Weekly Update on Immigration: Immigrants and the Census, Drug War, and Labor

I. The Role of Immigrants and the Census - Yesterday on Al Punto, Raul Cisneros (Census spokesman) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) responded to key questions on this topic. Jorge Ramos reports that each person counted represents $2900 in funding for their community. Ramos also tackles the important question of how to avoid the politization of the Census and discrimination among respondents.

- Ramos asked, "why does the Census matter?" Sen. Menendez appropriately noted that the Census count largely determines the amount of resources allocated to a community and a state for important programs such as maintenance of resources, education, public programs, infrastructure, etc. The data is also used by corporations when analyzing potential private sector investments, and it is the count that determines representation in Congress through the apportionment process.

- "Are we starting too early?" asked Ramos. A very important question, as many Hispanics and immigrants might not understand the urgency of informing their community about the Census and the importance of participating. Cisneros noted, "No. We've already been working to reach out to the community and inform them of the Census," as part of the Department's duty. Census will be sending out about 120 million Census surveys.

- Ramos also draws the connection between immigration and the Census: "One of the biggest concerns among people is that [if they are out of order with] the IRS or ICE might come after them with this [Census] information. Would stopping immigration raids help make the 2010 Census more accurate?" To which Senator Menendez responded by highlighting that all information provided to the Census is strictly confidential, and that its only purpose is to count individuals, "their tax or legal status is not inquired about, nor is it relevant," and added, "I hope the raids are stopped, but people should know that if a Census worker approaches them, they are not in danger because of their immigration status. The Census worker is only trying to count them."

The Census is pivotal for Hispanics.  In the interview, Ramos also takes on a very important issue that Simon and NDN discuss at length - the potential politization of the Census if debate ensues over who can/should be counted:

Jorge Ramos (JR): Some believe it's impossible to count everyone - we are 306 million people in the U.S. If we can't count everyone, is there a statistical method we can use to ensure everyone is counted?
Menendez: First, we must respond the Census form, and respond to Census workers.
JR: "How many Hispanics are there in the U.S.? 45 million?..."
Menendez: About 45 million, but that's also why the Census is important, we need to be able to see how our community has changed.
JR: Do you think this 45 million is an undercount? Given undocumenteds, etc.
Menendez: I wouldn't know for sure, but what matters is that the [United States] Constitution calls for "all persons" to be counted, regardless of their legal status.

II. U.S. Visa Limits Hit Indian Workers - This piece by Emily Wax in today's Washington Post alludes to stories we wrote about earlier, on the effect of the current economic climate on some of the world's best and brightest:

"Hiring H-1B visa holders has become as toxic as giving out corporate bonuses," said Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University professor and Harvard University research fellow.

"This is part of the broader story of the unwinding of globalization in the current economic crisis. As goods have moved more freely around the world, so did people, but now that's ending," said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11."
The stimulus bill contained the Employ American Workers Act, which was sponsored by Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.). They say that they are worried that laid-off Americans struggling to find work are being displaced by foreign junior investment analysts, computer programmers and corporate lawyers who accept a fraction of the pay commanded by Americans.

Grassley's argument is precisely why we need to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this year. We need to fix the broken system to help our economy, not avoid it. Closing our border to the best and brightest when we need them most is not the answer. Yes, some employers and employees suffer a kind of indentured-servitude under the existing visa programs because that is how they are currently designed. There are so few legal channels for companies to hire the talent they need and for students or employees to obtain status that they are willing to endure unfair conditions in order to remain. Grassley's proposal is not a solution, it's demagoguery - if not worse. 

The article continues:

But many immigration experts say shutting out the talent from abroad will only hurt U.S. competitiveness in the long run. "It's really unfortunate because we will lose an entire generation of wonderful minds as a by-product," Wadhwa said. "The next Google or Silicon Valley will be in Bangalore or Beijing." Nations such as Canada, Singapore and Australia have created "fast-track" immigration policies and incentives to attract foreign professionals. Immigrants founded more than half of all Silicon Valley start-ups in the past decade, Wadhwa said. These immigrant-led, U.S. technology companies employed more than 450,000 workers and grossed $52 billion in 2005. "My view is that we need to always bring in the best talent from everywhere -- more skilled and educated people end up creating jobs and making the pie bigger for everyone," Wadhwa said.

