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July 25, 2008

High death rate among Hispanic workers

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease control for June 6, 2008, reported that Hispanic workers experience higher death work-related rates than other workers. The MMWR wrote:

Work-related injury deaths among Hispanic workers during 1992--2006 totaled 11,303 (Figure 1), approximately 13% of all U.S. work-related injury deaths during that period. Median age of Hispanic decedents was 35 years, compared with a median age of 42 years for all workers. Approximately 95% of Hispanic decedents were male. The annual work-related injury death rate for Hispanic workers exceeded the rate for all U.S. workers every year during 1992--2006, with the exception of 1995. In 2006, the work-related injury death rate for Hispanic workers was 5.0 per 100,000 Hispanic workers, compared with rates of 4.0 for all workers, 4.0 for non-Hispanic white workers, and 3.7 for non-Hispanic black workers. During 2003--2006, the work-related injury death rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers was 5.9, compared with a rate of 3.5 for U.S.-born Hispanic workers.


On March 16, 2005, I posted a column answering this question with respect to construction-related deaths, and repost it here:

10 Threads of Huerta's Shroud

Why are Hispanic workers dying on the job at a rate much higher than other workers? On average, every calendar day marks another Hispanic work-related death that confirms this pattern. There are, it turns out, a crowd of culprits.

In 2002, an 18-year-old construction worker, Carlos Huerta, was building low income housing in North Carolina, when he fell to his death from a platform atop the raised prongs of a forklift. The circumstances of Huerta's death reveal what is killing these workers at a higher rate.

One, there are more and more Hispanic workers here. Who are these men? A study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that most Hispanic construction workers were born outside the United States; one-third have been here for less than three years, and one-third speak Spanish only. They are 10 times more likely to have left school before the 9th grade. Two, Hispanic workers have been switching from agricultural to construction work for higher pay and to avoid having to travel to the harvests. Some bring to construction an independent mindset. That might work when it comes to working on the farm. But it's not so desirable when it comes to construction.

Three, Hispanic construction workers are younger, hence less work-experienced. The disparity in construction death rates between Hispanics and non-Hispanics is at its highest in these green years-about double. The disparity declines with age but never disappears.

Four, many of these workers are undocumented. They are concerned about being deported. On top of their lack of experience is their hesitancy about demanding their safety rights.

Five, Carlos Huerta fell to his death. While falls are the most common immediate cause of death for Hispanic and non-Hispanic construction workers, death among Hispanics is noticeably more concentrated in falls. That means you need to modify the safety focus.

Six, many construction firms are small, and Hispanics appear to be over-represented in the workforces of small companies. Small employer size correlates with higher fatality rate. This has been reported even in Denmark, where safety standards are tidily enforced.

Seven, Hispanics appear to be hired more readily by employers under stress, with poor safety systems. David Lighthall, who works in California's San Joaquin Valley, follows Hispanic workforces.

"Contractors are subcontracting different jobs such as drywalling to labor contractors who have become pretty much dependent on immigrant workers, many of which are undocumented residents of Mexico," says Lighthall. "These labor contractors have a strong incentive to get their workers to complete the job as quickly as possible. This shift, driven by a high degree of access to immigrant workers willing to work their tails off, has the net effect of placing more stress on employers as well."

Eight, many of these workers are hired curbside. It is safe to say this is unsafe.

Nine, primary contractors cannot be expected to discipline subcontractors regarding safety if there are no shared insurance arrangements.

And 10, it might be a stretch to expect that safety inspectors can devote sufficient resources to induce better safety practices among these small, stressed firms. (Carlos Huerta's employer was fined.)

How do we stop the brothers of Carlos Huerta from dying? We'd better think of something, and quick. In 2010 we will have the second largest Hispanic population in the world.

July 23, 2008

Agriprocessors' worker safety record

The Des Moines Register has been investigating the safety record at Agriprocessors in Postville IA and is not happy with what it found. For instance:

“Agriprocessors' treatment of its workers - and state regulators' treatment of the company - have been a source of controversy since May 12, when 389 workers were detained by federal agents in the nation's largest immigration raid.

A Des Moines Register review of state records indicates that health and safety violations at Agriprocessors rarely result in large fines, although injuries are commonplace there.

The records show that:

• Company officials have repeatedly refused to let state inspectors inside the plant without first obtaining a court warrant. In one incident, inspectors had to go to the courthouse in Waukon and obtain the document. By then, it was too late to return and make the inspection, so the state officials had to book a hotel room and spend the night. They entered the plant the next day, but the delay resulted in company officials getting 24 hours' notice of a planned inspection.

- Unsigned workplace-safety complaints are typically investigated by the state via telephone or fax, rather than by visiting the plant. In one case, inspectors drove to the Postville plant and were denied entry. After realizing the complaint was unsigned, the inspectors drove back to Des Moines without entering the plant.

• Fines for workplace safety violations in Iowa are typically cut by 25 percent to 75 percent from the amounts first proposed. In 2005, after the three amputation injuries at Agriprocessors, a state worker forgot to call company executives for a scheduled telephone conference about a proposed $10,000 fine. After a 45-minute delay, the official told company executives their time was worth a reduction in the fine, and he cut the penalty to $7,500.

• Company executives have failed to give workers protective gear to do certain jobs. For years, the plant didn't provide protective clothing to employees who worked with corrosive chemicals. Protective jackets, pants and boots were available, but they were treated by Agriprocessors as personal clothing that had to be purchased from the plant.”

The article in full:

Agriprocessors escapes big fines for violations

By CLARK KAUFFMAN • ckauffman@dmreg.com • © 2008, Des Moines Register and Tribune Company • July 6, 2008

Carlos Torrez was in the middle of a 60-hour workweek at the Agriprocessors Inc. meat-processing plant in Postville when the mechanical saw he was using to separate chicken parts severed one of his fingers.

It was July 2005, and Torrez had been working in the plant for three years. He was 26 years old, had four children at home and had logged 67 hours the week before the accident happened. His take-home pay, even with 27 hours of overtime, totaled $509.

Torrez staggered to "the laundry room" - an area where workers went for first-aid. A co-worker retrieved the severed finger from the floor.

Five weeks later, the state investigated the accident. By then, however, two more workers had lost parts of their hands in Agriprocessors' machinery.

Ultimately, the three amputations cost the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant $7,500 in state fines.

Agriprocessors' treatment of its workers - and state regulators' treatment of the company - have been a source of controversy since May 12, when 389 workers were detained by federal agents in the nation's largest immigration raid.

A Des Moines Register review of state records indicates that health and safety violations at Agriprocessors rarely result in large fines, although injuries are commonplace there.

The records show that:

• Company officials have repeatedly refused to let state inspectors inside the plant without first obtaining a court warrant. In one incident, inspectors had to go to the courthouse in Waukon and obtain the document. By then, it was too late to return and make the inspection, so the state officials had to book a hotel room and spend the night. They entered the plant the next day, but the delay resulted in company officials getting 24 hours' notice of a planned inspection.

- Unsigned workplace-safety complaints are typically investigated by the state via telephone or fax, rather than by visiting the plant. In one case, inspectors drove to the Postville plant and were denied entry. After realizing the complaint was unsigned, the inspectors drove back to Des Moines without entering the plant.

• Fines for workplace safety violations in Iowa are typically cut by 25 percent to 75 percent from the amounts first proposed. In 2005, after the three amputation injuries at Agriprocessors, a state worker forgot to call company executives for a scheduled telephone conference about a proposed $10,000 fine. After a 45-minute delay, the official told company executives their time was worth a reduction in the fine, and he cut the penalty to $7,500.

• Company executives have failed to give workers protective gear to do certain jobs. For years, the plant didn't provide protective clothing to employees who worked with corrosive chemicals. Protective jackets, pants and boots were available, but they were treated by Agriprocessors as personal clothing that had to be purchased from the plant.

Elizabeth Billmeyer, the company's human resources manager, declined to discuss plant safety when contacted at home by the Register.

"If you'd like to talk with me, you can talk with me at work," she said. Billmeyer did not return several subsequent calls to her office.

Company executives Sholom Rubashkin and Heshy Rubashkin also did not return a reporter's calls.

An Agriprocessors spokesman said "the company cannot respond to specific allegations" until a government investigation is complete and all pending legal issues are resolved.
Plant has long history of safety violations

Three months ago, state officials cited Agriprocessors for 39 workplace safety violations - an unusually large number.

Federal and state records give conflicting information on fines against the company, but for the past few years Agriprocessors appears to have compiled one of the worst safety records of any meatpacking plant in Iowa.

Although detailed worker-injury reports since 2006 are not publicly available, the Register has reviewed Agriprocessors' reports for the three previous years.

In 2003, the company reported 83 employee injuries, including smashed ankles, lacerated tendons in hands, smashed arms, and amputated fingers.

In 2004, the number of injuries jumped 45 percent, to 120, with workers being treated for chemical burns to their eyes and feet, third-degree burns, hand lacerations and broken ribs.

In 2005, the number of injuries dropped to 103. They included hearing losses, smashed fingers and severed fingers.

The 2005 reports include the three amputations that began with Carlos Torrez's loss of a finger.

State records indicate that four weeks after that accident, Adolfo Lopez, 26, was working on a machine called "the foot masher."

Witnesses said they heard Lopez screaming about 5:30 a.m. He had been clearing debris from inside the machine when a supervisor unwittingly turned on the device, crushing Lopez's left hand.

