Monday, December 29, 2008

So many immigrants, so little peace

I am looking at the taillights of 2008 and staring at the oncoming headlights of 2009 and as I read the dozens of daily articles on the Web, I am sad to see that we are more or less in the same place we were a year ago.  The world's migratory patterns are as old as man, and yet no intelligent solutions have been devised by a species which can send a man to the moon and figure out how to get toothpaste into a tube.  Every day, the Miami Herald produces example after another of the unjust application of federal laws, separation of families, and other sad tales...all so uncharacteristic of what America stands for, at least to me.

As usual, I am ending the year a bit more pensive than most, and undoubtedly a bit sadder than most, when I ask myself what I ask myself every year: when, oh, when, will we remember that we must treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.  How many are alone today simply because of the heartless application of laws which were written by Congress to allow for humanitarian compassion?

The answer for a hopeless idealist like me, of course, is to either become more callous to the needs of others and continue with my half-hooded merriment or to yet again wallow, wondering what I can do in this coming year to make this world a better place for those so far from home.

And so I will wallow for a few more days until I have the energy to again begin making this world a better place...because that is why I am here.  May you wallow in peace and your 2009 be filled with wisdom and compassion, my friends.

Peace, Jose



Sunday, November 30, 2008

Illegal Immigrants Flow Home from U.S.

Today's Miami Herald front page story is about the economy and how illegal aliens are heading home.  It is Sunday and I don't have much to say today except this:

Immigrant labor, legal or illegal, is like any other commodity and affected by supply and demand.  The unskilled workers who are the bedrock of much of a healthy U.S. economy by filling the jobs Americans don't want cross the border illegally to make a buck because they have no way to legally work here despite the demand for their services; when their labor is no longer needed, they go home.

Instead of demonizing these workers, why not establish visa categories which permit them to work legally when the economy has recovered and our hospitality, manufacturing, and construction sectors again need them?  If we can have visas for foreign "professional workers" despite the loud rumbles of the health-care, IT, and various other U.S. labor lobbies...what is the rationale for not permitting similar temporary visas for those jobs which are so rarely filled by U.S. workers that labor lobbies for them simply do not exist?



Friday, November 28, 2008

Cheryl Little Gets Well-Deserved Award

Every since I started private practice in 1990, Cheryl Little has represented everything that is right with the immigration bar.  In 1996, she founded the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and for the past 12 years her tireless work on behalf of refugees, immigrant children, and others who could not afford private representation has made her a star in our very diverse community.

Last week, Ms. Little recieved the prestigious 2008 Morris Dees Justice Award, which is given annually to an attorney "who has devoted his or her career to the the public service and pursuing justice."  In receiving the honor, she displayed the same humility which has always made her such a successful leader.  Quoted in the Miami Herald, she said:

"...it's the FIAC staff that generally does the heavy lifting.  I think [the award] is recognition of all the work that the staff at our agency does every day."

Congratulations to Cheryl Little and the folks at FIAC for making Lady Liberty proud on a daily basis.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Modest Proposal #2: How to Help the Auto Industry AND Consumers

This one is simple, though the relevance to immigration is, uh, vague:

-The government is giving the auto industry $25 billion dollars
-There are about 200 million drivers in the U.S.
-That breaks down to $125 per driver
-Let's hypothesize that a driver buys a new car every 5 years and forget that many drivers do not own cars
-Multiply $125 by 5 = $625

Instead of giving the cash to a failing industry, lets offer $625 vouchers available on a first come first serve basis, with a six month expiration, only valid for U.S. manufactured vehicles.  The consumer cuts his/her best deal without divulging the voucher and when they are ready to sign, the voucher goes to the dealer.

This not only gets the money in the hands of the consumers, it stimulates demand AND allows free market dynamics, i.e., the money ends up in the hands of the U.S. companies which are most attractive to U.S. consumers.

Guys, this isn't that hard! (-:  Jose



Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Best of America

Tarun, who lives in India, is a good friend of an old fraternity brother of mine.  This is an excerpt of what he wrote this the other day.  I asked Tarun if I could share this with you and he said "sure".  Here you go...and thanks, Tarun. Jose
"This is the America that the world
loves - one that is driven by idealism, inspiration and enterprise. That was the
America that won last night. There is another America that the world loves to
hate - one that is driven by consumption, greed, arrogance and manipulation. The
fight between the two Americas is not over by any means just that for the moment
the better America has taken an upper hand. For the sake of the world I hope
that the more loved America wins more often..."



