Tag Archives: LA Times

An Immigrant’s Hope for the Future

Today, the L.A. Times features an article about an immigrant activist and her hopes for the incoming administration. Victoria Vergara is from Southern Mexico and has not only created a life for herself as a U.S. Citizen, but is actively engaged in our country’s political process. From her role as a shop steward in her LA Union, to her participation in immigrant rights rallies, actions and even Obama’s campaign, Vergara exemplifies the Southern California immigrant activist.

And Vergara is confident that the incoming administration – specifically new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis – will not let her (or her immigrant community) down.


“Hilda is a very humble and down-to-earth person,” Vergara told me in Spanish. “I don’t think I’m wrong about her. She’s not a person who will ever turn her back on us.”

When Obama nominated Solis to his Cabinet, it was a deep bow of respect in the direction of Los Angeles and its working people. Obama was acknowledging, albeit indirectly, the power of the Southern California labor movement, a strength that’s been built with the sweat and struggle of immigrant workers like Vergara.

The artcile also quotes Solis:

“My vision of the Department of Labor is rooted in who I am,” Solis said Friday at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington. “The fact that I’m sitting before you today as a child of an immigrant family, a working family, is proof that in America anything is possible.”

It is with this hopeful tone that we are entering the new administration next week. January 20th will mark a new day for immigrants in this country. As Obama takes office, we move ever closer to the promise of Just and Humane Immigration Reform. Vergara has personally asked Obama to remember immigrants.

It was on behalf of her fellow immigrants that Vergara slipped a note into Obama’s shirt pocket during an October campaign rally in Reno. She was in Nevada working with union activists on his campaign.

“I asked him in Spanish not to forget us immigrants, and to work to get us legalization,” she said. “But I’m sure that note ended up at the dry cleaners.”

Maybe not, I said. She gave a conspiratorial grin and raised her eyebrows at the possibility.

“I’d like to know if he read it,” she said. “I’m going to pray that one day I find out.”

What is Driving the Latino Vote?

On Sunday, the LA Times published an article about what is driving the Latino vote. It seems that Latinos are swinging towards Obama in recent polls, and the Times said that this swing is because the Latino vote is focused on economic issues.

Democratic and Republican activists working the precincts say the economy is the main issue for most voters. The war in Iraq is second on the minds of Latinos, many of whom have friends and family in Iraq.

But, as Paco Fabian at America’s Voice noted (and the LA Times missed), immigration is one of the biggest issues driving the Latino vote this year.

…while the LA Times is right in stressing the importance of the economy to Latino voters, it misses a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to what is driving this new demographic.

In the wake of the 2006 and 2007 immigration marches, new citizens and their children are mobilizing once again. They are fed up with an immigration debate that has turned them into scapegoats for all our nation’s ills while failing to fix our ailing immigration system.

In short, these swing voters are being mobilized to the polls by the immigration issue, even if the economy remains a top priority for them.

A new report on the Latino Evangelical Vote reports that, for this voter bloc, immigration is equally as important as abortion and even more important than the issue of gay marriage.

With more and more voters demanding a change to our broken immigration system, the new administration will be under intense pressure to directly address the issue upon taking office.

Tanking Economy? Don’t Blame the Wall Street Powerful, Blame the Immigrants

With the recent and dramatic downturn in our nation’s economy, millions of Americans have been left to grapple with the reality of the situation. “What does this mean for me?” “How did this happen” and naturally, our minds eventually turn to “Who is to blame?”

Well, in the past few weeks, the anti-immigrant factions of the American media have jumped at the chance to point the finger at their favorite scapegoats – undocumented immigrants.

Michele Malkin took to her syndicated column to rant about how immigrants have higher foreclosure rates and are, therefore, the catalyst of this economic meltdown. And others, like recent Dobbsy winner, Neil Cavuto, eagerly followed her lead. “The host of “Your World with Neil Cavuto” used his program to put the blame for the subprime mortgage meltdown squarely where he believes it belongs – on the shoulders of poor minorities who have dared try to own a home.”

The reality is this: undocumented immigrants have lower rates of foreclosure than American citizens. From the LA Times:

Home loans held by illegal immigrants in California and across the nation generally have had fewer delinquencies than similar loans held by U.S. citizens, in part because of stricter lending requirements, according to banks, insurers and Realtors.

“Every indication is that their performance is better than the average” mortgage account, said Tim Sandos, president of the National Assn. of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

More than 12,000 home loans were issued in recent years through a special program that relies on government-issued taxpayer identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers, according to the association.

