Illegal immigrant workers face serious risks in Katrina cleanup

A new study by researchers at Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley reveals that undocumented workers are being abused even as they provide critical help to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the most costly natural disaster in American history. This according to the press office of Tulane University. It goes on:
The comprehensive study of more than 200 workers surveyed in March 2006 by researchers at the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer at Tulane University and the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley discovered vulnerability of undocumented workers, including severely reduced access to health care, wage discrepancy and unsafe working conditions.
The study found that almost half of the reconstruction workforce in New Orleans is Latino, and 54 percent of that group is undocumented, meaning 25 percent of all workers are undocumented Latinos. In the aftermath of the storm, the federal government allowed special waivers of immigration laws, which made it easier for employers to hire undocumented workers. Two-thirds of Latino construction workers have moved to the area since Katrina hit in 2005. But 87 percent of the undocumented workers were already living in the United States before they moved to New Orleans. This means that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not cause an influx of illegal immigrants across the US border as many have reported.
The study, Rebuilding After Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans, finds:
On average, documented workers received significantly higher wages than undocumented workers peforming the same work ($16.50 per hour average for documented vs. $10 per hour for undocumented.).
Construction workers frequently report experiencing problems receiving wages owed, especially undocumented workers.
Further findings:

Continue reading Illegal immigrant workers face serious risks in Katrina cleanup

Homeland Security’s SAVE program to verify employment

The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program Is Homeland Security’s online system of alien status determination. It is being promoted now as the “Basic Pilot.” It is voluntary. The media reports a 1.4% error rate, which I infer is the percentage of times when a person is reported not a “qualified alien” when in fact she or is he or even may be a citizen. However, the quality problems are far worse than that figure implies.
The Washington Post reported in May: that only 6,000 employers were enrolled, out of 8 million. A Government Accountability Office report issued in August criticized it for its inability to catch identity fraud, for flaws in the databases and for the possibility that employers will abuse the system. Nearly one in three noncitizens the electronic system cannot initially verify are later cleared based on a manual search of the records, according to government statistics. This 33% “false positive” rate is extremely high — in my experience, such a high rate dooms the program because it is a rare employer who would want to accept a false positive rate of more than 10%.
The GAO says that the search does not include, for statutory constraint issues, the 250 million entry Earnings Suspense File of deductions sent in without a valid SSN.
Per DHS, the Basic Pilot involves verification checks of the SSA and DHS databases, using an automated system to verify the employment authorization of all newly hired employees. Participation in the Basic Pilot Program is voluntary, and is free to participating employers.
The Basic Pilot program has been available to all employers in the States of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas since November 1997 and to employers in Nebraska since March 1999. The Basic Pilot Program began operation in November 1997; was terminated in late 2001; and was reactivated in 2003. It is being expanded to all states.
Below is a description of how the program works, and the FAQ page from Homeland Security.
How it works (much per an HR website):

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How the Senate bill increases worker immigration

What you see below is taken from an anti-immigration website, which quotes from Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. You will see a brief description of the actual provisions in the Senate bill 2611 which passed the Senate, then you will see Session’s extrapolation to forecast total household related immigration in the next 20 years. I do not understand how Sessions came to some extremely high estimates.
Guest worker program: He estimates that the initial guest work program cap of 325,000 plus the amnestied numbers already in the U.S. could result in over 60 million people coming into the U.S. in the next 20 years. The only way on can get these figures is to assume that the guest workers stay beyond expiration and new ones continue to come in. It is impossible to square this with the realities of the American and Latin American economies.
Green care issuance: Sessions says that the bill increases green card issuance from 140,000 to 450,000 a year, and increases household member and relative green cards by several hundred thousand. Another source estimates that the green card cap will by 650,000.
H-2C Workers: By creating a new (H-2C) visa category for “temporary guest workers” (low skilled workers) with an annual “cap” of 325,000 that increases up to 20 percent each year the cap is met, the bill allows at least 6.5 million, and up to 60.7 million new guest workers to come to the United States over the next 20 years. There is nothing “temporary” about these workers. Employers may file a green card application on their behalf as soon as they arrive in the United States, or the worker may self-petition for a green card after four years of work.
H-4 Family Members of H-2C Workers: By creating a new visa category (H-4) for the immediate family members of the future low-skilled workers (H-2C), and allowing them to also receive green cards, the bill would allow at least 7.8 million, and up to 72.8 million immediate family members of low-skilled workers to come to the United States over the next 20 years.
H-1B: The bill would essentially open the borders to high-skilled workers, as well as low-skilled workers. By increasing the annual cap of 65,000 to 115,000, automatically increasing the new cap by 20 percent each year the cap is hit, and creating a new exemption to new cap for anyone who has an “advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or math” from any foreign university, the number of H-1B workers coming into the United States would undoubtedly escalate. The 20-year impact of this escalation could be anywhere from 1 million to 20.1 million. H-1B workers are eligible for green cards and would be allowed to stay and work in the United States for as long as it takes to process the green card application.
Family Based Green Cards: The bill would increase the annual cap on family based green cards available to non-immediate family members (adult sons and daughters, adults siblings, and the spouses and children of adult siblings) by more than 100 percent, upping the current cap of 226,000 to 480,000 a year. Immediate family members are already able to immigrate without regard to the family based green card caps. The 20-year impact of this change would be an increase of 5.1 million non-immediate family member green cards.
Employment Based Green Cards The bill would increase the annual cap on employment-based green cards by more than 500 percent, upping the current cap of 140,000 to 450,000 until 2016 and to 290,000 thereafter and exempting all immediate family members that currently count against the cap today (spouses, children and parents) from the newly escalated cap. The new exemption would result in an average of 540,000 family members receiving green cards each year of the first 10 years, and an average of 348,000 family members receiving green cards each year of the second 10 years. The 20-year impact of this change would be an increase of 13.5 million employment-based green cards, for a total of 16.3 million employment-based green cards issued over the course of the next 20 years.

