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May 30, 2009

New York City trains illegal workers for better jobs

As part of a large redevelopment project in Queens that will close down some automotive junk yards, the City is training over a 100 illegal workers for new, and hopefully better, jobs.

The students are a microcosm of the Willets Point work force: 145 are men, 115 are illegal immigrants and most know little or no English. Ages vary, as do the workers’ education levels.

Excerpts from the article in the NY Times:

It takes a certain humility to head back to school at the age of 52 and learn as a child would, through picture books and basic words sketched on a blackboard.

But Gustavo Zerón, a Honduran immigrant who works nine hours a day at a junkyard, swallowed his pride and signed up for the classes, which the city is offering in an effort to give laborers of soon-to-disappear businesses in Willets Point skills to find new work.

'That’s the only opportunity I have to get out of this place,' Mr. Zerón explained in Spanish as he headed for the No. 7 train to travel the 12 stops to class one recent evening.

He is not the only worker who wants to escape Willets Point, a bedraggled industrial triangle that neighbors the Mets’ new ballpark in Queens. Inside auto shops with names like Stubborn Used Tires and Latin American Mechanic and Muffler, summers are so hot and winters so cold that fingers become deformed with time, making a worker’s hands look like claws. Underground, there are no water or waste pipes. Outside, the landscape of unpaved streets resembles a muddied quilt of rivers and lagoons.

Neglected for many years, Willets Point is now poised for transformation. A $3 billion, 10-year redevelopment plan approved late last year calls for razing all of the businesses — auto shops, scrap yards, an Indian food manufacturer and a few construction companies — and replacing them with a hotel, homes, a conference center and stores.

As part of the deal, the area’s workers are being offered free training to learn to use a computer, wait on tables, keep books, fix cars or simply speak English. It is a challenging student body, made up primarily of illegal immigrants, who by law are not allowed to work. The city has devoted $2.5 million to the program, known as Willets Point Worker Assistance, and instituted a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell policy: School is open to all, regardless of immigration status.

'We made a decision not to think about this,' Madelyn Wils, executive vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview. She added: 'Look, they have to support their families, they live here, and we didn’t want them to fall through the cracks.'

The program has 183 students, just a fraction of the estimated 2,000 people who work in Willets Point. There are some workers who oppose the program and have refused to join it. But most who have not signed up fear that by registering, they might end up being deported, Ms. Barlow said.

The first class was held on April 2, at LaGuardia’s Long Island City campus, about 20 minutes from Willets Point on the Manhattan-bound No. 7 train. There have been a few snags, like the constant changes in classrooms that Ms. Barlow blamed on the college’s growing enrollment, which has made it hard to manage the available space. The program will have its own dedicated space starting next month, she said.

There are those who want to learn English. Others have bigger ambitions, like Mr. Zerón, who spends his days climbing in and out of the piles of cars in the junkyard, fetching mufflers, radiators, bumpers and other used parts that customers want.

He came here from his country’s capital of Tegucigalpa in 1999, after a hurricane left him unemployed and destitute. He has made a living at Willets Point since then, and with the money he has earned, he put his four children through school, paid for the youngest to spend a year in Denmark as an exchange student and is building a house for his family back home.

He said he had a degree in mechanics from a Honduran technical school and worked as a contractor for the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa before the hurricane, fixing typewriters. His goal is to return there and open his own business, this time fixing computers. The problem is that he knows nothing about computers, so in addition to English classes, he is taking a Spanish-language course called Aprenda Microsoft Windows y la Internet, or Learn Microsoft Windows and the Internet.

Immigrant wages compared to native worker wages in New England

A new study from the Boston Federal Reserve bank tracks the disparity of wages between immigrant and native wages. Nationwide, the median male immigrant earned 70 percent of a male native’s wages, while female immigrants earned 84 percent of their native counterparts. According to a summary of the study by the Providence Business News, “In Massachusetts, male immigrants earned a median wage of $41,406, or 76 percent of the $54,339 earned by the median male native.”

