidency the size of the Border Patrol will have doubled from 9,000 to 18,000. State and local law enforcement authorities will be given special training. He will assign 6,000 National Guardsmen, drawn apparently from border states. More detention center beds will be created.

Proper training and coordination with state and local law enforcement is a difficult undertaking. I have addressed this a bit in an analysis of a recently passed illegal immigration bill enacted by Georgia.

POINT TWO: Temporary worker program. He clearly wanted to keep this topic low profile. Out of a 2,700 word speech he devoted on paragraph, about 200 words, to this program. I have covered this topic extensively. Search under “guest worker” and “Judiciary” with my pessimistic assessment of passage potential this year.

POINT THREE: Tamper proof identification to verify legal status of workers. I have addressed the tamper proof card issue here, and – regarding driver license “Real ID”, here. Also, go here for how federal agencies do not cooperate.

POINT FOUR: A path to citizenship for illegal immigrants here already for more than a few years. “They will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules…” The Pew Hispanic Center at one place estimated that 40% of unauthorized persons (4.4 million) as of March 2005 have been in the United States since 2000 which means that 60% (6.6 million) have been here since before 2000.

It has also made these tenure estimates: Time in the US: Five years or more: 6.7 million; Two to five years: 2.8 million; Less than two years: 1.6 million, Total: 11.1 million

POINT FIVE: a rhetorical flourish – requiring immigrants to speak English. This point sort of sailed in from nowhere.

Only 3% of unauthorized Hispanic persons say they speak English “very well.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH. Good evening. I’ve asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of national importance: the reform of America’s immigration system.

The issue of immigration stirs intense emotions and in recent weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display. On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country illegally. At our southern border, others have organized to stop illegal immigrants from coming in. Across the country, Americans are trying to reconcile these contrasting images. And in Washington, the debate over immigration reform has reached a time of decision. Tonight, I will make it clear where I stand, and where I want to lead our country on this vital issue.

We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border and millions have stayed.

Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal. Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, ... it strains state and local budgets ... and brings crime to our communities. These are real problems, yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.

We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five clear objectives.

First, the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

I was the governor of a state that has a twelve-hundred1,200- mile border with Mexico. So I know how difficult it is to enforce the border, and how important it is. Since I became president, we’ve have increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. The men and women of our Border Patrol are doing a fine job in difficult circumstances and over the past five years, they have apprehended and sent home about six million people entering America illegally.

Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I’m calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border. By the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we will have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during my Presidency.

At the same time, we are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors, … infrared cameras… and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.

Training thousands of new Border Patrol agents and bringing the most advanced technology to the border will take time. Yet the need to secure our border is urgent. So I’m am announcing several immediate steps to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition:
Skip to next paragraph
Bush Calls for Compromise on Immigration (May 16, 2006)

One way to help during this transition is to use the National Guard. So in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, … analyzing intelligence, … installing fences and vehicle barriers, … building patrol roads … and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities. That duty will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters, and help secure our border.

The United States is not going to militarize the southern border. Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend. We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, ... to confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, ... and to reduce illegal immigration.

Another way to help during this period of transition is through state and local law enforcement in our border communities. So we will increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. And we will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants. State and local law enforcement officials are an important part of our border security resource and they need to be are part of our strategy to secure our borders communities.

The steps I have outlined will improve our ability to catch people entering our country illegally. At the same time, we must ensure that every illegal immigrant we catch crossing our southern border is returned home. More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other countries, it is not as easy to send them back home. For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called “catch and release,” is unacceptable and we will end it.

We’re taking several important steps to meet this goal. We’ve have expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We’ve have expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we’ve have ended “catch and release” for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end “catch and release” at the southern border once and for all. When people know that they’ll will be caught and sent home if they enter our country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in.

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.

Therefore, I support a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay. A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law. A temporary worker program would reduce the appeal of human smugglers and make it less likely that people would risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.
Skip to next paragraph
Bush Calls for Compromise on Immigration (May 16, 2006)

Third, we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place. Fourth, we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here already. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.

