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May 31, 2007

Accuracy in media coverage

It was gratifying to see New York Times columnist David Leonhardt take on the issue of media accuracy and immigration in his recent column Truth, Fiction and Lou Dobbs. The public discourse about immigration can be heated enough without the TV talking heads stoking the fires.

Dobbs is an anchor at CNN with the station's second largest audience; he also has a syndicated radio show and has authored books. In recent years, he has morphed from a conservative economist to a self-styled populist and champion of the middle class. One of his frequent themes of late has been his "war on the middle class" focusing on such issues as outsourcing, minimum wage, and job protection. He also has a taken a strong and prominent anti-immigration stance, demonizing undocumented workers and citing them as the source for wage suppression, crime, health hazards, and a host of other ills plaguing the middle class.

But as Leonhardt notes, Dobbs often gives a nod and a wink to the most racist of anti-immigration spokespeople who frequent his show. And he is frequently fast and loose with his facts - sometimes out and out wrong. Such is the case with his recent propagation of the idea that cases of leprosy are rising alarmingly largely due to immigrants, an assertion he has made repeatedly both on his show and in other media such as 60 Minutes.

“The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans,” Mr. Dobbs said on his April 14, 2005, program. From there, he introduced his original report that mentioned leprosy, the flesh-destroying disease — technically known as Hansen’s disease — that has inspired fear for centuries.

Mr. Dobbs argues that the middle class has many enemies: corporate lobbyists, greedy executives, wimpy journalists, corrupt politicians. But none play a bigger role than illegal immigrants. As he sees it, they are stealing our jobs, depressing our wages and even endangering our lives.

That’s where leprosy comes in.

According to a woman CNN identified as a medical lawyer named Dr. Madeleine Cosman, leprosy was on the march. As Ms. Romans, the CNN correspondent, relayed: “There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years.”

“Incredible,” Mr. Dobbs replied.

Mr. Dobbs and Ms. Romans engaged in a nearly identical conversation a few weeks ago, when he was defending himself the night after the “60 Minutes” segment. “Suddenly, in the past three years, America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy,” she said, again attributing the number to Ms. Cosman."

Leonhardt followed up to verify this information with James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, an arm of the federal government, only to learn the cited "facts" were totally wrong. The 7000 cases of leprosy cited occurred over a span of three decades, not the three years that Dobbs asserted. But despite having aired this false and damaging claim on several occasions, neither Dobbs nor CNN have issued a correction or retraction. In fact, Dobbs' defensiveness when confronted about the matter sent Leonhardt to the archives to examine show transcripts, where he discovered other instances of false information being disseminated about immigrants. Here's a case in point:
"For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That’s wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives."
Leonardt also discusses how the line between news and opinion/advocacy blur frequently on his show. Dobbs often plays to emotions and fears, fanning the fires of hatred and discord by giving a forum to white supremacy sympathisers and using highly charged terms such as "invasion."

Mr. Dobbs should do a better job of getting his facts straight and should turn the rhetoric down a few notches. CNN should do a better job of drawing a line between news and opinion. Both should take pains to correct the record for their damaging errors. And kudos to David Leonhardt for holding Dobbs' feet to the fire. Reasonable people can disagree on matters surrounding the immigration issue, but there should be no place for inflammatory rhetoric and factual distortions - particularly from those who we trust for our news.

May 30, 2007

Hispanic labor share continues to grow, now 25% of construction

The number of Hispanic workers in increased in 2006 over 2005, just as it had in prior years. And the growth is particularly noticeable in construction. This is according to a Pew Hispanic Center report issued in March of this year but just come to my attention.

In 2006, there were about 145 million in the workforce. Of these 20 million were Hispanics, up from 18 million in 2004. Much of the growth came from relatively new arrivals (last 2 years) in the United States. In total, they comprised in 2006 13.6% of the industry’s workforce.

The “Latino” labor force added 980,000 workers between 2005 and 2006. “That accounted for 38% of all workers added to the labor force.”

