Friday, March 30, 2007

Baltimore Area Immigration Raids

ICE officials raided several businesses in the DC/Baltimore area this week. A total of 69 workers from Latin America and Africa were detained yesterday after raids on nine businesses that used a Baltimore-based temporary employment agency. The agency had been suspected of providing undocumented immigrants, ICE officials said.

ICE agents also seized the $600,000 bank account of Jones Industrial Network, the employment agency that allegedly supplied undocumented workers to local firms that included the sportswear manufacturer Under Armour and bonded warehouses in or near the Port of Baltimore.

For many years, employers who have wanted to benefit from undocumented labor have used employment agencies like Jones Industrial Network. It's a beautiful and simple way to get around the immigration laws: the employer can claim that the company authorized that the worker was legal (and thus be off the hook for breaking the law).

Because they had allegedly authorized the employment of the undocumented workers, ICE authorities said the Jones firm was the sole target of their criminal investigation because it bore responsibility for determining the legal status of workers it provided under contract. The Washington Post reports that no Jones officials faced arrest or charges yesterday. The question is,
will they ever?

Lost and Found in Mexico: available on DVD

For those of you who have been dying to see Lost and Found in Mexico, this is great news. The DVD is now available for purchase on the film's website. I would encourage anyone interested in living and/or retiring in Mexico to watch it. I also hope anyone who has seen it will post their comments here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hazleton on the Diane Rehm Show

The link here will take you to the podcast of today's Diane Rehm Show (WAMU FM 88.5). Diane's guests included Ben Johnson, director of the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation, Jennifer Ludden, reporter, National Public Radio, Michael Hethmon, co-counsel for the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania; general counsel, Immigration Reform Law Institute, Lou Barletta, mayor, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Rudy Espinal, president, Hazleton Hispanic Business Association.

The program was a great discussion of the issues central to Hazleton's anti-immigrant ordininaces and immigration reform in the U.S.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hazleton's Anti-immigrant Law in Judge's Hands

The trial to challenge Hazleton Pennsylvania's anti-immigrant ordinances is now in the judge's hands. No ruling is expected for two months.

The trial began on March 12, and illuminated much of the folly behind Lou Barletta's anti-immigrant movement. As I posted earlier this week, Barletta admitted under oath that he had never bothered to do any research on how many undocumented immigrants live in his town, nor whether they were straining services as he claimed. Today's L.A. Times reports another interested tidbit: of the 8,500 crimes committed in Hazleton in the last six years, the city can only prove that 20 were committed by illegal immigrants.

The real issue here is not Mr. Barletta's battle against crime or overcrowding. It's against change. In five years Hazleton's population increased by about 50%, to 31,000, mostly because of Latinos who left New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This former coal-mining town northwest of Philadelphia was in a state of decline before Latinos discovered, and revitalized the town.

Nostalgia so easily clouds one's judgment.

Can it be possible?: Bipartisan Immigration Reform in the House

It looks like things are finally getting underway in regard to immigration reform as democrats in the House submitted the first immigration proposal yesterday since gaining the control of Congress this year.

This proposal from Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) attempts to actually address U.S. immigration problems, unlike a measure passed by the Republican-controlled House in 2005. That bill focused on tough enforcement actions to reduce illegal immigration. In contrast, the Flake-Gutierrez proposal is much more similar to the Senate proposal of last year.

Flake-Gutierrez offers a bipartisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. It would allow millions of illegal immigrants to participate in a guest-worker program and possibly gain citizenship. Here are the specifics:
The bill seeks to clamp down on illegal border crossings from Mexico while allowing some illegal workers and their family members already in the United States to legally remain for up to six years if they pay a $1,000 fine for breaking the law and continuously hold a job.

Illegal immigrants who become guest workers could eventually become citizens if they have broken no additional laws, leave the country, return legally, pay a second $1,000 fine and become proficient English speakers.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When Children fall through the Cracks of our Immigration System

This article from today's Washington Post highlights a now common problem with increased apprehension of undocumented immigrants: sometimes their small children get left behind when their mothers (and sometimes fathers) are taken away.

Although the parents are undocumented, their children are often U.S. citizens who are abandoned and then incorporated into the child welfare system.

