About Me

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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

America's Irrational Immigration Fear

By Vivek Wadhwa
July 30, 2012


One of the most contentious issues in the skilled-immigrant debate is the H-1B visa, which allows qualified immigrants to work for U.S. tech companies on a temporary basis. Proponents of raising the H1-B visa cap say the nation faces a dire shortage of engineering talent and needs more of these visas to stay competitive. Detractors insist that there is no engineer shortage and that America should close its doors to foreigners because they take jobs away from citizens. Battles break out in Capitol Hill over the number of visas allocated because there are no hard data to back either side.

A July 18 report by The Brookings Institution, titled “The Search for Skills,” provides these data.

The report analyzes the demand for H-1B workers at the metropolitan level, region by region. It finds there is no national shortage or glut of skilled workers and that supply and demand vary by region. The report determines that demand for H-1B’s is highest in tech centers such as New York, Silicon Valley (San Francisco and San Jose), Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Chicago, and Boston. Not coincidentally, these places are among those with the lowest unemployment rates for bachelor’s-degree holders. It'’s the same in regions that house America'’s research centers. Places such as Columbus, Ind., where engine manufacturer Cummins is based, and Rochester, Minn., home of medical giant Mayo Clinic, are among the regions with the highest demand for H-1Bs and lowest unemployment rates for bachelor’s degree holders (3 percent in Columbus and 1.5 percent in Rochester for 2010). In other words, where there is demand for skilled workers, there is also the most innovation economic growth, whether they come from the U.S. or abroad.

Report authors, Neil Ruiz, Jill Wilson, and Shyamali Choudhury, concluded that the government could be stifling innovation by limiting H-1B visas and not taking into account local demand for highly-skilled workers. Demand for these visas has far exceeded supply nearly every year for the last decade. Additionally, the government has been indirectly taxing U.S. R&D and innovation by imposing hefty visa fees, which range from $1,575 to $4,325 depending on employer size — plus $1,225 for expedited (read: timely) processing, according to the report.

The visa fees are meant to fund training for American workers and for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. But, according to Brookings, that’'s not how the majority of this money is spent. The metro areas most in need of skilled workers receive the least funding. The average funding per working-age person in high demand areas is a little over $3. But Wichita, Kan., for example, receives nearly $23 per worker. Portland, Maine gets roughly $21, and El Paso, Tex. about $15. These are hardly booming tech centers with severe shortages of engineering talent. And research centers fare even worse: Columbus and Rochester both receive no funds from the H1-B grant program.

One would expect that such conclusive data would put the debate to rest. But this isn'’t the case, as was evidenced by the heated discussion that ensued between Vice President Joe Biden’s former economic advisor Jared Bernstein and me. Brookings requested we review the report and comment on it at a public event on July 18.

Bernstein, who is now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agreed that high-skilled immigration is important for the economy. He was right in stating that the H-1B program is flawed because it ties the employee to the employer. There is a massive backlog for permanent-resident visas and the wait times, for most workers, stretch beyond a decade. While they wait, these immigrants cannot change jobs without losing their turn in line and, if they get laid off for any reason, they are required to leave the country immediately. So, these workers are trapped in limbo -- —their careers stagnate, they usually make less than what they would if they were allowed to shop around for better jobs, and they can’t become entrepreneurs.

But, like many people outside the research and tech centers, Bernstein showed a lack of understanding of the innovation process and global competitiveness. He questioned the need for employers to hire foreign workers in the first place. He said that we should “not confuse H-1B demand with labor demand,” because “the H-1B is kind of scratching an itch that isn'’t even there.”

And he went on, likening visas to “subsidies” for industry, and argued that these were just a way of lowering industry salaries, therefore the government needed to step. "“It'’s a horrifying thought,”" Bernstein said, “"but wages should go up.  Wages should adjust upward when there is a demand, a shortage." "“The idea would be to have a real labor market test,”" Bernstein continued later, "“and to have some mechanism to avoid this downward pressure on wages.”"

But if Bernstein spent any time talking to Silicon Valley executives or reading tech blogs, he would learn that wages are indeed going up and that there is, in fact, a war for talent. These are already some of the highest paying jobs in the country—with salaries commonly in the six figures. Our immigration policies are strangling the innovation sector.

During the event, I explained these difficulties, outlining that money was not an issue for companies such as Google and Facebook. Instead, competitiveness, speed-to-market and getting the best and the brightest were at the core of the problem. Additionally, the bluest of American companies, such as Cummins are getting the majority of their revenue from abroad. They need to hire a diverse set of workers that understand global markets. America, today, graduates only 4 percent of the world’s undergraduate engineering pool. Forcing American companies to hire only from this pool would greatly restrict their competitiveness.

Compare it to limiting the NFL’s recruitment to one state.

I explained that the tech world thrives on competition, which is why America leads the world in innovation. Indeed, 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups are founded by immigrants. Protectionism will weaken the tech industry.

But Bernstein repeatedly mentioned the need for a “labor market test” and advocated a government commission to regulate how many skilled immigrants American companies could hire, saying, “"The problem is there is not a standard — a work test ... and I think there should be.”"

His prescriptions were flawed. Even the moderator, NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos stepped in to say, “"There are so many studies that it’s probably impossible to develop a good standard, particularly one that’'s timely."” He floated the idea that, perhaps, the government commission Bernstein advocated for could be considered “un-American,” going on to say, "“It sort of … smacks of central planning."”

I likened it to Cuba.

The dark side of the debate also surfaced with a tirade against Indian companies such as TCS, Infosys, and Wipro, and, of course, outsourcing. These companies use 12 percent of the H-1B visa pool for their operations in the U.S., but are the focus of the anti-H-1B debate as if they were the sole recipients.

"Like our political leaders do in election years," Bernstein tried to steer the debate into protectionist banter. "“I think that there have been some linkages made between that,”" said Bernstein of companies based in India that apply for H-1B visas while outsourcing jobs, “and then offshoring back to the home country. And I think that that is a matter of concern.”

This is the sad state of our competitiveness debate: anger, protectionism, and emotion are trumping logic, data, and common sense.

Washington Post Co. Chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.

Take It to the Bank: Helping Young Aspiring Citizens Will Boost Our Economy

By Ali Noorani
July 30, 2012


Let me get right to the point: Helping young aspiring citizens remain in America is good for America. Removing the immediate threat of deportation for young people who were brought here as children will have remarkable economic benefits.

The Obama administration's policy of "deferred action," which the president announced June 15, will allow nearly one million young immigrants to remain in the country with their families and make them eligible to apply for work authorization without fear. These American-raised, hardworking youth yearn for a chance to use their diplomas and degrees.

As the Center for American Progress points out, we can expect several economic benefits as a result of the policy the president announced:
  • It will create thousands of new taxpayers who will bolster our economy. More taxpayers means more tax revenue, reducing our country's budget deficit.
  • New Americans complement the existing labor force, adding tens of billions of dollars to our economy each year.
  • Work authorization helps prevent employee exploitation. This increases wages for native-born workers, and more money to spend means more jobs and a better economy.
  • Deferred action will encourage our young aspiring citizens to continue pursuing their educations, meeting the demands of our labor market, and working side by side with Americans to produce goods and create jobs.
Those of us in the labor market who were born here should not feel threatened. We need skilled workers in all parts of our economy, from the farm to the Fortune 500. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next 17 years, we need a new generation of hard workers -- no matter where they were born.

And, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress on July 19, deferred action is financially self-sustaining.