On the Price of Intolerance [originally written in 1999]

[Dear Readers:  my business partner Jaime Kuklinski sent me a very painful powerpoint reminding us about the horrors of the Holocaust; having just visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. several weeks ago, the topic is fresh on my mind during this time of great change in our country.  I am republishing this in Immigration Insider for those of you who might be interested in reading it.  Jose]


MAUTHAUSEN, AUSTRIA- The snow is blasting on the windshield as Leah
pulls the rented VW Passat out of Mauthausen, onto the road which leads
us back to the beautiful village of Enns, with its funky medieval
storefronts. It is 1 p.m. but the car's very cool blue dashlights are
aglow, casting a strange hue on our faces. The car is very quiet as we
head eastward, the not-so-blue Danube, broad and mighty, alongside the
road. The sky is gray and so is the mood in the car. The boys sit in
the back, blankly staring out the window. We are supposed
to be heading west, toward Linz, the provincial capital of Upper
Austria, for a final day of sightseeing. But the plan has changed. We
pull into the first and only McDonald's for some pommes frites (yes, I know, but that's what they call them here, too...) and reflection.



That Friday was our last day in Austria, on our first trip to that
beautiful part of Europe. My little business trip had turned into a
week-long family vacation with three days of skiing the Austrian Alps
and two action packed days of sightseeing. The snow had been sublime,
the bed and breakfast arranged for me by a client, outstanding. As
usual, I was the oldest snowboarder on the mountain, but the kids were
far more polite to me than the helicoptering, megapierced lunatics
airborne in the great American West. In fact, we were the only
Americans in a part of the Alps so remote that all the other tourists
were German and Austrian...met one other American in an entire week in
the country.


We had three days on the mountain, and the snow was so heavy that we
didn't see the moon, the stars, or the sun for the entire week. My
Caribbean soul found this a bit disconcerting, what with my nightly
habit of greeting Orion, the Pleides, and the Moon, but, hey, the snow
was soft and forgiving and my spectacular wipeouts went unpunished.
Besides, it was only a week. For the other two days, we had to choose
carefully: picking two, day-drive destinations in Austria is like
picking an ice cream flavor at Baskin-Robbins or a cigar at Mike's in
Miami...too much good stuff to choose from. We settled on Salzburg, the
birthplace of Mozart (among many other things) and Mauthausen, a
preserved concentration camp which, in World War II, was amongst the
most notorious Nazi camps in all of Europe. Like responsible parents,
Leah and I told Alex and Danny that it was important for us to see
first-hand what the Holocaust was all about, and that another day of
skiing was not more important.



Our trusty Frommer's Austria Guidebook described the trip
to Mauthausen as "a sobering outing."
The trip from Vorderstoder, high in the Alps, to Enns and across the
Danube to the camp took about an hour and a half. (Incidentally, until
reading the history of the camp, I had no idea just how much Austria
had cooperated with the Third Reich when the Germans came in. However,
as Leah noted, what could a bunch of rural farmers do to resist at that
stage? To Austria's credit, they have faithfully preserved the camp and
memories, acknowledging the responsibility that comes with having this
place on Austrian soil.)


We prepared the boys by telling them that the things we had all
learned in school about the murderous Nazi's, their delusional desire
to "cleanse the race," and their atrocities would now come alive in
images we would not soon forget. We told them about intolerance, about
the arrogance of presuming racial superiority, and about the human
tendency to create "us and them" dichotomies. We talked about how
Judeo-Christian teachings emphasize the Golden Rule, treating others
the way we wish to be treated, and about how the American forefathers
perceived accurately that "all men are created equal." We discussed how
things in Europe had gotten out of control, how one madman's political
agenda had turned into genocide, and wondered how people had agreed to
the underlying "logic." We talked about the politics of hatred and the
strength of such frightening bonds.


We were one of about four cars in the parking lot. We made our way
through the snow and ice covered entrance, through the great gate and
stone footings. The vast camp was a virtual killing field for the
Nazis: in addition to murdering thousands of Austria's Jews, thousands
of "undesirables" including homosexuals, gypsies, Spaniards, Russian
war prisoners- you name it- were put to death within these walls. The
total number of Nazi murders within these few acres: about 200,000.


