May 27, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Media Matters Action Network released their highly anticipated report on Lou Dobbs, Glen Beck, and Bill O’Reilly. Fear and Loathing in Prime Time, written by MMAN Senior Researcher Paul Waldman is a must read for immigrant advocates.
In addition to taking on the common myths repeated endlessly by these and other TV and radio talkers, they also have a petition, in English and Spanish, which reads:
I call on the following hosts to stop feeding anti-immigrant hysteria by repeating myths and misleading claims about undocumented immigrants…Further, I call on the following cable news channels to step up and provide the American public with a fair and accurate portrayal of immigration issues.
It also gives you the opportunity to send the petition with a comment.
As you might expect from one of the thinnest skins in broadcasting, Mr. Dobbs is not taking the report well. The next day, Lou called Paul Waldman onto the proverbial carpet as a guest on his show. The Center for American Progress’ Think Progress blogs about that here, and TIME’s Joe Klein (aka “Anonymous”) blogs about it here.
When the National Immigration Forum mentioned Mr. Dobbs in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Dobbs’s producer was inviting the author on for a dressing down by Dobbs by 4:00 p.m. that day. The segment was scheduled, but Dobbs apparently backed down because CNN failed to follow up. Perhaps he had someone better to yell at that day.
Don’t miss this item from Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts on the wife of a local policeman, shot to death by an immigrant in the country illegally, who is calling for compromise and comprehensive immigration reform:
The woman stepped to the podium and faced a phalanx of television cameras in a room packed with reporters. She had no notes and needed none.
“This country,” she said, “is in need of comprehensive immigration reform.”
In certain circles, she would be immediately branded a member of the open borders crowd, a traitor who sides with those who seek to turn our country into Mexico.
That’s how it is with the illegal immigration debate, where there is black and there is white and there is absolutely nothing in between.
You’re either for us or against us; red, white and true blue or a lover of the lawless.
And yet there is Julie Erfle, a woman who has more of a right to outrage than any of us. — Laurie Robert’s Arizona Republic Blog, “A murdered officer’s widow speaks out, “ May 24, 2008
It is a very powerful story about a powerful messenger.
Last but not least, as part of their fantastic series on immigration at AlterNet.Org, today’s postings include an article by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, and former Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. The article dissects and analyzes what went wrong with comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 and what needs to happen to get it back on the table early in the new President’s term.
May 21, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
A few items of interest today that we wanted to flag. First, Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a coalition managed by Sojourners, has posted a 5:30 minute video on YouTube about the Postville, Iowa raids, the impact on the community, the role churches are playing, what the workers experienced, and how horrible the working conditions really are.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) has a story today that goes deeper into the hiring practices and working conditions of Agriprocessors, the business that was raided, with interviews with several former workers.
“They were constantly pushing us and forcing us to work faster,” Yolanda said through a translator. “They were very abusive, screaming a lot.”
Yolanda’s sister Maria, 32, said she resisted the sexual advances of a Guatemalan supervisor who tried to force himself on her in a car. In the days that followed, Maria, who describes herself as a diligent worker, was accused of coming late to work and was denied overtime pay. […]
Maria eventually complained and the supervisor was fired. But other workers appeared to keep quiet about alleged mistreatment out of fear they would be turned over to the authorities.
“There was such fear in that community that they were afraid to go talk to anybody,” said Kevin Williamson, the international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. – “As Agriprocessors scrambles to keep plant open, former workers speak out,” by Ben Harris, JTA, May 21, 2008
Yesterday, a press conference in Washington with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus featured Sister Kathy Thill of Waterloo who offered her moving perspective on the Postville raid. Here is a snippet of the Des Moines Register’s story:
The Catholic nun has assisted immigrant families there following the detainment of 389 workers at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant.
She is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas who works with Latino families in Iowa.
“I am also a United States citizen who grew up believing that this is a democratic country in which the dignity of all people is respected and their rights protected,” she said Tuesday at a news conference here, surrounded by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“This is not the country I experienced this past week.”
Thill, several times choking up with emotion, told of the shock and distress of immigrants who gathered at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church the day of the raid.
“Hundreds of families were torn apart by this raid,” she said….”The humanitarian impact of this raid is obvious to anyone in Postville,” Thill said. “The economic impact will soon be evident.” – “Immigrants feel distress, shock, nun says,” by Jane Norman, Des Moines Register, May 21, 2008
The press conference followed a hearing on immigration and workplace raids in the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The Des Moines Register and Workforce Management magazine each wrote stories worth a read.