This situation is incomprehensible, and extremely sad.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hazleton Mayor Admits he has no data on immigrants and their impact in his town

I know that this is going to be a major shock to many, but it appears that Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta assumed that illegal immigrants were the cause of problems in his community, but never bothered do get any data to support his position or his ordinances. According to The Allentown Morning Call online, while Mayor Barletta testified yesterday, he basically shot his ordinances in the foot. He testified during the third day of the non-jury trial, which will test the constitutionality of Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act in what is the first federal trial on a municipality's bid to curb illegal immigration.

Mr. Barletta captured the nation's attention with his strong nativist rhetoric, which he repeated on the stand,
Barletta also said he firmly believes illegal immigrants should be flushed out across the country, and that he introduced the ordinance because he is responsible for providing public safety. ''I saw a problem in my city, and I tried to do something about it,'' he said.

Unfortunately, Mr. Barletta has based his anti-immigrant policies on belief rather than fact. He admitted that had no idea how many illegal immigrants live in his city of about 32,000. He also did not rely on any data to conclude they are the root of its problems. So, while Barletta sincerely believes illegal immigration has contributed to overcrowding in schools and hospitals and "destroys the overall quality of life," he has never stopped to look for data that may prove he is sincerely wrong.

During his testimony Barletta admitted he did not contact the school district to ask about alleged overcrowding, nor did he call the hospital for statistics on the treatment of illegal immigrants. Indeed, he did not seek any data to back up any of the claims. Instead, Barletta said he assumed schools were overcrowded because classes were being held in trailers, and he read in the local newspaper that test scores had fallen.

I completely understand your position, Mr. Barletta. Why bother doing any research when just saying something is sooo much easier.

I believe that Hazleton's mayor made a fool of himself yesterday. And guess what? --I have evidence to prove it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Calderón scolds Bush on Immigration, Drugs

Felipe Calderón may have had trouble last year on his path to the Presidency of Mexico, but based on his interactions with George W. Bush yesterday, he seems to have the huevos to speak up on the international stage. According to several news sources, Calderón did not mince words in admonishing President Bush on his border fence initiative and his administration's failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

President Calderón also addressed the issue of controlling illegal drug trafficking. He vowed to fight drug-running in Mexico, but also pointed out that the U.S. has a responsibility to address issues of demand because "while there is no reduction in demand in your territory, it will be very difficult to reduce the supply in ours."

It's certainly obvious that Calderón is no Vincente Fox, who was always remarkably polite in his deference to President Bush.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hazleton's Immigration Crackdown goes on Trial

Months after the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania passed a series of anti-immigrant regulations, the legality of these laws is finally being challenged in court. The NPR story linked here discusses the major issues at stake: is it possible for a town to regulate immigration? The ACLU argues that immigration control is the responsibility of the federal government, and that Hazleton's ordinances, which would punish landlords and employers who knowingly rent to or employ illegal immigrants, are unconstitutional.

The most disturbing aspect of this report is its preamble, where Jennifer Ludden summarizes Mayor Barletta's narrative of what he believes has happened in Hazleton. According to Barletta, the town of Hazleton was once a small-town idyll that has been disrupted by Latinos who he believes are responsible for the town's crime and economic problems. It's interesting that Barletta ignore's the fact that Hazleton was a dying and depopulating coal town before the immigrants moved in and initiated a remarkable revitalization, including new businesses and a tax base.

The other problematic discussed here is that Hazleton's ordinances encourage discrimination against all Latinos, many of whom are NOT undocumented, and therefore have every right to live in Hazleton if they wish. The report notes that many documented Latinos have packed up and left town because they do not want to live in what has become a hostile community toward immigrants.

Many other small communities across the nation are closely watching events in Hazleton. If the courts uphold their ordinances, many others plan to enact similar local laws.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mexico-U.S. Relations: From Romance to Realism

This op-ed piece takes a serious look at Mexico's relationship with the U.S. and argues that Calderón's best foreign policy with the U.S. is to get his domestic policy in order. It also signals a significant change in Mexican popular opinion on their relations with the U.S.