"I saw (Lopez) caught up in the gears, the teeth of the foot masher," maintenance worker Deon Branish told officials. "His left hand was stuck all the way to the wrist."

Ten days after that incident, plant sanitation manager Jeff Bohr was at home when a co-worker called to tell him Eduardo Santos, 25, was in the laundry room with a severe hand injury.

Bohr went to the plant, examined Santos' right hand, and called an ambulance. Then he looked into the machine Santos had been working on and saw pieces of two work gloves.

"There were also pieces of skin and bone," Bohr wrote in his report.

Company records indicate Santos lost two fingers and a thumb. The remainder of his hand was crushed.

Adolfo Lopez, who now goes by the name of Wilson Junech, continued to work at Agriprocessors after recovering from his injury, although the loss of his hand required him to move to a cleaning crew and a job that entails moving empty boxes.

He says that when he returned to work after the accident, the supervisor who had inadvertently switched on the machine with his hand inside smiled and laughed.

He worked at the plant until the raid, when he and others hid from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents.

Now, he said, he's looking for work where he can get it.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said.

The other employees who lost fingers at Agriprocessors could not be reached for comment.
State fights for access, but then reduces fine

State inspectors set out from Des Moines to investigate the Torrez case a few days after that third amputation. At the time, inspectors knew nothing of the accidents involving Lopez and Santos.

When they arrived at the Postville plant and asked to be let in, a receptionist told them they needed to make a request 24 hours in advance to get inside. The inspectors told her that if necessary they would get a court order allowing them to inspect the plant.

This was not unusual. On other occasions, plant officials refused to let inspectors inside, forcing them to either leave or secure a warrant from a judge.

On this date, however, the plant's safety consultant, Fred Phelps, let the inspectors enter without a warrant. According to state records, Phelps told inspectors of the Lopez and Santos accidents and acknowledged that "many problems" existed. Phelps allegedly told inspectors that plant managers had been disciplined after the company's investigations.

After gathering details of the three amputations, state inspectors proposed a fine of $10,000.

A few months later, Jens Nissen, an executive officer with Iowa's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, set up an informal telephone conference with company officials to discuss a settlement in the case. Nissen was supposed to call Agriprocessors at 3 p.m., but he forgot. He called at 3:45 p.m. instead.

His handwritten notes told what happened next:

"They graciously proceeded with the informal conference, despite my tardiness. I told them that their time was worth a reduction in penalty. They have taken various steps since the inspection to abate the hazard. ... They asked if they could send information on what they have done and get a penalty reduction based on that information. I said, 'Sure.' We ended our phone conversation."

The next day, the $10,000 fine was cut by 25 percent to $7,500.

Asked about that decision, Nissen said: "It was just a matter of quibbling over a couple hundred bucks. That's all."

He said it is not unusual for companies to challenge proposed fines and for the state to settle the matter by reducing the fines in exchange for the company's promise to do better.

The alternative, he said, is holding a hearing, a process that can take years to complete with no assurance that OSHA inspectors will prevail.

Reducing the size of fines results in speedier compliance, he said, and frees money for companies to spend on safety equipment and training.

The company has had annual revenue of $250 million.

As for Agriprocessors' refusal to let state inspectors inside the plant without a court-issued warrant, Nissen said that occurs with other companies, too.

"It's the employer's right to deny us entry," he said. "It's not something that's unusual, but, then again, it's not something that's routine."

Across the nation, manufacturers and meatpackers have had the right to turn away safety inspectors since 1978. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that inspections without court warrants violated the Fourth Amendment rights of companies that are not "closely regulated" by the government. Meatpacking plants are not considered closely regulated.
Workers must pay for safety equipment

After the fines were reduced at Agriprocessors, lack of compliance with safety regulations became an even bigger issue at the Postville plant.

In early 2006, state officials cited the company for failing to provide protective jackets and boots to workers who used high-pressure hoses to spray corrosive chemicals and scalding water inside the plant as part of the sanitation process.

During an on-site inspection, an executive asked a state inspector whether she would recommend protective "rain suits" for the workers. "Yes!" she said.

She asked the company's operations manager and plant engineer whether they would want rain suits if they had to spray caustic chemicals. According to the inspector's report, both men said, "Absolutely."

But company records indicate that workers had long been forced to either do without the protective gear or purchase it themselves from the company. And because some workers allegedly had no lockers at the plant, they often took their chemical-soaked rain suits home with them at the end of their shift.

Company Vice President Sholom Rubashkin, in a September 2000 memo to all employees, included an "equipment price list" that identifies rain pants and jackets, as well as "wrist wraps" and "back support," as "personal clothing-type equipment," rather than mandatory, company-issued safety equipment.

For at least six years, workers were being charged $30 for the pants and $30 for the jackets. Boots were $20.85. At those prices, 100 rain suits would have generated $8,000 in revenue for the company. By comparison, the state fine for this serious safety violation was $1,000.

In December 2006, a commission appointed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism found significant health and safety concerns at the Postville plant, including unsafe chemical use and "inadequate or nonexistent safety training."

OSHA cited the company for more violations, and federal investigators launched a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of people in the United States illegally who were hired there, of child-labor law violations and of workplace safety issues.

Court records show that in January 2008, federal authorities equipped an informant with a hidden device to record a safety briefing for new employees. During the briefing, employees were allegedly told that their pay would be docked $2 per week to pay for gowns and gloves that they were required to wear.

That informant, and another, made broader allegations, too. One told authorities a plant supervisor had put duct tape over the eyes of a Guatemalan worker and then beat the worker with a meat hook. Another told authorities that some workers were paid less than minimum wage and were paid in cash. Several informants alleged that the Postville work force was rife with illegal immigrants.

In April, Eric Frumin of the Change To Win labor organization testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee that was investigating workplace safety. He told senators that Agriprocessors had just been cited for 39 additional violations of health and safety regulations that carried potential fines totaling $182,000.

"For perspective," he testified, "in 2007, Iowa OSHA issued 19 violations for all meatpacking plants in Iowa, with fines totaling over $120,000."

What Frumin didn't realize was that the Iowa OSHA office had already agreed to cut Agriprocessors' fines. The agreement would not be made public for several weeks, but when it was, it showed the state had cut the proposed $182,000 fine to $42,750.
Raid shines light on other probe, warnings

On April 11, a week after Frumin testified in Washington, an informant who worked at the Postville plant told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that word of the impending immigration raid had leaked. Employees were openly discussing the matter, he said.

ICE's plans for a raid put the agency on a collision course with other state and federal officials who were conducting a separate investigation into allegations of child-labor law violations at Agriprocessors.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, who were trying to organize Postville workers, were concerned a raid would derail the child-labor investigation. On May 2, the union's Mark Lauritsen asked ICE to refrain from raiding the plant until the labor-law investigation was completed.

Ten days later, however, federal officers descended on Postville. They detained more than a third of Agriprocessors' work force - 389 people, including 12 juveniles - and issued arrest warrants for 307 other employees.

Company founder Aaron Rubashkin told the Jewish news agency JTA that he had no idea his workers were not in the United States legally.

"People coming there looking for jobs. They bring ID with a photo, with a number," he said. "Nineteen million illegals here? I don't bring 'em here. I pay taxes, and the government is supposed to control the stuff."

Agriprocessors issued a statement saying, "Our company takes the immigration laws seriously."

But federal records indicate the company chose not to participate in the government's voluntary program that enables employers to quickly verify the Social Security numbers of job applicants.

Court records indicate the Social Security Administration repeatedly warned Agriprocessors that hundreds of its employees - perhaps as much as 78 percent of the work force - appeared to be using fraudulent Social Security numbers or names.

Between 2002 and 2006, the company allegedly received 12 separate, written notices from the Social Security Administration highlighting hundreds of discrepancies in Social Security numbers and employee names.

No criminal charges have been filed against the plant's owners.

But on Thursday, immigration officials arrested two Agriprocessors supervisors, Martin De La Rosa-Loera and Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, for allegedly aiding and abetting the possession and use of fraudulent identification by their workers.

July 21, 2008

Chained to bed while delivering baby

Talk about over-reaching! A few more stories like this will help discredit the more florid of the anti-illegal immigration crowd. In a suburb of Nashville, an illegal immigrant was arrested at a routine traffic police stop, nine months pregnant. At delivery, a police officer stood in the delivery room, she was chained to bed most of the time, and she was refused a breast pump when sent back to prison. She returned to her baby after two days.

The police of Davidson County were operating under a so-called 287G agreement with ICE, which is intended to expedite the deportation of criminals found to be illegal.

The New York Times article in full:

Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact

It started when Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was nine months pregnant, was pulled over by a police officer in a Nashville suburb for a routine traffic

By the time Mrs. Villegas was released from the county jail six days later, she had gone through labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time. County officers barred her from seeing or speaking with her husband.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Mrs. Villegas was separated from her nursing infant for two days and barred from taking a breast pump into the jail, her lawyer and a doctor familiar with the case said. Her breasts became infected, and the newborn boy developed jaundice, they said.

Mrs. Villegas’s arrest has focused new attention on a cooperation agreement signed in April 2007 between federal immigration authorities and Davidson County, which shares a consolidated government with Nashville, that gave immigration enforcement powers to county officers. It is one of 57 agreements, known formally as 287G, that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has signed in the last two years with county and local police departments across the country under a rapidly expanding program.

Nashville officials have praised the agreement as a successful partnership between local and federal government.

