Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Border arrests down from last year

It appears the number of border arrests is down dramatically from this time last year (34%). This change has border enforcement advocates arguing that the use of the National Guard troops along the border (which have been in place since June 15 of this year) and additional enforcement is deterring immigrants from trying to cross.


More likely, however, is the shift in the U.S. economy, which is now providing fewer jobs for immigrants than this time last year (see article below). If jobs are scarce, there is little reason to pay thousands of dollars to make the perilous journey north, which also would account for the decrease of border arrests.

No jobs, no immigrants

This article from today's Washington Post highlights a rarely acknowledged fact about immigrants: when jobs are scarce, they go home. As the metro D.C. housing market has slowed to a crawl, most of the area's best jobs for immigrants (documented and undocumented alike) have vanished, leaving these men and women with hard choices: move elsewhere, or go home.

As the article indicates, many choose to return home. If you're going to be unemployed, it's best to do so at home.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Story

During the holiday season, I like to believe that people are more willing to put aside their differences and see one another as part of the brotherhood of humanity.

In this spirit, I am reproducing a chapter from Enrique Armijo's M.A. thesis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Enrique's thesis is based on fieldwork he completed with Inglesia Unida in Chapel Hill. The full citation for the except that follows is: Armijo, Enrique. 2000. Un Pueblo Nuevo: An Ethnography of a Hispanic Protestant Community of Faith. M.A. Thesis in Folklore University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As you read, bear in mind that Armijo presents each of the paragraphs in the original Spanish text first, followed by the English translation.

The Story of María and José: Un Cuento de Navidad

The chapter that follows this conclusion is a reading, written by the youth of Iglesia Unida during a church camp in 1997. It tells of a pregnant Mexican woman named María, her Tijuanan boyfriend José, and their trip to North Carolina to find work and a place to live. As with the stories of many of the congregation members at Iglesia Unida, their journey is an eventful one; along the way their truck breaks down, they stay in a shelter, and they are visited by an angel. Like the other expressions of the church examined in this thesis, the story reveals how local and universal themes form a dialectic that leads to deeper understanding and articulates the informed convergence between life lived and faith felt.
In reading the story, I ask that the reader resist applying a strictly cultural lens of interpretation that can fog the deeper spiritual understandings that an example like this can provide. Like the songs, sermons, prayers, activism, and development discussed earlier in this thesis, the youths’ narrative shows not only how its themes are particular to the context at Iglesia Unida, but also how universal—when informed by the experiences of the members—these themes of spirit, struggle, and redemption truly are.

Enrique Armijo, M.A.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
October 2000


Un Cuento de Navidad
A Christmas Story
written by the children and youth of Iglesia Unida

Una joven llamada María se iba a casar con su novio que se llamaba José. José, originario de Tiajuana, vivia en San Diego y tenía su Green Card. En San Diego no había trabajo, y José (o Pepe, como le dicen sus amigos) decidió venirse a Carolina del Norte y buscar trabajo y un lugar donde vivir. Como ya no iba a poder cruzar la frontera para ir a ver a María, le tuvieron que hablar a un coyote para que la hiciera cruzar a ella y se pudiera venir a Carolina también.
Mientras juntaban el dinero, se les apareció un ángel. El ángel le dijo a María: "Eres muy dichosa, María. Vas a tener un bebé, tu hijo va a salvar el mundo.

A young girl named María was engaged to a guy named José. José was originally from Tijuana, but lived in San Diego and had his Green Card. In San Diego there weren't any jobs, so José (whom his friends called Pepe) decided to come to North Carolina to look for work and a place to live. Since he wasn't going to be able to run across the border to visit María any more, they decided to find a "coyote," to get her across the border so she could come to North Carolina as well. 1
While they were trying to get the money together to pay the "coyote," an angel appeared to them. The angel told María, "You are blessed, María. You will have a baby, and your son will save the world."

Un día les avisaron que era buena fecha para cruzar la frontera. Cuando iban en camino, el carro en que iban se arrunió y les pidieron mas dinero para completar el viaje. Como no tenían dinero ni para la gasolina, se quedaron esperando de que la familia les mandara una ayudita y tuvieron que pasar la noche debajo de unos árboles por varios dias. Y a María ya estaba notándosele el embarazo.

One day, they were told it was a good time to cross the border. When they were already in route, the car in which they were traveling broke down and they were asked to pay more money to complete the trip. Since they didn't even have money for gas, they had to wait, sleeping under some trees for several days, until the family could send a little more help. Maria's pregnancy was already becoming obvious.

