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Ferguson and Ayotzinapa December 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Police.
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The Ties that Bind

ayotzinapa
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by ENRIQUE C. OCHOA and GILDA L. OCHOA

Mourning and outrage are shaking parts of the United States and Mexico. As U.S. families grieve and demonstrators denounce the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many more at the hands of the police, people are also protesting state violence and police impunity throughout Mexico. Just this past week, the body of Alexander Mora was identified as one of the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Guerrero who were disappeared after being confronted by police.

In recent interviews, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry critiqued the crimes happening in Mexico as having “no place in civilized society.” They offered U.S. assistance “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened [to the missing students in Mexico].” Such a response is part of a long practice of demonizing Mexico as a corrupt nation in need of the assumed superior support of the U.S.

U.S. officials would do well to heed their own words and get to the root causes of what is happening in both the U.S. and Mexico. These struggles in Ferguson and Ayotzinapa are tied. The state violence against Black and poor indigenous young people must be seen in the context of rabid class inequality and racism where the working poor and people of color are criminalized and treated as disposable.

Corporate-driven economic transformations and policies such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have ravaged communities in the U.S. and in Mexico. Once industrial hubs, U.S. urban areas have been gutted of industry leaving a crumbling infrastructure and few living-wage jobs in their wake. Many of these neighborhoods are now being “revitalized” by pushing the Black and Brown urban poor out through gentrification. In the Mexican countryside, imports of subsidized U.S. grain, the growth of industrial farms, and the expansion of foreign companies combine to expel families from their livelihoods and communities. As a result, inequality has grown in both countries, and is among the worst of all developed economies.

According to a 2013 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, of its 34 member countries the United States has the 4th highest level of income inequality, and Mexico the second. When controlling for inflation, the income of those in U.S. households in the top ten percent of the economic ladder – those making over $150,000 per year – has increased over 30% since the 1970s. In contrast, the income of those in the bottom half of the economy has basically stagnated, or slightly decreased. And, the minimum wage in both countries is far from a livable wage. The working poor often have to work several jobs to try to make ends meet.

Wealth and power disparities are closely correlated with race. Both countries have witnessed a boom in the number of millionaires and billionaires, including producing the two wealthiest people in the world Carlos Slim and Bill Gates who according to Forbes have a combined net worth of over $150 billion.  In contrast, researchers with Mexico’s national evaluation agency, find that 46% of the total population lives below the poverty line, and 20% reside in extreme poverty. Throughout the county, the rate of extreme poverty is five times higher for indigenous peoples than for the general population. In the southern states, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations live, poverty rates are between 15 and 30 points higher and in the state of Guerrero (the home of the disappeared students) 70% of the population lives in poverty. In the U.S., the compounding generations of racism and class inequality are such that Latina/o and Black households have a median net worth of less than $7,000 compared to over $110,000 for White households.

Since the 1980s, as a result of neoliberal reforms, both countries have slashed public programs in education, health care, transportation, social security, and public housing. Privatization and the ideology of free trade seeks to eliminate most state social programs leaving the poor to fend for themselves in an economy that looks to bargain down wages to maximize profits. While these support systems were not as strong as they could have been, they were important reforms that were won through popular struggle, and their erosion has hurt the working poor and the historically marginalized most.  For the youth of working poor there are diminishing opportunities.

As the U.S. and Mexico disinvest in social programs, they divert funds to police poor communities through the war on drugs and other tough on crime policies. In the U.S., according to a Justice Policy Report, since the early 1980s spending on police protection has skyrocketed over 400% — from about $40 billion to nearly $200 billion. The number of state and local sworn officers has also increased over 50% during this period.

The war on drugs has been a war on poor people of color. Although multiple studies suggest that the majority of drug users are White, Blacks have been the most impacted by drug prosecutions and punitive polices such as mandatory minimums. As Law Professor Michelle Alexander reports, there are more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850 – devastating families and fueling the prison industrial complex where private prisons and immigration detention centers are big business.

The power elite in Mexico has increasingly militarized the state in an attempt to maintain order for foreign investors and domestic capitalists to expand their markets.  Under the guise of the war on drugs and Plan Mérida, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into military and police assistance in Mexico. Critics argue that the training and weaponry has been used against social movements and human rights activists. Collusion between criminal operations, military, government, and police officials occurs making it difficult to distinguish who is perpetrating the violence. Over the past decade, approximately 100,000 Mexicans have been killed in the failed “War on Drugs.” According to the UK newspaper The Telegraph, since 2007 nearly 23,000 Mexicans have been disappeared (over 5,000 this year alone!) through cartel and police violence, the two often working together.