Secretary Napolitano was clear about this when she told Congress that the cost "is not anticipated to come out of taxpayer funds." Yes, the process could cost hundreds of millions of dollars -- but the application fees are expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, directly offsetting any costs.

This is not a novel idea. It's exactly how existing programs within our country's citizenship and immigration office work. Unlike most federal agencies, our immigration agency, USCIS, is a self-funded, fee-based organization. For example, say you came here legally and want to apply for a green card. It will set you back $1,070 -- $985 for the application itself and an additional $85 "biometric fee" (for a fingerprint check).

Five years later, when you're eligible to become a citizen, you'll pay another $680 just to apply -- including another $85 for your prints.

So our concern should not be that American taxpayers will have to pay for this endeavor -- because we won't.

(Detention and deportation costs are another story -- and another good reason to grant relief to upstanding young people who want to go to work or school and not to a detention facility where we foot the bill.)

In fact, our concern should be for a clear-cut, accessible process, one that helps these new Americans integrate and contribute as quickly as possible. The Department of Homeland Security must provide a clear roadmap for them -- not an obstacle course.

We've seen enough barriers from Congress. The administration's temporary action should inspire a bipartisan effort to create a permanent immigration process that adheres to our values of equality and hard work.

Our economy deserves nothing less.

Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

DOMA Immigrant Challengers Get Temporary Respite

By Elise Foley
July 30, 2012


As long as the Defense of Marriage Act is in effect, same-sex binational couples won't be able to petition for the foreign-born partner to receive legal status. In the meantime, though, a group pushing the Obama administration to delay decisions on green card applications won a small victory last week when a judge ordered a stay on its lawsuit against the government.

Five same-sex couples, some with visas and some without, were named in the challenge against DOMA filed April 2 by advocacy group Immigration Equality and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. It contends that "[s]olely because of DOMA and its unconstitutional discrimination against same-sex couples, these Plaintiffs are being denied the immigration rights afforded to other similarly situated binational couples."

For those couples, that means one member may be required to leave the country periodically, sometimes for six months at a time, before returning on a temporary visa. Others can't leave at all because they would have no avenue by which to return. Still others could be separated should the partner who is a foreign citizen lose a job that gives work authorization.

Binational heterosexual couples have different rights. The partner who is a U.S. citizen can apply for legal status for their foreign-born spouse even if they are undocumented, although that makes it more difficult.

The judge’s decision, which was issued Wednesday and reported to the plaintiffs Friday, does not mean the couples will be granted visas or green cards, but it does mean they will be unlikely to face separation as the stay is pending and other DOMA suits are considered. The two-sentence order declared, "[t]he case is stayed pending the Second Circuit's resolution of Windsor v. United States."

The case is part of a broader push for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. Immigration Equality renewed its call for reform in a letter sent Friday to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. In the letter, which was provided to The Huffington Post, the group points out that a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act will end up at the Supreme Court.

"We are writing now because the circumstances surrounding DOMA have changed considerably since we first raised this issue a year ago," Executive Director Rachel Tiven and Legal Director Victoria Neilson wrote. "We believe that you should therefore reconsider your prior decision not to hold green cards in abeyance."

"We ... are asking that the status quo be broadly maintained -- that the green cards for all lesbian and gay immigrant families be neither approved nor denied until there is a final resolution of the constitutionality of DOMA," they wrote.

One couple named in the suit has received at least a little relief from immigration woes, but wants a permanent solution. Tim Smulian, a citizen of South Africa, and his husband Edwin Blesch, a U.S. citizen, found out in February that Smulian could stay in the U.S. temporarily without leaving based on limits on his visa. Smulian previously lived in the United States six months on, six months off on a tourist visa. Despite that reprieve, they want full rights that will maintain that reality.

"We do see it as the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel," Blesch said when Smulian received deportation relief in February. "We were getting pretty hopeless for a while there. This is a wonderful development for us, and it takes away the day-to-day worry every morning when we get up, 'What's going to happen now?'"

CORRECTION: 3:00 p.m. -- This article was corrected to reflect that some of the couples have visas, such as employment or tourist visas, but not green cards. It also reflects that the stay of the lawsuit means they are unlikely to be separated while the case is pending.

Immigration Officials Say Report Wrong Showing Lower Deportations

By Nancy Lofholm
July 30, 2012


Court filings for deportations of illegal immigrants have fallen this year, but the agency responsible for carrying out removals contends the number of illegal immigrants sent out of the country is much higher than court records show.

Court filings, compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, found that in the first nine months of this year, filings for deportations dropped to 142,117 cases nationally. If filings continue at the same pace for the remainder of the year, they would total 212,749 cases for 2012.

That is a 10 percent drop — or 24,000 fewer cases — from 2011.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carl Rusnok said the true number of removals for the first nine months of this year was 302,478. He said 51 percent of those were criminal aliens.

Rusnok would not comment on the difference in ICE figures and TRAC figures.

ICE contends that deportations have been rising since 2009. ICE can bypass the Immigration Courts and deport illegal immigrants without court authorization. There is also a huge backlog of cases in immigration courts which may affect the numbers.

Denver's immigration court has a backlog of 7,686 cases with an average wait time for disposition of 578 days.

On Eve of Deportation-Protection Policy, Immigrants, Officials on Their Marks

By Lornet Turnbull
July 30, 2012


Over the last month, Jose, a senior at the University of Washington, has been documenting his time in this country — gathering school and medical records, his translated birth certificate, even trying to obtain his Mexican passport.

The 21-year-old, brought to this country illegally by his parents when he was 10, wants to be ready when the Obama administration starts taking applications on Aug. 15 for a program to protect people like him from deportation.

He's among nearly a million illegal immigrants nationwide expected to benefit from what's being called deferred action, a program unveiled last month by the Department of Homeland Security.

The program, expected to last two years, removes the threat of deportation for young people between 15 and 30 who have no criminal record and can prove they've been in the U.S. at least five years.

Those who qualify and can show a need to work will also be granted a work permit and Social Security number — documents Jose hopes would allow him to trade his job as a restaurant server for one working with children at a nonprofit agency after he graduates in the fall.

"My fear was of graduating and not being able to apply for a job anywhere," said Jose, a political-science student who asked that his full name not be used. "Without deferred action, I'd have to stay here (working in the restaurant) for a while."

Immigration lawyers and agencies that work with immigrants are gearing up for what they expect will be a flood of applications next month.

Program guidelines will be announced Wednesday, although immigrants can't apply for deferred action until Aug. 15.

In an internal document obtained by The Associated Press, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will process the applications, said it expected to hire 1,400 full-time workers and contractors nationally to handle the additional work. How many of them will be assigned to work in this state was not yet known.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), which works with immigrants from offices in Seattle and in Granger, Yakima County, said it will hire two temporary immigration attorneys — one in each location — to work specifically on these cases.

Additionally, NWIRP, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other statewide groups are planning a series of workshops to educate people about the program.

To be eligible, immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, and must be in school, have graduated, obtained a GED or served in the military.

The program offers no path to citizenship.

The internal documents obtained by the AP indicated that young people may have to pay a $465 application fee. That revenue would help defray the costs of the program, which could run as high as $585 million, including salaries.

Ricardo Sánchez, chairman of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, a Seattle program that helps create educational opportunities, said the deferred-action program will "make a world of difference for these young people.

"There are students with law degrees who can now fully practice law," he said.

