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April 26, 2008

State legislation on illegal immigration: a 2008 inventory

The National Council of State Legislatures issued a report on 1,106 bills which have been filed in state legislatures to deal with illegal immigrants. Of the 44 states considering at least one bill, 26 have enacted at least one.

The leading topics are employment (sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, and other provisions); driver’s licenses (tightening their distribution); and law enforcement (some calling for coordination with ICE). Other topics include education and healthcare.

Go here for a copy of the report.

Article on status of Arizona’s Legal Arizona Workers Act

Cameron O’Toole, a college student at Arizona State University with a major in journalism, wrote the following article about the implementation of that state’s Legal Arizona Workers Act, and with his permission I am posting it here. He says that as of the end of March, only 15% of employers were using the E-Verify system which is required to verify legal status of employees.

His article in full:

It was designed to curb the illegal immigration problem Arizona has. It was supposed to be an easy and quick way to check eligibility status for potential employees. The E-Verify system was supposed to be a requirement for all business owners to use. But as of March 31, 2008 only 15 percent of Arizona’s registered employers were using the system, according to immigrationbuzz.com.

Some employers like Red, White and Brew, a restaurant in Chandler, have not had any major issues with the legislation.

“I was dialing in social security numbers before anyways so it was a very easy transition for me,” said Greg Freed, general manager and owner of Red, White and Brew. “There was so much notice before it happened and we have made sure that our initial hiring practices help us deal with any problems.”

Effective Jan. 1, 2008 Arizona implemented the Legal Arizona Workers Act which aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out of the state’s workforce. The legislation penalizes businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers by suspending or revoking their business license, according to azcentral.com.

This means that 10 percent of Arizona’s workforce will no longer be eligible for employment, as estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center.

However other businesses have had problems. The E-Verify system was discredited when it was discovered that nearly 3,200 of foreign-born U.S. citizens were denied working eligibility due to an error in the system. Approximately 93 percent of the workers that are checked don’t experience any problems, but the remaining seven percent make up part of the issue with E-Verify, according to wwwwakeupamericans.com.

Pending legislation also meant that any prosecution of the employee sanctions law had been postponed until March 1, according to azcentral.com

The E-Verify system is only required for new employees and that means there could still be illegal immigrants in Arizona’s workforce.

“Probably 40 to 50 percent of my kitchen is [of Mexican descent] and English is their second language, but I am not legally allowed to check them because they were employed before the law,” Freed said. “But I’m not afraid of [The Legal Arizona Workers Act] because I’m confident we don’t have any [illegal immigrants] working here.”

Prior to ratification of the law, the effects were very apparent in the fourth quarter of 2007. The apartment-vacancy rate in the Phoenix metropolitan area reached 11.2 percent, which is more than a two percent increase from the previous year’s same term. Jobs in the construction industry also absorbed an 8.6 percent employee decline from the previous year, according to The New York Times.

With immigration stances dominating the recent political scene, including the upcoming presidential election, both sides of the issue have received support. Some believe that the U.S. as well as other world powers would not be as influential without the help of illegal immigration.

Peter Rousmaniere operates workingimmigrants.com and offers the side of the immigration story that he believes nobody is telling. Problems with the way the Legal Arizona Workers Act is enforced as well as the nature of it has led him to oppose the legislation that Arizona has approved.

“This is a chaotic and cruel way of mismanaging immigration. There is a high level of immigrant labor in many different countries, it just looks like it’s only involving the U.S. and Mexico,” said Rousmaniere. “The U.S. is part of a worldwide systemic problem that is in other countries like France, Italy, Canada, and Australia.”

April 23, 2008

Iowa House of Reps hammers illegal immigrants

The Iowa House of Representatives passed last week a bill to hammer illegal immigrants by requiring employers to check their employees, employees to carry driver’s licenses or other state-issued identification, and for bail to be denied for illegal aliens who are arrested. Local police must notify ICE. The House majority leader called the bill a symbolic statement. Ah?

The article in full:

By CHARLOTTE EBY, Courier Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES --- Trying to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants, the Iowa House moved forward Wednesday with a measure meant to reduce the employment of undocumented workers.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said Democrats wanted to send a message to the federal government and try to deal with a problem Iowans have been concerned about.

"The symbolic statement is a plea to the federal government to start enforcing the law and have a comprehensive, logical immigration policy," McCarthy said.

The measure, which cleared the House on an 84-16 vote, requires employers to check driver's licenses or other state-issued photo identification from Iowa or the surrounding states and verify it within 10 business days of a hire. Employers or their designee must sign a form under penalty of perjury confirming they have examined the ID and "facially validated" the employee.

The measure also would mean aliens who are arrested would be denied bail, and local law enforcement agencies would be required to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The measure seeks to stop employers from paying employees cash or misclassifying them as independent contractors. Backers say the practice has been used in the construction industry and means employees can't get unemployment or workers' compensation benefits.

Employers who misclassify employees could face misdemeanor criminal penalties.