Easy to buy fake IDs in Los Angeles

Newsday carried a story about how you can pick up a package of fake IDs for yourself for $300 in Los Angeles. “Around MacArthur Park, sellers who openly offer fake IDs do not actually carry any of the documents. Instead, they negotiate prices as high as $300 for a package containing a driver’s license, Social Security card and green card. Next, they send the buyer to a less crowded area a few blocks away, where a picture is taken and the customer pays up. The picture and cash change hands a few times before arriving at an apartment where a laptop, printer and laminating machine spit out the documents. Within an hour, a runner — perhaps a young man dressed as a student, or an elderly woman — delivers the documents near the site of the original deal.”

Federal authorities in April arrested nearly 1,200 illegal immigrants and a few managers working at IFCO Systems plants from Southern California to New York. More than half of the 5,800 employees at the pallet and crate manufacturing company in 2005 had invalid or mismatched Social Security numbers, authorities said. In the past, authorities could often break up a network by raiding a central “document mill” where Social Security cards, passports and licenses might be drying on a large printing press, said Kevin Jeffery, deputy agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles.Now documents are made with illegal software on laptop computers. That mobility makes them harder to bust.

immigration population estimates vary widely

The Washington Post carries a story today about widely varying estimates of the size of foreign born populations in the United States. Getting a realistic count can depend on natural disasters that induce many hiding in the shadows to come forward. It appears not hard for people to come up with estimates double that of the Current Population Survey (CPS), but with no heard research documentation.
It start with an example of a woman who has been an exclusively American citizen for nine years but still calls herself Guatemalan. The U.S. Census counts as Guatamalans those who were born there. Embassies here count also children born here because they may claim citizenship their parents’ country of origin.

The 2000 Census says that 105,000 Salvadoreans live in the Washington, DC area. The Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the Census Bureau, says the number averaged about 130,000 over the past three years. The Salvadorean embassy says 500,000. In addition to passports issued, the ambassador of Salvador bases his calculations on the number of Salvadorans who registered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for temporary permission to live in the United States after earthquakes rocked El Salvador in 2001. Nationwide, the number of registrants is 244,000. But, León surmises that only half of the people eligible for the temporary residence program after the disaster signed up for it.

Then the ambassador points to a study showing that $1.2 billion flowed into Latin America from immigrants living in the District, Maryland and Virginia in 2004. Most of that went to El Salvador, León said, noting that Salvadorans living in Virginia send home more money annually than those in any state except California. The number of Salvadorans in the Washington region must be far higher then census-based estimates to have sent such a large sum in just one year, the ambassador said.

Embassy officials say the census vastly undercounts immigrant populations, which have skyrocketed since 2000, when the most accurate and detailed figures were released. The Peruvian general consul estimates 70,000 vs. 23,000 in the CPS. Embassy officials say that no matter the number, their communities’ populations have shot up exponentially in recent years. Talavera, for example, said the Peruvian Embassy issues 40 percent more national identity cards than it did in 2001.

