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February 27, 2008

Immigrants have lower incarceration, crime rates

Do immigrants have higher criminal rates than non-immigrants? Those critical of immigration, in particular the presence of illegal immigrants, often allege that crime rates are higher. Here are some articles which report that if anything the reverse may be truer.

“Incarceration rate lower for immigrants” ran in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Its two leading sentences are: “Immigrants in California are far less likely to land in prison than their U.S.-born counterparts, a finding that defies the perception that immigration and crime are connected, according to a study released Monday. Foreign-born residents make up 35 percent of the state's overall population, but only 17 percent of the adult prison population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducted the research.” I post the entire article below to hyperlinks for other related articles.

Immigrants in California are far less likely to land in prison than their U.S.-born counterparts, a finding that defies the perception that immigration and crime are connected, according to a study released Monday.

Foreign-born residents make up 35 percent of the state's overall population, but only 17 percent of the adult prison population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducted the research.

Noncitizen men from Mexico between the ages of 18 and 40, which the study indicated were more likely to be in the country illegally, were eight times less likely to be in a 'correctional setting,' the study found.

The study did not address the visa status of those included among the foreign-born, which would include citizens and noncitizens, including those in the country legally and illegally.

Nonetheless, these results have implications for the current debates over immigration policy, said Kristin Butcher, co-author of the report.

'Our research indicates that limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety,' Butcher said in a statement.

While immigrants often have lower levels of education and higher poverty rates, which are normally associated with higher crimes rates, other factors are probably contributing to the underrepresentation among the foreign-born in state prisons.

Current immigration laws, for example, screen legal immigrants for criminal activity. Also, all noncitizens - including those in the country legally - face deportation for crimes that carry a prison sentence of a year or more.

And those here illegally have incentive to avoid contact with the law, which could lead to detection of their immigration status.

The study acknowledged several factors that could affect the incarceration rates among foreign- and U.S.-born residents, including the possibility that one group might receive more lenient treatment within the criminal justice system or have greater resources to mount a defense.

Also, the deportation of foreign-born criminals also could affect the rates, the study said.

The PPIC report is available online at: http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=776


Study finds immigrants commit less California crime
Reuters, February 26, 2008

Report says immigrants commit fewer crimes
The Associated Press, February 25, 2008

California: Study of Immigrants and Crime
By Julia Preston
The New York Times, February 26, 2008

February 19, 2008

House of Raeford Farms: three quarters of workers are Hispanic

Earlier I posted about occupational safety horrifics at this large poultry processor in North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer ran a six part series on breakdowns in safety involving plant managers and state safety regulators.

One of the reporters, Peter St. Onge told me that most of the workers are Hispanic.

A passage from the articles:

In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

"We can only hire those who apply to work for us, and at the moment between
85 percent and 90 percent of our job applicants are Latino," said Greenville
complex manager Barry Cronic in a written response.

Undoubtedly many of these workers are illegal, and their reward from the expose ironically will be their fleeing from their work or deportation.

This is the toxic cocktail of employers wanting to hire undocumented workers and then cheasting on safety and/or workers compensation rules. A guest worker program will abolish this cocktail.

Go here for the latest article which deals with reaction from Congress and concerns about the illegal status of workers.

February 16, 2008

Expose of immigrant worker poultry factory injuries in North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer has run a series of articles on poultry worker injury in North Carolina. Go here for the entire series. It focused on two companies, Tyson Foods and House of Raeford Farm, and ot weak regulators. House of Raeford Farms is one of the largest poultry processing companies in the country. For a period of four years, it did not report a single musculoskeletal disorder among its 800 person workforce. For these and other incredible stories, read this one of several articles in the series:

In an industry rife with danger, House of Raeford Farms depicts itself as a safe place to work. Company records suggest relatively few workers are injured each year as they kill, cut and package millions of chickens and turkeys.

But an Observer investigation shows the N.C. poultry giant has masked the extent of injuries behind its plant walls.

The company has compiled misleading injury reports and has defied regulators as it satisfies a growing appetite for America's most popular meat. And employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job.

House of Raeford officials say they follow the law and strive to protect workers.

But company and government records and interviews with more than 120 current and former employees show:

• House of Raeford's 800-worker plant in West Columbia, S.C., reported no musculoskeletal disorders over four years. Experts say that's inconceivable. MSDs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are the most common work-related injuries afflicting poultry workers.

• Its Greenville, S.C., plant has boasted of a five-year safety streak with no lost-time accidents. But the plant kept that streak alive by bringing injured employees back to the factory hours after surgery.

• The company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, a top OSHA official says.

