Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Immigrant Rights News -- Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008

Immigrant Rights News -- Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008


1. Salt Lake Tribune: An 'odious reminder': Chaffetz's plan for tent cities is lambasted. Candidate's immigration plan likened to WWII internment camps


2. Two from the Clarion Ledger [MS]:

A. Detained workers await court decision. Hurricane Gustav cleared immigration office in New Orleans

B. AG to decide if Howard broke new state law. Businesses required to use E-Verify to check immigration status




4. TruthOut: Workers Overcome Divisions After Mississippi Raid


5. North American Congress on Latin America: Displaced People: NAFTA's Most Important Product




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Salt Lake Tribune



An 'odious reminder'

Chaffetz's plan for tent cities is lambasted

Candidate's immigration plan likened to WWII internment camps


By Robert Gehrke

The Salt Lake Tribune


Salt Lake Tribune Article Last Updated:09/06/2008 01:43:15 AM MDT


A Democratic congressman who was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War II unleashed on Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz's plan to detain undocumented immigrants in tent cities, calling it an "odious reminder" of a shameful period of the past.


"Jason Chaffetz's comments are more than just offensive and embarrassing to all Americans; they demonstrate a blatant disregard of the need to be vigilant in remembering the lessons learned from a disgraceful chapter in U.S. history," California Rep. Mike Honda said Friday in a statement.


Honda said Chaffetz statements will only "fuel resentment toward targeted ethnic groups."


Chaffetz, who is running for Utah's 3rd District seat, took offense at Honda's criticism, saying he never singled out any ethnic group in his immigration proposal and demanded an apology from the congressman.


He said his immigration plan is built around a bipartisan proposal from the Western Governors Association. That plan says the federal government should pay for regional correctional facilities to detain immigrants convicted of crimes in state courts.


Chaffetz said he added the idea of housing convicted immigrants in prison camps ringed by barbed wire - an idea he took from the Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff who houses prisoners in tent cities - while they await deportation because it is a cheaper way to do it.


Chaffetz's plan also goes further than the governors' proposal because it starts by targeting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, but extends to all of those in the country illegally.


In his plan, there is no "path to citizenship" and all undocumented immigrants would be deported if they don't return home voluntarily.


"Where these guys are overstepping the line is saying that it has anything to do with ethnicity. They absolutely should apologize for that. That has never been my position, and it is terribly unfair and inaccurate," Chaffetz said. "If you're breaking the law and you're a fugitive, I want to go after you and put you in jail. I don't care if you're from Russia, Japan or Guatemala, it doesn't matter to me."


Chaffetz's Democratic opponent, Bennion Spencer, said Chaffetz's immigration plan is "abominable."


"It makes me sick," Spencer said. "This is way off the charts. His position on tent cities does not fall into the mainstream of what people of Utah believe, it does not fall into the mainstream of what Utah is about. . . . We're better than that. We represent different values than that."


Spencer said that, Chaffetz's complaints notwithstanding, immigrants with dark skin would be singled out and targeted, and those from European countries would not.


The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that in 2004, 81 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States were of Latino origin.


Nine percent were from Asia, 6 percent from Europe and Canada, and 4 percent from the rest of the world.


Honda was born in California but spent several years of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Granada, Colo.


The Topaz camp, outside Delta, housed more than 8,000 detainees during the war. Last year the camp, located in the 3rd Congressional District, was designated a national historic landmark.


Honda said Chaffetz "intentionally used intolerance to promote his own political agenda."


Jason Chaffetz's comments are more than just offensive and embarrassing to all Americans; they demonstrate a blatant disregard of the need to be vigilant in remembering the lessons learned from a disgraceful chapter in U.S. history.

- California Rep. Mike Honda, who spent several years of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Granada, Colo.


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Clarion Ledger

Three from the Clarion Ledger [Reports on the aftermath of the Laurel, Mississippi raid and hurricane]



September 5, 2008


Detained workers await court decision

Hurricane Gustav cleared immigration office in New Orleans


Emma James



The 475 workers detained at Howard Industries and transported to LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, La., last week weathered Hurricane Gustav from the same location, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed.

However, detainees have a legal battle ahead as the aftermath of the largest raid of its kind heads to the U.S. immigration courts.

"The immigration court system is fairly expeditious," said Brandon Montgomery, spokesman for ICE. "It generally takes between 48 hours and a week to come to a decision."

The Aug. 25 raid of Howard Industries' plants in Laurel and Ellisville led to the detainment of 595 workers, most of whom were bused to the Louisiana facility.

Most of the others - including women with children to care for - were given alternative detention that required them to wear electronic ankle bracelets.

ICE officials could not confirm a date when detainees would begin going before immigration judges to determine whether they will be allowed to remain in the country. The ICE office in New Orleans evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, and agents had not made their way back to the city, Montgomery said.

The immigration judge will determine whether to rescind the official order of removal written when the detainee was arrested, he said.

If the order is not rescinded, the detainee has three options:

  Appeal.

  Sign a voluntary departure form.

  Face deportation.

"If they are found to be here illegally, the judge will not rescind the order of removal," Montgomery said. "They can appeal that decision and exhaust their legal options under the system."

By signing a voluntary departure form, the detainee promises to return to his country of origin voluntarily and must register with the U.S. Embassy in that country upon arrival, he said.

Detainees who face deportation can post a bond to be released from detention or stay in detention until arrangements can be made for deportation. The process can take between 30 days and six months depending on the country of origin, Montgomery said.

"For example, if we have a detainee from Ecuador that has a final order of removal, we would have to verify with the Ecuadorian consulate that this individual is, in fact, a resident of Ecuador," he said. "How long it takes really depends on the country of origin."

The process is the same for the approximately 100 workers in "alternative detention," Montgomery said. Alternative detention requires detainees to wear an ankle monitor and was presented as an option for those who had no child-care options.