The researcher, Harvard Kennedy School’s Antoniya Owens focused on New England states. Immigration provided most of the region’s workforce growth since at least 1990. “Owens noted that low birth rates and inward migration meant that New England was more reliant than other places on immigrants to bolster its labor force. From 1990 to 2000, New England added 181,000 immigrant workers even as it lost 1,700 native workers. From 2000 to 2006, the region added 253,900 immigrant workers and 183,400 native workers.”

Vermont is an exception to the normal direction of the disparity. “In Vermont, male immigrants earned a median of $42,114, slightly more than male natives, who earned $40,030. (Female natives earned more than their immigrant counterparts in every New England state.) That is likely due to the larger number of immigrants in northern states who hail from Canada, which gives them language and educational advantages, Owens said.”

New Engand’s immigrant workers are better educated and earn on average somewhat more than immigrants nationwide. This is driven in part by the relatively large number of immigrants in the region with advanced degrees, such as in computer sciences.

New England immigrants make up 12% of the workforce – about the same for the country as a whole, but one out of five region households include an immigrant.

May 18, 2009

immigrant carwashers in Los Angeles

Justice for Los Angeles carwash workers – this campaign has its own website here.

The campaign, part of CLEAN, confronts these labor problems of carewashers:

Carwashes routinely violate basic employment laws like those requiring workers be permitted to take rest breaks or have access to shade and clean drinking water.

* Workers frequently work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, often with no overtime pay.
* Workers are often paid less than the legal minimum wage, sometimes earning as little as $30-$40 per day ($3-$4/ hour) or working for tips alone.
* Carwash workers are subject to health and safety hazards such as constant exposure to water and to dangerous chemicals without protective gear.
* Workers in the industry have reported kidney damage, respiratory problems and nerve damage due to their exposure to these hazards.

May 14, 2009

Postville IA today

“A year after the crackdown at a kosher meatpacking plant, the town is struggling with the bankrupt business, unemployment and high anxiety.” Thus the LA Times chimes in with an update on life in Postville IA. Since the raid, the Agriprocessors plant has tried to recruit Somalians and workers from Palau without sustained success. This is a town which thrived on the basis of large numbers of Hispanic workers, most or all of the men of which have been deported.

The article in full:

By Antonio Olivo
May 12, 2009
Reporting from Postville, Iowa -- A hodgepodge crowd gathers here twice a week for handouts just steps from City Hall and an empty kosher deli.

Outside the local food pantry snakes a line of Guatemalans wearing court-ordered ankle monitors, imported workers from the Pacific island of Palau and unemployed town natives -- almost all there because of a dramatic raid that has left a deep mark in the way the U.S. views and deals with illegal immigration.

Since federal helicopters raced over cornfields on May 12, 2008, en route to arresting 389 illegal workers at a sprawling kosher meatpacking plant, what was a center of commerce in northeastern Iowa teeters toward collapse as the plant sputters in bankruptcy, its managers face prison time and the town fights to stay solvent.

Since the landmark raid, an economic squeeze has destroyed several businesses. Postville's population has shrunk by nearly half, to about 1,800 residents, and townsfolk say the resulting anxiety -- felt from the deli to the schoolyard -- has been relentless.

"It's like you're in an oven and there's no place to go and there's no timer to get you out," said former Mayor Robert Penrod, who, overwhelmed, resigned earlier this year.

The aftermath of the Postville raid has rippled across the country, rupturing the nation's kosher meat supply and setting back Midwest livestock farmers who supplied the plant. While advocates of stricter immigration laws argue that towns like Postville shouldn't be allowed to grow so dependent on illegal labor, critics see the raid as a symbol of greater problems with U.S. enforcement. And the fallout has helped spur changes in federal policy.

Last month, the Obama administration issued enforcement guidelines that place more emphasis on prosecuting employers rather than illegal workers. Then last week, in a ruling with clear echoes of the Postville raid, the U.S. Supreme Court required federal prosecutors to prove that someone using a fake ID knew it belonged to a real person before pursuing identity theft charges. Many of the Postville workers were charged with that crime, but they chose to leave the country instead of facing jail time.