• At four of the company's largest Carolinas plants, company first-aid attendants and supervisors have dismissed some workers' requests to see a doctor -- even when they complained of debilitating pain.

Companies have a financial incentive to hide injuries. Ignoring them lowers costs associated with compensating injured workers for medical care and lost wages.

Also, the government rewards companies that report low injury rates by inspecting them less often. And regulators rarely check whether companies are reporting accurately.

Government statistics show a decade-long decline in injuries among poultry workers. Critics say the numbers are misleading. They point to one government measure showing that employees in toy stores are more likely than poultry workers to develop musculoskeletal disorders.

Experts say that's implausible; poultry workers routinely make more than 20,000 cutting motions a shift, and the work often leaves them with nerve and muscle damage.

House of Raeford and other poultry companies depend heavily on workers' hands to turn thousands of birds each day into convenient cuts for restaurants, stores and cafeterias. Companies increasingly rely on Latino immigrants, who are often reluctant to complain for fear of being fired or deported.

House of Raeford says it looks out for the safety of workers and treats them with respect.

"We come to work with five fingers and toes," said company safety director Bill Lewis. "And we go home with the same thing we came in with."

The newspaper asked one of the federal government's top record-keeping experts to review House of Raeford's safety logs and what injured workers told the Observer. Bob Whitmore, who has directed the national injury and illness record-keeping system for the U.S. Labor Department since 1988, said he believes his agency has failed to protect poultry workers.

Whitmore was not authorized to comment for the government but said he felt compelled to speak on behalf of workers.

After reviewing the Observer's findings, he said, "This is violating the laws of human decency."

Growth comes with cost

House of Raeford isn't a household name.It has climbed from a backyard bird operation to one of the nation's top 10 poultry processors, helping make North Carolina the second-largest turkey producer. The company expanded turkey consumption beyond holiday dinner tables by creating new products, including deli-style breast meat and turkey "dinosaur" wings. It has grown by acquiring competitors and selling chicken parts overseas.

Its rise has come with a human cost.

Workers have been maimed by machines and poisoned by toxic chemicals. Two were killed in accidents managers might have prevented. Even more suffer from grueling, repetitive work that can leave their hands wracked with pain or missing fingers.

The company, based in Raeford in Eastern North Carolina, has been cited for 130 serious workplace safety violations since 2000 -- among the most of any U.S. poultry company.

In communities surrounding House of Raeford plants, the pain of poultry work can be found in aging trailer parks and clusters of weathered rental houses where sheets cover windows for privacy. Knee-high rubber boots spattered with chicken fat rest on stoops.

In Raeford, about 100 miles east of Charlotte, former line worker Claudette Outerbridge lay awake nights because of pain pulsating in her right hand. The ache, she said, stemmed from her work, which included cutting thousands of turkey gizzards each day.

During her more than five years at the plant, Outerbridge held a variety of jobs, including pulling out turkey guts and trimming parts. She said she moved from New York, where she worked as a police department clerk, and took a job at the plant in 1998.

She began visiting the first-aid station almost daily around 2002 to cope with the pain, she said. A first-aid attendant, she said, gave her a cream but performed no tests and refused her request to see a doctor.

She recalled times on the production line when her hand hurt so badly she dropped her scissors and cried.

"They'd say, `Oh, you're not hurting,' " Outerbridge said. "They made me feel that I was bothering them to go to the nurse, that I was supposed to take the pain."

When she told a plant manager she needed medical help, "He sat me down and he said, `I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about it,' " recalled Outerbridge, now 48. "That day, I got a lawyer."

In 2003, she went on her own to a doctor, who diagnosed her with severe carpal tunnel syndrome and later performed surgery, she said. She settled a workers' compensation case with the company the following year for an undisclosed sum.

"I just wanted justice," she said. "I just wanted someone to take care of my hand."

House of Raeford said it can't discuss Outerbridge's case because the settlement is confidential.

Human resources director Gene Shelnutt said the privately held company considers its workers family. The company, he said, "would never allow anyone to mistreat anyone in the family. ... I believe we have provided the care for our employees that is expected."

Current and former human resources employees at two House of Raeford plants said the company finds reasons to fire injured workers.

Belem Villegas, a former employment supervisor at the Greenville plant, said her boss didn't like "repeat complainers."

For five years until spring 2005, Villegas hired workers and translated for Spanish-speaking employees. She shared an office with the plant medical director and said as many as 20 workers a day came in saying their hands, wrists and arms hurt.

She said she urged plant managers to send injured employees to a doctor, but they often refused. "They'd say, `Belem, if they keep coming to the office, they're going to have to be let go.' "

Workers got the message. "You complain and you become unemployed," Villegas said.