Some in this country argue that the solution is to — is to deport every illegal immigrant and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree. It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes that there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, … to pay their taxes, … to learn English … and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I’ve have just described is not amnesty it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

Fifth, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, … from cleaning offices to running offices, … from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, ... they renew our spirit ... and they add to the unity of America.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to members of the House and the Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together or none of them will be solved at all. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.
Skip to next paragraph
Bush Calls for Compromise on Immigration (May 16, 2006)

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone’s fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say. I know many of you listening tonight have a parent or a grandparent who came here from another country with dreams of a better life. You know what freedom meant to them, and you know that America is a more hopeful country because of their hard work and sacrifice. As president, I’ve have had the opportunity to meet people of many backgrounds, and hear what America means to them. On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery — Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him … and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.

We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they’ve have always been: people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom. And America remains what she has always been: the great hope on the horizon, … an open door to the future, … a blessed and promised land. We honor the heritage of all who come here, no matter where they are from, because we trust in our country’s genius for making us all Americans, one nation under God. Thank you, and good night.

May 15, 2006

Rare use of Social Security numbers and IRS data to search for illegal immigrant workers

Liz Chandler of Knight Ridder has reported on an impasse in the federal government which has prevented the use of federal records to locate and arrest illegal immigrants. “Most immigrants simply use Social Security numbers to get work, experts say. They make up numbers, buy them on forged cards, or steal them,’ she wrote. But prosecutors cannot easily access this information, and cannot access IRS data at all. And Social Security and the IRS do not cooperate.

Excerpting from her article:

Two federal agencies are refusing to turn over a mountain of evidence that investigators could use to indict the nation's burgeoning workforce of illegal immigrants and the firms that employ them. The IRS and the Social Security Administration routinely collect strong evidence of potential workplace crimes, including names and addresses of millions of people who are using bogus Social Security numbers, their wage records and the identities of the bosses who knowingly hire them. The two agencies don't analyze their data to root out likely immigration fraud - and they won't share their millions of records so that law enforcement agencies can do that, either. Privacy laws, they say, prohibit them from sharing their files with anyone, except in rare criminal investigations.

But the agencies don't even use the power they have. The IRS doesn't fine even the most egregious employers who repeatedly submit inaccurate data about their workers. Social Security does virtually nothing to alert citizens whose Social Security numbers are being used by others. Evidence abounds within their files, according to an analysis by Knight Ridder and The Charlotte Observer.

One internal study found that a restaurant company had submitted 4,100 duplicate Social Security numbers for workers. Other firms submit inaccurate names or numbers reports for nearly all of their employees. One child's Social Security number was used 742 times by workers in 42 states.

In last week's bust at IFCO Systems North America Inc., a Houston-based maker of wooden pallets, more than half the workers were using invalid or stolen Social Security numbers. The IRS wants to protect the privacy of its records because disclosing them might cause companies and employees to stop reporting income and paying taxes - and go underground where exploitation is more certain.

The records at issue are the earnings reports, sent by employers along with money withheld for taxes and Social Security. They contain workers' names and Social Security numbers, and when they don't match Social Security records, the information is set aside in what's called the Earnings Suspense File. Created in 1937, the file contains about 255 million unmatched wage reports representing $520 billion paid to workers but not credited to their Social Security earnings records.

Typos and name changes can cause wage reports not to match Social Security records. But increasingly, officials cite unauthorized workers using bogus Social Security numbers as a driving force behind the mismatch files. The incorrect worker files mushroomed during the 1990s, as migrants poured into the United States. Almost half of the inaccurate reports come from such industries as agriculture, construction and restaurants, which rely on unauthorized labor.

Particularly disturbing is that possibly millions of the Social Security numbers belong to other people. In Utah, after Social Security provided data for one criminal probe, investigators discovered that Social Security numbers of 2,000 children were being used by other people.

"What do you think we'd find if we had the ability to analyze all of their information?" said Kirk Torgensen, Utah's chief deputy attorney general. "It would be invaluable. How short-sighted is it that the government doesn't follow this trail?"

Getting a job is easy for illegal immigrants. To work lawfully in the United States, individuals must have valid Social Security numbers or authorization from the Department of Homeland Security. But the law doesn't require companies to verify that workers give them names and numbers that match Social Security records.

