Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In-state or out-of-state: What should we do for the Undocumented Student?

This article from Inside Higher Ed addresses the issue of the undocumented college-age student. Should these student be given in-state tuition? Should they receive state funded scholarships and aid? Some states, like Arizona, have targeted legislation to present undocumented students from attending state universities.

It's a tough question for the thoughtful. The major issue raised the opponents to giving in-state tuition and aid to the undocumented are those who represent the middle class: the parents of students who might not get a place in their in-state school of choice or state aid if the money and slot are given to a better qualified undocumented student.

Conversely, if an undocumented student has the academic qualifications, why should the not be admitted and receive the same benefits of their in-state peers? Despite the protests to the contrary--and a profound lack of evidence--the undocumented do pay taxes. If they are going to live in the U.S., does it not make more sense to assist them in their educational efforts so that they can become more productive citizens?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Flip Side of U.S. Migration

The link above will lead you to a website dedicated to research about American emigration. The report was initiated by New Global Initiatives, Inc. Although I've looked through their website, it is not entirely clear what New Global does and who they are--there is much discussion of "years of professional experience," but the site does not specify what exact qualifications its founder and employees have, and what expertise they have to conduct large-scale research about anything, let alone immigration issues. They also have no link to any of the major immigration scholars in the U.S., nor do they have an affiliation with an organization (university or think-tank) that has an established track record doing this type of research.

I mention this because I am certain many of my readers will be interested in the study summary that is linked here. I applaud Global Initiatives for taking the (pardon the pun) initiative to execute this type of study; at the same time, the report itself lacks a solid description of its methodology and how the data presented were aggregated.

So, I offer this to you with a word of caution: there is no clear evidence that any of the data presented are reliable. For instance, the report says that 18% of Americans between the ages of 24-35 state they have definite plans to live outside the U.S., but there is no other clear data to tell us who this 18% might be--are they average citizens who are fed up with life in the U.S.? People employed by multi-national corporations? Military families? Because it is not clear who this group is, it is also not clear how significant this finding is. Obviously, I would be intrigued to know that 18% of the general population in this age group was planning to move abroad; if they are mainly military families, then the data are hardly surprising.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Flack over "Echo Park in Mexico"

I found this article in the L.A. Times last week, and (at first) decided not to blog it. It's really nothing new: an American visits San Miguel for a day, goes on one of the weekly House and Garden Tours on a Sunday afternoon, and then writes an article about the experience. In part she writes:
It was at this point that I realized that if I really wanted a taste of Mexico, I might as well go home to Echo Park. The tour wasn't so much a backstage pass to aspirational cultural immersion as it was an English-only how-to guide for getting away from it all without giving anything up. Each dwelling was mostly notable for just how thoroughly the householders had managed to bring the comforts of the north into the wilds of the south.

In other words, the expats in SMA have succeeded in Americanizing this town to the point that it is indistinguishable from L.A.'s Echo Park.

Once again, this is nothing new. If you Google "San Miguel de Allende," about half of the articles and posts will discuss the rampant Americanization of SMA. This article, however, sparked the ire of many of SMA's residents who discussed it at length this weekend on a SMA discussion list.

Their response to the article was quite revealing, and indicative of how much the Echo Park author Meghan Daum missed while she was visiting SMA. Some people were dismayed that the author simplified SMA as a Gringo colony that had usurped Mexican culture. Others were annoyed that this (and many other) authors write about SMA as if they know the town after a seven day visit. Still others remarked that it is quite possible that Echo Park (and other areas of L.A.) are likely more Mexican than parts of SMA. Perhaps the best comment was by a woman who summed it up brilliantly: "San Miguel is not a Sacred Cow that no one can make fun of"--she suggests that SMA is a novelty to the American press and as such, it will attract the admiration and criticism of many who visit.

What I did find fascinating about this on-line discussion was how remarkably diverse the expat opinions are, and that they are positively unafraid to debate one another on-line. Daum's piece is not entirely incorrect: there are parts of SMA that do seem like American islands. But I have to wonder what Daum did to avoid all of the Mexicans who live there (they are still the majority, regardless of how you count the number of expats)? The fact that she missed that part of SMA tells us more about her and tourism in general than about SMA. If she did not see the Mexican influence in San Miguel, she had to work pretty hard to miss it.

So much for accurate reporting.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Bill to Limit Loans those without Social Security Numbers

The 110th Congress is considering legislation that would limit an increasingly popular mortgage concept: providing home loans to applicants using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) in lieu of a Social Security number.