They accounted for two thirds of the 599,000 person growth in construction employment in 2006. About 11.7 million people work in construction. In 2004, Hispanics made up 21% of this total. In 2006, they made up 25%. Of that, 19.1% were foreign born and 7.2% were recent arrivals in the U.S. (last two years). The recent arrival segment has been growing very rapidly.

May 29, 2007

“Make a Bad Bill Better”

The New York Times wants massive revisions to the Senate bill – but fears that the coalition behind the bill will collapse if too much pressure it put on it.

Published: May 29, 2007

The great immigration struggle of 2007 has moved from the Senate chamber in Washington to the continent at large. With Congress taking the week off, it’s time for constituents to weigh in. You can be sure of this much: The debate will get louder before it gets better.

The problems with the restrictionist provisions of the Senate immigration bill are serious and many. It includes a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants, which is a rare triumph for common sense, but that path is strewn with cruel conditions, including a fine — $5,000 — that’s too steep and hurdles that are needlessly high, including a “touchback” requirement for immigrants to make pilgrimages to their home countries to cleanse themselves of illegality. The bill imposes an untested merit-point system that narrows the channels through which family members can immigrate.

And it calls for hundreds of thousands of guest workers to toil here temporarily in an absurd employment hokey-pokey — you put your two years in, then one year out, then repeat that twice and go home forever. It would be massive indentured servitude — colonial times all over again, but without any hope of citizenship for those taking our most difficult and despised jobs.

Those who want this bill to be better are horribly conflicted by it. Their emotions still seem vastly overmatched by the ferocity of the opposition from the restrictionist right, with talk radio lighting up over “amnesty,” callers spitting out the words with all the hate they can pour into it.

It is encouraging that the bill survived several attempts by that camp to blow it apart, including an amendment that would have stricken the legalization section outright. The center held last week. But it will take a real effort to make the Senate bill much better, given that a core group of senators are bound to the ungainly architecture of their “grand bargain” and that any progress in significantly altering or improving it could unravel the deal.

The Senate bill is repellent in many ways. Its fragrant blossoms are grafted to poisonous roots. But it is also bipartisan, and there lies the kernel of possibility that may ultimately redeem it. A good bill may yet emerge if enough lawmakers, with encouragement from the White House and Americans at large — whose moderate views on immigration were reflected in a New York Times/CBS News poll published on Friday — realize that striking hard-line poses matters less than drafting legislation marrying reality, justice and decency. Advocates of comprehensive immigration reform — which this bill is not — should not give up the fight.

Americans, meanwhile, should look closely at what they have been offered, and to imagine what a strange country this would be if the bill passed as is, if it morphs into a harsher one, or if it is shot down and we are left with the dismal status quo. We would rattle around in our fortified chunk of North America, bristling at our southern border — nothing is stopping that process — as we check our turnstiles carefully for those bright enough to merit entry, bask in the labor of a churning class of serfs, check people’s ID’s, raid workplaces and fill our detention centers. The anti-amnesty fringe will be pleased with itself, but it won’t be an America the rest of us will want to brag about

May 28, 2007

Some provisions in Title IV, Temporary worker program

This is a partial review of the initial version of the immigration reform bill submitted in the Senate (Secure borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007). The program is described on pp. 143 – 187 of the text of the bill. I am excluding from the review a special provision for temporary agricultural workers.

The temporary work program does not replace existing temporary worker programs. It creates a Y visa. The visa is available for any full time work except in counties where the unemployment rate exceeds 7% (the limitation can be waived by the government).

Employers must show a valid offer for employment. They can use labor contractors, who must be registered. The visa is portable among employers.

The alien worker must pay an administrative fee of $500 plus $250 for every dependent with a maximum of $1,500.

Wages must be prevailing wages, and at least 150% of the poverty level in the area of employment.

The worker must be an employee and not an independent contractor.

The worker must have health insurance. The law does not say who will pay for the health insurance; given the probability that most Y visa workers will be low paid and have large self-pays and deductibles for insurance, this itself may kill off many employment opportunities.