The identification numbers, known as ITINs, were designed for foreign-born residents living legally in the U.S. but are widely acknowledged to be used primarily by illegal immigrants.

The real estate association does not keep statistics on foreclosure rates. But it has reported that the delinquency rates for taxpayer identification loans were 1.15% or lower in 2006, compared with about 3.5% for other home loans.

Immigrants come here with the hope of a better life. They are not looking for handouts, they are looking to WORK. With so much riding on their ability to make a life for themselves here, they do not take their responsibilities lightly.

But, as always, if there is a problem, count on the anti-migrant faithful to immediately point the finger at these hard-working people. Of course, this seems easier than facing the reality of the greedy, power-drunk wall street elite who have been gambling with our nation’s money and future.

Tuition for Undocumented Students at Risk in California

Seven years ago California enacted legislation (known as AB540) that gave qualifying students the opportunity to pay in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status. This allowed outstanding students, who had no say in their entry into the United States, the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Now, a class action law suit has been filed in an attempt to overturn this legislation – and it seems it is dangerously close to being overturned.

From the LA Times yesterday:

Foes of illegal immigration, who argue that generous benefits encourage lawbreakers to come to California, will rejoice at the decision. And we acknowledge the inherent contradiction of providing a public benefit to students whose parents presumably don’t pay any income tax to help pay for it.

Nonetheless, we believe that California’s law is in the state’s best interest. By law, states must provide K-12 education to illegal immigrants, and it’s counterproductive to then erect roadblocks to further advancement for our best and brightest. Studies show that investing in education for immigrants pays off. Assuming they remain in California, their economic contributions more than make up for the cost of subsidized college tuition within a few years. Forcing them to wallow in permanent poverty, by contrast, is a drain on taxpayers — as well as being flat-out immoral.

California is one of nine states providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and given the absence of leadership from Washington, we don’t fault any of them for attempting to address the educational, economic and social needs of the populations within their borders. The real problem is not the states’ violation of congressional intent, but Congress’ failure to follow the trail blazed by the states.

Save AB540! Bright and talented students deserve the opportunity to be educated. This is not free tuition, this is not a handout – its students who have worked hard and will PAY to continue to work hard.

My Dad, the Illegal Immigrant

Who doesn’t love a good success story? Check out the op-ed in from Sunday’s LA Times about Gustavo Arellano’s family history. Its a breath of fresh air amidst the inflammatory rhetoric recently being thrown around by groups like FAIR.

Arellano describe his father’s multiple border crossings – a few of which are dramatic enough to be scenes from a movie.

My father, now a naturalized citizen, never tires of telling these stories to anyone who’ll listen — his eyes light up, he gestures wildly and a smile always cracks wide. And, frankly, neither do I. Although millions of Americans might consider Dad a repeat violator of national sovereignty, I see in his borderland adventures the pluck of the Pilgrims, the resolve of a homesteader, the type of pioneer ethos that has fueled this country for so long. Frederick Jackson Turner was wrong; the American frontier will never close, not as long as there are people like my father who were and are willing to cross deserts, stuff themselves into cars, float across water — just for the chance to establish themselves in this country and thrive.

Almost every Mexican family I know has followed the same trajectory we have: illegal entry, rough times, hard work leading to success and assimilation for the kids, with the 1986 amnesty helping mucho.

Twenty-nine years of living among illegal immigrants and their American-born children has taught me this truism. And that’s why my father’s example is crucial and I’ll retell it again and again. His story isn’t important because it’s special; it’s important because it’s the rule rather than the exception, a rule few want to believe and that therefore must be repeated as often as possible.



A New Film Focus on Immigrants

There was a very interesting Op-Ed yesterday about movies and how they focus on immigration and the stories of immigrants.

The representation in American movies of immigrants (and of two close relations, ethnicity and “race”) is practically as old as the movies themselves, from “Birth of a Nation” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Immigrant” to “Crash” and “Under the Same Moon.” Today, as mass immigration has evolved into a global phenomenon, a growing number of filmmakers in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as the United States are probing immigration’s causes as well as its consequences for the lives of ordinary people.

One of the films mentioned in the piece is “Frozen River”, a recent film focusing on human trafficking.

In a way that’s characteristic of many of these new films, “Frozen River” has a global perspective but an intimate focus. Its view of immigration is less anchored in large-scale political abstractions than in the nuanced emotional relations between its very specific characters and situations. It has nothing to say directly about, say, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Instead, it looks at immigration as a dual exchange in which the American characters are as impacted as the foreigners by their brushes with each other.