ITINs are issued by the Internal Revenue Service to assist immigrant workers who do not qualify for a Social Security number to report their income and pay federal taxes. Many of the immigrants who use ITNs to apply for loans are actually in the U.S. legally, but have not completed the immigration process and received their Social Security numbers.

Banks around the country have started offering home mortgages to undocumented immigrants using ITINs, but their programs largely unnoticed and small in number. However, when Bank of America announced a pilot program in Los Angeles to provide credit cards to resident alien customers who lack Social Security numbers but have ITINs, they provoked a controversy that resulted in the proposed legislation.

Tim Sandos, president and chief executive of the National Assn. of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, has estimated that there are as many as 7--8 million legal resident immigrants in the United States who do not have Social Security cards but are in some phase of the immigration process leading to citizenship. That process can take years and "meanwhile these individuals are working here, earning incomes, paying taxes, contributing to the economy."

So it appears that this legislation, targeted at the undocumented, will hurt those who are in the country legally. You know, the ones who are "playing by the rules," as it is so often termed in the immigration debate. The question that we should be asking is "how many undocumented people actually take advantage of these loan offers?" My guess it that the number is pretty low, as it is difficult to amass assets when you're employed at the bottom of the U.S. labor market. Until we know that number, however, it is impossible to determine whether this is a problem that needs to be addressed legislatively. And if it is, this particular legislative approach is not the way to address it.

Dramatic Increases in Citizenship Requests

The L.A. Times reports a dramatic increase in the number of requests for naturalization since January of this year. The reason? The Department of Homeland Security has announced a three-fold increase in fees for all levels of immigration processing, and many see an opportunity to apply for citizenship before the rate increase goes into effect. The overall increase in applications started to increase after the immigration rallies in March, 2006, and have spiked again as immigration reform appears to be moving toward consideration by Congress.

The article reports that there are some 8 million legal permanent residents who are eligible to apply for citizenship. While many are initiating the process for personal reasons (i.e., to make it easier to reunify their families in the U.S.), others are doing it so that they can become more involved in the political process. As one gentleman interviewed for the L.A. Times article noted, "I can do better for my people... I can help with my vote."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Luto for Tirzah Mailkoff

It is with sadness that I report the passing of Tirzah Mailkoff, a long-time resident of San Miguel de Allende. I met Tirzah last summer. She and her partner lived a few doors down from my family in the same condo complex, and I was fortunate to interview her while I was there. She was 100 years old, exceptionally sharp, and had a wonderful wit. I feel honored to have known her.

Tirzah was a music and piano teacher most of her life. She is best known as the founder of the Junior Bach Festival in Berkeley, California (on the link above go to "About us" and then "Tirzah Mailkoff in her own words").

Friday, February 23, 2007

Find the Illegal Immigrant

Although they are supposed to be getting an education, there are times when college students' actions are just plain foolish. This article from today's NY Times reports that the NYU College Republicans sparked a protest yesterday. The group announced it was holding campus game for its members, "Catch the Illegal Immigrant." The idea was the group of young Republicans were to search the campus for the person wearing a button that says "illegal immigrant," and receive a small prize.

Although few of the College Republicans showed up for the game, hundreds of people did stop by to protest the game and its sponsors. The College Republicans said their aim was not to offend, but rather to draw awareness to the issues.

On that point, the College Republicans were successful. We are now all aware of at least one issue: that these students have mistaken a trivial stunt for "debate."

Florida Business Leaders to Push for Immigration Reform

We may be in the midst of a turning point on immigration reform: it appears that business leaders in Florida, much like those in Texas, have decided "on the need for a louder and more unified Florida business voice to pressure politicians in Washington." Those business leaders, many of whom work in the tourist industry, believe that comprehensive reform, including temporary work visas and legalization of workers who are currently undocumented, is essential to the U.S. economy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Illegal Gringos

It's hard to imagine, but yes, Virginia, Americans can also be undocumented immigrants.

This humorous article from the L.A. Times takes a look at Los Boomers and their influence in my beloved San Miguel. The author underestimates the potential negative consequence of this migration, but it is nevertheless worthwhile read.

Happy Anniversary to the Herndon Day Labor Center

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Herndon's controversial day-labor center. The work site has been a success in nearly every respect, according to the Center's annual report:
nearly 6,000 employers hired immigrant laborers for more than 10,000 jobs during the first year of the Herndon Official Workers' Center, a publicly funded site launched in December 2005. An average of more than 100 workers signed in each day at the outdoor center in 2006, and hiring rates fluctuated between 13 percent and 43 percent, the report said, which is comparable to the rates at previous informal sites in town streets and parking lots. The day laborers studied English while waiting for work and volunteered in their off-hours, helping at a town festival and cleaning a school soccer field...