So most companies don't check. that some companies must be aware of the illegal status of their employees. Auditors found: About 8,900 of the nation's 6 million employers accounted for 30 percent of inaccurate reports. Some companies repeatedly have reporting problems, including 40 that made the worst 100 list repeatedly over a span of eight years. One company submitted 33,000 errant earnings reports in a single year.

Some of the country's most successful prosecutions have come with help from Social Security, which will open specific files once a criminal investigation is under way. The records played an important role in last week's nationwide sting at IFCO, but investigators didn't learn about the company's immigrant workforce until a year after Social Security began sending notices asking the company and employees about the errors.

"The only reason we got onto this case was because of a lucky tip," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Dean Boyd. "We could have launched this case a year earlier. It sure would make our jobs easier and save the taxpayers a lot of money if we had access to their information."

May 14, 2006

Political pork and the tamper-proof identification card

The NY Times today ran a long story on how Homeland Security’s lagging efforts to prepare such a card have been in part controlled by a Kentucky congressman referred in his own district as Prince of Pork. Other efforts to produce a reliable card such as the Real ID program for motor vehicles are largely dead in the water. (State motor vehicle departments have a hard enough time answering their phones.) Until one is available, it is very difficult to regulate the movement of illegal immigrants. Concerned as I am about the dangers of such a card to civil liberties, I believe that a tamper proof card can be valuable in certain instances to protect the public as well as the guarantee certain rights and benefits to the carrier.

Following are excerpts from the article:

The Department of Homeland Security has invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours of labor over the last four years on a seemingly simple task: creating a tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers. Yet nearly two years past a planned deadline, production of the card, known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, has yet to begin.

Instead, the road to delivering this critical antiterrorism tool has taken detours to locations, companies and groups often linked to [13 termer] Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who is the powerful chairman of the House subcommittee that controls the Homeland Security budget. Work has even been set aside for a tiny start-up company in Kentucky that employs John Rogers, the congressman's son.

"Something stinks in Corbin [KY]," said Jay M. Meier, senior securities analyst at MJSK Equity Research in Minneapolis, which follows the identification card industry, referring to the Kentucky community of 8,000 that has perhaps benefited the most from Mr. Rogers's interventions. "And it is the sickest example of what is wrong with our homeland security agenda that I can find."

Corbin was settled as a railroad depot for nearby coal mines, and its first claim to fame came with Col. Harland Sanders, who began serving up dishes of fried chicken there in the 1930's. Mr. Rogers has made it a mission to create a new growth industry: domestic security. Mr. Rogers began his push even before the 2001 terrorist attacks, when he was elevated, in 1995, just after Republicans took control of Congress, to the so-called College of Cardinals, the elite body of chairmen of House appropriations subcommittees that help control the federal budget.

The Clinton administration needed Congressional backing — and money — to fix problems it was having in printing a new fraud-resistant green card for permanent legal immigrants. To win Mr. Rogers's endorsement, administration officials offered to set up the centralized card production plant in Corbin.

The transportation worker identification card, first proposed in 2002, would be an identity card equivalent of a maximum security prison. Not only would it be tamperproof, it would eventually allow transportation workers to be positively identified by a fingerprint in less than half a second. To ensure security, the card and the automated reader at the port entrance gate would have to communicate, like two small computers.

But within months after the plans for the card were announced, Mr. Rogers started to intervene. He inserted language into appropriations bills that effectively pushed the government to use the same patented green card technology and to produce this new card in Corbin. Language added in 2003, again in a report submitted in Mr. Rogers's name, urged the agency to use "existing government card issuance centers" to make the card, which Homeland Security officials said, in their view, referred to Corbin. The law blocked spending until the department bowed to the mandates.

Two former Homeland Security officials said they were confounded. They had already identified a more flexible and secure technology known as a smart card, which relies on tiny computer chips embedded into the identification card. Most other federal agencies were moving toward this approach rather than the technology used for the green card, in which data are recorded on a reflective optical stripe affixed to the card.

Officials there said they had no choice but to follow the orders. So in 2003, at a cost of $4 million, the department hired a contractor to study both alternatives. The study concluded that the smart card approach was far superior.