Those in alternative detention face extreme challenges over the next several months because of a lack of income, said Bill Chandler, president of the Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance.

"We are very concerned about the 600 families around Laurel and Hattiesburg that have had the main breadwinner of their households detained," Chandler said. "They have no income with rent and utility bills to pay. There are children involved, and we find this to be very disturbing."

ICE is not responsible for providing for any of the detainees in alternative detention, Montgomery said.

"Without trying to sound crass, they have been detained because they are not United States citizens and have broken the law," he said. "It is not our responsibility to provide for them any further. They should have known something like this could have happened and provided for their families accordingly."


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Clarion Ledger



September 6, 2008


AG to decide if Howard broke new state law

Businesses required to use E-Verify to check immigration status


Shelia Byrd

The Associated Press


Attorney General Jim Hood's office is determining whether a new state law was violated by Howard Industries in Laurel, the site of the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history.

"We'll look at what they've done and determine if it's a violation of state law, as well as determine if we need to enforce it," Hood told The Associated Press.

The law passed by the 2008 Legislature and signed by Gov. Haley Barbour requires public and private employers in the state to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify system to check new workers' immigration status. The law took effect July 1 for state agencies and for private businesses with state contracts. It takes effect Jan. 1 for all other businesses.

Under the law, any company found guilty of employing illegal immigrants could lose public contracts for up to three years and lose the right to do business in Mississippi for one year.

The law also says it's a felony for an illegal immigrant to accept a job in Mississippi. Conviction carries up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The agencies in charge of enforcement of the law are the Department of Employment Security, Mississippi State Tax Commission, Department of Human Services, secretary of state and attorney general.

"Our folks have tried to get a meeting of all those agencies that have authority," Hood said this week.

On Aug. 25, nearly 600 suspected illegal immigrants were taken into custody during the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.

Eight of them faced criminal charges for allegedly using false Social Security and residency identification. Most of the others were sent to a federal facility in Jena, La.

For the new state law to have any effect, Mississippi officials must determine if the company has a current state contract, and if so, whether any of the suspected illegal workers were hired since July 1.

Officials also must determine if the company used the E-Verify system.

Michael Howard, president of the Laurel company, wasn't available for comment, his secretary said Thursday.

After the raid, Howard Industries said in a statement that the company "runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for its jobs. It is company policy that it hires only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants."

"We do not have a contract with them," said Charity Elkins, administrative assistant at the state Department of Finance and Administration's purchasing and travel office said Thursday.

DFA oversees the state budget after legislators approve it, and also oversees most state buildings.

Elkins said there's no centralized purchasing for Mississippi; each agency handles its own contracts.

David Litchliter, executive director of the Department of Information Technology Services, said his agency has "convenience" contracts for commodities, such as computers, with Howard Industries. That means a school district, for instance, could choose to negotiate with the company because it's been cleared by the state, he said.

"If Howard used the E-Verify system to check those employees, then they're not liable if they checked out," said state Sen. Lee Yancy, R-Brandon, one of the authors of the new law.


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City Limits WEEKLY

Week of: September 8, 2008





There's punishment without crime for some noncitizens facing immigration troubles, advocates say.


By Gabriela Reardon


Natalia Puriy's appearance at an immigration court in Florida in January 2006 began like many that she and her husband, James Turner, had attended previously. The judge once again admonished the government attorney to obtain the necessary paperwork so he could rule on Puriy's petition for political asylum, and then adjourned the hearing for another six months.


But after the hearing, as the couple entered the building's elevator, two immigration agents followed. Turner recalls that one agent shoved him aside and asked his wife if she was Natalia. When she said she was, he proceeded to detain the 48-year-old Ukrainian immigrant without explanation. That wasn't what Puriy, a teacher, was expecting when she applied for America's protection following a wave of killings in her native Ukraine that targeted outspoken anti-communist teachers, leading her to fear for her life.


"I asked him who he was and what he was doing, and he said they were retaining all people coming in. When I demanded his name, he slammed his badge in my face and told me to shut up and get out of his way," Turner, a U.S. citizen, said in a recent interview.


Three hours later, Turner learned the government was placing his wife in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). Run by a division of the Department of Homeland Security, ISAP began in 2004 as an alternative to detention for immigrants who could otherwise be detained for alleged immigration violations. But that day, Puriy felt the force of a program that some lawyers and advocates claim has instead become an alternative form of detention - too often ensnaring people who shouldn't be detained at all.


They say ISAP is overly restrictive and doesn't effect the cost savings it was designed to - while some 610 New York residents, and 3,973 immigrants nationwide, are currently enrolled. Though it's a relatively small number, this group of people appears to be caught in the gears of a gray area of government policy - one where either being outspoken, or not outspoken enough, could be the wrong move for someone whose immigration status is precarious.


For those already detained for immigration offenses - such as entering the country without permission or overstaying a visa - the way ISAP works is to grant release on the condition that participants agree to a set of strict rules, including a 12-hour curfew, three face-to-face meetings per week with a case worker, and unannounced telephone calls and home visits from the authorities. Each immigrant is also fitted with a GPS (Global Positioning System) monitoring ankle bracelet and must install voice recognition technology on his home telephone line, which allows caseworkers to confirm they are speaking to the ISAP participant during routine phone calls. After 30 days in this intense phase, participants usually graduate to the intermediate phase, in which the bracelet is removed and the visits and phone calls reduced. The final stage involves fewer visits and phone calls, and usually continues until the immigrant is deported or cleared of charges.


Only those not subject to mandatory detention, and not deemed a threat to the community or a flight risk, can participate in ISAP.


Puriy, who married Turner in 2002 and relocated from upper Manhattan to Del Rey, Florida, spent not 30 but 80 days in the intense phase of the program. "They told us because we were being mouthy and making trouble that she would have to remain in the program longer," Turner said from their current home in Florida. (Puriy was unavailable for an interview.)


