Friday, March 14, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Fri, March 14, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Fri, March 14, 2008


Visit for IRN and other posts from NNIRR.


1. Associated Press: “2 States Consider Guest-Worker Programs”


2. San Francisco Chronicle: “Housekeeper sues Atherton couple


3. Forbes.Com: “Ind. Immigration Plan Stalls in Senate”


4. San Francisco Chronicle: “A CHILD'S-EYE VIEW OF IMMIGRATION WOE”


5. Federal Computer Week: “DHS accepts Project 28”




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Associated Press


2 States Consider Guest-Worker Programs


By JACQUES BILLEAUD – 4 hours ago

PHOENIX (AP) — As a labor contractor in the nation's winter lettuce capital, Francisco Chavez struggles to hire enough workers to pick and package the produce.

Last year, ripe romaine sometimes went bad in the fields around Yuma, Ariz., because Chavez didn't have enough people to harvest the crop, which must be picked by hand. "That's my challenge — to get the crews," he said.

Such complaints are becoming so common that lawmakers in Arizona and Colorado are considering creating their own guest-worker programs to attract more immigrant laborers. It's unclear whether states have the authority to adopt such measures, but legislators are tired of waiting for Congress to overhaul the immigration system — and they are taking matters into their own hands.

State Sen. Abel Tapia, the Democratic co-author of the Colorado proposal, lashed out at Washington: "You had your chance to do a comprehensive immigration package a year ago, and you didn't do it, and I can't imagine that you will have anything by 2010, so what are we to do in the meantime?"

The federal government has run guest-worker programs for more than a century, but congressional efforts to overhaul the system stalled in 2006 and 2007.

The Arizona proposal aims to create a program run entirely by the state. Employers could recruit workers through Mexican consulates if they can document a labor shortage and unsuccessful efforts to find local employees.

If approved, the measure would admit an unlimited number of workers in a wide range of industries.

The Colorado proposal is intended to help chili, tomato and watermelon farmers. It's aimed at eliminating bottlenecks that slow federal applications for immigrant laborers. As an incentive for workers to return to their homelands, Colorado farmers would be required to withhold 20 percent of workers' wages and send the money after the workers move home.

The Arizona bill got unanimous approval last month from a legislative committee.

A sponsor of the Colorado proposal said she may scale back the bill because of opposition, reducing it to a program that would let the state hire labor firms in Mexico to find workers and help resolve procedural problems at U.S. consulates there.

Neither measure has come to a vote before the full House or Senate.

Immigration law experts said states don't have the foreign-policy power to negotiate guest-worker agreements, but Congress could grant them permission to do so.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, a former Border Patrol boss who supports revamping the nation's guest-worker programs, said it's unlikely states would get the necessary permission to arrange their own foreign labor.

He also said it's ironic that Arizona and Colorado are so eager for cheap foreign labor because in recent years both states have cracked down on illegal immigration.

"I'd say to the states: 'You can't have it both ways,'" Reyes said.

Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and an advocate of expanding state and local immigration efforts, said the proposals could never hold up in court. He said the Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot impose additional conditions on immigrants who are working legally in the United States.

Aside from the legal barriers, state-run guest-worker programs would probably face another hurdle: Businesses in other states that lean on Congress to sink the idea, because their rivals could pay lower wages and get a steadier supply of labor.

The Arizona bill is also opposed by some immigrant-rights groups, which have backed immigration-reform efforts but fear the state plans would exploit immigrants.

Hector Yturralde, president of Somos America, a coalition of immigrant-advocacy groups that has staged protests in Phoenix, likened the Arizona proposal to the "bracero" program that brought in Mexican farm laborers during World War II. It ended in 1964 amid allegations of worker abuse.

"It's indentured labor," Yturralde said, referring to the Arizona proposal.

Republican state Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a restaurant owner and an author of the bill, said the labor shortage in Arizona had been mounting for several years. It grew worse after passage of a new state law that punishes businesses for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. That law has pressured many immigrants to leave.

Francisco Chavez, the Arizona labor contractor, said the 2007 labor shortage in the lettuce fields was eased by shrinking demand for lettuce that prompted farmers to plant less. But if demand rises, he said, labor contractors won't have enough workers, and prices could spike for consumers.

If field hands can't pick enough produce, Chavez said, shoppers "won't be able to have a salad, because there is no way to get it into the market."


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San Francisco Chronicle


Housekeeper sues Atherton couple


Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer


Friday, March 14, 2008

(03-13) 16:39 PDT ATHERTON - -- A 69-year-old San Mateo woman who spent four years working as a live-in housekeeper and nanny for an Atherton couple filed suit in federal court against her former employers today, charging that they violated labor laws by working her 14-hours a day, six days a week, without overtime pay or breaks.

In her suit, Vilma Serralta charged that she was paid $1,000 to $1,300 a month to scrub bathrooms, wash windows, vacuum, mop and dust the 9,000-square foot home, cook, serve meals, hand wash china and silver, launder and iron clothes, and bathe, dress and supervise the couple's young daughter.

