Saturday, September 30, 2006

America's Berlin Wall

Maybe now the hysterics about undocumented immigration will die down. There has to be a bright side to the dismal culmination of the 109th Congress' immigration reform that wasn't.

Just as they were heading out for the mid-term election recess, the Senate passed legistlation that will authorize the construction of a 700 mile double layer fence along sections of the U.S. Mexico border. This measure is but one bad decision of many, an act that will make the U.S. immigration problems go from bad to worse. To be fair, that's only if you're looking at the results of the beefed-up border enformcement that began in the mid 1980s. If you're not fussed about the small issues like, will it actually work, you probably won't see a problem here.

Since the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Congress has taken steps to fortify our borders with more border patrol agents, more fencing, and more penalities for those undocumented workers who have been apprended. Yet here we are, in 2006, with an estimated 12 million undocumented persons living in the U.S. Ever wonder why the numbers of undocumented people in the U.S. has grown, despite our increased attempts to keep them out? Here's the answer: When the U.S. border becomes more difficult and expensive to cross, undocumented people, many of whom were once (and would still prefer to be) seasonal migrant workers are less likely to try to go home. Instead, they hunker down where they have settled, they put down roots, establish longer and deeper relationships, and eventually come to see the U.S. as their home.

So, to anyone who is out there celebrating the passage of the Border Fence Bill, remember that fences are more often set up to keep people and things in than to keep them out (remember the Berlin Wall?). We had a remarkable opportunity to renovate an immigration system that serves only the industries and businesses that are eager to hire pliable and vulnerable workers. It may appear that Congress has done its job, but as time will no doubt tell, they've just ensured that our undocumented population will grow.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Latinos and Job Growth

The Pew Hispanic Center released a new report yesterday highlighting the significant gains Latinos have made in employment in the second quarter of 2006. The report indicates that the healthy job market for Latinos has been driven primarily by the construction industry, which accounts for nearly 40% of all new jobs gained by Hispanics. Other groups also benefited from the improving labor market.

The report notes that the Latino labor force is continuing to grow, largely because of immigration. Latino workers have the highest rate of growth of any other group, and these new arrivals have succeeded in finding employment.

You can access the full report at the link above.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Immigration Enforcement: Keeping it Local

Last week I blogged on a new trend in immigration enforcement: using local police to apprehend undocumented immigrants. Today's Washington Post reports that this trend is increasing, as local police who once took a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, are now engaged in the effort to arrest and deport local residents. This action is supported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program 287(g), which trains local law enforcement officials and authorizes them to enforce immigration law. The on-line addition of the Post also reported that Herndon's Town Council voted 6-1 to join the program.

In some cases, local police are arresting immigrants who were changed with violent crimes, in others, immigrants were stopped for minor traffic violations. Although it is not clear whether this program will decrease undocumented immigration, it has caused considerable worry among immigrant communties where it is currently being utilized.

I cannot help to wonder why some local jurisdictions are anxious to enforce immigration law. It is clear that our current system is not working, and rather than taking this piecemeal approach, the nation (and local communities) would be better served by insisting that Congress take up this issue and work toward a solution. We should not have to wait for immigration reform simply because our leaders do not see it as a viable election year issue.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Immigration and America's Future

The Migration Policy Institute today released it's final report on immigration in the U.S. The report broadens the national debate about immigration reform beyond the issues of undocumented immigration, and argues that U.S. immigration laws, which have their antecedents in the 1950s, no longer reflect the economic and social contexts of the 21st century.
The report also addresses issues of national security in light of the current immigration debate.

This link will take you to a page where you can download the executive summary (free of charge) and order the full report.

Why a border fence won't work

If you've been reading here for any amount of time, you know that I'm not a big fan of buiding a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. I am a strong proponent of renovating our immigration policy, but I believe that there is no need to implement a plan that will not address the core reasons why we have such a large population of undocumented immigrants. This article from the on-line Washington Post highlights some of the reasons why a border enformcement immigration policy will only address part of the issue, and more importantly, it presents alternatives that may actually work.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Death of Hilario Guzman

This article from the L.A. Times chronicles the life of Hilario Guzman, a Oaxacan who picked grapes in California until his untimely death in early September. The piece is detailed and well-written, and offers rare insights to the lives of undocumented agricultural workers in the U.S.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Immigration Workers Gone Wrong

This article on the Washington Post website highlights a number or corruption-related charges leveled at immigration workers. This is not too surprising, give the rate at which the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and its parent agency, Homeland Security, have grown in the last five years. Given these are only the offenders who have been caught, I wonder how widespread this problem is, and how (or if) it is being addressed in these agencies.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Impotent Immigration Reform

If you're wondering what the major problems are with the 109th Congress's immigration package, I would recommend this L.A. Times article, which outlines the major features, as well as this editorial from today's Washington Post.