We toured the grounds and museum and an attendant led the four of us
to a screening room where we sat and saw the English-language version
of the story of Mauthausen. I then led Leah and the boys, with our
little English handbook, through the camp and we saw it all. All of us
cried at one point or another. We saw:




  • the photos of the naked living skeletons denied food...men, women, and children...

  • the gas chambers where they were herded by the dozen, and the
    fingernail scratches on the stone ceiling, and photos of those killed
    there left by family members.

  • the custom built gallows for quick hangings.

  • the "medical" office where prisoners were told to line up facing the wall to have their height
    measured, and a bullet was fired into their forehead.

  • the mass graves

  • the photos of men dangling, dead, on the concertina and barb wire

  • the brothel for the camp's commanders

  • the human experimentation records where atrocities were committed in the name of "science"




We heard in the video various recollections of liberation day, when the
U.S. forces came in through the front gate. Several freed prisoners
recalled the day with the precision and cold description that can only
be delivered by someone who has faced the demons every night since, and
who has somehow found a place to file it all away and stay sane. Not so
with one of the American servicemen recalling that day. He starts off
calm and then breaks down and cannot stop, describing what the people
looked like, how they continued to bury hundreds per day after the
liberation, because the dying were too weak to eat. Because, as he put
it, we were too late.


We saw it all, but what we saw most were numbers. Numbers of
prisoners from each country. Number of homosexuals. Number of deaths
this month and that month. Numbers of days chalked on a cell wall.
Numbers of bodies buried or cremated at the virtually 24 hour a day
crematorium, where workers were ultimately killed by the Nazi's in an
effort to keep them from ever telling anyone what they had seen. Death
and snow everywhere you looked. Two hundred thousand lives.


I know what you are thinking right about now: that's SOME vacation
for your kids, Jose. But my kids are learning about the world, and
their vision is clear. The visit was devastating to the four of us but
it was necessary. We're back in America now, where the U.S. Congress is
proposing a moratorium on immigration. Although the chance of passing
is very remote, it certainly is an indicator of the thinking and mood
of the American public. And it all uncomfortably ties together in my
head...the proposed immigration moratorium, Mauthausen, the dragging
death of the black man in Texas, the shooting of the unarmed African
man in New York...what does it all mean?


If you ask the sponsors of the Moratorium Act, I can tell you the
catch phrases: "control our borders," "protect American workers,"
"control population growth"...all admirable goals and very real in this
day and age. I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you it bugs me to enter a
store in Miami and realize that no one speaks English...I'm as guilty
of that as the rest. But, as a Hispanic male living in America, I
wonder if there is more to it. I wonder if all of this is, perhaps due
to the fact that America is becoming less "white," like Hitler's
Germany was back then...


If a single thing is memorable from Mauthausen, it's the
documentation of the Nazi's last minute, hysterical efforts to conceal
their atrocities. As the Allied forces were approaching, the gas
chamber was disassembled, documents were forged, bodies were buried en
masse. To me, it says a lot. Despite all of Hitler's propaganda,
despite the Master Race crap, these bastards were ashamed. Instead of
running for their lives, they had to try and cover their bloody tracks,
as absurd as it must have seemed at that time. They didn't want the
world to know what they had done.


Today, once again, we hear about the neo-Nazi movement worldwide,
and we see the tightening of immigration laws in Europe and the U.S.,
and we intellectually discuss the respective economic issues and
impact, trying to come up with "rational" policies. We think there are
too many Nicaraguans in the U.S. but our housekeeper is the exception.
We berate the Mexican migrants who picked the vegetables we buy at the
produce section of Safeway. And, as a nation, we cringe at reading the
statistics that show that the black, Asian, and Hispanic populations
are growing far more rapidly than the "white" population. Why is this
an issue if "all men were created equal?" Why should any of us care --
Hispanic, black, white, or otherwise?



As we sat there that Friday, at the Austrian McDonald's, eating our pommes frites,
drinking Cokes, discussing what we had seen, our family forever
changed.. My cocky 10 year old Alex expressed his appreciation for
America and the freedom we have. My sensitive 7 year old Danny was
hugging me, telling me he loves me...I saw in his eyes he understood
what he had just witnessed. My wife, tough as nails and our family's
glue, said that she would never take our lives for granted again. Me, I
still see the looks in the eyes of the people in the pictures and I
wish I could turn back time. Two hundred thousand lives, dreams, hopes
and prayers...