The recent killings and grand jury verdicts in communities from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Ayotzinapa must also be placed in the context of a legacy of racism. The roots of racism in both the U.S. and Mexico are as deep as the economic fissures. They are embedded in society’s laws, institutions, and government structures. In the U.S., they are apparent in police profiling and the unequal application of zero tolerance and stop and frisk policies, the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, the deportation and destruction of immigrant families, and the impunity by which members of the police force can kill primarily Black boys and men and have those atrocities supported by state policies — such as the Supreme Court’s 1980s rulings justifying the use of deadly force by officers. In Mexico, similar disregard for the lives of poor and indigenous people is rampant. Mexican journalist Fernando Camacho Servín reporting in La Jornada finds that the “effects of racism include the criminalizing of certain groups by their physical appearance, to blame them for their poverty, to displace them from their lands, or simply depriving them of their basic rights.”

In the wake of massive dissent against state violence, Presidents Barak Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have suggested new policies. These focus on policing, impunity, and corruption. While they are small step, none of these changes will go very far unless the foundations of such atrocities are addressed head-on.

Enrique C. Ochoa is professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.

Gilda L. Ochoa is professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College

 

Still the Deporter-in-Chief Obama’s Fake Immigration Reform November 30, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Immigration, Labor, Racism.
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Roger’s note: when it comes to deceit and hypocrisy, Barack Obama continues to fail to disappoint.  The corporate media and much of the progressive blogosphere usually goes along with the chicanery.  Until reading this article, I sort of accepted as fact that the president indeed had taken a step, if a small one, towards humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.  Silly me.

 

immigration

 

WEEKEND EDITION NOVEMBER 28-30, 2014, http://www.counterpoint.org

by JOHN ORLAND
The Great Deporter’s new executive order for a “sweeping overhaul of the immigration system” deserves no praise. If there is anything “sweeping” about President Obama’s immigration policy, it is his six years of deporting 2.4 million immigrants, his repeated lies regarding his so-called legal incapacity to issue presidential executive orders to mitigate the horrors that immigrant communities have been subjected to, and his total failure to pursue anything resembling “comprehensive immigration reform.”

What Obama did do, as with his all-pervasive surveillance system, was to order the implementation of a vicious program to criminalize immigrants in order to jail or deport them at will and to spend countless additional billions to militarize the border to keep them out.

Obama made clear that his executive order was “no different than all previous Democrat and Republican Party presidents over the past half century.” This statement alone immediately conjures up the heinous “bracero programs” of decades past, when strictly controlled cheap or near slave-wage labor was systematically imported from Latin America to serve the needs of the nation’s major agricultural titans and their associated industries.

The price to be extracted by Obama’s “promise” to refrain for three years from deporting undocumented immigrant parents of children born in the U.S. is a requirement that all such immigrants officially register their names, addresses, employment records, wages, salaries, and other data with the government, thus subjecting them to immediate persecution or deportation if they don’t pass Obama’s muster. Those with previous felony convictions or perhaps lesser “infractions” of America’s racist system of “law and order” remain subject to immediate deportation.

Obama’s decree, purportedly affecting four to five million undocumented immigrants, was described by administration officials as prioritizing the deportation of “felons, not families,” as if the remaining seven to eight million immigrants not covered by his plan were little less than dangerous criminals. Indeed, immigration officials will be instructed to prioritize the hunting down and deportation of so-called “gang members, felons, and suspected terrorists.”

“Today our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it,” Obama said. But Obama’s “fix” to date has been to deport more immigrants than any and all previous U.S. presidents combined!

Obama’s order supposedly offers those who qualify the chance to remain in the U.S. temporarily for three years, as long as they pass background checks and pay back taxes—to be determined, no doubt, by tax collectors who will have the final word. Not a single immigrant will be offered a “path to citizenship” nor will any be eligible for federal benefits or mandated health-care coverage.

Obama failed to mention that these same immigrants have often had state and federal taxes deducted from their salaries or wages by merciless employers while simultaneously being denied benefits supposedly mandated to all taxpayers! Obama’s order will demand the extortion of back taxes but there will be no retroactive back payment to immigrants for their exclusion from the benefits of paying these taxes. Obama’s program is worse; it will now demand that back taxes be deducted from those who register to comply, while all benefits will still be denied.

To demonstrate his fidelity to his Republican “critics,” who will undoubtedly appreciate Obama’s supplying corporate America with a steady supply of cheap, no-benefit labor who will be required to pay enormous sums in “back taxes” for future corporate plunder, the president issued his decree in condescending and threatening language: “If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”

But Republican “critics” were nevertheless more than willing to partake in the great American charade that passes for real politics. “Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a YouTube video released before the president’s speech. “The president has said before, that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one.”

In truth, what Obama “unilaterally” proclaimed was likely what the twin parties of capital had previously agreed to during their multi-year “debate” on immigration legislation. All sections of the ruling class understand well that cheap labor with zero benefits is a prized commodity. Obama’s supposed three-year reprieve from government deportation is little more than existing policy, in which immigration officials, in collusion with corporate America, selectively determine who will be deported and who are still urgently required to service corporate interests.