"There are students with college degrees, master's degrees who can now go out and apply for work in their field of specialty," he said, instead of working on farms or in restaurants, "doing whatever low-wage job they can find."

Weighing the risks

Some Republicans and conservative groups, meanwhile, have blasted the president, calling the program irresponsible and politically motivated.

Ira Mehlman, Seattle-based spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said these young illegal immigrants will be competing directly for jobs with young Americans and legal residents, a group, he points out, that is already disproportionately unemployed and burdened by debt. "Until now, the range of jobs available to (illegal immigrants) was limited to those employers willing to violate the law," Mehlman said. "Once this takes effect, you could have potentially up to 1 million people competing for any job."

Additionally, he said, the flood of new applications is sure to increase the backlog for processing the cases of immigrants who are seeking green cards and other legal immigration documents.

Jose, the UW student, said many young people are weighing the programs' benefits against its risks.

Not knowing whether the program will survive after two years is a key concern, he said, particularly if Obama does not win re-election in November.

The biggest worry young people have, he said, is turning over to the government, as part of the application process, the addresses and other identifying information of family members — particularly parents, who may also be in the country illegally.

Those fielding these questions are responding cautiously, knowing they can't offer any guarantees.

Immigration attorneys have told the administration that if officials want a robust program, they need to offer some confidentiality protection.

"The important thing will be an individualized assessment of their situation and whether the benefits outweigh the risks," said Jorge Barón, executive director of NWIRP.

"If a person clearly meets the criteria, has no criminal or prior record and their parents have no immigration history, I would say the risks are pretty low — even under a new administration."

No guarantees

To be clear, the program is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, Baron pointed out.

In fact, he said, U.S. Border Patrol officials pointed out during a conference call last month that they will continue to detain individuals and turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for possible deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said immigrants would generally not be detained while their applications are pending.

"This is not the government saying they will not deport you over the next two years," Baron said.

"I would expect that if a person is in deferred action and is convicted of a crime, that's something that could disqualify them."

Jose said he wants a job that will allow him to work with and mentor young people.

Because he doesn't live with his parents, he doesn't have to divulge their address, but his younger sister may have to.

"Our family is in the process of obtaining documentation, but that takes forever," he said. "The way we see it, if they want to come after us, they will, no matter what."

Report: Inconsistencies Found in State Enforcement of E-Verify Policies

By Rosa Ramirez
July 30, 2012


More than a dozen states use E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires or government contractors, but a study has found that state officials have not been implementing the policy uniformly.

Some states use the free, Internet-based system that allows employers to check the eligibility of new hires to work in the United States by running their Social Security number and date of birth through millions of government records to verify the status of all employees, while other states use it for government employees only, according to the new report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports reduced immigration.

Six states—Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina—require that all or nearly all employers use E-Verify, according to the CIS study, "An Overview of E-Verify Policies at the State Level."

Five states mandate that new government employees and contractors’ information be run against the database, according to the CIS report. Several counties in Washington state use the system, even though it is not mandated by the state.

Pennsylvania, starting in January, is requiring employers in construction public works projects to use E-verify, said Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS. Penalties for failing to provide verification can range from $250 to $1,000.

“I have been surprised that more states are not looking to expand it beyond the public employees and public contractors,” Vaughan said. South Carolina is the only state that conducts audits to ensure businesses comply, she said.

Auditing, which is done by the state, ensures that employers have a level playing field, Vaughan said. Without it, some employers could be motivated to hire undocumented immigrants, presumably to reduce their labor costs, she said. “That’s going to breed frustration with the law” among those who are using E-verify, she said.

More than 387,000 employers use the E-Verify system, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data. Some 1,200 new businesses sign up each week.

Although the earliest version of E-Verify legislation was signed in 2007, according to the new CIS report, the bulk of the laws were passed in 2010 and 2011, making it too early to examine the overall effectiveness of E-Verify since the policies were implemented only a few years ago.

Last year, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced a bill that would require nearly every employer in the country to use E-Verify. Nonetheless, the system has its share of critics. If made mandatory nationwide, it could cost thousands of dollars to train personnel how to use it, as well as lost tax revenue and other monetary burdens, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

A 2010 Government Accountability Office report also found that persistent errors can surface from misspellings or slight mismatches of names on E-Verify documents and in its database, creating problems for thousands of workers. The accuracy rate during fiscal 2006, when the data were examined, was 97.4 percent, according to the GAO report.

The Center for American Progress estimates that 770,000 workers who are authorized to work in the United States could potentially lose their jobs. In addition, naturalized U.S. citizens are 30 times more likely than those born here to experience an E-Verify error.

CIS's Vaughan said the federal government has improved E-verify to reduce the chances of error for those who are naturalized citizens.

Washington state, which is not required to use E-Verify but has at least 11 counties that do, recently introduced a bill to stop cities and counties from requiring employers to use the database, according to a story in The Columbian. The reason: It’s crippling the agriculture industry and hurting legal immigrants.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why New York Still Welcomes Immigrants

By Rey Koslowski
July 28, 2012


Many states across the U.S. have passed restrictive immigration measures in recent years. But New York under Gov. Andrew Cuomo is bucking the trend.

"We are a state of immigrants," he declared in his 2012 State of the State address. "While other states build walls to keep people out, we open our arms and we invite people in." The Empire State is in this regard a lot like Australia, which is notable among developed nations for actively recruiting immigrants.

Comparing New York to the land down under may seem odd at first glance. But if New York were a country, its 2010 gross domestic product of $1.13 trillion would be very close to the $1.24 trillion Australian GDP. New York's population of 19.4 million is also comparable to Australia's 22 million people. New York's foreign-born population is 4.3 million, or 22.2% of total population; Australia has 4.7 million immigrants, or 21.9% of its population. If New York were a country, the size of its immigrant population would rank 13th in the world, after Australia in 11th place.

There are some big differences between New York and Australia. The Australian government sets an annual immigration target—190,000 immigrants this year. Most are admitted for employment, and the government selectively recruits highly-skilled immigrants using a point system. New York, by contrast, relies on the federal immigration system to recruit newcomers. Most immigrants to the U.S. receive permanent resident status based on family reunification rather than employment.

New York and its cities have nevertheless implemented policies to help immigrants, ranging from assistance in applying for government services to barring many government and law enforcement officials from inquiring into residents' immigration status. New York was also one of the first 12 states to enact legislation permitting undocumented immigrants who meet specific requirements to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities.

Gov. Cuomo is now making good on his promise to establish an Office for New Americans that will in turn create 30 neighborhood-based opportunity centers intended "to ensure that our state's many newcomers have the opportunities necessary to realize their full potential and become part of the family of New York." The state issued a call for grant applications from organizations interested in hosting opportunity centers, where immigrants will receive English-language training, civics education, and naturalization-application assistance.

The Office of New Americans plans to hire three lawyers who will each travel to 10 opportunity centers and hold monthly immigration-law consultation sessions. The opportunity centers will additionally host "starting your own business seminars" with the help of regional New York State Small Business Development Centers and Entrepreneurial Assistance Programs. Immigrant entrepreneurs will have access to job training, interview and resume writing workshops and professional networking opportunities.

While there is little that Albany can do to shape immigration flows nationally, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spearheading an effort to reform U.S. immigration policy. Mr. Bloomberg co-chairs the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of 400 mayors and prominent business leaders whose companies collectively generate more than $1.5 trillion in annual sales. The group includes CEOs of New York-based corporations like Goldman Sachs's Lloyd Blankfein and News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch. (News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.)

