March 15, 2007

Misery Of Your Undocumented Immigrant Neighbors

A lot of people have had a tough week:

NYT Article this morning:

A screaming baby girl has been forcibly weaned from breast milk and taken, dehydrated, to an emergency room, so that the nation’s borders will be secure. Her mother and more than 300 other workers in a leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Mass., have been terrorized — subdued by guns and dogs, their children stranded at school — so that the country will notice that the Bush administration is serious about enforcing immigration laws. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of poor Americans, lacking the right citizenship papers, have been denied a doctor’s care so that not a penny of Medicaid will go to a sick illegal immigrant.

Tuesday’s SouthCoastToday:

Michael Bianco Inc., the South End factory raided by immigration agents Tuesday, had a special tax agreement with the city that saved the company $57,000 in property taxes over the past two years.
The company landed an $82 million Department of Defense contract in 2004 to make backpacks for the military.

On Rhode Island’s Future blog:

Church leaders, including Catholic bishops, support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants because of the teachings of the Bible.
Leviticus 19:33-34“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

In Fitchburg:

When hundreds of federal agents checked into Fitchburg and Leominster hotels several days before they stormed New Bedford-based Michael Bianco Inc., rumors of a local raid spread quickly.

“It is devastating to families,” said Matthew Feinstein of the Worcester Global Action Network. “The police presence caused many to fear to go to work or send their children to school.”

Student absences based on the rumors Monday forced Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre R. Ravenelle to reassure parents and students that a raid would not happen in the Leominster-Fitchburg area. The very next day, the New Bedford operation netted 327 undocumented workers.

Sara and I were discussing what teachers were telling young students who might not have had anyone to go home to on Tuesday afternoon. Imagine being told as a middle schooler, or younger, that you might not be finding anyone there when you get home — and that this may not be a temporary situation.

In USA Today:

This country irritates me. My wife applied for naturalization nearly a year ago, and her green card is going to expire at the end of the month.

We have been married for seven years and have two children. I am a third-generation American citizen. Her family members immigrated from Canada more than 12 years ago, and each of them began the naturalization process within a week of applying. With an English surname, it seems, the process moved quickly.

Because my wife took my Mexican surname, however, the Department of Homeland Security believes she arrived from Mexico. It has been conducting a “background check” since her interview.

When asked why her sister received her swear-in date before my wife did, the immigration officer admitted her application was being held up as a result of her surname.

So much for “legal vs Illegal” and “doing the right thing.”

However, I am puzzled by one phenomenon highlighted on that USAToday page: illegal immigrants who aren’t interested in integrating into our existing society. They’re doing themselves a huge disservice. Even with the extreme red-faced “tag ‘em and bag ‘em” immigration faction of the conservative right, I think this country has a high capacity for accommodating other cultures. But there is an assumption that people coming here are going to adopt the language and learn to common things that form our American culture, such as it is.

Integrating better helps in a number of ways. One biggie is that it reduces the knee-jerk xenophobia which works against their cause. Another is that it shows something beyond existence at a particular location; it shows desire to be American.

There are people here who want to be Americans, want to work hard and become legal citizens. They are already part of our society, whether you or I like it, but they would like to be legal and they deserve to be treated as human beings. Right now they’re exploited (for work, for sex) because if they do anything to stand up for themselves, if they try to organize, they’re just a phone call away from a raid like we saw on Tuesday last week. We need to get tougher on the exploiters, like the employer in New Bedford who took a tax break while taking advantage of these immigrants to fulfill a government contract. We also need a quicker path to legal status. Legalizing people who want to work and who show a desire to become Americans will take them out of their perilous situation, allow them to stand up for themselves along with other Americans and use the laws of our nation to make the situation better for themselves and make the nation better.

I’ll have my eye on the efforts of our senior senator, Kennedy, as he tries to get the government to pass immigration reform. Because of the great need for change, he’s abandoned the reform that was in the works and has decided to support a previous, more conservative-friendly 2006 plan with McCain. Massachusetts was specifically targeted in this raid; perhaps Massachusetts will help find a solution for some of the misery these people are facing.

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Posted by James at March 15, 2007 7:49 AM
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The editor of O Journal has a radio show. (I can't find his name on their website!) He said that the workers in the New Bedford factory were paying taxes -- they have TINs, and that's how they were caught. The IRS doesn't supply this information to homeland security on a regular basis, however. His opinion is that the IRS doesn't want us to get tough on immigration because too much of the country's income comes from illegal aliens. I don't know how true this is! He was presenting it as a counter-argument to the argument that the illegal immigrants aren't "paying their way."

