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June 30, 2007

"I think that is something that can be dealt with at a later time.”

That was Senator Elizabeth Dole’s rationalization about how she expects the illegal immigrant population in the United States to be addressed, after voting against immigration reform.

Below is the Washington Post’s editorial on Friday 6 29 about the defeat of the bill.

An Immigrant's Lament: 53 senators vote to keep 12 million people in the shadows.

AFTER SEN. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina joined 36 of her Republican colleagues, 15 Democrats and one independent in the Senate yesterday in squashing the last, best hope for now of overhauling the nation's bankrupt and busted immigration laws, she was asked what she proposed for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. "I think that is something that can be dealt with at a later time," she replied airily.

Tell that to Ernesto, Mrs. Dole. He's a 31-year-old Salvadoran handyman in Wheaton who sneaked over the border through California four years ago after paying thousands of dollars to a migrant smuggler, to whom he remains in debt. Mrs. Dole and her colleagues may imagine that Ernesto will simply evaporate now that the Senate has decided to avert its gaze, but he won't. Although he earns barely $1,200 a month, he does better here as a painter, carpenter, landscaper and electrician than he ever could in Cabañas, his hardscrabble native region of northern El Salvador, which is rich in beans and sugar cane but bereft of jobs.

Ernesto, who spoke with us on the understanding that his last name would not be published, was on Capitol Hill with a small group of immigrants yesterday. He watched ruefully as the senators dealt their lethal blow to his prospects for a normal life on the right side of the law. But he's staying put. With the help of Casa of Maryland, a local nonprofit, he finds work several days a week and sends $200 a month home to his family in El Salvador. His worldly possessions here, which he keeps with him in a tiny rented room, consist of a power saw, a few hand tools, a television and the cellphone he uses to talk to his wife and 5-year-old daughter every day.

It's enough, better than what he left behind in El Salvador, and plenty to nourish an immigrant's dream of earning a little more, of working full time, of maybe bringing his family to live with him one day. Ernesto does not intend to leave, but even if he were to be deported, there are still about 12 million people representing 5 percent of the nation's job force who cannot be ignored, hounded, harassed, wished or deported into nothingness. At some point Congress will come to its senses, steady its nerves and recognize that unimpeachable reality. Mrs. Dole and her colleagues may think they killed immigration reform yesterday. In fact the problem will just keep coming back, bigger each time than the last.

June 25, 2007

Senate to try again on immigration reform

As early as this week, with a somewhat more conservative bill.

Big trouble with temporary work visa for professional workers.

The likes of Micosoft, Google, Intel and the rest of the IT lobby in Washington have not been able to get Congress to add more slots. In fact, one lobbyist called the Senate reform bill of May a disaster. The point system plan worked against the interests of the lobbying firms because it stripped employers of picking the workers they wanted. And Washington is paying more attention to abuses in the current H-IB program whereby foreign holders of the visas are paid less than their American peers.

From the NY Times article of today, “High-Tech Titans Strike Out on Immigration Bill” -

High-tech companies want to be able to hire larger numbers of well-educated, foreign-born professionals who, they say, can help them succeed in the global economy. For these scientists and engineers, they seek permanent-residence visas, known as green cards, and H-1B visas. The H-1B program provides temporary work visas for people who have university degrees or the equivalent to fill jobs in specialty occupations including health care and technology. The Senate bill would expand the number of work visas for skilled professionals, but high-tech companies say the proposed increase is not nearly enough. Several provisions of the Senate bill are meant to enhance protections for American workers and to prevent visa fraud and abuse.

High-tech companies were surprised and upset by the bill that emerged last month from secret Senate negotiations. E. John Krumholtz, director of federal affairs at Microsoft, said the bill was “worse than the status quo, and the status quo is a disaster.”

In the last two weeks, these businesses have quietly negotiated for changes to meet some of their needs. But the bill still falls far short of what they want, an outcome suggesting that their political clout does not match their economic strength.

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a co-author of a treatise on immigration law, said: “High-tech companies are very organized. They have numerous lobby groups. When Bill Gates advocates more H-1B visas and green cards for tech workers, everyone listens.

“But that supposed influence has not translated into legislative results,” Mr. Yale-Loehr, who teaches at Cornell Law School, continued. “High-tech companies have been lobbying unsuccessfully since 2003 for more H-1B visas. It’s hard to get anything through Congress these days. In addition, anti-immigrant groups are well organized. U.S. computer programmers are constantly arguing that H-1B workers undercut their wages.”

Many high-tech companies bring in foreign professionals on temporary H-1B visas. The government is swamped with petitions. On the first two days of the application period in April, it received more than 123,000 petitions for 65,000 slots.

