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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

UFCW Says New CIS Report Demonstrates Complete Lack of Knowledge

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2009 at 3:00 pm

A recent Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)–an independent “think tank” that promotes restricting immigration and has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a nativist group–report claims that harsh immigration enforcement tactics, like the raids on the Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in 2006, have contributed to a rise in wages and improved working conditions.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) refutes this claim, stating that the report has flaws in both the manipulation of its data and its historical analysis of the meatpacking industry.

Read the press release below.

For Immediate Release: Media Contact:
March 19, 2009 Scott Frotman 202-466-1537

NEW CIS STUDY DEMONSTRATES A COMPLETE LACK OF
KNOWLEDGE ABOUT MEATPACKING INDUSTRY

UFCW cites serious flaws in group’s analysis of historical industry data and finds its conclusion about Swift raids absurd

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the largest meatpacking and processing union in North America, released the following statement today in response to serious flaws in a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) regarding immigration enforcement efforts at meatpacking facilities:

“Mark Twain once noted, ‘Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.’ This new report by the Center for Immigration Studies is a case study in the misinterpretation and manipulation of data to reach a totally biased and flawed conclusion.

“The report demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the history of the meatpacking industry. Throughout history, immigrants from across the globe have helped strengthen the U.S. meatpacking industry by organizing around increased wages and improved industry standards.

“During the 1980’s, consolidation, mergers and company induced strikes helped drive down wages. Employers forced workers onto the streets to fight unacceptable concessions.. During the strikes, companies aggressively recruited strike breakers—who were not immigrants but individuals who came from the decimated farm industry—to cross the picket lines. Many of these workers soon realized that the jobs were too difficult, particularly at the wages companies were offering, and they left the industry. But the damage was done. Ever since that time, the UFCW has been fighting to rebuild wages and standards for these jobs.

“In the case of Swift, the UFCW had negotiated wage increases prior to the raid. This fact disproves CIS’ central argument that wages and benefits increased as a result of a change in workforce at the plant.

“In addition to these historical inaccuracies, the CIS report fails to address the devastating impact that the Swift raid had on thousands of workers –both immigrant and native born. In the aftermath of the raid, the UFCW documented numerous examples of racial profiling, U.S. citizens harassed and detained by armed agents and a sheer disregard for the constitutional rights of
workers.

“The UFCW filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of these raids and formed a commission to examine the ramification of ICE raids, including Swift. A report documenting the commission’s findings will be made public in the next few months.

“The raids at Swift, and across the country, have done nothing to protect workers or to raise standards in our industries. They have done nothing to address our broken immigration system.. They have been a complete travesty of justice.

“If our immigration system is going to work for the benefit and betterment of our nation it is critical that our laws are upheld. That applies to both immigrant workers and government agents. If the last eight years have shown us anything, it is that enforcement-only strategies do not work. Yes, we need enforcement, but to truly reform our immigration system, we need to
address trade relationships, workforce needs, family unification, legalization, workers’ rights and living standards, and 12 million undocumented individuals suspended on the edge of hope. And we need to do it in a comprehensive manner.

“The enforcement-only stance routinely endorsed by CIS is a short-sighted view that fails to take into account our larger national interest. It is as if they worked backwards on this report. They started from their rigid immigration stance and tried to make the facts fit their view. The problem is that it doesn’t add up. It is basically 16 pages of unproductive scapegoating, cherry picked quotes, and historical misinterpretations.

“The irony is that if you take an objective look at the data being presented, free of the author’s slanted view, it makes a pretty clear and compelling case for comprehensive immigration reform.

“There is the saying that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. Well, you can seek out a respected journalist to write a report for the Center for Immigration Studies, but at the end of the day you end up with the same old, tired, anti-immigrant extremist drivel.”

# # #

The UFCW represents 1..3 million workers, 250,000 in the meatpacking and poultry industries. UFCW members also work in the health care, garment, chemical, distillery and retail industries.

To read more about CIS’s flawed analysis, see Immigration Impact- New CIS Study: Easy Answers and Half-Baked Solutions

-or-

Immigration Policy Center- Press Release: CIS Report Gets Diagnosis Right, Cure Wrong

UFCW States that Recent CIS Report Demostrates A Complete Lack of Knowledge

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2009 at 7:46 pm

A recent Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)–an independent “think tank” that promotes restricting immigration and has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a nativist group–report claims that harsh immigration enforcement tactics, like the raids on the Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in 2006, have contributed to a rise in wages and improved working conditions.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) refutes this claim, stating that the report has flaws in both the manipulation of its data and its historical analysis of the meatpacking industry.

