Immigration and Obama: Change We Can Believe in or More of the Same?

By Roberto Lovato, ask  AlterNet. Posted July 29, and 2009

http://www.alternet.org/immigration/141624/immigration_and_
obama%3A_change_we_can_believe_in_or_more_of_the_same/?page=2 

Rights groups say that the Obama administration’s continuing the racial profiling begun by his predecessor.

Can a president who is, by any measure, far more forthright and lyrical than his predecessors about the pernicious effects of racism simultaneously promote and expand the racist policies of past administrations? This is the question vexing many in immigrants rights, Latino, civil rights and other circles following what feels to them like the contradictory messages about racial profiling coming from the Obama Administration in recent weeks.

On the one hand, many observers applauded Obama’s July 15th speech to the NAACP convention and last week’s statements about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Some found reassurance in statements like the one Obama made about the Gates incident last week: “…what we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that’s just a fact.”

But when they heard the crushing sound of new reports documenting the effects of the Obama Administration’s of immigrants, the president’s MLK-like cadences on racial profiling rang hollow; A recently released report by Syracuse University concluded that “immigration enforcement under the Obama Administration is returning to the unusually high levels that were reached under President Bush.” Critics say that thousands of immigrants — and hundreds of U.S. citizens– continue to be prosecuted, jailed and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in no small part because of racial profiling.

That was the case of Brian Lyttle. In one of the hundreds of cases involving U.S. citizens, 31 year-old Lyttle, a North Carolinian who has no Mexican ancestry, speaks no Spanish and suffers from mental , was deported by ICE to Mexico last April.

Another damning report released last week by the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University analyzed the immigration raids of homes and workplaces conducted by ICE.

According to the report, the raids, which have continued under the Obama Administration, have resulted in the kinds of Constitutional violations and routine racial profiling exemplified most clearly by the fact that “approximately 90 percent of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women – though Latinos represented only 66% of target arrests.” Both citizens and non-citizens have been arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or what ICE calls “collateral arrests” – arrests of people who are with or near someone who was ICE’s original “target.”

Virtually all advocates agree that the legal and policy foundations for such practices were laid by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. the result has been the creation of what legal scholar Juliet Stumpf calls the “crimmigration” system. Stumpf and others continue to decry an immigration system that, they believe, leads to the disproportionate profiling and incarceration (Latinos are now the largest group in federal prisons) of mostly poor immigrants in much the same way that harsh laws have lead to the disproportionate profiling of blacks, Latinos and other poor people that help make the united states home to the world’s most massive prison system.  Coming from the Obama administration, one that created great expectations of change, the continuation and expansion of programs that  systematically violate rights are beginning to wear thin the goodwill of immigrant defenders like Maria Muentes of the New York-based Families for Freedom.

“The nice speeches on race clash with the fact immigration enforcement is actually up under Obama; The levels of those incarcerated for immigration-related offenses look like they did during the Bush Administration,” said Muentes, whose organization advocates on behalf of detained immigrants. “Obama’s speeches on racial profiling seem to leave out a lot of people,” she lamented. “They exclude many immigrants, people for whom every aspect of their life is subject to racial profiling; people who are stopped while riding trains, people persecuted at work, people stopped while driving and all those families whose homes are terrorized by raids,” said Muentes.

Most disturbing to Muentes and other immigrant rights and Latino activists, many of whom have been ardent Obama supporters, was a very low-key announcement made on a late Friday afternoon just days after the President’s NAACP speech on racial profiling- by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: that the Obama Administration would not just continue, but actually expand what advocates say is one of the fastest-growing, most troubling racial profiling programs of the federal government, the 287(G) program. The initiative, which essentially deputizes state and local law enforcement officials to act as enforcers of federal immigration law, has been strongly criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and research institutes like Justice Strategies, which concluded that the Bush-era program is “driven more by racial animus than by concerns about public safety”.

Among the most demoralizing and irksome consequences of Obama Administration’s expansion of 287(G) is that the controversial program’s greatest benefactor, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, still has a federally sanctioned license to pursue and jail massive numbers of mostly Latino immigrants, as well as some citizens. Many law enforcement officials have also denounced 287(g) because it diverts policing resources from more traditional law enforcement functions. In 2008, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, noting that while Arpaio’s department was focused almost obsessively on locking up unauthorized immigrants 48,000 violent felons were at large in Maricopa County, moved to block a grant that helped fund the sheriff’s efforts.