Also yesterday, the Senate acted late in the evening to strip out the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act (EARA), which would give U.S. growers greater access to legal migrant workers. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Larry Craig (R-ID), is essentially a scaled down version of the bipartisan AgJOBS bill crafted through lengthy negotiations between labor and business. The amendment to the Senate War Supplemental Appropriations Bill was endorsed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week on a 17-12 bipartisan vote, but was removed procedurally last night.
But not before an excellent Wall Street Journal editorial was published explaining EARA and supporting its inclusion in the spending bill.
The hotter this issue became in recent years, the more Congress dithered. That has had real consequences, as the agriculture labor shortage manifested itself repeatedly across the industry. Back in 2006, we saw pear crops in Northern California rot because migrant laborers couldn’t be found in sufficient numbers. Last year, a single county in western Michigan lost a million pounds of asparagus. But the more insidious problem is that the labor shortage is impacting what is planted in the first place. Or not planted.
Some growers scale back on their harvesting; a crew moves through an orchard just once to pick the best fruit, instead of moving through the land multiple times to pick nearly everything. Other growers decide to switch from producing high-value, nonsubsidized fruits and vegetables to producing low-value, highly subsidized row crops merely because the latter is less labor intensive. Still other growers are moving production offshore, reasoning that if they can’t find the labor stateside, they’ll go where labor is more plentiful. – “Farm Help Wanted,” Wall Street Journal editorial, May 21, 2008 (pay site)
Finally, the New York Times editorial blog (“The Board”) has a bit more on the outrageous story out of Texas that the Border Patrol intends to maintain immigration checkpoints even during an evacuation due to a natural disaster.
The word was out that the Border Patrol would be checking citizenship at evacuation centers, screening out illegal immigrants before evacuees boarded buses. Who cares if it’s a hurricane — it would still be “business as usual” for the Border Patrol, the agency’s local spokesman said.
Wow. That’s hard-core. Even in a country that is becoming inured to the relentless pursuit and harassment of undocumented immigrants, it is mind-boggling to consider what the spokesman, Dan Doty, was suggesting:
Winds may be howling, floodwaters rising and rescuers in McAllen and Brownsville scrambling to get 100,000 to 150,000 sick, elderly, poor and disabled people to safety as quickly as possible — but if Grandma doesn’t have her papers, she isn’t getting on the bus. – “Hurricanes, Citizenship, and the Makings of an Unnatural Disaster, May 20, 2008
As Lou Dobbs would say, “Incredible!,” but since this is a story about the folly of the deportation-only approach to immigration, Lou probably won’t be saying anything of the kind anytime soon.
Our hearts and minds remain fixated on the health of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). With shenanigans like this going on, we need you back, Ted, ASAP.
May 20, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Looking at today’s clips, we came across a few stories that everyone should check out. First up is the Los Angeles Times editorial on the recent revelations about immigrants in detention. The Times editorial said, in part:
ICE maintains that few people actually die in detention centers, and that may be true, but it doesn’t account for people such as Castaneda, who die after leaving custody. And then, ICE isn’t exactly forthcoming on the subject. When Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) asked the agency for a list of the dead, it told her no. She obtained one from the New York Times. Lofgren has introduced HR 5950, the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act, a bill that would require Homeland Security to establish mandatory standards for basic healthcare in all detention centers. It also would require the department to report deaths to the inspectors general of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice within 48 hours….Mandating humanity shouldn’t be necessary, and Homeland Security could do this on its own, but it won’t, so this bill is needed. Our treatment of immigrants, illegal or otherwise, shouldn’t include watching them die. – “Immigrants detained to death,” Los Angeles Times editorial, May 20, 2008.
A response to the Washington Post and New York Times stories on immigrant and asylee deaths in detention by Julie Myers, assistant secretary of DHS for ICE, appeared in today’s Washington Post.
Must read number 2 (and 3) comes from the Houston Chronicle. Local columnist Lisa Falkenberg calls our attention to a recent announcement from the Department of Homeland Security that in the case of an emergency evacuation for a natural disaster in Texas, the Border Patrol will use checkpoints to check the immigration status of every evacuee.
Take a moment to recall the chaos.
The claustrophobic caravan of cars, trucks and SUVs creeping along a highway evacuation route-turned-prison with hundreds of thousands — by some estimates, millions — of men, women and children trapped in the steamy confines.
Recall the overheating engines, gas tanks bled dry, pumps tapped out. I’m still haunted by the image of one woman who carried the limp body of a toddler in her arms as she ran from car to car in search of water.