The center still has detractors, and last month the Herndon Town Council voted to solicit proposals from employment firms that want to run the hiring site and will require workers to present documentation to prove they are in the United States legally and eligible to work. The Town Council hoped to award a contract to a new operator by March, 2007, but no proposals to run the center had been submitted by the Feb. 9 deadline.

Perhaps the firms that Herndon's Town Council asked to submit are aware of something that Herndon's elected officials are not: the center is running well and meeting the needs of the community.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mexico plans an agressive lobbying effort for Immigration Reform

This article from today's Houston Chronicle reports that the Mexican Government is planning to lobby U.S. lawmakers aggressively for immigration reform.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Homeland Security's Rate Increase

On the surface, it makes perfect sense: DHS raises its fees to immigrants who are filing for permanent residency here in the U.S. as much as three times the current rate. The agency can take this money and use it to upgrade and improve its services to immigrants and refugees.

The problem, however, is that many immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and working toward permanent residency and citizenship cannot afford the current fees, let alone a significant rate hike, so the move is essentially punitive toward those who are playing by the rules. The story linked here follows a Russian national who is currently struggling to make ends meet and pay her residency fees to DHS. The article asks the reader to question if it really is a good idea to improve DHS services by straining the financial resources of already strapped immigrants.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fierce enough to bite: Tigres del Norte

If you've never heard of Los Tigres del Norte, I'm not too surprised. Los Tigres are a norteño band from Jalisco. In their early days, they sang corridos (ballads) about life on the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, their ballads are more likely about the struggles of immigrant families. The article linked above discusses the transformation of this band nito an international phenomenon. The video linked above is an example of their more recent work as balladeers of the immigrant experience.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Economic woes for Mexico

Mexico's economy appears to be losing steam, according to this article in today's L.A. Times. This could be a lead to increased immigration north. For the full article, click the link above.

Free Nacho (and José)?

The article from today's Washington Post considers the case of two border patrol agents who were arrested and convicted for shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler. Since their incarceration, however, there has been a groundswell of conservative support to have the officers pardoned. Here's an overview of why these agents landed in jail:
According to a report by the DHS inspector general's office, the incident that landed the agents in trouble started on Feb. 17, 2005, when Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila, an admitted Mexican drug smuggler, drove across the border into Texas with 740 pounds of marijuana. He saw Border Patrol agents trailing him, panicked, and drove into a ditch.

During the chase that followed, Aldrete-Davila scuffled with Compean after the agent tried to smack him with the butt of a shotgun. The agents said they saw something in the suspect's hand and feared for their lives, according to the report and court testimony.

A fuselage of bullets from Compean and Ramos missed. Finally, Ramos took careful aim as Aldrete-Davila neared the border and hit him in the buttocks.

After the shooting, the agents collected all shell casings at the scene, threw them away and did not mention the shooting to superiors, a violation of Border Patrol procedures that call for an oral report after a weapon is discharged, according to the report and court records.

Investigators granted immunity to Aldrete-Davila to lure him back across the border. The story he told was corroborated by other officers at the scene, the report said.

In March last year, Ramos and Compean were found guilty of multiple charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon, discharge of a firearm in commission of a crime, and tampering with a crime scene. Judge Kathleen Cardone issued an 11-year prison sentence to Ramos and a 12-year sentence to Compean in October. The agents appealed to a higher court, and their conservative supporters started to pressure Bush to release them.

Okay, so the agents have been convicted on serious charges, and by all accounts, they have had a fair trial (st least, that is not the issue of the protests). They were incarcerated in Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex in Mississippi, and Ignacia (Nacho) Ramos was beaten bloody by members of a Latino gang in prison. Based on this incident, at a minimum, the officers should be moved to a place where they will be safe. It was pure stupidity to lock them in a prison with convicted Latino gang members, and whoever decided to send them to prison should lose his/her job.

But again, the protesters are not demanding that the convicted Border Patrol agents be moved to a safe place to serve their terms. They want them pardoned. Why, you may ask. It appears that many believe the officers should have been suspended, and not convicted of a crime. It also appears that there is controversy surrounding the testimony of the shooting victim, Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila. He was granted immunity in return for his testimony about the shooting, which critics say make him an unreliable witness (although I think we can all agree that professional criminals never make good witnesses).