House of Raeford didn't respond to questions about Villegas' allegations. The company said it fired her because she was "accepting money to provide employment favors to potential employees." Villegas denied the claim and said she believes she was fired, in part, because she started speaking up for workers.

The Observer interviewed more than 50 workers no longer employed at House of Raeford. Ten said they were fired after reporting injuries.

Company officials said workers are required to tell supervisors if they are hurt and that they will be sent to plant first-aid stations, or outside doctors if need be. They also noted that plants are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union and that its representatives have "full grievance procedures at their disposal." Local union officials said membership is less than 30 percent at some plants because immigrants are often reluctant to join, making it difficult to enact change.

"Certainly, we work hard to run a safe and healthy workplace, and to comply with all state and federal laws," Barry Cronic, complex manager of the Greenville plant, said in a written response. "...If any supervisor is discouraging employees from reporting injuries, that supervisor is in violation of company policy."

Carolina Cruz said her pleas for help were repeatedly ignored. A young mother, Cruz took a job at the Greenville plant in 2003 cutting chicken wings. After her hands started to throb, she said, she went to a company nurse who several times gave her ointment and sent her back to the line. "They don't help us at all," she said.

By the summer of 2006, she said, "My bones hurt .... If I continue like this, my hands are going to get to the point where I won't be able to do anything."

Cruz later left the plant.

House of Raeford declined to comment on many of the workers' specific allegations, saying that, without signed releases, it was unable to discuss details of their health or employment. In general, the company said it found "many inaccuracies" in the information workers provided to the Observer but declined to elaborate.

"The allegations made by these former employees do not fairly or accurately represent the policies or management practices of House of Raeford Farms," the company wrote.

Injuries not reported

If House of Raeford's records are accurate, the company in recent years has operated some of the nation's safest chicken and turkey plants.

Businesses are required to record most serious injuries and illnesses on U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs. But it's an honor system, and companies must give logs to regulators and employees only if asked. Regulators use the logs to spot troubling workplace safety trends.

The newspaper obtained four years of logs for company plants in Greenville, West Columbia and Raeford.

In a sampling of workers in neighborhoods surrounding the plants, the Observer confirmed 31 injuries serious enough to be recorded for regulators. In 12 of those cases, the injuries didn't show up on logs.

Seferino Guadalupe was driving a machine moving pallets of turkey breasts at one of the company's two Raeford plants in November 2006 when, he said, the brakes failed and he crashed into a wall. Surgeons inserted screws to repair his shattered ankle.

Bernestine Wright said her hands went numb after months of cutting chickens into bite-sized pieces at the Greenville plant. She said a company nurse refused to send her to a doctor when she complained about pains.

The pain grew so intense, she said, she visited a doctor and received painkillers. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in 2005, according to the law firm that represented her in a workers' compensation case.

Lucas Hernandez cut his arm with a knife in summer 2005 while on the production line at the West Columbia plant. He missed work the next two days because of pain, he said.

None of those injuries showed up on House of Raeford injury logs.

In addition to the 31 injuries the Observer confirmed, 10 more workers described serious injuries that weren't recorded, but the newspaper could not confirm their medical treatment.

Whitmore, the OSHA record-keeping expert, examined House of Raeford logs and details of the 41 injuries the Observer found. He concluded the company violated workplace safety law by failing to record more than half of those injuries.

"These are severe, serious, debilitating cases," Whitmore said.

Company officials said they follow OSHA rules for recording injuries, and are unaware of any work-related injuries being excluded from the logs. Lewis, the company's safety director, said he couldn't explain why Guadalupe's accident wasn't included and called it "an isolated case." He said the company has corrected its logs.

Company officials said Wright's allegations are inaccurate but wouldn't elaborate.

At the West Columbia plant, safety manager Mike Flowers said that because Hernandez stayed home on his own and did not call his supervisor, managers didn't know the extent of his injury. "There's a lot of gray area," Flowers said.

Nonsense, said Whitmore.

"The supervisor knew there was an injury. The person missed work and it was because of pain related to an injury," he said. "It was clearly recordable. Period."

Record-keeping questioned

Poultry plants are filled with hazards. On one side of the factory, employees grab live birds before hanging them upside down on moving hooks that whisk them off for slaughter. On the other side -- after the birds are scalded, plucked and chilled -- they're hurried along production lines where workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder wielding blades for hours with few breaks.Temperatures hover near freezing to prevent the spread of bacteria. Water drips off machinery, falling onto floors slick with chicken fat. The din of clanking conveyor belts makes conversation nearly impossible.

