Portrait of a refugee


Refugees do not get a free ride, as many may imagine, after they arrive in the United States. Cash support lasts a few months. Somalian Barket Farah arrived in Portland, Maine, in 2015, after waiting six years at the sprawling Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya for his application to be approved. While at Dadaab, he learned English and worked with aid organizations. Catholic Charities in Portland quickly found him a job at Backyard Farms, a huge 23-acre hydroponic all-seasons tomato farm in Madison, several hours from Portland. Barket lives in a sparse apartment in nearby Skowhegan. He gets to work by a company shuttle, and sends money to his wife and children still in Dadaab. Like other refugees, he is repaying the federal government for his $1,700 airfare from Kenya to Portland. “We refugees have nothing, this is our only hope,” he told me.

Photojournalist Earl Dotter and I visited Barket in his apartment and at Backward Farms. Photo © Earl Dotter 2016

Widespread labor violations in Los Angeles’ garment industry

The Washington Post reports on sub-minimum wages paid to immigrant workers in the Los Angeles garment industry, which employs 45,000.

It writes, “While immigrants often face criticism for stealing jobs, they are the ones being increasingly undercut in America’s clothing industry, forced to accept wages below the legal minimum as retailers fight to pass on bargain prices to consumers. Federal regulators have uncovered a widespread practice of garment workers, most of them undocumented, being paid below the legal minimum wage, according to a recent Department of Labor report. Those findings were echoed in interviews with workers and workers activists here.

This recent report appears to be that published by the Department of Labor on December 22, called “Garment Industry’s Wage Violations Share Common Thread,” which in the follow short passage concisely states the problem. It is authored by David Weil, the administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

“The heart of the problem lies squarely with the pricing structure dictated by the retailers in this industry. The prices they pay for garments fail to support manufacturers’ ability to provide sewing contractors even the most basic worker protections – minimum wage and overtime. We have found many workers like Esperanza making $4 per hour or even less.

On average, contractors receive only 73 percent of the price they would need in order to support paying these workers the absolute minimum allowed by law. In one time study, the actual sewing fee paid to the contractor by the manufacturer was just $1.80, when, based upon our analysis, the fee should have been $4.67 to allow the person who sewed it to be paid the minimum wage. In some cases, retailers were paying $4 for a garment, when they would need to be paying manufacturers more than $10 to support paying workers legally. Any less than that, and someone is being cheated.

In conjunction with this study, we conducted 77 investigations of randomly selected garment shops in Los Angeles in 2015 and 2016, and uncovered violations in 85 percent of them. We found more than $1.3 million in unpaid wages due to workers and also assessed employers more than $65,000 in penalties. Since the shops were randomly selected, these results reveal the high underlying rate of noncompliance in the industry that results from the low prices driving the system.”

New Americans at work: Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD

In 1987, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa succeeded in his second try to slip from Mexico to the United Stares by jumping over a fence. He had no money and did not know English. He worked in the fields and otheimg_0055r manual labor until a near fatal work accident gave him a wake up call. He learned English and managed to get into University of California in Berkeley. In 1999 He gave the commencement address at his graduation from Harvard Medical School. Here is Earl Dotter’s photo of him outside his office at Johns Hopkins where he is a professor and neurosurgeon, focusing on cancer.

Dr. Q’s website is here.

Photo (C) Earl Dotter 2016



FAIR’s agenda for immigration in 2017

The Federation of American Immigration Reform, an immigration restriction-leaning organization, has published “Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition.”

Three noteworthy aspects of the report are that (1) the numerous actions recommended are almost all Executive Branch control of either illegal immigration or a few minor abuses of legal immigration, with no Congressional input (2) it makes glancing comment on the labor market, including employer practices, and (3) it is devoid of a new vision for immigration in the long run.

Reference to the labor market is scant. “We should encourage our own citizens to obtain the qualifications necessary to fill any labor shortages, not discourage them by flooding the market with foreign competitors who undercut wages.” And,” In 2013, only 7 percent of green cards issued were skills-based. In order to genuinely reform our immigration system, family-based immigration must be limited to spouses and unmarried minor children of green card holders.”