“We are able to identify and report individuals who are here illegally and have been charged with a criminal offense, while at the same time remaining a friendly and open city to our new legal residents,” Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, said in a statement on Friday.

Lawyers and immigrant advocates say Mrs. Villegas’s case shows how local police can exceed their authority when they seek to act on immigration laws they are not fully trained to enforce.

“Had it not been for the 287G program, she would not have been taken down to jail,” said A. Gregory Ramos, a lawyer who is a former president of the Nashville Bar Association. “It was sold as something to make the community safer by taking dangerous criminals off the streets. But it has been operated so broadly that we are getting pregnant women arrested for simple driving offenses, and we’re not getting rid of the robbers and gang members.”

Mrs. Villegas, who is 33, has lived in the United States since 1996, and has three other children besides the newborn who are American citizens because they were born here.

She was stopped on July 3 in her husband’s pickup truck by a police officer from Berry Hill, a Nashville suburb, initially for “careless driving.” After Mrs. Villegas told the officer she did not have a license, he did not issue a ticket but arrested her instead. Elliott Ozment, Mrs. Villegas’s lawyer, said driving without a license is a misdemeanor in Tennessee that police officers generally handle with a citation, not an arrest.

After Mrs. Villegas was taken to the Davidson County jail, a federal immigration agent working there as part of the cooperation agreement conducted a background check. It showed that Mrs. Villegas was an illegal immigrant who had been deported once from the United States in March 1996, Karla Weikal, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff, said. She had no other criminal record.

As a result, immigration agents issued an order to take charge of Mrs. Villegas once she was released by the local authorities. Based on that order, county officers designated her a medium-security inmate in the jail, Ms. Weikal said.

So when Mrs. Villegas went into labor on the night of July 5, she was handcuffed and accompanied by a deputy as she was taken by ambulance to Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. Cuffs chaining her foot to the hospital bed were opened when she reached the final stages of labor, Mrs. Villegas said.

“I felt like they were treating me like a criminal person,” Mrs. Villegas said, speaking in Spanish in a telephone interview. The phone in her room was turned off, and she was not permitted to speak with her husband when he came to retrieve their newborn son from the hospital on July 7 as she returned to jail, she said.

As Mrs. Villegas left the hospital, a nurse offered her a breast pump but a sheriff’s deputy said she could not take it into the jail, Mrs. Villegas said.

Mr. Ozment, the lawyer, said Mrs. Villegas would never have been detained without the 287G cooperation agreement.

“Whether this lady was documented or undocumented should not affect how she was treated in her late pregnant condition and as she was going through labor and bonding with her new baby,” Mr. Ozment said.

On July 8, Mrs. Villegas was taken to court, where she pleaded guilty to driving without a license and was sentenced to time served. Immigration agents immediately released her while a deportation case proceeds, following a policy adopted last year by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to avoid separating babies from nursing mothers.

Ms. Weikal said Mrs. Villegas’s jail stay was prolonged by the Independence Day holiday weekend, when the courts were closed.

“There is a perception that she was treated different from other inmates, and it just is not true,” Ms. Weikal said. “Unfortunately the business of corrections is that families are separated. It’s not pretty, it’s not understandable to a lot of people.”

She said that it was standard procedure to bar medical equipment like a breast pump from the jail.

More than 60,000 illegal immigrants have been identified for deportation since 2006 through 287G cooperation programs, said Richard Rocha, a spokesman for the federal immigration agency. Most of the agreements are aimed at increasing the screening of immigrant convicts serving sentences in local jails, in order to speed their deportation. Some, like Nashville’s, provide for immigration screening right after any foreign-born person is arrested.

Arrests of immigrants have increased rapidly in Tennessee since early 2006, when the state stopped allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, after five years when they had been able to drive legally.

Employers pushing back against anti-immigration crowd

Immigration Works USA is a new business coalition with a goal to enact meaningful immigration reform, for both low skilled and high skilled labor. It is trying to push back against the anti-immigration, or at least anti-illegal immigration, movement which has resulted in, among other things, chaining an illegal woman to her hospital bed while she delivered her baby.

The organization’s strategy is as follows:

Strengthen and expand our network. Jumpstart employer coalitions in states where they don't exist. Provide fledgling chapters with toolkits, templates and other how-to advice. Help with recruiting and, where needed, modest seed funding for new coalitions.

Messaging - local and national. Conduct public opinion research, develop messages, provide local chapters with talking points and media training. Help the coalitions document the economic benefits of immigration to their states. Help them speak out about the damage done locally by enforcement-only policies. Create an arsenal of tailored TV and radio spots.

An early warning system: mapping and tracking local battles. Which state immigration bills are moving,which local candidate is gearing up to use immigration as a wedge issue - ImmigrationWorks' local roots put us in a position to know before anyone else. Our state-based chapters are our eyes and ears on the ground, tracking ongoing battles and predicting where others are about to break out.

Building a grassroots database. The key to winning is an army of engaged, articulate employers prepared to contact their members of Congress and make the case for immigration reform. These troops must be recruited state by state, business by business, peer-to-peer. Key tools: regional training and mobilization sessions, electronic town halls, web "microsites," then sustained follow-up communication to maintain interest and engagement. The goal: a national database that can produce both quantity and quality - the e-mails, faxes and phone calls to Congress we need to win.

On July 6 the New York Times reviewed efforts by businesses to push back, in states like Arizona:

Last week, an Arizona employers’ group submitted more than 284,000 signatures — far more than needed — for a November ballot initiative that would make the 2007 law even friendlier to employers.

Also in recent months, immigration bills were defeated in Indiana and Kentucky — states where control of the legislatures is split between Democrats and Republicans — due in part to warnings from business groups that the measures could hurt the economy.

In Oklahoma, chambers of commerce went to federal court and last month won an order suspending sections of a 2007 state law that would require employers to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new hires. In California, businesses have turned to elected officials, including the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, to lobby federal immigration authorities against raiding long-established companies.

While much of the employer activity has been at the grass-roots level, a national federation has been created to bring together the local and state business groups that have sprung up over the last year.

“These employers are now starting to realize that nobody is in a better position than they are to make the case that they do need the workers and they do want to be on the right side of the law,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of the new federation, ImmigrationWorks USA.

July 16, 2008

Hispanic employment figures worsen

The Pew Hispanic Center recently put out a report on the Hispanic labor force. It says that the Hispanic unemployment rate has moved sharply upwards. “Due mainly to a slump in the construction industry, the unemployment rate for Hispanics in the U.S. rose to 6.5% in the first quarter of 2008, well above the 4.7% rate for all non-Hispanics. As recently as the end of 2006, the gap between those two rates had shrunk to an historic low of 0.5 percentage points--4.9% for Latinos compared with 4.4% for non-Latinos, on a seasonally adjusted basis.”

It goes on to report…..

The spike in Hispanic unemployment has hit immigrants especially hard. Their unemployment rate was 7.5% in the first quarter of this year,2 marking the first time since 2003 that a higher percentage of foreign-born Latinos was unemployed than native-born Latinos. Some 52.5% of working age Latinos (ages 16 and older) are immigrants. Latinos make up 14.2% of the U.S. labor force.

Despite the disproportionate impact that the economic slowdown has had on immigrant Latino workers, there are no signs that they are leaving the U.S. labor market. Their labor force participation rate--that is, the percentage of the immigrant working-age Latino population either employed or actively seeking employment--has remained steady. However, they now play a smaller role in the growth of the Hispanic workforce than in recent years.

The latest trends in the labor market represent a dramatic reversal for Latino workers. Hispanics lost nearly 250,000 jobs over the past year because of the recent slump in the construction sector. For several years, construction was the mainstay of job growth for Hispanic workers, especially those who are immigrants. Even as home building stumbled in 2006, Hispanics found nearly 300,000 new jobs in the construction industry from the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007. The ongoing slump in construction over the past year has wiped out those gains, virtually in their entirety.

Mexican immigrants have suffered the effects of the construction downturn most keenly. Latino workers who exited construction in 2007 included about 221,000 immigrants. Some 152,000 of those workers had migrated from Mexico. Latino immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2000 or later (from any country) lost 69,000 jobs in construction. For each of these groups of immigrants the jobs lost in construction accounted for the majority of losses from the first quarters of 2007 to the first quarter of 2008.

Labor market outcomes for Hispanic women appear to be worse than for men during 2007. They left the labor force in greater proportion and experienced greater increases in unemployment than did Hispanic men. Some 130,000 more Latino women became unemployed in 2007, and their unemployment rate increased from 5.6% to 7.0%.

July 13, 2008

Mass convictions after the Postville raid – railroading the defendants

Shortly after the May 12 raid of Agricproecessors, close to 400 arrested illegal workers are tried and pled guilty to criminal charges. One of the professional trnaslaters, Erik Camayd-Freixas, found the judicial process so unnervingly abusive of defendant rights that he wrote an 8,000 word account of it. The NY Times published an article on July 11th about his account. The Sanctuary posted a copy of the entire account, which I have coped below.


Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D.
Florida International University
June 13, 2008

On Monday, May 12, 2008, at 10:00 a.m., in an operation involving some 900 agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executed a raid of Agriprocessors Inc, the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse and meat packing plant located in the town of Postville, Iowa. The raid ...officials boasted... was "the largest single-site operation of its kind in American history." At that same hour, 26 federally certified interpreters from all over the country were en route to the small neighboring city of Waterloo, Iowa, having no idea what their mission was about. The investigation had started more than a year earlier. Raid preparations had begun in December. The Clerk's Office of the U.S. District Court had contracted the interpreters a month ahead, but was not at liberty to tell us the whole truth, lest the impending raid be compromised. The operation was led by ICE, which belongs to the executive branch, whereas the U.S. District Court, belonging to the judicial branch, had to formulate its own official reason for participating. Accordingly, the Court had to move for two weeks to a remote location as part of a "Continuity of Operation Exercise" in case they were ever disrupted by an emergency, which in Iowa is likely to be a tornado or flood. That is what we were told, but, frankly, I was not prepared for a disaster of such a different kind, one which was entirely man-made.

I arrived late that Monday night and missed the 8pm interpreters briefing.

I was instructed by phone to meet at 7am in the hotel lobby and carpool to the National Cattle Congress (NCC) where we would begin our work. We arrived at the heavily guarded compound, went through security, and gathered inside the retro "Electric Park Ballroom" where a makeshift court had been set up. The Clerk of Court, who coordinated the interpreters, said: "Have you seen the news? There was an immigration raid yesterday at 10am. They have some 400 detainees here. We'll be working late conducting initial appearances for the next few days." He then gave us a cursory tour of the compound. The NCC is a 60-acre cattle fairground that had been transformed into a sort of concentration camp or detention center. Fenced in behind the ballroom / courtroom were 23 trailers from federal authorities, including two set up as sentencing courts; various Homeland Security buses and an "incident response" truck; scores of ICE agents and U.S. Marshals; and in the background two large buildings: a pavilion where agents and prosecutors had established a command center; and a gymnasium filled with tight rows of cots where some 300 male detainees were kept, the women being housed in county jails. Later the NCC board complained to the local newspaper that they had been "misled" by the government when they leased the grounds purportedly for Homeland Security training.

Echoing what I think was the general feeling, one of my fellow interpreters would later exclaim: "When I saw what it was really about, my heart sank..." Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound (only a few journalists came to court the following days, notepad in hand). Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some being relatives (various Tajtaj, Xicay, Sajché, Sologüí...), some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment. They all spoke Spanish, a few rather laboriously. It dawned on me that, aside from their nationality, which was imposed on their people in the 19th century, they too were Native Americans, in shackles. They stood out in stark racial contrast with the rest of us as they started their slow penguin march across the makeshift court. "Sad spectacle" I heard a colleague say, reading my mind. They had all waived their right to be indicted by a grand jury and accepted instead an information or simple charging document by the U.S. Attorney, hoping to be quickly deported since they had families to support back home. But it was not to be. They were criminally charged with "aggravated identity theft" and "Social Security fraud" ...charges they did not understand... and, frankly, neither could I. Everyone wondered how it would all play out.

We got off to a slow start that first day, because ICE's barcode booking system malfunctioned, and the documents had to be manually sorted and processed with the help of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Consequently, less than a third of the detainees were ready for arraignment that Tuesday. There were more than enough interpreters at that point, so we rotated in shifts of three interpreters per hearing. Court adjourned shortly after 4pm. However, the prosecution worked overnight, planning on a 7am to midnight court marathon the next day.

I was eager to get back to my hotel room to find out more about the case, since the day's repetitive hearings afforded little information, and everyone there was mostly refraining from comment. There was frequent but sketchy news on local TV. A colleague had suggested The Des Moines Register. So I went to DesMoinesRegister.com and started reading all the 20+ articles, as they appeared each day, and the 57-page ICE Search Warrant Application. These were the vital statistics. Of Agriprocessors' 968 current employees, about 75% were illegal immigrants. There were 697 arrest warrants, but late-shift workers had not arrived, so "only" 390 were arrested: 314 men and 76 women; 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, four Ukrainians, and three Israelis who were not seen in court. Some were released on humanitarian grounds: 56 mostly mothers with unattended children, a few with medical reasons, and 12 juveniles were temporarily released with ankle monitors or directly turned over for deportation. In all, 306 were held for prosecution. Only five of the 390 originally arrested had any kind of prior criminal record. There remained 307 outstanding warrants.

This was the immediate collateral damage. Postville, Iowa (pop. 2,273), where nearly half the people worked at Agriprocessors, had lost 1/3 of its population by Tuesday morning. Businesses were empty, amid looming concerns that if the plant closed it would become a ghost town. Beside those arrested, many had fled the town in fear. Several families had taken refuge at St. Bridget's Catholic Church, terrified, sleeping on pews and refusing to leave for days. Volunteers from the community served food and organized activities for the children. At the local high school, only three of the 15 Latino students came back on Tuesday, while at the elementary and middle school, 120 of the 363 children were absent. In the following days the principal went around town on the school bus and gathered 70 students after convincing the parents to let them come back to school; 50 remained unaccounted for. Some American parents complained that their children were traumatized by the sudden disappearance of so many of their school friends. The principal reported the same reaction in the classrooms, saying that for the children it was as if ten of their classmates had suddenly died. Counselors were brought in. American children were having nightmares that their parents too were being taken away. The superintendant said the school district's future was unclear: "This literally blew our town away." In some cases both parents were picked up and small children were left behind for up to 72 hours. Typically, the mother would be released "on humanitarian grounds" with an ankle GPS monitor, pending prosecution and deportation, while the husband took first turn in serving his prison sentence. Meanwhile the mother would have no income and could not work to provide for her children. Some of the children were born in the U.S. and are American citizens. Sometimes one parent was a deportable alien while the other was not. "Hundreds of families were torn apart by this raid," said a Catholic nun. "The humanitarian impact of this raid is obvious to anyone in Postville. The economic impact will soon be evident."

But this was only the surface damage. Alongside the many courageous actions and expressions of humanitarian concern in the true American spirit, the news blogs were filled with snide remarks of racial prejudice and bigotry, poorly disguised beneath an empty rhetoric of misguided patriotism, not to mention the insults to anyone who publicly showed compassion, safely hurled from behind a cowardly online nickname. One could feel the moral fabric of society coming apart beneath it all.

The more I found out, the more I felt blindsighted into an assignment of which I wanted no part. Even though I understood the rationale for all the secrecy, I also knew that a contract interpreter has the right to refuse a job which conflicts with his moral intuitions. But I had been deprived of that opportunity. Now I was already there, far from home, and holding a half-spent $1,800 plane ticket. So I faced a frustrating dilemma. I seriously considered withdrawing from the assignment for the first time in my 23 years as a federally certified interpreter, citing conflict of interest. In fact, I have both an ethical and contractual obligation to withdraw if a conflict of interest exists which compromises my neutrality. Appended to my contract are the Standards for Performance and Professional Responsibility for Contract Court Interpreters in the Federal Courts, where it states: "Interpreters shall disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest... and shall not serve in any matter in which they have a conflict of interest." The question was did I have one. Well, at that point there was not enough evidence to make that determination. After all, these are illegal aliens and should be deported -no argument there, and hence no conflict. But should they be criminalized and imprisoned? Well, if they committed a crime and were fairly adjudicated... But all that remained to be seen. In any case, none of it would shake my impartiality or prevent me from faithfully discharging my duties. In all my years as a court interpreter, I have taken front row seat in countless criminal cases ranging from rape, capital murder and mayhem, to terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking. I am not the impressionable kind. Moreover, as a professor of interpreting, I have confronted my students with every possible conflict scenario, or so I thought. The truth is that nothing could have prepared me for the prospect of helping our government put hundreds of innocent people in jail. In my ignorance and disbelief, I reluctantly decided to stay the course and see what happened next.

Wednesday, May 14, our second day in court, was to be a long one. The interpreters were divided into two shifts, 8am to 3pm and 3pm to 10pm. I chose the latter. Through the day, the procession continued, ten by ten, hour after hour, the same charges, the same recitation from the magistrates, the same faces, chains and shackles, on the defendants. There was little to remind us that they were actually 306 individuals, except that occasionally, as though to break the monotony, one would dare to speak for the others and beg to be deported quickly so that they could feed their families back home. One who turned out to be a minor was bound over for deportation. The rest would be prosecuted. Later in the day three groups of women were brought, shackled in the same manner. One of them, whose husband was also arrested, was released to care for her children, ages two and five, uncertain of their whereabouts. Several men and women were weeping, but two women were particularly grief stricken. One of them was sobbing and would repeatedly struggle to bring a sleeve to her nose, but her wrists shackled around her waist simply would not reach; so she just dripped until she was taken away with the rest. The other one, a Ukrainian woman, was held and arraigned separately when a Russian telephonic interpreter came on. She spoke softly into a cellular phone, while the interpreter told her story in English over the speakerphone. Her young daughter, gravely ill, had lost her hair and was too weak to walk. She had taken her to Moscow and Kiev but to no avail. She was told her child needed an operation or would soon die. She had come to America to work and raise the money to save her daughter back in Ukraine. In every instance, detainees who cried did so for their children, never for themselves.

