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.