"Postville is a stain on our judicial system," said David Leopold, a vice president of the Washington-based American Immigration Lawyers Assn., who argued that the plant workers were unfairly coerced and deprived of adequate legal protections.

In Postville, many resent being in the spotlight. Yet they are frustrated that more hasn't been done to offset the unanticipated damage.

When the meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc., opened in the late 1980s, Orthodox Jews arrived to work as kosher butchers and envisioned a rural paradise for new synagogues and shuls. Migrants, mostly from Guatemala, began arriving in the 1990s -- creating an ethnic stew with natives of mostly Eastern European descent.

After the raid, the family-like community of high school football game gatherings and homey weekend meals inside cafes began to unravel.

Agriprocessors has gone into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is up for sale with no apparent buyer. After the arrests, the plant recruited Somali refugees from Minneapolis, unemployed laborers from Detroit and then migrants from Palau, whose natives are allowed to work in the U.S. under a 1993 compact. Many of the latter stayed only briefly before leaving, unhappy with their jobs, officials said.

Meanwhile, dozens of Guatemalan women who were arrested and temporarily released by federal officials to care for their children remain in town with pending court cases but unable to work. Nearly all the arrested men were deported.

"We walk on the streets, and the Americans see us as criminals," said Maria Gomez, 31, at a Catholic church where she and others receive assistance, including help treating physical problems from their clunky ankle monitors.

Former City Councilman Aaron Goldsmith, an Orthodox rabbi, fumed over the damage. "We still haven't done anything about illegal immigration" in the state, he said. "All we've done is devastate northeastern Iowa."

Many Orthodox Jews also were severely affected by the raid, as businesses that fed off Agriprocessors closed and families moved away, Goldsmith said.

A state trial against the plant managers is set for August; and a federal trial, set for September, includes charges of bank fraud and 9,311 labor violations.

Roy Beck, head of the Washington-based NumbersUSA group that advocates for reducing immigration, argued that Postville invited its problems by relying so heavily on a plant many suspected was violating labor and immigration laws.

"The situation should have never gotten to that point," he said. "If you don't enforce the laws steadily, then when you suddenly enforce them, there is more collateral damage.

May 7, 2009

DHS press release about new enforcement guidelines

Thanks to Risk & Insurance Magazine: here is how DHS summarizes its change of policy towards more focus on employers:

Fact Sheet

April 30, 2009
Contact: DHS Press Office, 202-282-8010

Worksite Enforcement Strategy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a vital responsibility to enforce
the law and engage in effective worksite enforcement to reduce the demand for
illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful

An effective, comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy must address both
employers who knowingly hire illegal workers as well as the workers themselves.
Of the more than 6,000 arrests related to worksite enforcement in 2008, only 135
were employers.

This week, updated worksite enforcement guidance was distributed to
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which reflects a renewed
Department-wide focus targeting criminal aliens and employers who cultivate
illegal workplaces by breaking the country's laws and knowingly hiring illegal

Effective immediately, ICE will focus its resources in the worksite enforcement
program on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal
workers in order to target the root cause of illegal immigration.

ICE will continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who are
found in the course of these worksite enforcement actions in a manner consistent
with immigration law and DHS priorities. Furthermore, ICE will use all available
civil and administrative tools, including civil fines and debarment, to penalize and
deter illegal employment.

ICE officers will be held to high investigative standards including:

ICE will look for evidence of the mistreatment of workers, along with
evidence of trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification
document fraud, money laundering, and other such criminal conduct.

ICE offices will obtain indictments, criminal arrest or search warrants, or a
commitment from a U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO) to prosecute the
targeted employer before arresting employees for civil immigration
violations at a worksite.

Existing humanitarian guidelines will remain in effect, impacting worksite
enforcements involving 25 or more illegal workers. This reflects a change from
the previous threshold of 150.