What seems to be lost in this over-passionate debate are the facts: 1) did the BP agents break the law (and not just DHS policy) and 2) did they receive a fair trial? It is pretty clear that, regardless of what they believed about Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila (they thought he was armed, which is why they shot at him), covering up the scene and disposing of the shell casings is illegal. If they did not receive a fair trial, then they should make that argument in court.

The rule of law should be followed, and no amount of protesting should result in their pardon.

Friday, February 16, 2007

GE Money to fund Mexican Mortgages for U.S. citizens

I knew it was only a matter of time before U.S. financial services realized that there was money to be made in Mexico.

GE Money, the financial services arm of General Electric Co. (GE), is planning to lend nearly $150 million to U.S. residents who want mortgages to buy residential during the first half of the year, GE Money plans to expand its product offering with a cash-out refinancing product that will allow citizens from the U.S. who already own property in Mexico to unlock the equity in their homes, and mortgages to buy homes under construction. To date, GE Money has only financed finished apartments and houses.

Last year the company invested nearly $60 million in Mexican home mortgages to U.S. citizens, and GE Money is anxious to tap into this growing market, which is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and, until very recently, has grown tremendously with little or no mortgage financing.

Most of the expats who retire to Mexico do so after they sell their homes and other assets in the U.S. If you read the San Miguel fieldwork diary (see link to the right), you'll see that not having a mortgage was one of the appeals of living in San Miguel and other areas in Mexico, where the cost of living has been relatively less expensive than here in the U.S.

Financiers expect that by offering mortgages in Mexico, the demographics are working in their favor, as nearly 78 million baby boomers will start retiring in the next decade, and many are expected to look to Mexico, where property prices have not reached the stratospheric levels observed in popular retirement destinations in California and Florida.

In addition to the numbers of baby boomers who will be looking for an inexpensive retirement location, the privatization of Mexico's airport industry, coupled with the emergence of low-cost carriers in the past five years have also accelerated this trend. Easier access to places like San Miguel de Allende have made it possible for people to think of Mexico as a place to keep a vacation or weekend home.

GE Money initiated the "Mexican Dream Mortgage" program in five locations in late 2005, and followed it with a full commercial launch in 2006. Today, the program is available in 12 locations, including the Baja California peninsula, Cancun, and the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende. The program offers dollar-denominated adjustable-rate mortgages and fixed-rate mortgages for up to $1.5 million, although the average loan has been around $350,000. All of the credit scoring and paperwork are handled in the U.S. In Mexico, GE Money Credito Hipotecario originates the loans, and GE Capital Bank provides the Mexican bank trust for foreigners who want to buy property on the coast or near the border (foreigners are prohibited from purchasing property near the Mexican coastlines, but they can purchases long-term leases).

GE Money's move toward expanding the home mortgage market in Mexico will no doubt do two things: it will allow the real estate prices to escalate (as people buying on time with be able to pay more for their homes) and it will encourage more Americans to move to Mexico.

Texas Business Leaders and Political Leaders Unite around Immigration Debate

The historically conservative Texas Association of Business is joining forces with a democratic Texas state lawmaker and several liberal political groups in an effort to stop current immigration legislation in Texas

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, announced the formation of a group of business and political leaders on Tuesday, February 13, which would include the TAB, Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce, Texas Employers for Immigration Reform, League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The group is calling for Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick to defeat all immigrant-related bills before the Legislature this session. Instead, the group wants to shift the immigration debate to Washington, where, it says, any significant progress toward comprehensive immigration reform must originate.

It's about time that people woke up and recognized that state and local legislation is not going to address the nation's immigration issues.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Deportations on the Rise

From this morning's Washington Post:

Deportations by Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and predecessor agencies:

Fiscal Year Deportations
2002 116,154
2003 145,935
2004 162,014
2005 131,579
2006 186,000

Daily average number of individuals in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

Fiscal Year In Detention
2002 20,282
2003 21,133
2004 22,812
2005 19,718

Notes: The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Full figures for 2006 were not available, but in September 2006, the daily average in detention was 27,521.

SOURCE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bank of America offers credit cards to the Undocumented

Many years ago a friend told me that it was foolish to obsess about which political party was in power, because "Wall Street runs this Country." Unfortunately, that was not quite accurate, the war in Iraq being a case in point.