The employer must provide workers compensation insurance, even for jobs which by state law are not covered by workers compensation. The law sets federal fines for the employer’s failure to pay back wages and benefits.

May 25, 2007

Edgar Velázquez: Maimed at work, then deported

The Providence Journal featured a troubling story this past Sunday, which was just brought to our attention. For those of us who work in workers comp, the terrible story of Edgar Velázquez: Maimed at work, then deported* is one that is played out all too frequently in the nation's workplaces.

Edgar Velázquez is an undocumented Mexican worker who crossed the border after paying a coyote $1800. He found his way to Rhode Island to join family. According the this story, William J. Gorman Jr., owner of Billy G’s Tree Care, hired Velázquez despite knowing that he was an "illegal immigrant," paying him an hourly rate under the table. Velázquez says that he was not provided any protective equipment to handle the chain saws that he used on his job, yet here's what OSHA recommends for chainsaw safety: head protection, face/eye protection, hearing protection, leg protection, foot protection, hand protection.

Had Velázquez been wearing head or face protection, perhaps the injury he sustained when the chainsaw bounced off a fence and sliced through his face might have been prevented or mitigated. The surgeon who performed emergency reconstructive surgery on Velázquez, called the injury "devastating."

Since the injury, Gorman has flatly denied that he employed Velázquez when family and treating physicians tried to find out about insurance. Gorman also denied any knowledge of Velázquez when contacted by the reporter who wrote this story.

When Velázquez showed up at the hearing that was scheduled to determine his eligibility for workers comp to cover his medical care and wage replacement, immigration agents were waiting for him. He was arrested and within a few days, driven over the Mexican border and dropped off. The story states that his former employer was on hand for the hearing, and approached Velázquez' attorney Maureen Gemma, saying, "You’ll never guess what happened ... I just saw your client walking up to the courthouse and Immigration snatched him up. … I think it was Immigration. It had to be." Gemma said Gorman was obviously amused.

Perhaps Mr. Gorman is less amused now that this story is coming to light.

According to RI law and the law in most states, worker immigration status is not a bar to workers compensation benefits. But Billy G's Tree Care isn't insured for workers compensation, according to state records, and never has been. Mr. Gorman's attorney thinks that his client may not be required to carry workers compensation. We are not so sure about that, but we do think it's a good idea that Mr. Gorman has an attorney. If the facts are correct, he is violating a host of other federal and state employment laws and avoiding payroll taxes. Mr. Gorman's attorney thinks that the relationship between Velázquez and Gorman was not one of employee and employer, but independent contractor and sole proprietor. We are not so sure about that, either. Mr. Gorman, on the other hand, apparently disagrees with this assessment since he has denied any relationship with Velázquez whatsoever.

This is a fairly clear example of the exploitation that immigrant workers face at the hands of unscrupulous employers. They are hired with a nod and a wink and paid under the table. Safety precautions are ignored and labor laws are violated. Statutory benefits are denied. This type of exploitation is no small problem - many think it as nothing short of modern day slavery.

The debate about immigration is so heated that even matters of basic human decency and common sense are often jettisoned. We've heard the argument "...but he was illegal" ad nauseum. Whether worker status is legal or illegal is a separate issue entirely. Employers should not be allowed to exploit and abuse employees, period. This matter should be of concern to all, if not on the grounds of morality, then just good business sense. Velázquez is the first and most obvious victim of injustice here, but not the last. By avoiding taxes, benefits, and insurance, unscrupulous employers have an unfair competitive edge over honest employers who do the right thing. Workers have no records, no benefits, and no protection. And when workers are injured or killed on the job, somebody else pays the bills. The rest of us bear the financial burden that exploiting employers shirk.

Because his situation has come to light, many people are advocating for Velázquez and trying to see that he gets justice. For every story that gets this attention, there are untold more that will never receive a public airing. There is quite a lot of passion around the issue of "illegal immigrants," but far too little passion around the issue of "illegal employers."

