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April 27, 2011

The Latino Electorate in 2010: More Voters, More Non-Voters

The Pew Hispanic Center just issued a report on Latino participation in national elections. The number voting is increasingly strongly but participation rates remain low. According to the Center:

More than 6.6 million Latinos voted in last year's election----a record for a midterm----according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Fueled by their rapid population growth, Latinos also were a larger share of the electorate in 2010 than in any previous midterm election, representing 6.9% of all voters, up from 5.8% in 2006.

However, while more Latinos than ever are participating in the nation's elections, their representation among the electorate remains below their representation in the general population. In 2010, 16.3% of the nation's population was Latino, but only 10.1% of eligible voters and fewer than 7% of voters were Latino. This gap is due to two demographic factors----many Latinos are either too young to vote or are adults who do not hold U.S. citizenship.

Even so, the number of Latinos eligible to vote continues to increase. In 2010, 21.3 million Latinos were eligible to vote, up from 17.3 million in 2006. In recent midterm election cycles, growth in the number of eligible voters has exceeded growth in the number of voters, resulting in a record number of Latino non-voters last year too----14.7 million.

Among eligible voters, Latino participation rates have lagged behind that of other groups. In 2010, 31.2% of Latino eligible voters say they voted, while nearly half (48.6%) of white eligible voters and 44.0% of black eligible voters said the same.

The report, "The Latino Electorate in 2010: More Voters, More Non-Voters," authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center's website, www.pewhispanic.org.

April 26, 2011

Civil rights suits against temporary worker visa violators

H-2A and H-2B (temporary agricultural worker) visa programs have been riddled with abuses by employers against workers who may pay thousands of dollars for the right to work in the United States. A tangled litany of law suits an federal disciplinary actions is found here. I have previously posted on the agricultural firm Global Horizons. Now, the firm has been hit from a new corner with charges of illegal trafficking.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin and race discrimination and retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Global Horizons for civil rights violations. The EEOC has sued Signal International for similar violations. Below are excerpts from EEOC press releases:

EEOC Files Its Largest Farm Worker Human Trafficking Suit Against Global Horizons, Farms

Federal Agency Says Labor Contractor and Eight Farms Discriminated Against Hundreds of Thai Farm Workers Trafficked into Hawaii, Washington

LOS ANGELES - In its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms. The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC asserts that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.

The Thai workers were assigned to work at six farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms) and two farms in Washington (Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards), harvesting a variety of items from pineapples to coffee beans. The EEOC asserts that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers..

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd. et al. Case No. CV-11-00257-DAE-RLP) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Green Acre Farms, Inc. et al, Case No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit argues that the alleged conduct constitutes retaliation, national origin and race discrimination which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further abuses at the companies and farms.


EEOC Sues Marine Services Company for Labor Trafficking, Discrimination

Signal International Harassed and Mistreated Workers Recruited From India, Federal Agency Charged

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit today against Signal International, LLC, charging that the Gulf of Mexico marine services company violated federal law by subjecting a class of approximately 500 Indian employees to human labor trafficking and a hostile work environment.

The EEOC charged in its lawsuit that Signal subjected the Indian employees as a class to abuse based on national origin (Indian) and/or race (Asian). The agency charged Signal with disparate, discriminatory treatment concerning the workers’ terms and conditions of employment, as well as segregating them. Finally, the EEOC lawsuit alleges Signal retaliated against Sabulal Vijayan and Joseph Jacob Kadakkarappally because they opposed Signal’s unlawful conduct.

Signal required the Indian employees to live in modular trailers called “man camps,” enclosed by fences, built by Signal for the Indian employees. Signal charged the Indian employees more than $30 daily for housing and food. The EEOC said that the living facilities, food and overall living conditions were intolerable, demeaning and unsanitary. The agency’s complaint also said that Signal assigned numbers to each Indian employee and used these numbers as a form of identification and reference rather than using the employee’s name.