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that polices immigration, says the aim of ISAP is to free detention bed space in facilities to make room for some of the average 214 immigrants ICE arrests every day, and to ensure the people it releases appear in immigration court. The government launched the program in 2004 in eight U.S. cities and reports that as of last month, 8,500 immigrants have participated since its inception. In New York City, where the program became available in November, a total of 749 immigrants have participated.


ICE outsources ISAP to Colorado-based Behavioral Interventions, Inc., a private firm with experience managing home-arrest and felon reintegration programs across the country. The company also manufactures the GPS-monitoring ankle bracelets and radio frequency receivers used for such programs. According to the federal watchdog group OMB Watch, which tracks government spending, since 2004 ICE has paid Behavioral Interventions nearly $40 million to provide monitoring services in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, St. Paul, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco, Portland, and more recently Orlando, Los Angeles and New York City.


According to ICE, the agency has deported about one-third of ISAP participants, including those who opted for voluntary departure after proceedings had begun.


But lawyers and immigrant advocates say that like Natalia Puriy, many of the immigrants entering ISAP are not detainees who are released into the program. Instead, they say, ICE is offering the program to people who have already been released on bond by an immigration judge or who have never been detained. Most accept the so-called volunteer program because they are told their only alternative is to enter detention.


While ICE says it does not track participants' detention status prior to entering the program, anecdotal evidence provided by attorneys and policy analysts suggests it is more likely that people who have already been released from detention will be placed in the program.


"We are regularly hearing that it is rare for someone to be released into ISAP. More and more clients are going into immigration courts, fully complying with the conditions of their release, and then going into ISAP. The irony is that a person has proven him or herself and is then given more restrictions," said Annie Sovcik, staff attorney for the Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.


Kerry Bretz, a Manhattan attorney specializing in deportation defense who has several clients in the program, agrees.


"This is meant to keep a short leash on people who are at the end of their case, who are looking to leave the country soon on an order of deportation, or who are ordered removed but have no travel documents, so that when it comes time to execute the removal order, [ICE] has the person nearby," Bretz said.


Although some advocates criticize the harsh conditions and restrictiveness of the program, many say that for those who are detained in a facility, ISAP is preferable. The problem is few people in detention are offered the ISAP program. "I don't see anyone who is detained suddenly benefiting from ISAP," says Bretz.


ICE Public Information Officer Richard Rocha did not respond to City Limits' multiple requests for input on the operations of the program, including assertions that some immigrants are wrongfully being subjected to an "alternative form of detention."


Efforts like ISAP find support in groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates stricter immigration controls. "There has to be some way of holding on to people once they're apprehended," says spokesman Ira Mehlman. "There is a need to have people under detention or a close form of supervision. There's definitely an inadequate number of detention beds available. Obviously Congress needs to appropriate more funds so that we can hold the people we have spent the money to go out and find."


"Even if you are considered a lesser flight risk, it doesn't mean there's no risk at all," Mehlman said. "We have supported detention because there's an extremely high rate of people absconding."


The government modeled ISAP after the Appearance Assistance Program (AAP) piloted between 1997 and 2000 in New York City as a collaboration between the Manhattan-based Vera Institute of Justice, which studies the justice system, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (which has been renamed and folded into Homeland Security).


INS hired the Vera Institute to test whether community supervision could improve court appearance rates and thus decrease its reliance on detention. Like ISAP, the program required regular in-person meetings, telephone calls and home visits. But, unlike ISAP, the program did not use electronic monitoring devices, and it also provided participants with referrals to human services like food pantries, health clinics and English classes. Both programs refer immigrants to free or low-cost lawyers. The result of the pilot was a 91 percent appearance rate for participants, in contrast to a 71 percent appearance rate for non-participants.


ISAP has been even more successful, according to ICE. Since the program's inception, 99 percent of participants nationwide appeared for their removal hearings, and 95 percent appeared for final order hearings, at which the court issues its decision. In New York City, the overall rate of appearance has been 97 percent, although final order appearances rest at 67 percent.


Some lawyers and advocates are troubled by ICE's use of electronic monitoring devices in the form of ankle bracelets placed on participants during the intense phase. The American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration calls electronic monitoring overly restrictive, saying it "constitutes another form of detention, rather than a meaningful alternative" to it.


Janis Rosheuvel, an organizer with New York City's Families for Freedom, a group fighting family separation resulting from deportation, sees ISAP as another example of the federal government criminalizing immigration and the deportation process. Being undocumented, Rosheuvel says, is a civil violation, not a criminal one, and the process is not meant to be punitive.


The program "is not an alternative to detention. It is an alternative to people's freedom of movement. The notion of alternatives to detention is that people will be released into the community ... not placed in non-stop monitoring," she said.


The question of whether the government's use of GPS monitoring devices constitutes detention, or is just a condition of release, became central in the case of an immigrant challenging the "arbitrary and unfair conditions" of her detention. In a ruling published in May, Los Angeles Immigration Judge Lori R. Bass wrote, "The use of ankle bracelet monitor does cause the loss of a great deal of Respondent's liberty, and requires confinement in a specific space."


Oren Root, director of Vera's Center on Immigration and Justice, headed the pilot program in the late 1990s and said his team considered using electronic monitoring at the time, but ended up opting against it. "We decided to try to see whether a combination of supervision and incentives, such as referrals to the community, could be used without using electronic monitoring. We were successful in showing we could get good results without using [it]," Root said.