A more thoughtful approach to the labor market would show that the hour-glass profile of immigrant workers – lots of low-skilled, an increasing percentage of highly educated – fits for better or worse the polarization profile of the labor market, as laid out by prominent researchers such as David Autor of MIT.

What happens when immigrants leave farming?

A Washington Post article thrust into the spotlight the role of unauthorized workers in farming. About 70% of farmworkers are foreign born and of them about half are unauthorized. The Department of Agriculture looked into the impact of removing these workers; its documents are no longer available on the web, but here is a summary, found here:

In one report, modeling showed that more farm production would happen due to “temporary non-immigrant farmworkers”, but “a large reduction in the number of unauthorized workers in all economic sectors resulted in a long run relative reduction in output and exports for both agriculture and the broader economy. (The deleted report is “Immigration Policy and Its Possible Effects on U.S. Agriculture”)

In a second report, if farm wages rise, or unauthorized workers are no longer available — “case studies suggested a range of possible adjustment scenarios, including increased mechanization for crops such as baby leaf lettuce, Florida juice oranges, and raisin grapes. Production of other crops, such as apples and fresh strawberries, would likely rely increasingly on aids such as hydraulic platforms and conveyor belts to improve labor productivity. Crops that cannot readily be mechanized and face significant competition for export markets, or from imports, would likely see domestic production levels fall.

A 2011 report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which argues or less immigration, in fact a moratorium on immigration,

looks at the wage impact of removing unauthorized workers:

“Authorized workers are observed to be willing to accept wages that are 18% higher than unauthorized workers in the fruits, nuts, and vegetable sector and 22% higher in field crops and grains…• If unauthorized workers were replaced by authorized workers at the higher average wage rate authorized, workers currently earn, farms in the fruits, nuts, and vegetable sector would experience a total labor cost increase of 10%, and the increase for the field crops and grains sector would be 6%.”

How immigration looks better in San Jose, CA than in Green Bay. WI

A resident in an inland city can be far less enamored with immigration than would a resident in a traditional coastal gateway region, based on what she sees and hears.

Recent immigrants are well educated – 40% have college degrees. They prefer the coasts to inland cities.

When people with higher ed degrees migrate from state to state, they like to move to coastal cities and states and away from rust belt and other inland states. Those entering from abroad with higher ed degrees show an even stronger propensity to go to gateway cities and states. They avoid rust belt and other middle America states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the Great Plains, and the Mississippi valley states.

San Jose is drenched with advanced degree migrants, a huge share of which come from abroad, bringing their entrepreneurial talents and English skills. In the mid 2000s, for every 10 new arrivals in San Jose from another state, there were 12 new arrivals coming directly from outside the country. In the Greater New York area, for every 10 advanced degree arrivals from another state, six more come from abroad.

Wisconsin, however, sees fewer foreign college grads move in. Only about one in ten comes from abroad. The signs of a bounce that highly educated immigrants deliver by adding jobs can be much harder to find.

Second, low skilled immigrants can appear in a more negative light, inland.

Everywhere, half of them speak English poorly or not at all, half are Mexicans, and half are unauthorized. In the Bay Area, the low skilled support the life styles of the professional class and tourism, in restaurants and lodging, in cleaning and maintenance. They blend in with their large second and third generations, who speak English well and have acquired more work skills.

But in Wisconsin, where the foreign population is much more recent, and there are fewer second and third generation households there to blend in with. Their poor or non-existent English is more noticeable. The local public costs of educating the young of these workers are more noticeable. To the jaundiced eye of a native-born America, low skilled immigrants can display unacceptable signs of little or no English proficiency, dependency on government programs, and being illegal.


Brigitte Waldorf of Purdue University tracked advanced degree migration between 2004 and 2007, during when state-to-state (domestic migration) ran to 6.4 million persons, and migration directly from outside the country was about 1.6 million. This means that for every 100 domestic advanced degree migrants there were 27 foreign advanced degree migrants. For San Jose, California, there were 116 foreign migrants for every 100 domestic migrant; for Los Angeles, 61 foreigners for every 100 domestic. In West Virginia, 7, and in Arkansas, 15.

How will police departments respond to more aggressive deportation?

