Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Tuesday, September 02, 2008


NOTE: IRN and other NNIRR posts are available at www.nnirr.blogspot.com




2. Los Angeles Times: Immigrant raid divides a Mississippi town


3. Washington Post: Raid's Outcome May Signal a Retreat In Immigration Strategy, Critics Say


4. Desmoines Register: Critics tie scant new charges to wariness after Postville raid


5. Denver Post: Both hopefuls keep quiet on divisive issue of immigration


6. AlterNet: Anti-Immigrant Republican Brian Bilbray's Bizarre Crusade on the 14th Amendment



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By David Bacon

TruthOut Feature


LAUREL, MS (8/31/08) -- On August 25, immigration agents swooped down on Howard Industries, a Mississippi electrical equipment factory, taking 481 workers to a privately-run detention center in Jena, Louisiana.  A hundred and six women were also arrested at the plant, and released wearing electronic monitoring devices on their ankles, if they had children, or without them, if they were pregnant. Eight workers were taken to Federal court in Hattiesburg, where they were charged with aggravated identity theft.


Afterwards Barbara Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stated the raid took place because of a tip by a "union member" two years before.  Other media accounts focused on an incident in which plant workers allegedly cheered as their coworkers were led away by ICE agents.  The articles claim the plant was torn by tension between immigrant and non-immigrant workers, and that unions in Mississippi are hostile to immigrants.


Many Mississippi activists and workers, however, charge the raid had a political agenda - undermining a growing political coalition that threatens the state's conservative Republican establishment.  They also say the raid, which took place during union contract negotiations, will help the company resist demands for better wages and conditions.


Jim Evans, a national AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi and a leading member of the state legislature's Black Caucus, said he believed "this raid is 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."  Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), agreed that "this is political.  They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state, the kind we've seen in Arizona and Oklahoma.  The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi's changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years."


In the last two decades, the percentage of African Americans in the state's population has increased to over 35%, and immigrants, who were statistically insignificant until recently, are expected to reach 10% in the next decade.  Mississippi union membership has been among the nation's lowest, but since the early 1980s, workers have joined unions in catfish and poultry plants, casinos and shipyards, along with those at Howard Industries.


Evans, other members of the Black Caucus, many of the state's labor organizations, and immigrant communities all see shifting demographics as the basis for changing the state's politics.  Over the last seven years their growing coalition has proposed legislation to set up a Department of Labor (Mississippi is the only state without one), guarantee access to education for children of all races and nationalities, and provide drivers' licenses to immigrants.  MIRA organized support in the state capitol for those proposals and Evans, who sponsored many of them, chairs MIRA's board.


Earlier this year, however, the legislature passed, and Governor Haley Barbour signed, a law making it a state felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job, punishable by 1-5 years in prison and $1,000-10,000 in fines.  Employers are given immunity for employing workers without papers, so long as they vet new hires through an ICE database called E-Verify.  It is still not known whether the people arrested at Howard Industries will be charged under the new state law.  Evans says the law and the raid serve the same objectives.  "They both just make it easier to exploit workers.  The people who profit from Mississippi's low wage system want to keep it the way it is," he alleged.


In the week before the raid, MIRA organizers received reports of a growing number of ICE agents in southern Mississippi.  They began leafleting immigrant communities, warning them about a possible raid and explaining their rights should people be questioned about their immigration status.  When agents finally showed up at the Howard Industries plant, many workers say they tried to invoke those rights, and warn others that a raid was in progress.  One woman, later detained and then released to care for her child, began to call workers who had not yet come to the factory on her cell phone, warning them to stay away. "She first called her brother, and then began calling anyone else she could think of," explained her mother, who works in a local chicken plant.  Both feared being identified publicly. "An agent grabbed her arm, and asked her what she was doing, so she went into the bathroom, and kept calling people until they took her phone away."


Howard Industries, like most Mississippi employers, has a long record of opposing unions.  Workers there chose representation by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on June 8, 2000, by a vote of 162-108.  Employment at the plant, which manufactures electrical ballasts and transformers, grew considerably after the election, and the company now employs over 4000 workers at several locations in Mississippi. In 2002 it received a $31.5 million subsidy for expansion from the state government, and at one point state legislators were all given HI laptop computers.  "The company is very well-connected politically," says Evans, who noted that its owners donated to the campaigns of former Democratic governor Ronnie Musgrove, and then to Mississippi's current Republican governor Haley Barbour.


