Federal judge rules Danbury 11’s immigration status irrelevant

Published: 09:47 a.m., Thursday, March 25, 2010

DANBURY — A federal judge has ruled that the men known as the Danbury 11 not be required to divulge their immigration status as part of their civil rights lawsuit against the city.

While attorneys for the city claimed the status was “at the heart of the case,” the judge cited previous case law when she ruled that handing over the information would have a “chilling” effect on other immigrants seeking to enforce their civil rights.

“We are gratified, but not surprised, because this order follows a long line of cases saying the courts should be open to everyone,” said Rebecca Heller, a law student with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services organization at Yale Law School, which is representing the immigrants.

“People should not have to face harassment and deportation in order to vindicate their civil rights in federal court,” Heller said.

The Danbury 11 is a group of day laborers who were arrested in Danbury and turned over to immigration agents in September 2006 during a sting operation involving local police officers.

The lawsuit filed by the day laborers claims that local police don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration law and that the officers used racial profiling when a local undercover officer picked them up at Kennedy Park.

“The judge magistrate’s decision seems correct to me, because it’s obvious what the defendants were doing that got them into court in the first place was unlawful,” said John Williams, a prominent civil rights lawyer in the state.

“The judge has said they (the city) can’t throw up a smokescreen and try to divert the jury from that reality,” he said. “The judge saw through the frivolous nature of this defense and will make the defendants act like adults instead of politicians.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez said in her March 19 decision that the day laborers’ immigration status is not relevant to whether the city is allowed to enforce federal law.

She also noted that whether the local police officers “had a lawful basis for the detention and or arrest of the (day laborers) depends on what the officers knew at the time they detained” the immigrants.

Martinez said the day laborers’ immigration status is not relevant to whether officers had probable cause.

Wilson Hernandez, a former president of the Ecuadorian Civic Center in Danbury who has been closely following the case, said the judge’s decision sends a message to other immigrants who believe their rights are being violated.

“They can feel confident that they can go to the authorities if they feel their rights have been violated,” Hernandez said. “Otherwise, they would feel too intimidated to report anything.”

It’s out of fear of being deported, Hernandez said, that more than three-quarters of immigrants fail to report cases of abuse.

“They are afraid they won’t get the help they need or will be punished for going to the authorities if someone is taking advantage of them,” he said.

Local immigration attorney Michael Boyle said the city’s attempts to gain access to the day laborers’ immigration status amounts to a fishing expedition and a scare tactic that is often used in hope the plaintiffs will drop their case.

He added that, in general, most federal judges don’t like to encourage such fishing expeditions.

“It’s a very positive decision,” Boyle said. “But I think for the city of Danbury it astounds me that this case continues to go on forever.”

Mayor Mark Boughton, a five-term Republican seeking his party’s nomination in the gubernatorial race, has made national headlines in the past concerning immigration issues. He declined to comment specifically on this case because the matter remains pending.

Dan Casagranda, the local attorney handling the case for the city, could not be reached for comment in several attempts Wednesday.

Contact Dirk Perrefort

at dperrefort@newstimes.com

or 203-731-3358.

Immigrants Demand Reform, Now

by GAIUTRA BAHADUR March 24, pharm 2010 (www.thenation.com), Washington, DC

To rally with immigrant advocates on the National Mall on Sunday, El Salvadoran factory worker Saul Linares said, he walked more than 250 miles–a greater distance than he had to walk to enter the United States illegally a decade ago. His trek from Long Island took eight days. The dozen jornaleros, or day laborers, who began the journey with him didn’t even get as far as New Jersey. Linares slept at churches along the way, and at one of them convinced Ramiro Huinil, a Guatemalan construction worker, to keep him company for the rest of the journey. The two men traveled to the rally on foot “to demonstrate how we suffer,” said Linares, now a legal resident of the United States. “I didn’t have to walk for long to come to America, but a lot of people do. They walk for long long days to come to the US. It’s very difficult to get visas to come legally.”

Though most physically got there by less dramatic means, the tens of thousands of other immigrants and their advocates who rallied in Washington, DC, this weekend were engaging in an exercise similar to Linares’s. Despite the political odds against them, they were making an impassioned gesture–one that may end up being entirely symbolic, because of the political odds against them.

The effort to legalize the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants inspired massive street demonstrations by supporters as well as a nasty, often racially charged backlash when it was last in the spotlight, three years ago. It seems unlikely that lawmakers would want to revisit that now, with unemployment at 10 percent, mid-term elections on the horizon and the long, bruising battle over healthcare climaxing the very day of the rally less than a mile away at the US Capitol. The only Republican backing a Senate blueprint to legalize undocumented workers–Senator Lindsey Graham, co-architect of that blueprint–has said that bipartisan support for it could not be achieved this year if healthcare passed.