But it may not be wholly incorrect either. The L.A. Times reports today the they have initiated a program to allow immigration who do not have social security numbers (i.e., the undocumented) to apply for credit cards:
The credit cards are not aimed specifically at illegal immigrants, a bank spokeswoman said, but instead people who lack solid credit histories.

Bank of America is following other major banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. and Citibank, who have launched similar initiatives to gain customers in the burgeoning Latino community:

Wells Fargo began a pilot program last year in Los Angles and Orange counties to offer home mortgages to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least two years. The customers are allowed to identify themselves using taxpayer numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service instead of Social Security numbers. That's the same type of identification number an immigrant can use to obtain a credit card under Bank of America's pilot program.

What is clear from this move is that the banking industry sees the Latino community as potential customers and people who should be integrated into the financial mainstream of American society, regardless of their status as residents of the U.S. The question is, can the rest of the nation follow their lead?

Nashville Nixes English-only Law

Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed and English-only measure on Monday, February 12, saying it was "unconstitutional, unnecessary and mean-spirited."

At best, the measure was seen as symbolic and a slap in the face to the Nashville area's substantial Latino population.

Bravo, Mr. Purcell. Let's hope that other politicians will follow your lead and dispense with similar nonsense legislative initiatives..

The 110th Congress and Immigration Reform

The link above to the Council on Foreign Relations provides a detailed overview of the recent congressional debate on immigration reform. The site covers an overview of the debates that plagued the 109th Congress, as well as the current proposals that are under consideration. It also offers analysis of the political, economic and foreign policy implications for immigraiton reform.

The most interested aspect of this report are the new proposals that under consideration (with a link to the full PDF document). They include:

A bipartisan task force chaired by Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, and Spencer Abraham, a former Bush administration energy secretary, released a set of proposals (PDF) in January 2007 calling for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.

It calls for simplifying the overburdened U.S. system and setting annual legal immigration levels at around 1.5 million, which it says is about three hundred thousand less than the annual number of both legal and illegal immigrants coming into the country today. It calls for the creation of a White House coordinator for immigration policy, as well as a body known as the "Standing Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets" to make recommendations to Congress biannually to adjust immigration levels. Hamilton told a recent CFR meeting such a realignment was essential. "Immigration is spread all over this government one way or the other," Hamilton said. "A lot of people have their finger in the pie. You don't get integration. You don't get coordination."

Overall, the report is concise and well informed. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to stay informed about the immigration debate.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Grassroots battle against Immigration

It appears that some residents of Prince William county are working toward starting a chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in their community. As you can see from the photo from the Washington Post, however, their efforts are being met with considerable resistance. Many in the Latino community, as well as other concerned citizens, do not care for the anti-Latino sentiment that the Minutemen are known to stir up.

The Minutemen were active in Herndon most of last year. They stood outside the day labor center and before that, the 7-Eleven parking lot taking photos of immigrants and those who hired them. They took the photos and vehicle identification and handed it to ICE officials, who obviously ignored the reports, as nothing came of the action.

The fact that the group is ineffective, but nonetheless does much to damage community relations between Latinos and others, is probably the best reason to not associate with groups like the Minutemen.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Migration Policy Institute Data Hub

Looking for information on immigration? Would you like to see immigration information in sophisticated graphics (like the map above). The Migration Policy Institute has just unveiled its new and improved "data hub" that will include

compiled to-date stock, flow, citizenship, asylum, and historical data for 17 countries, as well as extensive data from the US Census Bureau and Department of Homeland Security that cover numbers and characteristics of immigrant populations residing in and arriving to the United States every year. These tools will form the heart of the new Data Hub

The site also has a large selection of migration related publications.

The Question of Assimilation

I am not a fan of assimilation theory. As a child of an immigrant family, I watched my father and grandparents systematically give up their identity as Italians to "fit" into American society. What was the cost? --a second language, knowledge of our relatives in Italy, and our cultural heritage.

I also do not think it necessary for anyone to give up their cultural heritage to be an American. Immigration is what makes America an interesting place--homogeneity is simply boring.

That is not to say, however, that I do not think it a good idea for recent arrivals to learn the basics of getting along in the U.S. These basic skills, the cultural capital that allows one to successfully maneuver the U.S. job market, schools, and health care system, is essential. Often, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a new immigrant to get access to the services s/he needs to get along. English classes are a good example here. Nearly everyone agrees (if for different reasons) that immigrants should learn to speak English. I think this is a good idea because speaking English also gives an immigrant access to better paying jobs, better educational opportunities, and will make life easier in general.