As it grew the company hired many immigrant Mexican and Central American workers, diversifying a workforce that was originally primarily African American and white.  The company has declined to comment, and released a press statement that said, "Howard Industries runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs. It is company policy that it hires only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants."


During the organizing drive the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging intimidation and violations of workers' rights.  After the union and company agreed on a contract, more charges followed. NLRB Region 15 issued a complaint against the company for violating the union's bargaining rights.  Roger Doolittle, attorney for IBEW Local 1317, says other charges allege that the company threatened a union steward for trying to represent workers in the plant.  In June the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it intended to fine the company $123,000 for 36 violations of health and safety regulations at the Pendorf plant, where the raid took place, and another $41,000 in fines for a second Laurel location.


Tension between the company and union increased after the collective bargaining agreement expired at the beginning of August.  According to one immigrant worker, who was not detained because he worked on swing shift and did not want to be identified, the union was asking for a wage increase of $1.50/hour and better vacation benefits.  Company medical benefits are also an issue among workers, he said, because family coverage costs over $100/week, putting it out of reach for most employees.


Mississippi is a right-to-work state, and labor contracts cannot require that workers belong to the union.  Instead, unions must continually try to sign workers up as members. In past years, according to other union sources, IBEW Local 1317 had a reputation as a union that did not offer much support to its immigrant members.


According to the swing shift worker, who did not belong to the union, there were just a few hundred members at the Pendorf plant, and in negotiations the company used that low membership as a reason not to sign a new agreement.


To increase its ability to negotiate a contract, Local 1317 began making greater efforts to sign up immigrant members.  Spanish-speaking organizers were brought in, and they handed out leaflets in Spanish explaining the benefits of membership.  They visited workers at home so they could talk about the union without being overheard or seen by company supervisors.  According to the swing shift worker, many began to join, especially the immigrants who'd been hired most recently.  IBEW's national newspaper, Electrical Worker, reported that over 200 had signed up last April, according to Local 1317's African-American business manager Clarence Larkin. "It's a constant process to keep the union alive and growing," he told the paper.


That's when the plant was raided.  Local 1317 will now have to try to negotiate a contract after the loss of many of its members, who were among those detained.  Those members, who joined the union in hopes of better wages and treatment, instead have been imprisoned for days in Jena, Louisiana, a two-hour drive from Laurel.  ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez would not provide an estimate of how long they might be jailed, but said "the investigation of their cases is ongoing."


The day after ICE agents stormed the factory MIRA began organizing meetings to provide legal advice, food and economic help.  According to MIRA director Bill Chandler, Howard Industry representatives told detainees' families, and women released to care for children, that the company wouldn't give them their paychecks.  On August 28 MIRA organizer Vicky Cintra led a group of workers to the Pendorf plant to demand their pay.  Managers called Laurel police and sheriffs, who threatened to arrest her.  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 swing shift worker was so frightened by the raid that he hadn't gone back to work after almost a week, and wasn't sure he'd have a job waiting if he did.  "Everyone is still really scared," he said.  Doolittle agreed, and said that fear would affect more than just the workers taken away.  "Workers get apprehensive anytime something like this happens," he said.  "That's just human nature."


Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, explained that "raids drive down wages because they intimidate workers, even citizens and legal residents.  The employer brings in another batch of employees and continues business as usual, while people who protest get targeted and workers get deported.  Raids really demonstrate the employer's power."  The Hattiesburg American reported Friday that Howard Industries sent a letter to customers two days after the raid, assuring them that production would be back to normal by the end of the week, and noting that the company has not been charged.


Spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez claimed ICE waited two years after receiving a call from a "union member" before conducting the raid, because "we took the time needed for our investigation."  She declined to say how that investigation was conducted, or what led ICE to believe their tip had come from a union member.  The picture of a plant in which union members were hostile to immigrants was reinforced after the raid by media accounts of an incident in which workers "applauded" as their coworkers were taken away.  But on August 29, when Cintra and the braceleted women sat in front of the plant for a second day, demanding more paychecks, African American workers came up to them as they left work, embraced the women, and told them they supported them.


"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 Barbour to veto the bill making work a felony for the undocumented, he was attacked by state anti-immigrant organizations.


Some state labor leaders have contributed to 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.  U.S. 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


"This raid will just make us more determined," Evans declared.  "We won't go back to the kind of racism Mississippi has known throughout its past."



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Los Angeles Times



Immigrant raid divides a Mississippi town

Many black and white residents of Laurel applaud the crackdown; it sends fear through the Latino community. Political change may end such raids.


By Miguel Bustillo and Richard Fausset

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

August 31, 2008


LAUREL, MISS. — Fabiola Pena considered running away from her factory job when she realized she was being targeted in a federal immigration raid. She was deterred when she noticed the helicopters hovering overhead.

But helicopters were not what shocked Pena the most on her last, fateful day at Howard Industries, the largest employer in this small Southern town. It was the black co-workers who clapped and cheered, Pena said, as she and hundreds of other Latino immigrant laborers were arrested and hauled away.

"They said we took their jobs, but I was working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.," said Pena, 21, a day after the raid last week that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 suspected illegal immigrants. "I didn't see them working like us."

The raid at Howard Industries, a manufacturer of electrical distribution equipment, was the largest of its kind in many years,and it exposed some of the rawest emotions that fuel the illegal immigration debate.

It was also carried out during a period of political limbo: Polls suggest that for voters, the immigration issue has been eclipsed by the sputtering economy, and neither of the two major presidential candidates has made much of the topic during the election season.

As the Bush administration winds down its tenure in Washington, it has made efforts to step up immigration enforcement, especially after Congress last year failed to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Since then, thousands of people have been arrested in raids at dozens of facilities in the nation, generating considerable controversy. Immigrant advocates howl over the coarse treatment of suspects and the breakup of families, and anti-immigrant groups laud the raids, which they say allow for long-overdue enforcement of existing laws.

But the raids might not have much of a future after the swearing-in of Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, both of whom have staked out moderate-to-liberal stances on immigration reform.

If the next president decides to curtail or end raids similar to the one at the Howard Industries, it will not sit well with many residents of Laurel. The raid was welcomed by a number of native-born residents in this manufacturing hub of about 25,000 people that has been transformed in recent years by the influx of Latino workers, many of whom are undocumented.

"They need to go and do this in every little town," Tonya Jackson said.

Jackson, who is black, said that over the years she had applied numerous times for a job at the locally owned manufacturer, which employs about 4,000 workers. Jackson, 30, said she never received a callback. The raid, she said, was a welcome purge of illegal Latino laborers who had taken jobs they didn't deserve.

"We've been here all our lives," she said. "And it seems like they have just arrived and are getting the nice cars and the good homes."

Her stance puts her at odds with Obama. The Democratic presidential nominee's website describes such raids as "ineffective" measures that have "placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families."

It is unclear if raids would increase or decrease under a McCain administration. Like Obama, McCain wants to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and beef up border security. (McCain, of late, has emphasized that border security must come first).

But some illegal-immigration opponents worry that the raids and other enforcement efforts will decline once illegal residents are offered a path to citizenship, since the government will be focusing more on accommodating rather than punishing them.

Immigration advocacy groups, meanwhile, are just as worried that McCain, who has tinkered with his views on immigration, would choose to continue the raids.

The crackdown in Laurel upended the new reality here. The old lumber town, about two hours northeast of New Orleans, boasts a few stately mansions and other remnants of a quaint Southern past. More recently, the city has been transformed by taquerias and grocery stores catering to Latino immigrants who came to work at the electrical equipment factory and nearby chicken plants. The town's population in 2000 was about 18,000, according to census figures, but the Latino newcomers have helped swell that number by thousands.

Their arrival created tension in the town, with black and white residents accusing the undocumented workers of taking the few available jobs and depressing wages.

