Blogging mostly about mundane stuff like, immigration, Workers' Compensation and other immigrant related activities.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Costa Mesa's case against immigrant advocate dismissed


(Via L.A. Times)

Costa Mesa's high-profile prosecution of an immigrant advocate ejected by police from a 2006 City Council meeting was dismissed by an Orange County judge Monday.  (Full Story)

The dismissal was handed down because the Costa Mesa prosecutor Danny Peelman did not meet the requirements to be a city prosecutor.  The judge dismissed the charges because Peelman had not been properly sworn in by the city clerk -- as required by state law.  Afterwards Peelman stated, "The decision of the court this afternoon had nothing to do with the merits of the case". 

The decision is a defeat for Mayor Allan Mansoor and the City of Costa Mesa who now must defend themselves from a civil case filed by Acosta which is set for April 2008.  Criminal charges against Acosta are unlikely to be re-filed because it would require an appellate court to overturn the dismissal handed down by Orange County Superior Court Judge Kelly MacEachern.

Peelman works for Jones & Mayer a Fullerton, California law firm that charges the City of Costa Mesa $165 per hour for its services.  The decision by Mayor Mansoor, the city prosecutor and their supporters to criminally charge Acosta is likely to cost the City of Costa Mesa a significant sum of money, especially if Acosta prevails in his civil case.

The video below is from the incident between Acosta and the Costa Mesa City Council, that resulted in Acosta's arrest. 

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Death of an Immigration Bill

The wide-ranging immigration bill died earlier today. Let's all pause for a moment of silence.

Honestly, I'm not at all sad, nor am I at all surprised. This immigration bill was after all a pretty badly written bill. A bill mired with countless penalties and fines against immigrants not to mention that it broke a tradition and the tenet of our immigration policy that of family reunification. For more on this perspective read Laurel Scott's post on "The Beast is Dead Again".

Many other immigration bills have died on the Senate floor, so what made this one different? Perhaps, the significance of this particular immigration bill is that it was purported to be a bipartisan measure. It was embraced by unlikely bedmates, President Bush and Democrats with a small mix of Republicans. In the end Pres. Bush's "lame duck" administration was not able to exercise political clout and achieve his often stated goal of reforming our broken immigration policies. Brian Naylor from NPR summed up how an Immigration Bill Dies in the Senate and how the bills failure is a blow to President Bush and fixing our broken immigration policies now rests on the new administration after the 2008 presidential elections.

In the meantime summer approaches and migrants will continue to come, some will die trying more will make it leaving family and friends. As with most things in life, as the saying goes "be careful what you wish for". The life of a newly arrived immigrant while it often helps lift families left behind from descending further into poverty, for immigrants in the United States it is a difficult and lonely journey. Immigration Orange's Kyle De Beausset has a good post on the consequences and the challenge of "Creating The Conditions So People Don't Need To Leave".

The "immigration debate" will continue and the proponents and opponents of immigration will continue their heated debate, oblivious to the fact that our rhetoric kills. The proof will once again rear it's ugly head as the temperature rises in our deserts of the Southwest where immigrant crossing have become the norm.

My personal belief is that after the 2008 presidential elections the new administration will make immigration reform a priority and find a solution towards the "normalization" or "regularization" of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.

A discussion largely absent from the immigration debate is what the United States do to keep immigrants at home. What type of investments and economic development opportunities are required which provide the sufficient incentive for would be migrants to stay home. Anti-immigration proponents will be quick to note that it's not our responsibility to find those types of solutions. They will argue that it's that particular country to find solutions for its' people. Ironically, both are true. If you travel to any small town in Mexico and speak to a 15 or 16 year old, they will tell you that as soon as they are of age, or their parents permit, they will make their journey North. They expect to go. There is a tradition of migrating to the United States spanning several generations and few entertain romantic notions of ever returning. An irony that is lost on anti-immigration proponents is that Closed Borders keeps undocumented immigrants in, not out. Yes, it may be difficult for them to enter the country, but once they do, they don't leave, why risk such a difficult journey. Those who stay, save their money and hire smugglers to bring in their wife, their children, a brother or a sister. Who could blame these immigrants given the options, so a combination of bad immigration policy combined with a basic human need to be with ones family results in the unintended consequences of a rise in our undocumented immigrant population.

There remains a huge bridge to gap before immigration reform is achieved. Before Americans take to the polls and vote for a new President they would be well served to ask themselves the tough questions about where they stand on the issue of immigration. It's a complex issue and the term "illegal immigration" creeps into the discussion and clouds the basic issue. However, the issue is still one of simple immigration and how we ultimately want this country to face the issue of immigration. Regardless on how we feel about illegal immigration the fact remains that for the most part, it is simply a result of a lack of economic opportunity in the immigrants native country and our insatiable appetite for cheap labor coupled by our willingness to ignore current immigration laws.

As Kyle's post notes, "the poor who leave subsidize the poor who stay". So in essence migrants are part of an unofficial welfare program to their remaining relatives back home. Immigrants sending money back home get stuck in a vicious cycle, a cycle that begins with the most basic of economic needs and ends up locking you into perpetual migrant work in the United States, without any opportunity of becoming a legal resident, much less a U.S. Citizen.

The cheap labor of these migrants provide affords middle-America a comfortable life and quick access to all manner of consumer products and services. However, the life of the migrants who most likely eeks out a living crammed into a living quarter that most of us would find appalling and living in quietly living in the shadows being careful not to draw any unwanted attention, while diligently sending a few Dollars back home.

It would surprise many Americans that migrant workers who have become our most reliable source of cheap labor are also largely responsible for an ever increasing amount of remittances to their native countries. Mexico is the largest beneficiary and now counts remittances as their second highest source of revenue, second only to oil exports and above tourism. Central American countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala worry whenever they experience a slight dip in their remittance levels, a nightmare should remittances become threatened or lessen in the future.

The next chapter of the immigration debate will be written mostly by the native countries of these would be migrants. It will be written on how they respond to the fact that America will likely first respond by tightening it's borders until circumstances call for increasing the numbers of migrant laborers allowed to enter.