Read the press release below.

For Immediate Release: Media Contact:
March 19, 2009 Scott Frotman 202-466-1537

NEW CIS STUDY DEMONSTRATES A COMPLETE LACK OF
KNOWLEDGE ABOUT MEATPACKING INDUSTRY

UFCW cites serious flaws in group’s analysis of historical industry data and finds its conclusion about Swift raids absurd

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the largest meatpacking and processing union in North America, released the following statement today in response to serious flaws in a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) regarding immigration enforcement efforts at meatpacking facilities:

“Mark Twain once noted, ‘Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.’ This new report by the Center for Immigration Studies is a case study in the misinterpretation and manipulation of data to reach a totally biased and flawed conclusion.

“The report demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the history of the meatpacking industry. Throughout history, immigrants from across the globe have helped strengthen the U.S. meatpacking industry by organizing around increased wages and improved industry standards.

“During the 1980’s, consolidation, mergers and company induced strikes helped drive down wages. Employers forced workers onto the streets to fight unacceptable concessions.. During the strikes, companies aggressively recruited strike breakers—who were not immigrants but individuals who came from the decimated farm industry—to cross the picket lines. Many of these workers soon realized that the jobs were too difficult, particularly at the wages companies were offering, and they left the industry. But the damage was done. Ever since that time, the UFCW has been fighting to rebuild wages and standards for these jobs.

“In the case of Swift, the UFCW had negotiated wage increases prior to the raid. This fact disproves CIS’ central argument that wages and benefits increased as a result of a change in workforce at the plant.

“In addition to these historical inaccuracies, the CIS report fails to address the devastating impact that the Swift raid had on thousands of workers –both immigrant and native born. In the aftermath of the raid, the UFCW documented numerous examples of racial profiling, U.S. citizens harassed and detained by armed agents and a sheer disregard for the constitutional rights of
workers.

“The UFCW filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of these raids and formed a commission to examine the ramification of ICE raids, including Swift. A report documenting the commission’s findings will be made public in the next few months.

“The raids at Swift, and across the country, have done nothing to protect workers or to raise standards in our industries. They have done nothing to address our broken immigration system.. They have been a complete travesty of justice.

“If our immigration system is going to work for the benefit and betterment of our nation it is critical that our laws are upheld. That applies to both immigrant workers and government agents. If the last eight years have shown us anything, it is that enforcement-only strategies do not work. Yes, we need enforcement, but to truly reform our immigration system, we need to
address trade relationships, workforce needs, family unification, legalization, workers’ rights and living standards, and 12 million undocumented individuals suspended on the edge of hope. And we need to do it in a comprehensive manner.

“The enforcement-only stance routinely endorsed by CIS is a short-sighted view that fails to take into account our larger national interest. It is as if they worked backwards on this report. They started from their rigid immigration stance and tried to make the facts fit their view. The problem is that it doesn’t add up. It is basically 16 pages of unproductive scapegoating, cherry picked quotes, and historical misinterpretations.

“The irony is that if you take an objective look at the data being presented, free of the author’s slanted view, it makes a pretty clear and compelling case for comprehensive immigration reform.

“There is the saying that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. Well, you can seek out a respected journalist to write a report for the Center for Immigration Studies, but at the end of the day you end up with the same old, tired, anti-immigrant extremist drivel.”

# # #

The UFCW represents 1..3 million workers, 250,000 in the meatpacking and poultry industries. UFCW members also work in the health care, garment, chemical, distillery and retail industries.

To read more about CIS’s flawed analysis, see Immigration Impact- New CIS Study: Easy Answers and Half-Baked Solutions

-or-

Immigration Policy Center- Press Release: CIS Report Gets Diagnosis Right, Cure Wrong

Labor Secretary Solis Suspends Bush’s Midnight Farm Rules

In economy, legislation on March 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Just before President Bush left office, his administration introduced a set of rules which would make it both easier and cheaper for agricultural employers to hire temporary migrant workers. Now Friday, the day that Secretary Solis was officially sworn into office, she has gone about setting things right again.

The Bush rules cut wages temporary migrant workers would receive for their labor, as well as lowered the amount employers had to contribute toward migrant travel costs.