Charlotte, North Carolina, provides an example of the issues facing police departments, which may conflict with local sheriffs and corrections departments.

According to the Charlotte Observer, “In the summer of 2015, then-Charlotte police chief Rodney Monroe told City Council that enforcing federal immigration law was not part of CMPD’s [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept.] mission.”

It goes on:

Monroe was discussing a civil rights resolution, which stated that CMPD officers would not ask about a suspect’s immigration status during routine police work. The resolution went further: During the course of an investigation, an officer might be told or learn a person is in the country illegally. CMPD’s position was to refrain from reporting them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, except in cases of a gang or terrorism.

The department’s policy – which was approved by the City Council – led some to designate Charlotte a “sanctuary city,” a moniker the city disputed.

At the time, Monroe said it was important for people to feel comfortable talking with police as witnesses or people with information. Kerr Putney, the current chief, also agreed with that approach. Monroe said it wasn’t CMPD’s job to enforce federal tax laws, and he said it wasn’t the department’s job to enforce immigration laws either.

CMPD’s more lenient position differs from that of the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office, which administers the county’s jail. Ten years ago, the sheriff’s office became the first law enforcement agency east of Phoenix to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s 287(g) program, in which all non-U.S. born arrestees are checked for being a “potentially removable alien.” Four other N.C. counties have similar agreements with ICE – Wake, Cabarrus, Gaston and Henderson counties. “We have no reason to believe there will be any changes to the 287(g) program in the short term,” said Mecklenburg Sheriff Irwin Carmichael in a statement last week. “We will have to wait and see how the Trump administration impacts 287(g).”

Thanks to David for pointing this out.


Internal migration in China

from “Migrant workers and their children,” by the China Labour Bulletin.

As the economic reforms of the 1980s gained pace, what the cities needed most was cheap labour. And so began what is often described as one of the greatest human migrations of all time, as hundreds of millions of young men and women from the countryside poured into the factories and construction sites of China’s coastal boom towns.

There are an estimated 277 million rural migrant workers in China, making up more than one third of the entire working population. 59.4 percent of China’s migrant workers were located in the eastern provinces, 21.5 percent were in the central regions, and 18.8 percent in the west. Of the 169 million long-distance migrants, 78 million were trans-province migrants while 91 million stayed within their province.

The gender balance of migrant workers in 2015 was almost exactly two thirds male to one third female, a clear trend towards an older population. The proportion of workers aged 16 to 30-years-old was 33 percent in 2015, while the proportion of workers over 40-years-old was 45 percent. The aging population may also explain why the gender balance is shifting towards male workers.

While the majority of migrant workers still only have a middle school education, about 25 percent do now have some form of higher education, including 8.3 percent who went to college. By contrast, only six percent of rural migrants under 30-years-of-age have received any kind of agricultural training.

The vast majority of rural migrant workers are still employed in low-paid jobs in manufacturing, construction and services. Manufacturing jobs in 2015 were 31.1 percent in 2015, down from the past reflecting both the decline in China’s manufacturing industry, the relocation of low cost, labour intensive factories to smaller Southeast Asian countries, and more opportunities for migrant workers in other sectors. Construction jobs were 22.3.

[The main iPhone facility in Zhengzhou now employs 110,000 workers, with other factories employing hundreds of thousands more. Last summer, Apple contractors reportedly hired 100,000 workers to ramp up production of the iPhone 6s in advance of its fall release.]

Wage levels for migrant workers have increased steadily over the last five years with the average monthly wage exceeding 3,000 yuan for the first time in 2015 to stand at 3,072 yuan. The vast majority (85 percent) worked in excess of 44 hours per week. In 2015, seven years after the implementation of the Labour Contract Law, only 36 percent of migrant workers had signed a formal employment contract with their employer, as required by law

There were about 61 million children under 18-years-of-age who were left behind in the countryside in 2010, accounting for about 22 percent of all children in China, and 38 percent of all rural children.

Muslim immigrants: welcome to Thanksgiving

In some respects, immigrant Muslims are more American than Americans. Yet Michael Flynn, the future director of the National Security Council, says that “Islam is a political ideology that hides behind the notion of it being a religion” (at 23:55)…it is ”like a cancer.” Even though only a fifth of Muslims in Americans say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. want to be distinct from the larger American society, Half of the Americans public thinks that Muslim immigrants mostly want to remain distinct from the larger culture. Half of Americans think the being Christian is an important factor in being American.

