Archive for the ‘Economic and Labor Rights’ Category

Moving Forward on Illegal Immigration: The Four Classes

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Serious discussion about Citizenship and Illegal residency must be narrowed down into at least four sub-areas of discussion to arrive at a humane solution.

Disparaging the motivations of people who raise questions about Caution-Illegalsimmigrant status will not accomplish anything. There are various motivations at work and not a single one. The fact that the immigration laws have not been previously adhered to, or selectively enforced, does not mean that such a sorry state-of-affairs should be allowed to continue indefinitely.

All Countries and all Peoples have laws and regulations about who may, or may not, reside in their territories. This has always been the case, since time immortal. Tribes and Clans had territories and recognized boundaries that they defended. The ancient societies of Egypt, Timbuktu, Kush, Greece, China, and Native America, etc, all have had similar rules that they sought to enforce.

I Demand to Live in USAArguments about how everyone in the USA is an ‘illegal immigrant’ because the Native Americans were here first, are totally absurd, since we would be forced to recognize: 1) that the Native Americans were several different nations – each with their own laws about residency – and not one singular, unified nation; 2) there cannot be a ‘turning-back-the-clock’ to fix the death and destruction that was visited upon them in North, South and Central America; 3) that under this argument, most Latin Americans would be ‘illegal’ even in the countries from which they seek to gain entry to the USA since the Native American populations of those Latin American countries were similarly destroyed and the current populations, by and large, have no claim to those Latin American lands either. In other words – under this argument, Mexicans would be illegal in Mexico.

Traveling this path in an argument is a sign of silliness and desperation. One would be forced to empty-out the entire Americas, sending everyone who is not Native American, back to Europe, Africa and Asia – perhaps leaving behind only those who could demonstrate a genetic mixed-connection to Native tribes.

Let us deal with today and recognize that one cannot reside in Mexico, Canada, anywhere inWhat Dont You Understand Europe, Africa, Asia or Latin America without permission of the governing authorities and the peoples who inhabit those countries. Therefore, why do some people think that illegally residing in the USA should be a ‘right’ without consequences?

What are the four sub-areas of consideration regarding the Immigration debate?

1) Children born in the USA from Illegal Immigrants and those brought into the USA as children by their parents, who entered illegally – yet they know no other country other than the USA.

2) Immigrant workers who perform a useful function in American society, doing the work like immigrants before them, (and slaves before either of them) which is back-breaking and often monotonous, that average Americans do not want to perform.

3) Immigrant workers who have jobs that should go to citizens, but are instead occupied by non-citizen, illegal immigrants. This is often aided and abetted by employers who chose to hire illegal immigrants because those illegal immigrants are not able to fight for citizen rights and are therefore compliant and easily abused.

4) immigrants who are allowed entry because of a promise to employ citizens. They need to be closely observed to assure that they’re fulfilling this obligation.

There are those who would argue that Americans should work-for-less-money in order to be more competitive with foreigners in the USA or abroad, however this is a fallacious argument. Following this logic, one would have to engage in a constantly downward competition wherein each person claims to be willing to work for less money than the person next to them. How then, would an American compete against a person who makes only $200 per year?

The Dream Act was originally proposed to address the first sub-area: the children born in the USA or brought into the USA by illegal immigrants. If they have no criminal backgrounds, and have been dutiful adherents of the laws of the USA, then they should be allowed to apply for citizenship. Such citizenship cannot be granted automatically, since they would need to be investigated and made to comply with some requirements (various ones are proposed) to make-up for their unintentional, yet deliberate violation of immigration laws. They would not be able to petition for Parents or other relatives, first until they’re ‘recognized’ adults, and then perhaps for a specific period of time. This proposed remedy is to fix something over which the youngsters exercised no control and could therefore be seen as innocent victims. It is a compassionate and humane solution.

Immigrant workers who work at hard and unpopular occupations should be allowed continuous and regular entry into the country to perform those jobs, until someone can demonstrate that Americans wish to perform those jobs – which is unlikely. Such entry would not necessarily be a ‘right’ to citizenship, and might require a special-category, or expansion of existing categories for temporary workers, between the current statuses of citizen and permanent-resident, because they would not be permanent but periodic. For the sake of the ‘soul’ of the country, they should not be abused and mistreated but recognized as performing a useful and respected task.