Posted by: Maggie at March 15, 2007 9:30 AM

Anyone who knows anything about the subject will tell you that undocumented immigrants almost always pay taxes that they get no* benefit from (aside from the stuff like roads and such that everyone benefits from). It's a net-gain for the US, but xenophobes love to pretend that the government is giving out gift-baskets full of YOUR MONEY to illegal immigrants as they cross the border. It's one of those paranoid fantasies that will never go away. I've heard all sorts of nonsense about special government programs that favor illegal immigrants over native-born Americans.

As much as I hate Matt Jerzyk and RI Future (when Sheldon Whitehouse votes to support War on Iran, you'll see why) I do think he's generally spot-on when it comes to immigration.

Posted by: DG at March 15, 2007 9:57 AM

I've been hearing the immigration raid news all week, all the way up here in toolieville NH. It makes me so angry, and so disappointed in our government.

Posted by: leslie at March 15, 2007 10:11 AM

And while the immigrants were being flown to Texas to await deportation, the manager of this factory quickly got out on bail and was allowed to travel to PR on business. Must be nice.

Posted by: Julie at March 15, 2007 10:39 AM

Just because someone is in this country illegally doesn't mean you get to treat them like shit on your shoe.

I wonder if there is a program that works like this:

1. Illegal aliens are found.
2. Illegal aliens are offered the choice of staying here and becoming legal residents or going back to their respective countries.

I don't know if there's a program like this, but it might be a good idea to put something like this in place. Otherwise, we can all go pick our own strawberries, I suppose.

And yes, it is truly disgusting that while some people are held in Texas, the jerk who runs this country on the sweat of illegal aliens is back to work. Why he is not in jail I do not know.

And why Texas? To make sure the families can't see eachother? What, we have no place to hold these people here? Please. I'm sure we do.

Look at us, we're tough on illegal immigration! Right. Well, you're tough, alright, if that's what you call hauling parents away from their little kids. That's showing 'em.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 15, 2007 11:49 AM

Oops, I meant to say the jerk who runs this company. When I say "jerk who runs" something, my thoughts are automatically drawn to the president.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 15, 2007 11:50 AM

Yeah, so much for family values.

Why Texas? Because that's where they process people before deporting them.

Giving illegal aliens the choice to stay here and become legal residents would piss off all of the legal aliens who have to jump through many hoops just to get an extended visa or a green card, never mind the many years' worth of hoops to become citizens. It would also encourage even more people to risk life and limb to get here illegally.

Plus, there's the whole thing with the conservatives who worry that every illegal immigrant means an increase in the odds that their precious daughter might get knocked up by some tortilla-eating piƱata-smacker, or she won't be able to get the job of her dreams cleaning toilets.

Posted by: Julie at March 15, 2007 12:13 PM

Good point about "jumping the line."

What are the impediments to coming here illegally? I'm sure cost is one, but what are the obstacles? Perhaps this is what should be looked at first.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 15, 2007 12:15 PM

Oh and the reason the jerk isn't in jail because he made bail. He could still end up doing time, but somehow I doubt it.

One of the complaints against him is that, although he paid his workers a wage that's technically legal, he would illegally fine them $20 for being late to work, spending too much time in the bathroom, etc. I'm guessing that these fines were taken out of their pay in cash form, so they still paid full taxes on their wages, and the "fines" went into his pocket, or perhaps into an interest-bearing account to prepare for his own legal defense in the event that he might someday need bail money and an excellent lawyer.

Posted by: Julie at March 15, 2007 12:16 PM

Did you mean what are the impediments to coming here LEGALLY?

There are many, but even student visas can be hard to get, depending on where you're from. Another obstacle is that you must be able to support yourself during the fixed amount of time for which your visa was granted. If you don't already have the funds, then forget it.

Or, maybe you can get a working visa, if a company in the US will sponsor you. To do that, they must be able to prove that you possess unique skills that the employer can't easily find locally.

Plus, I believe we only allow x number of people per country per year, so you'd be competing with other students, workers, etc. to get that visa.

There's also the fiance visa, in which case you are sponsored by a US citizen who you must marry within some period of time. I can't remember if people on fiance visas are allowed to work.

In other words, NO ONE can legally come into the US for an indefinite stay. Your visa has an expiration date.

Posted by: Julie at March 15, 2007 12:24 PM

Yes, yes, I did mean legally.

We don't give visas out like we used to (and to some countries, not at all anymore).

So I really can't move here and live here if I want to? Yow. I wonder if other countries have similar restrictions.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 15, 2007 1:49 PM

Most (all?) countries have similar restrictions, and some are even stricter when employment is involved.

Posted by: Julie at March 15, 2007 2:22 PM

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