Wednesday, July 22, 2015
In 2014, thousands of unaccompanied minors (UUMs) crossed the border into the U.S. after fleeing their home countries. These young people continue to arrive in the U.S. every day. Many of these children are placed into removal proceedings where they are at risk of being returned to the very place they fled. The U.C. Davis Immigration Law Clinic responded to the need to bring immigration relief to this vulnerable population by hiring and supervising several recent graduates providing legal assistance to UUMs in the Central Valley and other underserved areas. Continuing the work the 2014-2015 UUM fellows began, Rachel Ray ‘11, has expanded the initial work of the clinic as its new UUM Staff Attorney.
Each of Ray’s young clients fled his or her home country, arrived to the United States without his or her parents, was detained by immigration enforcement, released to a family member or friend, and is now in removal proceedings. One such client is a teenager from Honduras who elected to leave the only home she had ever known after her brother was brutally murdered. Pregnant at the time, she had no choice but to risk crossing two countries in order to live safely with her mother in California. She fears that, if she were to return to Honduras, the same people who murdered her brother will kill, kidnap, or otherwise harm her and her unborn child. With Ray’s help, this young woman will seek asylum.
Each of Ray’s cases is uniquely compelling, and each client desperately wants to stay where they feel safe: in the United States with his or her caregivers. Ray works with her clients to terminate their removal proceedings by seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, U visas, or other relief. Beginning in September 2015, a 2015 UC Davis School of Law graduate will join Ray and begin their legal career as a UUM fellow and take on an additional caseload under Ray’s supervision.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Alicia A. Caldwell of the Washington Post reports on the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today of Jim Steinle, the father of Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed while walking along the San Francisco waterfront. Steinle supports reform of the laws that he believes allowed her alleged killer to remain in the United States despite being deported several times and convicted of many crimes.
Jim Steinle says he and his family support legislation that would prevent local authorities to decide whether they will cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Kate was killed earlier this month as she and Jim Steinle walked along a San Francisco pier.
Here is Steinle's full testimony.
In response to the tragedy, conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly is advocating passage of "Kate's Law." “Pass Kate’s Law ASAP” is a petition effort that the host is promoting on Fox News. The law would declare that “undocumented aliens who are deported and return to the United States would receive a mandatory five year sentence in a federal penitentiary upon conviction.” Click here for more details.
Plaintiffs Seek En Banc D.C. Circuit Review of Panel Decision Denying Equal Citizenship in U.S. Territories
Five American Samoans and the Samoan Federation of America petitioned yesterday for the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review a June decision by a three-judge panel that constitutional citizenship by birth on U.S. soil does not apply in U.S. territories. The panel held in Tuaua v. United States that people born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa have no claim to birthright citizenship under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the United States government does not recognize them as citizens of any place. Under federal law they owe “permanent allegiance” to the United States yet are labeled with the inferior status of “non-citizen national.” Residents of other territories had a similar status prior to recognition of citizenship by federal statute. But federal statutes are subject to change, raising questions about how secure the future of citizenship may be in U.S. territories.
The panel’s opinion, authored by Judge Janice Rogers Brown and joined by Senior Judges Laurence H. Silberman and David B. Sentelle, expanded the reach of the Insular Cases, a series of controversial decisions that have been criticized by First Circuit Judge Juan Torruella as creating a doctrine of “separate and unequal” status for residents of U.S. territories. In doing so, it held that rights recognized as “fundamental” in other parts of the United States need not be recognized as “fundamental” in so-called “unincorporated” U.S. territories, a classification created by the Supreme Court at the turn of the 20th century to apply to newly acquired overseas territories. The decision raises questions about what other "fundamental rights" may not apply in U.S. territories.
“Fundamental rights should mean the same thing throughout the United States, whether one lives in a state, territory, or the District of Columbia,” said civil rights attorney Neil Weare, who argued the case in February and is President of We the People, a non-profit that advocates for equal rights and representation in U.S. territories. “The panel’s decision could have far-reaching consequences for all U.S. territories, not just American Samoa.”
As discussed at Harvard, the Supreme Court explained in 2008 that although “[t]he Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory,” it does not give them “the power to decide when and where its terms apply.” The Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush also rejected the idea that “the political branches have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will,” explaining that “[i]t may well be that over time the ties between the United States and any of its territories strengthen in ways that are of constitutional significance.”