Now take those memories of the 2005 evacuation before Hurricane Rita and add another obstacle: a Border Patrol checkpoint at which each and every car would be stopped, drivers questioned, suspicious vehicles searched while those behind languish in the logjam.
That’s the plan, announced last week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in the event of a hurricane evacuation of the Rio Grande Valley. – “Evacuation hurdles are a threat to all,” Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg, May 20, 2008.
Sometimes America’s enforcement zeal to deal with the reality that we do not have adequate legal immigration channels is silly, as when House Republicans attached an anti-illegal immigration rider to a Native American Housing Bill. Sometimes it is just a huge overreach, as with the “No work list” addressed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial below. This one sounds down right deadly. Qué negocio!! What craziness!!
Must read number 3 also comes from the Houston Chronicle, which ran a story today about a new Texas study that asks the question: “If we got rid of all immigrants in the country that are here illegally, what would be the damage to our economy?” The answer, according to the Perryman Group, is that the economy would lose $1.8 trillion in annual spending.
These are just some of the findings from a study done by the Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic analysis firm, whose work was commissioned by Americans for Immigration Reform, a group spearheaded by the Greater Houston Partnership.
Houston’s business community is trying to revive the politically charged immigration reform debate that has stalled in Congress. It plans to raise $12 million by December to fund a campaign for reform and thus far it says it has raised about 10 percent of that goal in pledges.
The government has recently increased enforcement, with raids at work sites and plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But getting rid of all undocumented immigrants would hurt, not help the economy, Charles Foster, an immigration attorney and chairman of Americans for Immigration Reform, said Monday.
“If you do that, you would have serious economic upset,” Foster said.
He said immigration reform needs to give employers a method of hiring immigrants legally.
“We need comprehensive reform that looks at our needs and addresses those needs,” said Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, which examined data for 500 sectors of the economy, Census Bureau surveys and other data to arrive at its conclusions. – “Price put at $1.8 trillion,” by Jenalia Moreno, Houston Chronicle, May 20, 2008.
Finally, we missed a gem of an editorial last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which joined the chorus of those looking at various proposals to mandate national use of the experimental government database known as E-Verify and saying, like many Members of Congress, “Wait a second; It does what??!!??”
One House bill would expand nationwide a pilot program, E-Verify, having employers use the Social Security database to verify legal status. It supposes bringing more than 7 million employers online over four years, requiring a one-time verification of an estimated 160 million existing workers and all new hires at a rate of 50 million to 55 million a year.
Unfortunately, this bill also supposes that an agency currently underfunded, understaffed and trying to deal with a crushing backlog in claims is suddenly going to become an effective arm of immigration enforcement.
Three words: Not gonna happen. Not without exorbitant costs to the federal budget and not without undermining a Social Security Administration that is facing the retirement of 77 million Baby Boomers.
Oh yes, the database also has a reported error rate of 4.1% that will ensnare workers who are here legally. In all likelihood, businesses will cut these employees loose rather than patiently wait for resolution. – “Permission to work, sir,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, May 16, 2008.
May 20, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
On behalf of the National Immigration Forum, the ImmPolitic blog, and all those who believe immigration is one of the best things about America, we extend our prayers and thoughts to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and his family. The AP announced today that he has been diagnosed with a tumor and all of us who work on immigration – and all of us period – wish him a speedy recovery. He is one of the most important voices for sane and generous policies towards immigrants and refugees, and one of the greatest defenders of the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden in every corner of the world.
May 19, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Over the weekend and today, a number of opinion columnists and editorial pages have begun to look more closely at the twin stories from last week – the raids and detention conditions expose – and what they tell us about the state of America’s immigration system. Here are a few examples.