The next day we started early, at 6:45am. We were told that we had to finish the hearings by 10am. Thus far the work had oddly resembled a judicial assembly line where the meat packers were mass processed. But things were about to get a lot more personal as we prepared to interpret for individual attorney-client conferences. In those first three days, interpreters had been pairing up with defense attorneys to help interview their clients. Each of the 18 court appointed attorneys represented 17 defendants on average. By now, the clients had been sent to several state and county prisons throughout eastern Iowa, so we had to interview them in jail. The attorney with whom I was working had clients in Des Moines and wanted to be there first thing in the morning. So a colleague and I drove the 2.5 hours that evening and stayed overnight in a hotel outside the city. We met the attorney in jail Friday morning, but the clients had not been accepted there and had been sent instead to a state penitentiary in Newton, another 45-minute drive. While we waited to be admitted, the attorney pointed out the reason why the prosecution wanted to finish arraignments by 10am Thursday: according to the writ of habeas corpus they had 72 hours from Monday's raid to charge the prisoners or release them for deportation (only a handful would be so lucky). The right of habeas corpus, but of course! It dawned on me that we were paid overtime, adding hours to the day, in a mad rush to abridge habeas corpus, only to help put more workers in jail. Now I really felt bad. But it would soon get worse. I was about to bear the brunt of my conflict of interest.

It came with my first jail interview. The purpose was for the attorney to explain the uniform Plea Agreement that the government was offering. The explanation, which we repeated over and over to each client, went like this. There are three possibilities. If you plead guilty to the charge of "knowingly using a false Social Security number," the government will withdraw the heavier charge of "aggravated identity theft," and you will serve 5 months in jail, be deported without a hearing, and placed on supervised release for 3 years. If you plead not guilty, you could wait in jail 6 to 8 months for a trial (without right of bail since you are on an immigration detainer). Even if you win at trial, you will still be deported, and could end up waiting longer in jail than if you just pled guilty. You would also risk losing at trial and receiving a 2-year minimum sentence, before being deported. Some clients understood their "options" better than others.

That first interview, though, took three hours. The client, a Guatemalan peasant afraid for his family, spent most of that time weeping at our table, in a corner of the crowded jailhouse visiting room. How did he come here from Guatemala? "I walked." What? "I walked for a month and ten days until I crossed the river." We understood immediately how desperate his family's situation was. He crossed alone, met other immigrants, and hitched a truck ride to Dallas, then Postville, where he heard there was sure work. He slept in an apartment hallway with other immigrants until employed. He had scarcely been working a couple of months when he was arrested. Maybe he was lucky: another man who began that Monday had only been working for 20 minutes. "I just wanted to work a year or two, save, and then go back to my family, but it was not to be." His case and that of a million others could simply be solved by a temporary work permit as part of our much overdue immigration reform. "The Good Lord knows I was just working and not doing anyone any harm." This man, like many others, was in fact not guilty. "Knowingly" and "intent" are necessary elements of the charges, but most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security number was or what purpose it served. This worker simply had the papers filled out for him at the plant, since he could not read or write Spanish, let alone English. But the lawyer still had to advise him that pleading guilty was in his best interest. He was unable to make a decision. "You all do and undo," he said. "So you can do whatever you want with me." To him we were part of the system keeping him from being deported back to his country, where his children, wife, mother, and sister depended on him. He was their sole support and did not know how they were going to make it with him in jail for 5 months. None of the "options" really mattered to him. Caught between despair and hopelessness, he just wept. He had failed his family, and was devastated. I went for some napkins, but he refused them. I offered him a cup of soda, which he superstitiously declined, saying it could be "poisoned." His Native American spirit was broken and he could no longer think. He stared for a while at the signature page pretending to read it, although I knew he was actually praying for guidance and protection. Before he signed with a scribble, he said: "God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine." There was my conflict of interest, well put by a weeping, illiterate man.

We worked that day for as long as our emotional fortitude allowed, and we had to come back to a full day on Sunday to interview the rest of the clients. Many of the Guatemalans had the same predicament. One of them, a 19-year-old, worried that his parents were too old to work, and that he was the only support for his family back home. We will never know how many of the 293 Guatemalans had legitimate asylum claims for fear of persecution, back in a country stigmatized by the worst human rights situation in the hemisphere, a by-product of the US-backed Contra wars of 1980s' Central America under the old domino theory. For three decades, anti-insurgent government death squads have ravaged the countryside, killing tens of thousands and displacing almost two million peasants. Even as we proceeded with the hearings during those two weeks in May, news coming out of Guatemala reported farm workers being assassinated for complaining publicly about their working conditions. Not only have we ignored the many root causes of illegal immigration, we also will never know which of these deportations will turn out to be a death sentence, or how many of these displaced workers are last survivors with no family or village to return to.

Another client, a young Mexican, had an altogether different case. He had worked at the plant for ten years and had two American born daughters, a 2-year-old and a newborn. He had a good case with Immigration for an adjustment of status which would allow him to stay. But if he took the Plea Agreement, he would lose that chance and face deportation as a felon convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude." On the other hand, if he pled "not guilty" he had to wait several months in jail for trial, and risk getting a 2-year sentence. After an agonizing decision, he concluded that he had to take the 5-month deal and deportation, because as he put it, "I cannot be away from my children for so long." His case was complicated; it needed research in immigration law, a change in the Plea Agreement, and, above all, more time. There were other similar cases in court that week. I remember reading that immigration lawyers were alarmed that the detainees were being rushed into a plea without adequate consultation on the immigration consequences. Even the criminal defense attorneys had limited opportunity to meet with clients: in jail there were limited visiting hours and days; at the compound there was little time before and after hearings, and little privacy due to the constant presence of agents. There were 17 cases for each attorney, and the Plea offer was only good for 7 days. In addition, criminal attorneys are not familiar with immigration work and vice versa, but had to make do since immigration lawyers were denied access to these criminal proceedings.

In addition, the prosecutors would not accept any changes to the Plea Agreement. In fact, some lawyers, seeing that many of their clients were not guilty, requested an Alford plea, whereby defendants can plead guilty in order to accept the prosecution's offer, but without having to lie under oath and admit to something they did not do. That would not change the 5-month sentence, but at least it preserves the person's integrity and dignity. The proposal was rejected. Of course, if they allowed Alford pleas to go on public record, the incongruence of the charges would be exposed and find its way into the media. Officially, the ICE prosecutors said the Plea Agreement was directed from the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., that they were not authorized to change it locally, and that the DOJ would not make any case by case exceptions when a large number of defendants are being "fast-tracked." Presumably if you gave different terms to one individual, the others will want the same. This position, however, laid bare one of the critical problems with this new practice of "fast-tracking." Even real criminals have the right of severance: when co-defendants have different degrees of responsibility, there is an inherent conflict of interest, and they can ask to be prosecuted separately as different cases, each with a different attorney. In fast-tracking, however, the right of severance is circumvented because each defendant already has a different case number on paper, only that they are processed together, 10 cases at a time. At this point, it is worth remembering also that even real criminals have an 8th Amendment right to reasonable bail, but not illegal workers, because their immigration detainer makes bail a moot issue. We had already circumvented habeas corpus by doubling the court's business hours. What about the 6th Amendment right to a "speedy trial"? In many states "speedy" means 90 days, but in federal law it is vaguely defined, potentially exceeding the recommended sentence, given the backlog of real cases. This served as another loophole to force a guilty plea. Many of these workers were sole earners begging to be deported, desperate to feed their families, for whom every day counted. "If you want to see your children or don't want your family to starve, sign here" -that is what their deal amounted to. Their Plea Agreement was coerced.

We began week two Monday, May 19th. Those interpreters who left after the first week were spared the sentencing hearings that went on through Thursday. Those who came in fresh the second week were spared the jail visits over the weekend. Those of us who stayed both weeks came back from the different jails burdened by a close personal contact that judges and prosecutors do not get to experience: each individual tragedy multiplied by 306 cases. One of my colleagues began the day by saying "I feel a tremendous solidarity with these people." Had we lost our impartiality? Not at all: that was our impartial and probably unanimous judgment. We had seen attorneys hold back tears and weep alongside their clients. We would see judges, prosecutors, clerks, and marshals do their duty, sometimes with a heavy heart, sometimes at least with mixed feelings, but always with a particular solemnity not accorded to the common criminals we all are used to encountering in the judicial system. Everyone was extremely professional and outwardly appreciative of the interpreters. We developed among ourselves and with the clerks, with whom we worked closely, a camaraderie and good humor that kept us going. Still, that Monday morning I felt downtrodden by the sheer magnitude of the events. Unexpectedly, a sentencing hearing lifted my spirits.

I decided to do sentences on Trailer 2 with a judge I knew from real criminal trials in Iowa. The defendants were brought in 5 at a time, because there was not enough room for 10. The judge verified that they still wanted to plead guilty, and asked counsel to confirm their Plea Agreement. The defense attorney said that he had expected a much lower sentence, but that he was forced to accept the agreement in the best interest of his clients. For us who knew the background of the matter, that vague objection, which was all that the attorney could put on record, spoke volumes. After accepting the Plea Agreement and before imposing sentence, the judge gave the defendants the right of allocution. Most of them chose not to say anything, but one who was the more articulate said humbly: "Your honor, you know that we are here because of the need of our families. I beg that you find it in your heart to send us home before too long, because we have a responsibility to our children, to give them an education, clothing, shelter, and food." The good judge explained that unfortunately he was not free to depart from the sentence provided for by their Plea Agreement. Technically, what he meant was that this was a binding 11(C)(1)(c) Plea Agreement: he had to accept it or reject it as a whole. But if he rejected it, he would be exposing the defendants to a trial against their will. His hands were tied, but in closing he said onto them very deliberately: "I appreciate the fact that you are very hard working people, who have come here to do no harm. And I thank you for coming to this country to work hard. Unfortunately, you broke a law in the process, and now I have the obligation to give you this sentence. But I hope that the U.S. government has at least treated you kindly and with respect, and that this time goes by quickly for you, so that soon you may be reunited with your family and friends." The defendants thanked him, and I saw their faces change from shame to admiration, their dignity restored. I think we were all vindicated at that moment.