“The panel’s dramatic departure from D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court precedent makes us hopeful that the full Court of Appeals will review this important case,” said Murad Hussain, an attorney at Arnold & Porter LLP, who also represents the plaintiffs.
People born in American Samoa are currently labeled with the inferior status of “non-citizen national,” meaning that while they carry the responsibilities of citizenship they are not guaranteed the benefits and protections of citizenship. A recent mini-documentary examined the impact of this label on an American Samoan community based in Los Angeles, where these Americans are denied the right to vote and even access to certain jobs, even as they are expected to pay the same taxes as everyone else. To enjoy the same rights as other Americans, they are required to naturalize, which can cost around $700. The denial of the right to vote is not just an individual harm, but also dilutes the voting strength of American Samoan communities across the United States. HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently examined this injustice through the use of humor and satire.
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, American Samoa had a casualty rate more than seven times the national average, higher than any state. Three of the Tuaua plaintiffs are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, including one who received two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam. Another veteran plaintiff who lives in Hawaii is not only denied the right to vote, but is also denied the right to own a firearm because he is only recognized as a national, but not a citizen. The third veteran served on the front lines during the Liberation of Kuwait, but could only sit and watch as those with whom he served voted in the 1992 Presidential election. Another plaintiff lost her job in a government agency after it was discovered that her U.S. passport stated she was not a U.S. citizen.
“I was born on U.S. soil in American Samoa, several of my children serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, yet we are still not recognized as U.S. citizens at birth. So long as American Samoa is under the U.S. flag, with our sons and daughters fighting to defend that flag, we deserve the same right to citizenship enjoyed by every other American,” said Leneuoti Tuaua, lead plaintiff in Tuaua v. United States. As a young man, Mr. Tuaua was denied the opportunity to pursue a career in law enforcement in California, where U.S. citizenship is a job requirement.
The panel’s decision relied on the fact that American Samoa’s government and non-voting Delegate to Congress have opposed the case based on the view that the question of citizenship in American Samoa should be answered by Congress, not the Constitution.
“The full D.C. Circuit will have the opportunity to get right what the panel got so wrong about American Samoa’s history and people. When American Samoa’s traditional leaders transferred sovereignty to the United States in 1900 and 1904, they believed citizenship was part of the deal. Decades of struggle to get Congress to recognize American Samoans as citizens failed and American Samoans have been relegated to a second class status within the United States. That’s why court action is needed today,” said Attorney Charles Ala’ilima, who also represents the plaintiffs. “Five generations of American Samoans have been born with allegiance only to the United States, and our culture continues to thrive in the face of new challenges and opportunities. The concerns raised by American Samoa’s leaders today are misplaced—recognition of citizenship would not have any adverse effect on our land, culture, or political self-determination.”
Previously filing as amicus curiae in support of the plaintiffs were a group of prominent citizenship scholars represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Members of Congress and former government officials from U.S. territories represented by Covington & Burling LLP, and David Cohen, an American Samoan who served as the highest ranking Pacific Islander in the George W. Bush Administration, represented by Jenner & Block LLP. A group of prominent scholars of constitutional law and legal history, represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, filed on behalf of neither party, but argued that the Insular Cases should not govern this case. All court filings are available here.
It is expected that the D.C. Circuit will rule on the Plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing en banc in the next several months. If the petition is granted, a new round of briefing may follow. If the petition is rejected, then plaintiffs will consider whether to appeal the panel’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that Wisconsin dairy farmers are pushing for immigration reform because they need a federal labor policy that guarantees they will have enough employees to maintain and expand their businesses. By some estimates, nearly half or more of the hired help on U.S. dairy farms is immigrant labor — with a large percentage of those workers being undocumented. Without the foreign help, some farmers say, they would be forced to quit milking cows because there aren't enough other people willing to do such physically demanding work.
Monday, July 20, 2015
In the wake of the tragic death few weeks ago in San Francisco, Lizet Ocampo of the Center for American Progress has released "Federal-Local Coordination on Immigration Enforcement: Prioritizing Public Safety."
With the U.S. undocumented population totaling an estimated 11 million people, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, must determine how to prioritize their resources in order to enforce immigration law. Given that most immigrants have deep community ties—having lived in the country for more than 10 years and having made substantial contributions to both U.S. society and the economy—the Obama administration has focused on specific enforcement priorities, which include national security threats and convicted violent criminals.
As the federal government has tailored its enforcement priorities, states and localities also have a strong need to prioritize resources for the benefit of public safety. In response, they have worked to create community trust policies: individualized polices that determine what is best for local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
Read the entire analysis and see our recommendations here.