Seems to me that as we craft the future of our nation, it behooves
us to take a "sobering" look at the past and we must remember: never
again.


Copyright 1999, Jose E. Latour



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There IS No Such Thing as a "Latino Voter"

If I read one more article analyzing the election results in terms of "Latino Voters"...I'm going to probably finish reading it anyway.  That's because as silly as this hyperinterpretation of what this election has meant to the country, it is still pretty cool to read about the numbers of Hispanics who went out and voted.

And that's another thing:  I don't call myself a "Latino"...to me that is a West Coast word.  Cuban Americans more often than not call themselves "Hispanic"...but what does it matter?

What DOES matter is that our new government must understand the distinct and contrasting opinions within the Hispanic/Latino communities in the U.S. so that instead of homogenizing a complex group into a tidy demographic bundle, the distinct needs and values of each group are considered.  While immigration is a concern to ALL Hispanics, the concerns vary dramatically:


  • Mexican-Americans want increased visa availability permitting long-separated families to unite; Cuban-Americans want the benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act to remain in place, while acknowledging the disparity in treatment given to Haitian refugees.

  • Cuban-Americans and many other naturalized citizens who immigrated from South America lead toward more conservative views and are generally more concerned with taxation and foreign policy issues than are their Central American counterparts, who seem to vote more based upon "bread and butter" issues historically advanced by liberal politicians...health care, education, etc.


Barack Obama did indeed conquer the Hispanic vote, but we must understand that this was not a war but a series of battles to transform constituencies and bring them together.  Mexican-Americans elected him for one set of reasons; Cuban-Americans, many of whom still will not admit they voted for a Democrat, voted for him for different reasons.  (As a Cuban American myself, and as someone who has struggled to eliminate pure party-line thinking from our very indoctrinated pro-Republican community, I must say that I am very proud of how we voted)

As the Barackophobic emails from my brother-in-law and his uber conservative friends slow to a trickle, Hispanic/Latino Americans seem to agree on thing: it was time for a change.



How Free Trade Reform Can Solve the Problem of Illegal Immigration from Mexico: A Modest Proposal

I will begin by stating that as I pleased as I was with
myself for concocting this inspired if long-winded title, I now regret my
decision.  The title might be appropriate
for, say,  a white paper…but not for what
I have to say today.  But I can’t think
of anything more terse or pithy.   So I will continue say what I have to say
without further apology, and if you made it past the ostentatious title,
perhaps you’ll read on.

    Let’s start with a few fundamental facts with which I
believe most of us can agree:

1-     The
various North American trade agreements of the past two decades have contained
specific language relating to immigration as an integral component of free
trade.

 2-     While
the spirit of these agreements has consistently invoked the notion of a
fundamental equality between signatories, Canada and the U.S. have received
trade-related immigration benefits which have been denied to Mexico.  For example, U.S.
and Canadian professionals have a painless, no-petition treaty visa process; but
those same professionals from Mexico
have it as tough as any H-1B.

3-     Although
Mexico has at times demanded equal trade-related migratory access for its
nationals, the U.S. and Canada have effectively vetoed this, fearing that the
availability of such access for Mexican would trigger uncontrolled migration to
the detriment of U.S. and Canadian workforces.





Now, this next one you may or may not agree with, but I
believe that:





4-     Human
resources are the single most important shared component of multilateral trade
agreements…yes, people.  Why do I say
this? Because while we can battle with the Mexicans over tomato tariffs or
bicker with the Canadians about pulpwood exports, the one shared trade component of all commodity and service trade
agreements is the workforce upon which production and delivery depend.





Looking at this reality, and looking at the success (albeit
with many continuing struggles) that the European Union has achieved in facilitating
worker mobility between member nations, is it so far fetched to believe that
the one element keeping the proverbial “whole” (i.e., all three partner
nations) from being “greater than the sum of its parts” (i.e., each nation’s
independent trade success without a trade agreement) is an intelligent solution
to market-driven workforce mobility?



My goodness…what a big sentence that was.  Terse and pithy I’m not today.