Monday's raid, part of a two-year investigation of Howard Industries, was triggered by a complaint from a union member, said Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency conducting the inquiry.

Of the 595 people arrested, about 106 were released and fitted with monitoring devices until their trial date. Among them was Pena, who was freed so she could care for her 2-year-old daughter. A number of 17-year-old workers were put into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the remaining workers were taken to a detention center in Jena, La., about four hours away.

Most of the workers were charged with noncriminal immigration violations and faced possible deportation; eight of them faced criminal charges of identity theft.

No managers were arrested in the raid, said Gonzalez, who noted the case remained open. Immigrant advocates often complain that workers bear a disproportionate brunt of the punishment from such raids, whereas the employers are sometimes overlooked.

Howard Industries released a statement the same day the raid took place, saying that the company performs "every check allowed" to determine the immigration status of all applicants.

After the raid, the company put up a billboard on 16th Avenue, the busy commercial thoroughfare on which it resides, that said: "Howard Industries is now hiring!"

The raid, along with rumors of further enforcement actions, has sent a wave of fear through the Latino community. A number of workers have skipped their shifts at the poultry plants. Mexican restaurants refused to open their doors, with one citing an unexplained "plumbing problem" on a sign to customers.

"There ain't a Mexican place open in this town," said Mark Childress, 49, as he went to a taqueria, only to find it closed.

Childress, a Laurel native, said he was not upset by the Latino immigration, but others said they were glad to see it being rolled back. James Warren, 33, worked at Howard Industries for a few months in 2000. But he quit because of the low wages and because he said none of the co-workers during his shift spoke English.

"It was long overdue," Warren said of the raid. "Everybody knew what was going on in there. There weren't a lot of white or black people left in there anymore, it was all Mexicans."

With both presidential candidates pledging to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, Warren said he couldn't imagine the raids continuing for long.

At Peniel Christian Church one night last week, about two dozen Latino immigrants were milling around. Some held hands in a circle and prayed.

A few were waiting for lawyers; others were unaffected by the raid, but too scared to go home. Children ran through the pews, oblivious to their parents' grief.

"These people are not terrorists, communist or criminals," said pastor Roberto Valez, 58, a native of Puerto Rico. "They are here because they are hungry and in search of a better life, and they were caught working."

Pena, the former Howard Industries worker, said that not everyone treated her poorly. Her supervisor, a black woman, consoled her during the raid, she said.

"She even called my mother to let her know what happened," Pena said. "But it was in English and my mother had no idea what she was trying to say."




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Washington Post



Raid's Outcome May Signal a Retreat In Immigration Strategy, Critics Say


By Spencer S. Hsu

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 2, 2008; A13

The federal government's handling of a massive immigration raid at a Mississippi manufacturing plant last week has led critics to suggest that the Bush administration is backpedaling from its aggressive use of criminal charges and fast-tracked trials against illegal immigrants caught at workplaces.

U.S. officials reject any suggestion of a retreat or a shift in strategy in the Aug. 25 raid at a Howard Industries transformer plant in Laurel, Miss. In the nation's largest immigration enforcement operation at a single work site, federal agents arrested nearly 600 illegal immigrants there but charged only eight criminally, turning over the rest for civil deportation proceedings, as they have in the past.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency "continues to target egregious employers . . . to identify individuals engaging in identity theft, and we seek criminal charges where appropriate," spokeswoman Kelly A. Nantel said.

Nonetheless, it was a stark departure from the way authorities conducted the previous record-setting sweep 15 weeks earlier.

On May 12, immigration agents apprehended 389 illegal immigrants at an Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. Nearly 300 were charged, convicted and sentenced within 10 days in group trials in temporary courts set up at a fairground. Most pleaded guilty to document fraud, receiving five-month prison sentences.

Criminal defense and immigration lawyers led criticism of the proceedings, saying the extraordinary speed with which pleas were obtained raised the risk of error. A federal court interpreter reported that many defendants were poor, uneducated Spanish speakers who did not understand the charges.

The American Civil Liberties Union said close coordination before the raid between the prosecutor and the chief judge to structure plea agreements that hastened the process was highly irregular, raising due-process concerns.