More recently, anger at Obama’s expansion of 287(G) sparked an unprecedented and very direct denunciation by immigrant advocates from across the country, many of whom hadn’t previously criticized the Administration. A “Statement Condemning Obama Administration’s Expansion of DHS’s failed 287(g) Program” was signed by more than 25 groups from across the country including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Immigration Law Center and the Detention Watch Network.

Like many in the immigrants’ rights community who have generally been supportive of the Obama Administration, Jaqueline Esposito of the Detention Watch Network, one of the groups issuing the strongly-worded statement, finds her organization caught in the conflict between the spirit and the letter of policies promoting racial profiling.

“Detention Watch Network applauds the Obama Administration’s recent statements about racial profiling,” said Esposito. “But we are concerned because the Department of Homeland Security’s expansion of the 287(G) program is a direct contravention of the President’s statements.  287g has been widely criticized by government officials, immigrant rights advocates and many others, for undermining community safety and for racial profiling.”

For her part, Muentes fears that when it comes to racial profiling, Obama’s historic presidency may end up engendering hypocrisy of historic new proportions. “Some people thought that because he (Obama) is African American, it automatically means he will be more aware or critical of racial profiling against immigrants or others in the larger criminal justice system”, she continued. “That might not be the case.”

http://www.alternet.org/immigration/141624/immigration_and_
obama%3A_change_we_can_believe_in_or_more_of_the_same/?page=2

Slow economy spells little work for day laborers

Slow economy spells little work for day laborers

by Elisabeth Arriero – Jul. 27, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Slow economy spells little work for day laborers
Once at the center of controversy, s day laborers have become increasingly scarce as residents make fewer complaints about them and their numbers dwindle.

Experts, and leaders and laborers credit the changes to the slow economy, which has meant lower wages and less consistent work for day laborers. Some also attribute the decline to intimidation from anti-immigrant activism and legislation, leading many to leave the state in search of more promising markets.

It is a stark contrast from just a few years ago, when hundreds of day laborers would hit the streets of Valley cities each morning and visit work centers in search of jobs ranging from construction to house cleaning.

“The money was good then,” said Trinidad Vasquez of Mesa, who stood at Gilbert and Broadway roads last week hoping for work. “I could work seven days a week if I wanted to.”

These days, he hasn’t been so lucky.

Salvador Reza, coordinator for the Macehualli Work Center in Phoenix, said that at the site’s peak two years ago, 60 of the 120 day laborers there would find work. Now, the center averages 75 workers a day, with perhaps only 10 getting work, Reza said.

Day-laborer numbers have also dwindled on the streets, Glendale Vice Mayor Manny Martinez said.

“One reason . . . why is that a lot of them have gone back,” he said.

Nik Theodore, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of a 2006 study on day labor in the United States, said that unlike downturns in the 1990s or in 2001, this recession has hit the day-laborer population directly.

“This is the first one that hit the housing market so severely,” he said.

According to Theodore’s 2006 study, “On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States,” construction contractors employed 43 percent of day laborers. Day laborers’ top occupations were construction laborer, landscaper, painter, roofer and dry-wall installer.

But Theodore said that when construction projects across the country came to a halt, many day laborers lost their relatively stable income.

On a recent day at Gilbert and Broadway, laborer Julio Zayas noted that “only three people have been picked up today.” A few years ago, all 15 of the men would have found jobs.

Gone are the days when a worker would get hired for a job that took three days, Vasquez said. Four-hour shifts and odd jobs around the house are the new norm.

But Zayas said the day laborers who continue to come to the Valley’s corners each day do so because they have bills to pay in the United States and money to send to family members in their native country.

The situation creates a breeding ground for lower wages, less opportunity and unscrupulous employers, Reza said.

“It’s beginning to be a trend,” he said. “Usually, they wouldn’t go for less than $10. But in a situation this bad, someone offers $7 and they’ll go.”

Vasquez and Zayas said they have noticed a similar trend. While Vasquez said he doesn’t accept anything less than $8 per hour, he’s known of others who will take as low as $5 per hour.

Theodore said that although he doesn’t have any recent data, he suspects the median hourly wage has dropped substantially from its 2006 level of $10.