In addition to attaining high court appearance rates, the government argues that ISAP presents a cost-saving alternative to the ever-growing demand for detention beds, which has continued to climb since changes to immigration law in 1996 broadened the category of deportable immigrants - but has really peaked since the Bush administration launched Operation Endgame. That effort, launched in 2003, aims to deport all undocumented immigrants and those with criminal convictions by 2012. In 2008 ICE spent nearly $1.7 billion on immigrant custody; the number of detention beds reserved for immigrant detainees is rising from 20,000 in 2006 to a projected 33,000 for 2009. Bed space in a facility currently costs the government $95 daily per detainee, while ISAP costs as little as $12, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.


But because ICE is not applying the program to people already detained and emptying detention beds, critics say, the intended cost-savings effect is lost. "The way [ICE] sees the program, it is more expensive. They are viewing it as an add-on, to be applied to people who are already out," instead of using it on people currently occupying a detention bed, says Kerry Sherlock Talbot, the associate director of Advocacy, Family and Due Process for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.


Paul D. Petrus, Jr., a criminal defense and immigration attorney in Manhattan who has one client in ISAP, says the program may actually lead to further overcrowding of detention centers if immigrants either fail to comply with the requirements, or decline to participate - which can result in ICE sending them to a facility.


Much of the concern over ISAP revolves around the lack of transparency in how the government runs the program. It has not shared, for example, its enrollment criteria or the specific indicators of success that permit participants to graduate to the less intense phases. Individual officers appear to have a lot of discretion in each case and decisions on individual cases sometimes appear arbitrary.


For this reason Petrus declined to identify his client, describing him only as a Chinese national who lives in Queens and who entered the United States illegally as a child. An immigration judge ordered him deported more than a decade ago, but because China does not recognize his citizenship, he remains in the U.S. For years he has been checking in regularly with immigration officials - but like Natalia Puriy, he was recently given an ultimatum: either enter ISAP or be detained.


"Our dilemma is, if he speaks up he risks being detained [in a facility] but if he remains silent he surrenders his constitutional rights and remains in house arrest," Petrus said.


He describes this policy as arbitrary and capricious - exactly how Turner and Puriy felt the agents behaved toward them on their court date nearly three years ago. Petrus says thus far he has seen no criteria or been given any documentation explaining why his client is in ISAP.


"Only the gods and the federal government know when this will change," he said.


- Gabriela Reardon


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Workers Overcome Divisions After Mississippi Raid


Monday 08 September 2008


by: David Bacon, t r u t h o u t | Report


Two workers detained during a police raid on a Mississippi manufacturing plant. (Photo: Matt Bush / AP)

Laurel, Mississippi - In the recent raid of the Howard Industries electrical plant in Laurel, Mississippi, 481 workers have been detained for almost two weeks in Jena, Louisiana. Neither they nor their attorneys know when they will be formally charged, deported or released, and Barbara Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says simply, "Their cases are being investigated."

"We don't know the fate of those people or what they may be charged with," says Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA). "These people were rounded up and just dumped in a privately run detention center. We've heard reports that there weren't even enough beds and that people were sleeping on the floor. Because they haven't been charged, so far as we know, there's no process for them to get bail. My gut reaction is that this is an outrage."

Ironically, Jena was the site last year of massive protests over racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, after a group of young African-American men faced felony charges in a confrontation with a group of young white men, who were not charged.

Approximately 100 women were released the day of the Laurel raid for "humanitarian reasons," to care for children or because they are pregnant, according to ICE, and 50 of them have been required to wear ankle bracelets with electronic monitoring devices. Their situation is also desperate, according to MIRA organizer Victoria Cintra. "People were living paycheck to paycheck and rent is due," she explains. "They can't work and provide for their families now, and many others are dependent on husbands and fathers and brothers who were all detained. We need to redefine what humanitarian means."

Meanwhile, MIRA and other labor and community activists say media coverage of the raid has heightened racial tensions. Newspaper stories have painted a picture of a plant in which African-American and white union members were hostile to immigrants, based mostly on an incident in which some workers "applauded" as their coworkers were taken away by ICE agents. This simplistic picture obscures the real conditions in the plant, activists say, and the role the company itself played in fomenting divisions among workers.

According to Clarence Larkin, African-American president of IBEW Local 1317, the union at the plant, "this employer pits workers against each other by design, and breeds division among them that affects everyone," he says. "By favoring one worker over another, workers sometimes can't see who their real enemy is. And that's what helps keep wages low."

Workers at Howard Industries, however, do not simply look at each other as enemies across race lines. On August 28, Cintra led a group of women fired in the raid to the plant to demand their pay, after the company denied them paychecks. Managers called Laurel police. "They tried to intimidate us with 10 vehicles of police and sheriffs. They tried to arrest me and make us leave." After workers began chanting, "Let her go!" and news reporters appeared on the scene, the company finally agreed to distribute checks to about 70 people.

The following day, Cintra and the women returned to the plant to get paychecks for other unpaid workers. They sat on the grass across the street from the factory in a silent protest. "When the shift changed, African-American workers started coming out and they went up to these Latina women and began hugging them. They said things like, "We're with you. Do you need any food for your kids? How can we help? You need to assert your rights. We're glad you're here. We'll support you.' There's a lot of support inside the factory for these workers who were caught up in the raid."

Meanwhile, the union has been in negotiations with the company since its contract expired at the beginning of August. In preparation for those negotiations, the IBEW brought in a Spanish-speaking organizer, Maria Gonzalez, to recruit immigrant workers into the union. She visited people at home to help explain the benefits of belonging. Larkin says many immigrant workers joined, complaining of bad treatment. "Supervisors yell at people a lot," he says, "not just immigrants, but at everyone. Howard has always been an anti-employee company, and treats workers with no respect, as though they make no contribution to its success."

When workers have volunteered to become stewards, Larkin says, or to serve on the negotiations committee, the company "institutes a very aggressive discipline against them, so people fear reprisals. It's a challenge to get people involved. Bear in mind, this is the South. It's always a tall order to talk about forming a union here."