In a case of "when America sneezes Mexico and Central America catch a flu", our future immigration policies will likely result in more economic damages to Mexico, Central and South America, before any real economic opportunities are realized.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Unintended Consequences of a River

I read somewhere most of the future world conflicts will center around water, specifically who has access to it and who controls it, for as they say "Water is Life".

Since man has had the ability to claim water he has devised ways to store it for human use. The Colorado River has no less than 20 dams, before a drop reaches the Gulf of California on the Mexican side of the border.

State and counties that line the Colorado River have historically fought for what they deem their fair share of which. The Colorado Compact of 1922 set forth specific allotments of water. The agreement alloted water to the Upper Basin and Lower Basin States in equal amounts based on historical rainfall patterns.

The allotments were as follows:

Upper Basin, 7.5 million acre·ft/year (293 m³/s) total
Colorado 51.75% 3.88 million acre·ft/year (152 m³/s)
Utah 23.00% 1.73 million acre·ft/year (68 m³/s)
Wyoming 14.00% 1.05 million acre·ft/year (41 m³/s)
New Mexico 11.25% 0.84 million acre·ft/year (33 m³/s)
Arizona 0.70% 0.05 million acre·ft/year (2.0 m³/s)
Lower Basin, 7.5 million acre·ft/year (293 m³/s) total
California 58.70% 4.40 million acre·ft/year (172 m³/s)
Arizona 37.30% 2.80 million acre·ft/year (109 m³/s)
Nevada 4.00% 0.30 million acre·ft/year (12 m³/s)

Although the compact has been the focus of much criticism due to protracted decreases in rainfall for the region whatever water flows into the river is absorbed by thirsty states along its path. But, what happens to unrepresented communities at the end of the river. Mexico and more specifically the Cucapa Indians of Baja California were not taken into consideration when the compact was created, nor do they possess the means to fight back. So, how does a communities like the Cucapa seek justice and their fair share of a water.

The Cucapa of Baja California, Mexico are related to the Cocopah Indians of Arizona. The Cucapa currently struggle with a dwindling water supply that is unnatural. The Cucapa are not victims of any drought, they are merely victims of the insatiable thirst of Americans living in the Southwestern United States. They are a forgotten community, not given much consideration by a region that siphons 90% of the water that flows through the Colorado River.

The little water that does reaches the Cucapa can be seen as a trickle as it crosses the border as it attempts to reach the Golfo de California.

Map of the Colorado Watershed

For thousands of years, the Colorado River flowed unimpeded it's water released from deep snow packs some 9000 feet up into the Rocky Mountains. As snow melted the river was fed from cold water that cascades downward as it begins a 1450 mile journey that ends at the Gulf of California nestled between Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, just below California and Arizona.

The course the river takes begins in Wyoming, passes through Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and finally into the California Imperial Valley where it irrigates farmlands that have desiccated the lower course of the river in most of Mexico, so much of it's water taken that it no longer consistently reaches the sea.

From the Wikipedia article on the Colorado River:
The Colorado River is the major life-sustaining source of water for irrigation, drinking, and other uses by people living in the arid American Southwest regions of Las Vegas, Nevada, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. Allocation of the river's water is governed by the Colorado River Compact. Several dams have been built along the Colorado River, beginning with Glen Canyon Dam near the Utah-Arizona border. Other dams include Hoover Dam, Parker Dam, Davis Dam, Palo Verde Diversion Dam, and Imperial Dam. Since the completion of the dams, the majority of the river in normal hydrologic years is diverted for agricultural and municipal water supply.

The Colorado's last drops evaporate in the Sonoran Desert, miles before the river reaches the Gulf of California. Almost 90% of all water diverted from the river is for irrigation purposes. The All-American Canal is the largest irrigation canal in the world and carries a volume of water from 15,000 to 30,000 ft³/s (420 to 850 m³/s), making it larger in volume than New York's Hudson River. The canal's waters are used to irrigate the parched but fertile Imperial Valley, where several years can pass between measurable rainfalls. Hydrology transport models are used to assess management of the river's flow and water quality.

Hoover Dam (originally Boulder Dam, and the first dam of its type) was completed in 1936. Its impoundment of the river in the Mojave Desert creates Lake Mead, which provides water for irrigation and the generation of hydroelectric power.

Several cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson have aqueducts leading all the way back to the Colorado River. One such aqueduct is the Central Arizona Project ("CAP") canal, which was begun in the 1970s and finished in the 1990s. The canal begins at Parker Dam and runs all the way to Phoenix and then Tucson to supplement those cities' water needs.

The Salton Sea:

For all intents and purposes the Salton Sea should not exist, yet it does because of our ability to tame nature. As the Colorado River flows down into California's Imperial Valley the river is actually higher than the valley, but for centuries it has been hemmed in by its own natural levees, natural land barriers on both of its banks that have built up over the years. The banks mostly made up of silt left behind by floods and with each flood the levees grew a bit higher and harder for the Colorado River to break through, but once in awhile the river would break out and pour down into an area known as the Salton Sink, partly filling it. Then the break would fill with silt, the river would revert to its normal channel and the Salton Sink would dry up once again.

Salton Sea
The Salton Sea was born from an accident in 1905. It was born during a flood in which the Colorado River broke through a half-finished head gate of an irrigation ditch flooding the basin. The river kept widening the ditch, until almost the entire river was flowing into the Salton Sink rather than toward s the Gulf of California. It flowed for some two years and it took engineers and work crews until 1907 to return the river to its proper course, by which by such time had formed a considerable lake that became the Salton Sea.

Historically the Imperial Valley had drawn European American settlers who saw good soils for agriculture in the area. The settlers only took exception that the soil was extremely dry. Thus, in 1901 a company began diverting water from the Colorado River into the valley for irrigation, imitating what the Colorado had done naturally thousands of times until that fateful year in 1905.