Perhaps the biggest threat to day laborers is increasingly tainted ethics. Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said reports of labor violations, non-payment of wages, and underpayment have risen since the recession began.

In 2005, one in two laborers reported having been cheated at least once.

“In better times, you would walk off a job after a day or two of not getting paid,” he said. “Now they’re working for longer periods of times because they’re desperate.”

Newman said more day-labor groups are banding together against the “pronounced and vitriolic anti-immigration sentiment” in Arizona that has silenced many workers‘ rights.

Rather than continue fighting for higher standards, Mesa pastor Magdalena Schwartz said she’s known many who just move to other states, such as Texas or California, or else back to their home country.

“This is the reality for a lot of people,” said Schwartz, of Discípulos del Reino. “They have to move because they can’t find job here.”

But while many day laborers have left the state, Newman said he had faith that the ones who have stayed will get through the economic storm that has gripped the country.

“They’re used to living at the margins,” he said. “They make do by surviving on less and continuously looking for opportunities for work.”

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/07/27/20090727daylaborers0727.html

Sandy Springs targets day laborer traffic

Drivers hiring workers must pull off road; limits also placed on locations

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

andy Springs can’t do anything about the day laborers lingering at major Roswell Road intersections, hoping that a passing car will bring work.

That’s because anyone can be in the public right of way. Plus, the upscale city has admitted it has — and needs — those kinds of workers by adopting a new local law that focuses more on traffic than its does the people on the sidewalk.

“We are not stopping anyone from seeking employment or from hiring, ” councilman Rusty Paul said. “We are just trying to be smart about safety.”

The problem has come from the traffic jams — and risks to pedestrians — created when a driver stops to offer work. Police Chief Terry Sult said the workers will ignore traffic in their rush to land a job, creating hazards and sudden stops on some of the city’s most heavily traveled roads.

In some cases, the workers swarm around a potential employer so quickly it blocks traffic completely, Sult said.

So under the new law, the city will fine any driver who doesn’t pull off and park to hire the workers. The citation is $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 and up to three months in jail for the third.

“There is an orderly way to do things,” Sult said. “We can’t have people slamming on their brakes because someone in front of them decides to stop and hire someone.”

The city weighed the issue for a month before approving it Tuesday. No one spoke out against the measure, and some churches have even signaled they approve of the push for safety.

The new law does limit where people can solicit work. The laborers face the same fines for being on private property, such as parking lots, unless the owners give permission.

The laborers also have to stay 300 feet away from freeway ramps, city attorney Wendell Willard said.

That distance — that of a football field — should keep traffic on busy I- 285 and Ga. 400 moving, he added.

Traffic flow, and the hiring process, would also run more smoothly with more job centers.

City officials said they hope the new law will encourage more of the hiring centers like the one that Holy Spirit Catholic Church opened on Northwoods Drive earlier this year.

There, workers register for jobs daily and the staff helps keep track of there comings and goings as a way to protect them from being mistreated. Plans are also under way to offer language classes for workers as they wait.

“I am very proud of our community for doing this,” Mayor Eva Galambos said. “We are doing the right thing by everyone.”

http://www.ajc.com/news/north-fulton/sandy-springs-targets-day-100983.html

Rally at Bill Maher Taping: Ask Napolitano about DHS Racial Profiling!! // For Immediate Release

Rally at Bill Maher Taping: Ask Napolitano about DHS Racial Profiling!! // For Immediate Release

Rally at Bill Maher Taping: Ask Napolitano about DHS Racial Profiling!! // For Immediate Release

For Immediate Release // Excuse Cross Postings // Please Forward

Contact (Engish y Español):  Loyda Alvarado (323) 434- 8115 

What:     Press Conference, cheap Rally, and Demonstration 

Why:      To Urge Bill Maher to Ask Secretary Napolitano about DHS Racial Profiling Practices, 287(g), Joe Arpaio

Where:  7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA   (Near corner of Beverly and Fairfax)

When:   Friday, July 24, 2009

Time:     5:30 to 7 pm

(Los Angeles)  Immigrant, civil, and labor rights advocates will hold a rally and press conference outside the taping of Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday at 5:30 pm.   Protestors will urge Mr. Maher to ask tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her relationship with the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.  Specifically, Secretary Napolitano should be asked why DHS has not severed its contract with Arpaio (Napolitano’s hometown sheriff), and why DHS opted last week to expand a failed experimental Bush immigration enforcement policy that has demonstrably resulted in mass racial profiling.

