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Entries tagged "immigration"

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Global Victory for Domestic Workers

June 16, 2011 ·

The ILO voted by a whopping 396 to 16 margin to adopt a "historic set of international standards" known as the Convention on Domestic Workers.

Domestic workers celebrate after ILO passes convention on domestic workers.This great news from Geneva was many years in the making, as domestic workers from all over the world have been organizing in their home countries and through the International Domestic Worker Network (IDWN) for rights and respect. It has been on the ILO's official agenda for two years — last year was spent on the work of drafting the convention, and this year was spent on finalizing and preparing for a vote. For the next few years, the ILO will work for widespread ratification and offer technical assistance on implementation to member countries.

In the United States, the organizing effort for domestic workers has been led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) a partner of Break The Chain Campaign, an Institute for Policy Studies project. The AFL-CIO, which has typically represented U.S. labor in the tripartite International Labor Organization system (labor, employers, and government), opened up seats on the delegation so that domestic workers could represent themselves in the meetings and even have an official vote.

I believe that this convention will open the doors to other "excluded workers" around the world (and in the United States) to use the ILO system to push for rights and recognition.

The nature of the domestic worker industry lends itself to abuse. In the United States, this workforce is comprised largely of immigrant women of color, doing work that has been regarded as "women's work" (thus not "real work" but something that women are expected to do as part of their natural role), and work which takes place in the private, unregulated household, where workers are typically alone. Adding to this stacked deck is the fact that many important U.S. labor laws simply don't cover domestic workers.

At the Break The Chain Campaign, which has fought migrant domestic worker exploitation and human trafficking since 1997, we hope that the ILO convention will have a significant impact on the severe abuse and trafficking of domestic workers. We have assisted more than 250 domestic workers in the DC/MD/VA metro area, a large number of whom arrived to the United States on legal work visas — particularly the A3 (for domestic workers employed by diplomats) and G5 (for domestic workers employed by staffers of the World Bank/IMF and other international organization).

This convention's widespread ratification will push both the countries that send migrant domestic workers and those that receive them to acknowledge that domestic workers are real workers, not powerless individuals who are expected to remain in quiet servitude and endure long hours without overtime pay, along with hazardous working conditions without access to health and safety protections.

It will also end the "cultural relativity" excuse that sleeping on a mattress in an unheated garage is "better than what she would get in her home country" or "the way that servants are treated according to tradition." Workers will be armed with the knowledge that there is an international standard that protects them.

I hope that the United States will be a leader and ratify this convention. The State Department has recently begun to implement provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2008) that specify protections for A3/G5 visa holders and other temporary non-immigrants (such as a "know your rights brochure" that is supposed to be given to domestic workers before they arrive in this country). We hope that the State Department will advocate for U.S. ratification, use its diplomacy missions to spread the word about the convention, and use it as a companion to its worldwide anti-trafficking work. In the meantime, our laws must match the international law proposed in order for the ILO convention to be ratified here.

Domestic workers have already won labor rights through legislation in New York State and a similar California law is in the works. Now we have the promise of this convention to guide our national work. This is truly a victory in itself.

For more information, please check out NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo's recent FPIF commentary.

IMF Chief Assaults Woman from Guinea--Again

May 19, 2011 ·

The hotel worker IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted likely suffered in her home country as a result of IMF policies, like so many of the world's poor.

Last month, I helped lead a march of hundreds of people to protest what we consider to be the International Monetary Fund's criminal behavior during its yearly spring summit with the World Bank. Along with others, I raised my voice to say, "Arrest the IMF!"

Now, Strauss-Kahn is in a jail cell. According to witnesses and other evidence, he sexually assaulted a female hotel worker in a shockingly violent act in a posh suite at the Manhattan Sofitel hotel. When the worker he allegedly attacked bravely broke free, Strauss-Kahn fled the scene, leaving behind personal items such as his mobile phone. The worker, who is an immigrant from the West African nation of Guinea, immediately told others what had happened to her. Law enforcement personnel caught up with him at JFK airport and pulled him off of the airplane minutes before his flight to Paris was scheduled to depart.

While the alleged details are shocking, it's no surprise to me that an IMF chief would exhibit violent, sociopathic behavior. After all, the IMF's austerity policies have assaulted poor countries for years.

The Fund is arguably the world's most powerful financial institution. It issues loans to countries undergoing economic and financial distress, mostly poor ones, though lately European Union members Ireland, Greece, and Portugal have become big customers. In exchange for cash in times of need, the IMF demands blood from the countries that it serves.