Those illegal immigrants who work in ‘higher level’ – not the hard and unpopular – occupations, should not be allowed to work. The Illegals vs US-Blacksunaddressed aspect of this is that approximately 50-percent of illegal immigration is composed of people who enter the USA legally, and then simply overstay their visas. This group, no matter how poor they may be relative to Americans, nevertheless has the money and wherewithal to board an airplane (or other transport) and legally enter via an official port-of-entry. Some of these people are lured here under false pretentions or with assurances that they can become ‘lost’ in the mass of citizens and remain undetected. Large numbers of illegal Europeans and Asians fall into this category, as do smaller numbers of African and Caribbean peoples.

One can make an argument that immigrants should be encouraged to fulfill those ‘higher-level’ occupations for which there are a shortage of trained Americans – usually thought of as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) positions for which few Americans pursue studies. If this strategy is to be pursued then it should be undertaken in tandem with efforts to get legal citizens to pursue the STEM subjects, making the importation of immigrants a temporary stop-gap measure.

Technological improvements have made it ever easier to track and verify Immigrants, if one wanted to. The institution of an E-Verify system, if properly administrated, makes a great contribution to this effort. Such a system needs to be regularly safe-guarded and reviewed for accuracy to avoid problems. When and if such problems occur this will undoubtedly be used to argue against its existence, but that would be a case of the proverbial ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ – rather than fixing it.

As for those already in the USA, a limited round-up would seem to be inevitable. Deportation In ActionThis would not be popular and cause many alarming headlines, but, not everyone would want to be ‘registered’, because they would not fit the ‘safe’ categories mentioned above – thus requiring their deportation.

It would be wonderful if people didn’t need to come to the USA to seek low-level employment, but this would be true only if their own country provided opportunities for self-sustaining work. Yet it cannot be the responsibility of the USA to fix other people’s countries, even if there are efforts to help. Such tasks would be too broad for any one country to undertake and the solutions would take many years, perhaps decades, or centuries, to have effect.

Risking Deportation to Support a Dream

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Jose-Antonio-VargasPulitzer Prize Columnist, Jose Antonia Vargas, has decided to make himself a ‘poster boy’ for those illegal immigrants who exemplify the good reasons for passing the so-called “Dream Act” through the American Congress. He set-off a small news tsunami by exposing himself as an illegal immigrant and speaking-out for passage of the legislation.

It is too soon to know what effect his self-exposure will have on the legislation and upon his personal life. Vargas risks imprisonment and deportation by his confession. The people who assisted him, and have decided to also be exposed as helping him, risk similar possible repercussions for their actions. While admittedly an act of bravery, the reactions to his confessions have been wide and various, often dependent upon perceptions that are not specific to him.

Vargas came to the USA the way that fifty-percent of illegal immigrants do, by airplane, from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. He doesn’t explain the legal status he had for this trip, but it had to involve a legitimate USA visa, which guaranteed entry. He was accompanied by a ‘coyote’ to whom his mother delivered him in Manila, and who, in turn, delivered him to his grandparents in Mountain View, California. .Vargas at 12years oldVargas would not only have no idea of what type of visa he had, nor if that visa was correctly applied for, since he would not become aware of his illegal status until he was sixteen (16) years old, and applied for a Drivers License. At the Motor Vehicles Bureau he would ‘discover’ that his Permanent Residence (Green) Card was a fake, when the License clerk proclaimed it was fake and told him to leave and not come back. That clerk could have had him arrested, on the spot, but chose not to do so. Instead he returned home to confront his grandfather about this ‘discovery’, which resulted in the revelation that would burden him from that time forward – that he was an illegal immigrant.