Local 1317 hasn't been as active as other unions in nearby poultry plants, however, in bringing workers together across racial divides. In Mississippi fish plants, Jaribu Hill, director of the Mississippi Workers Center, has worked with unions to help workers understand the dynamics of race. "We have to talk about racism," she says. "The union focuses on the contract, but skin color issues are still on the table. We don't try to be the union, but we do try to keep a focus on human rights." Organizing a multi-racial workforce means recognizing the divisions between African-Americans and immigrants. "We're coming together like a marriage," she warns, "working across our divides."

Hill says it's important for workers to understand the historical price paid for racial division in the South. "Our conditions are the direct result of slavery," she explains. "Today, Frito Lay wages in Mississippi are still much lower than Illinois - $8.75 compared to $13.75 an hour. This is the evolution of a historical oppression. Immigrants have come here looking for better lives - we came in chains."

Larkin makes the same point. Wages at Howard Industries, the world's largest manufacturer of electrical transformers, are $2 lower than other companies in the industry, he says. That difference goes into the pocket of the Howard family. "The people who profit from Mississippi's low wage system want to keep it the way it is," alleges Jim Evans, a national AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi, a leading member of the state legislature's Black Caucus, and MIRA's board chair.

Some state labor leaders, however, have contributed to racial divisions and anti-immigrant hostility. After the Howard Industries workers, many of them union members, were arrested, state AFL-CIO President Robert Shaffer told The Associated Press that he doubted that immigrants could join unions if they were not in the country legally. US labor law, however, holds that all workers have union rights, regardless of immigration status. It also says unions have a duty to represent all members fairly and equally.

Divisions are likely to be deepened as well by repeated public statements by ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez that the raid took place because of a tip by a "union member" two years before. She claimed ICE waited two years before conducting the raid, because "we took the time needed for our investigation," but declined to say how that investigation was conducted, or what led ICE to believe the tip had come from a union member.

"It's hard to believe that a two-year-old phone call to ICE led to this raid, but whether or not the call ever took place, that possibility is a product of the poisonous atmosphere fostered by politicians of both parties in Mississippi," says MIRA director Chandler. "In the last election, Barbour and Republicans campaigned against immigrants to get elected, but so did all the Democratic statewide candidates except Attorney General Jim Hood. The raid will make the climate even worse."

During the 2007 election campaign, the Ku Klux Klan organized a 500-person rally in Tupelo, and when MIRA organizer Erik Fleming urged Republican Governor Haley Barbour to veto a bill making work a felony for the undocumented, he was attacked by state anti-immigrant organizations.

Evans called the raid "an effort to drive immigrants out of Mississippi. It is also an attempt to drive a wedge between immigrants, African-Americans, white people and unions - all those who want political change here. But it will just make us more determined," he declared. "We won't go back to the kind of racism Mississippi has known throughout its past."





North American Congress on Latin America (http://nacla.org)



Displaced People: NAFTA's Most Important Product


David Bacon


Sep 3 2008


Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, the U.S. Congress has debated and passed several new bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Jordan and Chile, as well as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Congressional debates over immigration policy have proceeded as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the United States, looking for work.

Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, the U.S. Congress has debated and passed several new bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Jordan and Chile, as well as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Congressional debates over immigration policy have proceeded as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the United States, looking for work. As Rufino Domínguez, former coordinator of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), points out, U.S. trade and immigration policy are part of a single system, and the negotiation of NAFTA was an important step in developing this system. "There are no jobs" in Mexico, he says, "and NAFTA drove the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the United States to work because there's no alternative."

Economic crises provoked by NAFTA and other economic reforms are uprooting and displacing Mexicans in the country's most remote areas. While California farmworkers 20 and 30 years ago came from parts of Mexico with larger Spanish-speaking populations, migrants today increasingly come from indigenous communities in states like Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero. Domínguez says there are about 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca living in the United States, 300,000 in California alone.

Meanwhile, a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment has demonized those migrants, leading to measures to deny them jobs, rights, or any pretense of equality with people living in the communities around them. Solutions to these dilemmas-from adopting rational and humane immigration policies to reducing the fear and hostility toward migrants-must begin with an examination of the way U.S. policies have both produced migration and criminalized migrants.


Trade negotiations and immigration policy were formally joined together when Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986. While most attention has focused on its provisions for amnesty and employer sanctions, few have noted an important provision of the law: the establishment of the Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, to study the causes of immigration to the United States. The commission was inactive until 1988, but began holding hearings when the U.S. and Canadian governments signed a bilateral free trade agreement. After Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari made it plain he favored a similar agreement with Mexico, the commission made a report to the first president George Bush and to Congress in 1990. It found, unsurprisingly, that the main motivation for coming north was economic.

To slow or halt this flow, it recommended "promoting greater economic integration between the migrant sending countries and the United States through free trade." It concluded that "the United States should expedite the development of a U.S.-Mexico free trade area and encourage its incorporation with Canada into a North American free trade area," while warning that "it takes many years-even generations-for sustained growth to achieve the desired effect."1

The negotiations that led to NAFTA started within months of the report. As Congress debated the treaty, Salinas toured the United States, telling audiences unhappy at high levels of immigration that passing NAFTA would reduce it by increasing employment in Mexico. Back home, Salinas and other treaty proponents made the same argument. NAFTA, they claimed, would set Mexico on a course to become a first-world nation. "We did become part of the first world," says Juan Manuel Sandoval, coordinator of the Permanent Seminar on Chicano and Border Studies at Mexico City's National Institute of Anthropology and History: "the backyard."