Experts reject claims that immigrant population figures could be several times higher than the census numbers or than the data derived from the less comprehensive Current Population Survey, which polls 50,000 U.S. households each month. Enrique Escorza, the Mexican general consul in Washington, oversees a region that includes the District and all of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. He puts the Mexican community in that region at 250,000, more than twice the 2000 Census count for the same area.

Working conditions in a 800 person poultry plant in Iowa

In May The Forward carried a story, “In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay”. It is about work for 800 workers starting at $6.25 an hour in one of the largest kosher chicken processing plants in the country. The plant is located in Postville, a 2,500 population town in the rural northeastern part of the state. Writes the author Nathaniel Popper: “The company’s business model has been economically successful. AgriProcessors is the only kosher slaughterhouse in America producing both beef and poultry. While AgriProcessors has been expanding steadily, its closest competitor in the poultry industry, Empire Kosher, recently fired employees and cut back operations. Union leaders at Empire Kosher said that the cutbacks were necessary because Empire pays its lowest-ranking unionized employees close to $3 more an hour from the outset than AgriProcessors’ lowest employees, and provides full benefits.
Even among nonunion plants, experts say AgriProcessors’ salaries are low. “I have not heard of a six-dollar wage since I started working in Nebraska in 1990,” said Lourdes Gouveia, director of the Office of Latino Studies at the University of Nebraska, where she studies working conditions in the meat packing industry.
He goes on: “Juana and other employees at AgriProcessors — they total about 800 — told the Forward that they receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough. In addition, employees told of being asked to bribe supervisors for better shifts and of being shortchanged on paychecks regularly.”
Thanks to Jason Barab of Confined Space for alerting me to the story.

Colorado split on immigration reform

The state has one of the higher rates of illegal immigrants – 6.5% of the labor force, well above the 4.9% average for the country. Washington delegation members embrace aggressive anti-immigrant positions; the legislature has passed new policing laws; yet on March 25, 50,000 people showed up for a pro immigration rally in Denver.
Congressman Tom Tancredo, Chairman of the 97-member House Immigration Reform Caucus, attacked the Senate’s amnesty bill. According one profile of him, Tancredo believes that “immigration is a life-or-death issue in the culture war to save America”.
At the federal level, Senator Allard voted against the Senate’s immigration bill. Senator Salazar did not vote. A reportied by the Rocky Mountain News, The state legislature passed and Governor Bill Owens signed a bill to create a small immigration enforcement unit in the state police, and to require state contractors to sign up for the federal government’s online program to check a worker’s immigration status. Meanwhile, Denver Mayor Frederico Pena has been organizing a pro-immigration group.
Gov. Bill Owens this week signed into law bills that will create an immigration unit in the Colorado State Patrol and require state contractors to sign up for an online federal program that checks a worker’s immigration status.

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The two waves of Hispanic labor into the United States

There have been two major waves of Hispanic labor – each leaving their mark – since the 1980s, when the 1986 immigration bill was passed with the intention of controlling migration from Latin America. These waves account for the large majority of undocumented workers. The present immigration uproar from an historical perspective is understandable once one sees how these two waves differ.
Prior to the 1980s, Hispanic immigrant labor was concentrated in agriculture. But farming stopped being a major attraction because, first, job growth died up; second, wages were better elsewhere.
The first of these two waves was what researcher Steve Striffler calls the rise of the industrial chicken, within a meat processing boom. (Striffler wrote Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food. I have commented on this excellent source before.) According to another researcher, Russell Cobb, In 1990, the U.S. exported 500,000 metric tons of chicken overseas, while in the year 2000 that figure increased five-fold to 2,500,000, as China and Russia became the two largest consumers of U.S. chicken. Latin America provided the enabling labor.
Rurally based, vertically integrated meat processing spawned into a de facto guest worker program. In 1990, 15% of meat processing labor was Hispanic. In 1998 it was 33%. In 2003 it was 43%. This was the first phase of the growth of a post-farmworker illegal workforce in the country.
Meat processing (poultry in the south, beef and pork in the Midwest) expands in other rural locations such as Duplin County, NC (turkeys) Garden City, KS (beef) and Guymon, OK (pork). From North Carolina to Arkansas, as black and white workers move up the economic ladder, Hispanics fill the labor gap. Meat processing took over from agriculture the role of the leading employment sector for illegal immigrants. In these isolated communities, Hispanic populations rose 1000% or more between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.
Reached by phone at his office at the University of Arkansas, where he is on the anthropology faculty, Striffler described how this demand for labor altered illegal immigration. During the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, new tendrils for new labor supply strung together particular communities in Latin America, labor recruiters working often at the Mexican-American border, and particular rural centers of work in the United States. Other industries benefited, for example the carpet manufacturers of Dalton, GA, which experienced a phenomenal rise in Hispanic population in the 1990s.
The second phase of the post farmworker illegal workforce began. Home construction took over from meat processing the role of leading employer in influencing expectations. Hispanic workers flowed into the residential housing boom, moving closer to these jobs in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Hispanic employment in construction stood at 650,000 in 1990; 783,000 in 1995,; and 1,408 in 2000. The Pew Hispanic Center, which closely monitors immigration patterns, estimates more illegal Hispanics work today in construction roofing than in the meat processing industry.
This second wave of immigration brought Hispanic workers in large numbers into metropolitan areas – standing in Home Depot parking lots, for example, making themselves much more visible to the public. While the public had little problem with Hispanics producing cheap meat and rugs from isolated rural factories, they have found their presence in cities and suburbs obnoxious – and this has fueled the anti-immigration movement.