Por fin les llegó la ayudita que esperaban, pero cuando llegaron a Chapel Hill, no encontraron ni trabajo, ni donde alojarse. José salió varias veces a buscar trabajo, pero en algunos sitios, el guardia de "security" ni lo dejaba entrar a hablar con la gente que estaba dando empleo. Pensaron que podían quedarse en un parque, pero la policía los desalojó. Fueron a la iglesia, pero estaba cerrada; terminaron en el "Shelter," pero solo se podían quedar unos días. María tenía miedo de decirle a nadie que iba a tener un bebé. Tenía mideo de ir al hospital, porque no tenía papeles.

At last the help arrived, but when José and María arrived in Chapel Hill, they couldn't find work or a place to stay. José went out to find work several days, but in some places, "security" wouldn't even let him in to talk to those in charge of hiring. They had thought they could stay in a park, but the police told them they had to get out. They went to a church, but it was locked; they ended up in the shelter, but they knew they could only stay a few days. María was afraid to tell anybody she was pregnant. She was afraid to go to the hospital, because she didn't have her papers.

Y fué así como nació el bebé de José y María: Tocaron en muchas casas, pues no querían regresar al shelter y que los mandaran al hospital. Fueron a la casa de Pablo, y Mario Alberto, y otras familias conocidas, pero no había ni un rincón donde hacerles un lugarcito. Pasaron un par de noches en restaurantes y tiendas que habren 24 horas hasta que María ya no podía caminar más. Fue con gran alegría que recibieron la noticia de que una familia, que tiene una trailer pequeña, había movido a los niños al cuarto de los padres y les había acomodado un cuartitio. Y fue allí que nació el niñito, y lo acostaron en un cajón que rellenaron de ropita vieja.

And this is how José and María's baby was born: they knocked on many doors, because they didn't want to go to the shelter and get sent to the hospital. They went to Pablo's house and Mario Alberto's house and asked other families they knew, but nobody had any room to accommodate them. They spent a couple of nights in restaurants and stores that are open 24 hours, but at last María knew she couldn't walk any more. It was with great joy that they heard a family who lived in a small trailer had moved the children into the parent's room and had agreed to let them have the small room. And that is where the baby was born. They padded a drawer with old clothes and made him a little bed there.

Cuando nació el bebé, toda la gente del area se enteró (al menos los que no estaba demasiado ocupados con sus regalos caros). Algunos oyeron música que sonaba como que ángleles estuvieran cantando. Otros siniteron grandes deseos de conocer a ese niñito que había nacido el 25 de diciembre, y le llevaron ropa abrigada, pañales, y algunos juguetes. Muchas familias se alegraron al ver que el niño era saludable, y se llenaron de esperanza, pensando que Dios de verdad estaba presente en este humilde hogar. Alguien dice que se escuchaba como un coro que cantaba: ¡Gloria a Dios, paz en la tierra a los que creen en el Señor!

When the baby was born, everybody in the area found out. (At least, those who were not too busy with their expensive toys.) Some heard beautiful music that sounded as if angels were singing. Others felt they wanted to go and meet this baby, who was born on the 25th of December, and they took him warm clothes, diapers, and some toys. Many families were happy to see that the baby was healthy, and they were filled with hope, thinking that God was truly present in that humble home. Someone says that you could hear a choir that sang: Glory to God, peace on earth to those who have faith in the Lord!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Exit Strategy

It is well known among immigration scholars that the majority of undocumented residents enter the U.S. legally (on a tourist or student visa, for instance) and simply overstay their visas. This was a great concern after Sept. 11, 2001, because the hijackers had entered the U.S. legally. From a security and immigration standpoint, therefore, it would make sense for the Department of Homeland Security to set up an immigrant exit tracking system to ascertain that people are leaving the U.S. when they should. It would also be a means to apprehend other unauthorized immigrants; right now, there are no official checks for anyone leaving the U.S., so if you are undocumented and want to go home, you simply have to buy an airline ticket and leave.

It appears that DHS did have a plan in the works, US-VISIT, to confirm the exit of people who are supposed to be leaving the U.S. when their visas expire. That effort has been abandoned.
As the Washington Post reported this morning:

US-VISIT is designed to detect criminals, suspected terrorists and visitors whose visas have expired by recording travelers' fingerprints and digital photographs when they enter and exit the United States. Having spent $1.7 billion since 2003, Department of Homeland Security officials say they have successfully recorded 61 million people entering the country through 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 of 170 land ports.

But they cannot build an exit tracking system without spending "tens of billions" of dollars more and an additional five to 10 years developing the technology.

The program would also cause major traffic tie-ups at land crossing points. We simply cannot try to enforce our temporary visas; it would be too inconvenient and expensive. Keep in mind we spend "tens of billions" every month in Iraq.