III. Another Example of the Broken Immigration System - Very interesting article in yesterday's Pittsburg Post Gazette also highlights the problem with our current, unrealistic, ineffective and broken immigration system:

When he was 20, Mr. Vielma contacted an aunt living near Los Angeles. She offered to help him cross into the United States illegally....Work visas were scarce, but a strong American economy beckoned with well-paying jobs...

Lest we forget, after the economic downturn, we will again have a larger economy that needs workers.  Will we leave it up to unscrupulous employers to fill that void? Or will we be proactive and forward-looking, and fix our broken immigration system this year?

IV. Immigration Reform: One Way to Take the Fight to the Cartels - Following our piece on the bilateral drug problem, an article in Saturday's Washington Post by Josh Kussman and Brian C. Goebel highlights the need for greater cooperation in this regard. Among other recommendations - like fully funding the Merida Initiative, assisting the patrolling of the Coasts, preventing the traffic of U.S. cash and guns, and fighting drug cartels domestically - they posit that comprehensive immigration reform that provides legal channels for Mexicans to come to the U.S. will eliminate the need for "coyotes" and the human trafficking network that largely feeds organized crime. This is particularly important at a time of economic depression in the border region that, together with the violence, pushes people to cross the border - legally or illegally.

In related news, more statements by Secretary of State Clinton, reported over the weekend by one of Mexico's most prominent periodicals, El Excelsior.  It appears that after her visit to Mexico, the Secretary understands the urgency of passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform this year as a tool to avoid what could become an immigration crisis:

The war against the Mexican drug cartels is important for the United States because..."greater instability and insecurity in Mexico can lead to greater migration [from Mexico] to the North."

V. "Progress by Passover" - According to the EFE news wire, a group of Jewish organizations all over the U.S. provided the White House a petition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform signed by 3500 individuals. Having this group join the faith community support of CIR is a landmark event.

VI. More Unions Favor Legalizing Workers - Changes in labor force spur rethinking, according to an interesting piece by Leslie Berestein in the San Diego Union Tribune. I thought this piece was worth re-printing:

In the early 1960s, a guest-worker program that had imported workers from Mexico since the days of World War II was drawing to a close. Those who were left picking crops were largely legal residents or U.S. citizens of Mexican and Filipino descent, along with working-class white and black Americans. "Back then, probably 80 percent were documented, and about 20 percent were undocumented. Today it would be just the reverse," said Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers, the nation's first farm labor union.

The UFW was founded by Cesar Chávez, whose birthday is celebrated Tuesday....It is now estimated that as many as 90 percent of California's farmworkers are foreign-born, most of them here illegally. This resonates in San Diego County, home to more small farms than any other county in the United States, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau. Agriculture has repeatedly ranked fourth or fifth among the county's top industries.

As the labor force has changed, so has many organized labor groups'attitude toward unauthorized workers, whom they once viewed as low-paid competition and, in the case of farmworkers, as strikebreakers. Along with prominent labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union, the UFW, which has about 27,000 members, is a vocal proponent of revamping immigration laws to grant legal status to those already working here.

While guest-worker plans continue to be a sticking point and dissent persists among trade unions in some industries, the general thinking in recent years has gone as such: If you can't beat the competition, let them join.
Unauthorized workers who are easily exploited give an unfair advantage to employers who hire them and drive down wages for other workers [in the same sector], say labor leaders who favor legalization. Giving them legal status and rights would level the playing field, while bringing them into the union fold would boost membership and bargaining muscle. "There has been a significant change in the mind-set of the labor movement," Rodriguez said.

"If you bring in people more hungry than the ones already here, those workers are forced to do what is necessary to take care of their families," he said. Today, legalizing workers once seen as competitors has become a priority; the UFW kicked off a new pro-legalization campaign this month.
It is also viewed as a necessity.
"We think this is really critical for the future," Rodriguez said.