The conditions are ripe for musculoskeletal disorders, which afflict the muscles and nerves in wrists, arms, necks and backs. MSDs also include repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

At the West Columbia plant, which employs 800, not a single musculoskeletal disorder was recorded from July 2003 to April 2007, according to the most current records obtained by the Observer.

Twelve employees who worked at the plant during that time said in interviews they suffered pains commonly brought on by MSDs. Two said they had surgery for carpal tunnel at company expense. Most of the others said they complained to company officials about their injuries but weren't sent to doctors or given time off from work -- steps that likely would have made their injuries recordable.

James Mabe, the complex manager, said he was unsure why his logs showed no musculoskeletal disorders.

Company officials said plant safety committees regularly look for hazards. Frequent knife sharpening, adjustable work stations and other safety measures contribute to low injury and illness rates, they said.

Mabe also said the plant recently spent $3.5 million for equipment that included a machine to remove guts from chickens, eliminating a highly repetitive job.

He offered another explanation: "Hispanics are very good with their hands and working with a knife. We've gotten less complaints."

Asked to elaborate, Mabe said, "It's more like a natural movement for them."

Tom Armstrong, a University of Michigan professor who has studied the prevalence of MSDs in poultry processing, questioned how Mabe arrived at his conclusion about Hispanics. "I know of absolutely no data to support that," he said.

Armstrong said it's highly unlikely a large poultry plant could go consecutive years without a case of carpal tunnel or tendinitis.

"I'd be skeptical of the record-keeping in a situation like that," he said.

Company fights in court

House of Raeford has a history of underreporting injuries.

In 1997, union leaders at a plant in Raeford received calls from workers complaining about injuries. Yet the plant was reporting one of the industry's lowest injury and illness rates -- 3.5 per 100 workers -- well below the industry average of 16.6.

The union looked closer and found the plant had crossed 159 names off its 1996 and 1997 injury logs.

State regulators investigated and found that 35 of those names had been crossed off with "plain indifference to the law." They could not confirm others because some of the workers had left the plant and could not be found.

Regulators designated the violation as "willful" -- the toughest category under OSHA rules -- and recommended a $9,000 fine. House of Raeford fought back. The state threw out the willful designation and reduced the fine to $800. House of Raeford says it has since established procedures "to prevent any further occurrences of the same nature."

Because House of Raeford reports some of the industry's lowest injury and illness rates, workplace safety officials rarely conduct random inspections at its plants.

Several times when inspectors did show up at one of the Raeford plants, managers refused to let them in.

Acting on a tip that workers were suffering injuries, regulators in 1999 began investigating. They spoke with 40 workers, many of whom complained of throbbing pain in their hands, arms and shoulders. More than a third had been diagnosed with repetitive motion problems.

One of the inspectors, J. D. Lewis, recalls seeing young workers who could no longer use their arms or hands properly. One couldn't lift his arms above his head, he recalled.

Inspectors wanted to talk with more workers, but House of Raeford officials repeatedly blocked them -- even when they arrived with a warrant. Company officials said the interviews would disrupt operations.

The case went to N.C. Superior Court, where Judge Jack Hooks ruled in late 2000 that the state had no authority to investigate further. His reason: Compliance deadlines for a new federal ergonomics standard had not yet kicked in.

Still suffering

A visit to the largely Latino communities surrounding the Raeford plants reveals the hidden cost of poultry work.A year after the accident that shattered his ankle, Guadalupe struggles to walk with crutches and said he is unable to work because of lingering pain.

Four houses down, Ernesto Ramirez, a House of Raeford sanitation worker, said he had blurred vision for three days in 2006 after chlorine splashed into his eyes from a loose hose at work.

Down the road, Guillermo Santiago had the top half of three fingers sheared off last February when he tried to jimmy loose a hose from a grinding machine. Doctors were able to reattach just one finger.

A native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, Santiago said he's reminded of his accident each time he looks at his hands.

"I'm never going to be the same."

-- Staff database editor ted mellnik and staff researchers Maria Wygand, Sara Klemmer and Marion Paynter contributed.

House of Raeford

Headquarters: The privately held company is based in Raeford in Eastern North Carolina.

Processing plants: Four in North Carolina, three in South Carolina and one in Louisiana.

Employees: About 6,000.

Annual sales: Nearly $900 million, including some to China, Afghanistan and other countries.

Ranking: It's among the nation's top 10 chicken and turkey producers.

Production: Slaughters and processes about 29 million pounds of chicken and turkey each week.