Failure to follow the law could result in civil penalties, and those who make false statements or conceal material facts could be charged with a Class D felony and face a possible five-year prison term.

Reps. Elesha Gayman, D-Davenport, and Phil Wise, D-Keokuk, offered an amendment accepted by the House that would make it an aggravated misdemeanor for anyone to make or obtain identification cards that would assist an illegal alien in gaining employment.

Gayman said during the campaign voters asked what could be done about illegal immigration.

"Since our identification systems are run at a statewide level, I do believe that it is appropriate for our state to take action on this," Gayman said.

Rep. Jamie Van Fossen, R-Davenport, doubted the sincerity of the bill's sponsors, saying it would give lawmakers political cover. He voted for the bill, but argued the problem is with the federal government not enforcing the laws, not employers.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, voted against the bill. She pointed to what she called a humanitarian crisis and reminded fellow lawmakers of Iowa's tradition of lending a helping hand to immigrants.

"I wonder what I would do or any of us in this chamber would do if we were not able to feed our children. Would we break the law or would we allow our children to starve?" Wessel-Kroeschell said.

After approval in the House, the measure now moves to the Senate for consideration in the waning days of the session.

"We will take a look at what they've done," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

Contact Charlotte Eby

at (515) 243-0138

April 16, 2008

How immigration laws really work

Go here to read case studies of distress over immigration law enforcement.

April 15, 2008

All States Deemed Compliant with Real ID

Migration Information Source reports that the Department of Homeland Security has declared that all states are compliant with the Real ID driver’s license program, this despite some states still resisting. Part of Real ID’s effect is to make in impossible or close to that for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Go here for the report with hyperlinks to key documents. The report without the hyperlinks:

All states have complied with the initial driver's license requirements in the Real ID Act despite opposition to the act in several state legislatures. States had until March 31, 2008, to meet the requirements or seek an extension.

Maine was the last state the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deemed compliant. The state received an extension only after Maine Governor John Baldacci agreed to submit legislation that would prevent unauthorized immigrants from obtaining a state driver's license.

Many states have been granted extensions to comply with the act's licensing provisions, including states (Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington) that had passed laws banning Real ID's implementation.

Residents in states that did not comply with the act before March 31 would not have been able to use state-issued driver's licenses to board airplanes or enter federal buildings beginning May 11, 2008.

Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 because the September 11 terrorists had easily obtained multiple state driver's licenses. Under the act, only US citizens and legal residents can be issued licenses, and the licenses must have enhanced security measures, such as digital photographs

April 13, 2008

CBS News profile of illegal immigrants

Last week CBS Evening News ran a four part series on illegal immigration. Here is a synopsis of each episode, as provided by CBS News, and without comment by me: children of illegal immigrants; building a fence on the Mexican border; how farming is impacted by the crackdown, and the Arizona crackdown on employers. Much of the content comes from Texas or Arizona. Go the hyperlinks for the complete transcripts.

PART ONE 4/7 - Born in America

We profile and witness an Mexican woman giving birth in America, after crossing the border into Texas to guarantee her son American citizenship with its privileges, including health care and education. One of 300,000 children of illegal immigrants born in America every year. Costing taxpayers an estimated $1.1 billion in healthcare alone. Frustrated by the Congress' failure to pass immigration reform, we'll meet a congressman part of a movement to challenge the 14th amendment guaranteeing US citizenship for any child born in America. Forty percent of the children born at McAllen Texas Medical Center, near the border, nearly 2,400 last year, were the babies of illegal immigrants. Byron Pitts reports.

PART TWO 4/8 - The Border

The only immigration reform Congress managed to pass was funding to build a fence along the Mexican border. It's been a frustrating and expensive experiment. Plans call for only 670 miles of the 2000 mile border to be fenced, and even that limited construction could cost $50 billion when you consider a lifetime of maintenance. Yes, apprehensions are down, meaning fewer illegals are trying to cross into America. But Whitaker will show us how many ways people are getting around the fence...how vast are the gaps. The Administration just announced it will bypass state laws impeding the completion of this fence by the end of the year. But the fact is, if you build it, people will find a way around it. Bill Whitaker reports.

PART THREE 4/9 - The Farmer

After years of luring immigrant workers north with farm jobs, there's now movement across the border the other way. We'll meet an American farmer who so far has had to relocate 25 percent of his operation in Mexico because he can't find workers. The Western Growers Association says they need 30 percent more workers than they're able to hire. But a bill to let more farm workers in legally died in Congress last year. And so, we'll see our American farmer harvesting his lettuce crop south of the border, in Mexico. John Blackstone reports.

PART FOUR 4/10 - The Arizona Crackdown

Last year many states and communities took it upon themselves to do what Congress failed to do. And the toughest laws in the nation took effect in January in Arizona. If a business owner knowingly hires an illegal immigrant, they won't simply be fined...they'll be shut down. And so we see bus loads of immigrants leaving Phoenix. Schools report fewer students. Businesses are closing down. The owner of a burger chain tells Tracy he's had to hire two people and spend $500,000 just to comply with new requirements and he's scrapped plans to open 40 new stores, because it's just too much work. 15 other states are considering laws like Arizona's.