Thanks to Karen Lee Ziner for her good reporting on this story and to Cathleen Caron of the Global Worker Justice Alliance for alerting us about the article.

* If you have trouble accessing the article, try this link from MIRA.

May 23, 2007

Tracking the aftermath

Hello to the readers of Working Immigrants. While Peter is traveling, I will be following some of the news stories about the immigration law - or any other related matters that I might find - and posting them here. I'm not the topic expert that Peter is, but my colleagues and I at Workers Comp Insider do keep our eye on issues related to immigrant workers and post on the topic from time to time.

Finally, an immigration bill is on the table, although we are now at the point in the process when Otto Von Bismarks's famous quote comes into play: "People who enjoy sausage and respect the law should not watch either being made."

The New York Times reports that the Immigration Bill Clears Its First Hurdle in Senate. To invoke cloture, 60 votes were needed and the measure had 69 votes. With Memorial Day looming, a decision was made not to continue debate post-holiday. The Times reporters noted that "The many obstacles that must be overcome before the bill becomes law were evident in the passionate speeches on the Senate floor in advance of the vote."

It didn't take long for critics from both sides of the aisle to be taking their case to the media, with Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, and David Vitter of Louisiana spearheading the opposition. While there are critics on all fronts, The Washington Post discussed the particular rift that that the legislation is opening in the GOP.

The Los Angeles Times looks at the bill through the lens of how it might impact both businesses and immigrant families, summarizing a few key provisions of the legislation:

"The proposed shift is included in a massive immigration reform bill unveiled last week by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat, and Jon Kyl, a Republican. It would introduce a point system immediately as a basis for the 140,000 permanent visas awarded annually for workers and, after about eight years, increase that number to 380,000. Point systems are used in countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Under the proposed system, green card applicants could earn a maximum of 100 points. Job qualifications would account for nearly half the points, with the highest numbers assigned for specialty or high-demand occupations such as engineering, as well as smaller credits for technical expertise, a U.S. job offer, U.S. work experience and youth. Educational background could add 28 points, while those who speak fluent English could earn 15.

Family connections could bring 10 more points, but only for applicants with 55 points or higher.

For families, the Senate proposal would eliminate most of the backlog of 4.5 million relatives waiting for green cards over eight years. In a provision that has sparked outcry among immigrant rights groups, however, the bill's May 2005 cut-off date would leave out 800,000 applicants, according to Karen K. Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center in Washington.

... After the backlog is reduced, family-based visas subject to numerical caps would drop from about 226,000 annually to 127,000. The system would eliminate preferences entirely for adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The proposal would also place a cap of 40,000 on parents of U.S. citizens for the first time. Only spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens would continue to have unlimited access to green cards."

Employment Eligibility Verification System
One point of controversy for critics is in the proposed Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS). Technology publications are interested in the issue of mandatory employment verifications, which expands the current voluntary system that now has about 17,000 participants checking employees against Social Security and immigrant data. CNet news and PC World weigh in with discussions on concerns surrounding this component.

On Thursday 5/24/2007, the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law of the U.S. Representatives will be holding a hearing on immigration reform with an emphasis on Labor Movement Perspectives. The witness list has not yet been named - follow the developments on this hearing.

May 22, 2007

The Senate has done what it needed to do....

...which was to bring all interests together for am ambitiously written bill.

As I noted in an earlier post, the Senate Bill is at its core a long range workforce plan for America in the context of globalization of work, through migration and information technology. Every one including myself has a problem with some aspect of the bill. (For me, the most troubled part is probably the guest worker program for low wage workers, with limits of 2 years).

Workingimmigrants will be tracking the bill over the summer. Julie Ferguson will join me in posting for the next few weeks.

May 19, 2007

What the Senate Bill is trying to do

It is Saturday 5/19 and I have not seen the bill yet. It is apparently 350 pages long. I’ve only read very short commentaries and seen an outline. But from these I have formed a mental picture of what the sponsors are trying to do, which I will lay out in five steps.