The Salton Sea has not become a giant agricultural sump, it is the result of the vast Imperial Valley farming region into which farmlands through natural topography water drains into. The water that drains from these farmlands into the Salton Sea introduces salts and other minerals such as phosphates. It's now believed that without the agriculture water draining into the sea, it would take some 96 years of evaporation in the extreme heat, temperatures reach over 100F for it to cease to exist.

map showing the relationship between the Salton Sea, Colorado River and the Gulf of California

Rebirth of La Cienga De Santa Clara:

The Cienga De Santa Clara is re-emerging marsh. It is a small part of the 100,000 acres of wetlands that once existed as the Colorado Rivers flowed into the Gulf of California. The wetlands have largely disappeared as water from the Colorado River is depleted. The marsh once surrounded most of the rivers path, as seen in the maps gray area along the blue line that marks the Colorado river as it ends in the Gulf of California below the US-Mexico border.

By the 1960s, agricultural runoff from US farms had made the little water that the Colorado River did flow to Mexico so salty that Mexican farmers could not use it to irrigate their crops. In the dry years, protests raged and famine loomed on the Mexican side of the border. Mexico threatened to take their case before the World Court and Mexican politicians pressured their northern neighbor to clean up its mess. The US in response authorized the construction of the Yuma Desalination Plant (YDP) a facility with an estimated costs of between $250-$400 Million US Dollars, that eventually broke ground in 1975, but the YDP was hobbled by budget cuts and the facility actually took some 17 years to complete.

The plant was mired in setbacks and except for an eight month period in 1992, the plant never operated. In the meantime the agricultural runoff kept streaming south into what is now a 12,000+ acre wetland. The water is too salty and unsuitable for crops, thus it does not meet the obligation for the United States' to provide Colorado River water to Mexico, as stipulated by the 1944 Water Treaty, agreed between the two countries, but cattails and other wetland plants as well as bird species don't know about border or treaties and didn't mind as some 120 billion liters of brackish wastewater nourished their parched soils.

Jeff Howe wrote about the YDP and La Cienga de Santa Clara for the November 2004 issue of Wired Magazine. His article is here and illustrates how the "law of unintended consequences" was instrumental in the re-birth of la Cienega de Santa Clara.

An excerpt from Jeff Howe's article:
Trickle-Down Hydronomics:

In 1974, the US agreed to build a desalination plant on banks of the Colorado River outside Yuma, Arizona. Thirty years and $250 million later, the plant is gathering dust, an utter failure - and a surprising success.

1. The Need

As US farmers irrigated their land, salt in the groundsoil began leaching into the Colorado River, causing contaminated water to flow over the border, devastating Mexican crops.

2. The Fix

In diplomatic talks with Mexico, the US promised to build a desal plant. The first step was to construct a bypass canal that would divert salty agricultural runoff before it entered the river. While the plant was under construction, the 53-mile canal would temporarily dump the water into the Mexican desert. Once the plant began running, farm runoff would be desalted then pumped back into the Colorado.

3. The Surprise

Except for one eight-month stretch starting in 1992, the plant never operated. The agricultural runoff, meanwhile, kept streaming south, creating a 12,000-acre wetland, now a biological preserve championed by environmental activists. Turn the plant on and the canal's flow would drop by two-thirds - and soar in salinity - destroying the habitat.

4. The Irony

Amid a five-year drought and calls to reopen the plant, officials now say it may be cheaper and more environmentally sound to scale back agriculture on the US side - paying farmers not to farm - and kill the Yuma desal plant.

Map of area:

The image below is of the Colorado River Delta in 2000.

In this image of the Colorado River Delta taken on September 8, 2000, irrigation and urban sprawl now prevent the river from reaching its final destination. The Colorado River can be seen in dark blue at the topmost central part of this image. The river comes to an end just south of the multicolored patchwork of farmlands in the northwestern corner of the image and then fans out at the base of the Sierra de Juarez. A hundred years ago the river would have cut through this entire picture and plowed straight through to the Gulf of California, the mouth of which can be seen in solid blue at the lower right hand corner of the image. The bluish purple river that appears to be flowing from the Gulf of California to the north is actually an inlet that formed in the bed of the Colorado River after it receded. The island at the entrance to the Gulf of California is the Isle Montague. The gray areas surrounding this inlet and the gulf itself are mud flats created by sediments once carried by the river. The flat yellow expanse to the east of the farms is the Gran Desierto. Between the farmland and the desert one can see a dark blue pool covered with patches of green. Known as Cienega de Santa Clara, this salt-water marsh formed by return irrigation is home to a huge population of birds.

The water flowing into the these wetlands has nourished and provided renewed sanctuary for migratory bird species and the endangered Yuma Clapper Rail.

The image below is from La Cienega de Santa Clara.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Message from Hutchinson to Migrants: Pay US Now and Maybe You Can Collect Later

Kay Bailey Hutchinson a Texas senator has been participating in the marathon bargaining negotiations on controversial bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. Yesterday, she proposed an amendment to the bill.

Hutchison's amendment seeks to ensure that illegal immigrants who are granted visas do not accrue Social Security benefits for any of the time they were in US illegally.

She also does not want them to be eligible for any long-term Social Security benefits if they are provided with legal residency and remain in the US. Instead, Hutchinson proposes that they receive a lump-sum payment of their Social Security withholdings once they return home.

Perhaps Ms. Hutchinson should be aware that what she is proposing was tried during the Bracero Program. History repeats itself and senators would be wise to reflect upon it. They should be reminded that the the n legislature worked out the details to the Bracero program that instituted a 10 percent deduction of all wages earned by Braceros during their employment in the US. The 10 percent was collected by the employer and forwarded to Wells Fargo and other US banks to be placed in a fund. The fund would serve as incentive for Braceros' to return to Mexico. The incentive would come in the form of a lump sum payment, a payment of 10 percent of the wages earned by the Bracero while toiling in the farm fields of the United States.

UC Davis wrote about the fate of such funds in their Rural Migration News, Vol. 8, N. 3, dated July 2001:

The California Legislature in May 2001 approved a resolution that urged the US to cooperate with Mexico to find and return the 10 percent forced savings that US employers of Braceros forwarded to Wells Fargo and other US banks in the 1940s. The funds were sent to Mexico, but apparently not paid to Braceros. Mexico formed a national commission in mid-May to investigate the missing funds; a report is due December 15, 2001.