April 10, 2008

Case of instant local police – ICE data link.

What is interesting about this Chicago case, reported in the Wall Street Journal today, is that the police officer during a routine car stop could, through electronic search, instantly locate information that the driver had a deportation order issued to him in the mid 1990s. He, a Pole, was stopped in 2006 for driving while on his cell phone, which is banned there. Andrezj Derezinski came to the U.S in 1990 on a visa and overstayed, raising a family and starting businesses.

“State and local law-enforcement officers can in many instances determine with a quick computer search or phone call whether a person stopped for a traffic violation or arrested for a crime has violated immigration law. If a match is confirmed, ICE instructs the police officer to detain the person until an agent can take custody. In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2007, ICE's Law Enforcement Support Center -- which operates around the clock handling immigration queries -- received a record 728,243 inquiries from local law enforcement, up from only 4,000 in fiscal 1996.”

According to the article, “About 580,000 illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. are individuals who failed to heed their deportation orders, according to ICE.”. This seems a ridiculously low figure given as there are about 13 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. About half of these are thought to be here, as Derezinski, on a once valid visa.

The article in full:

Visa Violators Swept Up In Widening Dragnet
April 10, 2008

CHICAGO -- Polish native Andrezj "Peter" Derezinski came to the U.S. 18 years ago and was soon living the American dream. The 41-year-old father of three owns two homes, some commercial property and a thriving heating and cooling business here.

Thursday evening, Mr. Derezinski is scheduled to be deported. On July 13, 2006, a police officer stopped Mr. Derezinski for talking on his cellphone while driving, in violation of a ban here. The officer tapped the Polish man's name into a database and generated a "hit" that indicated Mr. Derezinski was in the U.S. unlawfully. He had overstayed a tourist visa when he initially came to the U.S. and then ignored a deportation order in the mid-1990s.

Mexicans and other Latin Americans, who often sneak into the U.S. on foot, are the face of today's rancorous debate over illegal immigration. But increasingly, other groups of undocumented immigrants -- known as "OTMs," or "other than Mexicans" within the Department of Homeland Security -- are being swept up, too.

Most came to the U.S. on planes, with valid visas and passports from Ireland, India, Poland or elsewhere. They stayed in the country after those visas expired, and eluded detection by immigration authorities as they went about their lives, often laying down roots in their new communities. The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group, estimates that up to 45% of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are visa overstayers. Europeans account for 400,000 of them.

In recent years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has implemented a new strategy to identify people who are here illegally: Get local police to nab them on an unrelated offense, such as a traffic infraction.
[Sent Home]

Historically, immigration enforcement has been the purview of federal agents posted primarily at ports of entry and border areas. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the federal government began expanding the role of local police in immigration enforcement. Initially, the goal was to help find potential terrorists. As the program has expanded, more immigrants are being turned in.

State and local law-enforcement officers can in many instances determine with a quick computer search or phone call whether a person stopped for a traffic violation or arrested for a crime has violated immigration law. If a match is confirmed, ICE instructs the police officer to detain the person until an agent can take custody.

In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2007, ICE's Law Enforcement Support Center -- which operates around the clock handling immigration queries -- received a record 728,243 inquiries from local law enforcement, up from only 4,000 in fiscal 1996.

Rising Steadily

The number of foreigners deported from the U.S. has risen steadily, from 116,202 in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2001, to 240,779 in fiscal 2007, according to ICE. These are foreign nationals caught inside the country and don't reflect the number of immigrants apprehended at the Mexican or Canadian borders.

Supporters of the latest crackdown say it is long overdue. They say many illegal immigrants, including visa overstayers, have been given a free pass by the government, thanks to lax enforcement. "If in the normal course of duty, police come across somebody they have reason to believe is in the country illegally, they ought to cooperate with immigration authorities," says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that calls for curbing all illegal immigration. "They might not be a child molester, but they are here illegally."

ICE says it lacks the manpower to go after the hundreds of thousands of people who are here illegally, so it prioritizes going after people with criminal records and employers who hire undocumented workers. Even when it has the address of someone who has evaded deportation -- as was the case for many years with Mr. Derezinski -- it says it doesn't necessarily make an arrest. The intensified coordination between federal agents and local police thus has helped fill a gap.

Critics say the federal government is diverting local police from basic priorities, like community safety, to arrest immigrants who usually don't pose a security threat. The strategy can also lead to ethnic profiling, they say, because police officers might be more likely to run checks on people who have accents or who they think look foreign.