Kentucky companies turned up in each phase of the early tests of the identification cards.
One of the companies, Senture, which sells call-center services, had a particularly close relationship with Mr. Rogers. Senture had just opened its doors in May 2003, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that Mr. Rogers attended. In 2004, Mr. Rogers arranged the financing for a $4 million Homeland Security contract for Senture to field calls from truckers.

Now, Senture would land even more department work, as BearingPoint, a Virginia company hired in 2004 to test prototype transportation worker cards, selected Senture to set up a call center for the test. About the time that contract was first advertised, but before it was awarded, John Rogers, the congressman's son, was hired by Senture as a computer systems administrator.

In all, about $100,000 in contributions have come to Mr. Rogers from parties with at least some ties to the identification card effort, records show.

When tests on a smart card prototype identification card finally got under way in November 2004, the program again ran into an obstacle. To try to speed up the work, contractors decided initially to produce the prototype cards in Pennsylvania. But Homeland Security required that the work be moved, because to comply with the Congressional mandate, it had been written into BearingPoint's contract that the card production take place in Corbin, Mr. Kayser, the Homeland Security spokesman, said.

One former Homeland Security official said that the demand, given that the card production had already started, made little sense: only about 5,000 cards would be printed as part of the test. But still, the smart card printing equipment was picked up and sent to Corbin, adding to the expense and causing another delay.
storing personal information.

Yet while the debate over card technology and printing dragged on, a separate fight involving Mr. Rogers was playing out. Starting in 2004, his staff repeatedly pressed the Transportation Security Administration to hire a nonprofit Virginia-based trade association, the American Association of Airport Executives, to help handle background checks that transportation workers had to undergo to get identification cards. The trade association had no connection to Corbin, but it had longstanding ties to Mr. Rogers.

Since 2000, it has paid for trips by Mr. Rogers and his wife worth more than $75,000, including the six visits to Hawaii, four to California and one to Ireland, financial disclosure records show. Last year alone, Mr. Rogers spent a total of two weeks traveling on the association's tab.

Mr. Rogers, after his staff was unable to persuade Homeland Security officials to hire the trade association voluntarily for the identification card program, inserted language last May into the 2006 appropriations bill that mandated such a move. It was necessary, Mr. Rogers said at the time, because the airport group also helped handle background checks for airport workers. It made no sense, he said, to hire yet another contractor.

Late last year, while Congress was considering the specific allocation for the airport group, the trade association's executives went shopping for investors willing to put up as much as $25 million to share in the new for-profit venture they decided to create to capitalize on the deal. The company ultimately selected to serve as that investor and as a partner, Daon, was also familiar to Mr. Rogers. It had sponsored, along with the airport executives group, a July 2005 conference and golf outing that the congressman attended in Dublin, where Daon is based.

Daon, a biometrics software company with offices in Reston, Va., is well connected in Washington; Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary, serves on its board. Tom Grissen, Daon's chief executive, would not say in an interview how much Daon invested in the airport trade group partnership. He said that Mr. Ridge played no role in the effort.

After Homeland Security moved this spring to comply with Mr. Rogers's legislative mandate and hire the airport trade group, executives in the intensely competitive biometrics industry protested. "It is a sleazy arrangement," said Walter Hamilton, chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association. Finally, last Thursday evening, as lobbyists for Daon's rivals pressed Congress to rescind the deal, Homeland Security, and Mr. Rogers, issued separate statements, reversing course. The no-bid contract for the airport executives would be killed. This would mean another delay, because the advertisement for the bidding would have to start over again.

No one has moved to reverse the Congressional directive mandating where the cards are produced. So when the identification cards do start to roll off the production line — which Homeland Security officials say they hope will happen by early next year — the plan still calls for them to be made in the town that Kentucky Fried Chicken first made famous.

May 12, 2006

Census Bureau reports on Hispanic growth rate

I have been searching for the best media report on these findings, and Jim Quiggle sent me a copy of CNN’s. Hispanics have been and will continue to account for over a third of the country’s population increase. “The Population Resource Center cites statistics showing the average Hispanic woman will have three children in her lifetime; it's 1.8 for non-Hispanic whites.”