Signal had recruited the employees to work as welders, pipefitters, and ship fitters in Mississippi and Texas. Signal had recruited, tested and offered employment to each employee pursuant to the federal government’s H-2B guest worker program.

On Jan. 19, 2011, the EEOC held public hearings on government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking and forced labor. The EEOC announced today that this case and others are being brought to combat discriminatory practices regarding foreign laborers.

According to company information, Signal is a leading Gulf of Mexico provider of marine and fabrication services, including new construction, heavy fabrication and offshore drilling rig and ship overhaul, repair, upgrade and conversion. The company employs more than 1,500 people. Signal’s corporate offices are in Mobile, Ala., with production facilities in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas.

April 21, 2011

More on Utah's new immigration related laws

On the heels of Utah’s passage of an immigration – related law, Farmer Justice’s president Bruce Goldstein wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune saying that the state should be paying more attention to reforming an existing guest worker program, the H-2A program. Goldstein is concerned that guest worker programs tend to be inadequate in protecting the interests of both guest and American workers. He plugs for AgJOBS, which was part of the failed immigration reform effort in Washington in 2007.

The article in full:

Paying for a guest worker law already in place

Published: April 14, 2011 12:10AM

Bruce Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to improve living and working conditions for migrant and seasonal farm workers.

Amidst the debate and controversy surrounding Utah’s new immigration laws, state legislators in Salt Lake City seem to think they’ve created a model for America. They portray their pilot guest worker program as a compromise that others might use as a model.

They must think Utah’s taxpayers aren’t paying careful attention, because they’ll be saddled with spending money to duplicate a program that largely already exists.

Last month, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law four bills heralded by some commentators as a holistic and comprehensive state approach to immigration reform. One of the bills would create a pilot program to bring guest workers from the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to perform temporary work. (Another would create a guest worker status for undocumented workers already working in Utah.)

If the pilot bill for managing guest workers in Utah sounds familiar, that’s because, in spite of the media attention and self-congratulation that accompanied the state law, we have had a federal system in place since the 1940s that does virtually the same thing. In fact, the United States already has two such programs for temporary or seasonal jobs, the H-2A visa for agricultural work and the H-2B for nonagricultural work. Each visa already requires state involvement.

But aside from wasting tax dollars, Utah’s legislators are duplicating a system that doesn’t work well. While the federal programs grant guest workers some workplace protections, their “nonimmigrant” status deprives them of bargaining power, which encourages employers to prefer guest workers over American workers and helps keep wages low for both. And the government has been passive about enforcing the protections for both the domestic and foreign workers.

Guest workers aren’t in a great position to complain, for fear of losing their jobs or not being called back the following year, and foreign governments remain quiet so they don’t lose precious jobs to another needy nation. Americans displaced by these workers, where they exist, are not organized or able to do much to protect themselves.

Guest workers are refused any opportunity for citizenship and suffrage, making it impossible to integrate them fully into our communities. They work in limbo, often unaware of their admittedly limited rights. Guest workers generally are not permitted to bring family members to the United States, causing great hardship.

The guest worker model runs contrary to our democratic, economic and pro-family traditions. And as America faces competition in the globalized economy, does it really want 50 different sets of immigration rules?

State Rep. Bill Wright seems to understand the need to find a viable solution to dealing with some of America’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. “A lot of these people are intertwined in our society,” said Wright. “They have financial obligations: they have bank notes; they’ve bought houses; they contribute; they have jobs.”

But understanding the need for a solution isn’t good enough.

In the agricultural sector, after much conflict, farm worker organizations and agribusiness employers reached agreement on a reasonable solution that has bipartisan support in Congress. Passage has been tied up largely because of congressional gridlock on comprehensive immigration reform.

Known as AgJOBS (the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act), it could lead the way as a model for immigration reform. AgJOBS would give current undocumented farm workers — roughly half the national agricultural labor force — an opportunity to earn legal immigration status, and eventually citizenship, through continued work in agriculture.