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama used very strong language to denounce racial profiling practices by local police.   However, last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the widely-criticized 287(g) program, which outsources federal immigration enforcement authority to local sheriffs.  In recent years, Joe Arpaio has become a symbol of the program’s failure, as his use of 287(g) has resulted widespread allegations of racial profiling.  The Department of Justice recently launched a high-profile investigation of Arpaio’s practices.    Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio’s relationship with neo-nazis has been noted by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon; Arpaio himself has said it’s an honor to be called KKK; and he has even posed for photos with high-profile neo-nazis.     The New York Times has published several editorials calling for the termination of the 287(g) program in general and Arpaio’s contract in particular.  Those editorials are available here,  herehere, and most recently, here.  

Salvador Reza, a community leader in Phoenix, issued the following statement:  ”Secretary Napolitano has the legal authority and the moral obligation to end Arpaio’s reign of terror in her hometown of Phoenix.  Instead, she is expanding the 287(g) program and intends to make the country look like Maricopa County.  We hope Bill Maher has the courage to ask hard questions of Secretary Napolitano.”

###

New Orleans day laborers want wage theft criminalized

Facing South Magazine:

Post-Katrina New Orleans has become the center of a national effort to protect migrant day laborers from wage theft. 

As Facing South has covered, following the 2005 hurricane season, site the Gulf Coast region saw an explosion in its Hispanic population, seek particularly in New Orleans where migrant workers came to fill the construction jobs that opened up during the post-Katrina recovery effort. Estimates indicate the New Orleans metro area’s Hispanic population has tripled in the last three years, from about 60,000 to about 180,000. 

Many of New Orleans’ Hispanic migrant workers have faced rampant wage theft, coercion and abuse. Following the hurricanes, in what labor rights advocates have called the “disaster after the disaster,” hundreds of contractors along the Gulf Coast employed migrant workers to clean up debris, repair damaged roofs and restore flood-soaked buildings, Contractors then reneged on promises to pay workers after that work was completed. The exploitation has been especially rampant in New Orleans, where thousands of workers employed by construction contractors to rebuild homes are still routinely shortchanged and denied promised wages once the work is completed. 

In fact, according to a recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, New Orleans has the highest incidence of wage theft in the South. Of those workers surveyed by SPLC, a whopping80 percent of the workers said they were victims of wage theft while working in New Orleans’ recovery since Hurricane Katrina. A 2008 survey of 300 day laborers indicated they had worked a total of 12,000 unpaid days and lost a total of $400,000 in wages, reports the New Orleans CityBusiness.

There are very few legal options for migrant workers, and the current laws on the books aren’t enough to protect workers, day labor advocates say. Simply put, there are no criminal statutes that hold contractors who practice wage theft legally accountable for their actions. 

New Orleans day laborers and labor rights advocates have been campaigning to stop wage theft, and to end the abuse, intimidation, exploitation and discrimination against migrant day laborers. Organizing with the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers, a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, workers have urged local lawmakers and officials to pass tougher laws that would classify shortchanging or denying wages to a hired day laborer a crime. 

Workers brought their case before the New Orleans city council in a public hearing in late June, testifying to the rampant abuse in the sector. New Orleans Councilman Arnie Fielkow has started working on a city ordinance, which he hopes to have drafted by August, that would protect day laborers by criminalizing wage theft. 

Under state and federal law wage theft is a civil offense, which means workers can file civil suits against employers in small claims court, but often migrant workers face challenges to taking such measures. Fielkow’s ordinance would instead make wage theft a criminal offense, allowing cops to arrest violators. Supporters of the ordinance hope the law will empower the New Orleans Police Department to crack down on offending contractors and discourage employers from violating wage laws.

http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/07/post-48.html

Money woes may force day-labor center to close

by Connie Cone Sexton – Jul. 21, 2009 10:16 AM
The Arizona Republic

The land in and around the Macehualli Work Center in northeast Phoenix has been a field of dreams for many years for Salvador Reza, who runs the day-labor center.

He worked to create a place to help men and women find temporary day jobs, but also wanted to develop the land into housing and possibly, a two-story employment and training center.

