Where fools rush in…

Mississippi state legislature is rushing to pass SB 2179, a copy cat law of the controversial SB 1070 that went into effect in Arizona on July 29, 2010.  Rushing to pass legislation is a huge red flag that something is amiss in this proposed law.  Good legislation does not need to be rushed through.  Good legislation can take its time to bear up under the scrutiny of debate and democratic process.

It is only bad legislation that needs to be passed quickly in order to squelch the questions that are raised regarding it.  And this bill has all the earmarks of an unjust law that will cause unnecessary  heartache and economic disaster for Mississippi.   Lt. Governor Bryant has already stated publicly that he wants to “scare Latinos out of Mississippi.”  He has not minced words on how racist his opinion is about Latinos.   This law will indeed scare Latinos.   Latinos who are here legally will be negatively impacted by this law.

And for those who argue that if a person does not break the law,  they have nothing to worry about,  is in denial of Mississippi’s own racist treatment of African Americans in years past.  Law abiding African Americans also should have had nothing to fear in the mid-20th century but they were harassed and falsely arrested and accused at every turn.   Here the proposed law states if it is “reasonably believed”  that the person may have committed an act that would cause their deportation they can be arrested without warrant.  What might constitute reasonable belief?  Speaking Spanish?  Participating in day labor because unemployment rates are high and this is the only paying gig in town?

Arizona’s economy has suffered a serious blow after its passage of SB 1070 and not because of any boycott but that estimate alone is $141 million in just four months after the law passed.  Latino’s have left that state taking with them disposable income that supported apartment complexes, restaurants, mom & pop stores, and a host of other businesses have failed since they passed their racist law.   Arizona’s Latinos purchasing power in 2009 was $30.9 billion annually.  Latino owned businesses in Arizona had sales and receipts totally $4.3 Billion.

Mississippi cannot afford to turn away businesses in the state.  They need the revenue.  They cannot afford to close down businesses that are caught hiring undocumented citizens.  Imagine the devastating economic  impact if the Howard Industries ICE raid were to happen after the passage this bill.

Immigration is a complex issue.  There needs to be rational discussion on how to address it.  To rush in and pass this bill is to repeat the shameful behavior that Mississippi participated in the past.  This bill does not serve the good people of Mississippi well.  It needs to be defeated.

International Day of the Migrant Vigil in MS

December 18 is International Day of the Migrant.  First established in 1990 by the United Nations to call to awareness the human rights violations of migrant laborers who travel far from their native homes to find employment.  Every year since, United States has been called to account of how it treats its immigrants working here legally and illegally.  We are not the worstoffender in the world by far, but we have certainly lost any moral high-ground when it comes to immigration policy and immigrant workers here in our country. 

Following the devestation by Hurricane Katrina legal migrants from India were brought to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi  by Signal International to be welders.  They were promised an hourly wage of $18.50, green cards, and permanent residency in exchange for a $20,000 fee.  Instead they got a 10 month work visa which barely covers the fee.  Signal tried to reduce their hourly wage to $9.50 an hour but were told by attorneys that $13.50 was the entry level wage for a welder.  They were  rented housing by Signal  which deducted living expenses at $35 a day from their wages.  Their housing is a small windowless bunker with two toilets and 5 showers for 24 men per bunker.   The workers were denied the opportunity to find their own housing off site and were threatened with deportation if they tried.   

This is how we have treated legal immigrants.  Undocumented immigrants have been subjected to fear with ICE agents storming restaurants with guns brandishing.  Following the ICE raid on Howard Industries where 600 workers were arrested on suspected illegal status, 491 workers were detained without charge for three weeks in Jena, LA, an unaccredited minimum/medium security prison.   They were 250 people in a room.  Meals consisted of boiled peas or corn and a bottle of water.  They were forced to share a toothbrush with 60 other people.   To date Howard Industries still has not surrendered 210 paychecks to workers nor have they returned personal effects of wallets, purses, cash, native countries passports and ID cards.   There have been reports of Latino employees being harassed at Howard Industries and scrutinized for their legal status post employment and post E-verify, the faulty system required by employers to screen legal status.  