In return for its emergency loans, the Fund often forces countries to halt government services that people rely on, such as food subsidies for the poor, health care services, education benefits, and retirement benefits. The IMF presses countries to privatize national assets, selling off pieces of itself to corporations and the wealthy. It demands trade deregulation, allowing corporations to conduct business without any accountability to the government of the country. It tells countries to get rid of laws that protect the environment. As a result, inequalities deepen, and it's hard to see how many countries getting IMF loans really benefit.

Strauss-Kahn's alleged sex attack on an African immigrant is a harrowing metaphor for how the IMF treats the rest of the world. And in fact, it might be more than a metaphor. This very same woman may have suffered in her home country as a result of IMF policies, long before her life's journey brought her to the United States.

According to the woman's lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, she arrived in the U.S. from Guinea seven years ago under "very difficult circumstances." She has a 15-year-old daughter. The worker did not know that her attacker was the IMF chief until at least a day after the attack took place, he said.

As part of a global plan to reduce the debt extremely poor nations owed to international financial institutions and wealth governments, the IMF jumped into the country's economics more than 15 years ago, instituting game-changing domestic laws (called "structural adjustments") that would prompt privatization, especially in the mining sector. A detailed policy framework forced on Guinea by the IMF made allowances for a railroad and a deep-water sea port for exporting iron and aluminum shipments, but didn't make allowances for any new hospitals or schools. It ensured that the Guinean government would be "committed to privatizing the central pharmacy," which likely raised the rate of all basic medicines.

She didn't know it when she fought off her attacker, but this brave hotel housekeeper had likely been assaulted by the IMF before, through its cruel policies. Could the shifting factors of the global economy have caught her in its maw? Could these factors be what spurred her to make the dramatic decision to leave her home to emigrate to the United States?

She wouldn't be alone. Most immigrants cite economic factors as major reasons that they move here. Too often, global strings are pulled by wealthy financiers, and people suffer.

Just as the woman Strauss-Kahn allegedly attacked fought him off, we as a unified global community must fight back against the IMF's destructive policies. It starts with raising our voices in protest against this financial powerhouse that is assaulting the poor.

Obama Falls Flat in El Paso

May 11, 2011 ·

Pity President Obama.

His supposedly important immigration speech fell flat. Nobody is taking him seriously on this issue, which could make or break his re-election campaign.

As House Republican leaders demand $2 trillion or more in budget cuts, Obama's political obligations to Latinos are obliging some hard-to-believe promise-making. By travelling to El Paso to steer the country to a different conversation about immigration, Obama escaped for a day the eternal gridlock of a divided Congress.

His blueprint for immigration reform, unveiled in El Paso, fails to advance the debate forward. Instead, it emphasizes the responsibility of "people living in the U.S. illegally" (the term Obama's speechwriters apparently prefer to "illegal aliens" or "undocumented workers.") Unbelievably, Obama's immigration plans would be far more punitive for undocumented people than any previous proposal. He's calling for "a series of fines," in addition to a requirement that immigrants pay back taxes as part of a path to legalization/citizenship. His plan would also make newly-legalized immigrants wait for eight years before they can apply for residence.

Under Obama's plan, immigrants would have to wait longer, pay more, than they do now, while enjoying fewer rights. Meanwhile, Republicans are committed to intertwining the issues of terrorism and immigration. 

On the same day, Republican House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, introduced the Secure Visas Act. It's a bill sold as an anti-terrorism measure that would make it easier to take away visas from individuals from certain countries without judicial review. Notably, Mexico is one of the countries on the list.

Obama says his hands are tied with regard to the high number of deportations occurring during his presidency, but advocates have already demonstrated that he can act on his own to provide relief to the undocumented people in this country, the majority of which have already been living here for a long time.

The American Immigration Council has delineated with clarity what he can do within the law to stop the deportations of certain individuals. Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has the ability to grant "deferred actions" on deportations, and allow undocumented individuals with good moral character to apply for an Employment Authorization Documents, or work permits as they are usually known. These documents don't grant permanent residency or voting rights, but they can be useful in facilitating the immigrant integration process. With an EAD, undocumented immigrants would be able to work legally, apply for a driver’s license, and get a credit card. Nothing from Obama’s speech touched on this issue, showing that he's not willing to risk anything politically. His pretty words about keeping families together are just that.