This was a stunning discovery for him. From that time onward he had to learn to avoid too much attention, at the same time satisfy his intellectual curiosity and interests in doing well. His grandparents preferred that he keep his head low and only strive to work at some, more-or-less, menial job that would bring little attention to him. Instead he found that he excelled at writing and developed into an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize, Journalist. Each step along the way he had moments of great anxiety and stress, for fear of being discovered as an ‘illegal’. At several strategic moments he had assistance from USA citizens – school teachers, counselors, co-workers, etc, some of whom have also come forward to admit their help – to help him keep his secret.

There are those who criticize his appearance on the ‘immigration stage’ as an attempt to claim a special status for himself because of his accomplishments. They state that he should not be afforded any special consideration because of what he has achieved. This position misses the foundation of his argument, whether or not one agrees with it. Vargas defends people, like himself, who came to the USA as children, who by definition had no control over their illegal entry, and have known no other home, other than the USA. Dream Act GraduationHe argues that his achievements have been made as ‘an American’, which should not afford him special status, but instead indicate the possibilities of what those, like himself, can contribute to the only country that they have ever known – when given the opportunity to do so.

The ‘Dream Act’ – actually has stringent requirements for those who would be accepted in the USA. It would not apply to others who decide to now enter in hopes of qualifying. It does not allow for repatriation of relatives, including parents. It only has applicability to those who have been in the USA since childhood, for a certain number of years.

Meanwhile, Vargas has made two potential errors in his argument – things that can be misunderstood and misinterpreted by other Americans. One is that, on national television (ABC-TV) he spoke of ‘going home’ when he plans to return to the Philippines for the first time in eighteen years. For many Americans, without contact with people from foreign countries, he could be seen as foregoing his claim to being ‘American’ by claiming some other place as ‘home’. In fact, America is his home and the Philippines is his country of origin, but this type of dialog is often stated this way among immigrants, legal or otherwise. It has a nostalgic feeling and would still be reflective of memories, in this instance, gathered up until the age of 12.

The other error was that his mother, in comments about his public pronouncements, told a NY Times reporter that Vargas had obtained a Philippine passport PI-Passportas a hedge against being deported and becoming a man-without-a-country. Yet to many Americans this would seem to be a confirmation that he doesn’t truly believe that he is an American, despite his protestations, and few USA-PassportAmericans know much about passports, nationality, and the concept of dual-citizenship.

We know that children forced to depart the USA, the only home that they’ve ever known, would not be “happy campers” in their new homeland and feel that they had been done a great ‘injustice’. This would not be very good for the USA in either a diplomatic or political-economic sense.

Are we going to round-up everyone – think millions of people – and deport them? Not really.
Can the USA prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants? Maybe, but the other lesson of Vargas’ story is how he was able to create false documentation as part of his maneuvering through the system.
The unanswered part of the story is that American employers have proven that they often prefer to hire people who have little or no rights, and are therefore totally compliant and fearful – and easy to take advantage of.

Jose Antonio Vargas has attached his ‘name’ to a cause without a certain ending. It is a risky venture to undertake. Time will tell if he has made a wise decision.

100 Years Later: The Triangle Factory Fire

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Near the end of the work day on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the factory of the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. 146  immigrant workers, the majority of which were young women, lost their lives. This tragic loss of human life is remembered as one of the pivotal moments in U.S. labor history, as it highlighted the inhumane and unsafe working conditions in which industrial workers could be subjected. Moreover, the incident served as a catalyst for transformations in New York’s labor code and the adoption of fire workplace safety standards around the country.

Commemorations are taking place today in New York City, and a comprehensive learning guide that sheds light on the story of the fire, the victims, the following legal reforms, and the legacy of the Triangle Factory incident is available at Cornell University’s Triangle Factory Fire website.

triangle factory fire

Roses of Shame: Valentine’s Day and Fair Trade

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

In a great article highlighted by GOOD, we as consumers are made aware of the human rights abuses faced by farm workers in the flower industry, including sexual harassment, poverty wages, and poor workplace safety standards. As many of us contemplate which bouquet will best express our  love to our sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, we must also be conscious of issues of justice for the people who pick our flowers. Justice, as Cornel West brilliantly defines it, is “what love looks like in public.”