On December 18, 2009,  Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance will recognize International Day of  the Migrant with a candle light vigil to bring public awareneness  to Howard Industries refusal to surrender paychecks and personal effects.    I intend to be there to stand witness to this injustice, to offer a prayer for justice with other clergy of conscience, and to grieve with God over our corporate greed.

What makes US Immigration laws unjust?

Benjamin asked on the recent blog regarding the ICE raid on Howard Industries what makes US immigration laws unjust?  It is a good question.  It is also a difficult question to answer because there are so many nuances to our legislation that places layers and convolutions to the process that immigrants have to go through to become citizens here. 

I am not an expert on immigration law. I am a minister so my answers will be based on my perceptions as a minister within the Unitarian Universalist liberal faith.  Prior to becoming a minister, I did advocacy work for AIDS education and prevention in undocumented communities in Connecticut.   This is the lens through which I see my world and more specifically this issue. 

Because this is such a convoluted and complex issue, I will just look at the recent example at Howard Industries to describe why this aspect of the immigration laws is unjust. 

First the employer rarely faces any consequences while the employee is deported. This is based on federal laws.  It has been suggested by one of the commentors on the blog about the raid, that it was doubtful that Howard Industries would be charged for hiring undocumented workers under the new MS Employment Protection Act.   The reasons given are interesting ones but highlight the injustice if this scenario unfolds.  According to the commentator, Howard Industries is too important a corporation to Mississippi to be prosecuted under this new law.   If this is true and Mississippi does not enforce the law recently passed, then this proves this law is unjust because some employers would be exempt from its reach.  It also proves that Mississippi’s legal system is corrupt and also unjust to allow the law to be ignored in favor of such an important contractor.  If laws cannot or will not be fairly applied across all corporations that are impacted by it, then the law is biased in its creation and is aimed at a different segment of the population.  Say perhaps minority owned corporations? 

The law passed mandates that employers use the E-Verify system.  This is a national data base that allegedly has screened legitmate social security numbers against falsified ones. It also screens official green cards  against forged green cards.  I say allegedly because this system has been noted to be full of holes which showed up when the program was piloted in 1997.   These errors were never corrected. 

In the book, The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, they quote Amy Sugimori of the National Employment Law Project summary of two independent surveys done for Homeland Security.  The E-Verify program, then known as the Basic Pilot Program, Guskin and Wilson quote Ms Sugimori as stating this program, “jeopardizes employee rights as defined by fair information standards” and could result in ” growth in the underground economy, which could lead to worker exploitation and related problems.” 

We have already seen the growth in the underground economy.   Many of the commentators on the ICE raid blog stated that the undocumented employees were paid sub wages for their work.   If this is true, then this would be an example of the growth of the underground economy.  Employers hire undocumented workers for less wages under the threat of deportation if they complain or organize for their labor rights.  Employers use existing anti immigration laws to exploit undocumented workers by stating they are taking a huge risk in hiring them. 

There is erroneous thinking that if we make life difficult for undocumented workers that they will not settle here and leave.  This was certainly the thinking of some legislators in the capitol when the MS Employment Protection Act was being discussed.  Mississippi has encouraged ICE agents to make it clear that undocumented immigrants are not wanted here.  Mississippi has averted its eyes to ICE agents entering public restaurants with guns brandishing in the air and rounding up anyone who “looks”  foriegn, regardless of citizen status.  The raid in Howard Industries was done with huge flair and dramatics of ICE agents helicopting in with guns.  It was done with one intent…  to instill fear.  These tactics are only done in the most repressive of regimes and to have them done here is a sign of something far more sinister afoot. 

Unfortunately, many undocumented workers have been living in far greater fear for decades in their home countries where repression, economy, and government bullying tactics are far worse.  America still remains a better place to be even with our unjust behavior towards them.  Equally unfortunate is that enforcement procedures is a recently revived and strengthened money making industry.  Boeing received a 2.5 billion contract to set up a highly sophisticated surveillance system.  Contracts like these means that larger corporations are going to be lobbying for increased immigration enforcement legislation in Washington because anti-immigration laws means money and lots of it.   This is another injustice as a result of immigration laws.  Corporations taking advantage of repressive and oppressive laws to increase their wealth and keep the poor, poor. 