Unfortunately for him, Obama's considerable rhetorical skills aren't enough to convince the immigrant community, and its many allied voters, that he's serious about immigration reform.

Pity him. It might cost him his re-election.

Obama Will Address Immigration Issues Today - Don't Hold Your Breath

May 10, 2011 ·

President Barack Obama will debut his 2012 stump speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas today. I expect he'll say the usual about how the current system hurts all U.S. workers and threatens national security. He'll urge Congress to work on a bipartisan manner.

His lackluster message is doomed to fall on deaf ears in Congress. As for voters concerned about immigrant rights, they're going to pay more attention to his actions. Obama has overseen a record-breaking rise in the number of deportations, and pushed the controversial immigration enforcement program Secure Communities, which is phasing in forced local police participation in a national fingerprinting database.

Facing pressure from state legislatures, constituency groups and Spanish-language media outlets, Obama wants to stay ahead of the debate. He's making the speech at a key moment when the military operation that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the release of positive job numbers are bolstering his popularity. Like national security and the economy, immigration is a very complex issue that could affect his re-election chances.

"I strongly believe we have to fix this broken system so it meets the 21st century needs for the American economy and security, he told a group of supporters gathered at the White House's Cinco de Mayo reception last week. "This is not going to be easy, and it will require bipartisan support."

Bipartisan cooperation will prove difficult, though. Across the nation, highly partisan state legislation is attacking the Obama administration's immigration policies from both sides of the political spectrum. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer pointed to federal inaction on immigration enforcement as a pretext for the "Papers Please" SB1070 law. Now, democratic-controlled state legislatures in Illinois and California seek to challenge Obama over the Secure Communities program.

One by one, states are taking sides on immigration. Indiana, Alabama, and Louisiana are moving closer to adopting tough rules that will, in practice, deny undocumented youth access to higher education. On the other hand, Maryland, Oregon, and Connecticut are close to giving undocumented youth access to in-state tuition fees at state colleges and universities.

As state legislatures take immigration policy in their own hands, Congress seems determined to avoid the subject at all costs. Obama will be judged by his  actions on immigration policy, not his stump speeches.

End this Cynical Anti-Immigrant Program, Save $460 Million

March 30, 2011 ·

Protest against Secure Communities program outside Mass. State House

Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton is fond of boasting about the Secure Communities program, which enables ICE to share fingerprint data with local and state police forces in a supposed quest to crack down on foreign-born criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security touts Secure Communities by sprinkling any description of the program with anecdotes about the worst criminal immigrants, such as a man arrested on assault charges who had previously been deported after a murder conviction. Secure Communities makes it more possible for low level offenses to be punished by deportation, even if the charges are later reduced or dropped. In most of those cases, the punishment will not fit the crime. Deportations and raids are counter-productive and carry a damaging psychological effect that goes well beyond the deported individuals. Tiffany Williams, from the Institute’s Break The Chain campaign, writes:

Approximately five million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. A study by the Urban Institute revealed that children are often the real victims of workplace raids -- 80 percent of the children of workers in their study sites were less than ten years old. When families experience long separations from other family members, the report noted the effects can include significant economic hardship, psychological stress, and feelings of abandonment that can lead to sustained mental health problems.

When the American Psychological Association recently recommended overhauling our detention centers and social service networks to better protect children and maintain family units, it acknowledged the widespread psychological trauma caused by immigration enforcement -- including everything from infant developmental delays to dismal academic performance.

Williams isn't alone in looking at the larger scope of immigration enforcement. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network has joined with other organizations in suing ICE over Secure Communities.

What’s terrible about Secure Communities is its seeming inevitability. For the average Joe (or average Joes that don't use their average nickname for speechmaking profit), Secure Communities sounds like a straightforward idea. Obama wants to make it a mandatory national program by 2013. The Homeland Security budget (pdf) for Fiscal Year 2012 includes $276 million for training local and state law enforcement agencies in immigration matters and $184 million for Secure Communities -- expanding its reach to 96 percent of jurisdictions across the country.

As Congress scrambles to make budget cuts and a government shutdown looms, lawmakers should axe Secure Communities and its accompanying trainings to get $460 million closer to their goals.

When it comes to immigration reform, real solutions might be counterintuitive. Knowing that most undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. have been here more than 10 years, for example, might make people less susceptible to this information-sharing programs that essentially create fast tracks to deportation for hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are already interwoven into the communities to which they migrated. 

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