Unfortunately, popular floral internet companies such as 1-800-Flowers or FDT do not yet implement fair trade principles in their supply chain to ensure accountability for the human rights of floral farm workers. However, some smaller companies such as World Flowers or Inbloom Group offer fair trade certified bouquets. When we ensure that the flowers we give, the tomatoes we eat, and the sweatshirts we wear are produced with respect for the health and welfare of human beings, we can see more clearly what love really looks like in public…

Photo by L.E. Soltis

Photo by L.E. Soltis

Swept Under the Rug: Domestic Workers’ Rights

Saturday, September 4th, 2010


I am a woman with a job that pays a reasonable salary, provides health insurance, gives paid leave, and contributes to a growing nest egg. It just doesn’t leave me with time to clean my house. Thankfully, there are people—most often women—who can be hired to help with that. However, for these individuals, housecleaning (or any other form of domestic work including raising children) routinely means low pay, long hours, and denial of health care. And in the worst cases, it can result in severe physical abuse. As one domestic worker described, “Amid the global recession . . . we perform the necessary labor to make other work possible for American businesses and professionals. We do the very basic and vital work for any economy — taking care of the next generation, the elderly, the homes, cooking food and doing the laundry. But even in New York, our labor remains unrecognized, unprotected, and devalued.” On August 31, New York signed the US’s first law protecting domestic workers’ rights. The bill guarantees overtime pay, a minimum of one day off every seven days, three days of paid leave per year, and protections against sexual harassment and racial discrimination for the estimated 200,000 domestic workers in NY (93 percent of whom are women, 95 percent are people of color, and 99 percent are immigrants). These are more rights than domestic workers anywhere in the US, or in most of the world, have. Let’s make sure other states and countries follow in New York’s footsteps.

The Right to Food: A Debate in India

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Despite recent years of tremendous economic growth, India is facing incredible challenges of how to address the desperate needs of its hungry and poor, as more than 421 million people live in poverty and nearly half of all children under five are underweight. Recent New York Times articles provide excellent coverage on this issue and a closer look at the life and challenges of India’s poor. While elected officials and experts agree on the need to reevaluate India’s failing social safety nets, they disagree on the roles of government and the market in hunger relief programs. The President of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, is advocating for the creation of a constitutional right to food. But with widespread corruption in the existing food delivery systems, critics are skeptical that a constitutional right and expansion of the current system would solve the practical problems of distribution. Of course, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly addresses the issue of hunger, stating “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” It will be fascinating to see how the world’s largest democracy will address perhaps the most complex issue facing our world today- the implementation of human rights ideals in a global reality of mass economic inequality.

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

How Do You Prove You’re A U.S. Citizen?

Friday, June 4th, 2010

“Immigration” is an issue that embodies many of the concerns and issues that are central to any discussion of human rights. It touches on many of the worries that people have about their lives. Nobody wants to experience discrimination, any form of degradation or torture, or have their movements restricted based upon nationality, religion or ethnicity. Everyone wants to be free to make a living.

USA-PassportsThere are two core questions in the current immigration issue that are not being addressed: 1)  How does someone prove their citizenship in the United States? 2)  What are the fundamental causes of illegal immigration and how do we prevent them?

Every country has the right and responsibility to protect its borders and to determine who has a legal right to inhabit the country and therefore legitimate claims on the resources of the nation and how those resources are to be distributed. In the United States, we have only one method of identifying citizenship. Only an American passport, or the newer passport card, can irrefutably identify someone as a citizen of the U.S. However, very few U.S. citizens have passports, and if they have them, no law exists that requires them to carry them on a daily basis. Many countries have national-identity-cards that details an individual’s citizenship status, but in the U.S., any talk of anything that approximates such a card, or something that might become a proxy for such purposes, instantly raises fears about government intrusion and control of personal information.