The rules were deeply criticized by labor, farm worker, and immigrants’ rights groups, as they would further exploit the work of H2A visa holders and take jobs away from U.S. workers. Critics of the H2A guestworker programs (like FCNL) challenge the fact that guestworker programs often cause employers to make permanent jobs temporary. Moreover, the guestworker program binds a worker’s visa status to a single employer, giving the employer power over the worker and thus increasing the liklihood of exploitation.

The Bush rules only made things worse.

At FCNL, we applaud Secretary Solis for taking this first step in suspending the farm rules and upholding both immigrant and labor rights.

For more information, see the NY Times article “Labor Secretary Proposes Suspending Farm Rules.”

Last Week: In Our Community

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Immigration news and updates from February 16th- Monday February 23rd.

There was a lot of interesting coverage last week (not even including all of the great media coverage the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s prayer vigils received!), so I’ll highlight a few articles with annotations up top, and then just include a list of links after that.

TRAILER- AbUSed: The Postville Raid
While I’m going to create a separate post on this later today, I figured I’d go ahead and link to the trailer for a new documentary coming out about the immigration raid at Agroprocessors, Inc. in Postville, IA last year. This trailer is extremely powerful (I look forward to seeing the documentary in full) and demonstrates the continued devastation facing the community of Postville emotionally, economically, and spiritually.

NYT Editorial: Enforcement Gone Bad

This NY Times editorial outlines the failures of the federal government’s enforcement-only immigration strategy.

NY Times: In Lonliness, Immigrants Tend the Flock
This heartfelt article discusses the work of (legal) temporary migrant workers who come to the US to work as sheepherders in the U.S.-American West. The article notes how, in particular, the “harsh, solitary lives of foreign sheepherders in the American West have remained virtually unchanged for more than a century. And government oversight of their circumstances remains piecemeal.”

Immigrant Removed During Church Service Near Conroe, Jailed
This article tells the story of Jose Juan Hernandez who was arrested for re-entering the country after deportation while sitting in a church santurary during a church service near Conroe, TX. Hernandez had no prior record of violence. The arrest inside the church caused great controversy in the community, many of whom felt ICE’s tactics violated sacred worship.

THE HILL: Immigration Reform Advocates Push Forward in Tough Economy
This article discusses the continued push for comprehensive immigration reform in the coming year. The article provides a nice overview of the political climate on the Hill around immigration given the current state of the economy, unemployment, etc.

Conflicting Accounts of an ICE Raid in MD: Officers Portray Detention of 24 Latinos Differently in Internal Probe and in Court
This Washington Post article discusses the controversial arrests of 24 Latino men at a 7/11 in MD over two years ago. The arrests were caught on security camera footage and the footage was then obtained by the Washington Post. The footage demonstrates how ICE agents tended towards random sweeps for undocumented immigrants–which perpetuated racial profiling–rather than focusing on their stated goal of apprehending fugitive criminals.

100,000-plus Citizen Children Find Parents Deported: Serrano Releases DHS Study Showing Families Being Torn Apart
Congressman José Serrano released a study last week which he commissioned from the Department of Homeland Security showing that DHS has deported more than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children. DHS also admitted that this number could be higher if their records were more accurate. In response, Congressman Serrano has re-introduced the Child Citizen Protection Act which would take allow the courts to take family unity into account when considering the cases of parents with U.S. citizen children. For further coverage, see this Associated Press article.

Helping Workers in Hard Times
This NY Times editorial does a great job at linking protection of labor rights to undocumented immigration. Pointing out that undocumented immigrants most often fill the “most dangerous, dirty, and low-paying jobs,” the editorial argues that the best strategy to combat undocumented migration and protect U.S. workers is to “fight back against abuses that make wages and job conditions worse for everyone.”

Now for the list:

LA Times: Illegal Immigration Case Stemming from Van Nuys Work Site Raid Is Dismissed: ICE agents violated regulations in 2008 raid, judge says in ruling that could affect dozens of other cases

Washington Post: ICE Halts Detentions at Piedmont Facility After Death

Chicago Tribune: Law Allows Religious Workers More Time With Jailed Immigrants

NPR: Napolitano Outlines Immigration Priorities

Politico: Rahm’s Immigration Turnabout

NY Times: U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship

Associated Press: Supreme Court Hears Immigrant’s ID Theft Case

Texas Observer- Access Denied: Countless women are sexually assaulted as they attempt to immigrate into the United States. What happens to their reproductive rights when they wind up in U.S. custody?