It seems fair to say that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff's Office have been defendants in a considerable number of civil rights cases in recent years. In one of the many cases, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced last Friday that it has reached a partial settlement in its civil rights lawsuit against Maricopa County, Arizona, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio. The settlement resolves the United States’ claims that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) conducted unlawful detentions of Hispanics during worksite raids of local businesses in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments, and retaliated against critics of Sheriff Arpaio and MCSO in violation of the First Amendment. The parties have filed a joint motion requesting that the federal district court in Arizona approve and agree to enforce the settlement agreement. The parties also reached a separate settlement resolving the United States’ claim that MCSO failed to provide adequate language access for limited English-proficient Hispanics in MCSO jails in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The resolution of these claims, with the important safeguards against future constitutional violations included in these agreements, is in the best interests of the people of Maricopa County,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office changed many of their practices after the commencement of our litigation, and these agreements ensure that progress continues and the Constitutional rights of the people of Maricopa County will be protected for the long term.”
Under the agreements, MCSO will comply with the following measures, ensuring that its activities comport with federal law and the Constitution:
Before MCSO may conduct any worksite raids, it must first establish a set of written policies and protocols and submit them to the Civil Rights Division for review, to ensure that the worksite raids comply with all applicable laws and constitutional protections. If MCSO conducts a worksite raid, the Civil Rights Division may request any information and documents to determine whether the operation was conducted consistently with federal law and the Constitution.
MCSO will prohibit retaliation against individuals engaging in First Amendment protected activity, such as public criticism of Sheriff Arpaio or the MCSO.
MCSO must ensure that limited English-proficient (LEP) Hispanic inmates in MCSO jails have adequate language access and are protected from unlawful, national origin-based discrimination. These measures include:
Improving MCSO’s policies and practices for identifying LEP inmates;
Ensuring that LEP inmates have adequate access to language assistance services, such as bilingual staff, telephonic interpretation services and Spanish-language translations of important written policies and postings in the jails; and
Requiring that all vital announcements in MCSO facilities be made in both English and Spanish; and
Requiring MCSO to take reasonable steps to ensure that medical staff are informed if an inmate needing medical attention is LEP and requires language assistance.
As part of the agreements, if the Civil Rights Division determines that MCSO is not in substantial compliance with any provision of the agreements, it will attempt to first resolve the issue with MCSO; if the Civil Rights Division is unable to cooperatively resolve the compliance issues, however, it may bring appropriate enforcement actions before the federal district court in Arizona.
The agreements resolve the majority of the claims involved in the division’s lawsuit, filed in May 2013, against Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County. That lawsuit alleged four patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct:
(1) discriminatory policing against Hispanic persons in MCSO’s saturation patrols, general traffic enforcement and worksite operations targeting Hispanic immigrants,
(2) detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment during MCSO’s worksite raids targeting Hispanic immigrants,
(3) failures in the provision of language access to Hispanic LEP jail inmates and
(4) retaliatory police action against critics of Sheriff Arpaio and MCSO.
Last month, the federal district court of Arizona granted the United States’ motion for partial summary judgment on its discriminatory policing claim, finding that the United States was entitled to judgment on its claims that MCSO had engaged in discrimination against Hispanics in its enforcement of traffic laws. A remedy on that issue is still to be determined by the court. The parties are in ongoing discussions to resolve the remaining claims in the division’s lawsuit.
The agreements, as well as a description of the division’s previous investigation of and litigation against the Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County, will be available here.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
The United States has long had a variety of "guest worker" programs. But at least from the Bracero Program on, there also have been problems ensuring adherence to that wage, condition, and other protections. Consequently, some commentators are skeptical about new or expanded guest worker programs in any immigration reform proposal.
Danny Walsh of the Sacramento Bee tells a cautionary tale about abuses of guest workers. After seven years of legal battling, a group of 66 farmworkers from Mexico state have been fully paid for work in orchards and vineyards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 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. The final tally of the settlements: $685,000 paid by the defendants; $491,871 to the workers as wages, penalties and interest, and $193,129 to their attorneys as fees and expenses.
The Mexican laborers had come to the Sacramento Valley on temporary work permits known as H-2A visas, arranged by the contractor with the support of the growers.