Mr. Bloomberg and his partners recently issued a policy report favorably comparing Australia's "responsive and adaptable" immigration policy to "America's broken immigration system." To fix our system, the partnership supports comprehensive immigration reforms that would "attract and keep the best, the brightest and the hardest-working" immigrants, enable "foreign students to stay in the United States to work" and "establish a path to legal status for the undocumented."

Republicans who once joined bipartisan congressional coalitions for immigration reform have retreated from their past support (Sen. John McCain) or become endangered species through tea party-dominated primary contests (Sen. Dick Lugar). So there is little hope for the comprehensive immigration reforms outlined by the partnership—except, maybe, if members of this influential and wealthy group would form a Super PAC to boost Republicans willing to vote for comprehensive reform.

If these business leaders will not exert enough political muscle to adjust the attitudes of congressional Republicans, they should stop dreaming of U.S. immigration policy moving toward an Australian model. Instead, the partnership's wealthy New Yorkers could donate matching grants for the Office for New Americans to help the 4.3 million immigrants who are already in the Australia of the United States.

Mr. Koslowski is associate professor of political science and informatics at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

New Haven Resident Card Program Reaches 5 Years

By Alexandra Sanders
July 29, 2012


Before the Elm City resident card was launched, undocumented immigrants were often afraid to report violence. But five years ago, it gave people the power to go to police without fear of deportation, and crime in the Fair Haven neighborhood dropped more than 20 percent.

That is according to Assistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova, who was a district manager in Fair Haven at that time.

"We had a substantial amount of crime committed and not reported," said Casanova. "Witnesses of crime historically did not come forward. (There were) horrific crimes like sexual assaults, rape, home invasions, robberies -- and at least 90 percent of the robbery victims were Hispanic immigrants. Immigrants were known as walking ATMs."

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. recalled when that changed, just before he renewed his own Elm City resident card.

"Five years ago I remember coming to work as I typically do around 6:30 in the morning and looking out the window . and I saw a line of people that started in front of City Hall, stretched down to Church and Elm streets and wrapped around Elm Street going toward Orange Street," he said.

That day, New Haven became the first municipality in the nation to offer identification cards to all residents regardless of immigration status. Since its inception, more than 10,000 cards have been issued, city officials said.

Recently, immigration advocates and city officials gathered in City Hall to reflect on what the Elm City resident card has done for the community and affirm their commitment to continuing and expanding the program.

The card allows holders to open bank accounts, feed parking meters, use city services, interact with police and serves as government identification.

First City Fund Corp., the parent nonprofit of Start Community Bank, is in the process of conducting a feasibility study on the potential rollout of a debit feature for the card. Right now cardholders can load $150 on the card. The study would examine whether it makes sense to expand that to include a MasterCard, Visa or ATM feature.

"The Elm City resident card is a quintessential symbol that welcomes our immigrant community to the city," said Junta policy analyst Ana Maria Rivera. "Even with the animosity we received as a city and organization during its launch five years ago, we know that this card is pioneering and promoting immigrant integration."

When it was launched, anti-immigration groups protested the idea and after the launch of the card was approved by city officials, several dozen Fair Haven residents became the subject of raids by federal immigration agents.

John Carmona, a founder of Unidad Latina En Accion, said via a translator that getting to the point of the card's launch wasn't easy because of the opposition.

"They came here with posters saying the city of New Haven couldn't do this because it's a violation of the law, but fortunately they mayor's office persisted," he said.

"Mayor DeStefano's great idea is a great idea for Hartford, Middletown, Bridgeport and Stamford," said Matt O'Connor, Local 32BJ political director. "We're reaching out to municipal leaders in those cities about the need for a resident card and the reception has been largely positive, I think in part because the sky didn't fall five years ago and a lot of the naysayers have been proven wrong."

Fight Over Immigrant Firings

By Steven Greenhouse
July 27, 2012


On May 27, about 150 workers from Palermo’s Pizza factory here, representing three-fourths of its production workers, met to sign a petition saying they wanted to unionize. They say they gave the petition to management two days later.

Around the same time, Palermo’s delivered letters to 89 immigrant workers, asking them to provide documentation verifying that they had the right to work in the United States. Ten days later, almost all of them were fired.

Labor organizers assert that Palermo’s, one of the nation’s largest producers of frozen pizza, was trying to snuff out a unionization drive in its infancy. The company says it was merely responding to warnings it had received from federal immigration authorities to fire unauthorized workers or face hefty fines.

Scores of Palermo’s workers have been on strike since June 1 to protest this immigration crackdown, as well as what they say were poor wages and working conditions. Day after day, the strikers picket outside the factory, often in 90-degree heat, chanting, “No justice, no pizza.” Labor unions across the nation have rallied behind them and called for a boycott of Palermo’s products.

At a time when labor leaders see immigrants as a group ripe for unionization, the conflict highlights how difficult it can be to organize workplaces that include unauthorized workers, who are entitled to certain labor protections despite working illegally.

The fight also demonstrates how the Obama administration’s campaign to toughen immigration enforcement in workplaces can increase employers’ leverage to derail unionization efforts.

After several labor leaders complained that the enforcement action at Palermo’s was undermining a unionization effort, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on June 7 that it was staying the enforcement, the first time it has ever suspended a crackdown that way, according to immigration experts. Although the agency’s move might have been too late to help the fired Palermo’s workers, labor experts say the government’s change of heart might affect future efforts to unionize immigrants.

“There has been a history of the federal government not understanding how its enforcement can undermine union organizing drives,” said Janice Fine, a labor relations professor at Rutgers. “There is no question that this is a new moment.”

Amid strong public support for more immigration enforcement, the Obama administration has stepped up pressure on employers to dismiss or avoid hiring illegal immigrants. During President Obama’s tenure, federal inspectors have audited 8,079 companies suspected of hiring unauthorized workers, leading to tens of thousands of immigrant workers quitting or being fired.

Labor leaders say companies often taken advantage of workers’ illegal status to violate wage and safety laws or otherwise exploit them. When immigrant workers band together to protest or seek to unionize, union leaders say, companies sometimes invite in immigration officials to deliberately undercut them.

Unions cite enforcement actions at Smithfield’s huge pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., and the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, as examples, although both employers denied that they had asked immigration enforcers to intervene.

Still, unions have had some success organizing industries that employ many illegal immigrants, like janitorial companies, poultry plants and carwashes.

There is some irony in the Palermo’s dispute — a company that boasts that it was founded by immigrants finds itself in battle with its immigrant employees.

Palermo’s executives say their company is an inspiring, up-by-the-bootstraps story: Gaspare and Zina Fallucca, husband and wife immigrants from Sicily, founded a small Italian bakery on Milwaukee’s east side in 1964 that has since blossomed into a company that produces millions of pizzas yearly.

But dozens of Latino immigrants employed by the company assert that the couple’s descendants, who now run the company, paid and treated them so poorly that it prevented them from realizing their own American dream.

“It’s simple why we’re on strike: We want better pay and benefits, a safer work environment, and we want to be listened to on the job,” said Orlando Sosa, a Palermo’s worker since 2002. “What we really want is to be able to work hard to achieve our dreams.”

Palermo’s managers insist that it is they who are the victims of injustice. They say they face a boycott and a barrage of invective merely because they carried out their legal obligation to terminate unauthorized workers.

“We were put in an impossible situation,” said Palermo’s marketing director, Chris Dresselhuys. “ICE said these people can’t work in the United States unless they prove otherwise.”