Contrary to NAFTA proponents' predictions, the treaty became an important source of pressure on Mexicans to migrate. It forced yellow corn grown by Mexican farmers without subsidies to compete in Mexico's own market with corn from huge U.S. producers, subsidized by the U.S. farm bill. Agricultural exports to Mexico grew at a meteoric rate during the NAFTA years, at a compound annual rate of 9.4%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By 2007, annual U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico stood at $12.7 billion.2 In January and February 2008, huge demonstrations in Mexico sought to block the implementation of the agreement's final chapter, which lowered the tariff barriers on white corn and beans.

As a result of a growing crisis in agricultural production, by the 1980s Mexico had already become a corn importer, and according to Sandoval, large farmers switched to other crops when they couldn't compete with U.S. grain dumping. But NAFTA then prohibited price supports, without which hundreds of thousands of small farmers found it impossible to sell corn or other farm products for what it cost to produce them. The National Popular Subsistence Company (Conasupo), through which the government bought corn at subsidized prices, turned it into tortillas, and sold them in state-franchised grocery stores at subsidized low prices, was abolished. And when NAFTA pulled down customs barriers, large U.S. corporations dumped even more agricultural products on the Mexican market. Rural families went hungry when they couldn't find buyers for what they'd grown.

Mexico couldn't protect its own agriculture from the fluctuations of the world market. A global coffee glut in the 1990s plunged prices below the cost of production. A less entrapped government might have bought the crops of Veracruz farmers to keep them afloat, or provided subsidies for other crops. But once free market strictures were in place, prohibiting government intervention to help them, those farmers paid the price. Veracruz campesinos joined the stream of workers headed north.

Mexico's urban poor fared no better. Although a flood of cheap U.S. grain was supposed to make consumer prices fall, they in fact rose. With the end of the Conasupo stores and price controls, the price of tortillas more than doubled in the years following NAFTA's adoption. One company, Grupo Maseca, monopolized tortilla production, while Wal-Mart became Mexico's largest retailer.

Under Mexico's former national content laws, foreign automakers like Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, and Volkswagen were required to buy some of their components from Mexican producers. NAFTA, however, prohibited laws requiring foreign producers to use a certain percentage of local content in assembled products. Without this restraint, the auto giants began to supply their assembly lines with parts from their own subsidiaries, often manufactured in other countries. Mexican auto parts workers lost their jobs by the thousands.

NAFTA was part of a process that began long before, in which economic reforms restructured the Mexican economy. One major objective of those reforms was the privatization of the large state sector, which employed millions of workers. By the early 1990s the Mexican government had sold most of its mines to one company, Grupo México, owned by the wealthy Larrea family, along with a steel mill in Michoacán to the Villareal family, and its telephone company to the richest person in Mexico, Carlos Slim. Former Mexico City mayor Carlos Hank drove the city's bus system deeply into debt, and then bought the lines in the 1990s at public auction.

Rich Mexicans weren't the only beneficiaries of privatization. U.S. companies were allowed to buy land and factories, eventually anywhere in Mexico, without Mexican partners. U.S.-based Union Pacific, in partnership with the Larreas, became the owner of the country's main north-south rail line and immediately discontinued virtually all passenger service, as railroad corporations had done in the United States. As the Larreas and Union Pacific moved to boost profits and cut labor costs, Mexican rail employment dropped precipitously.3 The railroad union under leftist leaders Demetrio Vallejo and Valentín Campa had been so powerful that its strikes had strongly challenged the government in the 1950s. The two spent years in prison for their temerity. Facing privatization, railroad workers mounted a wildcat strike to try to save their jobs, but they lost and their union became a shadow of its former self in Mexican politics.

After NAFTA the privatization wave expanded. Mexico's ports were sold off, and companies like Stevedoring Services of America, Hutchinson, and TMM now operate the country's largest shipping terminals. As with the railroads, the impact on longshore wages and employment has been devastating. In 2006 spreading poverty, and the lack of a program to create jobs and raise living standards, ignited months of conflict in Oaxaca, in which strikes and demonstrations were met with repression by an unpopular government. Leoncio Vásquez, an activist with the FIOB in Fresno, California, says, "The lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration from Oaxaca and Mexico, since it closes off our ability to call for any change."

In NAFTA's first year, 1994, the Mexican economy collapsed when the peso was devalued without warning in December. To avert the sell-off of short-term bonds and a flood of capital to the north, U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin engineered a $20 billion loan to Mexico, which was paid to bondholders, mostly U.S. banks. In return, Mexico had to pledge its oil revenue to pay off foreign debt, making the country's primary source of income unavailable for social needs, and foreign capital took control of the Mexican banking system.

As the Mexican economy, especially the border maquiladora industry, became increasingly tied to the U.S. market, Mexican workers lost jobs when the market for the output of those factories shrank during U.S. recessions. In 2000-01, many jobs were lost on the U.S.-Mexico border, and in the current recession, thousands more are being eliminated. There is no starker reminder of Mexico's dependency on the U.S. economy.


All of these policies produce displaced people who can no longer make a living or survive as they've done before. The rosy predictions of NAFTA's boosters that it would slow migration proved false. Between just 2000 and 2005, Mexico lost a million and a half jobs, mostly in the countryside. Since 1994, 6 million Mexicans have come to live in the United States. In just five years, from 2000 to 2005, the Mexican-born population living in the United States increased from 10 million to nearly 12 million.4 With few green cards or permanent residence visas available for Mexicans, most of these migrants were undocumented.

People were migrating from Mexico to its northern neighbor long before NAFTA was negotiated. Juan Manuel Sandoval emphasizes that "Mexican labor has always been linked to the different stages of U.S. capitalist development since the 19th century-in times of prosperity, by the incorporation of large numbers of workers in agricultural, manufacturing, service, and other sectors, and in periods of economic crisis, by the deportation of Mexican laborers back to Mexico in huge numbers."