"I think Postville left a bitter taste for a lot of people," said Robert R. Rigg, director of the criminal defense program at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, who has criticized the case. "It paints a pretty bleak picture of American criminal justice, and I don't think it's the type of thing the judiciary or main Justice wants to replicate."

Charles H. Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, agreed, saying he thinks the Justice Department is changing course.

"They clearly did not enjoy the press they got after Postville. . . . It may be a shift in strategy from how bad Postville made them look as they eviscerated the Constitution, doing everything in one fell swoop with the involvement of the federal court."

But Nantel rejected such speculation. "It certainly is not an indication of a change in strategies," she said.

Investigators are working with prosecutors to determine if there is enough evidence to pursue additional criminal charges related to both raids, Nantel said. Prosecutors have not made public an affidavit or other documents laying out the case against suspects in the Mississippi raids, she added.

She acknowledged, however, that "prosecutorial discretion is certainly a key issue." Individual U.S. attorneys are free to set "different thresholds and different bars based on different . . . priorities or degrees of interest in pursuing those sorts of cases."

Carrie Nelson, a spokeswoman for Stan Harris, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi in the Howard Industries case, said that the Justice Department "has not changed policies or procedures regarding immigration enforcement actions." Decisions in Iowa and Mississippi "were made by prosecutors in the field based on the facts and circumstances of each case," she said.

But several people familiar with interactions between the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement cite interagency disagreements over what one side views as overaggressive investigators and the other regards as balky prosecutors.

"There are some districts where they do not want to do these cases," one U.S. official said.

Lawyers who have worked closely with Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey's office said federal prosecutors are generally very cautious about immigration raids. They have raised humanitarian concerns about rounding up hundreds of illegal immigrants and splitting families.

"Processing hundreds of illegals in the criminal court system like that in a cattle-call arena creates a huge burden on the system, and things tend to slip," said one former Justice Department official familiar with deliberations between ICE and the domestic security section of Justice's criminal division. "That's where they get criticism."

Whether illegal immigrants are charged criminally obviously means a great deal to the individuals involved. It raises the prospect of prison sentences and criminal records, as well as much harsher penalties if they are caught inside the United States again.

But for employers, the public and the immigration debate in general, any shift by immigration authorities may have relatively little impact. The same tough message can be sent whether illegal immigrants are simply caught and deported, or instead caught, criminally sentenced, imprisoned and then deported.

The roundup strategy is limited by resources and the United States' vast population of illegal immigrants, estimated at 12 million.

"I don't think it's a shift away from what they ultimately want to do, which is to punish and deter people from using fraudulent identities to obtain work. It's a different path to the same goal," Kuck said.

But he added: "They could do one of these raids a day for the next six years and still not deter people from doing it."


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Desmoines Register



August 28, 2008


Critics tie scant new charges to wariness after Postville raid





Critics of the way suspected illegal immigrant workers were handled after last May's raid in Iowa noticed a change in government tactics after this week's raid in Mississippi.

Federal officials detained 595 workers at a Mississippi electric-transformer factory Monday but filed criminal charges against just eight of them.

That's in marked contrast to what happened after the raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, where prosecutors filed criminal identity-theft charges within days against 305 of the 389 workers who were arrested. Most of those people quickly pleaded guilty during mass hearings held at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo and now are serving five-month prison sentences.

Most of the workers arrested in Mississippi are being held on civil immigration charges, which generally lead to deportation.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would not specify why so few of the Mississippi workers had been charged with crimes. She said more charges could still be added.

But one of the most prominent critics of the legal process used in Iowa said Wednesday that the government appears to be backing away from those tactics.

"I think Postville was a huge embarrassment because of the criminalization of workers," said Erik Camayd-Freixas, a veteran federal courts interpreter who participated in the Cattle Congress hearings.

Camayd-Freixas, who is a Spanish language professor at Florida International University, made national waves this summer by publicly complaining that the legal process used in Iowa was unfair to the defendants.

He said uneducated Guatemalans and Mexicans were pressured into pleading guilty to identity-theft charges, even though they didn't realize the Social Security cards they'd bought contained someone else's numbers. The vast majority had never been charged with other crimes, he said, and they had no intent to commit identity theft.