Cynthia Rice, an attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., was lead counsel for the workers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a statement earlier this week about the Board of Immigration Appeals decision to no longer request amicus curiae briefs from the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group calling for reductions to immigration to the United States. The SPLC and other groups urged the board to stop providing this platform to FAIR. For years, the BIA requested legal briefs from FAIR to consider in its decisions.
The SPLC and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) submitted an amicus brief in June urging the board to stop soliciting briefs from FAIR. Six other organizations signed the brief. It was filed in a case currently before the BIA – Silva-Trevino v. Holder – and described how requesting amicus briefs from FAIR gives a forum to hate and extremism. It warns that the group’s extremist views may influence judgments in immigrants’ cases.
The BIA later announced it will no longer request briefs from FAIR. The group will still be allowed to submit briefs to the board as a member of the public.
“For far too long the BIA has operated under the mistaken idea that it is appropriate to provide a forum for an anti-immigrant hate group in the name of soliciting a counterpoint to the immigration issues being debated,” said Matt Adams, NWIRP legal director.
Six other organizations signed the amicus brief, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus; ASISTA; The Center for New Community; LatinoJustice PRLDEF; League of United Latin American Citizens and the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project.
Click here for more on this story.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
The popular 2013 film Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks no doubt got many people thinking about lawlessness on the high seas. If it did pique your interest, be sure to check out Ian Urbina's upcoming series in the New York Times titled The Outlaw Ocean. The first installment in the series is Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship. Here is part of the introduction:
If you've been following the Texas v. United States litigation, you know that the USCIS erroneously issued something like 2,100 three-year work authorization permits after Judge Hanen issued an injunction against the program. USCIS is now trying to recall those permits. And there will be serious repercussions for those who do not turn in their permits by the end of the month.
NOTE: The recall applies only to any Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued after February 16, 2015. For more information, check out the USCIS fact sheet.
AILA has helpful printable materials for spreading the word.
* This post has been revised to correct the number of work authorizations affected.* (7-19-15)
Friday, July 17, 2015
American diners began to flock to Chinese restaurants more than a century ago, making Chinese food the first mass-consumed cuisine in the United States. By 1980, it had become the country's most popular ethnic cuisine. Chop Suey, USA offers the first comprehensive interpretation of the rise of Chinese food, revealing the forces that made it ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape and turned the country into an empire of consumption.
Engineered by a politically disenfranchised, numerically small, and economically exploited group, Chinese food's tour de America is an epic story of global cultural encounter. It reflects not only changes in taste but also a growing appetite for a more leisurely lifestyle. Americans fell in love with Chinese food not because of its gastronomic excellence but because of its affordability and convenience, which is why they preferred the quick and simple dishes of China while shunning its haute cuisine. Epitomized by chop suey, American Chinese food was a forerunner of McDonald's, democratizing the once-exclusive dining-out experience for such groups as marginalized Anglos, African Americans, and Jews.
The rise of Chinese food is also a classic American story of immigrant entrepreneurship and perseverance. Barred from many occupations, Chinese Americans successfully turned Chinese food from a despised cuisine into a dominant force in the restaurant market, creating a critical lifeline for their community. Chinese American restaurant workers developed the concept of the open kitchen and popularized the practice of home delivery. They streamlined certain Chinese dishes, such as chop suey and egg foo young, turning them into nationally recognized brand names.
About the Author
Yong Chen, raised by his food-loving mother in China, is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and served as the institution's associate dean of graduate studies. Among his numerous publications are Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943: A Trans-Pacific Community. He co-curated a museum exhibit on the history of Chinese restaurants in the United States, and his commentaries on food, immigration, and Sino-American relations appear frequently in the media in four languages.
It has been a week of wonders and woes for individuals authorized to work under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a special deferred action program implemented in 2012. The legal authority for permitting DACA recipients to work comes from a regulation issued during the Ronald Reagan administration that applies to "An alien who has been granted deferred action, an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority, if the alien establishes an economic necessity for employment."
This regulation applies not only to qualifying DACA grantees but to thousands of noncitizens who have been granted deferred action based on their equities like the presence of a United States Citizen dependent and/or vulnerabilities such as being a victim of domestic violence. Indeed, deferred action is one form of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law and enjoys a long history. The importance of work authorization to DACA recipients was analyzed in a groundbreaking study by Tom Wong, National Immigration Law Center and Center for American Progress. The study analyzed a nationwide survey of DACA recipients and reveals that 76% of respondents are currently employed and that 69 percent of respondents moved to a job with better pay after receiving DACA.