But from 1982 through the NAFTA era, successive economic reforms produced more migrants. Campesinos who lost their land found jobs as farmworkers in California. Laid-off railroad workers traveled north, as their forbears had during the early 1900s, when Mexican labor built much of the rail network through the U.S. southwest. The displacement of people had already grown so large by 1986 that the commission established by the IRCA was charged with recommending measures to halt or slow it.

Its report urged that "migrant-sending countries should encourage technological modernization by strengthening and assuring intellectual property protection and by removing existing impediments to investment" and recommended that "the United States should condition bilateral aid to sending countries on their taking the necessary steps toward structural adjustment. Similarly, U.S. support for non-project lending by the international financial institutions should be based on the implementation of satisfactory adjustment programs." The IRCA commission report even acknowledged the potential for harm, noting that "efforts should be made to ease transitional costs in human suffering."5

NAFTA, however, was not intended to relieve human suffering. "It is the financial crashes and the economic disasters that drive people to work for dollars in the U.S., to replace life savings, or just to earn enough to keep their family at home together," says Harvard historian John Womack. "The debt-induced crash in the 1980s, before NAFTA, drove people north." He adds that the financial crash and the NAFTA reform engineered by Treasury Secretary Rubin, together with New York's financial expropriation of Mexican finances between 1995 and 2000, once again impelled economically wrecked, dispossessed, and impoverished people to migrate north.

Displacement is an unmentionable word in the Washington discourse. But not one immigration proposal in Congress in 2006 and 2007 tried to come to grips with the policies that uprooted miners, teachers, tree planters, and farmers, in spite of the fact that Congress members voted for these policies. In fact, while debating bills to criminalize undocumented migrants and set up huge guest-worker programs, four new trade agreements were introduced, each of which would cause more displacement and more migration.

Today, displacement and inequality are deeply ingrained in the free market economy. Mexican president Felipe Calderón said during a recent visit to California, "You have two economies. One economy is intensive in capital, which is the American economy. One economy is intensive in labor, which is the Mexican economy. We are two complementary economies, and that phenomenon is impossible to stop."6 When Calderón says "intensive in labor," he means that millions of Mexican citizens are being displaced, and that the country's economy can't produce employment for them. To Calderón and employers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, migration is therefore a labor-supply system. Immigration policy determines the rules under which that labor is put to use.

President George W. Bush says the purpose of U.S. immigration policy should be to "connect willing employers and willing employees."7 He is simply restating what has been true throughout U.S. history. U.S. immigration policy doesn't stop people from coming into the country, nor is it intended to. Its main function is to determine the status of people once they're here. And an immigration policy based on providing a labor supply produces two effects: Displacement becomes an unspoken tool for producing workers, while inequality becomes official policy.

Some 24 million immigrants live in the United States either as citizens or with documents, and 12 million without them. If these migrants actually did go home, whole industries would collapse. And employers benefit from large numbers of undocumented people, since illegality creates an inexpensive system. So-called illegal workers produce wealth but receive a smaller share than other workers in return-a source of profit for those who employ them. No one claims that these excess profits are "illegal" and should be returned to those who produced them. Instead, the producers themselves are called "illegal."

Companies depend not just on the workers in the factories and fields, but also on the communities from which they come. If those communities stop sending workers, the labor supply dries up. Work stops. Yet no company pays for a single school or clinic, or even any taxes, in those communities. In the tiny Mexican towns that now provide workers, free-market and free-trade policies exert pressure to cut the government budget for social services. The cost of these services is now borne by workers themselves, in the form of remittance payments sent back from jobs in Nebraska slaughterhouses, California fields, or New York office buildings.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox boasted that in 2005 his country's citizens working in the United States sent back $18 billion. The World Bank estimates that in 2006 that figure reached $25 billion.8 At the same time, the public funds that historically paid for schools and public works increasingly leaves Mexico in debt payments to foreign banks. Remittances, as large as they are, cannot make up for this outflow. According to a report to the Inter-American Development Bank, remittances accounted for an average of 1.19% of the gross domestic product between 1996 and 2000, and 2.14% between 2001 and 2006. Debt payments, however, accounted for a good deal more. By partially meeting unmet and unfunded social needs, remittances are indirectly subsidizing the banks.9

At the same time, companies dependent on this immigrant stream gain greater flexibility in adjusting for the highs and lows of market demand. The global production system has grown very flexible in accommodating economic booms and busts. Its employment system is based on the use of contractors, which is replacing the system in which workers were directly employed by the businesses using their labor. Displaced migrant workers are the backbone of this contingent labor system. Its guiding principle is that immigration policy and enforcement should direct immigrants to industries when their labor is needed, and remove them when it's not.

Guest-worker and employment-based visa programs were created to accommodate these labor needs. When demand is high, employers recruit workers. When demand falls, those workers not only have to leave their jobs, but the country entirely. Today, employers and the Department of Homeland Security call for relaxing the requirements on guest-worker visas. Although there are minimum wage and housing requirements, the Southern Poverty Law Center report, "Close to Slavery," documents the fact that the requirements are generally ignored. "These workers don't have labor rights or benefits," Domínguez of the FIOB charges. "It's like slavery. If workers don't get paid or they're cheated, they can't do anything."

New guest-worker programs are the heart of the corporate program for U.S. immigration reform, and are combined with proposals for increased enforcement and a pro-employer program for legalization of the undocumented. Proposals based on this three-part compromise are called "comprehensive immigration reform."

"The governments of both Mexico and the U.S. are dependent on the cheap labor of Mexicans. They don't say so openly, but they are," Domínguez concludes. "What would improve our situation is real legal status for the people already here and greater availability of visas based on family reunification. Legalization and more visas would resolve a lot of problems-not all, but it would be a big step," he says. "Walls won't stop migration, but decent wages and investing money in creating jobs in our countries of origin would decrease the pressure forcing us to leave home. Penalizing us by making it illegal for us to work won't stop migration, since it doesn't deal with why people come."