Lost and Found in Mexico

This link will take you to the website of this documentary about living in San Miguel de Allende. The first screening was March 3, but the film should be making the rounds of film festivals in the U.S. and Mexico (updates will appear on the website).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"They Love Us Here": More on life in San Miguel

This article published in Dissent Magazine was written by Sheila Croucher, a professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio. Much like myself, she began a formal research project in SMA last year, and this article appears to be an initial report on her findings that was written for a general audience.

The article is informative and well written. Ms. Croucher begins discussing international migration in terms of "push-pull" factors, in other words, an economic model of international migration. The push-pull theory is often bantered about in the media and by those in the general public who do formally study immigration. It's a very old theory of immigration, and it is by far the most simplistic. Most contemporary immigration scholars look at a combination of theories because it is obvious that it is more than money that drives a person to leave their homeland and live in a foreign country.

When Croucher does move on to social network theory, one of the more prominent theories in immigration studies today, she also characterizes social networks in Mexico as "pull" to bring Americans in--while the social networks make life and the transition to live in Mexico much easier, it is not necessarily the case that the networks are the pull that get people to sell everything and leave their families to live in this lovely mountain town (see the Fieldwork Diary link for more on this).

Croucher's article does provide a few new insights about the macrocstructure of life in SMA, but this article emphasizes the big picture. There are few voices of the expats reported here, almost no detail of the day-to-day experiences of expats or Mexicans. In short, it is a good overview, but not much in terms of the flavor of live in SMA.

As an alternative, I would suggest that you check out a new documentary film, Lost and Found in Mexico, which was directed and produced by American expat Caren Cross. I am going to a full blog on the film as soon as a trailer is ready, but for now you can find more information at this link. The film is an autobiographical account of Ms. Cross's first journey to SMA, which characteristically compelled her to return to her home in the U.S., sell off everything and return to Mexico to live full-time. The film uses oral histories from a variety of folks who live in SMA to answer the question, "why?" Why do Americans feel drawn to come San Miguel, what is it that they find there that is not available in the U.S.?

Lost and Found in Mexico is an abitious first film, and it shows a lot about life there that simply cannot be communicated on the written page.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant movement

The link above will take you to a story from today's NPR broadcast of Morning Edition. It discusses the rise of hate groups (like the KKK) concomidant with the anti-immigrant movement. Disappointingly, Sepremist groups have taken a strong interest in the anti-immigrant movement. This is less than appealing--imagine Klansmen lighting crosses on the lawns of Latinos in Kentucky and you'll get the idea.

The article also points out, as I have here, that the U.S. is in the midst of a full-blown nativist backlash.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Fight to preserve San Miguel's Historic District

San Miguel is a treasure worth fighting for, and a coalition of Mexican and Foreign expats joined together yesterday to protest the construction of a five-story parking garage just two blocks from the Jardín Principal and in the heart of the city's historic district.

Basta Ya, one of the more vocal groups (of the 11 protest groups formed in the city recently) organized the march from the Jardín Principal to the site two blocks away at Insurgentes and Hidalgo. The garage will hold 290 cars if it is completed.

I've been reading about this controversy on discussion lists. It appears that excavation at the site caused an adjoining wall along the staff parking lot for the General Hospital to collapse on Feb. 1, officials for the city have refused to order a halt to construction.

Basta Ya and other residents claim that the height of the garage will exceed the 8.5 meters allowed by the city´s building code and is not in keeping with the colonial heritage of the Historic District. The architects of the garage claim that the structure is needed to decrease the traffic congestion in town. They also plan to put a colonial facade on the building so it will fit in with the local architecture.

The garage project sounds much like the adobe-style garages that are located in downtown Santa Fe, NM. They, too, are designed to fit in, but I have to admit, they look like what they are: a tacky attempt to make an "adobe" parking garage.

I wish the residents of SMA luck as they move forward. It's difficult to fight projects like this once they have begun, but it is a battle worth fighting.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

SMA: A Great place to Mend your Broken Heart

It appears that San Miguel de Allende has earned yet another distinction: it is among the top ten places in the world to heal the wounds of the broken hearted.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Mexico's Immigration Reform

Central to the folklore of U.S. immigration are the stories that immigrants tell about their journeys north. If you ever talk to an immigrant from Central (and sometimes South) American, more than likely they will tell you that the hardest part of their journey is not crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but passing illegally through Mexico.