Herndon and Immigration Enforcement

It appears that Herndon's Town Council has decided once again to make a stand on immigration, and will no doubt further alienate their Latino residents in the process. According to this article in the Washington Post today, Herndon's Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers Jr. has petitioned the Town Council, asking them to enroll several of the town's police officers in a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, 287(g), a five week course that will authorize local police to question or detain people they believe to be in the country illegally.

It seems fruitless to suggest that Herndon's leadership consider avoiding any move that would further inflame ethnic tension in this small community. The broader question is what in the world do they hope to accomplish with this move? The Virginia State Police have decided to not participate in 287(g), because they correctly fear that it will prevent immigrants from reporting crimes and coming to the police in time of need. I think we all agree our immigration system needs a major overhaul, and programs like this may allow communities like Herndon to feel like they have more control over their situation. Local approaches like 287(g), which is fragmented and does not address the central issues plaguing our our immigration system, however, will do little else but alienate Latino residents and delude others that "something" is being done about undocumented immigration.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Immigrant Advocate

This feature article ran on the front page of today's Washington Post. It provides an in-depth profile of the work of one immigrant advocate in the D.C. region.

Avoiding the Crowd: Immigrants and Zoning in Culpeper, VA

Culpeper, VA has become the latest community in the greater D.C. Metro area to amend its zoning laws in order to flush out Latino residents who may be undocumented. According to the Washington Post, Culpeper’s town council has voted to hire a full-time enforcement officer to inspect local homes and ensure that no more than five non-related persons are living in any one house.

Culpeper, like many other rural communities beyond the outer ring suburbs, has experienced significant growth in recent years. Today’s population of some 14,000 is an increase from 10,000 in 2000; the town’s total Latino population is estimated at 1,000 to 1,500.

It is not surprising that Culpeper is experiencing real growing pains. Much of the growth there can be attributed to suburban expansion as Washingtonians, ever seeking more affordable places to live, continue to move away from the city and inner ring suburbs. Town Councilman F. Steve Jenkins explained why Latinos are being singled out as the cause of the growth problem, saying, “ the demographics have changed the complexion of Culpeper, and I haven't been pleased with that."

That just about says it all.

Like many of Culpeper’s residents, I hate to see rural towns engulfed in suburban expansion, but I find his position disingenuous. Culpeper’s Mayor Rimeikis also noted that “[f]or the people who have lived here all their lives, the growth itself is very frustrating," he said. "We have a lot more traffic than we did before. There is overcrowding in the schools and just more people all over the place, and a lot of negative aspects that people notice with that growth."

The problems that Jenkins and Rimeikis attribute to Latinos is clearly misdirected. What about the 3,000 (presumably Anglo) residents who have moved into town? Do they not drive cars and send their kids to Culpeper schools? Do they not also strain local infrastructure?

If Culpeper’s residents want to “save” their community, they would be better served addressing the problem of sprawl in Culpeper County. Suburban development, not Latino settlement, is the culprit here. They should also be mindful of the fact that development also CREATES a need for immigrant labor (someone has to care for lawns and clean those McMansions while their owners are commuting 2-3 hours each day).

Monday, September 18, 2006

Other (better) thoughts regarding Temporary Visas

It's been an interesting, if slow, news day. This Washington Post Op-ed piece is well written and makes a good case for the temporary worker visa. What makes this stand out is the link that Sebastian Mallaby makes between immigration and development in poorer countries. The print edition of the Wall Street Journal also ran a similar article that follows a Mexican family of guest workers who elect to live in Mexico even when they have the option of staying in the U.S. Both pieces emphasize an important, and often overlooked, point in the immigration debate: people who have the option to come and go as they please often do not settle permanently in the U.S.