The Washington Post editorial page Saturday, under the clever headline “Detention Deficit,” recounted some of the most egregious highlights of the Post’s series, concluding:
Human error cannot always be avoided, but continuing to underfund and understaff the medical care system for these detainees only increases the chances of an unnecessary tragedy. The law requires that those in U.S. custody be given adequate treatment. Simple decency demands no less. (link)
New York Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz dedicated his Sunday column to the detention “scandal” saying in part:
The human rights scandal that immigration has become gets worse with every new revelation of official abuse, neglect and lack of accountability…Over the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that the scandal goes beyond the raids that terrorize thousands of immigrant families, or the hodgepodge of local - and often racist - anti-immigrant laws that have emerged after Congress failed to pass a rational immigration law. – “Immigration’s Human Rights Shame Is Now Moral Crisis”
Although some national media (link, link, link, and link) have begun to focus on the immense impact of ICE’s Postville raid, it has been those closest to the action in Iowa that have been paying the most attention. For example, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald’s editorial page asked Friday what will happen to the employer:
This is a broken system. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are trying to enforce the laws in the wake of Congress’ utter failure to reform the country’s immigration policy….But enforcement must extend to the employers who exploit undocumented workers. At Agriprocessors, we are not talking about a worker or two who sneaked into a job. We are talking about nearly half the employer’s work force. In the case of Agriprocessors, the undercover source even witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse against a worker. Yet the focus of the sweep has been to gather up illegal workers, not to investigate the company. – “Agriprocessors should face charges as well”
And finally, the last word goes to the Des Moines Register editorial page, which made the connection between our broken immigration system, the critical need for reform, and the massive raid in nearby Postville:
It’s time to look at immigration reform as more than a political problem. It’s an economic and a social problem, as Postville illustrates. The U.S. work force needs the labor of new immigrants as it faces a shortage with baby-boomer retirements. The country needs the vitality that new immigrants bring to communities…The nation needs higher, realistic immigration quotas to meet work-force demands. It needs a flexible guest-worker program. It needs a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are otherwise in good standing… Then there would be less need for raids like the one in Postville. – “Raid a reminder of need for reform”
As unfortunate as these raids are, perhaps they will focus more people on the need for reform so that we can prevent the type of disruption we are seeing in Iowa and the type of shameful detention standards we see every week.
May 15, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
When the Washington Post revealed the appalling conditions facing our returning soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in March 2007, a national outcry arose, senior government officials were fired, and changes were made.
Now when the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS News, and others spotlight deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, the state of medical care for detainees, and the drugging of those in ICE custody to sedate them for deportation, will we see a similar outcry?
Our understanding is that a report is pending from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will further expose the issue of deaths in detention. Meanwhile, detainees like Roxanne Brown, held in a facility at SEA-TAC Airport in Washington, continue to die.
So far, the response from ICE has been something less than outraged.
The detention of individuals who are unlawfully present in the United States and pending removal raises strong opinions and merits a more balanced view. We regret that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and “60 Minutes” have failed to provide such balanced reporting. This website and its contents are meant to correct the record and provide a comprehensive overview of ICE’s commitment to detainee health care.
Compare this with March 2007, when Defense SecretaryRobert Gates, shortly before firing Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey for his handling of the Walter Reed debacle, stated:
The care and welfare of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government…When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command.
And Secretary Gates made good on that statement.
And what does DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff or the President have to say and when do they plan to say it? Who will get fired and when?
One final point, this week we saw the largest ICE raid in the nation’s history as 300 plus detainees were marched to a makeshift detention facility in Postville, Iowa after their meat plant was raided. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been one national network news story. Generally, any enforcement action resulting in 300 arrests would be cause for countless hours of cable reporting. Do we simply tune these actions out when it is immigrants who are arrested, detained, or denied due process? Have we become comfortably numb?
Secretary Michael Chertoff is right to feel disappointment that the Senate immigration reform proposal he helped craft and shepherd died at the hands of his own party. Yet he has taken his revenge out on immigrants rather than politicians. With increasingly spectacular raids and seemingly unresponsive nonchalance to deaths in detention, it almost seems as if he is saying, “You wanna see what no immigration reform looks like, here I’ll show you;” letting the cowboy element at ICE and DHS have free rein over the country and her immigrants.
How long until the President says to Secretary Chertoff “You’re doing a heck of a job, Cherty!”
May 12, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
“The onus is on us if it hits the fan,” one official complained during a high-level headquarters meeting about staff shortages late last summer, according to records of the conversation. “We’re going to be responsible if something happens, because it’s well documented that we know there’s a problem, that the problem is severe.”
It seems that “it” has hit the fan. Sunday, The Washington Post opened a series on immigration detention, authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein, with a page-one story on the medical treatment of immigrants, illustrated with a photo of the white-sheeted corpse of Yusif Osman, a 34-year-old native of Ghana who died after collapsing in his cell in a large immigration prison near San Diego, California.
Many of the immigrants who are now thrown into prison by the thousands are not guilty of anything that most Americans associate with jail time.