He said Palermo’s fired the workers reluctantly, pointing to letters from the agency saying the company could face criminal penalties and fines for each unauthorized worker it employed.

Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant workers’ center based in Milwaukee that is working with the United Steelworkers to unionize the Palermo’s workers, has asked the National Labor Relations Board to rule that Palermo’s illegally intimidated and retaliated against employees for seeking to unionize.

“This wasn’t really about immigration enforcement — it’s all about union-busting,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces’ executive director.

After Palermo’s turned down the workers’ request for union recognition, the N.L.R.B. called for a vote to determine whether a majority of Palermo’s workers wanted a union.

The election was originally scheduled for July 6, but it has been delayed twice. Initially, the vote was put off because the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, irked that the workers were seeking to join the steelworkers, pushed successfully to be put on the ballot as well. The labor board then ordered a further delay to weigh Voces’ claim that Palermo’s had illegally intimidated workers, making a fair election impossible.

Ana Avendano, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s director of immigration affairs, said ICE’s suspension of its enforcement action was the first time it had made such a move. She said it was consistent with a December 2011 agreement that ICE signed with the Department of Labor, promising to refrain from work site enforcement that interfered with labor disputes or wage investigations.

Despite ICE’s letter on June 7 staying enforcement, the very next day Palermo’s sent out more than 80 termination letters to workers suspected of being illegal immigrants. Mr. Dresselhuys said ICE’s letter was ambiguous and the company feared criminal penalties unless it acted. “Without any sort of clarity, what’s a little company like us supposed to do?” he asked.

Mr. Dresselhuys said ICE first contacted Palermo’s in February 2011, expressing concerns that some employees were unauthorized. Palermo’s officials said the agency followed up with a letter on May 10 of this year urging them to tell around 90 immigrant workers to reverify their work status or face termination.

Palermo’s officials says Voces manipulated the situation to make the company look as if it were retaliating against the union drive. They said Voces rushed to get workers to sign the pro-union petition in late May when the group saw that an immigration crackdown was imminent.

Voces “has manufactured the controversy where none existed in a shameful attempt to manipulate our employees into hurting the company,” the company said in a statement.

But Voces said the workers — with complaints about low pay, callous managers and injuries on the job — decided back in November that they wanted to unionize. For months, the group said, it held talks with the steelworkers and A.F.L.-C.I.O. about how to proceed.

Voces has now asked the N.L.R.B. for an unusual remedy: to order Palermo’s to reinstate the fired immigrants, at least until ICE decides to “un-suspend” its enforcement action. Voces said the fired workers’ immigration status had not been definitively determined because of the ICE suspension.

The group hopes a union election can be held soon afterward, before ICE resumes enforcement, with the union’s chances of winning greatly enhanced because many union-friendly employees will be back at work.

Palermo’s is trying to move on. It has hired dozens of replacement workers, 28 of them refugees from Myanmar, to keep the factory running during the strike.

The company says it would be awkward and illegal to rehire the fired immigrants. The Supreme Court has ruled that the N.L.R.B. cannot order reinstatement or back pay for illegal immigrants who were improperly fired for seeking to unionize.

Palermo’s maintains that it is an unusually good employer, providing health, dental and vision coverage, disability insurance, free meals and a 3 percent contribution to 401(k)’s.

But Esperanza Garza, a production line worker on strike, said she earned just $9.30 an hour after 10 years. She said the health insurance was hard to afford, many workers got hurt and managers often belittled workers.

“We want something better,” she said.

Hundreds in Phoenix March Against Arizona Immigration Law

By Tim Gaynor
July 28, 2012


A few hundred protesters, some toting placards reading "Migration is a Human Right," marched in Phoenix on Saturday to protest Arizona's two-year-old crackdown on illegal immigration.

State law SB-1070, signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010, seeks to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona.

A federal judge blocked parts of the law before it took effect, but the U.S. Supreme Court late last month upheld its most controversial provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop if they suspect they are in the country illegally.

"I feel like we're singled out," said Angel Diaz, 33, an artist among 200 to 300 mostly Hispanic protesters rallying in a park ahead of the protest march.

"We're being racially profiled. Pretty much I feel that our rights are being taken from us," he added. He was wearing a Mexican wrestler's mask and a broad brimmed sombrero.

Diaz, a Hispanic who said he is a U.S. citizen, said he was followed and pulled over by police in the Phoenix valley a week ago in a traffic stop that did not result in charges.

Protesters, some chanting "this is what democracy looks like" and wearing T-shirts reading "We will not comply - Down with SB 1070," set off on the one-mile (1.6 kilometer) walk to the headquarters of federal immigration police in the city.

In a mixed ruling late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state law's most controversial measure - requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone detained and suspected of being in the country illegally - but struck down three other parts.

Supporters of the crackdown argue it is needed as the federal government has failed to secure the state's porous border with Mexico.

The administration of President Barack Obama opposed the law on the grounds it pre-empted federal powers on immigration, and opponents say it is a mandate for racially profiling Hispanics, who make up almost a third of the state's population.

March organizer Carlos Garcia said demonstrators seek to pressure the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, not to partner with local police forces that implement immigration laws.

"When a police officer can ask to determine if someone has documents or not, that's when racially profiling, racism (arises)" he said. "That's what we're opposed to."

The rally and march come as a hardline Arizona sheriff and his office are on trial in federal court in Phoenix in a civil lawsuit that accuses them of racial profiling.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as "America's toughest sheriff," is accused of singling out Hispanic citizens and immigrants in traffic stops in the Phoenix valley, a charge he denies.

Natally Cruz, 24, a Mexican undocumented immigrant, was among four people arrested by police for blocking a road outside the U.S. District Court in Phoenix last Tuesday when Arpaio testified in court.

"We want to show Arpaio that we are not afraid of him," Cruz, who was quizzed by ICE agents about her immigration status but was released, told the protest crowd.

"Many of us have been living in fear for years ... Enough is enough," she said.

Scalia Disputes Talk of Supreme Court Infighting

By David Jackson
July 29, 2012


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is dismissing reports of infighting among court conservatives regarding the health care decision.

Appearing today on Fox News Sunday, Scalia also said he did not know if Chief Justice John Roberts changed his mind about the health care law and decided to provide the key vote to uphold it.

"You'll have to ask him," Scalia said.

Scalia said "I don't talk about internal court proceedings," but he criticized reports that he and other conservatives are upset with Roberts over how the health care case was handled.

"You should not put any stock in reports about what was going on in the secrecy of the court," Scalia said.

Scalia -- who is giving interviews in order to promote a new book on legal theory -- did criticize Roberts' reasoning in upholding President Obama's health care law. Roberts said the law's individual mandate -- the requirement that nearly all Americans buy health insurance, or pay a penalty -- is constitutional under Congress' taxing powers.

Echoing his dissenting opinion, Scalia told Fox News: "You don't interpret a penalty to be a pig. It can't be a pig."

Scalia also beat back efforts by Fox host Chris Wallace to respond to Obama's occasional criticism of the court.

"I don't publicly criticize the president, and he normally does not criticize me," Scalia said.

Any Obama criticism doesn't matter any way, Scalia said: "What can he do to me? Or to any of us? We have life tenure and we have it precisely so that we will not be influenced by politics, by threats from anybody."

Scalia did cite Obama's immigration policy in a dissenting opinion in a case about an Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants; the justice said that comment came in a judicial context, not in a political one.