Attorney Elizabeth Tippett of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, who is representing Serralta's employers, Sakhawat and Roomy Khan, said her clients denied the allegations and declined to comment further on the suit. The Khans did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

In an interview, Serralta said she was not familiar with California wage and hour laws, which require overtime pay for work beyond 40 hours a week, and that the Khans did not inform her of her rights, as required by law. She said she stayed on with the family because she needed the job and became attached to the Khan's 7-year-old daughter.

Dozens of Bay Area domestic workers joined Serralta this morning in a protest outside the Khan's home, which is currently listed for sale with an asking price of $17.9 million. County records describe the residence as having 6 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms. The 1.8 acre property includes a pool, a tennis court and a two-story guest house, according to real estate listings, which describe it as a "grand estate."

The suit asks for unpaid wages, liquidated damages and penalties, which Serralta's attorney Christina Chung of the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center estimated could approach $120,000. It does not claim punitive damages.

Experts say live-in domestic employees, who work in isolation, are particularly vulnerable to violations of their workplace rights and other kinds of abuse.

"Domestic work is a job where you find lots of labor abuses and daily indignities," said University of Southern California sociologist Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, who has studied the lives of immigrant housekeepers and nannies. "The most deplorable cases we see involve live-in work under feudal conditions, where there's typically no separation between work and life."

In an interview, Serralta said that as the sole domestic employee for the Khans, she would start her day waking the couple's daughter and feeding her breakfast, then she would spend the day cleaning the main house and the guest house Roomy Khan used as an office. When the child returned from school about 3:30 pm, Serralta said she would play with her or keep an eye on her while preparing dinner. She said she served and cleaned up after meals, put the daughter to bed at night and attended to the Khans' many guests and parties.

"It was hard work. The house was enormous," Serralta said. "I cleaned five bathrooms a day, but that's not all the bathrooms there were. The guest bathrooms I had to clean twice a week, even if no one used them."

Sakhawat Khan, a Silicon Valley inventor and entrepreneur, was president of Agate Semiconductor Inc. until the company was sold in 2000 to Silicon Storage Technology Inc. The Khans operate a financial planning company out of their home called Digital Age Management, according to public records.

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at

This article appeared on page Z99 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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Ind. Immigration Plan Stalls in Senate


By DEANNA MARTIN 03.14.08, 12:04 PM ET


INDIANAPOLIS - A bill to crack down on companies that hire illegal immigrants appears dead for the year.

Sen. Tom Weatherwax, who chairs the House-Senate conference committee that was working on a compromise proposal, said lawmakers did not have time to hash out an agreement before the session ends Friday. He wants to send the issue to a summer study committee instead.

"Time is running out," said Weatherwax, R-Logansport.

It would be better for lawmakers to send the issue to a summer study committee - and possibly take action next year - than to pass a bill with consequences they don't fully understand, Weatherwax said.

"We just don't have a lot of the answers," he said.

But the proposal's sponsor, Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel, said Hoosiers want real action taken on a real problem.

"I don't know if another year of delay is fair to the people of the state of Indiana," Delph said.

Rep. Scott Pelath, one of the conference committee members, said that the Senate should simply agree with the House version rather than try to strike a new compromise.

"If the Senate wants an immigration bill, they already have one at their disposal," said Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Senate leaders, however, have said there are issues between the two versions that would need to be resolved in a conference committee.

The House and Senate versions of the bill would both create a three-tier punishment system for companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants after 2009. After three incidents, companies could have their business licenses suspended or revoked. The House version, however, includes money for enforcement and changes the way the bill would be enforced.

Bill supporters say most Hoosiers want something done on illegal immigration because the federal government is not acting on it. Several business organizations oppose the bill, saying Indiana's economy could suffer if the proposal passes, hurting both illegal workers and American citizens.

About 55,000 to 85,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Indiana, according to 2006 estimates from the PEW Hispanic Center.

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San Francisco Chronicle




Delfín Vigil

Friday, March 14, 2008


Patricia Riggen's first feature film, "Under the Same Moon," has a powerful plot.

A mother and son are separated by the United States-Mexican border. The mother works illegally in Los Angeles and sends money every month to her son in Mexico - the only way to provide him food and shelter. When the 9-year-old boy's grandmother (and caretaker) dies, he impulsively decides to surprise his mother by crossing the border illegally into Texas, then finding her in Los Angeles.

"Under the Same Moon" is sentimental, suspenseful, romantic and, yes, powerful. But as Riggen points out, viewers shouldn't make the mistake of calling it political.

"I'm not a politician, and I didn't write a political essay," says the very businesslike 37-year-old director, sitting up straight as if in a job interview or explaining her behavior in a principal's office. "I made a movie. I like entertainment and I like art. If the entertainment is meaningful, it becomes art. That's what I tried to do."

In that case, "Under the Same Moon" may as well be screening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, because no matter what side of the immigration debate you stand on, there is no denying that Riggen's film has plenty of meaning.