This unofficial selective persecution and deportation policy serves capitalism well. Lower wages, if wages are paid at all via employer pre-planned deportations arranged before pay day, to immigrants always exercise a downward pressure on the wages of all U.S. workers, including and especially union members. The wage differential also serves capitalism’s need to divide workers by race and legal status, with the ruling class ever placing the blame for unemployment not on its failing system but rather on immigrants who “illegally” take the jobs of “Americans.”

Government-promoted reactionary patriotism is routinely employed to scapegoat the most oppressed and exploited. Obama’s spokespersons took great care to stress that the new plan was both temporary and subject to cancellation at any time by any president.

“Deferred action [that is, postponing deportation punishment] is not a pathway to citizenship. It is not legal status. It simply says that for three years, you are not a law enforcement priority, and [we] are not going to go after you,” said one senior official. “It is temporary and it is revocable.”

Working people have nothing to gain by faint praise or other attributions of support to Obama’s racist and anti-immigrant policies—in this case, a policy likely announced with great fanfare to crudely manufacture Obama’s future “legacy” as a humanistic president concerned with the plight of the poor and oppressed.

All “reforms” extracted from corporate America are derived from the independent self-organization and fightback of working people. To date, the growing immigrant rights movement has increasingly demanded an immediate end to all deportations, immediate amnesty and legalization, full benefits to all undocumented workers, and an immediate end to the militarization of the borders. The unity of the broad working class in defense of full rights for immigrants is a prerequisite to winning real victories for all the oppressed and indeed, for all workers.

Subordination of this critical struggle to support for “The Great Deporter,” or any other posturing politician, only furthers illusions in the credibility of the racist capitalist system.

The massive mobilizations in virtually every U.S. city, in which people expressed their rage against the racist grand-jury decision in the case of the police murder of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was an important step toward awakening the American people to the real source of oppression in the United States.

Similarly, the five million immigrants who struck nationwide in 2006 against the racist immigration bill proposed by Republican Congressmen James Sensenbrenner and Peter King entitled, “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act” offered a living example of the power of mass opposition and protest that raised the level of political consciousness of all. It is no coincidence that Obama’s executive order employs Sensenbrenner-type language—“terrorism, border protection, and immigration control.”

Obama’s fake decree was nothing less than a ruling-class effort to set the stage for the next round of electoral debate, in which the “lesser evil” will be once again counterposed to the so-called greater evil. But the massive 2014 election abstention rate of Latino workers—and indeed, the vast majority of all the oppressed and youth—was a stinging rebuke to Obama’s across-the-board policies of austerity, racism, environmental destruction, endless war, and atrocities against immigrants.

There are no capitalist “saviors.” The gap is narrowing between the growing hatred of capitalism’s brutality and the still modest number of acts of resistance. The prospect of explosive events that can bring millions into the streets and into the political arena—making use of a new fighting labor movement, mass organizations of struggle, and independent working-class political parties was significantly advanced when tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide to express their solidarity with Ferguson’s Black community and to condemn the inherent racism of corporate America and its militarized police-state-like criminal “justice” system.

John Orland is an immigration rights activist and staff writer for Socialist Action. He can be reached at: SocialistAction@lmi.net

Food For Thought September 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Immigration.
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THANKS TO LIZ CANFIELD FOR PASSING THIS ALONG:

 

 

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Education, Not Deportation!”: Undocumented Students Protest Napolitano as UC President July 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education, Immigration, Race.
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Undocumented UC students say they are concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

July 19, 2013  |
New America Media             /               By Asha DuMonthier           
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Janet Napolitano became the new president of the University of California Thursday over objections of student protesters. Six students were removed by campus police from the Board of Regents meeting where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.

The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will be the first woman president of the 10-campus UC system and will earn $570,000 per year in her new position. Shortly after Napolitano’s compensation was read at the public meeting, a UC student stepped forward from the audience and started the chant, “Education, not deportation!” Campus police escorted four other students out shortly after when they refused to leave the room.

About 60 students, parents, faculty and staff representing UC Merced, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other campuses protested outside the meeting to show their disappointment with Napolitano’s nomination.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations under the Obama administration, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year.

Undocumented student protesters said they were concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.

“She’s separated a lot of families,” said Wei Lee, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz, who noted that the UC system is home to many undocumented students. “We cannot allow someone like Janet Napolitano with her background and her experience to run this fine education system.”

Lee, who is ethnically Chinese and was born and raised in Brazil, fell out of immigration status after being denied political asylum. He said that without the advocacy of his friends and community, he and his family would have been deported. Today, he is a part of the student group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) and says that the current immigration system “does not reflect American values.”

San Francisco State University student Akiko Aspillaga held a pink sign that read, “This feminist opposes Napolitano’s appointment.”