Mohawk RICO case dismissed by Supreme Court

In a one paragraph ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the effort by a class action lawyer to use the RICO law in order to sue Mohawk Industries for its use of illegal workers. It sent the case back to the Appeals Court level for reconsideration. The Supreme Court appears in effect to be rejecting the notion that RICO can be applied. If this is the case, a dark cloud is removed from over the heads of thousands of American employers who recruited undocumented workers. For those interested in the Court’s apparent reasoning, go to The White Collar Crime Prof Blog which discusses how the Supreme Court had problems with the expansionist use of RICO in another case.
I have covered this RICO strategy in several earlier postings.
Per Reuters, “The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case on whether carpet and floor-covering maker Mohawk Industries Inc. can be sued under the federal anti-racketeering law for allegedly using outside recruiters to hire illegal workers.’
The story continues:

In a one-paragraph ruling, the high court said the appeal was dismissed and that it should not have been granted in the first place. The court gave no explanation why, but the ruling did not decide the main issue. The justices also set aside a U.S. appeals court ruling that the Calhoun, Ga.-based company and the recruiters can constitute an “enterprise” within the meaning of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The justices sent the case back to the appeals court for more consideration in view of a different Supreme Court ruling on Monday in which it held that Ideal Steel Supply Corp. cannot sue rival National Steel Supply under the anti-racketeering law for allegedly underpaying New York sales tax. The court said the direct victim of the alleged racketeering violations is New York state, not Ideal.

In the Mohawk case, a group of current and former employees claimed in the lawsuit that the carpet giant engaged in the systematic hiring of illegal workers and it was done by entering into contracts with outside recruiting firms. Mohawk has denied the allegations.

The employees said they have been hurt because the hiring practices have depressed their wages and they seek triple damages, as provided under the anti-racketeering law. The case attracted attention because it had been before the Supreme Court at a time when Congress is considering a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws and the federal government has been attempting to crack down on companies that hire illegal workers. The anti-racketeering law was initially adopted in 1970 and designed mainly to fight organized crime. But the law has been used in a number of lawsuits against businesses, and in 1996 it was expanded to include violations of federal immigration law.

Analysis of employer liabilities over illegal employees

Risk & Insurance Magazine published an article by me on the current employer dilemma with regard to hiring of illegal immigrants: the workers are needed, but the practice is illegal. Employers hiring workers who live in the United States illegally risk fines and civil lawsuits. In addition, the huge size of the illegal work force is causing the workers’ compensation system in some states to deteriorate.
Here is the full text of the article:
The last time the United States tried to reform its immigration laws was in 1986. Now the economic stakes are a lot higher, and vastly more employers are at legal risk. Twenty years ago, illegal workers were mainly in agriculture. Because the 1986 legislation did nothing to prevent more illegal workers from entering the United States, and because the law also fell short in giving them a legitimate status regarding their employment, the reform efforts of 20 years ago are considered a failure.
Since then, the illegal U.S. work force has increased to 7.5 million persons, growing at a rate of 350,000 annually. This is about equal to the number of new legally authorized foreign workers who come each year. Employers large and small who hire illegal workers risk incurring heavy fines from federal immigration authorities. They also risk being targeted by new state laws and aggressive state attorneys general. And they risk private action law suits. Any of these actions can lead to financial ruin. In addition, employers, workers’ compensation insurers and state regulators are coping with the impact of the illegal work force on the workers’ comp systems, which have deteriorated under the weight of hidden employment practices and legal quandaries.

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