Wendy Feliz Sefsaf

States Grapple With Broken Immigration System as Congress Does Nothing

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently released an analysis of the number of immigration-related proposals introduced at the state level between January and June of 2011. NCSL found that more immigration-related bills (1,592) were introduced in the first half of 2011 than in the same time period in 2010 (1,374). While the bills weren’t all bad—representing both a mixed bag of punitive and progressive proposals—they tell a bigger story of 50 states grappling with a broken immigration system while Congress sits back and watches.

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Backer of Virulent Anti-Immigrant Groups Is Finally Unmasked In Mainstream Media

The mainstream media is finally exposing “the man behind the curtain” of America’s anti-immigrant movement. This week, Village Voice Media published a piece entitled, “FAIR-y Tales” by Terry Greene Sterling, an award winning journalist and Writer-in-Residence at Arizona State University. Sterling’s in-depth investigative journalism blows the lid of off the John Tanton network and its anti-immigrant organizations—CIS, FAIR, IRLI (drafters of SB1070), Social Contract Press and Numbers USA. It even includes an interview with John Tanton, the unapologetic architect of the anti-immigrant movement in America.

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Why Pollsters Undercounted the Latino vote

An interesting post-election thread is the issue of why so many polls underestimated voter turnout, specifically in races where the Democratic candidate won. The starkest example comes from the state of Nevada where the Democratic candidate for Senate, Harry Reid, beat his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, by 5 points. Polls published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal had Angle leading by 4 points just days before—a 9 point gap. The New York Times’ Nate Silver had Angle ahead by 2.3 points, with Reid eventually winning by 5.6 points—nearly an 8 point gap. Why the disparity?

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Census Data Confirms Immigrant Voting Bloc Still Growing

Today, the Immigration Policy Center released its latest report documenting the size and importance of an emerging voting bloc, New Americans (naturalized U.S. citizens and children of immigrants born after 1965 when the current wave of immigration from Latin American and Asia began). In The New American Electorate: The Growing Political Power of Immigrants and their Children, IPC charts the growth of immigrant, Asian and Latino voters using Census data. The reasons to keep a close eye on this growing demographic -- who now account for 1 in 10 registered voters in the U.S. -- is that New Americans have a highly personal connection to the modern immigrant experience (as do many Latinos and Asians) and are part of families that live the political and economic realities of immigration today. So in other words, when you demonize an immigrant, you may be demonizing a voter.

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What the Primaries Will Tell Us About the Politics of Immigration

It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly the issue of immigration impacted a range of primary races on Tuesday. In some cases, exploiting our broken immigration system may have helped candidates win elections—as in the caseof Governor Jan Brewer. In other cases, talking tough about immigration may have costpoliticians their race—like Florida’s Attorney General Bill McCollum, who turned off Latino Republican voters with his pledge to bring SB1070 style legislation to the Sunshine State. Senator John McCain and Meg Whitman beat out their more extreme anti-immigrant opponents in tight primary races, but they definitely weren’t singing the praises of immigration either. However, it’s hard to predict what will happen in November’s general election based on the primary results. Many Republicans like Sen. John McCain turned hard-right in order to get their party’s nomination, yet that will likely subside in the next several months as candidates gear up for the general election.

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Louisiana Cooks Up a Gumbo of New Americans

The Pelican State is slowly stepping out as one of the most dynamic immigrant states in the nation. With a New American governor, an immigrant congressman and growing numbers of immigrants calling Louisiana home, the state is emerging as a model for what immigration can do for a state.

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Anti-Immigrant Hardliners Declare War on the Clergy

Nativist groups are pulling an old strategy out of their play book as they attack members of the clergy. This tired exercise includes identifying a constituency that is in support of solving our nation’s immigration problems (currently the religious community), coordinating with other like-minded groups to disseminate faulty arguments (this time using the bible to condemn immigrants), claiming to be acting in the name of someone other than your self (in this case the American worker), and finally going after them with all the fervor you can muster to convince them that the bible preaches against helping strangers, that leaving the status quo in place is good for American workers and see how many spiritual leaders you can peel off.

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Meat-Packing Giant Raided by ICE Faces Criminal Investigation

Editor's note: Generally, employers and supervisors face no penalties following immigration raids like that conducted in May in Postville, Iowa. Public attention, and a number of editorials on the issue have set the Agriprocessors case apart. For background on the story, see Enforcement on Steroids: Homeland Security's Emerging Immigration Police State.