The demonstrators seemed to know what will be required to tackle the issue: Change Takes Courage,” their signs read. It was an acknowledgement of the political challenges they face, as well as a moral call to action. They chanted: “¡Obama, Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!” (literally: “Listen, Obama! We’re in the battle!”). The “battle” in their message to the president carried two connotations: that of their determination to fight for legalization, as well as their daily struggle, living in constant fear of deportation and subject to exploitation by employers.

Elizabeth Rodas, a lab technician from New Jersey and a US citizen, traveled to the rally with her undocumented husband, a construction worker from Ecuador, and their 15-month-old daughter. She said that recent immigration raids in Elizabeth, where they live, have left her terrified of losing her husband. “Any day they could take him away, and what would I do?” she said. “What would I do without my husband?”

Emma Moreno, director of the Spanish caucus for Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago, said that without an overhaul to the country’s immigration laws, employers would continue to abuse undocumented workers. “They say they don’t want undocumented workers,” she said, “but they hire them [anyway] through temporary agencies, and they pay them less than minimum wage. These immigrants have made a big contribution to this country.” Legalizing them “is something that morally the country has to do for them.”

If nothing changes, advocates say, a second-generation will be subject to low wages, no benefits and the lack of workplace protection. About a million young people entered the United States illegally with their parents when they were children, but were raised and educated as almost-Americans, with the same expectations as their peers. Many go to college, but emerge with degrees they can’t put to use because they have no legal right to work here. The rally included a large contingent of these students and their supporters, including Izzy, a 20-year-old studying fashion design at Dominican University outside Chicago. Her father is a forklift driver, and her mother works in a factory. They brought her across the US-Mexico border when she was 3 years old, imagining prospects for her better than their own. But she doesn’t know if she can fulfill their dream without immigration reform: “I’m just hoping that something will happen,” she said. “All I can do is wait.”

Advocates, angry that deportations have increased by 5 percent since Obama took office, emphasized at every turn at the rally that Latinos could do more than wait. They could also vote. And they had voted, two-thirds of them for Obama. “The immigrant community came out hard in a swing state and voted for change in large numbers,” said Subhash Kateel, an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “They haven’t seen the change.”

Since their rallies in 2006, advocates have pushed hard to naturalize and register more immigrants. “There are more and more voters who care about this issue as one of their top issues,” said Regan Cooper, director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, which helped sign up 12,000 new citizens in that state. Organizers also highlighted how their coalition has broadened to include evangelical churches and African-American groups not present in large numbers in 2006. The speakers included the Reverend Jesse Jackson and NAACP head Ben Jealous, for instance.

In a video address broadcast on giant screens at the rally, President Obama reiterated his promise to “fix our broken immigration system.” Despite the warnings of reprisals at the polls, advocates were keen to count that restatement of his commitment–following his swift endorsement of an immigration reform plan unveiled last week by Senator Graham and Senator Charles Schumer–as proof that they had brought pressure effectively to bear.

The vote for healthcare by Representative Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, a staunch ally of immigration reform advocates, likely played a role in those last-minute affirmations of support. As such, instead of seeing themselves as out of the shadows but overshadowed by healthcare, some advocates believe they now have some leverage on account of it. “It’s a glimmer of hope,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the Dallas chapter of the Latino advocacy group LULAC, who shepherded 400 people to the rally. As for the Republican support that President Obama has said he needs, he and other Latino leaders are already strategizing; they believe they might be able to sway Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose loss to Governor Rick Perry in the primary means she does not have to worry about a backlash at the polls in November.

Juan Hernandez, who directed Hispanic outreach for John McCain’s presidential campaign, said he is also hopeful that other Republicans can be brought on board, no matter the rancor over healthcare. “We can’t continue saying mañana, mañana, mañana,” he said, before taking the stage at the rally. “We have 12 million good people, who are not a security problem, who are the gasoline of the nation, and people of faith and conservatives are marching here” in support of them.

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

By Eloisa España, EGP Staff Writer

The Day Laborers of the Inland Empire took the “Yo Si Cuento” (I Do Count) trophy home on Sunday — and will keep it for the next 10 years.

Jornaleros Win Census Soccer Tourney

Census workers gave all they could but were unable to defeat the jornaleros in the first game of Sunday’s tournament. (EGP Photo by Eloisa España)

U.S. Census Bureau workers and Spanish language media reps took on the day laborers (jornaleros in Spanish) at a soccer tournament to symbolize that they, jornaleros, do count in the Census.

Agustin Duran, Partnership Spet of the Los Angeles Regional Census Center said they chose the city of Bell Gardens to host the tournament because it is in the East L.A. region; the second hardest to count area in the nation.

“We decided to play with the jornaleros because it is one of the hardest to count groups in the Latino community,” he said.