• Restaurants including Blimpie, Golden Corral and Ryan's. • Schools around the U.S., including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

• Stores including Food Lion and Lowes Foods. The company's deli meat is marketed under the name "Lakewood Plantation."

• Distribution companies that supply food to restaurants and institutional kitchens.

SOURCES: Observer research, House of Raeford, Dun & Bradstreet, Watt Publishing, National Poultry and Food Distributors Association
Federal safety data misleading, experts say

Federal statistics suggest poultry plants are safer than ever. But experts question those numbers.

In October, the U.S. Labor Department reported fewer poultry workers were hurt in 2006 than in any previous year. The government cited an injury and illness rate of 6.6 per 100 workers, compared with 17.8 in 1996.

The National Chicken Council praised poultry processors for adopting an "emphasis on safety, new and redesigned equipment and processes, early intervention, and other measures...."

But Bob Whitmore, a longtime Labor Department record-keeping expert, said the poultry industry's injury and illness rate is likely two to three times higher because of underreporting. He's particularly suspicious of OSHA records showing no injuries at some poultry plants. He said the government has done little to crack down on companies that undercount injuries.

Rich Fairfax, OSHA's enforcement director, said inspectors look for underreporting but rarely find it.: "When we try to track it down, it goes nowhere."

Here are the 2006 rates of injuries and illnesses per 100 workers:

7.7 – Motor vehicle parts and manufacturing
7.5 – Furniture manufacturing
6.6 – Poultry processing
6.0 – All manufacturing
4.4 – All private industry
4.4 – Textile mills
2.4 – Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
2.0 – Computer and electronic product manufacturing

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Safer than a toy store?

Workplace safety experts also question a reported drop in musculoskeletal disorders. In 2006, 20.8 of every 10,000 poultry workers missed work because of MSDs, down from 88.3 in 1996, according to the Labor Department.

That 2006 rate would make poultry plants safer than toy stores. "It's intuitively implausible," said Dr. Michael Silverstein, a former OSHA policy chief. "Something is clearly wrong."

Here are the rates of MSDs resulting in lost time, per 10,000 workers:

47.4 Hobby, toy and game stores

38.6 Average for all industries

27.5 New car dealers

25.9 Pharmacies

20.8 Poultry processing

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

-- Ames Alexander and Kerry Hall

February 13, 2008

U.S. population projections: huge impact of immigration

The Pew Research Center issued a report this week which projects the nation’s population to 2050. Our country will become increasingly immigrant-based and Hispanics will approach 30% of the population. “If current trends continue, the population of the United States will rise to 438 million in 2050, from 296 million in 2005, and 82% of the increase will be due to immigrants arriving from 2005 to 2050 and their U.S.-born descendants. Of the 117 million people added to the population during this period due to the effect of new immigration, 67 million will be the immigrants themselves and 50 million will be their U.S.-born children or grandchildren.”

Other key projections:

* Nearly one in five Americans (19%) will be an immigrant in 2050, compared with one in eight (12%) in 2005. By 2025, the immigrant, or foreign-born, share of the population will surpass the peak during the last great wave of immigration a century ago.
* The major role of immigration in national growth builds on the pattern of recent decades, during which immigrants and their U.S.-born children and grandchildren accounted for most population increase. Immigration's importance increased as the average number of births to U.S.-born women dropped sharply before leveling off.
* The Latino population, already the nation's largest minority group, will triple in size and will account for most of the nation's population growth from 2005 through 2050. Hispanics will make up 29% of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14% in 2005.
* Births in the United States will play a growing role in Hispanic and Asian population growth; as a result, a smaller proportion of both groups will be foreign-born in 2050 than is the case now.
* The non-Hispanic white population will increase more slowly than other racial and ethnic groups; whites will become a minority (47%) by 2050.
* The nation's elderly population will more than double in size from 2005 through 2050, as the baby boom generation enters the traditional retirement years. The number of working-age Americans and children will grow more slowly than the elderly population, and will shrink as a share of the total population.

The Center's report includes an analysis of the nation's future "dependency ratio"--the number of children and elderly compared with the number of working-age Americans. There were 59 children and elderly people per 100 adults of working age in 2005. That will rise to 72 dependents per 100 adults of working age in 2050.

The report also offers two alternative population projections, one based on lower immigration assumptions and one based on higher immigration assumptions.

February 12, 2008

Airzona's economy drying up?

The NY Times reported today on the combined effects of economic slowdown and anti- illegal immigrant legislation in Arizona. Whatever the cause, a lot of people are leaving the state. "In the fourth quarter of 2007 the apartment-vacancy rate in metropolitan Phoenix rose to 11.2 percent from 9 percent in the same quarter of 2006, with much higher rates of 15 percent or more in heavily Latino neighborhoods."