The government is upping the ante on investigations into an employer in Postville, Iowa who was raided last month by immigration enforcement authorities.

Agriprocessors, Inc. is now facing much more than the standard stock of immigration violations; they are looking at potentially hundreds of criminal charges that include sexual assault, abuse and child labor violations.

No fewer than seven federal and state agencies are coordinating on investigations of Agriprocessors.

The Iowa Division of Labor Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Equal Employment and Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Iowa Attorney General's Office are all either conducting or cooperating on investigations into the plant.

Doris Meissner, a former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute said, "From everything we hear about this, it sounds like the federal government is marshalling all of the authorities that it has in order to bring the broadest set of charges -- and that's what it should be doing. It's a positive sign that they seem to be working with the state attorney general.

However, some of the investigations were initiated before the May raid. The Iowa Division of Labor Services for example had already begun taking a look at the meat-packing plant after Iowa's OSHA office referred the case to them after two of their inspections revealed concerns about wage and child labor issues.

The Division then began working with the U.S. Department of Labor due to the nature of the case. EEOC was involved likely due to potential charges of sexual harassment and assault, which have been alleged by former employees. Additionally, they began sharing information with ICE after the raids, which they did not know were about to happen. ICE investigations are still ongoing and resulted in two arrests of supervisors at the plant last week.

According to lawyers in the case and agency representatives, there are likely to be civil charges related to immigration, wage enforcement, safety and other labor issues which usually result in fines, however, criminal charges related to immigration, child labor and sexual harassment and assault are far more serious and potentially wide reaching. Anyone with "knowledge or intent" of child laborers for instance is subject to criminal prosecution -- in theory this could include management, human resources representatives and owners alike.

"ICE knows this case is huge," said Sonia Parras Konrad, an attorney representing many of the women and children detained in the raids. "This is not about a few undocumented jumping the fence, this is about the ongoing crimes and abuses that these people endured. This will be a real showcase of what can go wrong without a real comprehensive solution to immigration."

The magnitude of the case was echoed by Gail Sheridan-Lucht from the Iowa Division of Labor Services. "A case of this nature would normally be handled by the county's attorney," said Sheridan-Lucht. "However the child labor issues had the county attorney hand it over to the Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller."

Robert Brammer, a spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's office confirms they are assisting the Iowa Division of Labor on possible criminal issues, including numerous child labor violations, around Agriprocessors and have been doing so since April.

While county attorneys have first jurisdiction, Brammer confirms the Attorney General's office was asked to handle the matter. "Immigration issues are not our area, this is about criminal charges," said Brammer.

Agriprocessors is not new to many of these agencies. According to the Des Moines Register, safety, environmental and workplace violations at Agriprocessors have been going on for years.

They also recently reported members of the Rubashkin family (the owners of Agriprocessors) are facing federal charges related to hazardous waste and have past criminal convictions for bank fraud. ICE's own search warrant from the raids in May also cited physical abuse. "In February, Source #7 told ICE agents he or she observed a Jewish floor supervisor duct-tape the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker shut and hit the Guatemalan with a meat hook."

Immigration advocates have responded to the alleged events at Agriprocessors as well. Douglas Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum noted, "If we had a legal immigration system that met the needs of the American economy and we get those here illegally into the system and legal, then workers across the country - and not just immigrants - will be in a much better position to stand up to employers like Agriprocessors, demand better working conditions, or vote with their feet by changing jobs."

A press release on the Agriprocessors Web site stated that: "The company continues to cooperate with the government following the recent workforce immigration enforcement action that led to the management changes. The company is also conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances, which led to enforcement. The company can not respond to specific allegations until that investigation is complete and pending legal issues are resolved."

Agriprocessors also recently launched a public relations campaign by hiring a New York-based firm represents clients ranging from hip-hop stars to Fortune 500 companies. As the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, the company has placed full-page ads in The Jewish Press. They also have law firms representing them from at least three states including Iowa.

Wendy Feliz Sefsaf is a Washington D.C. based writer with New America Media

Rush to Prosecute Leaves Immigrant Victims of Crimes Without Protection

Immigrants who have been trafficked or abused by employers usually enjoy the protection of the U.S. government. But if the recent immigration raids at a Postville, Iowa meat-packing plant are any indication, that might be a thing of the past. Now those workers face deportation instead.