"It's a huge program that has rapidly expanded, without meaningful management or oversight," says Michael Wishnie, a professor of law at Yale University who specializes in immigration. Mr. Wishnie has filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut on behalf of several people arrested by the Danbury, Conn., police and placed in immigration proceedings. The suit alleges officers pulled drivers over for traffic violations as a pretext for checking their immigration status. Federal authorities and the town have moved to dismiss the case; those motions are pending.

Chicago is home to some 70,000 Polish illegal immigrants, second only to the city's undocumented Mexican population. Many Poles came in the 1980s to flee military rule; others settled here in the '90s to seek economic opportunity.
[One-Way Tickets]

These days, Polish enclaves are abuzz about immigration, community leaders say. Illegal immigration "isn't just a Latino issue," says Frank Spula, president of the Polish-American Alliance, a local advocacy group. "Polish people who overstayed their visas are here with family and property, and they can't just pack up and leave."

Mr. Derezinski entered the U.S. on a tourist visa in 1990 at the age of 23. He eventually began working as a trucker, a job that took him to 48 states, he says. In October 1991, he and his Polish wife, Joanna, gave birth to their first son, Peter Jr. By then, both had overstayed their tourist visas, but remained in the U.S. "to give our son a better a life," says Mrs. Derezinski. Regarding her visa situation, a spokesman for ICE said in an email that the agency doesn't discuss potential cases.

In 1994, Mr. Derezinski was arrested on immigration violations after personnel at a truck weigh station near the Mexican border reported him to border patrol. U.S. immigration authorities took him into custody when he failed to produce proof that he was in the country legally. They released him and said he would be notified of a court date for a deportation hearing in Chicago.

Mr. Derezinski says he never received the notice and didn't appear; his file with immigration officials includes an unopened registered letter that was returned to authorities.

Regardless, a hearing was held in his absence and a judge ordered him deported. Mr. Derezinski received the notification by mail; his attempts to appeal the order were rejected.

Despite the outcome, Mr. Derezinski and his family continued living in the U.S. He had studied engineering in Poland and began working as a heating and air-conditioning repairman. In 1998, he completed an entrepreneurial course at the College of Business Administration of the University of Illinois. He thrived as a subcontractor doing maintenance, installation and repair work for residential and commercial properties, especially during the construction boom of recent years.

Members of Society

Many illegal immigrants have become productive members of society, who pay taxes, own homes and contribute to the economy. The Department of Homeland Security says there are no mechanisms in place for it to be notified when someone here illegally registers a new business or applies for a mortgage.

"I earned the respect of my clients," says Mr. Derezinski, brandishing letters from home builders attesting to the quality of his work and his personal integrity. "I grew the business 10 times over," he adds. The Derezinskis bought a home and commercial property in Chicago, as well as a vacation cottage in Wisconsin. Mr. Derezinski paid income tax and property taxes. He invested in the stock market.

By 2001, however, the couple had two sons and Mr. Derezinski began worrying about his immigration status. He frequently refers to a speech on immigration reform delivered by President Bush in 2004, which he says brought him new hope. But reform efforts, which could have adjusted the status of millions of illegal immigrants, stumbled in Congress. In 2005, a psychiatrist began prescribing Mr. Derezinski medication for anxiety.

A year later, after more than a decade eluding authorities, Mr. Derezinski's fears were realized. On July 13, 2006, he drove down his neighborhood's commercial artery, which is lined with Polish video stores, Indian beauty salons and other immigrant businesses. When he was caught talking on his cellphone, Mr. Derezinski waited in his car while the policeman wrote the citation.

When the officer returned, he handcuffed him and took him to a local police station. An ICE spokesperson confirms Mr. Derezinski was cited for a traffic violation and screened by an officer who was informed that Mr. Derezinski's name matched the deportation record held by the agency. ICE's law-enforcement support center asked that he be detained until an agent arrived to take custody.

Holding Facility

An ICE agent transported Mr. Derezinski from a local police station to an agency holding facility. There, he says he was asked to sign forms by wardens who intimated that he would be deported the very same day by flapping their arms to connote that he'd be flying away. "They told me I wouldn't see my family," he recalls. A spokeswoman for ICE says it is the agency's policy "to treat all detainees in our custody with dignity and respect."

Within days, Mr. Derezinski was transferred to a detention center in Kenosha, Wis., about a 90 minute-drive from Chicago. ICE rents beds at the facility, which mainly incarcerates U.S. citizens charged with crimes.

On July 25, 2006, an attorney filed a motion to reopen Mr. Derezinski's old case in immigration court, thus delaying his deportation. Mr. Derezinski's wife was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, and his lawyer asked ICE to release his client for the birth of his third child, given that he had no criminal history. ICE declined, citing the fact that Mr. Derezinski had been a fugitive for 12 years and had a deportation order outstanding. Mr. Derezinski wasn't eligible for bond.

About 580,000 illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. are individuals who failed to heed their deportation orders, according to ICE. Some move frequently; others live on the run or go underground to elude immigration officials. "Mr. Derezinski continued to live the American Dream," says his attorney, Ashley Dworsky. "If he was hiding, he was hiding in plain sight of everyone."