The Senate bill would raise the cap to 115,000 in 2008, with a possible increase to 180,000 in later years, based on labor market needs.

Many high-tech businesses want to hire foreign students who obtain advanced degrees from American universities, and many of the students want to work here, but cannot get visas.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have a proposal that would overhaul the H-1 B program and give priority to American workers. Their proposal would also define, in great detail, the wages that must be paid to workers who have H-1B visas.

Mr. Durbin contended that some companies have used foreign workers to undercut the wages of American workers. And in some cases, he said, foreign workers come to this country for a few years of training, then return home “to populate businesses competing with the United States.”

“The H-1B visa program is being abused by foreign companies to deprive qualified Americans of good jobs,” Mr. Durbin said. “Some companies are so brazen, they say ‘no Americans need apply’ in their job advertisements.”

High-tech companies said that the wage standards in the Durbin-Grassley proposal would, in effect, require them to pay some H-1B employees more than some equally qualified American workers who are performing the same duties.

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that thousands of H-1B workers have been paid less than the prevailing wage.

One company, Patni Computer Systems, agreed this month to pay more than $2.4 million to 607 workers with visas after Labor Department investigators found that they had not been paid the wages required by federal law. The company’s global headquarters are in Mumbai, India, and its American operations are based in Cambridge, Mass.

June 17, 2007

Coaching Mexicans on labor rights in the U.S.

Thanks for Bill Zachry for bringing to my attention this San Francisco Chronicle article about training Mexican workers, in Mexico, about their employee rights. “Started in September, the Center for Migrant Rights is a small nonprofit group based in the central state of Zacatecas, which provides free legal aid to guest workers seeking compensation for injuries or missed pay. The workshops -- this one was conducted in the central city of Celaya in Guanajuato state -- emerged after some 20 workers who had returned from the United States decided to educate would-be migrants about the ins and outs of toiling in the United States.”

the Global Workers Justice Fund is trying to do something about ensuring legal representation of Hispanic workers in the U.S. when they have returned to their country of origin.

Mexico courses teach migrants American ways

(06-12) 04:00 PDT Celaya, Mexico -- On a recent Sunday morning, a dozen burly men sat in a cinder-block garage, fixing their attention on the acronyms "OSHA," "EPA" and "DOL" written on large pieces of paper.

"Why is it that we Mexicans only know about the migra (U.S. immigration officials) and the police?" asked Jesus Rojas of the Center for Migrant Rights. "Why not the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees workplace safety? Why not the Department of Labor, which looks out for wage violations?"

Next, Rojas passed around a pay stub from his job in Delaware when he worked as a landscaper on a guest-worker visa. "Don't trash these, file them away," he said. "Being organized can help if you or your fellow workers are underpaid or not paid at all."

Call it Immigration 101.

Started in September, the Center for Migrant Rights is a small nonprofit group based in the central state of Zacatecas, which provides free legal aid to guest workers seeking compensation for injuries or missed pay. The workshops -- this one was conducted in the central city of Celaya in Guanajuato state -- emerged after some 20 workers who had returned from the United States decided to educate would-be migrants about the ins and outs of toiling in the United States.

Since then, the center's immigration attorneys have organized crash courses on U.S. labor law, the role of U.S. government agencies and previous civil rights struggles. The lawyers then accompanied the budding activists to workshops in their home states of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Queretero and Veracruz, among others.

As the U.S. Congress remains indecisive on immigration reform, one thing is sure in the poor and dusty outskirts of Celaya -- migrant workers, whether illegal or not, will remain vulnerable to exploitation by some U.S. employers.

"I wish somebody had told me about all of this before I left Mexico," said the 52-year-old Rojas.

In 2000, Rojas fell off a truck while on the job in Delaware. Unclear about medical coverage, his boss "blew me off," he said. "I don't speak English, but it was clear that any absence would put your job in jeopardy."

After a bout of dizzy spells and headaches, Rojas received a doctor's note excusing him from work for three days, but his employer ignored the physician's advice. Unable to recuperate, but afraid complaining would risk his chance of working again in the United States, Rojas returned to Mexico.

"Not everyone is out to exploit you in the U.S.," he said. "But there's a strong sense that some bosses count on your ignorance."

Know-your-rights workshops for migrant workers in the United States are nothing new. What is rare is preventive education efforts occurring in Mexico, experts say.

"When I held these workshops with immigrant workers in Florida, they'd just listen quietly and keep their heads down," said Rachel Micah-Jones, a U.S. lawyer who founded the Center for Migrant Rights in 2005. "But the interaction is far different in Mexico. People are more comfortable here and not afraid to speak up and ask questions. And who better to offer such orientation than former workers themselves?"