Brownsville Herald: America’s Immigration Gulags Overflowing With Mentally Ill Prisoners

Guardian- America’s ‘Toughest Sheriff’ Faces Lawsuit Over Crime Crackdown: Call for Investigation into Alleged Anti-Hispanic Sweeps

Omaha World-Herald: Mom Worries as Woman Faces Deportation

NY Times: Facing Graduation, Not Deportation

Associated Press: In Enforcement Era, Communities Prepare for Raids

The Obamas Talk Immigration

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Over the past few days, both of the Obamas–Barack and Michelle–have had something to say about immigration.

On Tuesday, President Obama interviewed with El Piolín, or Eddie Sotelo, the popular radio host of El Piolín por la mañana (which is THE top ranking radio show in Los Angeles–regardless of language–and its 50 syndicated markets).

Prior to that, Michelle responded to questions about immigration when she participated in a roundtable at the Mary’s Center Teen Program.

President Obama’s telephone appearance made a number of important statements (literal and political) about immigration and, in general, to the Spanish-speaking community:

  1. Obama is keeping his promise to the Latino and Spanish-speaking community by reaching out and making sure that the community stays involved and has access to the Whitehouse
  2. Obama’s response to El Piolín’s questions demonstrated his understanding that–as studies have shown–Latinos are being disproportionately affected in the current economic crisis.
  3. Obama spoke directly about the need for immigration reform when he said:

Well, as I’ve said every time I’ve been on the show, Piolín, we’re going to make sure that we begin the process of dealing with the immigration system that’s broken. We’re going to start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens, like you did, that they are able to do it; that it’s cheaper, that it’s faster, that they have an easier time in terms of sponsoring family members.

And then we’ve got to have comprehensive immigration reform. Now, you know, we need to get started working on it now. It’s going to take some time to move that forward, but I’m very committed to making it happen. And we’re going to be convening leadership on this issue so that we can start getting that legislation drawn up over the next several months.”

Then, when Michelle visited the Mary’s Center Teen Program last week, one of her host asked her what she thought her husband and the new administration could do about the issue of family separation, that is, families being split up because one or both of the parents are deported.

She responded: “Well I think that’s something that the President has talked a lot about, in terms of immigration reform, which has to be tackled at some point, is keeping families together. So that definitely has to be a part of the conversation when we talk about any kind of immigration reform. And I think some of it is creating awareness through your own stories about, you know, the challenges that you’re facing, and, you know, what happens when you’ve got a parent who’s in one place and a parent in another, and kids who are here learning and contributing, and how important it is to make sure we keep families together. ”

Michelle also praised the passage and signing of SCHIP, a program which provides health insurance to children and last month was extended to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

I think these interviews indicate that the Obamas know the effects our broken immigration system is having on our communities. And they believe in a community response to these effects rather than defering to hate and fear.

But, as Michelle said, we also have to do our part by creating awareness of what is going on and building the political space for President Obama to bring immigration reform to the forefront of U.S. politics.

Last Week: In Our Community

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Immigration news and updates from Monday February 9th-Monday February 16th.

VIDEO: President Obama Talks About Immigration with Univision
This video shows Univision’s coverage from their interview with President Obama. The conversation discusses comprehensive immigration reform, legalization, and current enforcement practices like raids.

Political Economy of Immigration

This Border Lines blog post discusses the political economy of immigration as we enter into a new administration. In particular, the post distinguishes the politics of fear which have driven the immigration debate over the last few years from the realities of the current economy.

Bad Economy Forcing Immigrants to Reconsider U.S.
This CNN article discusses the effects the current economy is having on immigration and immigrants. With fewer jobs on the market, many immigrants are returning to their home countries; others are choosing to stick it out as their home countries have been hit even harder by the economic crisis.

Liberians Facing Mass Deportations from U.S.

On March 31st, thousands of Liberian refugees will face deportation as their Temporary Protected Status visa–which has provided many of these people with protected status in the United States for over 18 years–expires. Communities where there is a large Liberian population are questioning what will happen to their communities? To their businesses? And to the American-born children and family members that are left behind? Many Liberians fear going back to a country which drove them away in a bloody civil war and currently still faces mass unemployment.

NPR: Immigration Crackdown Overwhelms Judge

This NPR piece discusses the effects the current immigration crackdown has on the judicial system. Discussing issues from court backlogs, lack of testimony, and denied access to legal counsel, one immigration judge is quoted as saying, “For some people, these [sentences] are equivalent to death penalty cases, and we are conducting these cases in a traffic court setting.”