I do not think an immigrant needs to learn to speak English to "fit in," however. This is the problem I have with the concept of assimilation and how it is used in popular discourse. When many people in the U.S. say "these immigrants need to learn English," they typically mean that a person not speaking English makes them feel uncomfortable. I'm sure you've seen someone like this at one time or another, whether it was the man who screamed at the ATM machine for inquiring if he would like his transaction to proceed in English or Spanish, or the woman in Target who storms off in a huff because the person stocking shelves does fully understand her inquiry about the range of toss pillow colors offered by the store.

In both of the examples above, the American is affronted because they see a change in their world. I can only assume that they do not like change, they find it threatening, or perhaps they are simply abhor all things foreign.

Of course, learning English will help an immigrant fit in. The same is true of any American who is willing to offer their time and support to assist immigrants as they learn English and adapt to the U.S. We would all benefit if more people volunteered to become English tutors. Short of that, as a nation we should make the availability of English classes a priority.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

San Miguel: It's not for everyone

This article in the Philadelphia Daily News is unusual in that it tells the tale of a woman who visited San Miguel and --gasp-- did not want to move there permanently. She enjoyed herself, but a visit was enough.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Operation Return to Sender

This op-ed from the Chicago Sun-Times outlines the significant problems with ICE's newest anti-immigrant measure: Return to Sender. The program is intended to apprehend undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but it casts a wide net, and ICE officials are also apprehending, and holding indefinitely, people who have no criminal record.

The program is expected to generate a new round of protests this spring.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The New Face of Landscaping

When I was doing research in Mexico in 1999, my colleague Payal noticed a trend in the immigrant labor market. The undocumented and newest arrivals to the U.S. generally had the worst jobs: they picked mushrooms or fruit, made the least money, and aspired to move into one of two better sources of employment: construction and "la yarda."

La yarda is Spanglish for Landscaping. This article from today's Washington Post outlines the racial transformation of this industry. Most landscapers in the early 1990s employed African Americans; today the field is dominated by Latinos, although their bosses are typically Anglo.

The article highlights a trend in low-wage industries: African Americans and other citizens are unlikely to work under the conditions required for some low-wage jobs (see my post on African Americans and the chicken processing industry from January 17, 2007). Latinos, particularly the undocumented, have "soft skills," like obedience and willingness to work under substandard conditions, that make them more attractive to business owners. Within a relatively short period of time, employers will seek Latinos, believing they are inherently better workers, effectively shutting out African Americans and others who might be interested in doing the work, but they also would be interested in demanding their rights.

What would happen to the labor market, I wonder, if the U.S. were able to effectively end the hiring undocumented immigrants, such as through a national I.D. card? Would documented Latinos still be "ideal" employees, or would that change once they were not longer vulnerable and without recourse?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Border Patrol Internment Camps

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has had remarkable success rounding up undocumented immigrations around the nation. The agency now faces the problem of what to do with those they arrest for being in the country illegally.

The answer? Makeshift internment camps for non-Mexican detainees. These camps, like the one pictured here in Raymondville, Texas, are Kevlar tents erected on cement slabs. The tent city is one of several strategies the United States has embarked on to house apprehended undocumented residents. This includes an extensive prison building and contracting campaign, increasing the number of illegal immigrants detained from 19,718 a day in 2005 to about 26,500 now, and a projected 32,000 this summer.

Why is the Bush administration anxious to apprehend undocumented residents now (when they have essentially ignored them for most of the Presidents two terms)? Apparently, the President believes that the government must convince skeptics that it can credibly enforce laws aimed at illegal immigrants and their employers, and can hold and deport those caught by the U.S. Border Patrol in order to get support for comprehensive immigration reform. At the same time, the administration and its allies argue that even additional detention beds will be overwhelmed without new channels for legal immigration.

It is an interesting strategy, and an abysmal one for those who are apprehended. The conditions in the detention camps vary widely, and there are widespread reports that many of those interned are living under deplorable conditions.

The government is also exceptionally quiet about the costs of this program. One can only imagine that funding this detention program must be exorbitant, as many of the detainees are expected to be held for months, if not years.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Domestic and International Priorities

This week the Senate will vote on whether or not to follow President Bush's proposed escalation in Iraq. I would incourage any reader who feels strongly about immigration to take a moment to remind our Senators that the U.S. has pressing domestic issues, like addressing immigration reform, and it's time to refocus our attention away from pouring more resources into Iraq when we legitimately need to invest our time and attention to issues at home.

The link above will take you to the e-mail list of the members of the Senate.