Currently the longest serving justice, Scalia said the court is not political. Differences of opinion, including those reflected in 5-4 decisions, stem from differences in judicial philosophy.

"That doesn't show they are voting politics," Scalia said. "It shows that they had been selected (as justices) because of their judicial philosophy."

Scalia Rebuffs Criticism of Dissent in Immigration Case

By Jeff Plungis
July 30, 2012


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rejected criticism that he improperly went outside the court record in his dissent to last term’s decision on Arizona’s immigration law, saying his consideration of presidential remarks was appropriate.

President Barack Obama’s statements that his administration wouldn’t enforce parts of immigration law, made after the high court heard the case, brought into question the government’s arguments, Scalia said in an interview today on “Fox News Sunday.” He dismissed criticism by U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who said Scalia’s dissent read like a campaign speech.

“He’s a court of appeals judge, isn’t he?” Scalia, 76, said of Posner. “He doesn’t sit in judgment of my opinions as far as I’m concerned.”

The Supreme Court scaled back Arizona’s first-of-its-kind crackdown on illegal immigrants in a 5-3 decision June 25, striking down three provisions while asserting the federal government has exclusive power to set immigration policy.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had argued that only the U.S. can decide how to allocate resources to immigration enforcement, Scalia said. Obama later said the administration would no longer enforce the law regarding deportations of children of illegal immigrants “because it was the right thing to do,” demonstrating that priorities weren’t the issue and leaving Arizona free to enforce the federal statutes on its own, Scalia said in his dissent.

President’s Remarks

“I didn’t say he had no authority to do it,” Scalia said today of the president’s remarks. “I said he may well be right in doing it. But it demonstrates the point that Arizona is being prevented in enforcing immigration law even when the executive, rightly or wrongly, simply chooses not to enforce it.”

The court’s split decisions on hotly contested political cases, such the Affordable Health Care Act last month, reflects the division of judicial philosophy rather than partisanship, Scalia said.

Since Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter left the court, rulings have often been split, with five Republican- appointed judges on one side and four Democratic nominees on the other, Scalia said.

“That doesn’t show they are voting politics,” Scalia said. “It shows that they had been selected because of their judicial philosophy.”

Scalia waved off what critics have called a belligerent stance toward opponents in court, opinions and public comments.

“It’s fun to push buttons,” Scalia said. “When Richard Posner comes out with a statement like that, I should come out with a statement equally provocative.”

Senate Republicans, ICE Agents Criticize Obama on Enforcement Policies

By David Harrison
July 26, 2012

Three of the Senate’s most outspoken immigration hawks joined law enforcement officers Thursday to argue that the Obama administration’s directives would put agents and citizens at increased risk.

The news conference with Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa showed that Republicans are not ready to let up in their criticism of the administration’s recent immigration policy announcements.

With no legislative recourse moving in Congress to fight the policies, the senators on Thursday emphasized divisions between top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and rank-and-file immigration agents tasked with carrying out the policies.

Agents “see the violence and the chaos and the lawlessness, and they have lost confidence in the leadership of the agencies,” Sessions said.

Grassley added that the administration’s action “is without legal authority, and it jeopardizes the work of those who enforce the law, and it condones breaking the law.” He said that officers “have a job to do, and they can’t do it very well when everything’s changing so quickly.”

Two major immigration announcements have rankled Republicans. John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said last year that his agency would only focus its deportation efforts on illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes while in the United States or who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

Then in June, DHS said it would implement a new policy — modeled on legislation known as the DREAM Act (S 952, HR 1842) — that would grant a reprieve from deportation to young people brought to the country illegally as children provided they are enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or equivalency degree.

Officers said Thursday that the rollout of the new directives has been confusing and that they have been pressured to release people without properly checking their backgrounds.

“The administration can’t just put a policy on paper and expect it to work effectively in the field without first providing detailed written guidance and training to officers, agents and field managers,” said Chris Crane, a Utah-based ICE agent who heads the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, the union representing ICE agents.

“Prosecutorial discretion for ‘dreamers’ is solely based on the individuals’ claim,” Crane added, using the common term for people who would benefit from the legislation. “If an alien says they went to high school, then let them go.”

George E. McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said that his agency also had yet to receive any written guidance, which made agents’ jobs more difficult and dangerous.

Criticism From Advocates

On the other side, immigration advocates arguing for more-lenient enforcement also have complained that last year’s policy announcement was vague and left local officers too much leeway to target people with no criminal backgrounds.

The policy, announced in a series of ICE memos, did not specify what crimes would be deemed serious enough to deport somebody, causing some of the confusion.
Administration officials say those decisions are supposed to occur on a case-by-case basis.

Republicans have denounced both of the immigration policies as “amnesty” and have vowed to challenge them.

Last month, Grassley and 19 other senators wrote to President Obama asking about the legal basis for the immigration decisions. Other Republicans have taken a more confrontational approach. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, plans to sue the administration over the June announcement.

Those efforts aren’t likely to get far, Sessions acknowledged.

“It’s difficult if you’ve got a clever chief law enforcement officer like the president who wants to create rules of engagement,” Sessions said. “We’re all looking at the next election. Gov. [Mitt] Romney has been pretty clear on this; at some point he’ll have to be asked more detail about the practical things.”

Democrats contend that the new policies are working. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing this month, ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan noted that border apprehensions are at a 40-year low while deportations are at the highest levels on record.

Two years ago, Congress voted to increase border security funding by $600 million, adding 1,500 border patrol agents and spending millions on new technology. Homeland Security’s strategies “are effective,” Conyers said.

But McCubbin said the decrease in border apprehension is due more to the Obama administration’s changes in “operations and strategy” rather than a reduction in illegal crossings.

Immigration Court Backlogs at Record High, Keeping Immigrants in Limbo

By Elise Foley
July 27, 2012


Mark Pongo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Ghana, was released from detention earlier this month after 16 months -- or about 487 days -- away from his U.S. citizen wife and friends, during which his case languished in courts with record-high backlogs.

"It was crazy. I was just waiting to get my case done with," Pongo said. "I was over it. I was just waiting."

The backlog of immigration cases is at an all-time high of 314,147, according to data up to the end of June 2012, released last week by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. That figure is up 5.6 percent this year and 20 percent since the end of the 2010 fiscal year, with the average wait time climbing to 526 days.

For those in immigrant detention, that means more time away from their families, friends and freedom, until they are eventually deported or given legal status to stay in the United States.

Parastoo Zahedi, Pongo's attorney, has been an immigration lawyer for 20 years. She said she can see the difference as wait times grow, with more people lined up outside the crowded courtrooms. She took on Pongo's case pro bono after it sat without movement for months when he and his wife could no longer afford another attorney. With representation -- which many detained immigrants do not have -- his case moved more quickly.

After being released, Pongo is waiting for work authorization and eventually hopes to become a soccer coach. Soccer was the reason he chose to overstay his visa and remain in the United States in the first place, he said -- he decided to stay and try out for teams when he should have gone back to Ghana. He was detained after three DUIs, but has since received counseling and given up alcohol, he said.

"They need to try to speed it up a little bit," Pongo said. "When some people go to court they come back and say they're going to get a decision, and the decision takes like three months. Some people have been in there waiting for a decision for a long time."

It could be worse. The biggest backlogs are in Los Angeles, where 52,053 cases were pending as of June 28, and New York City, with 43,780. Los Angeles also has the longest wait times at 755 days.