It mutes the illegal-versus-legal debate," said Linda Jacobson, director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. "We need to be more focused on how we meet the needs of children in immigrant families who are citizens.

Just look at the age demographics: “Census statistics also show that 45 percent of children under age 5 are from a racial or ethnic minority. The median age for Hispanics -- the point at which half are older and half are younger -- was 27.2 years in 2005. It was 30.0 years for blacks and 40.3 years for white non-Hispanics.”

Labor centers for immigrant workers

If one takes into account well staffed entities as well as simple hiring halls, there are probably up to 200 centers dedicated to supporting immigrant workers in obtaining work, learning about American labor practices, and securing their labor rights. I have been to two such centers: The Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston, and the Watsonville Law Center in Watsonville, CA. I have also visited a makeshift center – more of a hiring hall – in Brooklyn.

Janice Fine of Rutgers University has published a book on this topic: “Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream”. Cornell U Press summarizes the book: “[She] identifies 137 worker centers in more than eighty cities, suburbs, and rural areas in thirty-one states. These centers, which attract workers in industries that are difficult to organize, have emerged as especially useful components of any program intended to assist immigrants and low-wage workers of color. Worker centers serve not only as organizing laboratories but also as places where immigrants and other low-wage workers can participate in civil society, tell their stories to the larger community, resist racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, and work to improve their political and economic standing.”

Fine defines labor centers as “community-based mediating institutions that provide support to low-wage immigrants. Part settlement house, part local civil rights organization, and part union, the centers pursue this mission through a combination of approaches.”

Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Labor Organizing Network proposed seven characteristics of a well runs center:

must provide adequate employment opportunities to meet the demand. Good jobs are as important as the number of jobs available.

must be located in close proximity to places where day laborers naturally congregate. For example, workers successfully negotiated with Home Depot to open a day labor center within the context of a newly opened store.

must be visible and accessible for both workers and employers.

day laborers must be involved in the operation of the centers and must have a say in its decisions.

all community stakeholders must be involved in supporting the work of the center, including police, merchants, community organizations, city officials, etc.

must provide services free of cost to employers and to day laborers.

day laborers should be able to attend centers of their own free will, and in no way be coerced to attend a center to solicit employment—in other words, the use of force, with or without a gun, is prohibited.

May 10, 2006

Wages and economics of immigrant restaurant workers: a case study

The Washington Post profiled the Oval Room Restaurant, on Connecticut Avenue. The writers follow the economic trail of Walter Velasquez, a 40 year old Salvadorean waiter. He came to America illegally; now his eldest child, 17, aspires to become an immigration lawyer. The Post article touches on his household finances, the public's cost of uninsured healthcare and educating children, and the economics of the restaurant industry.

"The sous-chef, a Panamanian immigrant, directed two cooks from El Salvador, one from Guatemala and one from Honduras. A Salvadoran immigrant ran the food to the tables. All the activity was monitored by the general manager, an Austrian by birth, who needs to satisfy the owner, originally from India. "We would not exist without immigrant labor," said Ashok Bajaj, owner of the restaurant. "If the laws change, the entire economics of the restaurant industry would change, too."

Bajaj, a New Delhi native who moved here from London in 1988, was willing to invest a million dollars here because of the availability of labor at attractive prices. His dishwashers make about $10 an hour, line cooks about $14 an hour, and sous-chefs $20 or so. About 70 percent of the restaurant's employees were born outside the United States; overall in the Washington region, about 45 percent of food-service workers are immigrants, according to an analysis of federal data by the Pew Hispanic Center.
[The] household finances of [Walter Velasquez], a Salvadorean waiter at the Oval and his restaurant-working girlfriend] show how immigrants support the U.S. economy -- but also incur costs for public services. He makes about $30,000 a year. Avila, who works fewer hours, earns about $18,000. They pay $1,300 a month in rent and pay Comcast $140 a month for cable television and high-speed Internet service. Comcast has added more than 30 foreign-language channels in the past eight years. The couple spends $150 a week on groceries, much of it at the Giant Food store on Columbia Pike, which has a large selection of ingredients that are common in Central America.