“For somebody who justifies the war, who militarizes not just our borders but our communities and separates our families… if those are her values, we don’t want her to be the lead of our education system,” said Aspillaga.

Lotus Yee Fong, whose son has two UC degrees, expressed concern over Napolitano’s credentials: “She is not an educator.”

Protesters also criticized the timing of the appointment. Napolitano was nominated only a week before the public meeting, which they said left them little time to organize.

“It’s more or less a political coup,” said UC Santa Cruz student Daniel Shubat, shaking his head. “They did it during the summer. It’s underhanded and we don’t have a say.”

Supporters are quick to point out that Napolitano has also been criticized by Republicans who accuse her of being too soft on immigration enforcement.

Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants February 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Immigration, Toronto.
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Toronto has become the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.
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Supporters of a motion to turn Toronto into a sanctuary city for non-status migrants raise their arms in victory as the vote is announced. The so-called ‘Solidarity City’ motion was passed by city council by a vote of 37-3.

RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR
Published on Thu Feb 21 2013

Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Toronto has made history by affirming itself as a “sanctuary city,” the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.

On Thursday, City Council passed the motion by a vote of 37 to 3 that also requires training all city staff and managers to ensure Toronto’s estimated 200,000 non-status residents can access its services without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.

The vote puts Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner are the only council members who voted against the motion.

“It is an enormous step for the city in the right direction. We are all contributing to the city, the well-being of Toronto. It’s important that we are not making a distinction between those who don’t have rights or access to services and those who do,” said Harald Bauder, associate professor of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies.

“Distinctions are divisive. They establish second-class citizens. That leads to all kinds of other problems, not just a rift in the community, but other issues of exploitation.”

Council’s vote was significant at a time when the undocumented population is expected to surge in 2015, when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new federal law and potentially move “underground.”

Proponents of the policy argued that the city must embrace and monitor the changing reality rather than just bury its head in the sand.

Although undocumented migrants — often visitors overstaying their visas or failed refugee claimants dodging deportation — have been able to use city services such as library and public transit without hassles, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not been consistent in other areas.

“This is a historic moment because we are saying we are a sanctuary city and that anyone who is in the City of Toronto will be able to access all the services the city offers, be it in the areas of health, in the area of parks, in the area of library, in the area of health and safety,” said councilor Joe Mihevc.

“That is the kind of city we want. We want to open our arms to anyone who comes here while they are here.”

However, Mihevc pointed out the new city policy will not address barriers faced by non-status residents for services under the provincial or federal jurisdictions such as housing, income security, welfare and labour protection.

“With the police, their policy is, ‘don’t ask.’ But if they find that someone tells them, they actually have a legal obligation to report it to Immigration Canada. That’s the nuance with respect to the police. This doesn’t change that,” Mihevc explained.

Thursday’s motion was a second attempt by migrant advocacy groups to formalize the city’s sanctuary policy; the previous administration under mayor David Miller did not commit to affirming the policy but opted to simply put a poster online to promote it.

“This is a great show of what community organizations can do. But this is only a policy . . . The only way we’re going to get changes in our community is if our community is organized and standing strong, and we keep councillors to what they said today,” said Tzazna Miranda Leal of the Solidarity City Network, a community umbrella group behind the campaign.

However, councillor Minnan-Wong, a vocal critic of the motion, said undocumented people are illegal in Canada and do not deserve government services.

“We shouldn’t encourage them. We shouldn’t help them. We should not facilitate them. They are an insult to every immigrant who plays by the rule to get into the country. They are an insult to every immigrant who is waiting to enter this country legally,” said Minnan-Wong.

“It sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.”

Council also voted to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and the province to review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing.

Sanctuary cities in U.S.

 

So far, 36 American cities and three states have declared themselves sanctuaries for non-status migrants.

Anchorage, AK

Chandler, AZ

Mesa, AZ

Tucson, AZ

Davis, CA

Downey, CA

Los Angeles, CA

Oakland, CA

San Bernardino, CA

San Jose, CA

Watsonville, CA

New Haven, CN

Denver, CO

New York City, NY

Fort Collins, CO

Deleon Springs, FL

Miami, FL

Chicago, IL

Cambridge, MA

Baltimore, MD

Detroit, MI

St. Paul, MN

Newark, NJ

Bridgeton, NJ

Tulsa, OK

Albuquerque, NM

Farmingville, NY

Durham, NC

Portland, OR

Philadelphia, PA

Brownsville, TX

Salt Lake City, UT

Fairfax County, VA

Seattle, WA

Madison, WI

Jackson Hole, WY

State of Oregon

State of Maine

State of Vermont

Profiting From Human Misery February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Posted on Feb 17, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
AP/Mel Evans
A row of beds inside the Elizabeth Detention Center.

 

By Chris Hedges

 

Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey.

Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.’ ”

“She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.”

The rally—about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches—was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.”

“The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday.

“Repentance is more than merely being sorry,” the Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a community organization working with immigrants, told the gathering. “It is an act of turning around and then moving forward to make change.”

The majority of those we incarcerate in this country—and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population—have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute.

But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined.

The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible.

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.”

CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the ACLU reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials along with undisclosed funds to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070.

A March 2012 CCA investor presentation prospectus, quoted by the ACLU, tells potential investors that incarceration “creates predictable revenue streams.” The document cites demographic trends that the company says will continue to expand profits. These positive investment trends include, the prospectus reads, “high recidivism”—“about 45 percent of individuals released from prison in 1999 and more than 43 percent released from prison in 2004 were returned to prison within three years.” The prospectus invites investments by noting that one in every 100 U.S. adults is currently in prison or jail. And because the U.S. population is projected to grow by approximately 18.6 million from 2012 to 2017, “prison populations would grow by about 80,400 between 2012 and 2017, or by more than 13,000 additional per year, on average,” the CCA document says.

The two largest private prison companies in 2010 received nearly $3 billion in revenue. The senior executives, according to the ACLU report, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million. The for-profit prisons can charge the government up to $200 a day to house an inmate; they pay detention officers as little as $10 an hour.

“Within 30 miles of this place, there are at least four other facilities where immigrants are detained: Essex, Monmouth, Delaney Hall and Hudson, which has the distinction of being named one of the 10 worst detention facilities in the country,” Phipps, who is an immigration attorney as well as a minister, told the gathering in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center. “The terrible secret is that immigration detention has become a very profitable business for companies and county governments.”

“More than two-thirds of immigrants are detained in so-called contract facilities owned by private companies, such as this one and Delaney Hall,” she went on. “The rise of the prison industrial complex has gone hand in hand with the aggrandizing forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which, by the way, has filed suit against the very government it is supposed to be working for because they were told to exercise prosecutorial discretion in their detention practices.” [Click here to see more about the lawsuit, in which 10 ICE agents attack the administration’s easing of government policy on those who illegally entered the United States as children.]

There is an immigration court inside the Elizabeth facility, although the roar of the planes lifting off from the nearby Newark Airport forces those in the court to remain silent every three or four minutes until the sound subsides. Most of those brought before the court have no legal representation and are railroaded through the system and deported. Detainees, although most have no criminal record beyond illegal entry into the United States, wear orange jumpsuits and frequently are handcuffed. They do not have adequate health care. There are now some 5,000 children in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported, according to the Applied Research Center’s report “Shattered Families.” The report estimates that this number will rise to 15,000 within five years.

“I am in family court once every six to eight weeks representing some mother who is surrendering custody of her child to somebody else because she does not want to take that child back to the poverty of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador,” Phipps said when we spoke after the rally. “She has no option. She does not want her child to live in the same poverty she grew up in. It is heartbreaking.”

We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.

 

Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011. The LAPC also granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”

Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.

Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

He has written twelve books, including “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012),  “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”

Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.

National Outcry Builds Against Obama’s Deportations August 18, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Immigration, Racism.
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Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Published on Thursday, August 18, 2011 by Inter Press Service

Over one million immigrants have been deported since President Obama took office, making his deportation track record the worst in the history of the United States.

  by Kanya D’Almeida

WASHINGTON — When 20-year-old Isaura Garcia called the 911 emergency hotline while being physically abused by her partner, she never imagined that her plea to U.S. legal authorities would lead to imprisonment and possible deportation.

 

A federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer arrests an immigrant during an enforcement surge in Arizona. The Secure Communities program allows local officers to quickly and easily check a person’s immigration status in the federal database. (Photo Courtesy of ICE) Though Garcia’s face was “black and blue” from repeated beatings by her boyfriend, the police – who insisted that she speak in English while explaining her plight – arrested her, held her in prison for over a week on a “felony domestic violence” charge, transferred her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), placed her in deportation proceedings, and finally released her on an electronic ankle bracelet.

Garcia’s story is just one of thousands of similar tales whose inception can be traced to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operation known as Secure Communities (S-Comm), a program that is now being challenged at the national level.

On Tuesday, a coalition of human rights defenders, including the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Center for Constitutional Rights, teamed up with over 18 other national and community-based organizations to make public a comprehensive report detailing the often devastating impacts of S-Comm on immigrant communities in the U.S.

Alongside testimony from victims of the program, including horror stories like Garcia’s, the report calls for immediate termination of the program, which huge swathes of civil society have long deemed to be a failure.

“There is an overall sense within the movement for immigrant justice that S-Comm is too broken to be fixed,” Chris Newman, the legal director at NDLON, told IPS.