The amount of money withheld and paid to Braceros is in dispute. Estimates are that $14 to $36 million was withheld between 1942 and 1949 (some sources say deductions stopped at the end of 1945). Those who say that only $14 million was withheld argue that most of the deducted funds were returned to Braceros as required- some $8 million was returned, they say.

Those who say that over $30 million was withheld argue that very little of the forced savings were returned, and that the US government and US banks are liable if the Mexican government lost the forced Bracero savings. Lawyers have filed several class-action lawsuits seeking as much as $500 billion in back wages, interest and punitive damages."

The class-action lawsuit hit a major obstacle once it was determined that US Banks did in fact forward such funds to various Mexican banks. The class-action lawsuit was unenforceable in Mexico and the focus then shifted on the Mexican government to explain what happended to the money and do right by the remaining Braceros.

In 2005 the Mexican government finally took steps towards compensating thousands of those remaining Braceros, some well into their 80's and 90's, but many no longer alive. The Mexican government announced that it was setting aside $26.5 Million Dollars. However, they like a, Tabacco company to it's victims, added that it would first create a commission to determine how, when and through what agency such funds would be disbursed.

Hutchison in a joint statement with Sen. John Cornyn said, "We are particularly concerned that we may be repeating the mistakes of the failed 1986 national amnesty." Hutchinson and Cornyn are absolutely correct, at least absolutely partially correct, but we are also speaking of millions of workers who are currently paying into a system and getting little in return. We are also talking about being fair, so we would do well to go much further back into our history and make every attempt not to repeat costly and inhumane mistakes of our past.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Restraining Order Issued on Farmers Branch

Image: Farmers Branch, Texas protest

A federal judge Monday blocked the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch from enforcing a controversial ordinance that the City Council passed by a 2-1 margin. The ordinance would have barred illegal immigrants from renting apartments in Farmers Branch.

The 20 page ruling, essentially a restraining order on the city by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay is available as a PDF download here.

Judge Lindsay wrote:
“The court … fully understands the frustration of cities attempting to address a national problem that the federal government should handle; however, [that] cannot serve as a basis to pass an ordinance that conflicts with federal law.”

The federal lawsuits brought against Farmers Branch for it's attempt to bar illegal immigrants from renting apartments was sought by Latino groups and apartments owners, as well as other businesses. These groups claimed they would have faced irreparable harm if the $500 fines were imposed along with a lose of business to other neighboring cities.

The ruling amounts to a temporary restraining order on Farmers Branch, Texas and its officers who are prohibited from effectuating or enforcing the city Ordinance 2903. The matter still has a pending hearing on the Plaintiffs’ requests for preliminary injunction, so the temporary restraining only preserves the status quo. The ruling stated that the order is not final and may change upon reviewing additional facts and issues, as well as the court having the opportunity to conduct a more thorough analysis of the legal issues presented.

Marisol Perez, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which along with the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the ordinance, said "This opinion gives us an idea about how he feels about the matter. He is in line with what other judges around the country have found when faced with these ordinances," she said. "We'll see what happens next."

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Las Escondidas (Hide and Seek)

Speak to any undocumented immigrants about their border crossing experience and they will bring up the hunger they endured. Yes, they will also speak about the physical pain and suffering, but most will tell you that they easily endured the fear, dealt with the pain and suffering, but what stayed with them, what makes them sadly reflect on their experience was hunger.

Houtlust one of my favorite blogs which posts about nonprofit advertising and social campaigns writes about a great short film on the issue of hunger. The short is by Director, Pablo Olmos Arrayales.

The short El Escondite is a metaphor of a hide and seek game, most Mexicans will recognize the game (juego) as "Las Escondidas".

Hunger or famine for the most part is a result of ongoing wars, internal struggles, and economic failures, all of which are caused by humans. The result is that every year some 12 million children die of hunger around the world.

In watching the short film a powerful message is delivered. The message in the game is that once hunger has found (stricken) all the players, except for the last one, that last player has the opportunity to rescue all the others, if he or she chooses to do so. The message is you as a single person player can free all the others from their misery and deadly fate.

It's a powerful yet difficult message for one to accept, because for the most part our conformity is unconscious and not always an issue that touches us, or even one that we can relate to. The end result is that not enough of us take the necessary action that is required to fight the issue and work towards its eventual defeat or eradication.

As this country is increasingly divided on the issue of illegal immigration, it's important for all of us to take a step back, take a moment to reflect and ponder the consequences. It's important that we think hard on the issues and that we act in a moral and humane manner.

At times like these I'm reminded of words that I came across on the sidebar of RickB's TenPercent blog. In his About section he has the following:

The blog is called Ten Percent because of what Kurt Vonnegut wrote when remembering Susan Sontag - She was asked what she had learned from the Holocaust, and she said that 10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80 percent could be moved in either direction.

The issue of immigration, like the that of hunger are not issues that we like to address, worse many of us just don't know enough about the complex issues to make an educated decision and rise above the controversy, so by default we fall into that "80 percent" that Susan Sontag described.

The world is has plenty of war, murder, hunger, poverty, sickness, starvation, racism, discrimination, or any number of countless other indignities we impose on other humans, so on any given issue we can all fall within that "80 percent" category, I know that I fall into that same category on much more than one. I'm not proud, but I can begin today by learning more about the issues and take the necessary actions that clear my conscience.

Want to learn more about immigration, there is plenty of information available. The information and opinions come to you from both from the merciful and the cruel. Take the time to read their posts as well as the comments contained in the threads that include both pros and cons and you decide. Take your time, it's a complex issue and you digest as much as possible and decide for yourself, clear your mind and decide where you stand. It will take you a bit of time, but soon you can decide in what direction you allowed yourself to be swayed.