Micah-Jones says reaching migrant workers in the United States -- particularly the undocumented -- is difficult because of their fear of authorities. Stories such as the 2005 arrest of 48 immigrants in North Carolina who thought they were attending an OSHA safety training class but walked into an immigration sting have swept through the migrant community.

"It's amazing how many immigrant workers know about that story," said Micah-Jones. "People are worried that an invitation to a rights meeting is a trick."

To date, center volunteers have fanned out to ranches, community centers, taco stands -- wherever potential northbound migrants gather.

"This kind of binational advocacy is filling a critical education gap," said Jose Padilla, director of San Francisco-based California Rural Legal Assistance, which offers legal aid to agricultural workers. "Before they even come to the U.S., immigrant workers will already have key knowledge when it comes to their rights. Of course it's up to them to exercise those rights, which is not always so easy."

Oscar Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities in Chicago, says it is important that outreach workers neither dissuade nor encourage U.S.-bound migration.

"They are simply talking about the fact that immigrants get kicked around in the U.S. and don't typically defend themselves," he said.

In Celaya, Rojas prepped for the Sunday morning workshop by arranging lawn chairs in a semicircle in his garage. He spread out information brochures on U.S. labor rights, health care, housing for guest workers, the proper handling of pesticides and general workplace safety.

Rojas started the meeting by ticking off a series of dos and don'ts.

"If you're working with pesticides, check out the ingredients and ask for gloves and soap," he warned. "Don't wait to get sick after 15 days." Another tip: Don't complain to your boss alone. "Always bring another worker or two along as a witness."

After a few minutes, Alfredo Estrada, a husky 45-year-old handyman considering his first trip north, asked about local newspapers ads "that offer us jobs in the United States." Rojas then reached for a handout warning would-be workers of scam artists on both sides of the border who ask for thousands of dollars in exchange for visas and work permits.

"See if they're registered with any government authorities," Rojas said. "And don't ever give money up front."

Micah-Jones also expressed concern that con men would take advantage of the current congressional debate.

"Headlines in Mexico will say the U.S. is legalizing 12 million immigrants, although it's not law yet," she said. "But scam artists will offer to get Mexicans on some sort of list if they hand over cash."

As the meeting continued, a few neighbors who were walking by peered in and sat down. Like most residents in Mexico, many residents here know somebody working in the United States, have gone themselves or depend on remittances sent home. The city is ringed with crops of corn, carrots, alfalfa, onion and beans.

Along the train tracks near Rojas' house, groups of Central American migrants wait to hop trains heading toward the U.S. border.

"I'm not interested whether people hire a smuggler or head to the U.S. with a proper work visa," said Rojas. "Whatever the case, they should go informed."

June 10, 2007

Green card disasters

“Sertasheep” from www.immigrationvoice.org wrote me to highlight growing problems with green cards: extremely long waits for green card issuance, and mounting shortage of skilled professional labor beyond computer engineering. Here is his posting:

“Contrary to popular belief, it is not just computer engineers but also high-skilled professionals from such diverse facets of industry as medicine, banking and insurance, finance, teaching and research who are among those affected by delays amounting to over 10 years.

Arcane annual quotas restrict the number of Green Cards available in two ways to the same pool of high-skilled applicants. The First categorization is based on skills and exceptional abilities. The second categorization is based limits assigned to each qualifying country. Thus, there’s currently a overall cap of 140,000 Green Cards in addition to a hard country limit of 9,800 Green Cards annually, despite countries such as India and China yielding more high-skilled professionals to meet burgeoning US demands.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Association of American Family
Practitioners (AAFP) have predicted a severe shortage of PCPs over the next decade, as the demand is outstripping supply rapidly. In a position paper published last April, the AMA suggested addressing the shortage of physicians in underserved areas by international medical graduates (IMGs,).

The position paper states that one out of every five adequately served non-metropolitan counties would become underserved, if all IMGs currently in primary care practice were to be removed. Last October, the AMA wrote to several Senators and Representatives asking for their attention towards the hardships faced by not only the physicians and their families in getting Green Cards, but also the communities that depend upon them for their medical care. The AMA asked for exemptions from immigration caps for these physicians, upon completion of their service requirement."

June 7, 2007

Legislative update

Bloomberg reports that the Senate's proposed overhaul of U.S. immigration law failed a critical test vote today.