Feds Return for Immigration Raid
This article discusses the arrest of Julia Morales, a local pentecostal pastor in New Haven-New York, who has lived in the U.S. for a quarter of a century. A leader in the community and a person without so much as a traffic ticket on her record, the community is fuming over her arrest.

Jailed Immigrants Buoy Budgets

This article discusses what among immigration advocates is known as the “migrant military complex;” that is to say, the industry developed around the detention of migrants. As this article discusses, both public and private facilities “aggressively try to market” themselves in order to get immigrant detainees in their facilities due to the price ICE pays per day per detainee. Meanwhile, there is increasing concern about the standards of immigrant detention.

AP: Immigrant Raids Often Mark Start of Years in Limbo

This Associated Press article discusses the years of hardship that is often sparked due to immigration raids. Backlogs in the courts, as well as no legal “speedy trial” requirements as exist in criminal courts, mean that immigrants often wait years to learn the status of their immigration cases. During this time, many are held in detention, but others who continue to live in their community are not lawfully able to work. This has placed a huge burden on communities, especially churches which provide services to immigrants and their families.

Use of Federal Database for ID Checks Hits Some Bumps

This USA Today article discusses a few of the many problems caused by E-Verify, including database discrepancies, employer discrimination, lack of transparency, and its inability to address identity fraud.

E-Verify Is Out!

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2009 at 9:12 pm

As I posted last week, immigration and labor advocates have been working nonstop to track the stimulus package in the House, Senate, and Conference to make sure that participation in the E-Verify/Basic Pilot program is not made mandatory for people receiving stimulus funds.

Our work paid off!

The conference report released this morning confirmed that we managed to keep E-Verify out of the stimulus package. Page 135 of the report reads:

“The conference agreement does not include the following provisions proposed by the House: requirements for timely award of grants, use it or lose it requirements for grantees; set-asides for management and oversight; as these issues have been addressed, in certain circumstances, within the appropriate appropriating paragraphs. In addition, the conference agreement does not include the following provision proposed by the House: requirements regarding funding for the State of Illinois; and requirements for participation in E-Verify.”

Good work friends! And if our victories over SCHIP and the E-Verify say something about the future of immigration policy, things are looking good!

Last Week: In Our Community

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Immigration Priorities Questioned
As the Obama administration sets up shop, they have a lot of work to do re-examining the immigration policies set up by the Bush administration. This article outlines some of the areas that it will be most pertinent to review, including immigrant detention, workplace and residential raids, family separation, and other human rights abuses.

NEW! Report: The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance

This new report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance” outlines how three well-known DC based organizations–the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA–stand at the center of the American nativist movement. As it turns out, all three have white supremicist roots even though the first (FAIR) puts itself forward as an anti-immigrant lobbying group, the second (CIS) as an independent think tank, and the third (NumbersUSA) as a grassroots organizer. To read the full report, click here.

US Faces Challenges in the Protection of Unaccompanied Children
A recent report, “Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody,” put out by the Women’s Refugee Commission has determined that while the conditions and care of unaccompanied immigrant children in detention has improved markedly over the last six years, the U.S. still has a long way to go. To read the full report, click here.

Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted
This NY Times article discusses how, without consulting Congress, Immigration and Customs Enforcement switched its focus from apprehending dangerous criminal and terrorist suspects to finding and deporting “ordinary status violators.”

Books: Julia Alvarez embodies the human problems hidden in the politics>>Book gives voice to families caught up in immigration fights
Julia Alvarez’s new young adult book, Return to Sender, relates the complexity of global migration, in particular undocumented migration into the United States, through the eyes of a child. Getting rid of the usual bitter and angry politics of the immigration debate, this story humanizes immigration without simplifying the issue.

As the Global Economy Sinks, Tensions Over Immigration Rise

This TIME article discusses how the current economic crisis has sparked further tensions over immigration. As the article indicates, even though migrants typically do not compete for the same jobs as the native population, the current unemployment rate can create a ficitonal friction between working populations.

Immigration raid spotlights rift among the have-nots: The competition for jobs during a recession pits have-nots against have-nots

This article discusses how the current recession has deepened divides between immigrant and minority communities in the United States, as well as enboldened the work of white supremecist groups like the KKK.

The Economic Stimulus: Boosting Our Economy or Hurting Workers?

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

As I write, advocates across DC are glued to CSPAN-2 watching the Senate debate over the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Why?

Because we’re waiting to see if an amendment offered by Senator Sessions that requires all recipients of stimulus funds to use the E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program will be voted upon today.