But now, Reza’s ability to hold on to the site at 16801 N. 25th St. near Bell Road is in jeopardy, he said Monday. Two years ago, Reza’s organization entered into an agreement with Chicanos por la Causa. “Unfortunately, the economic crisis hit and CPLC was not able to fulfill its commitment,” he wrote in a letter to supporters, alerting them to the need for funding.

Edmundo Hidalgo, president and chief executive officer of CPLC, confirmed the situation. “At the time, when we conceptualized the mixed-used project, the residential portion was to provide resources because of some of the shortages on the commercial side. But then the residential portion was no longer viable.”

 

Funding problems

 

“With the downturn of the housing market, we got caught holding the bag,” Reza said. Reza said his group bought the land with a loan. “We cannot afford a $700,000 property and we will have to put it up for . Hopefully, we’ll come up with somebody who is willing to permit the center to continue operating. But no one wants to step up to the plate.”

In the meantime, Reza said his group has been trying to keep up with the interest on the 2.2-acre parcel. “But it’s $60,000 a year and that’s hard.”

He estimates they may have another three months to operate the day-labor center, unless the land is sold.

“The losers will be the Palomino neighborhood, the business alliance and the businesses, really, because they (the day laborers) will go back to the streets,” Reza said.

 

Center timeline

 

• February 2003: Center opens as the first taxpayer-funded day-labor center in the Valley.

• June 2003: Opponents of the center launch what will be a failed recall campaign against Councilwoman Peggy Neely. She was blamed for bringing the center into the neighborhood.

• June 2004: Phoenix officials confirm the city will not back the center financially.

• May 2005: Gov. Janet Napolitano signs House Bill 2592, a Republican-backed bill that bans local governments from spending taxpayer money on day-labor centers.

• June 2006: Three of the four non-profits that fund the center confirm they are withdrawing financial support.

• February: The center turns six years old

 

Immigrant actors tell their story

Day laborers in Los Angeles offer impromptu street theater between jobs.

Day Laborers Await Court Date for ‘Peddling’ Tickets

Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer 

San Fernando Sun

“For now, we feel good because we’re not going to pay anything [right now].”

Those were the words of Oscar Velasquez, a Guatemalan day laborer who showed up last week at the branch of the Superior Court of Los Angeles in the city of San Fernando to comply with a ticket for “peddling” received May 19 while waiting for work outside a Home Depot store on Foothill Blvd.

Instead of paying for the ticket, Velasquez and five other day laborers requested a court date to go before a judge. They were given a Dec. 17 court date to present their case before a judge, who will decide if they must pay the citations or not.

“We don’t know if they’re going to rescind the tickets we have,” said Velasquez, who last year spent three days in the city of San Fernando jail for not paying a previous infraction.

As the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol reported last week, dozens of day laborers at the site have been issued “peddling” tickets by the San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) since last year.

Their crime: entering the parking lot of the commercial plaza where the home improvement and several other businesses are located. They must stay out on the sidewalk while waiting for someone to hire them for menial jobs.

The day laborers say the citations issued are a form of harassment by SFPD officers who they claim have even cited them while they exited restaurants in the plaza still with coffee in their hands. Velasquez said he was even ordered by a SFPD officer to go from the sidewalk into the parking lot so he could give him a ticket.

The City of San Fernando doesn’t have an ordinance that prevents people from seeking work on public property, according to Antonio Bernabe, day laborer organizer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

The situation also troubles Peter Schey, Executive Director for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, who thinks ticketing day laborers could be a violation of their civil rights.

“What is peddling? If they are being issued citation under a little used ordinance and the reality is just in essence to get rid of them, I would think that would raise significant constitutional questions.” Schey said.

“They [the day laborers] have a right without disrupting others, without disrupting businesses, or customers of businesses they have the right to assemble in common areas and it seems like a subterofuge to use a peddling ordinance when they’re not really peddling goods or items for and they are available for hire if anyone wants to hire them. It seems like a ruse to me.”

San Fernando City Attorney Michael Estrada said he couldn’t comment on the cases without reviewing each one, and had no plans to look into the issue because the city council had not directed him to. He also noted he wasn’t going to second guess police chief Robert Ordelheide.

City Administrator Jose Pulido said the police actions were in response to security problems at the site.

“It was the illegal activity that was the cause of concern and they (day laborers) were almost accosting women for panhandling purposes,” said Pulido.