This is primarily a workforce plan for the country. The net effect of the bill if enacted will be to put to rest the illegal immigrant issue, expand temporary work immigration, and shift long term immigration more towards work skills.

First, and most important, they have sought to forge a consensus of where the American workforce and within that immigration should be heading for the next 25 years. There is a high skilled talent and low skilled component.

In this period the developed world will scramble for high skilled talent. The EU, Japan and increasingly China will retain put big demands on worldwide talent. The developing world will supply a good deal of this talent. Within a few years, an American employer, such as a hospital chain in Chicago, will solve its talented worker scarcity through a blend of American citizen recruitment, immigrating knowledge workers, and offshoring. Half of Accenture’s staffing is now in India. Maybe 20% of knowledge work in the U.S. can be offshored. I suspect the actual amount being offshored today is well less than 3%.

Thus in the background of this bill is a worldwide labor pool with strongly increasing demand for high skilled talent and increasing ease at placing much but no all work anywhere in the world.

The sponsors see that if America is going to keep a lot of high skilled work in the U.S., it has to import more of this talent. There may be some scary scenarios being presented in Washington that America must develop a much bigger high talent labor pool to keep and grow the jobs which cannot be offshored easily.

Then there is the low skilled talent. A poorly recognized aspect of the domestic labor market is the continued demand for low skilled labor in food processing, agriculture, maintenance and low end service jobs such as retail and health aides. There are a lot of low skilled jobs which cannot be offshored.

The Senate bill sponsors must have the figures before them such as I have seen: steady upward job growth in the next ten years at least. There is as active an employer’s lobby for this labor (such as hotel chains) as there is an employer’s lobby for high skilled talent (such as Microsoft).

Second, the sponsors want to shift long term immigration more towards drawing in highly skilled workers. The awarding of green cards (permanent non-citizen status) will shift somewhat to a points system, which Canada has been refining and about which I have posted several times.

Third, the sponsors are opening up more temporary high skilled slots and making it easier for narrow discipline-specific channels to work, such as nurses. I only surmise this – the truth is in the details. We have I think dozens of special interest worker importation programs, ranging from doctors to professional sports players.

Fourth, they want to put the low skilled illegal immigrant issue behind us. In this bill they ware essentially granting amnesty which, in contrast with the amnesty in the 1980s which resulted in million of new citizens but still porous borders, will have more border controls. The sponsors have no stomach for massive deportations. (The “Return to Sender” raids of ICE in the past six months were made, I believe, to demonstrate that large scale deportation will work only with massive dislocations and political protest.) These folks are ultimately on a green card / citizen track but it will take years.

Fifth, the sponsors are assuring a stream of low skilled temporary workers, about 400,000 a year for two years, in effect 800,000 at any time in the country. In addition there will be a very large, 1.5 million agricultural worker program, highly desired by California.

May 17, 2007

What is an immigration point system?

The Senate bill will include a point system to sort out and prioritize persons seeking to immigrant – or to change their status from temporary to permanent in the U.S. A pint system is reported to be a keystone for bipartisan support of immigration reform. So, what is it?

I have posted on it before regarding Canada, and to a lesser extent Australia and France.

A sympathetic analysis of the point system concept was presented on May I before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee which is drafting the Senate bill. The presentation was made by Demetrios Papademetriou, President of the Migration Policy Institute.

He believes that a point system can help steer immigration but it should not be a centerpiece.

“Point systems are first and foremost human capital accrual mechanisms” he said. Pints are given to what a country wants to value at a specific point in time among all the possible attributes.

Five criteria tend to be applied in point systems of other countries: education, occupation, work experience, language and age.

Sometimes lower values are applied to these other criteria: employer job offer, prior wages, prior work or educational experience in the country, presence of close relatives, certain special considerations, and involvement in job creation.

Canada started a point system by focusing on areas of shortages of certain jobs (not shortages of workers for jobs). That did not work. It revised the system to focus on broader criteria of economic advancement.

One quarter of Canadian immigrants are processed through its point system; rest immigrant based on traditional criteria.