When Riggen, a native of Guadalajara, took on the project, she says she didn't even see it as an immigrant story.

"I saw a love story between a mother and a child," she says.

Riggen studied her craft at Columbia University, where she made two short films that won several prizes, including the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award.

It was in 2003 that Riggen read the "Moon" script, written by Ligiah Villalobos, and she remembers being told by some to avoid it because few would be interested in watching a film about illegal immigrants.

"It wasn't the hot topic that it obviously is now," Riggen says. "But then, suddenly, protest marches were happening all around us, and immigration became the big problem and important issue that it is in this country now."

From the filmmaker's perspective, the headlines changed nothing. Riggen continued to focus on the emotional storytelling side of the film. When the studio she had originally agreed to work with started making changes to the movie, Riggen walked out.

"I thought my hair was going to fall out. I was so stressed," Riggen says, her body language breaking out of business mode to emphasize her sense of vulnerability.

Sticking to her principle of putting the priority on a compelling story, she won the trust of private investors and gained funding from the Mexican government, as directors such as Alejandro González Iñárritu have in the past. Even with the emergency backing translating to a more limited budget, Riggen was still able to meet her target date of completion.

Although Riggen sees directing as her true calling, she says she was miserable on the set.

"I was the producer and director, which meant I was constantly using opposite sides of my persona," she says. "As director, I want a 12-camera set-up. I want my actors to feel comfortable and have time to make the scenes right. As a producer worrying about the budget, I have to decide to use one camera, do two takes and get the hell out. The whole time I was praying to God that the movie would come out good."

Her prayers were apparently answered, with help of a cast that includes Adrian Alonso as the boy, Carlitos; and Kate del Castillo as his mother, Rosario. Among the many people playing characters Carlitos meets on his journey are well-known Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez and the members of the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte.

Besides the behind-the-scenes fact that Alonso ended up with a crush on Del Castillo, the child took on the lead role with an acting strength matching that of any of the grown-ups.

"Sometimes he would get nervous around Kate and forget his lines," Riggen says of Alonso. "I'd have to say, 'No! She's supposed to be your mother! You can't get shy around her!' "

Booking Los Tigres del Norte in the film was no small task either.

"They're like the Rolling Stones of Mexico," says Riggen, who had to take on teams of lawyers and piles of paperwork to cast the band. "They have always been the voice of the immigrant experience, so I knew no other band could be better cast. When I talked to Jorge Hernández, the band leader, he looked into my eyes and gave me a gentleman's word that he would help."

Los Tigres del Norte acted for free, but the musicians did have to pay the price of signing autographs for the starry-eyed cast and crew - even for the caterers.

Telling the story of immigration from the perspective of a 9-year-old may, in the end, prove to be political after all, Riggen concedes.

"Maybe by showing the human side, it becomes political," she says. "It's always easier to show a statistic or give the numbers on the economic impact of immigration. By showing the family impact, I think it becomes something that everybody can relate to." {sbox}

Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna) (PG-13) opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.

E-mail Delfín Vigil at

This article appeared on page N - 26 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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Federal Computer Week


DHS accepts Project 28


By Ben Bain

Published on February 22, 2008

After more than six months of delays, the Homeland Security Department fully accepted Feb. 21 the first task order for SBInet -- its multiyear, multibillion-dollar project to use technology and tactical infrastructure to secure the U.S./Mexico border.

The project, which will use cameras, sensors,  and a tower-based communications surveillance system, had been delayed because of software integration problems that the project’s prime contractor, Boeing, had encountered. Lawmakers and government auditors initially expected the task order — Project 28 — to be operational last summer.

The Customs and Border Protection agency “conditionally accepted” the project in December, and on Feb. 13, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told lawmakers he considers the project a “value add,” saying it would likely be approved within days.

The Project 28 task order was originally worth $20 million, and although Boeing said it ended up costing much more, the company decided to give DHS a $2 million discount to be used for future work after Project 28 was accepted. The acceptance also means that Boeing stands to receive the remaining $1.5 million that the department was withholding until the integration problems were resolved.

The acceptance comes amid continued scrutiny of the department and Boeing for the delays. Since December, the company has also been working on a second $64 million task order to design, develop and test an upgraded common operating picture software system that Border Patrol command centers and agent vehicles will use.

Michael Friel, a CBP spokesman, said the project as accepted was consistent with what Boeing was required to provide under its original contract. He described the result as a prototype, “which is a first step towards meeting our full operational needs.”

He added that remaining administrative and technical issues had been worked through.

Lawmakers have questioned whether the expected capabilities of the project had been lessened since officials originally presented it to them and have promised to hold hearings on the subject in the near future.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he hoped DHS would learn from Project 28's delays.

"The acceptance of a flawed Project 28 closes a difficult chapter for the department," he said in a statement. "The poorly structured contract that prevented the line Border Patrol agents from pointing out obvious flaws and caused an over-reliance on contractors has resulted in a system that has been described as providing 'marginal' functionality at best."

The Bush administration has requested an additional $775 million for SBInet for fiscal 2009.




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Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885


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