John Paul -- the Derezinskis' third child, named after the late Polish pope -- was born on Aug. 18, 2006. Kindergartener Damian, their middle child, thought his father was in the hospital when he visited Mr. Derezinski at the detention center, where his father wore an orange jumpsuit and communicated with his family from behind a glass divider. The older son wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain and other politicians seeking help.

After six months in detention, Mr. Derezinski was released in January 2007 -- on condition that he report on a monthly basis to ICE. An agency official said that ICE will "sometimes release people who have protracted legal processes, as long as they are not a threat to the community."

In October 2007, Mr. Derezinski's case was argued before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The essence of the appeal: Mr. Derezinski's case should be reopened because in 1994 he hadn't received the certified letter to appear in court for his original deportation hearing. "All I wanted was a day in court," says Mr. Derezinski.

In February, Judge Richard Posner denied Mr. Derezinski's appeal on the grounds that the government had fulfilled its obligation to notify him of the hearing. Mr. Derezinski started to wind up his affairs, which he says is especially difficult amid a depressed real-estate market. He has spent about $35,000 fighting to remain in the U.S., he says.

On March 25, Mr. Derezinski, his eldest son and his attorney reported at 8:15 a.m. to the ICE office in Chicago for his required monthly visit -- his first since the February ruling. He was told that he must leave the country by April 8, which was later postponed to Thursday, April 10.

Mr. Derezinski listened carefully. He then turned to his son and said, "This should teach you about the consequences of choices you make in life."

April 9, 2008

Sent back to El Salvador with its 50% unemployment rate

This is the second part of NPR’s Morning Edition’s report on the effect of the illegal immigrant crackdown in the U.S. This second of two reports, produced on April 8, recounts the forced return to El Salvador of Omar Giron, who lived in the U.S. for twenty years had left his four children – American citizens – in Virginia. “The upheaval began a year ago with a parking ticket. When Giron went to pay it, a string of convictions for driving under the influence and a domestic violence conviction finally caught up with him. He spent 10 months in jail before being deported to El Salvador.” “Giron interviewed for a job at a call center [in El Salvador], figuring his English would be a big plus. He was told he needed to know more about computers, so he's still looking. But in a country where the United Nations estimates that half the population is either unemployed or underemployed, landing any job is no sure thing.”

The report in full:

When Omar Giron returned to El Salvador — the country he left 20 years ago — it hardly felt like a homecoming. Having lived in the United States for so long, he considers himself American.

Giron and his family fled El Salvador's civil war when he was a teenager. They received protected legal status from U.S. officials. But after repeated run-ins with the law, Giron was stripped of his legal standing and deported last December.

Although he is resigned to his new life in his old homeland, he has found the transition depressing and difficult.

Perhaps nothing marks Giron an outsider more than his never-ending daily battle against dust.

Adjusting to a New Life

Dust is everywhere in San Miguel, the city in eastern El Salvador where Giron lives — and refers to as "Saint Michael." The house he shares with his aunt and grandfather sits at the intersection of two dirt roads, and with no screens to cover the windows, the dust floats in freely.

So every day, Giron turns on the outside spigot and waters down the road.

"Three times a day," he says. "In the morning, around lunchtime and in the evening."

In a tropical climate where nearly everyone wears flip-flops, Giron insists on sporting black leather shoes. But they get dusty, so he polishes them obsessively.

Giron jokes about being a misfit. He was on anti-anxiety pills his first month back in El Salvador, and he says he would sit on his bed for hours and cry, mostly for his four children from two previous marriages. They still live in Virginia.

'I'm One of Them'

The upheaval began a year ago with a parking ticket. When Giron went to pay it, a string of convictions for driving under the influence and a domestic violence conviction finally caught up with him. He spent 10 months in jail before being deported to El Salvador. He says he has only himself to blame, but he wishes he had another chance.

"It's not like I sell drugs in the street or to children, or [that I'm a] rapist or killer. I'm not like that," Giron says. "I'm just a hard-working man who led a normal life, like we all do over there with Americans. I just feel like I'm one of them."

Part of his American identity stemmed from his work as a certified welder — the more dangerous the gig, he says, the better.

"I just love the risk," he says. "I love heights."

Giron says he worked on bridges in Virginia, on the Beltway surrounding Washington, D.C. and at the Quantico Marine base. Companies came to know him as "the skinny guy that talks a lot" but who was a "heck of a worker," he says.

The reputation he developed made it even harder to accept that here, in his homeland, nobody knows him. Giron worries he will never get a decent job without connections.

And he's given up trying to work as a welder.

Giron interviewed for a job at a call center, figuring his English would be a big plus. He was told he needed to know more about computers, so he's still looking. But in a country where the United Nations estimates that half the population is either unemployed or underemployed, landing any job is no sure thing.


Job prospects aside, Giron knows he's lucky. The roomy house here with a shaded courtyard was paid for with money sent back over the years by his family in Virginia. The remittances also paid for a window air-conditioning unit and cable TV, which are relative luxuries in this desperately poor country.