In May, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid took place at an Iowa kosher meat-packing plant. It was the largest raid ever. Nearly 400 employees at Agriprocessors were rounded up and interrogated by immigration officials. The search warrant executed by ICE also laid out a range of workplace abuses, including physical abuse. According to the government's own warrant: "In February, Source #7 told ICE agents he or she observed a Jewish floor supervisor duct-tape the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker shut and hit the Guatemalan with a meat hook."

Additional allegations of sexual abuse towards female workers were reported in the Des Moines Register. According to Sister Mary McCauley, a Roman Catholic nun at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, "workers said that there was sexual abuse, that there's propositioning. Specifically, if a worker wanted, say, a promotion or a shift change, they'd be brought into a room with three or four men and it was like, 'Which one do you want? Which one are you going to serve?'"

If the government warrant itself outlined abuse, the workers should have been eligible for protected status. However, they were treated as criminals, not victims.

In another case in Louisiana, Indian workers were trafficked to the United States and housed in substandard conditions while their wages were held back, in order to pay back the $20,000 they were charged to come the United States to work at Signal Construction in New Orleans. After they walked out on their jobs en masse, the Department of Justice opened a trafficking investigation case acknowledging their victimization, yet refusing to protect them.

In past cases similar to Signal Construction, "continued presence" was automatically granted, allowing the workers to stay on in the United States while the case went ahead. According to Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Continued presence is discretionary on the part of the Department of Justice, but people used to get processed on the spot. This delay is a new thing." The lawyers representing the Indian workers have been told they must submit their clients for deportation hearings.

The remedies available to victims of trafficking and crimes are known as "T" and "U" Visas, and 5,000 T visas and 10,000 U visas are available annually.

Congress created these visas to protect victims, particularly those who could serve as witnesses to crimes. However, these cases show a possible change in policy to deport instead of protect these victims.

Another shift in policy was reflected in the speed and manner in which the migrant workers in Iowa were prosecuted. According to a summary provided by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., after meeting with defense lawyers appointed by the court, the Agriprocessors workers quickly accepted guilty pleas on criminal charges including use of false identification documents to obtain employment, false use of a Social Security number or cards, and unlawful re-entry into the United States. In what U.S. attorney Matt Dummermuth called an "astonishing success," from May 20 through 23, in an emergency makeshift court set-up approved by Chief Judge Linda R. Reade, the workers were brought in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled, and pressured to take plea deals.

The workers accepted the five-month sentences because prosecutors threatened they would charge anyone who didn't with felony identity theft. That carries a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. Most of the workers agreed to immediate deportation following completion of their sentences. The workers are also required to cooperate with any ongoing federal investigation of Agriprocessors. So why would the U.S. government move to deport workers it had just asked to serve as witnesses in a federal investigation? Perhaps it's telling that so far there have been no charges brought against Agriprocessors.

Polk County attorney Sonia Parras Konrad reportedly interviewed over 50 detainees who told her that Agriprocessors procured false identification for its immigrant employees; withheld money from their paychecks for "immigration fees"; didn't allow employees to use the restroom during 10-hour shifts; didn't compensate employees for overtime; and physically abused employees. Her lawsuit argues that the workers, as victims of these alleged crimes, should be eligible for special visas and that if they are transferred from Iowa they would be deprived of their rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act. "As victims they would need to participate in the investigations of the alleged crimes and may be needed to testify as to personal experiences," the lawsuit said. It also claimed that some of the detained workers could be eligible for immigration relief because they have spouses and children who are U.S. citizens. But none of the issues were brought to light as the attorneys didn't have sufficient time.

Once the workers were arrested they were given criminal, rather than immigration lawyers--a clever way to complicate their cases and make them difficult to defend.

According to Josh Weir of Peck Law Firm in Iowa, in a rush to prosecute, "each attorney was assigned around 17 clients, had 7 days to build their cases and needed to involve interpreters and immigration counsel in the process." This resulted in the quickest prosecution of immigrants in history.

Had time been given for sufficient immigration counsel, these workers could have potentially applied for U visas.

The Department of Justice maintains that an investigation into Signal Construction is ongoing. But the Indian workers trafficked by the New Orleans construction company still languish in a park across the street from the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C., in the shadow of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. They are on hunger strike and demanding protective status, which still eludes them a year after their trafficking came to light.

Immigrants across the country are facing more aggressive enforcement tactics and it seems that victims of human trafficking and other crimes are no exception.

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