Even if you accept that forth premise I am proposing, the
issue of the 12+ million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today – the vast
majority of them Mexican – would seem to suggest that in granting Mexico the
same simplified work visa process it has granted Canada, the U.S. would face a
flood of Mexican workers all to eager to displace Americans, right?



Wrong, and here’s why: Mexicans are economic immigrants, and
they come to the U.S.for economic reasons.  Mexicans like Mexico and prefer to live in their magnificent
country, but they come to the U.S.
to make a buck.  And while we can't suddenly fix the Mexican economy to create opportunity for these folks, we must understand how it all ties together: despite the convoluted,
totally distorted U.S.
policies which turn a boatload of Haitians around while welcoming any Cuban
lucky enough to land with dry feet…there
IS a difference between “political” migrants and “economic” migrants
. 
Political migrants are driven from their
homeland and cannot return because of persecution…but economic migrants from
politically stable, free nations go back home…especially if “home” is a cheap
Greyhound ticket ride away.



Mexican workers have been the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy since the Emancipation Proclamation abolished
slavery.   Like Filipino nurses, IT
professionals from India,
and the enumerated professions which, via NAFTA, permit Canadian professionals
to enter the U.S. swiftly,
Mexican workers have historically come to the U.S. for one reason: to make money to support their families back home.  Come work the season, get the cash, go back home. 
That, in fact, is the underlying logic of the temporary visas which
permit Argentine ski bums to work seasonally in Colorado
ski resorts and U.S.
farms to bring in seasonal agricultural workers for harvest.  They come, they work, they go home.  (When I was a visa officer at the U.S.
Consulate in Juarez, Mexico,
I can’t begin to count the hundreds of wrinkled old men I met who were heading
back to California with their seasonal visas
after six months in their little village deep in Mexico.  Proudly they would speak of their decades of
this rhythm of life, often starting with the bracero program decades ago…it worked and it worked well, for them
as well as for the U.S. farms they returned to loyally year after year.



So here’s my question: 
what makes an campesino tomato
picker any more of a visa security risk than a Canadian RN?  In fact, it is downright weird when you think
about it: despite the lobbying of U.S. healthcare and IT labor organizations, the U.S.
demand for these professions is self evident and so the Canadians can get hired
in the U.S.
and get busy in a matter of days.  When
was the last time you heard of a U.S. farmworkers’ labor union
protesting the arrival of Mexican farm laborers?  Truth be told, there just aren’t a whole
bunch of U.S.
citizen farm laborers these days…unless you count Aunt Betty’s heirloom tomato
garden out back.





So why not do this:





1- Revisit the migratory policies associated with free trade
and give Mexican agricultural laborers –
AND Mexican professionals in the same classes as Canadian professionals – the
ease and speed of treaty visa classification
pursuant to existing trade
agreements.





2- Utilize the biometric technology that we’ve had for 20+
years (I was stoked about it in 1987, when biometrically-secure border crossing
cards were discussed and abandoned) and the lessons learned form the TWIC
fiasco (the transit worker biometric effort that has cost each U.S. taxpayer
thousands per card issued…don’t get me started on that one) to create a truly secure biometric treaty visa
card which implements the same intraagency and international security crosschecks
via existing DHS and shared international databases,
allowing the movement
of these workers to be dictated by U.S. economic demands, without bureaucracy
impeding the U.S. companies who need time-sensitive labor deployment



3- Take the massive airport DHS workforce and establish a secure U.S. EXIT inspection
– at ports, borders, and airports – to insure that those who come in leave on
time,
as most other nations have been doing for decades.  They clock in at inspection when they arrive
in the U.S.
and they clock out when season/assignment is over and they depart the U.S..  Unlike our current I-94 paper card fiasco which
does nothing to trace those who arrive and never leave, an exit procedure would,  and those who overstay – banker, lawyer, or
farm laborer – would not ONLY be barred from re-entry, but their FAILURE to
leave would notify ICE, and we would actually know who is in our country and
needs to be located.



4- Utilize the
establishment of truly fair trade visa guidelines as an opportunity to
renegotiate some of the more ill-conceived U.S./Mexican tariff rules
which have
unjustly decimated certain agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy.



Nutshell: if Mexican workers can come and go as U.S. employers
need them as can Canadians, they will come, they will work, and they will go
home.  If we establish both entry AND
exit controls via TRUE biometric technologies and enforce strictly overstay
violations, Mexicans, as economic migrants, will comply. 