Camayd-Freixas said Wednesday that in his 20 years of working with the federal courts, he'd never seen mass, rushed hearings such as those held in Iowa. He noted that news reports from Mississippi indicated that the eight people who were charged with crimes after the raid there had been taken to a regular federal courthouse for standard hearings.

ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said more criminal charges could be filed against people seized in the Mississippi raid.

She said that too often, Americans believe raids indicate the end of investigations.

"They don't," Gonzalez said. "In fact, the investigation continues."

Federal prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment.

The Mississippi raid surpassed the size of the one in Postville, which had been described as the biggest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.

A national group calling for tougher immigration enforcement declined to speculate Wednesday on why the Mississippi raid hadn't brought more criminal charges.

The facts of individual cases could be much different, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Among the Agriprocessors workers, he said, "there were a lot of things besides just working in the country illegally."

Drake University law Professor Bob Rigg said the process being used in Mississippi looks familiar. "That used to be the norm until Postville," said Rigg, who has criticized the prosecution methods used in Iowa.

He said it's hard to tell why the government hasn't filed mass charges in the latest case. But lawyers around the country are aware of the Iowa controversy, Rigg said. Among other things, it led to a critical New York Times editorial titled "The Shame of Postville."

"It could be the U.S. attorney in Mississippi decided, 'I'm not going to go through that,' " Rigg said.



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Denver Post



Both hopefuls keep quiet on divisive issue of immigration


By Bruce Finley

The Denver Post

Article Last Updated: 09/02/2008 09:08:08 AM MDT


As the political conventions continue, the long-simmering effort to fix the nation's broken immigration system has seemingly fizzled.

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain willingly raises this controversial issue.

Yet beyond the secure perimeters of establishment politics, immigration looms as a major concern affecting workplace survival for millions of U.S. workers and employers.

More than a thousand pro-immigration activists marched through Denver on Thursday before streets were cleared for Obama's nomination acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Ten minutes from last week's festivities, in a north Denver industrial zone, U.S. citizen workers were puffing cigarettes on break at a plastics factory, where operations chief Scott Schreiber, in the back office, wondered how he'll manage to keep 60 jobs here in the face of Chinese competition.

"We'd never hire illegals to do the work," Schreiber said. But if taxes and competition increase, he said, "outsourcing to Mexico is an option."

Meanwhile across 56th Avenue, Jesus Manuel, 38, an illegal worker from Mexico, hurried to a warehouse for his job installing carpets.

Issue a top priority

After losing three fingers on his right hand in a welding accident in Arizona, he's trying to get the money for surgery to repair the mangled stubs.

Working illegally here brings $3.25 per yard of carpet installed, about $500 a week, five times what he'd make in Mexico, Manuel said. If Obama or McCain eliminates illegal work options, "it would affect me a lot," he said. "I've got to be able to work."

Polls show that voters, especially in Western battleground states that may determine who wins the presidency, regard immigration as a top priority.

Obama and McCain stay mum, analysts say, because the emerging solutions are deeply divisive.

A politician who utters "immigration" will "lose as many people as he wins," said Doris Meisner, former chief of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.

When pressed in an interview last week, Obama's domestic-policy director, Heather Higginbottom, said immigration hasn't been discussed because it isn't one of the "top three" issues but that Obama "absolutely" plans to fix what he sees as a broken system in the first year of his presidency.

Obama believes "it is critically important to revive immigration reform," Higginbottom said.

An essential step will be implementing "a very strong program so that employers can't hire undocumented immigrants," she said.

"It's a tough issue. But it's not one we are going to shy away from because it is tough," Higginbottom said.

McCain recently has focused on fortification of the southwestern U.S.-Mexico border by building more fences and deploying surveillance aircraft.

Once borders are secure, McCain campaign spokesman Tom Kise said, McCain would "prosecute bad-actor employers" and set up temporary foreign-worker programs for employers.

Electronic verification

Obama also favors border security, but "the most important enforcement tool we can put into place is a simple but mandatory electronic verification system so that employers can make sure workers they hire are legal," Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said.