There are many reasons for this--Mexico is a large country, there are bandits and federales along the way that can make illegal passage difficult (i.e., thievery or arrest)to impossible (i.e., being bribed or physically assault by an immigrant officer or the police).

Mexico's President Felipe Calderón has announced a sweeping immigration reform package that will address the problems of people traveling through Mexico. Among the proposed reforms:

1) A "Safe Southern Border Program," which will crack down on illegal crossers, violent gangs in the border zone and abuse of migrants by authorities throughout Mexico.
2) A guest worker program to allow Central Americans to work legally and temporarily in Mexico, especially along the southern border
3)Providing improvements to 48 detention centers in Mexico for apprehended undocumented immigrants. This change is being made in response to criticism that illegal Central American migrants are denied the same respect Mexico demands for its citizens in the United States.
4)Calderón also plans to encourage his Congress to make being undocumented a civil violation, rather than a crime.

All of these changes are significant; especially in the case of improving human rights treatment, they are long over due. However, it remains to be seen if any of these changes will influence the northward migration of men and women to the U.S. It appears that Calderón's action is geared more toward encouraging the U.S. to take similar action about its undocumented immigrants.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Immigration Overhaul?

Better late than never, I suppose. It appears that the Bush administration is taking baby steps toward an overhaul to the U.S. immigration system, but lots of important details are still murky, like what about those 12 million undocumented living in the U.S. right now? We cannot incarcerate them all, and the border crack down continues to encourage those who are here illegally to stay put.

But can the Bush team say "path to citizenship"? Although it has been clear from the start that this is what the President wants, he seems a bit gun shy (if that is possible of a Texan). For now, the administration is asking the undocumented "come out of the shadows." Hmmm. To do what? Get an all-expense paid vacation to Raymondville, Texas? As the L.A. Times reports:

The administration's priority is to secure the nation's borders and convince the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to "come out of the shadows," Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I'm not sure that everyone wants to be a U.S. citizen. Many just want to be able to work, and if they can work legally, one day they would like to go back home," he said. "So I don't think that citizenship is what will make them come out of the shadows."

But, what will make people come out of the shadows, Mr. Gutierrez? Certainly not your current course of action.

On a similiar, and extremely ironic note, Colorado has been looking for a way to address their labor shortages now that ICE is busy rounding up immigrants and locking them in interment camps. Can you guess who they're using? They're going to use convicts as farmworkers! Isn't that a grand idea--let's take law abiding workers (albeit undocumented ones) and replace them with convicts.

Gee, I can only imagine how happy the folks in Colorado are going to be about having REAL convicted criminals out in the fresh air picking their fruits and veggies. That is a much safer alternative to having an undocumented person do it. I'm sure the average citizen in Colorado will be much safer with this program. The farmers are sure to be thrilled about this--free labor with no labor rights. It doesn't get much sweeter than this.

What a relief to know that we have America's brightest and best finding solutions to this problem.

More on Bank of America Credit Cards (for the undocumented)

You have to wonder exactly how far the anti-immigrant minority will go to castigate the undocumented. This article from today's Washington Post revisits the issue of offering credit cards to people who may be undocumented. It appears that after the news broke last week, hundreds of Bank of American customers sent irate letters and cut up their cards and sent them back--in other words--they had a good old-fashioned hissy fit.

Don't get me wrong, I think the credit card companies should hear from their customers often about the exorbitant rates that they charge us all, and for issuing credit irresponsibly, particularly to college students and others who easily rack up thousands of dollars in debt that they should not have been issued on the first place.

In this regard, targeting the undocumented is not much different than targeting young adults with cards, after all, they are as likely to be seduced by easy credit as anyone else. As the article linked here notes, the issue here is not whether or not the person who is issued a credit card is documented or not, it's about greed. I do not think Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Citicorp are issuing credit cards as a humanitarian gesture: an undocumented immigrant's money is as green as a citizen's. This is just one more opportunity for creditors to get their hands on it.