The jornaleros took an early lead in the tournament, winning the first game 3-0. They would go on to win the tournament by defeating ESPN Spanish radio, 5-3.

The tournament, which was free to attend, was put on with “cooperation from the city, the Census and also from NALEO and other community organizations,” said Duran, sharing that this is the first time an event like this has taken place in Bell Gardens.

Spectators who turned out to watch the soccer competition, were also able to take advantage of the Census Questionnaire Assistance Center set up to help people in need of assistance filling out their Census form.

Census workers now have ten years to prepare for the next tournament, and a chance to win back the trophy.

Shoveling for Immigration Reform

El Tiempo Latino, Milagros Meléndez-Vela, Posted: Feb 22, 2010

Day-laborers in Culmore helped to shovel snow after two severe storms in the Washington, D.C., area as part of a national campaign to bring awareness to the contribution of migrant workers in the U.S., according to the Spanish daily El Tiempo Latino. During their daily activities, the volunteers hung a sign that read: “Obama, changes mean justice,” inviting the president to fulfill his promise to pass immigration reform.

The campaign “Taking roots,” spearheaded by the National Day Labor Network, aims to focus on day-laborers’ positive impact in the communities in which they live. “We want to show with this initiative to local residents, businesses and politicians that day laborers are willing to contribute with their volunteer work to the betterment of this community,” said Carmen Hernández, director of the Culmore Committee for Tenants and United Workers.

Day Worker Center crew makes clean sweep

Written by Town Crier Report Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Photo Courtesy Day Worker Center Mountain View dayworkers spruce up the streets in Mountain View and Los Altos Feb. 17

The streets of Mountain View and Los Altos are cleaner, thanks to 35 workers from the Day Worker Center of Mountain View.

Along with Executive Director Maria Marroquin, patient teams picked up trash along Castro Street, El Camino Real and Escuela Avenue Feb. 17.

“The workers were very touched that the restaurants offered us water, that people stopped to thank them and that some of the residents on Escuela provided them with a bottle of soda with paper cups,” Marroquin said.

Workers contributed their time and labor as part of the center’s ongoing community service program and to mark the beginning of a new National Service Campaign by day workers in collaboration with the National Day Labor Organizing Network.

The center will carry out a community service activity every month as part of the campaign, in addition to the workers’ regular community activities, such as hosting and donating to blood drives.

The center helps day workers by promoting the integration, education and job-skills training of immigrants so they can contribute more fully to the communities in which they work and live.

For more information, call 903-4102.

The new faces of day labor

The new faces of day labor

The new faces of day labor

U.S. citizens are joining immigrants in store parking lots

Mon, Nov 2, 2009 (2 a.m.)

It sounds like a George Lopez joke.

“Times are so bad that I saw an Anglo day laborer standing outside Home Depot the other day.”

Except it’s true.

In the latest sign of the Las Vegas Valley’s economic free fall, U.S. citizens are starting to show up in the early mornings outside home improvement stores and plant ries across the Las Vegas Valley, jostling with illegal immigrants for a shot at a few hours of work.

Experts say the slow-starting but seemingly inexorable trend is occurring nationwide.

“It’s the equivalent of selling apples in the Great Depression,” said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it is not only a sign of the times, they add. If the numbers of citizens among the day laborers in cities across the country continue to grow, it’s likely to increase the ire of followers of TV host Lou Dobbs and others who will see illegal immigrants as stealing food off the tables of the nation’s native-born or naturalized poor.

Or, it may flip certain canards upside down in the immigration debate, easing tensions in some communities.

In the Las Vegas Valley, where the most recent unemployment rate was 13.9 percent, one face of this phenomenon is Ken Buchanan. The 50-year-old describes himself as a “food and beverage” guy, most recently working for four years at Renata’s Sunset Lanes casino and, before that, 30 years in a string of restaurants, hotels and casinos here and in his birthplace, Chicago.

But in 2006 Renata’s closed for remodeling. When the casino reopened as Wildfire, the management did not rehire Buchanan, he said.

In the months that followed, Buchanan discovered the difficulty of seeking work in his fifth decade, eventually winding up at Green Valley Car Wash, where he stayed for about two years, he said.

The banks foreclosed on the house he was renting. In the attempt to grab his things two steps ahead of the constable, he wound up missing work. He lost his job. He became homeless.

A Hispanic man Buchanan met in Renata’s sports book told him he had picked up work standing outside the Home Depot on Pecos Road at Patrick Lane. One July day, Buchanan gave it a try. At first, he got nothing but sunburn. But then he started to get work. Now he’s at the Home Depot six days most weeks.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he has been seeing the same thing elsewhere. “It’s happening, though still not in massive numbers,” Alvarado said. In the past six months or so, he has heard of “americanos” on the street corners and parking lots of Silver Spring, Md., Long Island, N.Y., and Southern California locations.