Pulido said managers from stores at the site had cited problems with day laborers as their number one concern. He said “They were causing a visible mess, debris and disorderly conduct, some people were drinking and some people were using s so it ran the whole gammit and some of the men were confronting some of the women [pers] panhandling. It wasn’t a nice place to be and they asked the city to help.”

Meanwhile, the police’s actions against the day laborers at the site have stopped. Police officers still come around, but they haven’t issued any tickets since May, according to the day laborers.

This is due in part to pressure from Sylmar resident Sam Cordova, who has become an outspoken critic of the police’s actions after witnessing the issuance of the tickets and a SFPD officer yelling at the day laborers.

He calls the peddling accusations against the day laborers a “made up charge” that doesn’t apply to them. Cordova is encouraging the day laborers to fight the tickets and accompanied them last week when they went to court.

“They’re not going to pay anything,” vowed Cordova. “Day laborers will get their day in court.”

Still, he said only six of the 16 days laborers who have outstanding tickets showed up on the day they had to go to court last week.

“Some of them are still scared,” said Cordova.

http://www.sanfernandosun.com/sanfernsun/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3846&Itemid=0

Day labor site growing despite new laws

Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin 
UPLAND – The group of day laborers who once stood in the Home Depot parking lot to wait for work have moved their location to the sidewalk along Mountain Avenue.

The Upland City Council approved a no-trespassing ordinance in March to give businesses an extra hand in preventing people from congregating in their parking lots without the owners’ permission.

Within the past few weeks a larger group of day laborers has been seen standing within the public right of way.

“Actually what might be the issue is on the property they scattered in groups where they would blend in with pers, there ” said Robin Hvidston, story member of the Minuteman project. “It may just be that the visibility of the numbers are now apparent because they’re standing together.”

The property owner, Home Depot manager and city have all expressed opposition to the now established day laborer site, Hvidston said.

“The consensus is, `we do not want loitering or trespassing,’ but of course there are other federal issues involved,” Hvidston said. “It’s very complicated.”

The ordinance allows business owners to post “no trespassing” signs on their property. Any violators can be removed by the Upland Police Department at the owner’s request, said Sgt. Cliff Mathews, public information officer with the Upland Police Department.

People are allowed to stand on the sidewalk because it’s public property, but they are not allowed to block the right of way, he said.

“I think this ordinance has been successful, but again the strength of it is that the owner of the center or business has to call the police, so if they’re not going to do that then it’s only going to be as strong as their participation,” Mayor John Pomierski said.

Hvidston informed the City Council during Monday’s meeting about her recent encounters with people selling ows outside of Coco’s restaurant on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

Selling ows in parking lots within the city is not acceptable, Pomierski said.

“There are people that pay money to have business licenses and when they sell their products there’s a markup on it because fees are being paid,” Pomierski said. “That’s the cost of being in business and when people are selling stuff at the curb, including labor at a ed rate, it’s not a level playing field.”

The possible increase in day labor and vendor activity could be due to the poor economy, Pomierski said.

“It’s affecting all walks of life from the top and down,” Pomierski said. “It’s going to affect (day laborers) as well. They’re just looking for more avenues for exposure.”

Juan Rodriguez of Ontario was among a dozen men sitting along the curb in front of Home Depot on Mountain Avenue on Tuesday.

Rodriguez, a construction worker, has filled out more than 100 job applications, but did not receive a single call back, he said.

Rodriguez said he hopes someone will hire him to do yard work or to help with moving.

“If I make $50 it’s better than nothing,” he said. “We come here because we need food. I’m legal. I can work, but there is nothing. I’m not asking for handout.”

http://www.dailybulletin.com/autos/ci_12837153

Promised Land

The stigma of ‘illegal aliens’ makes migrant workers targeted prey

New Orleans City Business
July 20, check 2009
by Richard A. Webster

Hours after Councilman Arnie Fielkow proposed an ordinance that would protect Hispanic day laborers by criminalizing wage theft, WRNO 99.5 FM talk radio show host John Osterlind took to the airwaves to express his disappointment.

“My head is spinning and I’m an Arnie Fielkow fan,” Osterlind said on his June 30 broadcast. “Do we want laws on the books to protect illegal immigrants?”

Osterlind opened the phone lines and the first caller, Marcus, lashed out at Fielkow’s proposal.

“Most of the (day laborers), if you get real close to them, you smell liquor,” Marcus said. “They’re addicts, alcoholics and most are illegal aliens.”