Still, the long delays in Virginia and Maryland, where Zahedi does most of her work, are damaging. There were 9,174 cases pending as of June 28 in Virginia, which also handles cases from the District of Columbia. In Maryland, 5,036 people were waiting for their cases to be resolved.

One of Zahedi's clients came from Iraq to apply for asylum, but was detained at the airport. She was eventually released on parole, but her individual hearing won't be until February 2013, Zahedi said. Another client, who was admitted to the country as a refugee in 2003, was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June 2011 and had a final hearing in June 2012, when he was told he could stay.

"They need to do something, perhaps adding more judges to the courts," Zahedi said. "There are a limited number of judges. For Virginia, we don't have enough judges, and their calendars are full."

Yarbrough Pushes for Amnesty in Latest Ad

By Aman Batheja
July 27, 2012


Retired educator Grady Yarbrough, one of the two Democrats in a primary runoff to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is airing a new television ad focused on immigration.

In the second television ad of his campaign, Yarbrough advocates for passing the DREAM Act, sealing the border "by whatever means necessary" and granting citizenship to all illegal immigrant workers who have been in the country at least seven years and have no criminal history.

Yarbrough said he has personally visited television stations around the state in recent weeks in order to purchase time for the ad to air. He has also produced a Spanish version of the ad.

"I’m going into pretty much all the major markets in the state and spending thousands of dollars in each of those markets," Yarbrough said. "I’ve probably spent $25,000 to $30,000."

This is Yarbrough's second television ad of his campaign. The first one aired just once in Waco before the primary, he said.

Yarbrough's campaign spending has become an issue in his runoff against former state Rep. Paul Sadler. Yarbrough, who says he is spending only his own money, had not filed a single campaign finance report when he came in second in the May 29 primary. Since then, Yarbrough has filed reports, though he has not spelled out where he is spending his money. The Federal Election Commission has sent him two letters asking for more information.

Sadler said Yarbrough's immigration stance is not in line with the state's Democrats and is turning off voters. He pointed to Yarbrough's reference to building a "Berlin Wall" at the U.S. southern border in last month's televised debate.

A Bus Ride to Show the Cracks in Immigration

By Fernanda Santos
July 27, 2012


The route they will take on their cross-country trek resembles a slithering snake — up, down and around in a series of intentional detours that are equal parts political strategy and provocation. Their bus leaves from this sprawling city in the desert at sunrise on Monday, carrying 30 men and women who say they have chosen to live in the shadows no more.

If all goes as planned, they will get to Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3, just as the Democratic National Convention is getting started. For the illegal immigrants taking the ride, it is time to make front and center a problem they feel President Obama has failed to confront.

They do blame Congress and the Republicans for stonewalling attempts at immigration reform, but as one of the riders put it, “they’re not the only ones at fault.”

“No papers, no fear” is their motto, and the words are stamped on T-shirts and posters that went on sale at a party here on Wednesday to raise money for food and water, lodging and toiletries, gas and rent of the bus, and also a bail fund. It is not as if anyone is looking to get arrested, but they are preparing for it.

The bus will traverse unfriendly territory for immigrants who are in the country illegally — states like Georgia and Alabama, where the police are allowed to check the immigration status of certain people they detain.

It will cut across Louisiana and Mississippi, both of which tried — and failed — to enact legislation imposing penalties against illegal immigrants. It will slice through Tennessee, where in Davidson County, the sheriff boasts about his role helping federal authorities deport them.

They hope to expand on the activist role carved out by immigrants who were brought to the country as children, many of whom would be shielded from deportation under a policy enacted last month by the Obama administration. (Many of the riders on the bus are the parents of young people whose protests eventually spurred the administration’s action.)

“I’m running this risk because I want us to be respected, I want us to be recognized as the human beings that we are,” Maria Cruz Ramirez said at the party, where she sat before a makeshift stage, surrounded by other bus riders.

Ms. Ramirez, 46, said she came here 11 years ago from the Mexican state of Hidalgo to give her three children, whom she had brought along, a chance at a better life.

Gerardo Torres, 41, said he arrived here 18 years ago from the Mexican state of Aguascalientes so he could live freely as a gay man.

David Ramirez, 22, is among the youngest of the riders — a green-eyed Mexican from the state of Durango who said he was brought to the United States when he was 9, too young to have made his own choice.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in economics, for whatever it’s worth,” said Mr. Ramirez, who graduated in the spring from Dominican University, just outside Chicago, where he lives.

For them, the bus offers a chance for empowerment and kinship. The ride to North Carolina is scheduled to last six weeks, and Ms. Ramirez, who said she had never spent time away from her children, has forged a close friendship with Mr. Ramirez, who is almost as old as the oldest of her sons and is traveling on his own.

She said she had set aside the documents her family would need to run their lives and the household in case she does not make it back: Mexican birth certificates, bank account information, phone numbers of friends who can help them.

Mr. Torres said joining the ride forced him to come out to cousins, aunts and uncles who had no idea he is gay. “I want to be the voice of the queer community,” and the only way to do that is to embrace his homosexuality publicly, he said.

Mr. Ramirez said he had made no special plans.

“I’m walking on faith,” he said.

As the party wrapped up, guests began to collect the chairs as actors from the New Carpa Theater dismantled the makeshift stage, set up in the auditorium of a labor union hall on 24th Street.

It had been a night of performances, like the short play featuring an encounter between Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, known for his crackdowns on illegal immigrants. In it, Mr. Arpaio asked Guadalupe for her papers, while Guadalupe asked him to repent. He refused, and she left him to find his way out of the desert along the border, a place many Mexicans have died trying to cross.

“This Land Is Your Land” played softly in the background.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Answers to Your Questions on Skilled Immigration

By Catherine Rampell
July 25, 2012


Last week we asked you to submit questions about skilled immigrants and in particular the H-1B visa program they often work under. Responses from Neil G. Ruiz, Jill H. Wilson and Shyamali Choudhury, who recently wrote about this topic for the Brookings Institution, are shown below.

I've seen many assertions that H-1B workers work at below-market rates and depress wages in the industry over all. Do you have any data that could speak to this issue?
Chris, Ellicott City, Md.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, employers hiring H-1B workers are required to pay the average wage (or higher) for the occupation and geographical area for which they are hiring. In addition, employers are forbidden to pay H-1B workers less than they pay other workers with similar skills and qualifications.

A 2008 United States government study found that 13 percent of H-1B petitions included some type of fraud, and an additional 7 percent had technical violations. Over all, almost 4 percent of petitions were found to be in violation of the prevailing wage requirement.

Fraud was found to be more prevalent among smaller, less established companies and among occupations in accounting, human resources, business analysis, sales, and advertising. Negotiations are currently under way in Congress to beef up H-1B fraud prevention.

Do you agree with David Bier from the Competitive Enterprise Institute that highly skilled foreign workers do not take jobs they make jobs and that the hiring of foreign workers makes the economy more efficient and actually increases opportunities for American workers?
rational expectations, Westchester, N.Y.

Our report did not look specifically at the impact of high-skilled foreign workers on employment, so we will defer to the work of others in this answer.

William Kerr at Harvard Business School has shown the connection between high-skilled immigration and innovation. His paper demonstrates that inventions, as measured by the number of patents filed, have increased because of contributions of foreign inventors admitted through programs like the H-1B visa program. It is unclear if there is a direct connection to job creation, but breakthrough patents could have the effect of creating more jobs.