“It’s just beginning,” he said. “But I think it’s only going to increase.”

A recent morning’s swing through the valley produced reports of the same phenomenon. At Star Nursery on Cheyenne Road west of Tenaya Way, Nicolas stood shivering under a hooded sweatshirt, hoping a car or pickup would stop. The Mexican immigrant said he had seen a couple of “white guys” showing up recently, though not on the blustery cold days last week.

At Home Depot on Decatur Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue, Jose said the same thing, adding that “it’s never more than three or four, but they’re coming out.”

Farther south, in front of Moon Valley Nursery on Eastern Avenue, Israel said a couple of “americanos” — white and black, he added — have come out for work in recent months. “But they tend to stay only a few days.”

As a sman at Moon Valley, Mike Fugitt’s job includes making sure the laborers don’t come into the ry’s parking lot, because their presence draws complaints from some customers. In the past three months or so, he said, more of those laborers have been telling him, “But I’m an American.” That includes some Hispanics, he added. “But I treat them all the same; they can’t be trespassing,” he said.

Workers at all the sites said the presence of the americanos hasn’t made work scarcer or produced any conflict. Some suggested that people hiring day laborers prefer Hispanics anyway, because of their reputation as hard workers.

Shaiken said shaking up the mix at day labor sites may eventually produce conflict in the greater society. “It essentially shreds the argument that Americans don’t want certain jobs,” he said.

In the current economy, he added, “we’re almost sure to see die-hard opponents of illegal immigrants seize on the fact that we have legal workers in day labor markets,” heating an already-inflamed debate.

In the longer term, it may also lead to a more rigorous analysis of future labor markets, including revised estimates of how many immigrants would be needed under a guest worker program, as proposed in recent congressional bills.

At the same time, Shaiken said, the issue won’t become central to the debate before Congress over what is known as comprehensive reform, including a pathway for legalizing millions of workers. “The point is, do we really want a labor market with day labor work as a career path? It’s more a commentary on the economy right now,” he said.

Although Alvarado allowed that the change in day labor sites was an undeniable sign of the withering economy, he also sees a “beautiful irony” in U.S. citizens seeking work as day laborers.

That’s because his organization has defended the free-speech rights of day laborers in at least 10 court cases over more than a decade. Up to now, courts have ruled in favor of the laborers.

“We always knew (these cases) would be useful not only for immigrants, but also for U.S. citizens,” Alvarado said. “We knew there would be a time when the economy would reach this point, and they also would be looking for work this way.”

Buchanan likes to wear a Cubs or White Sox cap as a sign of his Chicago heritage when he stands with one or two Hispanic laborers about 20 yards south of a larger crowd. He said he has gone through an education of sorts in the past four months. He has always worked around Hispanics in restaurants, hotels and casinos, but now he understands the issue of immigration from up close.

His sojourn got off to a rocky start. On one of his first days on the street outside Home Depot, another laborer told him he should move along because too many people were at the spot.

“I told him, ‘I’m an American citizen and you’re trying to push me off American soil?’?” The man walked away, and Buchanan says he hasn’t had another problem with his competitors since.

Instead, Buchanan has found himself defending the rights of his fellow laborers on more than one occasion. One day, a man tried to hire a bunch of them for $5 an hour. Again, Buchanan pulled out the “citizen card.” But this time, he was telling the other person that he, a U.S. citizen, knew about minimum wage laws, and was going to make sure those laws were followed. “I said, ‘You want me to write down your license plate number?’?” Buchanan recalled. The guy drove away.

Now, he said, “I get along with everybody here.”

He stands in a smaller group because he thinks that helps to get work. He reads the daily tea leaves of the trade, like the end of the month being a good time for moving jobs, because many people are moving in or out. His best week so far: $140. His longest stint without work: the first two weeks, “until I learned to be more aggressive.”

Antonio Bernabe, day labor organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the appearance of more and more U.S. citizens seeking day labor work on corners and in parking lots poses new challenges for organizations such as his. In recent months, he said, he has found himself explaining to a whole new group the legal rights of workers, as well as approaching local authorities to discuss the entry of new people into what he called “the world of day labor.” That group includes blacks and Asians, he said.

Another difference is that now he’s giving those explanations to laborers in English.

Bernabe said organizers came across one case where a local sheriff had been sending officers to answer complaints about day laborers and then found one day that the sheriff’s neighbor, a citizen, was among them. Police in that area have been less likely to harass laborers since then, he said. These events will occur more, changing people’s attitudes in the process, he said.

“For a long time, people have looked at day laborers and said, ‘The problem is the immigrants.’ Now the economy is changing. Now people may see it’s a problem of the labor market, of the rights of workers,” Bernabe said.