For those of you who read here regularly, you know that I strongly believe that the reason why we do not have an effective immigration policy is simply because we do not want to have one. This is further evidence of that.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A rare thing

This article from today's Washington Post details something that almost never happens: an employer has been charged for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. Ironically, it was the Golden State Fence Company. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. This the same company that helped build part of the 14-mile fence between San Diego and Tijuana in the late 1990s. It's safe to say that the wall ever does get built on our southern border (and I sincerely hope it does not), it is likely that undocumented workers will build it.

Here are the details of the story:
Mel Kay, the company's founder, chairman and president, and Michael McLaughlin, another executive, agreed to plead guilty to charges of harboring illegal aliens. Kay will pay $200,000 and McLaughlin will forfeit $100,000.

The deal included jail time, but the length of the terms was not immediately known.

Jail time is unusual in such cases and the fines were thought to be among the largest. Last year, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million to end a federal probe into use of illegal immigrants at stores in 21 states.

It is extremely rare for a company to be criminally charged with hiring illegal immigrants, said Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., a group that advocates tighter immigration controls.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When worlds collide

Undocumented immigration is a problem. Identity theft is a problem. These are two problems we definitely do not want to build on one another--and it looks like they already have.

The big immigration news today is that ICE busted six meat packing plants yesterday, arresting the undocumented workers for, are you ready? Identity theft. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that this has not happened sooner, or more likely, that ICE has not caught on to this sooner. The reason? There are huge flaws in the main program employed by the government to help employers authenticate workers' identification document. For years, undocumented workers would show up with fake social security cards and matching IDs. They were expensive, but the reality was, no one was watching too closely. The current immigration system gives a wink and a nod to employers who hire undocumented workers, and all the employer has to do is say the checked the ID, and it looked okay.

The weak government ID requirements and poor coordination with the Social Security Administration have allowed undocumented workers to use fake IDs for decades. Things started to get dicey, however, when when workers file their income taxes, and so many do. They do this because in many cases, they have deductions coming to them. However, the IRS is considerably better at ferreting out forged documents than ICE, so they usually report back to the filer that their social security number is invalid, and they are not eligible for refunds. So, what's the next best thing? Using a legitimate social security number that belongs to someone else! I have to admit, there are horrifying implications here. What if even a fraction of the 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. decided they'd like to by stolen identification? Does anyone else out there see that this is a business "opportunity" that we do not want to give to identity thieves.

The other significant issue that came from this wide-spread raid is this: the workplace is just as significant, perhaps more so, as the border in addressing undocumented immigration. It's a sad state of affairs, however, when the meat packers are not held responsible for their actions as well. In yesterday's raids, not one employer was arrested or fined, which means that the workers who replace those who were arrested yesterday are very likely to be...

(can you guess?) Undocumented.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Immigration in the News

The 109th Congress ended yesterday with barely a rustle. It's also the holiday season, so there has been little news on the immigration front. Still here are a few of the top stories circulating the nation:

Texas Governor Rick Perry pushes guest worker program and I.D.s
Mr. Perry, entering his second term as the Republican governor of Texas, is now emphasizing
federal officials should work toward providing I-D cards for immigrant workers that will allow them to freely cross the border. This plan would emphasize the "rule of law," and not reward those who break the law. This is a significant change for Mr. Perry, who is now more vocal about immigration than he was during his campaign. He said he would, "rather know who it is that crosses our border legally to work than not know who it is that crosses our border illegally to work."

Mr. Perry sounds like a seasoned Texan, meaning he's had to deal with immigration and undocumented border crossings long enough to have become a realist about the issue and how to address it.

Century Foundation Study: No Federal Action is Forcing States to Act
...and over-react. This study was widely cited last week, although the findings are less that earth-shaking. The rapid growth of immigrant communities in new destinations (those outside the U.S. Mexico borderlands) has forced state and local governments to tackle immigration problems, especially since the federal government has done nothing signficant to address the issues.
The study analyzed immigration politics in North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. You can find the full study at

Immigrant Voices
This article from Friday's Washington Post highlights an exchange program at Georgetown Day School with Annandale High (in Northern Virginia).
These emissaries from the
Annandale High School Hispanic Leadership Club faced a crowd they feared would be intimidating -- a few hundred students from the prestigious Georgetown Day School in Northwest Washington. Students at the private school have been studying immigration, and the Annandale teenagers are living it. So they came together for a town hall meeting in Georgetown Day's bright atrium.

Georgetown Day students listened as Carlos told of how his mother was pregnant with him when his parents slipped across the U.S.-Mexico border by jumping fences and hiding in sewers. Silvina Orellana, 16, said that her father was deported to her native Argentina and that she hopes he can come back someday. Before long, the teenagers were chatting freely about stereotypes, homecoming games and college plans.