AgJOBS also would reform the H-2A program to help grant U.S. workers greater access to jobs and decrease exploitation of foreign workers, while assuring employers’ access to guest workers when truly needed. It is endorsed by a broad spectrum of organizations, including farmers’ associations, business groups, Latino leaders, religious groups and farm worker organizations.

Any immigration reform package must take careful consideration of its effect on the roughly 2 -2.5 million migrant and seasonal workers on farms — men and women performing back-breaking labor in the fields to put food on America’s tables.

Utah’s lawmakers took an important step forward by recognizing the need for changes in our immigration laws, but these laws are not a solution. They won’t protect farm workers or citizens who may want to do farm work and it’s no model for federal immigration reform. While Utah begins implementing the new laws, Congress should get to work on real solutions — starting with passing AgJOBS.

Bruce Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to improve living and working conditions for migrant and seasonal farm workers: www.farmworkerjustice.org

April 16, 2011

Critique of H-2A farmworker visa program

Congress held hearings this week on the seasonal agricultural worker program called H-2A. Testimony by the president of Farmworker Justice included this: “More than one million undocumented farm workers are making U.S. agriculture productive. We need to stabilize the workforce and keep agriculture productive by allowing undocumented workers to obtain legal immigration status and by improving wages and working conditions. “

The program currently brings in about 30,000 workers a year, somewhat more than 1% of America's farm workforce.

Summary of Testimony: Bruce Goldstein, President, Farmworker Justice, before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement April 13, 2011

Mr. Chairman and Members: Thank you for the opportunity to testify about the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.

The H-2A program is deeply flawed and should not be a vehicle for filling the nation’s 2 to 2 ½ million jobs on farms and ranches. In addition, Congress should not get mired in previously-fought battles.. Many agribusiness groups lobbied in the 1990’s for changes to “streamline” the H-2A program by cutting worker protections and reducing government oversight. Their legislation would have created a system of exploitable guestworkers and set their wages and other job terms at unconscionably low levels. These efforts failed, as did efforts of farmworker advocates to pass their own policy proposals. Recognizing the need for a policy solution and the inadequacy of the H-2A program, growers and workers reached a compromise, known as the AgJOBS bill. That compromise would allow eligible undocumented farmworkers to earn legal immigration status, revise the H-2A program in balanced ways, and provide America with a stable, productive and decently-treated farm labor force.

The Bush Administration, in its last few days, made drastic, anti-worker changes to the H-2A program: the wage formula changes reduced earnings by $1.00 to $2.00 per hour, key recruitment protections for US workers were eliminated, and government oversight in an already abusive program was restricted.

Fortunately, the Department of Labor under Secretary of Labor Solis reversed these harmful changes, although for more than one year, thousands of U.S. farmworkers and guestworkers at H-2A employers suffered low wages and other harm. The Department also instituted additional common-sense protections, such as a surety bond requirement for labor contractors, a requirement to disclose job terms to workers by the time of the visa application, and increased opportunity for US workers to learn about H-2A employers’ jobs via an online job posting.

The Bush administration failed to understand that the H-2A program cannot and should not be a solution for meeting the bulk of agriculture’s labor needs. Undocumented workers constitute anywhere from 52% to 70% of the agricultural workforce. Deporting the large number of undocumented farmworkers is not feasible and would harm our agricultural production. Currently, the H-2A program only provides 3-5% of the agricultural workforce. Even if it were desirable, the H-2A program cannot be expanded rapidly enough to provide a replacement workforce for the current unauthorized workforce. DOL, DHS and the State Department do not have the capacity to handle such a huge deportation and massive new influx of guestworkers. Employers would not have their needed workforce in a timely manner, and crops would rot in the fields. Such efforts would be a vast waste of taxpayers’ money.

Even today, with such a small percentage of the total workforce, DOL needs more resources to adequately police the H-2A program.

Abuses continue in the H-2A program because it is inherently flawed. The worker is tied to a single employer. H-2A workers can only work for the one employer that obtained their visa. The employer holds the power and makes the decisions about whether workers can come to the United States, whether they can continue working, and whether they can return in the future. In fear of deportation or not being called back in the following year, workers are extremely reluctant to challenge unfair or illegal treatment.