Changing corporate trade policy and stopping neoliberal reforms is as central to immigration reform as gaining legal status for undocumented immigrants. It makes no sense to promote more free-trade agreements and then condemn the migration of the people they displace. Instead, Congress must end the use of the free-trade system as a mechanism for producing displaced workers. That also means delinking immigration status and employment. If employers are allowed to recruit contract labor abroad, and those workers can only stay if they are continuously employed, they will never have enforceable rights.

The root problem with migration in the global economy is that it's forced migration. A coalition for reform should fight for the right of people to choose when and how to migrate, including the derecho de no migrar-the right not to migrate, given viable alternatives.

At the same time, migrants should have basic rights, regardless of immigration status. "Otherwise," Domínguez says, "wages will be depressed in a race to the bottom, since if one employer has an advantage, others will seek the same thing." To raise the low price of immigrant labor, immigrant workers have to be able to organize. Permanent legal status makes it easier and less risky to organize. Guest-worker programs, employer sanctions, enforcement, and raids make organizing much more difficult.


Corporations and those who benefit from current priorities might not support a more pro-migrant alternative, but millions of people would. Whether they live in Mexico or the United States, working people need the same things-secure jobs at a living wage, rights in their workplaces and communities, and the freedom to travel and seek a future for their families.




David Bacon is a senior fellow at the Oakland Institute, which provided support for this analysis. He is a writer and photojournalist, and former labor organizer. His most recent book is Illegal People-How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008).




1. Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, "Unauthorized Migration: An Economic Development Response," Washington, D.C., 1990.

2. USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, "Mexico: Trade," available at www.ers.usda.gov [1].

3. North American Transportation Statistics Database, "Transportation and the Economy," Table 2-3, "Employment in Transportation and Related Industries," available at nats.sct.gob.mx.

4. Jeanne Batalova, "Mexican Immigrants in the United States," Migration Information Source, available at www.migrationinformation.org [2].

5. Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, "Unauthorized Migration: An Economic Development Response."

6. Associated Press, "Mexican President Decries Anti-Immigrant Tone," February 14, 2008.

7. Office of the Press Secretary, the White House, "Fact Sheet: Fair and Secure Immigration Reform," January 7, 2004.

8. "México es tercer país receptor de remesas en el mundo, según Banco Mundial," July 15, 2008, www.informador.com.mx [3].

9. Inter-American Development Bank, "Remittances and Development: The Case of Mexico" June 28, 2005, available at www.iadb.org [4].

Source URL: http://nacla.org/node/4980



[1] http://www.ers.usda.gov

[2] http://www.migrationinformation.org

[3] http://www.informador.com.mx

[4] http://www.iadb.org





IPS News


Monday, September 08, 2008   17:11 GMT



RIGHTS: Fighting the 'War on Terror'


Julio Godoy


PARIS, Sep 8 (IPS) - The "war on terror" in the aftermath of the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001 has undermined human rights globally, according to activists and experts who attended a UN conference in Paris.


"Immediately after Sep. 11 we saw a dramatic change in government policies with regard to terrorism, suspected terrorism, and the monitoring of citizens, with the underlying assumption that human rights norms as established in conventions and treaties no longer apply," Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism and counter-terrorism programme at Human Rights Watch said at the conference in Paris last week.

The trend has worsened over the last seven years, Mariner said.

Some 2,000 human rights experts and activists attended the annual United Nations Department of Public Information Non-Governmental Organisations Conference.

The UN DPI/NGO conference on 'Reaffirming Human Rights for All: The Universal Declaration at 60' was held at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The conference this year commemorated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Paris in December 1948.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message that the delegates were gathered "to commemorate one of humankind's greatest achievements."

But it was not a celebratory mood at the conference. The meeting was dominated by the sense that human rights have been globally weakened by the war between "terrorism and counter-terrorism" both at the national and the international level.

Mariner told a conference roundtable on Human Rights and Human security that the U.S. suppression of rights was only part of a global trend. "Nearly 80 countries have adopted counter-terrorism legislation since September 2001," Mariner said.

"There is a global pattern to suppress the rights and freedoms of individuals through new laws. These laws cut back on individual rights and human rights norms, and have greatly increased government powers to investigate, detain, and imprison people with minimum judicial oversight, minimum transparency, and very little procedural safeguards."

Mariner and other participants blamed some UN institutions for cooperating with this suppression of human rights. "Within the UN, the balance of power on the question of human rights has tilted in favour of the Security Council and the bodies it has created specifically to deal with the issue of terrorism," Mariner said.

The UN Security Council, Mariner said, has been passing resolution after resolution on terrorism, all of which have a marked "legislative character", requiring states to pass ever new laws against suspected terrorism, to spot the flow of money, on migration, and to incarcerate suspects.

Workshops at the conference covered issues such as 'Addressing Gross Human Rights Violations: Prevention and Accountability', 'Dealing with the Past in Post-Conflict Societies: Community-Based Responses to Genocide and Mass Violence', and 'The Right to Know, the Right to Truth: How Archives and Records help Combat Impunity'.

Daniel Bekele, head of policy research and advocacy at Action Aid Ethiopia, and a former prisoner of conscience in his country, said African civil society activism has been growing over the past few years. "But, at the same time, a significant number of countries on the continent have been abusing their muscle to silence civil society organisations, in particular those who work on human rights issues. The pretext is the protection of national, regional or sometimes even international security concerns."

The conference also explored education as a human right. Ahead of the International Year of Human Rights Learning to be launched Dec. 10, and as a complement to the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-2009), the conference considered ways of advancing education, learning and dialogue about human rights as a way of life.


The conference considered practical measures to integrate human rights education and learning into the programmes and activities of governments, civil society, media and the Internet, faith-based organisations, academics and the private sector, with a view to developing a learning process at the community level worldwide. (END/2008)



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