For the merciful go here, here and here. For the cruel go here, here, and here. You decide at the end of the day who you feel most comfortable standing next to.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tres-Por-Uno & HTAs

The steady flow of remittances has help keep Mexican families from descending into abject poverty. According to various studies as well as those conducted by the Pew Charitable Foundation the remittances are sent in amounts that average between $200-$300 and are sent on a monthly basis. The money by immigrants working in many sectors of the the United States economy has long drawn the attention of Mexican legislators, as well as groups this side of the border who claim such a large amount of money being transfered from one nation to another should be taxed. The total amount of remittances to Mexico in 2006 exceeded $23 Billion US Dollars, the amount was second only to oil export revenues, the largest source of revenue. The remittance level was also notable being that it surpassed tourism.

Julia Preston of The Lede a New York Times blog writes:

According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Mexico received $23 billion in remittances coming from foreign countries in 2006, with most of that coming from immigrants in the United States. Remittances are Mexico’s second largest source of foreign income after oil exports, the central bank reports. A 2003 Pew Hispanic Center Study showed that nearly one-fifth of all adults in Mexico were receiving remittance payments. Last year Sergio Bendixen, a pollster in Miami, found that about three-quarters of Latino immigrants he surveyed (including Mexicans and others) sent money home regularly.

In short, remittances are big for Mexico.

Some readers write to me saying they fear these payments are a drain on the United States economy, because immigrants are not spending the money here. I suggest looking at the bigger picture. As the Times correspondent in Mexico for six years until 2001, I frequently saw the impact of remittances. The funds go directly from immigrants to their spouses, parents and children. The money is often used to refurbish homes, streets and schools; to sustain the elderly; to beautify village squares and start small businesses. They have lifted many Mexicans out of abject poverty and into the consumer market, helping to stabilize Mexico’s economy and expand the demand for American goods. Mexico today is our third largest trading partner, with $332.4 billion in trade in 2006, behind only Canada and China. Mexicans are buying more American stuff every day.

Mexican government officials have championed the remittance levels and gone as far as calling the immigrants responsible for sending money national heroes. The fact is that Mexican officials quietly understand the significant role the money sent my immigrants plays not only helping feeding families, but also in eliminating social discontent. The steady outflow of its citizens to the US leaves less unhappy citizens that could potentially protest regarding the lack of jobs and economic opportunities.

The remittances also afford the Mexican government an ability to focus attention and resources on quelling the occasional crisis that arise within it's poorest states. It comes as no surprise that the single most important event which tested the Mexican government was the Zapatista Uprising in 1993. The Zapatista uprising occurred in the state of Chiapas which the poorest state in Mexico. As recently as 2006 civil unrest broke out in San Salvador de Atenco in the State of Mexico. The same Atenco that was the site of civil unrest in 2002 when campesinos protested and marched against then President Vicente Fox's desire to build a new airport on their lands.

A new airport was sought becaus Mexico City's current airport, the 91 year-old Benito Juarez International Airport is at full capacity. It has one runway for incoming and outgoing flights and President Fox's government had already approved plans to build a six-runway, $2.3 billion airport. The new airport would have gobble up much of San Salvador de Atenco. In October 2001, a federal expropriation ruling offered most of the villagers an estimated 60 cents per square yard, roughly $2,600 per acre. The airport plan announcements and subsequent ruling was met with immediate protests and marches from Atenco campesinos who took to the streets armed with rusty machetes in opposition.

The $23 Billion in remittances to Mexico in large part benefits the States of Zacatecas ($7 Billion), Jalisco ($5 Billion), Michoacan ($4.0 Billion) and Guanajuato ($3.5 Billion). The Mexican government officials at the local, state and federal levels have long tried to institute programs that could somehow harness the increasing level of remittances and create economic opportunities that could possible spur job growth. The program was named Tres-Por-Uno. The program called for matching contributions, on a Dollar-for-Dollar basis, by the local, state and federal government. This program provided a means for immigrant groups who lets say wanted to build a school house at a cost estimated to be $15,000.00, to with the assistance of their local authorities obtain matching funds from local, state and federal authorities.

The Tres-Por-Uno program was an idea that was born from collaboration between Mexican home town associations (HTA's)-informal first-generation immigrant clubs usually linked to the village or town of origin-and Mexican government authorities.

The International Relations Center reported this on HTA's.
Mexican migrants in the United States transfer substantial sums of money to Mexico through HTAs. For example, HTAs from the Federation of Michoacano Clubs in Illinois have sent more than $1,000,000 to support public works in their localities of origin. Mexican hometown associations have channeled funds for the construction of public infrastructure (e.g. roads, street and building repair, etc.), the donation of equipment (e.g. ambulances, medical equipment, and vehicles for social and nonprofit purposes, etc.), and the promotion of education (e.g., through scholarship programs, construction of schools, and provision of school supplies). Their most successful fund raising activities include dances, picnics, raffles, charreadas, beauty pageants, and other cultural events that take place throughout the year.

The Tres-Po-Uno program has been in place for more than a decade and has resulted in towns having paved roads and the central plazas that many towns and villages of Mexico. What remittances have not accomplished is contribute towards greater economic prosperity, nor have they done much to foster the micro-enterprises both sides envisioned that would lead to jobs. It is difficult to assess whether job creation alone would have been sufficient at keeping migrant workers home, since salary levels amongst the two countries are difficult to bridge. A low skilled worker in Mexico can earn $2.35 per hour while those similar skills will command $8.50 per hour. The other factor that contributes heavily to migration from Mexico to the US is the longstanding tradition these towns have in sending young men and women to the United States, as well as lure of money and a yearning for adventure young men and women have been told from migrants returning home.

Strict border enforcement and border fencing prohibit a yearly passage into the US. The fact that some 3000 immigrants have died while attempting to cross the border sine 2000 has not gone unnoticed and has resulted immigrants choosing to remain in the US and then bringing their wives and children rather ran risk their lives with a dangerous border crossing.