I’ve spoken to thousands of Mexican workers over the last
twenty years and the fact is that when they overstay, it is because they are
afraid they won’t be able to come back for the next season.  Eliminate that fear and, I believe, we will stem most
illegal migration from Mexico.



Friday, November 7, 2008

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior



I am in Mexico,
a little less news-connected than when I’m home, but I’ve read enough in the
past 24 hours to see that those very pundits who were dead wrong over how this
election would pan out are back  at it.  
The theme this time is “he’s not tested”, and Biden’s honest remarks
that the U.S. WILL be tested if Obama is elected are being used in an effort to
start the divisiveness AGAIN.





Here’s the deal, folks: Biden is probably the sharpest
foreign policy cookie in a half-backed city, but he is hardly Nostradamus for
predicting this, as evidenced by the Russian’s party pooping response to Tuesday's world changing events.  Of COURSE Barack Obama will be tested.  The REASON he will be tested is simply
because the formulaic, rote responses of the Bush Administration can no longer be relied upon by the enemies of America…and this new President seems to be considerably better intellectually and emotionally equipped to deliver what all bilateral relationships demand.





Just as the whole Red State/Blue State blather looks today like 3 day old guacamole, so does the fundamentally flawed notion that we can make America better
by fomenting divisiveness.  It’s “checks
and balances”, not “seek and destroy”, and remember: "divided we fall".  So don't buy a blatant attempt to rack up ratings as valid political analysis, because it isn't.

So therein lies the supreme irony: this whole effort to create an “us
and them” mentality, such as the horrific lies fabricated about our President Elect by his opponent's team in the final weeks of the campaign,  fear DOES NOT WORK when people care enough to engage in dialogue.  Why do you think Russians have their Kremlin panties
in a bunch?  They are TERRIFIED because they don't know what to do about Barack Obama...and the global response to his election has just completely thrown their KGB-styled world order out the window. 

Fact: change induces fear in those who rely upon a polarized view of the world for their empowerment.  Eliminate divisiveness and
those who use fear to retain power lose control...and characterizing the past 8
years as demonstration of America’s
“strength” is, well, embarrassing.  The world never had problems with Americans and, except for the various extremist nutcases who hate us, we are loved deeply still today....despite the havoc our nation has recently leveled upon the world.  the Truth be told, diplomacy has been all but nonexistent and the United States has lately been
governed like a steaming warship piloted by
a reckless group of drunken semi-sailors.  The world needs America
to lead it and folks, we have BLOWN it.  But they still believe in us, now more than in a very, very long time.



This is what global strength for America means: it means the ability to
protect a nation, build a homeland consensus, and make the world better through
leadership, vision, and human compassion. 
It means sending out the troops when we have no other choice and when
our sights are clearly on the enemy.  It
means sitting down with other nations and galvanizing support among our partners when nations go
rogue, resulting in the creation of international sanctions which have teeth and actually WORK.  It means using your brain
and integrity, a deeply-rooted desire to make the world a better place because you actually buy into the Constitutional assertion that "all men are created equal".  That is what a strong America looks like.





So don't waste a second analyzing the second guessing of the readiness of our President Elect; don't buy what the fearmongers are selling.  Barack Obama is ready.  He will soon be taking office with a cadre of
the brightest minds and most seasoned experts in America and they will be a loyal and
powerful resource, united in purpose and, yes, full of hope...because they have a Chief Executive who inspires them and who can lead them.  Despite what we've been told these last few years, hope does not equal vulnerability.   Colin Powell and a millions of others of our nation's best minds agree, and even Condy shed a tear or two on Tuesday.



New game, guys.  I will leave you with this, an excerpt from a
forthcoming book called “CONQUERING FEAR: THE HEART OF SHAMBHALA”:



                                                The
Warrior’s Weapons



“If victory is the notion of no enemy, then the whole
world is a friend. That seems to be the warrior’s philosophy. The true warrior
is not like somebody carrying a sword and looking behind his own shadow, in
case somebody is lurking there. That is the setting-sun warrior’s point of
view, which is an expression of cowardice. The true warrior always has a
weapon, in any case … The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and
gentleness. Those are your weapons…



Hmmmmm….