Without some national-identity-card, how does someone prove citizenship? Attempts to visually identify non-citizens, who may or may not be illegal immigrants, automatically requires a form of ‘racial profiling’, and is so arbitrary, that it leaves it to the enforcement officer to make judgments based upon their own perceptions and biases. This becomes a particular problem in the U.S. because the popular perception is that ‘illegal immigrants’ are Latinos crossing the Southern borders into the US. However, approximately 50-percent of illegal immigrants are people who have been legally admitted into the U.S. but have overstayed their visas. Therefore, most American citizen contact with illegal immigrants, are with people who are from countries not commonly associated with illegal entry, such as European and Asian countries.  Unfortunately, there is no reliable entry/exit tracking-process for people who have visited the U.S.

Ultimately, undocumented immigrants exist in the U.S. because of the ease of acquiring employment from the many businesses that hire them as cheap labor. Those businesses are also reluctant to participate in any efforts to identify undocumented immigrants.  It is likely that people would not seek to breach the U.S. borders if there was not a potential job awaiting them.

USA-PermResidence-01The appropriate questions for this dilemma are: 1)  Is there a form of citizenship identification that would be acceptable to U.S. citizens? 2)  How can the government enforce a process that punishes businesses for hiring undocumented  immigrants?

Students Strike at University of Puerto Rico- Day 28

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

It began four weeks ago. Thousands of students at campuses across Puerto Rico began a strike to demand their right to quality public education. After the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) instituted $100 million in budget cuts, and in part inspired by other student movements in California earlier this spring, students began occupying their campuses. Sustained by food and water tossed over fences by family, and encouraged by faith leaders and unions across the country, it appears that these students will remain committed into month two until the university agrees to come to the table. University professors and workers have declared their support for the student strike and are strongly urging the UPR administration to begin negotiations. Professor and dramatist Roberto Ramos-Perea has sent an appeal to the international community outlining the reasons for the strike and documenting the human rights abuses that are being committed in response to the strike, such as the refusal of light, water, and food to the students. Thus far, the university has refused negotiations and has only responded with the deployment of riot police. Curiously, coverage of this historic strike by Puerto Rican students has been virtually non-existent among U.S. media sources. Democracy Now, however, is one exception.

"University of Puerto Rico is Not for Sale"

"University of Puerto Rico is Not for Sale"

Repression and Resistance in Honduras

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

HonduranWatch_logoLast week the Honduran government inaugurated a truth commission to investigate the June 2009 coup. The commission will “document human rights abuses related to the coup, address grievances where they are found and consider reforms to prevent similar incidents from happening again.” Human rights groups have, however, criticized the commission. Committee for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) states,the only purpose of the Lobo commission is to support the Honduran regime’s continued efforts to whitewash those responsible for the coup and its violent aftermath.” Since last year’s coup, a powerful nonviolent resistance movement has emerged. Women make up the majority of the movement and play a critical leadership role. The resistance is united not just by opposition to the regime but also a positive vision of a new Honduras, characterized by this slogan: “Por un constituyente no excluyente” (For a constitutional convention that doesn’t exclude). The regime has responded with brutal repression. As of last August, women’s groups documented 249 cases of violations of women’s human rights, including beatings, sexual assault and gang rapes by police. To date, COFADEH has registered 47 assassinations of anti-coup activists. On May 10, the U.N. Human Rights Council urged protection for Honduran journalists after seven were killed in the past six weeks. The truth commission has no mandate to examine these current human rights violations.

Pay for Play: Musicians, Radio, and the Right to Pay for Artistic Production

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Performers are not ‘average’ people but nobody likes to get short-changed, or not paid, for work performed. The fight for the rights of working people led by groups such as musicians was one of the precursors of how unions came into existence. Currently, when you hear a song on the radio, the songwriter is paid for the airplay but the singer is not. This is a form of ‘theft of services’, since the singer is the actual performer to whom the audience responds. World renowned singer, Dionne Warwick recently appeared at a U.S. Congressional hearing to support legislation designed to assure that performers/singers are compensated. Both the Senate (S.379) and the House (H.R.848) have approved similar measures on the issue, but it remains unclear whether either chamber will bring legislation to a vote this year. Opposition to paying performers for their work is primarily led by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) which represents radio station owners. The NAB argues that paying singers will be transferring monies to foreign companies and nations, however, Dionne Warwick is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in New Jersey.

Dionne Warwick-Pay Performers