As she cooks meat patties in the large kitchen, Giron's Aunt Lucia says her nephew is frustrated at having to depend on money sent from the United States.

She preaches patience.

"I tell him to calm down, this is how we live here," she says. "With each dollar we get, we change it into nickels and pennies, then spend them carefully."

After all this time, does Giron seem more Salvadoran or American?

"Americano!" Lucia says with a laugh.

Giron says people can spot immediately that he's from the United States by the way he talks, the way he walks, how he carefully lifts his pants and jumps over potholes.

"I walk free and I don't have no fear. And the people here, they look back, always look back," Giron says. "Whoever's following them, chasing them, people think they're gonna rob you."

And sometimes they do. The first time Giron ventured out at night to go to a concert, he had his $80 Puma sneakers stolen by a 10-year-old.

El Salvador's rampant, gang-fueled crime is one of his biggest worries. Some of those gangbangers were kicked out of the United States, which is why Giron never tells people that he was deported.

"They think you're a criminal or a serious killer," he says. "And they don't trust you."

Under the terms of his deportation, it will be years before Giron can even apply to re-enter the United States. By that time, it's hard to say where he will feel he belongs.

Until then, he says, he dreams of returning to Virginia.

"Every day I want to go home," Giron says.

This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Penaloza.

NPR: Jobs for day laborers decline due to housing slump, economy

On April 4 NPR’s All Things Considered ran an interview with Pablo Alvarado. executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, about the effect of the declining economy on demand for day laborers. Alvarado said, ‘, the number of workers in street corners and day labor centers has increased while the number of jobs has decreased. And that has do with the decline in the housing market because the majority of the employers of day laborers are homeowners, and usually, they use some kind of disposable income to hire workers to come and clean their backyards and front yards, do mostly landscaping and small home remodeling projects.”

But he says that illegal immigrants are staying. “Let me put it this way, if you live in Mexico or Central America, you may have your house and you may not have a bed, and you don’t have any bed to sleep, you have to sleep on the floor. But when you come to this country, you may not have a bed either, but at least there’s a carpet where you can lay down and sleep. And just by that, you see the improvement in the quality of life, just that simple example.”

The transcript in full:

Job Opportunities for Day Laborers Decline

April 4, 2008 from All Things Considered

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: What about employment at the lowest levels of the economy? What about those hiring lines of day laborers looking for a few hours of construction work or painting or gardening.

A lot of the people doing that kind of labor are working in the country illegally, and in some jurisdictions they’re facing new policies cracking down on illegal immigration.

What’s the impact of the economic down turn on them?

Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He joins us from Los Angeles.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Alvarado.

Mr. PABLO ALVARADO (Executive Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, from what you’ve been able to find out what’s happening on hiring lines at day labor centers?

Mr. ALVARADO: Well, the number of workers in street corners and day labor centers has increased while the number of jobs has decreased. And that has do with the decline in the housing market because the majority of the employers of day laborers are homeowners, and usually, they use some kind of disposable income to hire workers to come and clean their backyards and front yards, do mostly landscaping and small home remodeling projects.

But now, in these times of crisis, employers and homeowners in particular are more protective of that disposable income, so the number of jobs has declined in the daily centers and corners.

SIEGEL: Now many of these people are migrant workers, they’ve migrated here. Are they typically on the move migrating to other places in the country where there might be more work than there is in the place where they have been living?

Mr. ALVARADO: Well, the dynamics of supply and demand apply to the day labor market as well. Yes, workers move to different places in big metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. Workers go from one corner to the other corner, trying their luck in different places. Or in places where enforcement - law enforcement has been cracking down on immigrant workers, in those places where they have a lot of hostility, workers are deciding to move to other places where they are more accepted, where there’s more tolerance to their presence.

SIEGEL: There’s an interesting - almost an irony here. If we see on a hiring corner a lot of people, that means the market is bad; there are a lot of job seekers and people are not being picked up and taken off to a job site somewhere?

Mr. ALVARADO: Yes. There’s a lot of workers, and as I said now it's not just day labors. It’s also permanent construction workers in the residential industry that are working either two or three days a week, and they have no other choice but to go to a day labor corner for two or three days.

When you go to a day labor corner, you can see the desperation of workers particularly at the end of the month. You’ll see the faces, really sad faces of people trying to figure out how are they going to pay the bill, and how they’re going to help families back in their homeland.

SIEGEL: If U.S. economic contraction were to persist for several months, if these were the conditions, and the end of every month looked as bad as the end of last month, let’s say, in a hiring line, do you anticipate at some point that it would make more sense to either remain in Mexico and Central America or go back there than count on work like that in the U.S.?

Mr. ALVARADO: I think it’s more likely that Mexicans and Central Americans and South Americans decide to stay in their countries rather than migrating. And I think that is more likely than immigrants who are currently here going back to their home countries. Because again, I mean, if you get a day of work a week that is $60 a day. Well, guess what, that’s what you make in a month back in Mexico or Central America.