The article in full:

Published: February 12, 2008

PHOENIX — The signs of flight among Latino immigrants here are multiple: Families moving out of apartment complexes, schools reporting enrollment drops, business owners complaining about fewer clients.

While it is too early to know for certain, a consensus is developing among economists, business people and immigration groups that the weakening economy coupled with recent curbs on illegal immigration are steering Hispanic immigrants out of the state.

The Arizona economy, heavily dependent on growth and a Latino work force, has been slowing for months. Meanwhile, the state has enacted one of the country’s toughest laws to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, and the county sheriff here in Phoenix has been enforcing federal immigration laws by rounding up people living here illegally.

“It is very difficult to separate the economic reality in Arizona from the effects of the laws because the economy is tanking and construction is drying up,” said Frank Pierson, lead organizer of the Arizona Interfaith Network, which advocates for immigrants’ rights and other causes. But the combination of factors creates “ a disincentive to stay in the state.”

State Representative Russell K. Pearce, a Republican from Mesa and leading advocate of the crackdown on illegal immigration, takes reports of unauthorized workers leaving as a sign of success. An estimated one in 10 workers in Arizona are Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, twice the national average.

“The desired effect was, we don’t have the red carpet out for illegal aliens,” Mr. Pearce said, adding that while “most of these are good people” they are a “tremendous burden” on public services.

On Monday, state lawmakers, concerned about shortages of workers and the failed revamping of immigration law in Congress, which was pushed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, pledged action.

Bills were announced that would create a state-run temporary worker program, though it would need Congressional authorization. And last week Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, offered to help the United States Labor Department rewrite regulations designed to streamline visas for agricultural workers, who growers say are increasingly hard to find.

While data for the last month or so are not available, there were already signs of migration out of Arizona at the end of last year. In the fourth quarter of 2007 the apartment-vacancy rate in metropolitan Phoenix rose to 11.2 percent from 9 percent in the same quarter of 2006, with much higher rates of 15 percent or more in heavily Latino neighborhoods.

“You have many people moving out, but they are not all illegal,” said Terry Feinberg, president of the Arizona Multihousing Alliance, a trade group for the apartment and rental housing industry. “A lot of people moving are citizens, or legal, but because someone in their family or social network is not, and they are having a hard time keeping or finding a job, they all move.”

Elizabeth Leon, a legal immigrant and day care worker, said the families of two of her charges abruptly left, forcing the state to take custody of the children. Ms. Leon’s brother, a construction worker who is not authorized to be in the country, plans to leave, unable to find steady work; families at the neighborhood school have pulled children out, Ms. Leon said, fearful of sheriff’s deputies.

“It is like a panic here,” she said. “This is all having an effect on the community, mostly emotional.”

Juan Jose Araujo, 44, is here legally. His wife, however, is not and is pressing for the family to return to Mexico because of the difficulty in finding a job and what the family considers a growing anti-immigrant climate.

Although prosecutors in the state do not plan to begin enforcing the sanctions against employers until next month, several employers have reportedly already dismissed workers whose legal authorization to work could not be proved, as required by the law.

“We don’t have family or anything in Mexico,” said Mr. Araujo, who has lived in the United States for 24 years. “I wouldn’t have anywhere to go there, but we have to consider it.”

Property managers report that families have uprooted overnight, with little or no notice. Carlos Flores Vizcarra, the Mexican consul general in Phoenix, said while he could not tie the phenomenon to a single factor, the consulate had experienced an “unusual” five-fold increase in parents applying for Mexican birth certificates for their children and other documents that often are a prelude to moving.

Several school districts in heavily Latino areas have reported sudden drops in enrollment. Official explanations are elusive because school officials have not been able to interview families about why they left, but, anecdotally, people point to the sour economy and the immigration crackdown among other factors.

The Cartwright Elementary School District in west Phoenix, for instance, reported a loss of 525 students this school year (dropping the enrollment to 19,845), while in previous years enrollment had grown or remained stable among its 23 schools. Meri Simmons, a spokeswoman for the district, said word of mouth suggested that the economy and sanctions on employers played a role.

“We know we have a lot of empty houses,” Ms. Simmons said.

Jobs in the construction industry, a major employer of immigrants, are growing scarce, declining 8.6 percent in December compared with the previous year.

Juan Leon, a construction subcontractor and the husband of Elizabeth Leon, the day care worker, said illegal immigrants had made it harder for legal residents like him to find work. Companies that employ them can bid much lower on projects than he can because they pay workers much less, Mr. Leon said.