Most are working-class men and women or indigent laborers who made mistakes that seem to pose no threat to national security…
Perhaps they would be better treated if they were. As the Post reporters note,
The detainees have less access to lawyers than convicted murderers in maximum-security prisons, and some have fewer comforts than al-Qaeda terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
These non-citizen working-class men and women now make up five percent of our workforce. They may have committed no other crime, or they may have committed a minor crime for which the justice system would mete out only minor punishment for a citizen.
Not so for immigrants. If caught, they cross a threshold beyond which there seems to be little care for their very lives.
Nurses who work on the front lines see the problems up close. “Dogs get better care in the dog pound,” said Catherine Rouse, a contract nurse at an Arizona detention center who quit after two months last year because she saw what she regarded as “scary medicine” in the prison: patients taken off medications they needed and nurses doing tasks they were not qualified to do. “You don’t treat people like that. There has to be some kind of moral fiber,” Rouse said.
For immigrants with medical problems, the detention system can be deadly.
About 83 detainees have died in, or soon after, custody during the past five years. The deaths are the loudest alarms about a system teetering on collapse. Actions taken—or not taken—by medical staff members may have contributed to 30 of those deaths, according to confidential internal reviews and the opinions of medical experts who reviewed some death files for The Post.
The article paints a bleak picture of a Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS) that is under-staffed and under-prepared. Yet, properly resourcing this agency to keep pace with a 65 percent increase in detainees since 2003 seems to be a low priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the agency in charge of jailing non-citizens on immigration charges.
Of the 312 people who applied for new positions over the past year, 200 withdrew…because they found other jobs during the 250 days it took ICE, on average, to conduct the required background investigations.
Coming off a period when it had been run by interim directors, DIHS has a new director,
…who brought with him the credential of having been fired in 2003 by the state of Maryland for bad management and spending practices supervising detention and pretrial services.
Death in immigration prison may be the most extreme symptom of the collapse of the debate on immigration reform. By failing to enact sensible reforms to update our immigration laws, Congress has given the most extreme voices inordinate influence over immigration policy. We are taking immigrants away from their families and their American employers and throwing them into jail not necessarily because they are bad people, but because the political system has been paralyzed by extreme voices such as that of “rdar1,” who wrote in commenting on the Post story:
…these cynical lawbreaking invaders should not be in prison. They should be deported with a shoot-to-kill order if they return.
Although a bill directed at correcting egregious behavior regarding the medical treatment of immigrants in detention has been introduced in the House, and is being introduced today in the Senate, the real issue is the failure of our political leaders to address the larger problem—that of our broken immigration system.
The Washington Post series can be obtained here as the stories become available. The New York Times recently ran a story on the issue, and we commented on that story, and the issue, in our policy update.
May 07, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Two items of interest on the web caught our eye today, both relating to how immigrants and Latinos are treated by America’s broadcast media.
The Center for American Progress dedicated its Progress Report to a succinct summation of “Hate Radio’s Bigotry Against Hispanics.”
Right-wing radio’s discussion of immigration often veers away from policy to focus on race. [Radio host Michael] Savage once warned his listeners, “The European-American, or the white person, is being erased from America’s future…There is a racial element to the immigration invasion, at least I see it that way.” Discussing a pro-immigrant parade in L.A., [Radio and TV talker Bill] O’Reilly said, “So now, it’s becoming a race war.” O’Reilly also accused supporters of immigration — “who hate America…because it’s run primarily by white, Christian men” — of seeking “to change the complexion…of America.” These hatemongers have made clear their primary concern: maintaining a white majority.
The whole report is worth a read.
On CAP’s Think Progress blog, the discussion continues with a focus on Rush Limbaugh and his recent and disparaging comments about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which prompted the president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Alex Nogales, to say:
What can I tell you? It’s the same kind of nasty, bigoted, racist type of comment that has become so prevalent in today’s society, as practiced by Lou Dobbs, as practiced by [Sean] Hannity, [Bill] O’Reilly, [Michael] Savage — all these guys who are appealing to a particular bigoted audience, and fanning the fires of bigotry and racism by doing these kinds of things without real concern about the consequences of their words.
Radio talk show host Mario Solís Marich picks up on the double standards for derogatory talk about Latinos in his article on The Huffington Post, “The Media’s Latino Rules,” which picks up on the Limbaugh comment and compares it to other recent flashes of overt racism.
There will be no national debate about whether [Dobbs] should step down as there was when Imus referred to a women’s basketball team in a derogatory fashion. There will be no national outrage like there was following the racist vocal vomiting of “comedian” Michael Richards. There will be no slam down and painful lame excuses like those offered by Mel Gibson after his anti-Semitic comments. The rules for Latinos are different.