SIEGEL: Do you have any sense of where in the country there actually is some work right now? And where have people gone and actually found a bright spot in the economy for day labor?

Mr. ALVARADO: I think that the situation is difficult everywhere, but I – honestly, I feel it more in the West Coast. I was just in New Jersey last week, and I was talking to the workers and I was asking whether the number of jobs have declined as much as they have here in the West Coast. And they said that it was not because of the housing market, but because of the enforcement practices basically has turned employers away, and interfere in the process of, you know, looking for work or hiring workers.

SIEGEL: The bottom line as I hear you is that given two different pressures working against the people you’re talking about, many local policies that are cracking down on illegal immigration and also the economic down turn, this may be diminishing new immigration into the U.S., but as far as you know it’s not sending people back home at this point.

Mr. ALVARADO: Let me put it this way, if you live in Mexico or Central America, you may have your house and you may not have a bed, and you don’t have any bed to sleep, you have to sleep on the floor. But when you come to this country, you may not have a bed either, but at least there’s a carpet where you can lay down and sleep. And just by that, you see the improvement in the quality of life, just that simple example.

So, I don’t think the workers are going to go back to our home countries because they’re going to be more devastated than the United States, because that the economy is impacting everyone not only here in the States but everywhere else as well.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Alvarado, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. ALVARADO: No problem. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He spoke to us from Los Angeles.

April 8, 2008

NPR story of a new illegal immigrant returned to El Salvador

National Public Radio's Morning Edition is running a two part series on the impact of immigration law enforcement on immigrant households. The first of the series was aired on April 7, describing the devastating effect of Julio Cuellar’s return to El Salvador after being caught by the Feds shortly after being taken across the border by a coyote. The story reveals the desperate situation of poor households in Latin America.

On another radio new broadcast, I heard an immigration expert say that despite the recession most or all of illegal workers will stay in the U.S. Even one day of work at $60 as a day laborer yields as much income for an entire month back in Mexico. That’s shows you how important it is for workers to get into and stay in the U.S.

the transcript:

As the U.S. intensified its illegal immigration crackdown in recent years, deportations to El Salvador increased dramatically. Last year, according to El Salvador's immigration ministry, 20,000 Salvadorans were sent back home from the U.S., compared to 3,500 who were deported in 2004.

On a recent blazing hot afternoon, security guards escorted 33 men and nine women from the tarmac at Cuscatlan International Airport in San Salvador into a cramped processing room.

Some deportees look defiant. Others look destroyed and lost. But they all seem to brighten as they file into rows of plastic chairs and find on each one a warm pupusa — the thick tortilla that is El Salvador's national dish. Officials try to bolster the group with speeches welcoming them home.

"Thank God you are here and in much better shape than many others," a police officer tells them. "Some return wounded or dead. But you are very much alive, ready to set off on your next trip if you choose!"

Quiet laughter fills the room as the deportees nod and cheer. Some say they do plan to go back to the U.S. as soon as possible. With few prospects in El Salvador and family still in America, they say they have nothing to lose.

But not Julio Cuellar.

In a small room, 45-year-old Cuellar gives a migration official his personal details.

Cuellar tells a government official that three months earlier, he abandoned his job as a state policeman to go to the U.S.

When the woman asks what he is going to do now that he's back in El Salvador, Cuellar pauses before responding.

"Well, I need to go to my house and talk with my family," Cuellar says. "More than anything, I need to explain the experience I've lived through."

Julio's Story

The El Salvador native has diabetes and nearly died in the Arizona desert. When Cuellar ran out of insulin and became sick, the smuggler who he paid to help him cross into the U.S. abandoned him. He spent two days without food or shelter before the U.S. border patrol rescued him.

What would make someone do this — especially a middle-aged man with a full-time job?

Cuellar's daughter, Guadalupe, blames herself. She was pregnant when he left and had just been diagnosed with cancer. There was no money for treatment.

"My father had so many debts already," she says. "He wanted to pay those and make life easier for us, so I could quit my job and stay home with the children."

Guadalupe's parents long ago divorced, and her father raised her. For the past few years her mom has been working — illegally — in Texas.

She says her dad's coyote — or smuggler — assured him it would be an easy trip. But for three months, she didn't hear anything, and she wondered if something went wrong or if he had died.

Then a call came from the U.S. government that Cuellar was being deported three days later.

'Never Get Ahead'

Cuellar's family — his daughter, grandson, great-nephew and sister — meet him in the airport parking lot. They've waited for hours in the hot sun, and as he emerges, they're in for a shock.

In his short time away, Cuellar has lost 40 pounds and aged visibly.

As they share long, tight hugs, the entire family breaks into loud sobs. Cuellar then cradles the 2-month-old granddaughter he is meeting for the first time.