Violators would face "much higher fines," Gilson said, and illegal workers currently in the country would have to "go to the back of the line" to seek citizenship.

"No job should go to a foreign worker without first being offered to Americans at a competitive wage with competitive benefits," she said.

"And foreign workers cannot be exceptionally vulnerable to abuse, or some employers will prefer them over Americans."

Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700 or bfinley@denverpost.com


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Anti-Immigrant Republican Brian Bilbray's Bizarre Crusade on the 14th Amendment


By Rhonda Brownstein, Southern Poverty Law Center

Posted on September 1, 2008


In almost every session of congress he has been part of since 1995, U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) has unsuccessfully sponsored a law that aims to deny American citizenship to children born in the United States of non-citizen parents. His persistence is not a surprise: Bilbray is a former lobbyist for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a right-wing, anti-immigrant group that paid him almost $300,000 to lobby on its behalf between 2002 and 2005, and has headed the hard-line Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus since early last year. The current version of Bilbray's perennially losing legislation is called the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2007.

Still, it seems strange that Rep. Bilbray would sponsor such a bill, given that his own mother was a non-citizen. But Bilbray carved out an exception that would conveniently apply to him -- that a child born in the U.S. is considered a citizen so long as at least one parent is (1) a citizen; (2) a lawful permanent resident; or (3) in active military service. Bilbray's father was a U.S. citizen.

Even if Bilbray could manage to get his bill enacted into law, it would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside." It would take a constitutional amendment, not a mere act of Congress, to deny citizenship to those born on U.S. soil.

Bilbray claims that his bill is simply advancing an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment -- as Congress is permitted to do under its power to enact laws to enforce the Constitution -- rather than proposing a change that would require the very difficult and extended process of amending the Constitution. The crux of his tortured argument is that the Fourteenth Amendment clause "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" denies citizenship to American-born children whose parents "owe allegiance to another country." Not surprisingly, Bilbray is not specific about what that phrase means.

But as the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found: "Although the primary aim of the Fourteenth Amendment was to secure citizenship for African Americans, the debates on the citizenship provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment indicate that they were intended to extend U.S. citizenship to all persons born in the U.S. and subject to its jurisdiction, regardless of race, ethnicity, or alienage of the parents" (emphasis added).

Though some senators raised concerns about the amendment creating a large influx of Chinese immigrants, they ultimately concluded that the children of immigrants from any country would be U.S. citizens so long as they were born in the United States. (The senators debating the amendment believed that it did not, however, grant citizenship to American Indians, who were subject to the jurisdiction of their own tribes.)

More than a century of case law backs this reading of the amendment. In 1898, in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court declared that a child born in the United States was a citizen, even though his parents were Chinese aliens who were ineligible for naturalization. The high court explicitly rejected the argument Bilbray and FAIR continue to make -- that the Chinese citizenship of his parents made a child "subject to the jurisdiction of" China. The court also rejected Bilbray's claim that Congress has the power to alter the definition of citizenship, stating that the Fourteenth Amendment "has conferred no authority upon Congress to restrict the effect of birth, declared by the Constitution to constitute a sufficient and complete right to citizenship."

Bilbray likes to cite the 1884 Supreme Court case of Elk v. Wilkins, which denied citizenship to a Native American. But the Court's analysis in Elk -- which was later overturned by statute -- was completely different. In Elk, the Court held that American Indians who had not been naturalized by treaty were not citizens because they were members of an independent political community to whom they still owed their immediate allegiance, and were therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. American Indians later became citizens through various statutes and treaties, culminating in the Nationality Act of 1940, which declared all American Indians born in the United States to be U.S. citizens.

Most Americans agree that sensible immigration reform is needed. But Bilbray and the interest groups that support him -- members of the board of directors of FAIR, which also seeks to dismantle the Fourteenth Amendment, gave him some $10,000 in campaign contributions in 2006 -- are seeking to overturn a fundamental right long ago accorded to those born in our country. Reforming a broken immigration system does not require punishing innocent children for the infractions of their undocumented parents, most of whom came to this country merely to seek a better life.

Rhonda Brownstein is the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Legal Department.

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