Muslim immigrants are more likely (74%) to say that hard work gets you ahead than does the general public (62%). Although less inclined to show the American flag, they watch sports and recycle about the often as the general public. Foreign-born Muslims in America are highly likely to become citizens when they are eligible to do so. They get involved in solving community problems just moderately less than does the general public.

Muslim immigrants practice their religion at a far higher rate (68%) than do Christian immigrants (27%). But they match Christians in America in about 70% saying that religion is very important, for native born Americans are much more involved in religion than are western Europeans. According to a Pew survey, religion remains important past the first generation. About three out of five first and second generation perform the daily prayer (Salah). Thirty percent Muslim women always wear a head cover or hijab when out in public.

They are opposed to terrorism. Asked if terrorism is ever justified to defend Islam,1% of both native and foreign born Muslims said “often;” about 80% said “never.” All Muslims have the same level of concern about extremism in American as does the general public. Muslims with high school or less education are the only segment that perceives “great deal” of support for extremism in the Muslim community. It’s noteworthy that the only widely known coterie here of extremist-thinking Muslims, among young Somalis in Minnesota, focuses on returning to Africa or the Middle East.

Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, authors of the 2015 book Strangers No More, came across four reasons why there is so little terrorist risk in this population. First, they note that the foreign-born are Muslim in the United States is tiny compared to Europe. They are 1% of the American population, compared to 11% in France.

Second, the Muslim population here is well-educated and middle class. Muslim foreign-born also are highly educated, with over 30% completing college, a higher rate than native-born Americans. Their household incomes on average match the general public.

Third, even as deToqueville noted in the early 19th Century, public expression of belief in God and religious practices are much more common here, And fourth, the right to express one’s faith without encumbrance from government is elevated in the Constitution.

(Survey data from Pew study of Muslims in America.)

Trump’s evolving deportation plans

It’s a near certainty now that Trump will start his administration with a much more aggressive program to deport unauthorized immigrants, starting with those with a criminal record. Here are some Q and As.

What is the target population?

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 820,000 target criminal persons out of 11 million unauthorized persons (a rate of 7%) and 1.1 million out of 31 million (a rate of 3.5%).

The rate of criminals to population appears high among immigrants. Is that right?

Yes. This can largely be explained by comparing formal education rates, since these rates correlate closely to criminal rates.  About 2.5% of the general population is either incarcerated or paroled or under other supervision. However this is comparing apples to oranges,

Homeland Security uses a definition of criminal that matches its guidelines for whom to prioritize for deportation. The definition includes felons and persons with more serious misdemeanor convictions. Homeland Security focuses not on immigration violations but rather on crimes any citizen might commit.

Criminal behavior is highly adversely correlated with formal education. The non-high school graduation rate in 2008 was 8% for natives 25 – 64, 22% for legal immigrants, and 47% for unauthorized immigrants. Overall, unauthorized immigrants are 2.4 times more likely than native-born to be in prison or under supervision,if you just applied education factors.  Another way to put it, if the 11 million unauthorized persons were instead native-born, Homeland Security’s 820,000 number shrinks to 350,000.

What are Trump’s challenges?

He will likely try to remove more persons on Homeland Security’ priority list. It is very hard to see how he can do this when California, New York City, Cook County and Miami-Dade County are sanctuary areas. The problem posed by these jurisdictions is not just political opposition but concerns of police and prosecutors about the adverse impact of aggressive deportation upon other areas of law enforcement. Plus, the Catholic church and other religious groups will prove formidable opponents.

Will Trump go farther?

He may try accelerate the deportation of close to one million persons ordered deported but not yet deported, delayed presumably due to enforcement discretion or court injunctions. This estimate is from Jessica Vaughn at the Center for Immigration Studies. If he goes deeper into the unauthorized community he will encounter millions of households in the United States for decades, mixing legal and illegal members in the households: a cat’s cradle. Since the slowdown in illegal in-migration the median duration of residence of unauthorized persons has lengthened to 13.4 years.