Three hours later, the sun is almost setting in the lower-working class suburb where Cuellar and his daughter live. When they get off a bus, Guadalupe says her father is too ashamed for the neighbors to see him, so they use a dirt path behind the row of houses, then casually arrive at the front door.

The family squeezes into a living space the size of many an American walk-in closet, and Cuellar tries to explain his predicament.

For years, he says, he has gotten by on loans. In this country, Cuellar says, a paycheck alone doesn't even provide three meals a day.

Then, a few years back, he co-signed a loan for a friend. The friend disappeared, and the lender came after Cuellar.

After Guadalupe's cancer diagnosis, Cuellar says, he felt trapped and desperate, with no other option than seeking work in the U.S.

"You can kill yourself here working and never get ahead," Cuellar says.

But now that this gamble has failed, Cuellar is in worse straits.

To pay his smuggler, Cuellar gave the man the deed to his house. When Cuellar left the country, he lost his police job. And his near-death experience in the desert has left him with a host of ongoing health problems.

Cuellar swears he'll never try crossing to the U.S. again. But he still has no idea how to fix the problems that pushed him to go in the first place.

This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Penaloza.

April 6, 2008

Arizona employers slow to E-Verify

The Legal Arizona Workers Act that took effect 1/1/08 (which I have posted on) requires all Arizona employers to use the Federal E-Verify system. Only about 15% of employers have done so already.

Here is how it works: An employer enters a new hire's name, Social Security number and birth date into the online system and instantly receives a message on the screen saying the person is eligible to work in the United States. It appears that there has about a 7% non-conforming rate. My guess is that the E-Verify system is working but that many employers have not been hiring illegal workers since January (the system is applicable only to new hires), and that employers who do have not signed up year.

An article in the Arizona Daily Star in full:

Arizona's employers slow to get with program
By Becky Pallack
The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), March 30, 2008

E-Verify, the federal database for verifying a new hire's legal status, largely has worked fine for Arizona employers.

That's in part because only 15 percent of employers in the state have signed up to use it.

Just 22,000 of the 145,000 Arizona employers have registered, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Legal Arizona Workers Act that took effect Jan. 1 requires all Arizona employers to use E-Verify.

The federal agency expected a lot more employers to have registered by now, Sebrechts said.

Critics of the law predicted the system would crash under the load of new queries, but it didn't.

Early on, there were some sign-up delays because the system was busy, said Julie Pace, a Phoenix employment attorney who represented business groups in a court challenge of the law.

'We're in good shape at this point,' Sebrechts said.

Human resources experts in Tucson had a variety of guesses about why registration has been low:

* Some businesses have a wait-and-see approach or believe the law will go away, said Tom Lickliter, regional manager of Employer Solutions Group.

* Some see no explicit penalty for not signing up.

* Some employers who haven't hired anyone since the first of the year haven't had a need to sign up.

That's the case at Master Industrial Supply, 1321 E. Ajo Way, where manager Sue Cross said she'll learn about E-Verify next time she makes a hire. She remembers filling out I-9 forms for her six employees, who have all worked there at least five years.

* Others are simply confused — you have to go through a tutorial, read a manual and take a test to sign up.

'I'll bet if somebody was to sit down and explain it to them they'd be happy to do it,' Lickliter said.

There are some problems left to work through, especially concerning naturalized citizens.

The vast majority of the time — 93 percent, to be exact — the system quickly confirms a new hire's work eligibility, Sebrechts said.

An employer enters a new hire's name, Social Security number and birth date into the online system and instantly receives a message on the screen saying the person is eligible to work in the United States.

It's what happens the rest of the time — that 7 percent — that causes frustration.

In those cases, the employer receives a 'tentative nonconfirmation' message, meaning the employee's information doesn't match what's in the database of eligible workers.

Still, nine out of 10 are resolved within one day, Sebrechts said.

A large part of those cases involve a naturalized citizen who didn't update Social Security paperwork when immigration status changed, she said. So the Homeland Security Department is making some changes to make it easier for those workers to get through the process.

Lickliter said Mexican surnames often come up incorrectly in the database because in Mexico people typically use both their father's and mother's last names. That doesn't always translate well on legal documents in the United States.

A year ago, 10 percent of naturalized-citizen employees verified were mismatched in the databases before they were later confirmed, according to an independent evaluation authorized by the Homeland Security Department.

Lickliter said it's a shame the system is so difficult for naturalized citizens.

'These individuals have worked very hard to gain employment rights in this country. They get rejected and that's obviously very frustrating for them,' he said. 'We work as hard as we can to help them.'

Policymakers and advocates are watching the way Arizona handles that and other issues as more states consider making E-Verify mandatory. And some legislators want to roll out the program nationwide.

Some say the naturalized-citizen employee problem and other issues should be solved before that happens.

'This system's not ready for prime time,' said Tyler Moran, employment policy director at the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center.

'States should not be moving forward,' she said. 'In an election year, everyone wants to do something about immigration, but they're not examining the real-life consequences on businesses and workers.'