Velasquez's [the waiter’s] family also exacts costs on the economy. He sends about $100 a month home to family in El Salvador, which does not create new economic activity here. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2000, such remittances amount to $10.2 billion for Mexico and four Central American nations. If the uninsured Velasquez were to have a serious medical problem, the cost would probably be borne by the hospital that treated him. ("We just can't be sick," he said.) Inova Fairfax Hospital, near Velasquez's home, provided $75 million in health care last year to people who were too poor to pay and had no insurance, many of them immigrants, said Ron Ewald, the hospital's chief financial officer. "It can be very volatile and extremely costly," he said.
There are local costs too. The Arlington County school system is spending $16,464 per pupil this year, or more than $32,000 for his school-age children. School spending is supported partly by state and federal governments but most significantly by property taxes, which Velasquez pays indirectly with his rent. But what the school system spends on his children's education can also be viewed as an investment in the next generation of U.S. workers. On Thursday, as Velasquez gathered his things to head back to work, his 17-year-old daughter, Alma, described her plans. After high school, she plans to go to a community college for two years, to save money, then transfer to a four-year university. Ultimately, she wants to be an immigration lawyer. "It came to me because my parents went through so much to get here," she said.

Pandering and posturing in Arizona about illegal immigrants.

On August 12 2005 a new Arizona law went into effect making it, according to one report, ‘a felony punishable for up to two years in prison to smuggle humans across the border. “ The primary, perhaps only, real effect of the law so far has been to provide the sheriff of Maricopa Country, Joe Arpaio, another publicity stunt. Some time ago, he instructed his deputies to ask citizens to voluntarily submit fingerprints in order to combat the supposed epidemic of identity theft. And he has ordered prisoners, male and female, to wear pink underwear. In 2004 he told jailed illegal immigrants that they had to register for the draft. This time, Arpaio interpreted the law to mean he can round up any and all illegal immigrants and charge them with trespass, conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the United States.

The legislature passed another law making in a felony to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona. The governor vetoed it, perhaps mindful of the reality that major parts of the state’s economy could grind to a halt.

According to a May 5th AP article, a posse of 100 volunteers and sheriff's deputies will patrol the Phoenix area and arrest any illegal immigrants, the county sheriff said. The group likely will be deployed across parts of Maricopa County by the weekend, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Wednesday. Volunteers will be drawn from the department's 3,000-member posse, whose members are trained and are often former deputies.

"It's important to send the message out to stay in Mexico and don't come roaming around here hoping you're going to get amnesty," said Arpaio. [His] deputies have already arrested about 120 illegal immigrants using a new state smuggling law. "We're going to arrest any illegal who violates this new law," he said. "I'm not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico. I'll give them a free ride into the county jail."
Under the law, as interpreted by the Maricopa County attorney, illegal immigrants can be arrested and prosecuted for conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the country. The law's authors have said they intended it to be used to prosecute smugglers, not the immigrants being smuggled.
Lawyers for nearly 50 undocumented immigrants charged with conspiracy to commit human smuggling have filed motions to have the charges dismissed. A Los Angeles attorney brought into the case last week by the Mexican Consul General's Office in Phoenix plans to file another motion claiming Maricopa County Attorney officials are violating state and federal law because it's the federal government's job to control illegal immigration.

NPR report on social impact back home of Mexican work migration to U.S.

On May 9, NPR ran a first part of a series on the social impact in Mexico of the migration of large numbers of adults to the United States for work. This first part threads a story of a troubled 14 year old whose father, then mother, left for the United States. “When Mexicans migrate to the United States, many leave their children in the care of extended families. That's causing problems back in their home communities, with children doing poorly in school, dropping out or turning to crime,” reports NPR.

[School headmistress] Antonia Figaroa Ibanez says that more and more parents are leaving their children behind to be cared for by relatives. "It's affecting us hugely," she says. "Out of 73 children in one class, 10 have neither of their parents here. That's a big number."

Teacher Carmen Sanchez says that when a child's parents leave, there is a clear consequence. "When they don't have their father or mother, they lack confidence ... in the academic sphere," she says. "It means that they will be more likely to miss school and to drop out. They are also less respectful of their grandmothers or uncles or their teachers."
Because crossing the border illegally has become more difficult and costly, migrants don't want to risk returning to see their families.