The week has also brought woes to this same population. In response to a threat by a U.S. District Judge to hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in contempt for inadvertently issuing or (re)mailing some 2500 three-year work permits to DACA recipients after the date of a court injunction on a new version of DACA, DHS issued letters to affected individuals and a Fact Sheet advising those who received such a permit to return them or else report to a local office and/or face termination. Specifically, the Fact Sheet says: "If you keep the invalid three-year card, USCIS will terminate your DACA and all employment authorizations, and may consider your actions as a negative factor in weighing any future requests for deferred action, or any other discretionary requests." According to the Fact Sheet and officials, USCIS will also make phone calls and home visits to affected DACA recipients who have not yet returned their three-year work permits.
A second challenge with work authorization for dreamers is the processing delays with properly filed applications for a renewal of DACA and work authorization. According to the Annual Report of the CIS Ombudsman, the office worked to resolve more than 1500 cases involving such delays. According to the annual report "Requests for assistance came from a young man supporting a disabled parent, a new public school teacher in the Midwest, a low-income applicant facing eviction from his apartment an expectant mother about to lose her health benefits due to the imminent loss of employment caused by delays in her DACA renewal."
Work authorization is the lifeline for noncitizens seeking to meet their basic needs and contribute to the United States in meaningful ways. Yet, a rational policy discussion about work authorization for DACA recipients or even additional recipients of prosecutorial discretion have been usurped by litigation and fears in the community and within DHS about the future.
Professor Wadhia is the Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, law professor, and director of the Center for Immigrants' Rights at Penn State Law and author of "Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases" (New York University Press, 2015).
I have been pondering a question lately – who of all the current Presidential would be the best on immigration?
We no doubt all know by where current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump stands. Jeb Bush has written a book on immigration reform. Hillary Clinton expresses support for immigration reform; however, she was quick last week to blast San Francisco and its sanctuary law in the sad case of Kate Steinle, which makes me worry where she will be when the immigration debate gets tough.
Some of my progressive friends are enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, but he has said little about immigration reform and immigration generally. Given that immigration is the civil rights issue of our century, a candidate’s stand on it in these turbulent times is important.
At the outset, I must have found myself generally in agreement with Senator Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) positions on immigration, including his support for comprehensive immigration reform, denunciation of Donald Trump as a “demagogue”, and his refusal to use deportation “to destroy families for the hell of it.”
Roque Planas on Huffington Post recently reported on the immigration positions of a candidate who sounds promising on immigration, Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and Mayor of Baltimore. O'Malley declared his candidacy at the end of May. His website offers very detailed and sensible immigration reform proposals that no other candidate has matched to this point.
O’Malley recently said he’d widen the scope of deferred action policies that shield qualified undocumented immigrants from deportation, notably to include undocumented parents of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients -- a group that the Obama administration did not grant relief. He also said he would drastically scale down the use of immigrant detention, calling it a “last resort” that should only be used to detain people who present a public security threat. He pledged to eliminate a congressionally mandated detention bed quota that requires the federal government to maintain the capacity to lock up at least 34,000 in immigrant detention. His proposals also touched on less discussed elements of immigration policy that nevertheless have a major impact on immigrants' lives. Those who have lived in the country unlawfully, but want to adjust their status, currently have to return to their country of origin for years before qualifying for a visa. O’Malley said the requirement should be eliminated.
Carving out perhaps the most liberal position on immigration among the candidates vying for their parties' presidential nominations would put O’Malley directly at odds with many Republicans and some Democrats who say Congress should prioritize border security before normalizing the immigration status of undocumented immigrants. O’Malley said border security is important, but that the overriding concern for both the economy and national security was bringing the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows” so they can contribute to the economy without fear of being separated from their families. Such policies, O’Malley said, are “not only important for newly arriving immigrants -- they’re important for everyone."
The latest Fox News polls show Donald Trump, who has sought to capitalize on immigration in a way that no respectable politician has done in more than a generation, on top of the Republican pack of presidential candidates.
Donald Trump 18 percent
Scott Walker 15 percent
Jeb Bush 14 percent
Thursday, July 16, 2015
While Donald Trump is going from coast to coast attacking Mexican immigrants and calling for a border wall, the Pew Resource Center provides some important facts about undocumented immigration from Mexico:
1. The number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined.
2. More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in 2014, the first time on record this has happened.
3, Even as border apprehensions dropped, deportations of Mexican immigrants reached a record high in 2013 of 314,904, up from 169,031 in 2005.