Buchanan, meanwhile, looks forward to a future that includes a steady job and an apartment. “I’m trying to dig my way out of this,” he said. When he does, however, he sees himself as a changed man.

“Before, I was part of the majority. Now I’m part of the minority … I’m not going to forget this. I’m not going to forget any of this.”

http://m.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/nov/02/new-faces-day-labor/

Forgotten Corners of the Economy

Forgotten Corners of the Economy

Forgotten Corners of the Economy

As unemployment rises, the illegal of day laborers only worsens. Where’s the government?
Another dead day on the street corner and Gonzalo Mejia is wondering how he will get by. He’s been finding work just one or two days a week lately. Worse yet, a contractor recently stiffed him out of $400 worth of pay.”All the time there is less work,” grumbles Mejia, a short, muscular man in his mid-50s. His pals nod in agreement as they wait like hawks, ready to swoop down on the next contractor who pulls up. But it’s well past 9 A.M., only three cars have trolled by in search of workers, and hardly anyone has budged off the street.

Yet it is not just the disappearance of work that troubles him and the 150 or so men killing time at Milwaukee and Belmont, once Chicago’s busiest street corner for day laborers. Everything has become so difficult, so frustrating, so dangerous. For workers with minimal protections against employers who steal from their wages or sometimes leave them dead or maimed, life has lately become bare existence.

Before the housing bubble burst and the economy collapsed, the day laborers here tried to hold the line with employers at $10 an hour for basic work. Nowadays the going rate has dropped to $8 an hour, and some more desperate workers have grabbed $5-an-hour offers, saying it beats waiting around.

Day laborers here and across the U.S. have long suffered from employers who cheat them out of their wages. But there are more complaints recently about employers who give them bad checks or hire them at one rate and then pay less when the work is done or who vanish when it comes time to pay up.

“They say the job is for two or three days and they’ll pay you when it’s done. And then they disappear. Most of the guys have the same problems,” explains Mejia, who was earning $18 an hour as a carpenter when there was work. Nowadays, he takes $12 an hour if he can get it.

Latino immigrants dominate this and nearly all of Chicago’s day-labor street corners. But there has also been a rush of U.S. citizens, many of them newly unemployed or low-wage workers, as well as other immigrant groups.

Some day laborers will even continue working for weeks when they have not been paid. “They need money so desperately; they keep working, hoping to get paid. But they don’t, and that’s sad,” says Kasia Tarczynska, a Polish-speaking worker with the Latino Union of Chicago, which serves day laborers. She works with the Eastern European day laborers — Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Bosnians, Albanians, and others — who have been showing up increasingly on Chicago’s street corners and who suffer from roughly the same problems and abuses as the rest of the day laborers. Many are also undocumented immigrants and because of their limited English skills and the street corner’s pack mentality, they stick to themselves.

The flood of new workers has worsened conditions, say the men and workers from the Latino Union, because the increased supply has driven down the wages that the day laborers had struggled to maintain. But some also have made the work dangerous for themselves and others. “They face the greatest dangers because [many of them] have not done day labor before, and they don’t have the training,” explains Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union.

The arrival of new groups of increasingly desperate workers threatens to wipe out a decade of efforts to set pay and safety standards on the nation’s street corners, says Nik Theodore, a University of Illinois at Chicago expert on day laborers. He is a co-author of a 2006 national study of day laborers, the first and only one of its kind. It is a grim accounting of what takes place on more than 500 street corners across the U.S. where day laborers gather early each morning to catch the best jobs.

On any single day, about 117,000 day laborers are out looking for work or are on the job, the study said. Three out of four of these workers, according to the study, are undocumented immigrants. But because workers often float in and out of the street-corner job market, it is estimated that as many as half a million people do day labor during the year.

The West Coast accounts for the greatest number of the nation’s day laborers, over 40 percent, followed by the East, the Southwest, the South, and the Midwest. About 43 percent of the employers are construction contractors. Another 49 percent are either homeowners or renters. This makes the worker situation even more hazardous, since these employers are unlikely to have safety equipment or know about safety rules.

***The danger of their work is a reality to the day laborers who reel accounts of falling off buildings, getting hit by falling construction supplies, and being trapped while digging ditches. Their stories help explain the 125 percent spike in the number of Latinos killed in construction jobs between 1992 and 2005, a figure that Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis called “unbearable” in a June speech to safety engineers in Texas. Seventy-five percent of the day laborers contacted in the 2006 survey said their work is dangerous, and one worker in five reported being injured on the job in the last year. But more than half of those injured did not get any medical care for their injuries, mostly because they couldn’t afford it or the employer refused to cover them under workers’ compensation, according to the survey.