More Mexican children and mothers have been coming to the United States, it appears, because only that way can they be with their fathers/husbands.

May 3, 2006

Illegal Immigrants, Immigration Reform and the Catholic Church

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, a key advocacy group, wrote on 5/1 about the church’s positive, perhaps even militant stand, in regarding undocumented workers rights. He write about recent events and gives a short history of the experience of Catholic immigrants in the early decades of the 20th Century, when they often suffered from discrimination. “Cardinal Roger Mahony electrified the US immigration reform debate by announcing on March 1, 2006 (Ash Wednesday), that he would instruct archdiocesan priests and lay Catholics to ignore provisions in a House-passed “enforcement only” bill (H.R. 4437) — were they to pass — that would make it a crime to assist unauthorized immigrants.”

In February 2003….bishops in the United States and Mexico released Strangers No Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope, a pastoral statement that called for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. Strangers No Longer built on themes established in other pastoral statements by US bishops (One Family Under God in 1995 and Unity in Diversity in 2000), annual statements by the Holy Father on migration, and a long history of Catholic teaching documents. The US bishops have conducted extensive rollout of these documents through public gatherings, within the relevant church structures, and to lay Catholics, in response to what it sees as increasingly harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation.

Kerwin provides an historical perspective: “….The church sees parallels between the last great wave of immigrants to the United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the current wave.”

Like immigrants now, newcomers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came from different countries than their predecessors. Harsh, well-organized movements portrayed them as a threat to the nation's security, to law-abiding citizens and to US workers. Restrictionists accused Catholics of being unassimilable due to their faith, just as some vilify Muslim-Americans today. Newcomers suffered from low wages and dangerous working conditions. Many families split apart and dissolved.
By 1920, 75 percent of US Catholics were immigrants, with recent newcomers primarily coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. In response to their needs, the church created or significantly expanded all of its defining institutions, including parishes, schools, charities, hospitals, mutual aid societies, religious communities, and fraternal and sororal groups. For these Catholics, the church tried to offer an array of educational, medical, social service, and social institutions that paralleled those of the larger society.
Since 1975, the US bishops' conference — through its Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) division — has resettled nearly 900,000 refugees in dioceses throughout the country. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) supports a national network of Catholic Charities and diocesan legal programs that serve nearly 400,000 immigrants per year. These programs help low-wage newcomers secure work authorization, reunify with family members, become US citizens, and gain protection from persecution. After IRCA passed [in 1986]the US bishops mobilized the country's largest network of "qualified designated entities" — voluntary and community organizations that had permission from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to help unauthorized immigrants fill out adjustment-of-status applications.

Current developments:

In May 2005, US bishops kicked off a national campaign, “Justice for Immigrants, A Journey of Hope” (JFI). The campaign supports increasing development in immigrant-sending countries; allowing necessary, unauthorized workers to earn the right to remain (permanently) through their labor, good moral character, and payment of a fine (a proportional punishment); and expanding avenues for employment- and family-based immigration.
So far, nearly 80 dioceses have initiated local JFI campaigns to educate Catholics and the public on migration issues and to engage policymakers on the local, state, and national levels. These campaigns attempt to reach directly into parishes — the most basic unit of the Catholic Church where believers gather at least weekly — and, in many cases, have fed directly into local rallies.
In addition, dozens of bishops, national Catholic agencies, and religious communities have mobilized their communities in support of the JFI campaign through pro-immigrant statements. The JFI campaign has been explicitly linked to the Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty which — through overseas development programs and advocacy on foreign aid, trade, and debt relief — seeks to alleviate the conditions that force many people to migrate.

Strangers No Longer: Catholic Church's statement on Hispanic illegal immigration

This February 2003, pastoral letter signed by Mexican and American bishops in the Catholic Church forms a foundation for the church's strong support of immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants legal protections. The letter addresses the broad social issues of all Hispanic immigration.