The next caller, Jalinda from Thibodeaux, took Marcus to task.

“Just because they’re here illegally doesn’t mean we have the right to treat them like dogs. If you make a verbal agreement pay the guys,” she said.

Fielkow’s proposed wage theft ordinance has ignited debate beyond the airwaves and revealed long-simmering tensions regarding the status of the thousands of Hispanic workers who have arrived in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

“You can’t say enough about what (the day laborers) have done for the city,” Osterlind said when interviewed last week. “But like many said, they’re here illegally, end of story, case closed. Either tell everyone who is here illegally to stay, which I’m not a proponent of, or enact our immigration laws. But until the federal government does something to fix this problem we’ll keep going around and around in circles.”

It is widely known that there are thousands of undocumented immigrants working in New Orleans and that New Orleans companies employ them in droves. But little is done about it. The federal government hasn’t dispatched teams of immigration agents to round them up and rarely punishes the companies employing them, said Larry Bagneris, executive director of the city’s Human Relations Commission.

And there is little incentive for the city to take action since the migrant workers have played such a vital role in New Orleans’ recovery.

But this symbiotic relationship has created a new set of legal problems such as wage theft that the city is now forced to deal with.

Fielkow has taken the lead on the issue and as a result people uneasy with the presence of illegal immigrants have turned on him.

“Fielkow is a straight up guy but I turn my back on him for pushing this crap down the people’s throats,” said John in Slidell, a caller to the Osterlind show.

Fielkow defends his proposed ordinance as the right thing to do for a group of people who have meant so much to the rebuilding effort.

“It’s very hypocritical to ask them to help with rebuilding and then turn a blind eye when they’re getting ripped off,” Fielkow said. “I would appeal to people’s basic civil rights and humanity that … we should at least afford them some level of protection.”

Under state and federal law, wage theft is a civil offense with disputes often settled in small claims court. Fielkow’s proposal would make it a criminal offense allowing police to arrest alleged offenders.

 

Struggle to accept

After Hurricane Katrina an estimated 90,000 Hispanics came to New Orleans, according to the Catholic Diocese’s Hispanic Apostolate.

Since their arrival, they have been hailed as an indispensable part of the recovery. They did the jobs no one else wanted to do — plunging into flooded houses festering with mold and rotting food, clearing out debris and gutting the toxic insides, working long hours in brutal conditions for the promise of cash to send home to their struggling families.

But for all of the accolades thrown their way, many people have struggled to accept the new foreign population, Bagneris said. And they have not been afraid to express their feelings.

Since the storm, Bagneris has worked undercover among day laborers, standing in the parking lots of The Home Depot and Lowe’s and listened as drivers in passing cars scream “wetback” and “go back to Mexico.” Some have even thrown bricks through the windows of the workers’ trucks.

The abuse the migrant workers weathered had gotten so bad that Bagneris suggested after Hurricane Ike that they go to Galveston, Texas, where the Hispanic culture is more prevalent and he thought they would be treated better.

“They refused. They said it’s worse in Houston and Galveston in terms of how they’re treated and abused. I was floored considering what they go through here,” Bagneris said.

During one undercover assignment at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Claiborne Avenue, several workers pointed out a man they claimed had cheated them out of thousands of dollars in promised wages. When Bagneris approached the accused individual, the man, thinking Bagneris was just another day laborer, hurled racial epithets at him.

“I told him I worked for the mayor’s office and he said, ‘Don’t you have more important problems to deal with than protecting these people, like all the murders?’ I told him, ‘This is important. You’re murdering these people’s spirits.’”

 

Blacks vs. Hispanics

Bagneris said the biggest shock was that the man accused of ripping off the workers was black.

Luz Molina, a Loyola University law professor who specializes in wage theft cases, said she too has been surprised to hear stories of blacks abusing the migrant workers.

“If anyone would be sympathetic to their situation you would think it would be African Americans,” she said.

The antipathy of blacks towards day laborers is based on a combination of economics and race since many of the post-hurricane construction jobs have gone to Hispanics, said Ted Quant, director of Loyola’s Twomey Center of Peace Through Justice.