“I hate to see families torn apart,” he said of the current flight, “but there is no money to be made sometimes because some contractors who employ illegal workers can do the job dirt cheap.”

Dawn McLaren, an economist at Arizona State University in Tempe who studies the state’s economic and migration trends, said it was likely that lack of work is forcing people to move, probably to nearby states. But Ms. McLaren also theorized that the slowing economy had caused a reduction in the flow of new immigrants over the border.

Analyzing data back to the early 1990s, she said, a drop in Border Patrol arrests — they have been steadily declining the last couple of years — typically preceded an economic downturn or slowing.

“It’s a highly networked community,” she said of border crossers. “It costs a lot to get here, and they generally have a job lined up here. People say, ‘We need people on the crew.’ And they tell friends and relatives to come over.”

A persistent decline in the immigrant population could damage the overall Arizona economy, Ms. McLaren said. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center released in January said illegal workers made up close to 11 percent of the state’s work force of 2.9 million people in 2006, double the national estimate.

“What it looks like now is that a little bump in the economic road, especially with the sanctions law, is looking like it might last a year or more,” she said.

Even as the economy slows and people leave, the matter of the state’s sanctions on employers is not settled.

The legal fight over the law, which a federal judge upheld Thursday, is headed for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The law punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants by suspending their business license for 10 days on the first offense and revoking it for a second infraction.

Opponents call it an unconstitutional intrusion by the state on federal immigration authority but the federal judge, Neil V. Wake, disagreed.

At the same time, signatures are being gathered for two ballot initiatives, one that would toughen the law and another meant to soften it. If both end up on the November ballot, the one with the most votes would prevail.

Ms. McLaren, the economist, said that in the end history showed it was difficult to stop illegal immigration so long as jobs paid better in the United States than at home. An economic rebound would probably draw people back here, no matter the laws.

“They will find a way to adjust,” she said.

February 6, 2008

Bush trying to grow the temporary farm worker H-2A program

The Bush administration is set to make regulatory changes to the temporary farm worker – H-2A – program, changes that do not require legislation. The plan is designed to increase the use of legal temporary workers, which today account for about 2% of American farm labor. Upwards of 70% of farm workers today are estimated to be illegal.
Senator Diane Feinstein had sought to enact her AgJobs program either as part of comprehensive immigration reform or separately, to help California farmers. That program, on which I have posted, would legalize the status of hundreds of thousands of illegal farm workers.

A Los Angeles Times article says, in part, “The proposed changes, which would take effect after a 45-day period of public comment, would modify how foreign laborers are paid and housed, and slightly expand the types of industries that can use the program. The administration would also ease the standards farmers must now meet to show they have tried to hire U.S. citizens first.”

The article also reports:

“In addition to the Labor Department, the departments of State, Homeland Security and Agriculture have a role in the program. Labor and Homeland Security focused on making the program easier for growers to use, strengthening worker protections and improving enforcement, but critics questioned how these proposals would actually work.

'It's going to be a question of execution,' said a Senate aide briefed on the changes. The aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record, expressed concern about some proposals, including a change to the way workers are paid.

One of the proposed changes would set wages based on a worker's occupation and skill level. 'Depending on how it's done, it has the potential to lower farmworkers' wages, potentially significantly,' said the aide. [Wages are not set to local prevailing wages.]

Other changes would give workers more time to search for a new H-2A job after their existing one ends. Employers would have to certify under penalty of perjury that they wouldn't change the terms of work after they hired the temporary workers.

Homeland Security would create a pilot program to track whether H-2A workers leave the country when their visas expire.

Employers that violate the program's regulations would face substantially higher fines and penalties. Growers would also be forbidden from passing along to workers any costs incurred from participating in the program.

Michigan law and undocumented workers - contending proposals

Workcomcentral (subscription required) reports of Michigan bills to restore benefits to undocumented workers. “Two Detroit lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow all workers in Michigan who pay into the workers' compensation fund to receive benefits if they are injured on the job, regardless of their U.S. residency status, nullifying a state Supreme Court ruling.”

But an official with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the proposal would result in a “mixed message” being sent to the state’s employers, since lawmakers also are considering legislation that would prohibit employers from hiring undocumented workers and impose penalties on businesses that violated that prohibition.

Majority Floor Leader Steve Tobocman (D) and Sen. Hansen Clarke (D) filed their proposals as House Bill 5572 and Senate Bill 997, respectively.

The bills have identical language. Neither has been set for hearing.

Tobocman noted that the Michigan Workers' Disability Compensation Act currently does not expressly exclude undocumented workers.