Selected numbered paragraphs:

102. We recognize the phenomenon of migration as an authentic sign of the times. We see it in both our countries through the suffering of those who have been forced to become migrants for many reasons. To such a sign we must respond in common and creative ways so that we may strengthen the faith, hope, and charity of migrants and all the People of God. Such a sign is a call to transform national and international social, economic, and political structures so that they may provide the conditions required for the development for all, without exclusion and discrimination against any person in any circumstance.

103. In effect, the Church is increasingly called to be "sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, no. 1). The Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico, in communion with the Holy Father in his 1995 World Migration Day message, affirm that

In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community. Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.

The Church must, therefore, welcome all persons regardless of race, culture, language, and nation with joy, charity, and hope. It must do so with special care for those who find themselves–regardless of motive–in situations of poverty, marginalization, and exclusion.

104. We ask our presidents to continue negotiations on migration issues to achieve a system of migration between the two countries that is more generous, just, and humane. We call for legislatures of our two countries to effect a conscientious revision of the immigration laws and to establish a binational system that accepts migration flows, guaranteeing the dignity and human rights of the migrant. We ask public officials who are in charge of formulating, implementing, and executing immigration laws to reexamine national and local policies toward the migrant and to use their leadership positions to erase misconceptions about migration. We ask adjudicators who process immigrants' legal claims to create a welcoming atmosphere that does not threaten their confidence or security. We encourage the media to support and promote a genuine attitude of welcoming toward migrants and immigrants.

105. We, the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico, pledge ourselves to defend the migrant. We also pledge to support the creation of the necessary conditions so that all may enjoy the fruit of their work and life in their homeland, if they so wish.

106. We stand in solidarity with you, our migrant brothers and sisters, and we will continue to advocate on your behalf for just and fair migration policies. We commit ourselves to animate communities of Christ's disciples on both sides of the border to accompany you on your journey so that yours will truly be a journey of hope, not of despair, and so that, at the point of arrival, you will experience that you are strangers no longer and instead members of God's household. We pray that, wherever you go, you will always be conscious of your dignity as human beings and of your call to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ, who came that we "might have life and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). We invite you who are forced to emigrate to maintain contact with your homes and, especially, to maintain fidelity to your families so that you treasure your cultural values and the gift of faith and so that you bring these treasures to whatever place you go.

May Day Immigrant rallies and aftermath

The media appears to be bemused by the May Day rallies. What is their impact? My guess is that the rallies may have hardened the get-though sentiment among Republicans in the House of Representatives, while they also may have moved forward political organization among Hispanics. It may result in higher voter registrations among Hispanics.

An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer starts with: “A day after more than 1 million immigrants and supporters skipped work to march in rallies across the nation, some advocates say the mixed messages surrounding the "Day Without Immigrants" show a need for a unified front and the movement's own Cesar Chavez. An estimated 400,000 people marched in both Chicago and Los Angeles, but fewer than 10,000 turned out in cities including Dallas, Atlanta and Phoenix, which all have large Hispanic populations.

With so many organizers pushing their own plans for the May 1 rallies, and no single group at the forefront, there wasn't a unifying plan. And there were conflicting signals from various leaders questioning whether a boycott that disrupted the economy would do more harm than good. Even individual immigration-reform leaders are torn over how best to keep the momentum going. The grass-roots flavor of the recent demonstrations has generated excitement and publicity, but empowering an umbrella organization or dynamic figurehead could galvanize the effort the way Chavez did for farm workers and Martin Luther King Jr. did for the civil rights movement.
"It's always good to have a figure that melds it together," said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, a major organizer and supporter of rallies Monday. "But right now, we are seeing hundreds of leaders coming together. Many of them are people nobody had ever heard of," Medina said. "This organic organization will outlive any one charismatic figure." Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, director of immigration studies at New York University, said he believes any consolidation of local groups won't happen until leaders see what comes out of Congress. "Clearly the ball now is in the court of the political class," Suarez-Orozco said. "But in the long run, the elephant in the room is how (the marches) will be translated into political muscle."
Organizers in many cities see that effort already under way. Reform activists in Oklahoma, California, Alaska and Illinois said they have started voter registration or citizenship drives in recent weeks - making good on the promise emblazoned on thousands of marchers' signs that read: "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." Medina said SEIU planned to sponsor citizenship forums in major cities and work with churches and activist groups to do voter registration drives.