DHS is committed to providing employers with the most up-to-date and effective
resources to comply with our nation’s laws.

DHS will continue to work with partners in the public and private sectors to
maintain a legal workforce through training and employee verification tools like
E-verify, which improve the accuracy of determinations of employment eligibility
and combat illegal employment

As a former border state Governor, Napolitano signed into law one of the toughest
employer sanctions laws in the country in 2007 to target employers who
knowingly hired illegal workers.

DHS shifts enforcement focus onto employers

Last week, according to the NY Times, the Department of Homeland Security issued internal guidelines which put higher priority on enforcing immigration laws by targeting employers instead of workers. In effect, the large worker raids of the last few years – in New Bedford MA and Postville IA and against Swift – are not going to continue, in favor of catching executives who break the law.

The Bush Administration’s focus on round-ups actually made it more difficult to indict executives. Per the article, “Under the Bush administration, the officials said, most raids were conducted largely on the basis of tips that an employer was hiring illegal workers, rather than on information gleaned from audits of employer records or undercover investigations. As a result, agents rounded up thousands of illegal immigrants but rarely developed the evidence necessary to show whether businesses were knowingly using illegal labor.”

The times quotes the guidelines: “ICE must prioritize the criminal prosecution of actual employers who knowingly hire illegal workers because such employers are not sufficiently punished or deterred by the arrest of their illegal work force.”

The article in full:

Immigration Agents to Turn Focus to Employers

Published: April 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — In an effort to crack down on illegal labor, the Department of Homeland Security intends to step up enforcement efforts against employers who knowingly hire such workers.

Under guidelines to be issued Thursday to Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices, agents will be instructed to take aim at employers and supervisors for prosecution “through the use of carefully planned criminal investigations.”

Senior officials of the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday that illegal workers would continue to be detained in raids on workplaces. But the officials said they hoped to mark an abrupt departure from past practices by making those arrests as part of an effort to build criminal and civil cases against employers.

Under the Bush administration, the officials said, most raids were conducted largely on the basis of tips that an employer was hiring illegal workers, rather than on information gleaned from audits of employer records or undercover investigations. As a result, agents rounded up thousands of illegal immigrants but rarely developed the evidence necessary to show whether businesses were knowingly using illegal labor.

Last year, for example, nearly 6,000 people were arrested in workplace immigration raids across the country, but only 135 were employers or managers. The new guidelines, meant to provide a road map to agents who have been operating with little guidance and oversight from Washington, instruct them to pursue evidence against the employer before going after the workers.

“Enforcement efforts focused on employers better target the root causes of illegal immigration,” say the guidelines, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “ICE must prioritize the criminal prosecution of actual employers who knowingly hire illegal workers because such employers are not sufficiently punished or deterred by the arrest of their illegal work force.”

The rules could draw a storm of complaints from employers, who argue that they are easily duped by workers with bogus documents and that the government has not established a reliable system for verifying immigration status.

The rules are likely to win praise, though, from advocates who have long considered raids at work sites to be symbols of a crackdown that, they say, violates workers’ rights and divides immigrant families while ignoring employer abuses. Raising the bar on what is required to undertake such raids could result in fewer of them.

The guidelines are a significant step toward President Obama’s pledge to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. The president’s aides said recently that he would ask Congress this year to consider changes that among other things would give legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country.

But a worsening economy could weaken political support for such changes. In the meantime, the administration has begun a review of steps it can take without Congressional approval.

In his news conference Wednesday night, Mr. Obama restated his commitment to an immigration overhaul, saying the United States could not continue with a “broken” system. With regard specifically to workplace enforcement, he said he was looking for “a more thoughtful approach than just raids of a handful of workers, as opposed to, for example, taking seriously the violation of companies that sometimes are actively recruiting these workers to come in.”

“That’s something we can start doing administratively,” he added.

