May 2008


As the “open borders” WSJ tells it

Republicans in Congress are usually to blame for blocking immigration reform. So it’s worth noting that last week’s effort to fix a broken guest-worker program for migrant farm workers died at the hands of a Democrat.

Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Emergency Agricultural Relief Act with a bipartisan vote of 17 to 12. Introduced by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the measure would have modified the broken H-2A visa program for migrant farmhands by, among other things, streamlining the application process to encourage participation.

The amendment also would have given temporary legal status to the illegal farm workers already here if they passed a background check and met other requirements. No one wants to reward lawbreaking. But the reality is that an estimated three-quarters of the agriculture labor force is here illegally. Congress is kidding itself if it thinks Americans in an economy with 5% unemployment and better job opportunities would do this work if only these Mexicans would return home. The far more likely scenario is that growers will continue to move operations south of the border if they can’t find labor in the U.S. at a price that allows growers to stay competitive.

In any case, we’re now stuck with the status quo thanks to Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who objected on the Senate floor and thus had the reform struck from a larger spending bill. His office says he thwarted the reform because the “provisions were tilted in favor of businesses while doing too little to help immigrant workers.” This is hard to believe, because the amendment had been negotiated with both growers and farm workers, which is why it had the support of industry groups like the American Farm Bureau, as well as labor outfits like the United Farm Workers of America.

The likely story is that Mr. Menendez was carrying water for Hispanic political activists who dislike this kind of piecemeal reform, even if it solves a genuine problem and would help millions of migrant workers. Such groups as the National Council of La Raza figure they can wait until next year when Democrats will probably run the entire government and they won’t have to make any compromises on citizenship. They give immigration reformers a bad name. It’s also possible Mr. Menendez was doing Majority Leader Harry Reid’s handiwork by denying Republicans any achievement this year.

H-2A reform has been knocking around the Senate since 2006, and there’s little doubt that it would pass if it ever got a Senate vote. Its failure, despite such support, is one more example of why voters so loathe Washington. Senator Menendez has now shown that GOP restrictionists aren’t the only ones more interested in playing politics with immigration than in solving the problem.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy pressed his agenda for France’s upcoming presidency of the European Union, including an immigration and a climate package, during a brief visit to Austria Friday. “We need immigration but we don’t want illegal immigration,” he told journalists during a joint press conference with Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer in Vienna.

Europe needs a common policy to ensure that all member states follow the same rules in accepting or rejecting asylum seekers, he said. “Is it normal that a political refugee can apply for asylum in 27 different countries? Is it normal that Austria can say no and France say yes, or vice versa?” he asked.

The two leaders also emphasized their agreement on other key priorities of France’s six-month presidency, which starts on July 1, including climate change. The two countries traditionally disagree over nuclear power, which France favors but Austria is staunchly opposed to. But Sarkozy assured: “At the same time, we’re both for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.” “Austria is following its path, France is following another path: we complement each other, we’re not in opposition.”

Gusenbauer said he was confident the French presidency would pass an EU climate package and move forward on immigration and transportation policies. “After years of looking inwards, it’s important to address real burning questions” during France’s term as head of the bloc, he said.

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Melissa Green’s mother spoke Spanish, but she never learned — her father forbid it. Today, that’s a frequent problem in this city where the English-speaking population is outnumbered. The 49-year-old flower shop owner and Miami native said her inability to speak “Espanol” makes it difficult to conduct business, seek help at stores and even ask directions. She finds it “frustrating.” “It makes it hard for some people to find a job because they don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t think that it is right,” said Green, who sometimes calls a Spanish-speaking friend to translate for customers who don’t speak English. “Sometimes I think they should learn it,” she said.

In many areas of Miami, Spanish has become the predominant language, replacing English in everyday life. Anyone from Latin America could feel at home on the streets, without having to pronounce a single word in English. In stores, shopkeepers wait on their clients in Spanish. Universities offer programs for Spanish speakers. And in supermarkets, banks, restaurants — even at the post office and government offices — information is given and assistance is offered in Spanish. In Miami, doctors and nurses speak Spanish with their patients and a large portion of advertising is in Spanish. Daily newspapers and radio and television stations cater to the Hispanic public.