To some degree a point system shifts the talent search away from employers using temporary visa programs and towards government driven selection processes. One can have a hybrid system of some temporary programs filled by employer sponsorships alongside a point system.

The political advantages of point systems start with their appearing to use quantitative, objective selection criteria to advance clearly defined economic and labor market goals. The system comes in effect with a grand plan seal.

Also, if the point system is designed to focus on long term economic growth, there is less concern about the system causing of a displacement of native workers.

And also, the system appears flexible, adaptable and simple, so that is can be maintained and stay legitimate over time.

A point system can be refined to govern the passage of illegal immigrants into legal status and then

Senate Bill expected for test vote Monday

See here and here for NY Times articles. The bill is expected to include (1) a guest workers program, (2) means for illegal immigrants to gain permanent status over time, (3) triggers for moving the program forward for illegal immigrants, in the form of progress in border control, and (4) moderate shifting of immigration priorities from family towards skill/education factors.

May 16, 2007

Chronology of Senate immigration reform bill this year

A bill is about to be brought to the floor. From Migration Information Source on May 15, here it is:

January 2007

* Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) begin formulating a new comprehensive reform proposal.
* President Bush includes immigration reform in his State of the Union address, renewing his call for a temporary worker plan and a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrants.

March 2007

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vows to "take up a bill before the August recess."
* Attempts to introduce a bill in the Senate falter, and Senator Kennedy proposes using legislation produced last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee as a starting point for negotiations.
* Group of GOP senators begins meeting with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez to craft a Senate immigration reform bill. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mel Martinez (R-FL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are among those looking to create a united position among Republican senators.
* On the House side, Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduce the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act.
* White House immigration reform principles leaked to press.

(For more information on the Strive Act and the White House proposal, see the April 2007 Policy Beat.)

April 2007

* President Bush reaffirms his push for comprehensive reform that, in addition to improved border and interior enforcement, includes "resolving without amnesty and without animosity the status of the millions of illegal immigrants that are here right now."
* Majority Leader Reid sets a deadline of May 14th to begin debate on an immigration reform bill in the Senate.
* On the House side, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, and Border Security, embarks on a series of hearings on immigration reform components.
* A meeting between Republican and Democratic staff ends abruptly when negotiations turn sour, causing Republican staffers to walk out. Senators decide they will negotiate in person to overcome the stalemate.

May 2007

* Majority Leader Reid vows to bring the immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2006 to the floor and bypass the committee process, unless a reasonable alternative to the bill is proposed by May 14th.
* Senators scramble to reach consensus before the May 14th deadline.
* Key Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham (SC), Mel Martinez (FL), John McCain (AZ), and Arlen Specter (PA) threaten to vote against last year's Senate-passed bill if brought to the Senate floor. Senators urge Reid to allow time to finish negotiations and introduce a new bill. Reid finally relents and postpones the vote until the 16th.
* In the House, subcommittee hearings on immigration continue.
* President Bush uses his May 12th weekly radio address to continue his call for comprehensive immigration reform.

May 9, 2007

Ranking economics over family in immigration

A New York Times editorial last week and an AP story (further below) both address the White House plan to reduce the volume of immigration based on family ties in favor of recognizing the potential of applicants to add to the economy. As I have posted before, Canada is trying to do this; so is Australia and France.

Family values, betrayed

Published: May 4, 2007

When George W. Bush was running for president in 2000 as a new kind of Republican — the caring kind — he had a ready answer for those skeptical of his moderate views on immigration. “Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande,” he said, again and again. He was standing up for immigrants who come here seeking better lives for their children, and he repeated the message so often that it stuck.

Now, like so much else in Mr. Bush’s tattered slogan file, it’s in danger of coming unstuck. Negotiators struggling to draft an immigration bill in Washington are being pressured by the White House and Republican leaders to gut the provisions of the law that promote the unity of immigrant families in favor of strictly employment-based programs.