Our current immigration systems views newcomers not as temporary laborers, but as aspiring American citizens. In general, it's a good idea to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants, but citizenship should not be the only path for anyone who wants to work in the U.S.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Immigrant Advocates (wisely) Shift Strategy

After an abysmal turn-out for last week's immigration rallies, immigrant advocates have decided to shift their priorities away from public demonstrations (which can serve as a rallying point for those who oppose immigration reform) and toward citizenship and voter registration drives.

This is something that I have long thought was necessary. Last week I blogged on this very issue. It is the best long-term strategy to improve the status of immigrants in the U.S.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Creative Aging at Home and Abroad

When I was doing fieldwork this summer, my informants would often mention San Miguel's creative community as one of the primary reasons why they decided to pack up and head south. Throughout my time there, I asked retirees why they hadn't settled someplace in the U.S., and the answer was always the same: there is no where in the U.S. like San Miguel.

Perhaps that is changing. The New York Times article linked here describes the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, an apartment community for the older creative set. Like the retirees who flock to San Miguel, The Burbank artists colony acknowledges the fact that not every retiree aspires to a golf-course/shuffle board experience. And unlike more conventional creative projects for seniors, this program aims to provide opportunities for elders to apply their creative talents with new projects, rather than as a life review. The colony offers a variety of venues for artistic self-expression, including a digital film editing lab, a theater, drama classes, and art studios that are open 24 hours every day.

It appears that this colony is creating something akin to the lifestyle one has access to in San Miguel. The major difference: this is an apartment complex, and it appears to have no other outward focus other than artistic production. San Miguel's seniors, in contrast, have ample creative expression through the arts and community theatre programs, but also substantial efforts are dedicated to giving back to the community through charity.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Immigrant Networks

This surprisingly well written and well researched story in today's Washington Post outlines the social networks ALL immigrants (not just the undocumented) rely upon to survive their immigrant experiences. In fact, immigrant settlement in particular areas of the nation is also linked to established social networks. These networks decrease the risks involved with immigration or moving to a particular area, and once established, tend to have a self-perpetuating effect on immigrant settlement in a particular place.

Doug Massey and colleagues (1987) were among the first to develop this social network theory, which is highlighted in their book Return to Aztlán: The Social Process of International Migration from Western Mexico (UC Press).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

House victory?

Bill Frist yesterday admitted that the immigration reform proposal by the Senate is officially dead, but emphasized the GOP has funded plenty of anti-immigration window dressing in time for the election: pouring money into a 375 mile border fence and hiring more border patrol guards. Both moves have long been proven ineffective, but it looks like they're doing something...

At the same time, these tough as nails anti-immigration Republicans has scaled back workplace enforcement during their tenure (down 95% from 1999-2003) and prosecuting employers who have undocumented men and women on their payroll (which is ALSO a violation of federal law); in 1999, there were 182 employers prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers, in 2003, only four were prosecuted. Then again, it's so much easier to blame the immigrant, so why bother?

C'mon guys, just admit it. We need a worker visa program.

Enter the Social Security Debate

President Bush has announced he will revisit social security reform after the elections in November. It sounds like the GOP is not overly optimistic about the mid-term elections (this sounds like a lame-duck strategy to push something through while he still has a majority). Retirees, AARP: I would pay attention to this one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Immigration Rally: Lowshow

The immigration rally yesterday in D.C. had an exceptionally low turn-out, approximately 5,000 people total. The nascent movement seems to have lost its momentum before it accomplished anything substantial, but it would be unwise to dismiss the potential political power of our immigrants just yet. Timing is everything, and it is clear that yesterday's timing was not clearly considered when the rally was planned.

There are several key reasons why this rally failed to pull in many protesters, the most notable being that immigration reform legislation, which seemed to be on the forefront of congressional priority in April, has effectively been tabled for now. With no real legislative threat or possibilities looming, there is little reason for the average immigrant to take a day off from work, take the kids out of school, and travel to D.C. for a rally. There was also no clear purpose, other than to follow up from April's rallies, thus there was little chance to attract a crowd. Finally, as a group most immigrants are paid by the hour; if they don't work, they don't get paid. Taking time off from work to do anything is unlikely unless it is viewed as a true necessity. To get immigrants out the door and into the streets, they need a compelling reason; the organizers yesterday obviously did not provide one.