Their are no clear data on the total number of migrant workers leaving Mexico on a yearly basis, but estimates abound that cite a minimum of 1 million illegal immigrants entering the US borders. The unintended consequences of strict border enforcement and border fencing has contributed to a significant spike in U.S. born children of illegal immigrant parents, children that would otherwise possibly been born in one of the parents native country. These children are often referred to as "anchor babies" and are full fledged US citizens a right afforded to them under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Therefore the US broken immigration policies have contributed to the creation of millions of families of mixed status. These mixed status families are comprised of one parent who may be native born or otherwise a legal US resident and an illegal parent with children born in the US and thus US citizens. These mixed status families have much to be concerned because they often include children born in Mexico as well as children born in the US.

In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. At the time I viewed the amnesty provisions for the estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants as the dawn of a new Mexico. I envisioned that Mexico would face a future in which it would be prevented from exporting its greatest asset, it young men and women and work towards improving it's economy and providing economic opportunities at home.

I concluded that this would happen because no US based employer would stomach too many $10,000 fines that the government would impose for the hiring of an undocumented worker. I reasoned that millions of Mexican migrant workers would ultimately return home (self deport) once their prospects for employment deed futile.

Why the US government never enforced workplace verification and why very few employers were ever levied a fine has been largely absent from the debate on illegal immigration.

As our Government renews a debate on illegal immigration and works to craft a comprehensive reform bill we would do well to revisit our past attempts at stemming the flow of illegal immigration and securing our borders. We can start by examining the unintended consequences of our past and failed immigration policies. We can come clean about this countries increasing reliance on cheap immigrant labor. Own up to the fact that it was our policies, not Mexico's that created the vicious cycle we now experience.

The age old statement comes to mind, that of; "Be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it". As I once again gaze into the future, I see Americans complaining about the cost of goods and services, things they currently take for granted but tomorrow will complain about, as prices skyrocket because cheap migrant workers are no longer the norm.

The provisions of the new bill appear to favor skilled working immigrants over low skilled immigrant workers at the expense of family re-unification, which is currently experiencing a 15-20 year backlog anyways. If the bill is signed into law it will pave the way for migrant workers to work and return home, in theory taking skills they have learned in the US and applying them back home. The unintended consequences of this new bill are yet to be seen, but I'm envisioning it will result in more blurring of the borders as low and high skilled workers immigrate from Mexico and the US, then return home. The United States will begin to send immigrants of it's own as it sends many of it's retired senior citizens who seek affordable health care in Mexico, but are also fleeing the high taxes and cost of living back home.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Major Provisions

The following is a list of the major provisions of the bill, the compromise reached by Senate Democrats and Republicans and Bush Administration officials. The bill faces threats of a torpedo by dissident House and Senate leaders. Nonetheless, it appears that both Senate and House members are ready to craft legislation that brings an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the dark. The devil will be in the details, but after 20 years of an inflow of illegal immigration any solution won't come easily and the end results are unlikely to meet everyones expectations.


Could receive probationary legal status immediately;

Four-year, renewable "Z visa" for those present in the U.S. before Jan. 1;

May adjust status to lawful permanent resident after paying $5,000 in fines and $1,500 in fees and after head of household returns to home country;

Green cards after three years, rather than eight, for those younger than 30 who were brought to U.S. as minors;

Green cards for farmworkers who have performed such work for 150 hours or three years;

No green cards until "triggers" for border security and workplace enforcement met and clearing of visa backlog, which takes eight years.


18,000 new Border Patrol agents;

200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing on U.S.-Mexico border;

70 ground-based radar and camera towers on southern border;

Deployment of four unmanned aerial vehicles;

No more illegal immigrants released upon apprehension;

Funds for detaining up to 27,500 immigrants per day;

New identification tools to prevent unauthorized work.


Electronic verification of employees' identity and work eligibility;

Increased penalties for unlawful hiring, employment and record-keeping violations.


Temporary program with two-year "Y visas," initially capped at 400,000 per year with annual adjustments based on market fluctuations;

Y visa renewable up to three times, if worker returns home for a year each time (those bringing dependents restricted to one visa);

Families allowed only if they show proof of medical insurance and demonstrate that their wages were 150 percent above poverty level.


Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents eligible for green cards based purely on family connections.

380,000 visas a year awarded on point system, about 50 percent based on employment criteria, 25 percent on education, 15 percent on English proficiency and 10 percent on family connections;

New limits for U.S. citizens seeking to bring foreign-born parents into the country;

Visas capped at 40,000 annually for parents of U.S. citizens and at 87,000 for spouses and children.

* after border-security measures in place.

Source: The Associated Press

Two Aspects of Immigration

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Farmers Branch, Planting Seeds of Fear

Farmers Branch located in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas has voted and passed a measure to fight illegal immigration. The racial makeup of the city, as per the 2000 census was 78.38% White, 2.40% African American, 0.55% Native American, 2.92% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 13.01% from other races, and 2.71% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 37.23% of the population.

The ordinance passed 3-to-1 and imposes a fine of $500.00 on landlords that rent property undocumented immigrants. More than 3,000 residents out of 14,100 registered voters cast early ballots. That’s about 2,000 more than the total number who voted in each of the past two municipal elections, according to the Dallas County Elections Department.

The passage of the ordinance makes Farmers Branch the first city in the nation to vote on a regulation that will require apartment managers to verify a renters U.S. citizens or legal residency before leasing property to them.

In neighboring Addison, Texas, Mayor Joe Chow, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, stated that illegal immigration is a complex issue, and that greater enforcement is needed. The Addison city council recently passed a resolution asking the federal government to take action.

But Chow said an ordinance styled after the one in Farmers Branch would "divide the community."

"As an immigrant myself, a legal immigrant, I feel immigrants have made a lot of contributions to the community," he said.

The Aftermath

The new ordinance is surely to face challenges in court. Maldef and other groups have already indicated their intent on fighting the ordinance in court. In the meantime the ordinance is likely to create an air of uncertainty for immigrant residents in Farmers Branch. Some residents have already begun to quietly move to neighboring cities which they deem more immigrant friendly or at the least less hostile to them.