A study by Madeline Zavodny shows that even during the tough economic times of the last few years, immigration on the whole has not hurt the job prospects of native-born Americans and that high-skilled immigrants are correlated with an increase in jobs for natives.

On the other hand, an A.F.L.-C.I.O. study by Paul Almeida argues that programs like the H-1B visa incentivize the displacement of native workers because employers may prefer foreign workers for their lower cost and exploitability. Ron Hira at the Rochester Institute of Technology asserts that H-1B workers are not complements but are direct substitutes for American workers.

We recognize the concerns and limitations of both sides of this debate. The challenge for policy makers is to figure how to meet the demand for high-skilled workers by developing an immigration policy that allows the United States to continue to attract the foreign workers that it needs, while at the same time educating and training American workers for these jobs in the near future.

I see a lot of concentration of H-1Bs in the Midwest and have read articles noting a counterintuitive trend. Can you elaborate on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, H-1B usage outside of Silicon Valley? What are some causes of this trend?
Angela, CA

The demand for H-1B immigrant workers is not just a high-tech Silicon Valley story; rather it is a story of American employers across the country, in metro areas large and small, requesting high-skilled workers in a variety of occupations. This includes American manufacturers searching for specific skills in America's heartland.

Although our research shows that San Jose, Calif., home to Silicon Valley, is the No. 1 metropolitan area in demand for H-1B workers relative to its work force size, Columbus, Ind., ranks second.

This is driven mostly by Cummins Inc., an advanced manufacturer specializing in clean technologies for automotive engines headquartered there. The company has experienced exponential growth over the past several years, even during the recession, and most of its requests for H-1B workers are for engineers.

Other metro areas in the Midwest have a high demand for STEM H-1B workers. For instance, in Bloomington, Ill., 94.8 percent of all H-1B requests are for STEM occupations, the highest share of all metro areas in the country. These are driven by companies like Patni Americas Inc., which provides information-technology services for State Farm.

Columbus, Ind., ranks second for STEM share (88.8 percent) and No. 3 is Peoria, Ill., where the heavy equipment maker Caterpillar is headquartered. Midwestern metros like these are looking to the H-1B visa program to build a skilled labor force.

Is the H-1B program just a sham to get cheaper foreign labor? The high tech company I worked for, a Pennsylvania firm, moved at least 3,000 jobs to India, and also brought in H-1Bs, all the while laying off American workers. It appears the goal and motivation of the companies is to cut the cost of American labor by hiring cheaper foreign workers both abroad, where they earn 10 percent, and here at home where they earn 50 percent. With so many American I.T. people unemployed or underemployed, it seems only fitting that the H-1B program should either cease, or at least be limited to genuine, provable shortages instead of fraudulently created shortages to get cheap labor.
Austin AI, Austin, TX

Outsourcing is the result of many interrelated factors. United States immigration policy can play a role by making it difficult for American employers to hire foreigners to work here; some companies work around these restrictions by moving operations to a country where it is easier to bring in foreign workers.

Currently, employers who want to hire an H-1B worker are not required to perform labor market tests to ensure there are no available American workers, but only attest that no American worker has been displaced at their company as a result. This oversight process facilitates speedy H-1B approvals but relies on post-admission site visits to detect fraud and abuse.

In 2010 in an effort to discourage H-1B dependence, President Obama signed a law adding $2,000 to the fees that employers are required to pay for an H-1B visa if the employer has at least 50 employees in the United States and more than half of them are in H-1B or L-1 nonimmigrant status.

These and other H-1B visa fees, paid by employers, are used to fund technical skills training and STEM education (at the K-12 and postsecondary levels) in American communities in an effort to train our existing work force to do the jobs that H-1Bs are currently hired to do, as well as help finance fraud prevention and detection.

Why can Intel not find suitable American-born STEM workers for their approximately 2,800 openings but Lowell and Salzman report that the American STEM graduates each year exceed the number of openings by a factor of 3?
John Gary, Boulder Colo.

The years of education demanded by the average American job is growing, and the educational level of American workers has fallen behind to some extent. However, there is disagreement about the existence of a shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers in the United States.

Some argue that the American educational system lacks rigor in these fields and that American students lack the interest or ability to pursue these occupations to the extent that our companies need them. Others argue that we are in fact graduating enough students in STEM every year but that they are being diverted to work in other fields. Meanwhile, American companies that report having trouble finding qualified workers among the existing work force are using the H-1B program to fill job openings.

Does the current United States immigration system, which leans heavily in favor of the employers rather than the H-1B workers, actually enable employers to exploit/arm-twist their employees? Would it help to just move to a more transparent points-based system like other developed countries? Why is this being delayed?
Highly Skilled, NY

H-1B visas are temporary worker visas filed by employers, but they are also dual-intent meaning that with employer sponsorship, these visas can be converted into green cards for legal permanent residency. One significant concern of this structure is that workers on H-1B visas cannot leave their employer while waiting for green-card sponsorship, which can be over a decade for those coming from countries with significant backlogs, because of green-card quotas.

The point-based systems of other countries, including Canada, Australia and Britain, consider economic and business needs when admitting immigrants, and would represent a significant departure from the current United States emphasis on family reunification. Current gridlock in Congress makes the possibility of such systemic reform unlikely in the near future, but smaller reforms are gaining ground.

In an important step toward reducing the green-card backlog, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011, which passed the House in November, is active again after Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, lifted his hold on the legislation last week.

I'd like to see it really spelled out exactly how a company specifies that it needs H-1B visa holders to do a job. Because in the STEM fields older workers are finding it difficult to be rehired if laid off, and some of these oft-cited shortages are not real.
Banty, Upstate New York

In order to apply for an H-1B visa, employers are required to attest that no American workers were displaced as a result. There is no actual labor market test required to prove this, and some argue that this process is a relatively weak screening mechanism. The current system relies on post-issuance enforcement through government visits to employers to verify identities, job descriptions, and salaries of H-1B workers.

In general, the existence of a labor shortage in STEM fields is not established, and there is research both in support of, and against, this possibility.

I understand the need to attract educated professionals to the United States to make up for a lack of home-grown ones. However, isn't this grossly unfair to the countries they come from, where taxpayers invested in educating talented individuals only to see them leave? I am not saying that it should be impossible for educated foreign professionals to work in the United States, just that it should be discouraged. Secondly, importing education reduces the urgency to fix education in the United States, which is the real problem in the end. It hollows out the United States economy and kills the American dream for anyone but educated immigrants. This is a Band-Aid that has hidden a rising problem for decades. Last I checked, Lady Liberty was inviting the poor, the homeless, the wretched refuse to a land where they could better themselves. She wasn't a headhunter.
endorendil, Belgium

The brain-drain issue is a significant concern for many countries that want to retain their own educated professionals for their labor market needs. But many countries see the value of sending their citizens to get trained in American universities so that they return with higher skills.

For example, the Brazilian president set up a scholarship program to send Brazil's best undergraduate students for a year to study at American universities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. Most nations understand that a skilled work force is essential to economic growth. A balance of international immigration policies, educational quality and migration trends plays a large part in determining where high-skilled workers get their education and use their skills.

To train the American work force for highly technical occupations, the fees charged to employers requesting H-1B visas are distributed by the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation to local areas. This provides an opportunity for the existing work force to upgrade their skills so that they can be hired for jobs that employers seek through the H-1B visa program. These H-1B visa fee programs are one method for providing short- and long-term training so that American employers do not have to rely on hiring high-skilled foreigners.