That reflects [Courtney] Hunt’s belief that, in the post-Sept. 11 era, Americans gradually are awakening to the complex, challenging world around them. “We live in a very narrow-minded place,” she said by phone, referring to the United States. “The world is getting smaller, and even in the interior of America we’re going to learn a lot about the other people coming in.”

Be sure to read the full article.

Paying the Price for not Having the Money

Today, the LA Times has an article highlighting how difficult it is to obtain adequate legal representation in our country’s Immigration Courts.

Unlike defendants in criminal courts, individuals in immigration court do not have the right to free representation. Though there are no local statistics on the number of people who appeared in immigration court without lawyers, 58% of respondents nationwide were unrepresented, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the courts.

“Immigration laws are extremely complex,” said Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges. “It’s a tremendous aid to us when someone is competently represented.”

But finding an inexpensive or free attorney can be extremely difficult, advocates and lawyers said. And the stakes are high: Foreigners can face deportation, family separation and even political persecution.

And with the increase in raids and “enforcement only” tactics, the number of immigrants being pushed through the judicial system on Immigration charges is steadily increasing. Without the expertise of an Immigration Attorney, the majority of people have absolutely no shot at a favorable outcome – even if the law is on their side.

Advocates said the situation is worse for detained immigrants, who may have an even harder time finding attorneys. To address this, the federal government contracts with organizations to provide legal orientation in immigration detention centers nationwide.

Locally, attorneys from Catholic Charities of Los Angeles visit the Mira Loma Immigration Detention Center in Lancaster three times a week to inform detainees of their rights and to try to match some with attorneys willing to work at no cost.

During a presentation this spring, Julianne Donnelly, director of Catholic Charities’ immigrant rights project, told detainees that she was there to answer their questions about the law, and explain possible defenses against deportation and how they can obtain a bond.

But Donnelly said the orientation is a “short-term fix for the larger problem.”

“It’s immigration law 101 in two hours,” she said. “How much can you really take away from that?”


Largest Workplace Raid in History – Laurel, Mississippi

Last Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS, arresting nearly 600 unauthorized immigrant workers.

The raid surpassed May’s raid in Postville Iowa as the largest workplace raid in history, and it continues the increasingly aggressive enforcement only policy of the current Bush administration.

Media coverage of the raid was sparse, since it coincided with the first night of the DNC and Michelle Obama’s powerful appearance. However, the little attention given to the raid worked to hype up racial and non-union/union worker tentions.

From the LA Times:

It was the black co-workers who clapped and cheered, Pena said, as she and hundreds of other Latino immigrant laborers were arrested and hauled away.

“They said we took their jobs, but I was working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” said [Fabiola] Pena, 21, a day after the raid last week that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 suspected illegal immigrants. “I didn’t see them working like us.”

And from the Washington Post:

One worker caught in Monday’s sweep at the Howard Industries transformer plant said fellow workers applauded as immigrants were taken into custody. Federal officials said a tip from a union member prompted them to start investigating several years ago.

However, there are reports coming out of Mississippi that the raid was politically and financially motivated. Not only does Howard Industries have close ties to the MS state government, but there was a growing coalition of workers pushing for better conditions and union contracts with the company.

There is a great analysis of this at New American Media:

Jim Evans, a national AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi and a leading member of the state legislature’s Black Caucus, said he believed “this raid is an effort to drive immigrants out of Mississippi. It is also an attempt to drive a wedge between immigrants, African Americans, white people and unions – all those who want political change here.” Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), agreed that “this is political. They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state, the kind we’ve seen in Arizona and Oklahoma. The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi’s changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years.”

Basically, unions were working to increase their immigrant membership, in order to ensure fair pay and good conditions for all Howard employees. This is when the raid occurred.

I have posted before about the idea of raids as union-busting efforts, and this seems to be no different.

Additionally, there were multiple financial reasons for going after Howard Industries. For more on this analysis, check out this blog post at Immigration talk with a Mexican American. The post connects the dots between the current Bush Administration, Howard Industries (whose CEO is a big-time GOP contributor), and GEO Corp (who runs the Jena, LA detention center where detainees are currently being held).

The media should start covering the real story behind these raids. The Bush administration is denying due process and basic human decency to thousands of workers, while big business and government continue to profit both financially and politically.

For more on this perspective check out this post at VivirLatino.