But this situation, so pleasing to Latin American immigrants, makes some English speakers feel marginalized. In the 1950s, it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of Miami-Dade County residents were non-Hispanic whites. But in 2006, the Census Bureau estimates that number was only 18.5 percent, and in 2015 it is forecast to be 14 percent. Hispanics now make up about 60 percent. “The Anglo population is leaving,” said Juan Clark, a sociology professor at Miami Dade College. “One of the reactions is to emigrate toward the north. They resent the fact that (an American) has to learn Spanish in order to have advantages to work. If one doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s a disadvantage.”

According to the Census, 58.5 percent of the county’s 2.4 million residents speak Spanish — and half of those say they don’t speak English well. English-only speakers make up 27.2 percent of the county’s residents. In the mainly Cuban city of Hialeah and in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana, 94 percent of residents identified themselves as Hispanic.

Andrew Lynch, an expert on linguistics and bilingualism at the University of Miami, said that the presence of Spanish-speakers first became an issue in Miami-Dade County in the 1960s and ’70s with the arrival of Cuban immigrants and intensified in the ’80s with immigrants from not just Cuba, but Argentina, Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. The exodus of English speakers soon followed.

James McCleary, his wife and two children left Miami in 1987 for Vermont, where he is now a farmer. McCleary, 58, said his inability to speak Spanish made it difficult for him to find work — it once took seven months to get hired as a cook. “The job market was very tough. It was very, very difficult,” he said. His wife, Lauren, was born and raised in Miami and they visit at least twice a year, but she feels that it’s no longer her hometown. “I don’t like being there anymore. It is very, very different,” she said. “I cannot live there anymore, I can’t speak their language.” Nevertheless, she likes the diversity of the population of South Florida and regrets not learning Spanish in school.

Librarian Martha Phillips, 61, believes those who speak Spanish will continue to have more opportunities and she doesn’t think that’s necessarily fair. Phillips said she is sorry to see non-Spanish-speakers abandoning Miami, and said she’s concerned that the area “will be like a branch of Latin America.” “I do resent the fact that people seem to expect that the people who live here adjust to their ways, rather than learning English and making adjustments,” she said. “Obviously I don’t expect an older person to learn to speak English, but younger people come in and they don’t seem to make much of an effort to learn to adapt to this country and they expect us to adapt to them.”

Some Spanish speakers say they have their own trouble with those who only speak English. Mary Bravo, a 37-year-old Venezuelan business owner, moved to Miami nine years ago. She understands English but only speaks a little. “This land is theirs. We should try to speak English,” she said, “but they don’t even try to understand us.”

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Swiss voters will decide on Sunday whether to back a controversial proposal that would give individual communities the authority to award Swiss passports. More than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents are foreigners, according to Federal Statistics Office 2006 data, a higher proportion than almost any other European country and due in part to the difficulty of becoming a naturalized citizen.

A proposal by the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has plastered the country with posters featuring yellow and black hands grabbing at Swiss passports, could make that process more difficult. The SVP is calling for the naturalization of immigrants to be decided by a popular vote in the commune where the immigrant lives, a procedure banned five years ago after a number of communities repeatedly blocked passport applications. “The decision about who should become Swiss or not must be able to be decided by the voters in the communities, they know the candidates better than courts or authorities,” the SVP said in a statement.

But the SVP, Switzerland’s most popular party with nearly 29 percent of the vote in last year’s general election, faces an uphill struggle in this referendum, with 56 percent opposing the motion in the latest survey by polling organization gfs Bern. Opponents of the proposal say private details about applicants would have to be sent to thousands of voters if it were accepted. “This is a gross invasion of someone’s private life. No Swiss person would tolerate this and strip themselves bare in front of their communities,” the Social Democratic (SP) party said in a pre-referendum flyer.

The SVP is backed by billionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher and has increased its power over the last 10 years by focusing on worries about immigration. It has sent out literature detailing various crimes committed by immigrants who had been granted Swiss citizenship. The party drew accusations of racism by rights groups and the United Nations during last October’s election campaign for its posters showing a black sheep being kicked off a Swiss flag by three white sheep.

And its latest campaign contrasts with publicity from the tourist board, welcoming hundreds of thousands of soccer fans who will travel in June to Switzerland and neighboring Austria for the Euro 2008 soccer tournament.