Day laborers often turn to Chicago attorney Jose Rivero because he is willing to file workers’ compensation cases against shady contractors with the likelihood of minimal rewards for his clients. It is not uncommon for contractors to file bankruptcy or simply vanish or to threaten workers against taking them to court or reporting them to officials, Rivero adds.

But he has been getting fewer calls lately and doesn’t think that is because the work has suddenly become safer. The injuries he sees are “as horrible” as ever. “I think the economy is a big factor,” he explains. Workers know that they will be “blackballed” by contractors if they talk to a lawyer, he says. Because they are desperate to hang on to the work, they don’t take such risks.

But the day laborers’ biggest day-to-day worry, according to the 2006 survey, is getting paid. Nearly half said they had not been paid by an employer in the months just prior to the survey, and another 48 percent told of being underpaid. There has been no comprehensive survey since 2006, but my reporting suggests that these trends are worsening.

Chris Newman, Legal Programs Director for the National Day Labor Organizing Network, which links together several dozen groups that serve day laborers, says the level of wage theft “has been amplified by the [financial stresses] downtown. Before, you would be owed $200, but now it is more likely $2,000.” Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago adds, “I can’t tell if you have unscrupulous employers taking advantage of what’s happening or it’s the financial problems facing those higher up in the contracting chain.”

***As the ranks of the workers on the streets have swollen in the last decade, day labor activists like Newman have steadily complained about the federal government’s failure to stop the wage theft or to halt the unsafe conditions the workers face. Now, they say the Obama administration should take these steps:

First, the Labor Department should increase the ranks of investigators in its Wage and Hour Division, the office responsible for making sure employers do not cheat workers out of their wages. Kim Bobo, author of the recent book Wage Theft in America and head of Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago-based group organization, praises the administration’s plans to hire several hundred more investigators. “But that’s not enough. They need double the number of investigators,” she says.

Second, employers need to live in fear that will they face stiff fines for violating federal wage and worker-safety laws. They should not be allowed to negotiate down the penalties so that overworked federal bureaucrats can clear the cases. The likelihood of serious penalties should increase for employers with repeat violations. “Every time we file a case, [the Labor Department] settles it for 50 cents on the dollar, and that means workers don’t get what they are owed,” says Bobo, whose organization operates a network of worker centers around the U.S. She adds that the government should make employers’ violation records more “transparent” and accessible so businesses can be tracked.

Third, the government should develop direct ties with day-labor and worker centers, creating a system that will regularly inform workers of their rights and educate them on safe workplace practices. Theodore says the government should use the locations as worker development centers, where they can train and improve workers’ skills. By authorizing the centers to directly file workers’ complaints, the government can also expand its investigative outreach to the workers, he says.

Fourth, federal offices serving day laborers should be more accessible to workers, especially in the case of undocumented immigrants who are both fearful of visiting government buildings and who usually cannot enter them because they lack proper identification. “The agencies are designed to serve bankers, not low-wage workers who cannot make a 3 P.M. meeting,” Bobo says. So, too, she says there need to be more government workers able to communicate with the largely Latino day-laborer work force. After the Katrina disaster, the government was hard-pressed, she recalls, to cope with the number of Spanish-speaking day laborers drawn to the recovery work in New Orleans.

To Newman, however, the most important step is “harmonizing” the government’s immigration and labor-enforcement policies. “If undocumented immigrants are unable to come forward and form unions and file complaints and get redress from unscrupulous practices, then the bad guys will continue on,” he says.

As for prospects of the Labor Department improving its day-to-day performance, he is quite upbeat about Solis. “The team that she is assembling is fantastic,” he says. “There are all the indications that the U.S. will get its Labor Department back after eight years of self-mutilation.”

Solis, the daughter of Latino farmworker immigrants, tells me her agency is hiring 250 investigators, some of whom will be bilingual. She wanted more, “but we didn’t have the money.” Besides “looking at increasing penalties” against employers who break the laws, she also plans to create a strike force to focus on firms with the “most egregious abuses.” If the companies cooperate, the agency will offer them training and assistance, she says. And if they don’t want to comply, “we are not going to sit around,” she adds.

The agency will closely investigate how employers who use the government’s recovery funds treat their workers. “They better know we are taking a different approach here,” she says. As for workers’ fears of dealing with a government agency, she vows to increase the agency’s links with organizations that “have the trust of the community.”

***Help dealing with abusive employers or those who put him in dangerous situations could not come fast enough for Guillermo Caicero. Not long ago he got into an argument with a contractor who promised him $15 an hour but paid him only $10 an hour when the work was done. He complained and the employer called the police. But the police “didn’t do anything,” he says.

Four years ago he tumbled off a roof and broke a leg, he says. Several months ago, the 50-year-old day laborer dislocated an arm on the job. Not long ago a pipe also fell and hit his head, sending him to a . But the contractor refused to pay for or time lost, and Caicero was not covered by workers’ comp. He went to a county and was able to get free care, Caicero says.

