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On April 26, 96 individuals from all over the nation gathered electronically for a phone conference on the current situation for immigrants in America. Dallas and Houston had one representative each Sarita Agupta, Field Director of Jobs with Justice (www.jwj.org) , opened the meeting and chaired. A Low Wage Immigrant Worker Coalition was begun in 1999. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and comprehensive immigration reform are now big issues..
The current situation in Congress was recapitulated by representatives from the National Immigrant Law Center. Their web page, www.nilc.org, has current information. It was anticipated that the Senate will return to immigration reform discussions as soon as they finish their present spending bill. No matter what they decide, it will still have to be reconciled to the Sensenbrenner bill, HR4437, which passed the House December 10. HR4437 is an "enforcement only" bill, but the Senate Judiciary Committee has considered the other main point of discussion, "Guest worker" programs, and combined the two in various ways. At this point, there is nothing fixed in the Senate, and the Senate Majority leader prefers something very similar to HR4437. One of the call participants pointed out that reports about developments in the Senate were misleadingly optimistic, and that no definite decisions have been made there.
ICE has announced a new "Secure Border" initiative as part of Homeland Security. It has several aspects:
1. remove foreign nationals with criminal charges
2. remove people who have final orders
3. remove individuals who overstayed visas
4. build strong worksite compliance program. Criminally punish employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. Work with the Departments of Labor, State, and Justice to "uproot criminal infrastructure."
ICE, and INS before ICE, has had the ability to enforce immigration laws and
impose civil and criminal penalties under the 1986 law. Now they are focusing
more on criminal charges against employers. Some are charged with money laundering.
ICE is seeking access to Social Security records because of the many alleged
"no matches" and because so many workers register false SSA numbers.
There is legislation pending to give ICE access to SSA data. ICE is trying to
create employment verification programs.
The dramatic raids at IFCO facilities were a prelude. What we're going to see is more enforcement raids and more criminal charges. One thing that will probably result is that ICE will be patrolling streets and questioning individuals. We are likely to see a lot more of it.
Participants speculated that the sudden concern for enforcing the 1986 law was a retaliation against the growing immigrants' rights movement. Others thought it had more to do with the November elections.
The Supreme Court has a pending case involving civil action. Certain right-wing organizations want to strengthen the ability of citizens to report their neighbors and various business operators to ICE. The RICO racketeering law is involved. Around the country, a few individuals lost their jobs as a result of participating in protests. Several of the call participants reported success in getting their jobs back. On May 3rd, an attempt will be made to gather all the information about firings, especially from May 1 actions, and a national strategy will be discussed.
Pamphlets advising workers of their rights in English and Spanish are being prepared and will be available right away. Title: "Immigrant Protests: What Every Worker Should Know."
On May 10, the Low Wage Undocumented Worker Coalition will hold another national
Please contact North Texas Jobs with Justice if interested in helping with this important work. After Jobs with Justice made our decision and began petitioning for fairness, we learned that we had boarded a fast-moving train. The Dallas Area Interfaith, the leading umbrella organization of religious groups in North Texas, had already scheduled a press conference favoring fair legislation in Congress. Click here for an account. We joined that press conference with our own Jobs with Justice statement. The statements of religious leaders were inspiring, particularly that of Lutheran Bishop Kevin S. Kanouse. We set up a panel to investigate the facts about immigrant's working conditions. On April 1, we held our first hearing. The next hearing will be at 7 PM on Friday, April 28, at Oak Cliff Methodist, Marsalis and Davis in Dallas. On May 1, North Texans are asked to stay away from work and to observe a consumer boycott.
For updates about the situation in Congress, check the Catholic web site: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
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