Before the judge left that afternoon, I had occasion to talk to him and bring to his attention my concern over what I had learned in the jail interviews. At that point I realized how precious the interpreter's impartiality truly is, and what a privileged perspective it affords. In our common law adversarial system, only the judge, the jury, and the interpreter are presumed impartial. But the judge is immersed in the framework of the legal system, whereas the interpreter is a layperson, an outsider, a true representative of the common citizen, much like "a jury of his peers." Yet, contrary to the jury, who only knows the evidence on record and is generally unfamiliar with the workings of the law, the interpreter is an informed layperson. Moreover, the interpreter is the only one who gets to see both sides of the coin up close, precisely because he is the only participant who is not a decision maker, and is even precluded, by his oath of impartiality and neutrality, from ever influencing the decisions of others. That is why judges in particular appreciate the interpreter's perspective as an impartial and informed layperson, for it provides a rare glimpse at how the innards of the legal system look from the outside. I was no longer sorry to have participated in my capacity as an interpreter. I realized that I had been privileged to bear witness to historic events from such a unique vantage point and that because of its uniqueness I now had a civic duty to make it known. Such is the spirit that inspired this essay.

That is also what prompted my brief conversation with the judge: "Your honor, I am concerned from my attorney-client interviews that many of these people are clearly not guilty, and yet they have no choice but to plead out." He understood immediately and, not surprisingly, the seasoned U.S. District Court Judge spoke as someone who had already wrestled with all the angles. He said: "You know, I don't agree with any of this or with the way it is being done. In fact, I ruled in a previous case that to charge somebody with identity theft, the person had to at least know of the real owner of the Social Security number. But I was reverted in another district and yet upheld in a third." I understood that the issue was a matter of judicial contention. The charge of identity theft seemed from the beginning incongruous to me as an informed, impartial layperson, but now a U.S. District Court Judge agreed. As we bid each other farewell, I kept thinking of what he said. I soon realized that he had indeed hit the nail on the head; he had given me, as it were, the last piece of the puzzle.

It works like this. By handing down the inflated charge of "aggravated identity theft," which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison, the government forced the defendants into pleading guilty to the lesser charge and accepting 5 months in jail. Clearly, without the inflated charge, the government had no bargaining leverage, because the lesser charge by itself, using a false Social Security number, carries only a discretionary sentence of 0-6 months. The judges would be free to impose sentence within those guidelines, depending on the circumstances of each case and any prior record. Virtually all the defendants would have received only probation and been immediately deported. In fact, the government's offer at the higher end of the guidelines (one month shy of the maximum sentence) was indeed no bargain. What is worse, the inflated charge, via the binding 11(C)(1)(c) Plea Agreement, reduced the judges to mere bureaucrats, pronouncing the same litany over and over for the record in order to legalize the proceedings, but having absolutely no discretion or decision-making power. As a citizen, I want our judges to administer justice, not a federal agency. When the executive branch forces the hand of the judiciary, the result is abuse of power and arbitrariness, unworthy of a democracy founded upon the constitutional principle of checks and balances.,

To an impartial and informed layperson, the process resembled a lottery of justice: if the Social Security number belonged to someone else, you were charged with identity theft and went to jail; if by luck it was a vacant number, you would get only Social Security fraud and were released for deportation. In this manner, out of 297 who were charged on time, 270 went to jail. Bothered by the arbitrariness of that heavier charge, I went back to the ICE Search Warrant Application (pp. 35-36), and what I found was astonishing. On February 20, 2008, ICE agents received social security "no match" information for 737 employees, including 147 using numbers confirmed by the SSA as invalid (never issued to a person) and 590 using valid SSNs, "however the numbers did not match the name of the employee reported by Agriprocessors..." "This analysis would not account for the possibility that a person may have falsely used the identity of an actual person's name and SSN." "In my training and expertise, I know it is not uncommon for aliens to purchase identity documents which include SSNs that match the name assigned to the number." Yet, ICE agents checked Accurint, the powerful identity database used by law enforcement, and found that 983 employees that year had non-matching SSNs. Then they conducted a search of the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network for reporting incidents of identity theft. "The search revealed that a person who was assigned one of the social security numbers used by an employee of Agriprocessors has reported his/her identity being stolen." That is, out of 983 only 1 number (0.1%) happened to coincide by chance with a reported identity theft. The charge was clearly unfounded; and the raid, a fishing expedition. "On April 16, 2008, the US filed criminal complaints against 697 employees, charging them with unlawfully using SSNs in violation of Title 42 USC §408(a)(7)(B); aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 USC §1028A(a)(1); and/or possession or use of false identity documents for purposes of employment in violation of 18 USC §1546."

Created by Congress in an Act of 1998, the new federal offense of identity theft, as described by the DOJ (http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html), bears no relation to the Postville cases. It specifically states: "knowingly uses a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit any unlawful activity or felony" [18 USC §1028(a)]. The offense clearly refers to harmful, felonious acts, such as obtaining credit under another person's identity. Obtaining work, however, is not an "unlawful activity." No way would a grand jury find probable cause of identity theft here. But with the promise of faster deportation, their ignorance of the legal system, and the limited opportunity to consult with counsel before arraignment, all the workers, without exception, were led to waive their 5th Amendment right to grand jury indictment on felony charges. Waiting for a grand jury meant months in jail on an immigration detainer, without the possibility of bail. So the attorneys could not recommend it as a defense strategy. Similarly, defendants have the right to a status hearing before a judge, to determine probable cause, within ten days of arraignment, but their Plea Agreement offer from the government was only good for... seven days. Passing it up, meant risking 2 years in jail. As a result, the frivolous charge of identity theft was assured never to undergo the judicial test of probable cause. Not only were defendants and judges bound to accept the Plea Agreement, there was also absolutely no defense strategy available to counsel. Once the inflated charge was handed down, all the pieces fell into place like a row of dominoes. Even the court was banking on it when it agreed to participate, because if a good number of defendants asked for a grand jury or trial, the system would be overwhelmed. In short, "fast-tracking" had worked like a dream.

It is no secret that the Postville ICE raid was a pilot operation, to be replicated elsewhere, with kinks ironed out after lessons learned. Next time, "fast-tracking" will be even more relentless. Never before has illegal immigration been criminalized in this fashion. It is no longer enough to deport them: we first have to put them in chains. At first sight it may seem absurd to take productive workers and keep them in jail at taxpayers' expense. But the economics and politics of the matter are quite different from such rational assumptions. A quick look at the ICE Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Report (www.ice.gov) shows an agency that has grown to 16,500 employees and a $5 billion annual budget, since it was formed under Homeland Security in March 2003, "as a law enforcement agency for the post-9/11 era, to integrate enforcement authorities against criminal and terrorist activities, including the fights against human trafficking and smuggling, violent transnational gangs and sexual predators who prey on children" (17). No doubt, ICE fulfills an extremely important and noble duty. The question is why tarnish its stellar reputation by targeting harmless illegal workers. The answer is economics and politics. After 9/11 we had to create a massive force with readiness "to prevent, prepare for and respond to a wide range of catastrophic incidents, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters, pandemics and other such significant events that require large-scale government and law enforcement response" (23). The problem is that disasters, criminality, and terrorism do not provide enough daily business to maintain the readiness and muscle tone of this expensive force. For example, "In FY07, ICE human trafficking investigations resulted in 164 arrests and 91 convictions" (17). Terrorism related arrests were not any more substantial. The real numbers are in immigration: "In FY07, ICE removed 276,912 illegal aliens" (4). ICE is under enormous pressure to turn out statistical figures that might justify a fair utilization of its capabilities, resources, and ballooning budget. For example, the Report boasts 102,777 cases "eliminated" from the fugitive alien population in FY07, "quadrupling" the previous year's number, only to admit a page later that 73,284 were "resolved" by simply "taking those cases off the books" after determining that they "no longer met the definition of an ICE fugitive" (4-5).

De facto, the rationale is: we have the excess capability; we are already paying for it; ergo, use it we must. And using it we are: since FY06 "ICE has introduced an aggressive and effective campaign to enforce immigration law within the nation's interior, with a top-level focus on criminal aliens, fugitive aliens and those who pose a threat to the safety of the American public and the stability of American communities" (6). Yet, as of October 1, 2007, the "case backlog consisted of 594,756 ICE fugitive aliens" (5). So again, why focus on illegal workers who pose no threat? Elementary: they are easy pickings. True criminal and fugitive aliens have to be picked up one at a time, whereas raiding a slaughterhouse is like hitting a small jackpot: it beefs up the numbers. "In FY07, ICE enacted a multi-year strategy: ...worksite enforcement initiatives that target employers who defy immigration law and the "jobs magnet" that draws illegal workers across the border" (iii). Yet, as the saying goes, corporations don't go to jail. Very few individuals on the employer side have ever been prosecuted. In the case of Agriprocessors, the Search Warrant Application cites only vague allegations by alien informers against plant supervisors (middle and upper management are insulated). Moreover, these allegations pertain mostly to petty state crimes and labor infringements. Union and congressional leaders contend that the federal raid actually interfered with an ongoing state investigation of child labor and wage violations, designed to improve conditions. Meanwhile, the underlying charge of "knowingly possessing or using false employment documents with intent to deceive" places the blame on the workers and holds corporate individuals harmless. It is clear from the scope of the warrant that the thrust of the case against the employer is strictly monetary: to redress part of the cost of the multimillion dollar raid. This objective is fully in keeping with the target stated in the Annual Report: "In FY07, ICE dramatically increased penalties against employers whose hiring processes violated the law, securing fines and judgments of more than $30 million" (iv).