It is interesting to note that the ordinance passed in Farmers Branch includes exceptions for minors, people ages 62 and over and families of mixed status, those families that include citizen and illegal immigrants.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Univision Citizenship Drive

The United States has an estimated eight million green-card holders (legal permanent residents) whom are eligible to become U.S. Citizens, and the majority are Latino immigrants, this according to the U.S. government data.

The Wall Street Journal reports here on a campaign by Spanish Broadcaster Univision wants to change that and has begun to utilize it's regional stations to promote citizenship drives in Latino communities.

"We're not illegal, but we have family members who are," said Marina Gonzalez, who has been a legal permanent resident for 20 years. Once she gets her citizenship, Mrs. Gonzalez said, she plans to vote: "We want to have a say in these matters."

The Latino constituency has long been considered a sleeping giant, a powerful voting block waiting to be harnessed, one that has the potential to swing key political campaigns in any given direction.

[Chart]However, the reality is that in past elections Latinos, whom many categorize as mostly Democratic, don't turn out in significant numbers to vote and when they do, don't necessarily vote along party lines. An estimated 40% of Latinos voted for President Bush.

Will the illegal immigration issue galvanize Latinos and result in a historic turnouts at the voting booth, we will soon find out as the 2008 Presidential elections loom around the corner.

More importantly what type of constituency will political candidates face in the future. How will the millions of current legal permanent residents who become citizens shape future elections and U.S. policy, and what of the millions of undocumented immigrants (largely Latino), who may potentially earn guest worker status, then legal permanent residency and eventual citizenship. It's something both Republicans and Democrats are unsure of and a reason why the Strive Act includes significant fees and waiting periods of up to 15 years in order to attain US Citizenship.

How will the Democratic and Republican parties respond to these factors and are we seeing the beginning of the end of a two party system in the United States.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Farmworker to Surgeon: Immigrant Lives Dream

As the topic of immigration continues to further divide us and we are bombarded with statistics from experts that pretend to offer us quantifiable date on whether undocumented immigrants are either good or bad for this nation, NPR delivers us the story of Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a former illegal immigrant and now a neurosurgeon at John Hopkins University.

"Twenty years ago, he hopped a border fence from Mexico into the United States and became a migrant farmworker.

Today, he is a neurosurgeon and professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a researcher who is looking for a breakthrough in the treatment of brain cancer."

Listen to the news story and read the full story. They say truth is stranger than fiction and Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's story reads much like a movie script.

Thanks to Loteria Chicana for providing the link.

Tunick @ El Zocalo

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sunning Naked at El Zocalo

Image:MXC Central square.jpg

Famous photographer Spencer Tunick will be taking over "El Zocalo" Mexico City's town square for a historic photo shoot tomorrow morning, May 6, 2007. The town square is know as simply El Zocalo but officially named Plaza de la Constitución. The site measures some 5.7 hectares, well over 10 acres and reportedly can fit some 85,000 standing people.

It's the center of Mexico City and the site of many pre-hispanic sites. The photo shoot will include some 7000 registered participants who will get naked. The historic event requires that participant visit this registration page to register.

The website for the event indicates that is being brought forth via a collaboration between Tunick, the Museum of Science and Arts at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), which is Mexico's oldest and most prestigious university, the Government of Mexico City, and the Fundacion Murrieta a foundation dedicated to culture and arts.

Spencer Tunick: Düsseldorf 1 (Museum Kunst Palast) 2006

All participants are required to be at least 18 years old and required to provide proof in the form of an original and official identification card with picture. The event is being recorded for TVUNAM and the images and video will become part of upcoming exhibit at the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Arte (MUCA) of the UNAM.

What form will the image of thousands of nudes at El Zocalo look like? Daniela of ArteSpain wrote a post (Spanish) which states that Marco Antonio Hernández the Spokesperson for Spencer Tunick in Mexico stated that it will be a sun as it's one of the most significant symbols in Mexican culture.


(UPDATE @ 9:54 a.m., Sunday, May 6, 2007)

Well I'm proud to report that an estimated 20,000 Mexicans took to the Zocalo clad only in their birthday suits for the historic photo shoot by Spencer Tunick. The photo shoot broke the previous record of 7000 participants previously set in Barcelona, Spain. Viva Mexico!\

The following photo was originally uploaded by Senderdelnato. The second photo at the top of the post is also credited to him.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Thousands Protest on behalf of Millions

Thousands protested across the nation for a Path to Citizenship for Millions of Undocumented Immigrants. In Los Angeles crowds paled in comparison to last years numbers, an estimated 25,000 compared to some 500,000 on March 25, 2006.

In Los Angeles organizers had billed the planned May 1st demonstrations as “La Gran Marcha”, and organizers like activist Javier Rodriguez predicted that “millions ” would turn out.

So what happened?

Some organizers faulted the raids for lowering the turnout of illegal immigrants, but nonetheless claimed success for drawing attention to immigrants’ concerns. “We have already injected ourselves into the national immigration debate,” stated Javier Rodriguez.

The truth is a bit more complicated and is a result of leadership within the coalition's inability to bridge the divisions between themselves, community leaders and radio celebrities on strategy. Absent from todays march were "El Piolin" and El Cucuy, both Spanish radio DJ's who had been instrumental in encouraging people to take to the streets via their radio shows which helped previous marches. These divisions had been surfacing and recently reported by the Orange County Register here .

Despite the low turn out everyone at the march was upbeat and cited various reasons as to why the turn out was low. Some cited fears of the INS raids, being fired from work and others simply stated that low paid immigrant workers could scarcely afford to lose another day of work without pay.

What does this mean for immigration reform? Not much. The organizers will most likely learn from their mistakes and work out their differences. In the meantime the 10+ million or so undocumented immigrants will continue to work, they are our invisible elephant, we may not see them, nor do we always acknowledge them, but we are beginning to understand that it ain't going nowhere.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Low Pay and Broken Promises

(Via New York Times)

“The business community supports the idea that these temporary workers should have the exact same employment protections as American workers,” said Randel Johnson, co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition."

Full Story

Tomorrow will mark a new round of immigration rallies across the nation. The always informative Migra Matters has compiled a good list here.