But in 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that injured undocumented workers, whose wages had been taxed to pay into the fund, could not receive benefits for lost wages, he reported.

The Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of review of a lower court ruling in David Sanchez and Alejandro Vasquez v. Eagle Alloy that denied workers’ compensation benefits to the injured workers of illegal immigrant status and who used false documents.

According to the lower court opinion, Sanchez went to work at Eagle Alloy Inc. in 1997, using a false Social Security card he bought in California for $30.

In September 1998 Sanchez’s hand was crushed in a press machine. He was fired in 1999, after the company learned he was an undocumented worker, and he thereafter sought benefits.

Vasquez, who was injured in 1999 on the job, was fired later that year for failing to adhere to the company's attendance policy, and like Sanchez, sought benefits after termination.

Tobocman said the legislation would ensure that “every worker who is taxed and pays into the workers' compensation fund” is able to obtain benefits when he is injured on the job.

Undocumented workers who are not able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits only end up being provided social services at the expense of taxpayers generally, he contends.

“Injured workers and Michigan taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for workplace injuries,” Tobocman commented.

He also contends that denying workers’ compensation benefits to injured undocumented workers encourages employers to hire undocumented workers.

Clarke agrees that all workers in the state need to be “properly protected from the physical and financial risks of workplace injury, especially when they are all paying into the fund regardless of their immigration status.”

The senator said the legislation would “make sure that any one injured on the job in this state is eligible for compensation.”

In a statement on the bills, the lawmakers reported the legislation would promote “safer and healthier work environments.”

They cited a report by California research indicating that the Midwest region had “the highest rate of worker abuse” and that laborers were most likely to face physical risk.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 52 employment-related deaths in 2006 and at least 31 deaths in 2007, the statement noted.

It also cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that all Michigan employers, including state and local government, reported 175,100 injuries in 2006.

Rich Studley, executive vice president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, told WorkCompCentral that "we’re very concerned about the bill.”

Studley said the bill would change provisions allowing benefits to be denied in cases of “crimes” to state that benefits could not be denied because of illegal immigration status or use of false documents relating to the worker’s status.

“We’re saying to the House that they need to make up their minds on this issue,” Studley said.

“At the same time they're looking at this … they’re looking at other bills that would prohibit employers from hiring illegal aliens and impose stiff penalties if they do,” he reported. “This is sending a very mixed message to employers.”

Studley added that the problem is a federal issue, “but the president and Congress have not acted to secure our borders” and deal with legal and illegal immigration.

The proposal has received support from some labor and community groups, including Unite Here of Michigan State Council (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union), Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and El Centro Obrero de Detroit.

February 1, 2008

States where the Hispanic vote is most important

Here is a fact sheet from the Pew Hispanic Center: Hispanics in the 2008 Election-- The Hispanics in the 2008 Election fact sheets contain data on the size and social and economic characteristics of the Hispanic and non-Hispanic eligible voter populations. These fact sheets are based on the Center's tabulations of the Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey. The eight fact sheets include those states that will be holding primaries or caucuses on "Super Tuesday" and that have a relatively high concentration of Latino voters: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

Arizona's Hispanic population is the sixth-largest in the nation. Nearly 1.8 million Hispanics reside in Arizona, 4% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are 673,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Arizona, 4% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

California's Hispanic population is the largest of any state in the nation. More than 13 million Hispanics reside in California, 30% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are over 5 million eligible Hispanic voters in California, 28% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

Colorado's Hispanic population is eighth-largest in the nation. More than 927,000 Hispanics reside in Colorado, 2% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are over 404,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Colorado, 2% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

Illinois's Hispanic population is the fifth-largest in the nation. Nearly 1.9 million Hispanics reside in Illinois, 4% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are over 708,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Illinois, 4% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

Massachusetts's Hispanic population is the fifteenth-largest in the nation. More than 509,000 Hispanics reside in Massachusetts, 1% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are 246,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Massachusetts, 1% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

New Jersey
New Jersey's Hispanic population is the seventh-largest in the nation. More than 1.4 million Hispanics reside in New Jersey, 3% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are 588,000 eligible Hispanic voters in New Jersey, 3% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

New Mexico
New Mexico's Hispanic population is the ninth-largest in the nation. More than 874,000 Hispanics reside in New Mexico, 2% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are 501,000 eligible Hispanic voters in New Mexico, 3% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.

New York
New York's Hispanic population is the fourth-largest in the nation. More than 3 million Hispanics reside in New York, 7% of all Hispanics in the United States. There are 1.5 million eligible Hispanic voters in New York, 8% of all U.S. Hispanic eligible voters.