The article goes on to explain that, once the students started chatting, they found they had a lot in common, and in some instances, promised to stay in touch. Bringing these students together was a simple plan that did much to further understanding about immigrants and their lives here in the U.S. Other school districts would do well to follow Georgetown Day's example.

Back in the Saddle

Dear Readers,

The worst part of the end-of-semester storm is now behind me, so I'm back to the blog. Stay tuned for an immigration update and a run-down on the best (and worst) websites for retirees who are looking for information about living in Mexico

Monday, December 04, 2006

Could you become a citizen?

It's a fair question, given the nation's anti-immigrant sentiment. Just how informed are the native born among us about the way our government works? As Borat might say,"Not so good."

The Washington Post has carried two articles on the new citizenship test. The first was printed on 12/1/06, and reports that the new 144 citizenship test questions are intended to help naturalized Americans understand how our system of government works. That's important not only for naturalized Americans, but the native born as well.

Which is why this morning's article, where a Post reporter went around asking the same citizenship questions of average American citizens, is both humorous and sad. It is also quite revealing. What the reporter realized is that a majority of the people he spoke with could not pass the test.

It might be time for Americans (the native born) to take a refresher in American civics. I certainly could not hurt the nation if we all better understood our constitution and the way the government is supposed to work.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Information on day laborers in Herndon

The site linked here is the official webpage of Herndon's Vice Mayor Dennis Husch. It provides links to the local and national news coverage surrounding the day-labor center controversy. The main page "Cyber Advisory Committee 2006-08" provides information about the town council.

Friday, December 01, 2006

'Tis the Season

For final exams, final papers, loads of grading, panicked students, and general chaos.

I'll be away from the blog for at least a week until I get my semester tied up. When I get back I'm going to do a comprehensive review of websites and information on retirement in Mexico.

until then,


Got false documents?

I know one place where they are no longer available here in Northern Virginia. Robert T. Schofield, a supervisor with Homeland Security in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, pleaded guilty yesterday to providing hundreds of undocumented immigrants false documents. Mr. Schofield made up to $10,000 per immigrant on these transactions, which the Washington Post reports most of his transactions were with Asian immigrants.

Unfortunately for Mr. Schofield, this is not his first brush with inappropriate behavior on the job. He was also reprimanded for having an "inappropriate relationship" with a woman connected to an INS criminal probe. He fled the U.S. after he was confronted about the relationship, then he proceeded to make $36,000 worth of unauthorized purchases on his government-issued credit card.

All of this should lead to some serious evaluations of the way that Homeland Security operates and its supervisors are supervised; in most of the low profile government agencies, simply making unauthorized purchases on the government-issued credit card is grounds for dismissal.

Mexicans and the U.S. Labor Force

The Migration Policy Institute released a new report yesterday on Mexicans and the U.S. labor force. The most arresting finding in the report is that 1 in 7 Mexican workers (or 14% of the labor force) is employed in the U.S. Other facts include:
▪ Mexican workers tend to be young men: About 77 percent of Mexican workers in the United States were under the age of 45 in 2006, and 70 percent of Mexican workers were men (compared to 52.5 percent of native-born workers).
▪ Mexican men had the highest labor force participation rates of both foreign-born and native-born groups in the United States in 2006, at 88.2 percent, while Mexican women had the lowest, at 47.3 percent.
▪ Only 5.8 percent of Mexican workers over 25 had a bachelorÂ’s degree or higher in 2006, compared to 30.6 percent of all foreign-born workers and 32.8 percent of native-born workers.
▪ Nearly one in three employed Mexican-born people (29.1 percent) worked in service occupations in 2006. In the same year, nearly 23 percent of Mexican-born workers were employed in the construction industry, more than twice the percentage of all foreign-born workers, and three times that of native workers.
▪ Mexicans living and working abroad sent home an estimated $20 billion in remittances in 2005, most of which came from the United States. These remittances equaled 2.8 percent of Mexico;s GDP and accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total $53.6 billion in remittances to Latin America.

2006's Top 10 Immigration Issues

Okay, end of semester or not, I can't keep away from the blog.

It doesn't help that there has actually been some news on immigration of late. The above link will take you to the Migration Policy Institute's website and a list of the top 10 immigration issues for 2006 (world wide). They include:

assimilation is replacing multiculturalism as a dominant paradigm of immigrant incorporation

US Immigration Reform: Better luck next year

All about Borders. Well, actually only the U.S.-Mexico Border. To the north we act as if we do not have one. The point is that as a nation we have become fixated on the border as the location of the solution for our immigration problems.

State and local governments respond to Immigration. Mainly as a response to failed national policies, localities like Hazleton, PA have enacted their own legislative "solutions" to immigration.