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Identity theft, defrauding the federal government, and illegal immigration are serious criminal matters. But if you’re the Web editor for MSNBC.com, stolen Social Security numbers are merely “shared” with “undocumented workers” stuck in a web of “federal employment laws.” From the subheadline for the front page tease to the May 27 edition of “Red Tape Chronicles”

Millions of Americans find themselves sharing Social Security identies with others, mostly undocumented workers looking to get around federal employment laws.

Of course, you’re lucky if just one person is “sharing” your Social Security Number (SSN). MSNBC.com blogger Bob Sullivan noted one Chicago woman who had 37 other people fraudulently claiming her number. Yet at no point in his 33-paragraph post did Sullivan describe the claiming of other people’s SSNs as “fraud.” What’s more, Sullivan turned to an “immigration rights advocate” who painted the illegal immigrant fraudsters themselves as victims:

San Diego-based immigration rights advocate Lilia Velasquez sees similar cases in her practice all the time. Imposters run the spectrum from hardened criminals who ultimately take out loans in the victim’s name to well-intentioned Mexicans who are simply doing what they need to do to get a job and feed their families. “It’s not that these people intentionally and maliciously stole someone’s name and identity. … They may feel that they are using the number out of sheer need,” she said.

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The House and Senate have finally reached an agreement on an illegal immigration reform bill, and Governor Mark Sanford has indicated he will sign it into law. It still needs official approval from both bodies, but lawmakers who’ve been working on a compromise say that’s just a formality at this point.

The sticking point for weeks has been how businesses would verify whether their workers are here legally. The House wanted businesses to use as an option E-Verify, a federal system for checking workers’ status online. But the Senate wanted to create a new state version of a form similar to the federal I-9 form. Senators have now agreed with using E-Verify.

The bill will create a 24-hour telephone hotline and website to report illegal immigrants. It will require all employers to verify their employees’ status by making sure they have a valid SC driver’s license, a license from another state that has the same eligibility requirements as SC, or through the E-Verify system.

Employers with 500 or more workers will have to start complying by January 1, 2009. Those with between 100 and 500 employees will have to comply by July 1, 2009. Smaller businesses will have to comply by January 1, 2010.

The bill will also require verification for anyone seeking public assistance and bar illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and universities. It also will allow a lawsuit against any company that fires a legal worker for the purpose of hiring an illegal one.

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In an ongoing push to deport immigration violators, federal officers have arrested more than 300 immigrants in the Los Angeles area in the last three weeks. The statewide operation resulted in the arrests of more than 900 immigrants, most of whom committed crimes, ignored deportation orders or returned to the U.S. after being removed, according to federal authorities. Half of those arrested have since been deported to their native countries, authorities said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has regularly sent out “fugitive operations” teams since the program’s inception in 2003, but this was the first time all 13 teams in California had traveled the state together, said Brian DeMore, acting field office director of detention and removal operations in Los Angeles. A total of 905 immigrants were arrested, including 327 in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. “Overall it was a great success,” DeMore said. Immigrants rights advocates criticized the operation, saying that many non-criminals were swept up. During the operation, from May 5 to May 23, arrestees included dozens who did not have criminal records or outstanding deportation orders.

“This is one of the most shameful things our government is doing,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “In many instances they don’t get the people they are looking for, so one of the things they do to up their numbers is arrest bystanders.”

Advocates also say that the immigrants’ criminal records may be from decades earlier and that they are now working, paying taxes and contributing to society. Some were green card holders whose residence was revoked because of the crimes.

DeMore said the arrests are not random, but based on investigation. The teams target immigrants who may be a threat to national security or public safety. In the Los Angeles area, 244 of the people arrested had criminal records, ignored judges’ orders or illegally reentered the country after deportation, according to the agency.

Immigration officials said among those arrested was a previously deported Mexican who was convicted in the 1990s of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, and a Briton with convictions for burglary, robbery and forgery who had been ordered deported. “The officers in the field are focused on arresting fugitives and criminals and use discretion during their operations,” DeMore said.

Some of those who had returned to the U.S. after being deported will be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office for possible prosecution, he said. The people arrested were from throughout Mexico and Central America, as well as from countries in Europe and Asia.

There are 75 fugitive operations teams in the nation, and Congress has authorized adding 29 for fiscal year 2008-2009. Locally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to add a team in the San Fernando Valley and one in the Inland Empire.

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