Perhaps the most important reason the rally did not succeed is the perception that the immigrant presence on the street can be counterproductive. The April rallies seemed to have energized the anti-immigrant movement, but I disagree with Mark Krikorian, who is quoted in the Washington Post today, saying quite confidently, "The attempt to recreate the atmosphere in the spring has completely failed because the illegal aliens and their supporters have gotten the message that the American people aren't going to roll over for this amnesty bill." It's a fantasy to think that this issue is settled, or that citizens would be "rolling over" to support immigration reform. What is obvious is that there is not consensus about what to do about immigration at the moment. It's election season, and Republicans are fighting for their seats. They realize that they cannot win their elections taking a stand on immigration, so they've tabled it. That fact alone makes it clear that the issue is far from settled.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Calderón to push for U.S. Immigration Reform

Felipe Calderón, Mexico's President-elect, says he will push for broad reform of U.S. immigration law when he takes office at the end of this year. Outgoing President Vincente Fox also unsuccessfully lobbied for reform during his six-year term.

For now, Mr. Calderón has considerable domestic issues to address, not the least of which is how to deal with an opposition movement, lead by his political opponent Andrés Manuel López Obrador. López Obrador has vowed to block Calderón’s inauguration in December.

The Future of the Immigrant Rights Movement

Today is the day for scheduled immigration rallies in Washington and other locations in the U.S. Although the nascent movement appeared to have significant momentum in the spring, the turnouts have been low in the Phoenix and Chicago rallies this week.

Making this formerly invisible population visible is an important goal, and in that regard the spring rallies were an amazing spectacle and success. At the same time, for the movement to have teeth, organizers need to focus their efforts on voter registration. The challenge with voter registration is not convincing people that they need to register and vote, but that they need to become citizens in order to gain the right to vote.

I have worked with immigrants for over a decade, and I've found that many documented immigrants are reluctant to go through the naturalization process. This is not a reflection of their commitment to the U.S., but that the process is time consuming and complicated, and more resources need to be dedicated to assisting immigrants through the naturalization process.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Immigration reform stalemate

...or much ado about nothing. Now that the nation has been sufficiently stirred up about immigration, it seems unlikely that there will be any legislative change, at least not before the November elections.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mexico's Election: the final result

The on-line discussion lists from San Miguel de Allende (SMA) have been tied up in election talk for the past few weeks. The Americans and other expats who reside in SMA have a vested interest in the outcome of the election, and the potential unrest that may accompany the final decision, now that Felipe Calderón has been offically named president-elect.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Escaping the fast pace of Retirement

The last few days I have been thinking often of San Miguel and what it offers to retirees and others who flock there. As I've mentioned in my previous posts, in addition to the many retirees who have settled there, there is also a slow, but noticeable group of younger (40-ish) families with kids who have settled in San Miguel and other places in Guanajuato to give their children something that they believe America can no longer provide: a lifestyle that is people and relationship centered (as opposed to work and materially centered).

This morning the Washington Post reports that millions of Americans are overworked and unhappy, and although employers and employees agree that it would be best if Americans worked less (i.e., 40 hours per week), no one is willing to get off the treadmill and say enough is enough. When people do finally slow down, it's rarely a gradual decline. Instead, they just stop, which can be translated into "wife/mother stays home with the kids."

How does this lead to the "fast-pace" of retirement in the U.S.? While doing work in San Miguel, most everyone who had elected to retire there said that although their own lives in retirement were much slower paced than their working lives, their working friends and children were too busy to spend time with them, so they spent significant time alone. San Miguel offers something quite different and un-American: a group of people in their late 40s to 90s (and beyond) who are looking for friendship and ways to effectively contribute to society without working 80 hours a week.

The Post article also sheds light on the younger families who abandon the U.S. for a lifestyle change in Mexico: most workers feel like they can't be the first one to slow down (it looks bad), so they just bail altogether. If they've invested wisely, as many of these young families obviously have, then their years of working 60-80 hours per week translate into a comfortable life, and more importantly A LIFESTYLE, in Mexico.

Of course, we could make this choice here in the U.S., and change they way we work and live in the U.S., but as the Post article points out, the incentives to do so are not as strong as the push to keep working.