Much of the case against Agriprocessors, in the Search Warrant Application, is based upon "No-Match" letters sent by the Social Security Administration to the employer. In August 2007, DHS issued a Final Rule declaring "No-Match" letters sufficient notice of possible alien harboring. But current litigation (AFL-CIO v. Chertoff) secured a federal injunction against the Rule, arguing that such error-prone method would unduly hurt both legal workers and employers. As a result the "No-Match" letters may not be considered sufficient evidence of harboring. The lawsuit also charges that DHS overstepped its authority and assumed the role of Congress in an attempt to turn the SSA into an immigration law enforcement agency. Significantly, in referring to the Final Rule, the Annual Report states that ICE "enacted" a strategy to target employers (iii); thereby using a word ("enacted") that implies lawmaking authority. The effort was part of ICE's "Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces," an initiative targeting employees, not employers, and implying that illegal workers may use false SSNs to access benefits that belong to legal residents. This false contention serves to obscure an opposite and long-ignored statistics: the value of Social Security and Medicare contributions by illegal workers. People often wonder where those funds go, but have no idea how much they amount to. Well, they go into the SSA's "Earnings Suspense File," which tracks payroll tax deductions from payers with mismatched SSNs. By October 2006, the Earnings Suspense File had accumulated $586 billion, up from just $8 billion in 1991. The money itself, which currently surpasses $600 billion, is credited to, and comingled with, the general SSA Trust Fund. SSA actuaries now calculate that illegal workers are currently subsidizing the retirement of legal residents at a rate of $8.9 billion per year, for which the illegal (no-match) workers will never receive benefits.

Again, the big numbers are not on the employers' side. The best way to stack the stats is to go after the high concentrations of illegal workers: food processing plants, factory sweatshops, construction sites, janitorial services-the easy pickings. September 1, 2006, ICE raid crippled a rural Georgia town: 120 arrested. Dec. 12, 2006, ICE agents executed warrants at Swift & Co. meat processing facilities in six states: 1,297 arrested, 274 "charged with identity theft and other crimes" (8). March 6, 2007 ...The Boston Globe reports...300 ICE agents raided a sweatshop in New Bedford: 361 mostly Guatemalan workers arrested, many flown to Texas for deportation, dozens of children stranded. As the Annual Report graph shows, worksite raids escalated after FY06, signaling the arrival of "a New Era in immigration enforcement" (1). Since 2002, administrative arrests increased tenfold, while criminal arrests skyrocketed thirty-fivefold, from 25 to 863. Still, in FY07, only 17% of detainees were criminally arrested, whereas in Postville it was 100% ..a "success" made possible by "fast-tracking".. with felony charges rendering workers indistinguishable on paper from real "criminal aliens." Simply put, the criminalization of illegal workers is just a cheap way of boosting ICE "criminal alien" arrest statistics. But after Postville, it is no longer a matter of clever paperwork and creative accounting: this time around 130 man-years of prison time were handed down pursuant to a bogus charge. The double whammy consists in beefing up an additional and meatier statistics showcased in the Report: "These incarcerated aliens have been involved in dangerous criminal activity such as murder, predatory sexual offenses, narcotics trafficking, alien smuggling and a host of other crimes" (6). Never mind the character assassination: next year when we read the FY08 report, we can all revel in the splendid job the agency is doing, keeping us safe, and blindly beef up its budget another billion. After all, they have already arrested 1,755 of these "criminals" in this May's raids alone.

The agency is now poised to deliver on the New Era. In FY07, ICE grew by 10 percent, hiring 1,600 employees, including over 450 new deportation officers, 700 immigration enforcement agents, and 180 new attorneys. At least 85% of the new hires are directly allocated to immigration enforcement. "These additional personnel move ICE closer to target staffing levels"(35). Moreover, the agency is now diverting to this offensive resources earmarked for other purposes such as disaster relief. Wondering where the 23 trailers came from that were used in the Iowa "fast-tracking" operation? "In FY07, one of ICE's key accomplishments was the Mobile Continuity of Operations Emergency Response Pilot Project, which entails the deployment of a fleet of trailers outfitted with emergency supplies, pre-positioned at ICE locations nationwide for ready deployment in the event of a nearby emergency situation" (23). Too late for New Orleans, but there was always Postville... Hopefully the next time my fellow interpreters hear the buzzwords "Continuity of Operations" they will at least know what they are getting into.

This massive buildup for the New Era is the outward manifestation of an internal shift in the operational imperatives of the Long War, away from the "war on terror" (which has yielded lean statistics) and onto another front where we can claim success: the escalating undeclared war on illegal immigration. "Had this effort been in place prior to 9/11, all of the hijackers who failed to maintain status would have been investigated months before the attack" (9). According to its new paradigm, the agency fancies that it can conflate the diverse aspects of its operations and pretend that immigration enforcement is really part and parcel of the "war on terror." This way, statistics in the former translate as evidence of success in the latter. Thus, the Postville charges-document fraud and identity theft-treat every illegal alien as a potential terrorist, and with the same rigor. At sentencing, as I interpreted, there was one condition of probation that was entirely new to me: "You shall not be in possession of an explosive artifact." The Guatemalan peasants in shackles looked at each other, perplexed.

When the executive responded to post-9/11 criticism by integrating law enforcement operations and security intelligence, ICE was created as "the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)" with "broad law enforcement powers and authorities for enforcing more than 400 federal statutes" (1). A foreseeable effect of such broadness and integration was the concentration of authority in the executive branch, to the detriment of the constitutional separation of powers. Nowhere is this more evident than in Postville, where the expansive agency's authority can be seen to impinge upon the judicial and legislative powers. "ICE's team of attorneys constitutes the largest legal program in DHS, with more than 750 attorneys to support the ICE mission in the administrative and federal courts. ICE attorneys have also participated in temporary assignments to the Department of Justice as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys spearheading criminal prosecutions of individuals. These assignments bring much needed support to taxed U.S. Attorneys' offices"(33). English translation: under the guise of interagency cooperation, ICE prosecutors have infiltrated the judicial branch. Now we know who the architects were that spearheaded such a well crafted "fast-tracking" scheme, bogus charge and all, which had us all, down to the very judges, fall in line behind the shackled penguin march. Furthermore, by virtue of its magnitude and methods, ICE's New War is unabashedly the aggressive deployment of its own brand of immigration reform, without congressional approval. "In FY07, as the debate over comprehensive immigration reform moved to the forefront of the national stage, ICE expanded upon the ongoing effort to re-invent immigration enforcement for the 21st century" (3). In recent years, DHS has repeatedly been accused of overstepping its authority. The reply is always the same: if we limit what DHS/ICE can do, we have to accept a greater risk of terrorism. Thus, by painting the war on immigration as inseparable from the war on terror, the same expediency would supposedly apply to both. Yet, only for ICE are these agendas codependent: the war on immigration depends politically on the war on terror, which, as we saw earlier, depends economically on the war on immigration. This type of no-exit circular thinking is commonly known as a "doctrine." In this case, it is an undemocratic doctrine of expediency, at the core of a police agency, whose power hinges on its ability to capitalize on public fear. Opportunistically raised by DHS, the sad specter of 9/11 has come back to haunt illegal workers and their local communities across the USA.

A line was crossed at Postville. The day after in Des Moines, there was a citizens' protest featured in the evening news. With quiet anguish, a mature all-American woman, a mother, said something striking, as only the plain truth can be. "This is not humane," she said. "There has to be a better way."

July 8, 2008

More on Postville IA raid

Thanks to Citizen Orange for following the Agriprocessors story emenating from Postville, IA. To bring us to this week recall that On May 12 ICE raided the Agriproccessors plant in Postville, IA, said to be with its 1,000 odd employees the largest kosher meat processing facility in the world. ICE arrested 389 workers for illegal status. This was heralded as the largest ICE raid ever.

Several newspapers reported that arrests have begun at the low managerial levelfor immigration fraud. None of the top executives, including the surrounding the Rubashkin family, from Brooklyn, has been arrested, but I expect that is in the cards, and for offenses which carry serious time in the slammer. The Wall Street Journal reports that one official described the working conditions in the plant as "medieval."

The Wall Street Journal article:

U.S. Arrests 2 Supervisors at Agriprocessors
July 5, 2008

Federal agents Thursday arrested two supervisors at Agriprocessors Inc., a large kosher meatpacking plant, on charges that they helped illegal immigrants secure fake documents and encouraged them to reside in the U.S.

The arrests marked the first by U.S. authorities of individuals in supervisory roles at the Postville, Iowa, plant. On May 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 389 workers at the facility, most of them undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

Thursday, ICE agents arrested Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, 35 years old, and Martin De La Rosa-Loera, 43, on various criminal immigration and fraudulent-identity charges outlined in separate complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A federal warrant has been issued for the arrest of another manager, Hosam Amara, 43, who hasn't been located, according to a court statement.

Both Messrs. Guerrero-Espinoza and De La Rosa-Loera were charged with aiding and abetting the use of fraudulent identification before the raid. Mr. Guerrero-Espinoza is also charged with aiding and abetting "aggravated identity theft," according to the court. Both men were detained temporarily until their detention hearings on Monday.