Among Janet Napolitano’s first acts as secretary of homeland security was to order reviews of many parts of the nation’s immigration system. Ms. Napolitano promised to stem the rising tide of illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Work on the guidelines that are to be issued Thursday began after a February raid against a mechanic shop in Bellingham, Wash., where 28 illegal workers were seized. Ms. Napolitano, angry in part that her office had not been notified about the raid, ordered a review, and a couple of weeks later ICE officials took possession of the employer’s files, released the immigrants from detention and gave them permission to work while they cooperated with an investigation of the company, Yamato Engine Specialists. That inquiry continues.

One senior official said ICE agents worked from a field manual offering a menu of strategies that can be used in pursuit of workplace enforcement. But the manual does not lay out the order in which the strategies should be employed, or explain the agency’s objectives. As a result, enforcement actions have been undertaken at the discretion of each field manager rather than Washington’s direction.

“That’s how you ended up with investigations that focused on low-hanging fruit,” the official said, “rather than on both the employers and the illegal workers that they intentionally hired.”

Among the most significant of the new guidelines is one in which agents are instructed to “obtain indictments, criminal arrest or search warrants, or a commitment from a U.S. attorney’s office to prosecute the targeted employer, before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a work site.”

The guidelines call on agents to seek civil penalties, including fines and disbarment from federal contracts, in cases where they do not have enough evidence to press criminal charges. And they require that at least 14 days before conducting a raid, the relevant field office notify ICE headquarters with information including a proposed strategy for prosecuting the employer.

They also require that rules involving humanitarian considerations be taken into account in raids on work sites that have at least 25 employees. Those rules, which previously applied to raids involving at least 150 workers, generally allow the authorities to release detainees who are sick or who are sole caregivers for small children.

May 5, 2009

Supreme Court: ICE can no longer use identity-theft charges

After the Postville, IA raid on May 12, 2008, Immigration and Law Enforcement pressed criminal charges against 300 illegal workers for identity theft, asserting that these workers had criminally stolen the identity of the social security card holders whose numbers they used. The defendants were railroaded through a court. One of the workers, now in federal prison, appealed. The Supreme Court yesterday in a unanimous decision threw out the conviction and in doing so forbad ICE from using this overkill tactic. The court’s reasoning: the workers had not idea the numbers were for actual people.

According to the NY Times, “The Obama administration has said that it will shift the focus of immigration enforcement to employers who intentionally hire unauthorized immigrants in order to pay lower wages or otherwise lower costs. But last week the administration said agents would continue to detain illegal immigrants found in raids.”

The article in full:

Published: May 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a favorite tool of prosecutors in immigration cases, ruling unanimously that a federal identity-theft law may not be used against many illegal workers who used false Social Security numbers to get jobs.

The question in the case was whether workers who use fake identification numbers to commit some other crimes must know they belong to a real person to be subject to a two-year sentence extension for “aggravated identity theft.”

The answer, the Supreme Court said, is yes.

Prosecutors had used the threat of that punishment to persuade illegal workers to plead guilty to lesser charges of document fraud.

“The court’s ruling preserves basic ideals of fairness for some of our society’s most vulnerable workers,” said Chuck Roth, litigation director at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. “An immigrant who uses a false Social Security number to get a job doesn’t intend to harm anyone, and it makes no sense to spend our tax dollars to imprison them for two years.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in a concurring opinion that a central flaw in the interpretation of the law urged by the government was that it made criminal liability turn on chance. Consider, Justice Alito said, a defendant who chooses a Social Security number at random.

“If it turns out that the number belongs to a real person,” Justice Alito wrote, “two years will be added to the defendant’s sentence, but if the defendant is lucky and the number does not belong to another person, the statute is not violated.”

The most sweeping use of the statute was in Iowa, after an immigration raid in May 2008 at a meatpacking plant in Postville. Nearly 300 unauthorized immigrant workers from the plant, most of them from Guatemala, pleaded guilty to document-fraud charges rather than risk being convicted at trial of the identity-theft charge. In most of those cases, the prosecutors demonstrated only that the Social Security numbers and immigration documents the workers had presented were false.