Rush, Lou Dobbs, and a host of shock jocks are well aware of this different set of rules. Dobbs & Rush inc. can freely accuse Latinos of spreading Leprosy and TB, of raping children, and even planning the violent overthrow of the US, without any proof whatsoever.
While Rush and other radio talkers are pretty upfront about their political leanings and political agenda, it is a shame that CNN, which once stood for Cable NewsNetwork, has decided that anti-immigration advocacy should be part of their primetime schedules on both CNN (“Lou Dobbs Tonight”) and CNN Headline News (“The Glenn Beck Show”). Perhaps the middle N in CNN should be in quotation marks.
May 06, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
Today’s hearing in the House Committee on Ways and Means on mandatory electronic employment verificationthrew some cold water on Members of Congress who have been pressing, zombie-like, for mandatory verification of employment authorization.
The most compelling testimony came from Barbara Kennelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Social Security advocacy group. Ms. Kennelly, a former member of Congress, talked about the impact of verification schemes now being considered by Congress on the Social Security Administration (SSA):
These proposals would divert SSA from its central mission of serving its own beneficiaries and would ask it instead to create a national employment verification system, using SSA databases and employees, to confirm the employment status of every American worker.
The problem, she noted in her testimony, is that Congress does not have a good track record for pairing new mandates with new resources. Another witness, Greg Heineman, President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, Inc., estimated that if the current E-Verify system were to be expanded nationwide (as proposed in the SAVE Act, for example), it would add an additional burden to the Social Security Administration of 889 work years to process the requests. Work authorization checks would be added to the workload of an agency that is so backlogged in making disability determinations that the average wait is more than 500 days!
And if that doesn’t sound challenging enough, Ms. Kennelly noted that,
…the front edge of the Baby Boom generation is just beginning to move into its retirement years. In January, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, the nation’s first Baby Boomer, applied for Social Security retirement benefits. …she will be followed by nearly 80 million additional Boomers who will also expect swift and accurate processing of their retirement claims.
It is no wonder that the AARP recently expressed grave concern about proposals to expand the SSA’s role in conducting verifications of employment authorization.
Ms. Kennelly noted that it took advocates years before Congress (last year) appropriated some additional funds to allow SSA to increase its output to slow the growth of the backlog in disability claims. Putting down her prepared text in the middle of her testimony, she practically begged the Committee members not to burden the agency with a new workload.
“We are all embarrassed about the backlog,” she said. The new Commissioner was doing his best, but if E-Verify on a national scale is made part of the mandate of the SSA, progress in claims determinations will halt. “I have never felt as strongly about anything in a long time,” she said.
If members of Congress think they hear too much from constituents who are upset about illegal immigration, wait until seniors can’t get their Social Security checks because the SSA is too busy checking into the work authorization of those who are still working.
May 02, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Here’s One Reason Why…
On April 30, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing on legislation to recapture visas unused in past years for use in a subsequent year. Say what?
It turns out the technology is so bad, the red tape so thick, and the waits so long that many of the visas the Congress authorizes for one year go unprocessed and then disappear. All of this while hundreds of thousands wait more than two decades for a legal visa to come and many others, who are either ineligible to apply to come legally or who have given up waiting, come illegally.
Dena Bunis of the Orange County Register reported on the hearing:
About four million people who are trying to reunite with their families and between 400,000 and 500,000 people whose employers want to get them work-based green cards are caught in increasing backlogs, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House immigration subcommittee, said at a hearing she called on this issue today. And many of them could be taking advantage of what Lofgren called “wasted visas.”
What lawmakers heard was something familiar when it comes to the handling of immigration issues: that a combination of bureaucracy and the lack of the right technology have contributed to the fact that tens of thousands of visas that could be going to the family members of legal permanent residents and to people with temporary work permits have gone unused.
A bill to rectify this situation was recently introduced by Lofgren and a rather unusual ally:
Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., have introduced legislation that would allow those unused visas to be carried over from year to year to eliminate the waste. State Department officials said having such a cushion would alleviate many of the concerns about overshooting the yearly limits.
Yes, that Rep. Sensenbrenner, who as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2005 passed the bill, H.R. 4437, that sparked the first wave of mass immigration rallies in March and April of 2006, because it would have made being in the country illegally or aiding people in the country illegally a felony. Perhaps the winds of change are blowing on the immigration issue? Too soon to tell, but an interesting development to watch.