“It has now become obvious even to people outside the immigrant rights community – such as former District Attorney of New York Robert Morgenthau and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey – that DHS is more interested in the politics of [these failed] programs than they are in genuine reform of immigration policy,” he added.

Launched by ICE in 2008, S-Comm was initially marketed to the U.S. public as a voluntary program designed to “improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the United States” by sending fingerprints submitted by local law enforcement agencies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal background checks, and then automatically searching those fingerprints against immigration databases.

According to the new report, “If ICE determines that an individual may be deportable, it requests that the local law enforcement agency detain him or her for transfer to ICE and possible deportation.”

Critics of the operation have blasted it as an open attack on immigrants’ basic civil and human rights by trapping millions of undocumented residents – most of them innocent, or guilty only of very minor offenses such as traffic violations – in a dragnet that has so far expelled 115,000 immigrants from the country.

“This policy is creating an ‘Arizonafication’ of our country,” Newman told IPS, parroting a phrase that has been used to describe the effects of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona, which essentially legalized racial profiling and is widely believed to be the harshest piece of anti-immigration legislature implemented in the country.

“The program piloted in Arizona and initiated as merely an experiment [foreshadowed] the Frankenstein that S-Comm has created,” he added.

“There is a sense within the immigrant justice community – and beyond it to academics, scholars and law enforcers – that DHS simply cannot be trusted,” Newman said.

“Calling the program ‘Secure Communities’ is misleading, since it actually achieves the opposite result. In fact, the whole operation has been a lie from its very inception,” he insisted.

Newman is by no means alone in his denunciation. Tuesday’s report joined increasingly loud calls for an end to the program.

Alarmed by the mandate of S-Comm to conflate local police authority with ICE’s function as an immigration-regulation body, the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts scrapped the program, relying on the extensive Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) that were drafted in the initial stages of S-Comm granting states the green light to suspend their participation in the program whenever they chose.

But last week, the Barack Obama administration “disregarded the concerns of the [immigrant community and law enforcement officials] by announcing that DHS will continue its rapid rollout of the program – without state authorization,” according to a press release by the New York Immigration Coalition.

The statement added that over one million immigrants have been deported since President Obama took office, making his deportation track record the worst in the history of the United States.

Laura Rotolo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responded to the rescinding of the MOA in a blog post, which stated, “overnight [S-Comm] has become a federal mandate that will turn every city and every town into a feeder into the broken immigration system, not to mention part of the burgeoning bio-metric surveillance system that targets all Americans,” adding that the DHS must be held to account for its policies.

The recent report highlights all these problems and more, such as the already frayed relationship between immigrants and law enforcement authorities made worse by a reluctance to report crimes for fear of being deported; and the impact of S-Comm on the racially biased and highly lucrative prison industrial complex.

Last week, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, executive director of Enlace, an alliance of low-wage worker centers and community organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, stated, “DHS continues to demonstrate who it listens to – not to the millions calling for legalization and not to taxpayers, but to the private prison companies and their investors who are bent on profiting from taxpayers by jailing immigrants.”

He added, “Over a million immigrants have been imprisoned in the last three years, costing taxpayers billions of dollars that should have been allocated for education, healthcare and other legitimate public needs instead of being spent on expensive cages for men, women and children.”

Enlace is currently partnered with unions and community groups across the country in a nationwide Prison Industry Divestment Campaign, an effort to push all public and private institutions to “divest their holdings in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, [the U.S.’s] largest private prison corporations which profit annually from billions in taxpayer money.”

© 2011 Inter Press Service

Obama mimics Bush on the border fence May 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Racism.
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Roger’s comment: the “Berlin Wall” constructed along the US/Mexican border is a perfect metaphor for the capitalist economic model, where capital rules and human labor is its servant.  Under the NAFTA (free trade) agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada, the free movement of capital across international borders was facilitated.  This allowed capital to make use of cheaper unorganized and unprotected labor in Mexico and to evade environmental restrictions.  One of the major consequences for Mexican farming was that thousands of small farmers were wiped out by the influx of US agribusiness.  These are the very same campesinos who are desperate to cross the border into the US in search of economic salvation.  The Wall is the other side of the coin of the free trade agreement, designed to keep them out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 11:01 ET

War Room
By Justin Elliott
border

Reuters/Tomas Bravo
U.S. workers build a section of the Mexico-U.S. border wall near the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa border crossing in Chihuahua.

President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas, this week and delivered an immigration speech that was widely viewed as an appeal to Hispanic voters.

While there’s virtually no prospect of comprehensive immigration reform getting through the current Congress, the Obama administration has been emphasizing enforcement and border security. One under-examined aspect of the administration’s policy is the continuation of Clinton- and Bush-era efforts to build a physical — and virtual — fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In El Paso, Obama actually touted the fact that his administration had completed the fence. So we thought it was a good time to check in on the status of the fence, whether it’s working, and what’s planned for the future.

Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on a physical wall and the so-called virtual fence, and the efforts have been criticized by some who live on the border on human rights and environmental grounds.

Lee Maril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University, recently published “The Fence,” a study of U.S. policy on the border going back to the Clinton administration. Obama, Maril told me in an interview this week, has largely followed the policy conceptions of the Bush administration when it comes to the border fence. The administration is poised to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars on high-tech sensors and the like, in the latest costly iteration of the virtual fence. What follows is a transcript of our conversation edited for length and clarity.

 

I think a lot of people assume there already is a fence or wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. What actually exists on the border right now?

Most people who haven’t been to the border imagine it as sort of a straight line. But it’s 2,000 miles, much of which is very rough terrain, including high-elevation areas, the Rio Grande River delta, and canyons. There are two kinds of fences that have been built. One is nuts-and-bolts, concrete and rebar. It’s in pieces and covers about 650 miles of the border. The rest of the border is not covered by any fence that would stop anyone. Geography does the stopping. In places it’s barbed wire, and in places there is no fence at all.

The virtual fence is the second kind of fence that is sometimes discussed. That began with ISIS [“Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System”] in 1998 and ended with a project by Boeing that was recently killed. The virtual fence is an attempt to use high technology to interdict drug loads, catch alleged terrorists, and catch undocumented immigrants. The virtual fence never worked. It didn’t work when it was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration, and the company that originally worked on it, L-3 Communications, wasted about $250 million. It didn’t work under Boeing either. They walked away with about $1 billion.

How was the virtual fence supposed to work?

It started under the Clinton administration as an attempt to build a sophisticated system of towers that would be linked with computers, satellite up-links, surface radar, and all kinds of fancy cameras. That ran from 1998 to 2000, and it didn’t work. Then the program changed names several times and wound up in 2005 being called SBInet, or Security Border Initiative network. That’s when Boeing was invited on as the so-called systems integrator. They were supposed to come up with a total solution to plan, design and build the virtual fence for the entire border. They built only about ten sensor towers and fifteen communications towers, but according to the Government Accountability Office reports none of them ever worked. In my opinion they wasted more than $1 billion of taxpayer money.

Where has Obama been on this?

The original policy was clearly defined by the Bush administration and by Congress. It was formed immediately after the immigration field hearings in the summer of 2006. The virtual and physical fences had three justifications under the Bush administration, which were then carried on into the Obama administration. The goals were to decrease the number of undocumented workers, to increase the drug interdictions, and to stop alleged terrorists. They were never refuted by Obama. That plan was wholeheartedly accepted by the Obama administration. Under Obama we saw the completion of the project to build about 650 miles of physical wall that had been funded by Congress. When I heard Obama’s speech in El Paso, what I saw missing was any kind of admittance that the virtual fence was a miserable failure and the taxpayers had lost all this money.

You spent a lot of time on the border, looking at the fence and interviewing residents and border agents. What did you hear?

They tell you a variety of things depending on who you talk to. I can tell you that the concrete fence is not consistent. I went to Cameron County, Texas, where Brownsville is, and there the fence is 20 feet tall with a 5-foot base that goes 8 feet into the ground, with spaced steel bars at the top. Then I went to the University of Texas at Brownsville, and because they litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, they have a fence that is about 9 feet tall, chain link, painted green, and surrounded by shrubbery. That runs for half a mile. What that tells me is that regardless of what DHS wanted to do, it was always buffered by the local political situation.

So after Obama’s speech, are you expecting an extension of the fence?

They just let out bids for $750 million, just for Arizona, to basically do what they said they were going to do with the last virtual wall — for the same kinds of equipment, including sensors, scope trucks, plus some newer hardware. It’s called the Alternative Southwest Border Technology Plan. I wouldn’t call it a “Plan,” I’d call it an approach. What I’ve heard unofficially is that one of the primary contractors who is very interested is Raytheon. So even more money, another $750 million, has now been put into it and already been bid out and the public has not yet been notified of who is getting the bid. It’s very unclear if this equipment is going to be used as part of a virtual wall, or as extra equipment to supplement the concrete wall. This is just for Arizona. What DHS is really saying is that after eleven years, they still haven’t gotten it right.

Has the fence worked?

There are three points. The first is that it has not in any way I can clearly see — based on the border patrol’s own statistics — limited the amount of drugs coming into this country. Obama is correct when he cites the statistic that there have been a third more drugs caught this year than last. But the drug cartels are just taking that as overhead. They’re still bringing in and getting across the same amount of drugs. My informants in law enforcement tell me the best way to assess the volume of drugs is the price on the street. The price on the street suggests there has been no change with respect to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. The traffickers have become very innovative in finding ways to cross the wall which at first looks impenetrable. That includes catapults, tunnels and metal ramps that they assemble and disassemble very quickly.