Many of the immigrants served five-month prison sentences and then faced summary deportation. The Postville cases raised an outcry among immigrant advocates, because they transformed into federal felonies a common practice by illegal immigrants of presenting fake Social Security numbers and other documents to employers.

The court’s ruling is unlikely to aid the immigrants in the Postville cases. Most of them have long since been deported.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in his opinion for the court, said the case should be decided by applying “ordinary English grammar” to the text of the law, which applies when an offender “knowingly transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person.”

The government had argued that the “knowingly” requirement applied only to the verbs in question. Justice Breyer rejected that interpretation, saying that “it seems natural to read the statute’s word ‘knowingly’ as applying to all the subsequently listed elements of the crime.”

He gave examples from everyday life to support this view. “If we say that someone knowingly ate a sandwich with cheese,” Justice Breyer wrote, “we normally assume that the person knew both that he was eating a sandwich and that it contained cheese.”

Five justices joined all of Justice Breyer’s opinion, and three others — Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — concurred in the result and in some of the reasoning.

The defendant in the case, Flores-Figueroa v. United States, No. 08-108, was Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican citizen who had worked illegally for a steel plant in Illinois. At first, Mr. Flores-Figueroa used a false name and fake Social Security number, one that did not happen to match that of a real person. Six years later, he told his employer that he wanted to be known by his real name, and he presented forged Social Security and alien registration cards that bore numbers assigned to real people.

Mr. Flores-Figueroa eventually pleaded guilty to several immigration offenses, resulting in a 51-month sentence, but he went to trial to contest charges under the identity-theft law. He was convicted and sentenced to the additional two years mandated by the law. Monday’s decision reversed that two-year extension.

Kevin K. Russell, a lawyer for Mr. Flores-Figueroa, said his client is in federal prison in Georgia. After Mr. Flores-Figueroa has served his time, Mr. Russell said, “I assume the government will try to deport him.”

Nearly 8 million illegal immigrants are working in the United States, the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimates.

Stephen H. Legomsky, a professor of immigration law at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Monday’s decision would have a major impact on the strategy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, making it more difficult for the agency to press criminal charges against immigrants with no other offenses but working illegally.

“In the ordinary immigration case, this will no longer be a weapon,” Professor Legomsky said.

The Obama administration has said that it will shift the focus of immigration enforcement to employers who intentionally hire unauthorized immigrants in order to pay lower wages or otherwise lower costs. But last week the administration said agents would continue to detain illegal immigrants found in raids.

May 1, 2009

Indians living in the U.S.: 2 million

A Washington Post article reports that "Roughly 2 million nonresident Indians, or NRIs, as they are known [in India], live in the United States, according to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in New Delhi. Worldwide, NRIs send home more than $30 billion a year, making up about 3 percent of India's gross domestic product, the International Labor Organization estimates."

Voting by minorities is up, whites slightly down

Such is the key item in a study by the Pew Hispanic Center. This has long term implications for all manner of elections and for legislative agendas, including immigration related legislation. Blacks and Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

The summary:

The electorate in last year's presidential election was the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history, with nearly one-in-four votes cast by non-whites, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. The nation's three biggest minority groups--blacks, Hispanics and Asians--each accounted for unprecedented shares of the presidential vote in 2008. Overall, whites made up 76.3% of the record 131 million people who voted in November's presidential election, while blacks made up 12.1%, Hispanics 7.4% and Asians 2.5%.

The levels of participation by black, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters all increased from 2004 to 2008, reducing the voter participation gap between themselves and white eligible voters. This was particularly true for black eligible voters. Their voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3% in 2004 to 65.2% in 2008, nearly matching the voter turnout rate of white eligible voters (66.1%). For Hispanics, participation levels also increased, with the voter turnout rate rising 2.7 percentage points, from 47.2% in 2004 to 49.9% in 2008. Among Asians, voter participation rates increased from 44.6% in 2004 to 47.0% in 2008. Meanwhile, among white eligible voters, the voter turnout rate fell slightly, from 67.2% in 2004 to 66.1% in 2008.