No matter how many years they work under the H-2A program, guestworkers never obtain the opportunity to become permanent immigrants. They never get the right to vote. The H-2A program’s restrictions are not consistent with our nation’s commitment to economic and political freedom. Ours is a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guestworkers.

Many guestworkers also fear seeking better treatment because they arrive in the U.S. deeply in debt after borrowing large sums of money to pay recruiters for the opportunity to work. If they lose their job, they will not earn enough to repay their loans and their families will suffer. While the small numbers of H-2A workers who are under collective bargaining agreements can file a grievance and obtain arbitration, the vast majority have no such opportunity.

Once employers decide to apply for guestworkers, there are financial incentives to reject U.S. workers who apply for jobs and to impose conditions on them that cause them to quit or be fired. The H-2A employer does not pay Social Security or the Unemployment Tax on the guestworkers’ wages, but must do so on the U.S. workers’ wages. Unfortunately, the main job preference for U.S. workers, known as the “50% rule,” is not adequately enforced.

Despite improved protections, and unionization of some H-2A employers, it is our understanding that systemic problems in the H-2A program persist, and that more oversight by the Department of Labor is needed. Employers frequently fail to pay the wages owed, often relying on a “piece-rate” pay method to increase productivity standards to unrealistic levels and cheat workers out of their hourly wage guarantees. Another all-too-common violation is the failure of H-2A employers to pay the transportation costs home for migrant workers who complete the contract season. Many employers apply to DOL for an artificially long season, for example from April to November, even though few people are needed for that length of time. When the workers begin to leave at the end of the summer due to lack of work, many employers contend that the workers are “abandoning” their employment before the end of the contract and are therefore not entitled to the payment of their transportation costs. Most workers know that if they complain, they are not likely to be called back the next year. Worker abuses also encompass violence and intimidation. My written testimony includes the complaint of H-2A workers hired to pick strawberries at Bimbo’s Best Produce in Louisiana. In addition to violations of their basic workplace protections, these workers experienced frequent verbal abuse and feared for their safety due their employer’s violence.

In conclusion, the H-2A program abuses are rampant and should be cleaned up. The H-2A program should not and cannot be the principal mechanism in our free market economy for hiring farmworkers. More than one million undocumented farmworkers are making U.S. agriculture productive. We need to stabilize the workforce and keep agriculture productive by allowing undocumented workers to obtain legal immigration status and by improving wages and working conditions. Rather than repeating past battles on immigration policy, Congress should embrace the hard-fought AgJOBS compromise. Thank you for this opportunity.

April 5, 2011

Welfare use among immigrants

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) reports that immigrants use welfare programs more than non-immigrants, and that illegal immigrants use some welfare programs (food stamps and Medicaid) more than legal immigrants. The overall participation rates are very heavily driven by lower education levels of immigrant families, especially Hispanic.

The study fails to analyze welfare participation rates by household income, which of course is more directly causative of welfare use than is education level.

To its credit, CIS dispells the myth that immigrants come here to get on welfare. "An unwillingness to work is not the reason immigrant welfare use is high. The vast majority (95 percent) of immigrant households with children had at least one worker in 2009. But their low education levels mean that more than half of these working immigrant households with children still accessed the welfare system during 2009."

Immigrant households not only much more likely to be headed by some one without a high school degree (30% compared to 10%). CIS estimates that 80% of adult illegal immigrants have not completed high school or have only a high school education. CIS does not estimate household income levels.

These low education households are, I expect, among immigrants, and more among illegal immigrants, to earn less than native low income households.

Hispanic immigrant households use cash assistance and housing assistance about as much as native households (both in medium single digits – illegal immigrant use of cash assistance is at 1%). They are about twice as likely to use food stamps and Medicaid.

One of the notable findings in the CIS report is that welfare use among both immigrants and native households has risen significantly during the Great Recession.