“If you’re a black worker and look at construction on a housing project you used to live in and don’t see anybody working on it that looks like you, it breeds resentment,” Quant said. “We saw the same thing happen after Vietnamese community moved here after the fall of Saigon. People were screaming they were going to take all the jobs. This is a repeat 40 years later with a different group of people. But they’re a different color and speak a different language, so it’s easier to hate them.”

Fielkow’s proposal to pass an ordinance to protect Hispanic workers is like digging the knife into the wounded pride of local workers who feel the new population of immigrants has stolen their jobs, Quant said.

“The sad thing is that these are hardworking people who, when you get to know them, are dealing with same issues we are: How do I feed family, get my kids educated, make sure my mother and father can get medical care?” Quant said.

But they are different because they are deemed “illegal aliens,” Molina said. The term is dehumanizing and justifies all manner of abuse — wage theft, robbery, racial slurs, beatings — because they are illegal aliens, Molina said.

A recent survey of 300 Hispanic day laborers indicated they had worked a total of 12,000 unpaid days and lost a total of $400,000 in wages, according to the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers.

Molina represents a man who was cheated out of $60,000 for three months of work. He is now living in his car with little hope for the future.

Another case involves a 17-year-old boy owed more than $3,000. When he asked his boss for the money, the employer told him to “get out of my face,” Molina said. The contractor then called the police, told them the 17-year-old threatened his family and that he was in the country illegally.

The police arrested the boy and turned him over to immigration.

“One of the biggest shocks is how many homeowners have cheated these people,” Molina said. “They’ve rebuilt their houses on slave labor. But people think since they’re here undocumented, that they’re criminals and don’t deserve any respect as human beings.”

Even more surprising is that a significant number of contractors committing wage theft are Latino themselves, according to Catholic Charities.

Many of these Latino contractors come from countries where regulation is non-existent, Molina said. They are simply opportunistic people looking to make some fast cash and don’t understand that what they can get away with in their home country, they can’t get away with in the United States, Molina said.

“It’s sad because who is in better position to know how vulnerable these workers are than another Latino who he himself may have taken a similar road,” Molina said. “But all these people, no matter their race, are the same. They’re individuals predisposed to abusing others and making a quick buck.”

Unfortunately, the majority of the public wrath falls on the heads of the undocumented workers and not the corrupt contractors, she said.

“And what’s their crime? That they wanted to support their families in their home country? And that’s an evil thing?”

 

Illegal business

It’s not an evil thing, but it is an illegal thing, said Wes Wyman, president of the New Orleans Homebuilders Association.

Wyman said he opposes Fielkow’s wage theft ordinance because it provides protection to laborers who work for cash under the table and that gives an unfair advantage to businesses that want to avoid paying taxes, worker’s compensation and insurance.

Wyman also took issue with the prevailing public opinion that the day laborers have played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of New Orleans.

“The vast majority of these guys are no more than common laborers,” Wyman said. “They have no skill and do substandard work that will eventually have to be fixed if the homeowner ever wants to sell his house. It’s your contractors and subcontractors, the people who have been working in this city for years, who have rebuilt New Orleans. Where people get this picture that these guys rebuilt the city I have no idea.”

Callers to the Osterlind show who opposed Fielkow’s ordinance echoed Wyman’s sentiment, that their opposition is based on the rule of law and not race.

“It’s a strange thing to listen to people who broke the law to get here now want protection of the law,” said Michael in Baton Rouge. “Nothing would be better to the situation than to do nothing (about wage theft). Word would get around that you get stiffed here then they wouldn’t come here.”

Federal and state laws protect undocumented immigrants employed by U.S. companies despite their illegal status, Molina said. Contractors have no more a right to steal from them than they do American workers, and the undocumented immigrants have just as much a right as legal citizens to pursue justice in the courts, she said.

Fielkow and his opponents agree on one important point: If companies followed the law and refused to hire illegal immigrants, the problem wouldn’t exist.

But until they are properly punished, Quant said the most unscrupulous will continue to hire and rob undocumented workers because they live by a simple credo: Greed is a virtue and compassion is a vice.

“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too if I’m slick enough to get it,” Quant said, describing the disreputable contractor’s mindset. “And if we can drive people’s wages down so I can make more profit, all the better for me.

“But there’s a social consequence to that in crime, poverty and disease,” Quant said.

“It just doesn’t make sense for us to be defending people stealing the wages of others who work hard. It violates every value we have as a people.”

http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/viewStory.cfm?recid=33714