The United States has had a love/hate relationship with Mexican immigrants for the past century or so.  In early 1917 the Immigration Act  shut the door to Asians but opened the door to Europeans who could pay a “head-tax” and pass a literacy test.  When the US entered World War I, agricultural centers were complaining of a shortage of farm laborers.  The US suspended its head tax and literacy test and invited Mexicans to come and provide farm labor and a few other labor areas.  When the depression struck, Mexicans were seen as taking jobs away from citizens and thousands were deported even those who were now legally citizens.  World War II created another labor shortage and once again, Mexico was where America turned to help with their labor shortage.  This program called the Bracero Program was filled with corruption.  The wages were held in escrow and mysteriously never made it to the employees when they returned to Mexico.  There is still litigation being sought in Mexico and in the United States to recoup these earnings.   In 1954 another wave of deportations occurred, Operation Wetback.  Thousands of people were rounded up simply because they looked Mexican.   So it seems what is happening today is a repeat of our love / hate relationship with Mexican people.  We love Mexicans when we are in need of laborers, we hate Mexicans when that need is over.  Another injustice of our immigration laws as they seem to be created to only serve the whims of our desires and not what is best for all people. 

This is only a thin slice of what I see as injustice in our immigration laws.  There are many many examples.  NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has contributed substantially to the immigration woes this country faces.  But that my friends is another blog. 

Blessings, 
SerenityHome

ICE Raid in Laurel, MS: employees clapped

USAToday (August 26 2008)  reported that when ICE and Homeland Security raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS taking away as many as 600 employees, (other reports stated ICE arrested 350);  the employees response was to clap.  

This is how deep xenophobia exists in Mississippi.  It is fear that the media and state government in Mississippi have propagated and nurtured.  This is the state that when a murder occurred in a trailer park outside of Jackson and the investigating police discovered the neighbors were undocumented the headlines conflated the two events, making it sound like the undocumented citizens were the alleged murderers.  The murder was committed by a white citizen. 

What is sad and what the clapping employees do not yet realize; is because  of this raid Howard Industries, if convicted of hiring undocumented workers, will not be allowed to do business in Mississippi for one year and no public contracts for three as the result of a new state law that went into effect on July 1.   

Further Howard Industries is obligated to create 2000 new jobs as per a contract awarded in 2002 of over 31 Million dollars.  If Howard Industries is unable to meet employment goals, it will be fined $3,000 for every job below quota.  

The clapping will undoubtedly turn to tears in the weeks and months ahead if Howard Industries is unable to continue contracted work.  This will mean lay offs in a region already reeling under the still yet to be declared recession.  And because the media has failed to write reports that truly inform the public and not just bias them against undocumented workers, there will probably be increased anger and prejudice aimed at the wrong people in this failed system of immigration. 

Right now, there are reports of as many of 175 parents under arrest, leaving their children’s fate in limbo.  Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church attempted to contact the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the congregation mentioned in USAToday,  to see what supports could be provided and was told that the families “are all gone” and there was nothing to be done.   Our Home UU Church will continue to seek avenues of support that could be provided to the families impacted by this event.  

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) based Jackson, MS is seeking to provide legal representation for the detained employees.  Jackson is about 100 miles to the northwest of Hattiesburg where the arraignments are taking place.  They are in need of financial support in order to attend to these families suffering from this indignity.  This includes donations for mileage and hotel costs.   Please consider supporting MIRA so these individuals get the due process under the law that they are entitled to.  What happened a few months ago in Postville, Iowa was that many of those arrested there were not informed sufficiently of their legal rights under the law. This resulted in many inadvertently waiving their rights and pleading guilty, not fully understanding what they were giving up.   This must not happen again here in Mississippi. 

And when employees clap at the enforcement of an unjust law, it is a sign that our sense of morality has deteriorated.  The injustice these immigrants face; the fearful interrogations they are confronted with, no one should be clapping… we should instead be horrified and outraged that our nation is using tactics that dictatorships use to maintain totalitarian order.  These tactics do not represent American values and ethics.  These tactics represent something far more evil. 

Stay tuned…

Blessings, Serenityhome

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