So, what can we expect from mainstream medias coverage these events? Will we once again be shown countless images of protesters waving their Mexican flags and chanting the now all too familiar, "Si Se Puede" and "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido".

As mainstream media is transformed anchors like Lou Dobbs and O'Reillys see a decrease in viewers they seize upon illegal immigration and rant about loss of jobs or immigrant crime, which makes average Americans question, "What part of illegal, don't you get". The fact remains that the majority of Americans are hard pressed to understand the complexities of immigration or how we got into this mess. Now and then undocumented immigrants get a small reprieve from an unlikely hero, as in Geraldo Rivera who stood up to O'Reilly and challenged him for connecting drunk drivers to illegal immigrants.

The increased attention to undocumented immigrants and the crimes they will sometimes inevitably commit provides easy fodder for anti-immigration proponents. It easy for them to cast illegal immigrants and suggest that somehow these crimes would not have occurred had the illegal immigrant not been allowed entry into the country in the first place. It's a troubling trend and the fact that mainstream media does little to counter such reporting is irresponsible. The fact that such news coverage and reporting continues speaks volumes about how much of a strangle hold corporations have over the media.

The brouhaha that results from such news coverage would subside if the responsible journalist referred to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and pulled statistics on the number of drunk driving fatalities and calculated how many were in fact committed by illegal immigrants. It's easier to get mired down in half-truths, blatant lies and let entrenched special interest groups cast undocumented immigrants as the catalyst for the pending fall of The Great American Empire, it's better for ratings and better ratings means more ad dollars.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Border Dash

This is bound to give you a laugh. Enjoy!

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Saturday, April 21, 2007


Pobreza, originally uploaded by Memo Vasquez.

"Poverty" reads the title.

The text reads:

Poor amongst the poor.....

A child, at his age, alone at his home, waiting for a mother to return with something in her hands to eat. many signs of poverty.....the inflated stomach, the scraggy dog and the look of anguish.

Poor amongst the poor....

Stare at the image.

Imagine the daily life of this child. Imagine what his future holds. Try to imagine that you are the parent of this child. Imagine that as fate would have it, sometime, most of the time, your child will go hungry.

Now imagine that a "Promise Land" lays just North of you. This land lays at most a few days journey. It beckons you, tempts you, forces you to cast your gaze towards it's horizon.

Imagine how long it would be before you began your journey North?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

REAL Immigration Proposals

immigration, CA Spears,, reform
One of my favorite blogs is Working Immigrants written by Peter Rousmaniere (Roo-man-ear). Peter writes about the "business of immigrant work: employment,
compensation, legal protections, education, mobility, and public policy".

I long ago subscribed to his feed and highly recommend reading his posts if you are interested in thoughtful and well balanced analysis on immigration and the sometimes unforeseen effects it causes to both Americans and illegal immigrants.

Peter's latest post "White House PowerPoint outlinge of its proposal", provides us a glimpse into the details of the immigration proposals which call for a Border Patrol manpower of 18,300. 370 miles of fencing; funding obtained and contracts in place to put at least 300 miles of southern border under electronic monitoring. A "no release of deportable aliens caught at the border" policy.

The first page of the proposal includes:

  • Securing U.S. Borders
  • Give employers the tools necessary to verify immigration status of who they hire, and hold them accountable to do so
  • Provide a lawful channel for needed temporary workers (referred to a "Y-visa" holders)
  • Bring illegal workers out of the shadows (offering hem what we call a "Z visa") without amnesty
  • Require English proficiency, civics training, oath of allegiance
  • All policies must be workable (comparatively simple, efficient, not subject to undue litigation) -- do not repeat the 1986 failure

Here is a copy of the White House Immigration Proposal PDF. It ends with a "DELIBERATIVE - FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" disclaimer, so, it led me to wonder how this copy surfaced. Peters post links to the document at The Immigration Portal (ILW.COM).

The proposal includes implementation of a Real ID. One of the criticisms of illegal immigration is that it leads to an increase in identity theft. The Real ID is proposed as a means to stem the wideflow use of fraudulent Identification Cards, Drivers Licenses and Social Security by illegal immigrants. Critics of the Real ID claim that it's implementation will result in racial profiling. Whatever the future holds, hopefully they do not lead to many instances such as the one experienced by this Alaskan woman.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl Full of Avocados

Mexican Avocados

Super Bowl Sunday is a second day in which Americans consume the most avocados, some 49.5 million pounds during the 2006 Super Bowl, this according to California Avocado Commission. Just in in case you are wondering which is the day that Americans consume the most avocados? Well it's none other than Cinco de Mayo.

This coming Thursday will mark the day in which Californian consumers will begin to benefit from Mexican avocado imports. Although the importation of Mexican avocados marks the elimination of a decades-old ban on imports of the fruit. The prohibition of Mexican avocados was ostensibly to prevent plant disease, but mostly it resulted in a protectionist market for growers in the United States. The consumer of avocados will hardly notice any difference in the avocados, except that they will be less expensive than before, because Mexico's avocado growers cultivate the Hass variety.

Leading up to Thursday avocados from Mexico were allowed in 47 states. The three remaining states that had been excluded where Florida, California, and Hawaii. Mexican farmers had long argued against the ban. Mexican farmers had pointed to the fact that since 1997 the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections had not revealed a single shipment containing pests. The California Avocado Commission contended that legitimate pest invasions exist as pests originating in Mexico have made their way to California and the control of these pests have increased their costs. That argument has helped keep avocado prices relatively high in California, where avocados are primarily a seasonal fruit and commands a premium price at upwards to $1.00 per fruit.

Mexico and Chile two countries that will increase their fruit exports to are likely to contribute to the reduction of prices of the fleshy creamy green fruit and possibly ride the tide of it's increasing popularity.

Mexican farmers remain hopeful as trucks laden with their avocados headed north to the border this past Friday. In Uruapan, Mexico where 80% of the fruit is grown, locals waved at trucks carrying Hass avocados bound for California and Florida, which along with Hawaii were the last remaining states to lift the ban.