Details are still being sweated out in private, but a draft proposal circulated by the White House and the G.O.P. would eliminate or severely restrict whole categories of family-based immigration in favor of a system that would assign potential immigrants points based on age, skills, education, income and other factors. Citizens would no longer be able to sponsor siblings and children over 21, and their ability to bring in parents would be severely limited.

Unattached workers with advanced degrees and corporate sponsors could do all right, but not families, not the moms, pops, sons and daughters who open groceries and restaurants, who rebuild desolate neighborhoods and inspire America with their work ethic and commitment to one another. The plan would also shut out hundreds of thousands of people who have applied for family visas under current rules and are patiently waiting because of long backlogs.

The goal seems to be to end what immigration restrictionists call “chain migration,” a tendentious term that recasts in a sinister light one of the fundamental ways America was built, and a decades-old cornerstone of our immigration policy. It’s a cruel distortion that feeds fears of outsiders and fails to acknowledge that healthy immigration levels keep the economy running, particularly in a country with low unemployment and birth rates and workers who shun backbreaking, entry-level jobs.

America needs immigrants. Last year’s bipartisan Senate bill recognized this, and raised quotas for both family and employment-based immigration. Congress should do so again. Closing the door to families would be unjust and unworkable, and a mockery of the values that conservatives profess. It would only encourage illegality by forcing people to choose between their loved ones and the law.

Compromise is necessary with any bill, particularly on an issue as complex as immigration. But if a deal hews so closely to the new harsh line of the White House and G.O.P that it fundamentally distorts America’s pro-immigrant tradition, it would be better to ditch the whole thing and start over.

Immigration talks bog down over family ties

May 3, 2007
BY Julie Hirschfeld Davis Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Who should get a preference when it comes to immigrants?

For decades, relatives of those already in the United States have moved to the front of the line.

The White House and senior Republican lawmakers now want to strictly limit the influx of family members and give preference to skilled workers sought by employers.

Democrats say that is inhumane and impractical.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., says the issue has become "one of the most contentious" in pulling together a broad immigration bill upon which Republicans and Democrats can agree.

The idea is to give many of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship and create a guest-worker program for new arrivals.

"It would be a huge mistake to expand employment-based immigration at the expense of our historic tradition of family-based immigration," Kennedy, one of the key negotiators, said in a speech this week.

Nearly two-thirds of legal permanent residents admitted last year were family-sponsored immigrants, while less than 12.6 percent came in based on employment preferences, according to the Homeland Security Department. Roughly one-fourth fell into other categories, such as refugees and aslyum seekers.

Reshaping immigration laws is a priority for President Bush, who wants it as part of his domestic legacy. It also would be a popular achievement for Democrats to take to voters in the next election.

Senate Democratic leaders have promised to bring up a measure, with or without GOP agreement, within two weeks.

Bush put in a plug Wednesday for a swift compromise. "I will work with both Republicans and Democrats to get a bill to my desk before the summer is out, hopefully," he told a contractors' trade group in Washington.

Under the White House proposal, legal immigrants would lose the right to petition to bring adult children and siblings to the U.S. They could do so for spouses and minor children, but their ability to sponsor parents would be severely limited.

The proposal would limit or end preferences for people who had family members living legally in the U.S., and award many more visas based on employability criteria, such as education and skills.

May 2, 2007

guest worker program and all immigrant workers

A guest worker program, introduced within a broader immigration reform act, will deliver much needed worker protections to millions of currently undocumented / illegal workers. The legislation being proposed now, such as the STRIVE Act (about which I have posted) prescribe worker protections in order to prevent these workers from being exploited and from driving down compensation for all low wage jobs. What is not really understood today is the positive effect that these worker protections will have on the millions of legal immigrants working today in low wage, low skill jobs. I believe this spill over effect will take place and positively improve the working conditions of ten to fifteen million workers. We native born Americans do not realize how many immigrant workers -- legal and illegal -- have marginal access to jobs with benefits and pay most of us assume. How this spill over effect will work - through state minimum wage laws, better overall enforcement of worker protections, union activity -- is yet to be seen.