The 33 votes to limit debate were 27 short of the 60 needed to move toward a final vote on legislation granting legal status to 12 million undocumented aliens. Democrats scheduled another vote for 7:30 p.m. Washington time. Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that if a second vote fails, ``the bill's gone.'' He added, ``What else can I do?''
One of the deal breakers was apparently a 49-48 vote on an amendment put forth by North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan to terminate the guest-worker plan in five years unless Congress renews it.
The guest-worker plan is a cornerstone of the fragile agreement worked out between Democrats and Republicans, which also would impose tougher sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented aliens.

Negotiators today sought agreement on a list of amendments that Republicans would be allowed to offer, while Republicans tried to resolve concerns about Dorgan's amendment, lawmakers said. In addition, Democrats were looking for changes in an amendment that would let immigration officials give information to law enforcement officials about applicants for legal status.

Another account of today's immigration vote can be found in AP's coverage

Newsday lists Senate votes by state.

June 5, 2007

Do we need a point system? We cannot avoid it.

My sense is that a point system will only incrementally alter permanent immigration flows from their existing structure. But it will add transparency, and – I expect – make the system more predictable, and therefore more legitimate.

We need more workers at both the highly skilled (engineers) and low skilled (nursing home aides) levels. A point system is a partial solution to making the flow of high skilled workers into the country more transparent. It makes public policy more explicit. And it is part of a larger context of global workflows, wherein millions of skilled American jobs are being exported thanks in large measure to advances in information technology.

Per the New York Times, “The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center, analyzed the likely effects of the Senate bill by examining Census Bureau data. It reached these conclusions”:

¶Immigrants from many Asian countries would do well. In the last 15 years, more than three-fourths of immigrants from India, and more than half of those from China, the Philippines and South Korea had bachelor’s degrees or higher. Most immigrants from India and the Philippines report speaking English well.

¶Immigrants from Latin America would “face more difficulties” in getting green cards. More than 40 percent of recent immigrants from this region are in the preferred age range, 25 to 39, but many lack educational credentials and English language skills. More than 60 percent of adult immigrants from Mexico have not completed high school. Just 5 percent have college degrees. Only 15 percent of recent Mexican immigrants are proficient in English.

¶The United States has received comparatively few immigrants from Africa, but many of them have characteristics that would help them earn points.

About two-fifths of recent African immigrants are in the preferred age group. Two-thirds are proficient in English. And 38 percent have a bachelor’s or higher degree.

According to the Times,

An applicant could receive a maximum of 100 points. Up to 75 points would be allocated for job skills and education, with 15 for English-language proficiency and 10 for family ties.

The criteria favor professionals with graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But the point system would also reward people who work in 30 “high demand” occupations, like home health care and food service.

Spouses and minor children of United States citizens would still be allowed to immigrate without limits. But siblings and adult children of citizens and lawful permanent residents would be subject to the point system. They could get a maximum of 10 points for family ties, provided they had already earned 55 points for job skills, education and English language ability.

Under the bill, Congress would set the number of points for each attribute. The selection criteria could not be changed for 14 years. Decisions on individual cases would be within the “sole and unreviewable discretion” of the secretary of homeland security.

June 4, 2007

Immigration debate resumes

The immigration debate will reopen this week as Congress returns to session. While the proposed legislation is drawing a lot of heat, particularly from the Bush base, new polls seem to indicate that momentum for legislation to deal with immigration is gaining public support. On Friday, The new York Times reported that a New York Times/CBS News Poll that indicated that "two-thirds of those polled said illegal immigrants who have a good employment history and no criminal record should gain legal status as the bill proposes: by paying at least $5,000 in fines and fees and receiving a renewable four-year visa."

And in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52 percent of those polled indicated they would support a program giving illegal immigrants the right to stay and work in the United States if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. Opposition to that proposal was 44 percent. The Washington Post reports that the backers of the bill are optimistic:

"After a week at home with their constituents, the Senate architects of a delicate immigration compromise are increasingly convinced that they will hold together this week to pass an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, with momentum building behind one unifying theme: Today's immigration system is too broken to go unaddressed.

Congress's week-long Memorial Day recess was expected to leave the bill in tatters. But with a week of action set to begin today, the legislation's champions say they believe that the voices of opposition, especially from conservatives, represent a small segment of public opinion. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led negotiations on the bill for his party, said the flood of angry calls and protests that greeted the deal two weeks ago has since receded every day."

That's not to say that it will be smooth sailing. The New York Times indicates that there are about 100 potential amendments floating, many of which could disrupt the delicate balance that has been forged. There are a few significant challenges that lead the pack. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey seeks an increase in the number of green cards available to families. And in an amendment that the New York Times editorial called "immigration sabotage" and an "amendment that could have been drafted by Kafka," Senator John Cornyn of Texas seeks to broaden crimes that would bar eligibility, a proposal so broad and punitive in scope that it would effectively be a poison pill to the existing legislation.