Despite it all, here he is, on the corner, waiting and waiting.

Stephen Franklin is a former labor writer for the Chicago Tribune and author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2001).

Labor advocates push for law making wage theft a criminal offense in L.A.

LA Times
October 26, 2009 | 12:43 pm

Advocates for day laborers and other low-wage workers are pushing for a new city law that would target unscrupulous employers by making wage theft a crime in the city of Los Angeles.

They have found an ally in City Councilman Richard Alarcon, view who plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday directing the city attorney’s office to write an ordinance that would criminalize nonpayment of wages.

“People think that just because they pick up somebody on the street or at a day laborer center that they don’t have the responsibility to pay them if they don’t like the work, ” Alarcon said. “This would make it illegal for somebody to do that.”

Los Angeles would join a handful of cities, including Austin, Texas, and Denver, that hold employers criminally responsible for not paying their employees. State and federal laws govern overtime, minimum wage and other labor standards, but the penalties typically are meted out through civil, rather than criminal, procedures. A local ordinance would allow city prosecutors to file misdemeanor charges against employers.

Alarcon said he was motivated by a recent study that showed many low-wage workers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago often don’t receive minimum wage or overtime pay.

The study, based on interviews with more than 4,300 workers, found that 26% of workers weren’t paid minimum wage the week before and that 76% of those who worked overtime the previous week weren’t paid the proper overtime rate.

According to the report, the violations were widespread and occurred in various industries, including construction, child care and apparel.

“We were shocked ourselves,” said Ruth Milkman, a UCLA sociology professor and one of the authors of the study.

Milkman said employers need to know the laws – and that there are consequences for not following them. “If criminal penalties are what is needed, there is no reason not to try that,” she said.

Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said that people who work deserve to be paid, but that there are a lot of unanswered questions involving a possible ordinance, including what the trigger would be for an arrest and if it would cause additional backlogs in the courts. Before any ordinance is drafted, city officials should include private employers in the discussion.

“If the City Council is considering this, they would want to sit down with employers and labor attorneys … rather than simply passing a law,” he said.

– Anna Gorman

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/10/labor-advocates-push-for-wage-theft-law.html

Attorney General Milgram warns N.J. law enforcement about role in immigration program

Attorney General Milgram warns N.J. law enforcement about role in immigration program

 

by Tanya Drobness/The Star-Ledger

Wednesday September 02, find 2009, treat 7:47 PM
MORRISTOWN — The state’s attorney general is warning local law enforcement agencies seeking to deputize officers as immigration agents not to ethnically or racially profile people, but one mayor has fired back with an admonishment of his own.

Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, who has four months left in office, today said Attorney General Anne Milgram should not interfere with the locals, adding she is politicizing the matter during a gubernatorial election year.

Attorney General Milgram warns N.J. law enforcement about role in immigration program
A Feb. 20, 2009 file photo of Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello. Cresitello has said that he intends to start a program which would make police officers act as immigration agents to better protect residents amid human trafficking, and gang activity.)

“She’s drawn herself into the current election cycle and is playing politics with a very important issue that protects the residents of New Jersey,” Cresitello said. The mayor also said he intends to have six of the police department’s 58 police officers become deputized Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, operating under federal guidelines, “not her guidelines.”

“If she were to interfere with that legal process, I will take appropriate legal action,” Cresitello said.

David Wald, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said politics is not involved.

“The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer in New Jersey,” Wald said. The officers’ “first responsibility is to enforce the laws of the state of New Jersey.”

Milgram sent letters Friday and Tuesday to officials in three counties saying they should show no bias when upholding the law. Her concerns follow moves by Morristown officials and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office to deputize officers as immigration agents, and she said effective policing comes with maintaining a “positive relationship” with the community.

Attorney General Milgram warns N.J. law enforcement about role in immigration program
Attorney General Anne Milgram at a press conference in August. Milgram is warning law enforcement agencies to follow the rules when questioning people about their immigration status.)

“Community fear that a police officer will convert every citizen encounter into an immigration inquiry destroys that relationship and will discourage reporting by victims and the cooperation of witnesses,” Milgram said.

Latino leaders and immigration advocates have been voicing the same message for months.

“Immigrants will not go to the police for anything. This will hurt the relationship between the people and the police, and it will affect the entire community, not just the Latino community,” said Diana Mejia, co-founder of the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit immigration-resource center.

The attorney general said participating law enforcement agencies must provide her with proposed agreements and operational plans. Deputized officers also must submit monthly reports to the state Division of Criminal Justice.

Under Milgram’s guidelines, state, county and local law enforcement officers must not act as immigration officials when patrolling the streets. Deputized officers may question people’s immigration status after they have been arrested for serious violations, she said.