Second, the fence certainly has seemed to affect the number of undocumented workers. It’s much harder to cross the border than it used to be because of the fence, and the increase in border agents. There is no question in that. That said, we’re in the middle of a recession, so it’s very difficult to see what will happen when we come out of the recession when it comes to the economic “pull” factors. We still have a very large number of people in Mexico and south of Mexico who can directly benefit by coming across illegally because they don’t have a lot of other options.

The third part — which Obama didn’t mention in El Paso and has been forgotten in this whole discussion — is terrorism. I can find no known public record of any terrorist ever being stopped since 2005-06 when construction of the wall began. That was one of the three major reasons that the wall was built. What my law enforcement informants tell me is that a terrorist group would be foolish to risk bringing someone in from Mexico when they can come in from so many other places with false documents.

  • Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

 

 

Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing April 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Immigration.
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Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.

This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.

At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.

ITEP bases its figures of what immigrants pay taxes based on the following factors:

  • Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.
  • Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.
  • Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.

While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits

Hundreds of Union Janitors Fired Under Pressure From Feds May 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Economic Crisis, Immigration, Labor, Racism.
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Friday 07 May 2010

by: David Bacon, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

photo
(Photo: © David Bacon)

San Francisco, California – Federal immigration authorities have pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

ABM has been a union company for decades, and many of the workers have been there for years. “They’ve been working in the buildings downtown for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years,” said Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87. “They’ve built homes. They’ve provided for their families. They’ve sent their kids to college. They’re not new workers. They didn’t just get here a year ago.”

Nevertheless, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has told ABM that they have flagged the personnel records of those workers. Weeks ago, ICE agents sifted through Social Security records and the I-9 immigration forms all workers have to fill out when they apply for jobs. They then told ABM that the company had to fire 475 workers who were accused of lacking legal immigration status.

ABM is one of the largest building service companies in the country, and it appears that union janitorial companies are the targets of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement program. “Homeland Security is going after employers that are union,” Miranda charged. “They’re going after employers that give benefits and are paying above the average.”

Last October, 1,200 janitors working for ABM were fired in similar circumstances in Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs. Minneapolis janitors belong to SEIU Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco janitors to Local 87.

President Obama said sanctions enforcement targets employers “who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages – and oftentimes mistreat those workers.” An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claimed, “unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.”

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution. Javier Murillo, president of SEIU Local 26, said, “The promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won’t be fined. So this kind of enforcement really only hurts workers.”

ICE Director John Morton said the agency is auditing the records of 1,654 companies nationwide. “What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?” Miranda asked. “Why don’t they target employers who are not paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?”

The San Francisco janitors are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, which might charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to their employer, and even hold them for deportation? For workers with families, homes and deep roots in a community, it’s not possible to just walk away and disappear. “I have a lot of members who are single mothers whose children were born here,” Miranda said. “I have a member whose child has leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children here and go back to Mexico and wait? And wait for what?”

Miranda’s question reflects not just the dilemma facing individual workers, but of 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. Since 2005, successive congress members, senators and administrations have dangled the prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big increase in exactly the kind of enforcement now directed at 475 San Francisco janitors.

While the potential criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country.

President Obama, condemning Arizona’s law that would make being undocumented a state crime, said it would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” But then he announced his support for legislation with guest worker programs and increased enforcement.

The country is no closer to legalization of the undocumented than it was ten years ago. But the enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bills debated in Congress over the last five years have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush administration conducted a high-profile series of raids in which it sent heavily-armed agents into meatpacking plants and factories, held workers for deportation and sent hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security numbers.

After Barack Obama was elected president, immigration authorities said they’d follow a softer policy, using an electronic system to find undocumented people in workplaces. People working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired.

Ironically the Bush administration proposed a regulation that would have required employers to fire any worker who provided an employer with a Social Security number that didn’t match the SSA database. That regulation was then stopped in court by unions, the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. The Obama administration, however, is implementing what amounts to the same requirement, with the same consequence of thousands of fired workers.

Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the rhetoric used by the president and other Washington, DC, politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and the immigration proposals they make in Congress. “There’s a huge contradiction here,” she said. “You can’t tell one state that what they’re doing is criminalizing people, and at the same time go after employers paying more than a living wage and the workers who have fought for that wage.”

Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more critical. “Those bills in Congress, which are presented as ones that will help some people get legal status, will actually make things much worse,” she charged. “We’ll see many more firings like the janitors here, and more punishments for people who are just working and trying to support their families.”

Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even less promise of legalization, and more emphasis on punishment. The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the legalization program promised by the “bipartisan” Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement at the border and in the workplace must come before any consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.

“We have to look at the whole picture,” Saucedo urged. “So long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to come here, no matter how many walls we build. Instead of turning people into guest workers, as these bills in Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who don’t have papers, we need to help people get legal status, and repeal the laws that are making work a crime.” 

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