You may wonder why we’re so concerned. Worker authorization and oversight makes sense when we’re talking about a package that will pump over $800 billion into our economy, right?

Unfortunately, in this case, it’s wrong. The E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program is known for being extremely flawed, as has been documented by three different House committees in five separate hearings.

The E-Verify program works by having employers enter the information of a recent hire into a an automated system where the social security number of the new employee is checked against the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) database. The SSA then confirms whether the social security number matches or not.

However, the Social Security Administration has admitted that 17.8 million of its records contain errors or discrepancies related to name, date of birth, and citizenship status, with 12. 7 million of those errors pertaining to US citizens. That means that a HUGE number of workers will be wrongfully non-confirmed as having authorized work status.

And the amendment offered by Senator Sessions represents a MASSIVE expansion of the program, expansion by over 75%. It would require any entity–public or private–that receives stimulus funds to use the program. That means schools, hospitals, churches, social service organizations, transportation agencies, farms, and small businesses, many of which do not currently have the E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program.

So not only would it make more difficult for workers to get jobs, it would also delay the implementation of the stimulus as we waited for all of the entities receiving stimulus funds to both get and undergo training for the E-Verify program. It would also cost an additional $10 billion to implement it nation wide and in general increase the cost of doing business. And those negative effects don’t even include the increased potential of employer abuse created by the program.

Overall, at a time when our economy needs a boost, we should not be trying to make flawed programs that hurt workers and business a mandatory part of our recovery package.

Want to learn more about FCNL’s analysis of the recovery package? Click here.

As my colleague wrote: Underwear and Sunlight, what they have in common besides a human’s need for them

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Today, like most days, when I came into work I spent the first 45 minutes of my day siphoning through news articles, op-eds, and editorials that have been emailed to me since I left work at 5:30 the day before. These help keep me up-to-date on all that is happening in the immigration realm across the country, and in turn, enable me to better inform you (once or twice a week I post a blog with what I consider the top 5-6 most recent articles that talk about how immigration affects our community. To check last week’s out, click here or here).

Today, a couple articles in particular stuck out to me. One was titled: “The Big Business of Family Detention: It’s not just alleged terrorists who are suffering from our inhumane treatment of detainees. It’s also children.” The second was called: “ICE Raids–Detention Centers Not About Immigration, All About Money!

These titles disturbed me, even though the issues the articles discuss are well-known subjects to me.

They made me think about my own trip to a local detention center about two weeks ago. Some colleagues of mine had set up the trip so that those of us who work on immigration issues here in Washington could actually see firsthand some of the situations that immigrants deal with.

Overall, the facility was quite well kept and run in an orderly fashion. The guards and superintendent of the facility were unbelievably gracious to our group, spending over 4 hours with us and answering any question that we may have. The facility didn’t appear to be the harrowing place that we hear about in so many news articles where people are abused or dying because of substandard treatment.

However, I think my colleague Katrine from NETWORK (a Catholic social justice lobby) put it best when she wrote:

“Underwear and sunlight, sunlight and underwear. The two never seemed to go together as underwear would theoretically never see sunlight nor sunlight see underwear. I thought that the only commonality was the person, wearing the underwear, basking in the sunlight. I did not realize that at Hampton Roads they would have another thing in common: their classification as non-essentials. So non-essential that the sun is to be felt only through the small crack of one window in a gym, and bras worn only if one has five or ten dollars to pay for a pair from the jail commissary. In the end, a very intriguing and educational tour came down to the simplest of things: underwear and sunlight, sunlight and underwear.”

It’s the so-called small things that immigrants are deprived of that perhaps is most shocking: underwear, sunlight. No contact visits are allowed. Spouses cannot see each other if they are in the same facility. Parents cannot hug their children. Children are born while their mothers are shackled to the bed.

And you can be in there for years.

And in some facilities, children are held wearing criminal jumpsuits. Children raised behind bars without sunlight and underwear, underwear and sunlight.

All because of civil infractions that are about equal to a traffic ticket in legal terms.

When I think about these realities in relation to the economic gain made by companies who run the immigrant detention centers like those discussed in the two articles I received today, I can’t help but envision it as a caricature in which there is a huge corrupt traffic cop with his foot on the roof of a car that he’s pulled over, holding the people inside indefinitely and charging them $200 a day for their “criminal activity.”

Except in this case, it’s a private company and not a cop. And children and families seeking better lives after economic deprivation, war-torn countries, and exploitation rather than someone who drove to fast.