4. Mexican unauthorized immigrants are more likely than unauthorized immigrants overall to work in the construction industry and less likely to work in services.
5. Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up at least 75% of the total unauthorized immigrant population in 10 states: New Mexico (89%), Arizona (84%), Idaho (83%), Wyoming (82%), Colorado (78%), Oklahoma (76%), Wisconsin (76%), Kansas (75%), Oregon (75%) and Texas (75%).
In 2013, more than 25 million people in the United States reported limited English proficiency (LEP), an 80 percent increase since 1990. The LEP population, the majority of which is immigrant, is generally less educated and more likely to live in poverty than the English-proficient population. This Migration Information Source Spotlight explores key indicators of the LEP population, both U.S. and foreign born, including geographic distribution, language diversity, and employment.
A $20 million settlement agreement has been reached to resolve numerous labor trafficking lawsuits – lead by the Southern Poverty Law Center – against Signal International, a Gulf Coast marine services company that was found liable by a federal jury earlier this year for defrauding and exploiting workers it lured from India. The company will issue an apology to guest workers who also sued in Texas and Louisiana. The agreement, if approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, would resolve the 11 lawsuits still facing the company, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Those lawsuits represent more than 200 workers with the same claims as those of the workers in the successful SPLC lawsuit tried earlier this year.
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 American history. Another case was set to go to trial this month.
Crowell & Moring, LLP, served as the SPLC’s co-counsel in the trial along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute. The legal team was honored for its work on the case in Montreal last night when it received the Public Justice Foundation’s Trial Lawyer of the Year award.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Signal used the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program to import nearly 500 men from India to work as welders, pipefitters and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities.
The workers each paid the labor recruiters and a lawyer between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after recruiters promised good jobs, green cards and permanent U.S. residency for them and their families. Most sold property or plunged their families deeply into debt to pay the fees.
When the men arrived at Signal shipyards, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards or permanent residency that had been promised. The company also forced them each to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer. None of the company’s non-Indian workers were required to live in the company housing.
Under the guest worker program, workers are not allowed to change jobs if they are abused but face the loss of their investment if they are fired or quit. An economist who reviewed the company’s records estimated the company saved more than $8 million in labor costs by hiring the Indian workers at below-market wages.
In March 2007, some of the SPLC’s clients were illegally detained by the company’s private security guards during a pre-dawn raid of their quarters. Two were detained for the purpose of deporting them to India in retaliation for complaining about the abuses and meeting with workers’ rights advocates. One worker was so distraught he attempted suicide. The SPLC filed suit in 2008.
The other lawsuits facing Signal International and its agents were filed after a judge did not grant class action status in the SPLC case, which would have allowed the suit to benefit most of Signal’s guest workers. The SPLC coordinated an unprecedented legal collaboration that brought together nearly a dozen of the nation’s top law firms and civil rights organizations to represent, on a pro bono basis, workers excluded from the original SPLC suit.
The SPLC documented the abuses within the nation’s broken H-2B guest worker program and the desperate need for reform in its report Close to Slavery. It found that guest workers are routinely subjected to human trafficking, cheated out of wages and held virtually captive by employers or labor brokers who seize their documents.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The White House has come out with a new report entitled "Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century." It's a full 48 pages, counting the appendices.
Broadly speaking, the report recommends "modernizing our system for efficiency and accessibility," "streamlining our legal immigration system," and "strengthening our humanitarian system."
The modernizing suggestions seem like no brainers. Here are just two:
- Create a cross-agency digital services team to support the implementation of the modernized immigrant visa project, which is aimed at improving the visa applicant experience and increasing efficiencies in the adjudication process through digitization
- Convene a communications task force to create clearer, plain-language instructions
In terms of "streamlining," things get a into territory that's less straightforward. I'm not sure that these suggestions are about streamlining at all but rather policy choices the correctness of which are subject to debate. Case in point:
- Improve integrity and increase the minimum investment for immigrant investor visas
Finally, in terms of our humanitarian system, one suggestion highlighted an area of concern that was new to me (and certainly seems like the right thing to do):
- Allow certain family members of Filipino veterans, who are currently in the family immigration backlogs, to seek parole so they can care for these aging veterans
I have to note that Wired magazine covers the "modernizing" prong in a beautifully titled article: How Better Tech Can Make the Immigration Process Suck Less. A lofty goal, indeed.