Illegal immigrants typically get jobs either by presenting Social Security cards and other identification carrying a fabricated name and number; or by utilizing the real name and Social Security number of a U.S. legal resident or citizen, which constitutes identity theft.

The court complaint, based on information from unnamed "sources" who worked at the plant, cites an instance in which Mr. Guerrero-Espinoza allegedly asked illegal immigrants for $200 and a photograph. The supervisor, who oversaw the plant's beef kill section, then allegedly provided the workers with fraudulent identification.

According to the complaint, Mr. De La Rosa-Loera, who oversaw the poultry kill division, allegedly asked illegal workers to secure new work papers to ensure that they could keep working at the plant just days before federal agents stormed the plant.

The complaint also alleges that the May 12 raid resulted in the seizure of dozens of fraudulent permanent alien resident cards in the human-resources department at Agriprocessors.

An Agriprocessors spokesman said after the arrests that the company couldn't offer any comment because "its attorneys are reviewing the paperwork pertaining to the federal action today."

The May raid marked the single-largest work-site operation by the Bush administration, which has recently stepped up enforcement at companies believed to employ illegal immigrants. Most of the detained workers were sentenced to five months in prison for engaging in identity theft, in addition to being charged with committing a civil offense for living in the U.S. illegally.

The raid exposed allegations that workers at the sprawling plant, which employed more than 900 people, were underpaid, physically abused, sexually harassed and extorted. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. government official who has visited the plant described the operation as "medieval." An investigation is still under way, and a court spokesman declined to disclose whether more arrests are likely.

The allegations about worker mistreatment at Agriprocessors have sparked a heated debate in the Jewish community. The raid has also disrupted kosher meat supplies, with shortages affecting customers from supermarkets in Kansas City to kosher restaurants in Los Angeles.

NY state illegal worker denied work rehab benefits

Thanks to Workerscompinsider for reporting on the workers comp case of Ronnie Ramroop, an illegal immigrant who lost two fingers in an accident in New York in 1995. The State Cort of Appeals denied in late June his access to further rehabilitation, saying that his illegal work status makes him ineligible. Previously, New York courts have been fairly friendly to illegal workers. This line of reasoning has be adapted by courts in some other states” that immediate care is OK, but not ongoing rehab.

Below is an article published in the New York Times:

Undocumented Worker Ineligible for Additional Benefits: Courts [06/27/08]

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, issued a 5-2 decision Thursday holding that an undocumented worker is not eligible for additional vocational rehabilitation benefits after his permanent disability award was paid in full because his illegal status makes him ineligible to work in the state.

In Ronnie Ramroop v. Flexo-Craft Printing, No. 121, 06/27/2008, plaintiff Ronnie Ramroop lost two fingers on his right hand when it was crushed in a printing press while he was working for Flexo-Craft. He was awarded benefits for the injury, which were paid from March 29, 1995 until Jan. 8, 2000, when the award was fully paid.

In 1997 Ramroop was interviewed for a vocational rehabilitation program through the Office of Rehabilitation and Social Services. It referred him to the New York State Education Department’s Office for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. That agency declared Ramroop ineligible for services because he is an undocumented alien and cannot be legally employed.

In 2002, two years after his award had been fully paid, Ramroop applied to have his case reopened and restored for purposes of receiving additional compensation.

A workers’ compensation law judge subsequently ordered State Insurance Fund to pay Ramroop $200 a week.

The insurer appealed, arguing Ramroop’s ineligibility for rehabilitation training also made him ineligible for additional compensation because he did not meet the law’s requirement that his inability to work be due solely due to his injury.

A State Workers’ Compensation Board panel rescinded the law judge's order and directed the law judge to hold hearings on whether Ramroop’s loss of earnings was based “solely” on his injury. The law judge held the hearings and reinstated the award. The insurer appealed.

The board panel reversed the administrative law judge’s opinion finding Ramroop’s ineligibility for vocational rehab meant he was not able to meet the legal requirement that his loss of income capacity be solely due to his injury. Ramroop appealed the decision, but the appellate division court agreed with the board panel.

Ramroop appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing the appellate division decision belies the legislative history of the state’s workers’ compensation law. A majority of the Court of Appeals justices disagreed.

It held a worker not only has to prove his loss of earnings, but also has to prove that the loss was due entirely to his injury in order to be eligible for additional benefits. It said Ramroop’s inability to participate in vocational rehabilitation because of his illegal status meant he failed to prove the loss of earning was due entirely to his injury.

“Even if we assume that the claimant cooperated to the extent he could , his inability to participate was not because rehabilitation was not feasible -- the board never made a feasibility determination -- but because no rehabilitation program is available to those who are not legally employable,” the majority wrote in its decision.

The court noted the legislature was not likely to have meant to restore to employment someone who was not eligible for employment in the first place.

“Reversal of the Appellate Division order would not only promote such restoration, it would effectively place the instant claimant, and others similarly situated, in a more favorable position than claimants who must meet all statutory requirements,” it said.

Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick dissented, saying the record never established whether board-approved rehabilitation is available to people who cannot be legally employed. He said he believes the case should be returned to the board for it to determine if there is a rehabilitation program that would take someone unable to legally work in the country. He said all workers, regardless of their work status, are eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

"The majority today forecloses the availability of additional compensation for severely injured workers solely because they lack permanent residency status or authorization to work in this country, ignoring the history of our Workers' Compensation Law and this state's commitment to protect all workers, irrespective of immigration status," he wrote.

July 2, 2008

Profile of a pro-immigrant advocacy coalition

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) is one of the largest (staff of 13) and oldest (21 years) advocacy coalitions working to improve the lives of immigrants.

MIRA worked last year with Senator Ted Kennedy’s office over the New Bedford ICE raid. It is supporting in-state tuition for undocumented students. It supported Governor Duvall Patrick’s decision to rescind prior Governor Mitt Romney’s order to employ state troopers to enforce federal immigration laws.

It has connections with over120 labor and community organizations. It is also loosely affiliated with coalitions in other states,, citing Illinois, California, New York and other coalitions emerging in Florida and elsewhere.

It describes itself as the only organization in Massachusetts that “brings together groups serving immigrants and refugees from many parts of the world, of various nationalities, races, and ethnicities. MIRA is a dynamic, multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalition that actively involves hundreds of grassroots immigrant organizations, human services agencies, legal service providers, religious groups, and human rights groups in cooperative efforts to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees.”

July 1, 2008

The link to the complete New Bedford Standard-Times series

Following up on my posting earlier today, I found the link to all the articles in the series on immigrant labor in New Bedford and surrounding Southeastern Massachusetts. Here it is.

This is possibly the best depiction of the lives of recent low income immigrants published by an American newspaper.

High quality profile of immigrant labor in one city

The New Bedford, MA, Standard-Times should get an award for its series on immigrant labor (legal and illegal) starting this week. Go here for the series (the website is called “South Coast today”). New Bedford was the site of one of the early ICE raids on March 6, 2007. Thanks to Shuya Ohno of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition for alerting me to the series.

Following are what the reporters learned in preparing the series:

What we learned in our investigation

A nearly two-year-long Standard-Times investigation of legal and illegal immigration from Central America found that:

— Violent crime, low wages and a lack of jobs have driven as many as 8,000 Central Americans to migrate to New Bedford.

— U.S. wages sent home to Guatemala are lifting families out of poverty, but also contributing to drug use and gang activity on the island.

— Many Central American immigrants, documented or not, obtain jobs through temporary agencies on the New Bedford waterfront and the conditions they work under don’t match what most American workers enjoy.

— The everyday lives of New Bedford’s illegal immigrants are dominated by a constant fear of being caught by immigration officials.

— Illegal immigrants who are deported back home to Guatemala are at high risk for depression and alcoholism.

— Temporary agencies have taken over much of the hiring for New Bedford fish houses and light manufacturing, often employing illegal immigrants in an off-the-books, cash economy in the recent past.

— A Taunton employment agency defrauded the federal and state governments, as well as worker’s compensation insurance companies, of millions of dollars in taxes, unemployment insurance contributions and worker’s compensation insurance compensation related to business in New Bedford, particularly on the waterfront.

— Some immigrant workers say they are forced to work overtime without being paid time-and-half. In two cases, a well-respected seafood processing plant agreed as part of a court settlement to pay Central American immigrants thousands in overtime claims.

— Guatemalan Mayans and some Latino immigrants claim they have been singled out for discrimination by employers. They claim they have been given the worst jobs within their seafood houses and factories, the least benefits and working conditions, and laid off before they can accrue better wages or vacations.

— Contrary to popular belief, most immigrants who came to New Bedford in the early 20th century faced no restrictions on legal immigration. Many Portuguese immigrants came to the U.S. on tourist visas and simply stayed to work afterwards.

— Religion — both Catholic and evangelical — plays a strong role in the lives of many of today’s immigrants, just as it did for past immigrant groups.

— A backlash among Americans — many of them immigrants or their children or grandchildren believe that new immigrants are undermining American wages and working conditions, and new immigrants are not obeying the law.

— The challenge of educating immigrant children, always a factor in the cities of the SouthCoast, becomes even greater in an age of mandatory testing and the ever-increasing expectations of No Child Left Behind.

— New Bedford’s new immigrants remain vulnerable to crime, raising concerns that Central American gangs will gain a toehold in the city.

— Some Central American immigrants are living out the American Dream in New Bedford.

— Central American entrepreneurs could revitalize local neighborhoods by opening restaurants, markets and other businesses that cater to new immigrants.