Immigrant slave labor and anti-immigrant actions from Texas to Washington

DSCN4003Here’s July’s round-up of immigration news, including:

  • Immigrant slave labor in U.S.?
  • Anti-immigrant action and rhetoric: Texas to Washington
  • Federal judge: Let the children go
  • Europe and immigrants
  • Haiti: Refugees from Dominican Republic arrive
  • And in Minnesota — immigrant vitality and economic contributions

Immigrant slave labor in U.S.?

Buzzfeed’s big investigative article, H-2 Visas – the new American Slavery, detailed abuses of the H-2 visa workers — more than 100,000 temporary immigrant workers each year.

“The way H-2 visas shackle workers to a single employer leaves them almost no leverage to demand better treatment. The rules also make it easy to banish a worker to her home country at the boss’s whim. And guest workers tend to be so poor — and, often, so indebted from the recruitment fees they paid to get the job in the first place — that they feel they have no choice but to endure even the worst abuses.”

The Sacramento Bee reported settlement of two lawsuits brought by H-2 workers for nonpayment of wages, for a total of $685,000.

“After seven years of legal battling, 66 farmworkers from Mexico’s Colima state have been fully paid for work in orchards and vineyards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Even though the workers’ claims have been settled, a farm labor contractor and four growers continue to deny allegations the workers made in lawsuits that they were cheated out of pay and subjected to inhumane conditions.”

But failure to pay workers is only a small part of the problem, according to Buzzfeed’s report:

“All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wagesthreatened with gunsbeatenrapedstarved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit against Signal International ended in July with a $20 million settlement agreement of labor trafficking lawsuits:

“In February, a federal jury in New Orleans awarded $14 million in damages to five Indian guest workers represented by the SPLC, finding that the company and its agents engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. The jury also found that one of the plaintiffs was a victim of false imprisonment and retaliation.  The case was the first of the dozen lawsuits against Signal to go to trial.  Together, the suits comprised one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history. Another case was set to go to trial this month.”

Anti-immigrant action and rhetoric: Texas to Washington

In Texas, officials are refusing to issue birth certificates to U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. They can’t legally deny citizenship to the children born in the United States, so they are refusing to issue birth certificates to their parents, on the basis of their parents’ lack of documents. That effectively penalizes the children, blocking enrollment in school or health programs. See coverage from NPR and the Texas Observer.

In Washington, the House of Representatives passed an “anti-sanctuary” bill, which would deny federal law enforcement funds to “sanctuary cities.” Of course, there are no such cities, writes Michele Garnett McKenzie of the Advocates for Human Rights.

“What fear-mongering detractors call ‘sanctuary cities’ are more accurately termed separation policies. In Minnesota, these policies were developed by police departments – not by city councils or mayors – to carefully balance two important policing priorities: cooperating with federal immigration authorities while ensuring that everyone living in our communities turns to the police if they are victims of crime. They seek to assure victims that if they report a crime to the police, they will not be interrogated about civil immigration status violations if they have not themselves committed a crime. These policies help ensure that criminals who prey upon immigrants are brought to justice.”

That’s why law enforcement officials wrote to Congress opposing the “sanctuary city” penalties.

All the anti-immigrant rhetoric spewing from Congress and presidential candidates might lead one to believe that the U.S. is overrun by undocumented immigrants. Not so, reports the Pew Research Center, which finds that the 11.3 million unauthorized immigrant population in 2014 “has remained essentially stable for five years after nearly two decades of changes.” And that number is down from a high of 12.2 million about a decade ago.

Federal judge: Let the children go

A California federal district judge’s opinion may require release of thousands of immigrant families. The opinion was issued in late July, but enforcement is delayed.

The New York Times reports:

“Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California found that two detention centers in Texas that the administration opened last summer fail to meet minimum legal requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children.

“Judge Gee also found that migrant children had been held in “widespread deplorable conditions” in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had “wholly failed” to provide the “safe and sanitary” conditions required for children even in temporary cells.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had announced in June that the administration planned to end longterm detention of immigrant families. Now they will have to move on Judge Gee’s schedule: she gave the feds until August 3 to show why she shouldn’t begin to enforce the order ending detention.

Europe and immigrants

The Calais tunnel jammed in July as thousands of migrants tried to cross the English Channel to Britain. According to NPR,

“Since the start of 2015, French officials have intercepted more than 37,000 migrants who were hoping to jump on trains or trucks heading to Britain via the tunnel that’s called the Eurotunnel in France and the Channel Tunnel, or Chunnel, in Britain.”

At least 3500 tried to make the trip during the last week of July, with one migrant dying in the attempt. Other reports say that more migrants have died trying to cross to Britain. The tunnel is 31 miles long.

Migrants continue to try to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. According to BBC:

“The UN says 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa this year.

“More than 1,800 migrants have died – a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.”

Other migrants have focused on a land route into Europe by way of Greece and the West Balkans. According to the New York Times,

“But with the alternative crossing come other perils: violence, exploitation, intolerance. Though most European countries are overwhelmed by the tide, fueling an anti-immigrant backlash in many places, Eastern European countries like Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria are considered particularly hostile.”

Hungary has approved anti-migrant laws and a border fence, responding to what the Hungarian government says is the arrival of 72,000 migrants so far in 2015, compared to 42,000 last year.

In other stories of migrants and Europe:

Haiti: Refugees from Dominican Republic arrive

NPR reports that 40,000 Haitians have returned from the Dominican Republic in the first wave fleeing the DR’s crackdown on anyone of Haitian descent. Official deportations have not yet begun, but NPR reports “a growing number of refugee-style camps, springing up on the Haitian side of the border.”

And in Minnesota — immigrant vitality and economic contributions

A new report from Concordia University economist Bruce Corrie shows huge contributions to Twin Cities economic vitality from African immigrants. Corrie says that there are more African immigrants and more African immigrant-owned businesses in the Twin Cities than the Census Bureau estimates show. The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press and MinnPost all have articles highlighting various aspects of Corrie’s study. According to MinnPost:

“In addition, Corrie said, African immigrants give an estimated $14 million in charity to churches and mosques in Minnesota. They also send another $150 million to assist their loved ones who live in various places in Africa.”

The Pioneer Press also reports on specific African immigrant communities, including Cameroonian, Oromo and Eritrean communities.

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