Monmouth County and Morristown, along with the Hudson County Department of Corrections, are among 79 departments nationwide that have been accepted into the program, known as 287(g), which was overhauled to allay fears it would be used to target or harass immigrant groups.

In Monmouth County, unlike Morristown, the program applies only to corrections officers who work in the jail and do not make street arrests, Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno said. Guadagno, who is running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket, said Milgram, who works for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, was “misinformed” about the county’s role in the program.

“Under our program, we simply ensure that if you are detained in our jail and you are an illegal alien, you will be identified, processed by federal authorities and deported if appropriate,” Guadagno said.

Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz declined to comment today on Milgram’s letter.

Cresitello drew national attention two years ago when he took a hard line against illegal immigrants and tried to deputize police as immigration agents. He has softened his stance, but the issue re-ignited during the primary election campaign. Cresitello lost in the June Democratic contest.

The Hudson County Department of Corrections has been participating in the program since August 2008, according to ICE’s website. Corrections director Oscar Aviles did not return calls for comment.

The program initially came under fire from Congress’ investigative arm, the General Accountability Office, for failure to supervise participating agencies. In May, government investigators said that in some cases, police officers who had been deputized as immigration agents swept up large numbers of immigrants for minor offenses, such as speeding and drinking in public, in an effort to rid their communities of those who were in the U.S. illegally. Under the revised program, participating agencies are required to make the identification of illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes their priority.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/09/attorney_general_anne_milgram_1.html

Local immigration advocates feel ‘Sense of betrayal’ over President Obama’s policies

Local immigration advocates feel ‘Sense of betrayal’ over President Obama’s policies

Local immigration advocates feel ‘Sense of betrayal’ over President Obama’s policies

Ny Daily News
by Albor Ruiz 

When President Obama’s enemies protest his policies, try it is not a surprise. However, when his friends publicly show their disagreement – and their disappointment – it is time for serious reflection on the administration’s part.

Scores of local immigration advocates and sympathizers – people who can safely be called pro-Obama New Yorkers – felt compelled Wednesday to do exactly that: They let Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano know their strong displeasure with the administration’s about-face on immigration.

“We are getting to the tipping point. Immigrant communities that helped to elect President Obama strongly believed that there would be reforms. Now, there is a creeping sense of betrayal,” saidChung-Wha Hong, executive director of theNew York Immigration Coalition, which organized the demonstration. “There is a huge disconnect and contradiction between what the President is saying and what Secretary Napolitano is doing. You can’t have it both ways.”

The protesters rallied outside the offices of theCouncil on Foreign Relations, at Park Ave. and 68 St., where Napolitano was giving a speech. They protested her recently announced expansion of the disastrous 287(g) program that authorizes police, traffic cops and correction officers to arrest immigrants without cause. The program has been under intensive investigation by theJustice Departmentfor rampant mismanagement on the part ofImmigration and Customs Enforcement, and racial profiling on the part of lawmen. The most notorious example is the infamousSheriff Joe Arpaio, ofMaricopa County,Ariz., who operates the nation’s largest 287(g) contract.

At the time of its inception the 287(g) was extolled as a public safety program designed to get “illegal criminal aliens” off the streets. Instead, the program has become synonymous with racial profiling and human rights abuse.

In reality, the much-ballyhooed program has done nothing to increase public safety, enhance national security or solve the immigration crisis. Many police chiefs across the nation oppose the 287(g), arguing it undermines community trust and makes their job much more difficult.

The administration’s decision to expand the controversial program is a slap in the face to those who believed President Obama’s pledge to tackle immigration reform.

“President Obama must reject programs that undermine American values and instead focus on providing millions of immigrants with a path to legalization while at the same time protecting Americans’ constitutional rights,” said Udi Ofer, the advocacy director of theNew York Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that participated in the protest.

Not only is the administration expanding the 287(g), but Napolitano also is continuing the use of the e-Verify database, another deeply flawed law enforcement measure. The database is used to check a person’s work eligibility, even though government studies have shown that e-Verify is full of errors that could cause hundreds of thousands of legal residents to lose their jobs.

The fact is that six months into the Obama’s administration, its actions are nothing more than a continuation of Bush’s backwards and unfair policies and have little to do with the President’s vehement promises to work for a fair and comprehensive immigration reform.

Those actions have many wondering if the “change” and “hope” mantras so effectively used during the presidential campaign were just convenient vote-getting gimmicks.

Wednesday was the first public protest by President Obama’s friends against some of his policies. But when it comes to the administration’s profoundly unjust immigration actions, it certainly won’t be the last.

aruiz@nydailynews.com
Read more:http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2009/07/30/2009-07-30_sense_of_betrayal_over_obamas_policies.html#ixzz0MnRWALS8