 



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Palin Goes Home

[My readers:  I have edited this original article considerably because after reading it the day after I wrote it, I realized that some of my comments were sarcastic and gloating, and that is not how I wish to express myself.  I have modified the article so that it still expresses my opinion but does not treat Sarah Palin inelegantly.  We've had enough of that and as our President Elect has shown us, the high road is the best road.]

Perhaps this is harsh, but as I listened to Sarah Palin discuss her future plans a moment ago on CNN, I couldn't help but suddenly view Alaska in a different light.  In my life, I've met perhaps four or five Alaskans...without exception they have been very amazing people.   Yet as I come to understand the clear intellectual limitations of this decent  woman, I could only wonder on how McCain's team vetted her and concluded that she'd make a great VP.  The U.S. has SO MANY brilliant women in politics, many Republican, and Ms. Palin was their choice?

I realize that hindsight is 20/20 but, honestly, I just don't get it.



Monday, November 3, 2008

Margarita Latour Votes for Change

[I will begin by telling you that I asked for her permission before writing this article, and my mother obliged.]

My mother came to the United States in 1966, via the Cuban Adjustment Act.  She, my father, my Asturian nanny (today 81 and more ornery than ever) and I arrived in the dead of the night at the west terminal of Miami International Airport, among the last of those fortunate enough to benefit from the generosity of the Freedom Flights the U.S. provided to those of us fleeing Castro.

My father died shortly after we arrived in the U.S., and over these past 42 years, Margarita and I have worked to push our lives forward, acutely aware of how blessed we were to be received in America.  As soon as the requisite time had passed, my mother took the U.S. citizenship examination and soon we both were U.S. Citizens…they even made me raise my right hand.

As a Cuban-American, my mother registered as a Republican - it was a given in our community.  She has faithfully voted along party lines for the past 4 decades.  These last years when she has been confined to a wheelchair for road trips, I’ve taken her to vote.  My own views changed over time, particularly as a result of an immigration policy I found to be increasingly inconsistent with the story of our nation; although we spoke of my opinions, I never pushed them upon her.  Besides, I’ve never talked the woman into anything in 48 years, so what was the point?

When I first heard Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention, I was transfixed.  Much has been said about his great speaking style, and that is irrefutable.  But I sensed something deeper…an integrity and concern that reflected my own convictions about the tragic mistakes which have cost our nation so much loss of credibility with both the international community and, far more importantly, our own citizens.  in the months that would follow, I read everything I could about the man and by the time he won the Democratic nomination, I was convinced that Barack Obama was the only possible person who possessed the formidable intellect, unshakeable faith, and personal passion to reunite our nation.  That faith has only been cemented amidst the barrage of false accusations aimed at him, only intensifying in both vulgarity and absurdity in these closing days before the election.  The McCain I have always respected seems to have himself "gone rogue" as far as the decorum and fairness for which he has long been known, and the shrill politicking and travesties launched at Obama are, frankly, embarrassing.  So, to me, there has only been viable one presidential candidate for a long, long time.

But this isn’t about me, it’s about Margarita.

Beginning early summer, my mother started bantering with me about politics and the upcoming election.  Getting her news from Miami’s Cuban American media, she is not generally well-informed about the facts; these guys make Fox come off as the BBC.  But  one topic which has been near and dear to her heart kept coming up in our little political debates…that of Cuba.  Like most Cuban-Americans, old or young, my mother is intelligent enough to understand that the failed policies of the past four decades have done nothing to change Cuba’s regime; but unlike most elderly Cubans (sorry, Bela, you may be a jovenzuela to me but at 86 you’ve earned that moniker you so dislike, hehehe) my mother has the chutzpah to call it as she sees it. 

We discussed the fact that a one-nation embargo, such as what we've had against Cuba for the past 40+ years, is ineffective, and that even as U.S. citizens are not allowed to trade with or even VISIT Cuba, the rest of the world is building and investing on the island.  We talked about the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dynamic hyphenated trio who have collectively controlled the Cuban-American boat in South Florida for many years...and how nothing had changed to improve things in Cuba or, for that matter, for the Cuban Americans on this side of the Florida Straits worried sick about their elderly relatives on the island.

But change is a scary thing, and scarier if you are embedded in a community which will all too often adhere to vague philosophical phobias versus educating themselves about the details.  (Then again, that is probably an accurate if harsh assessment on many U.S. voters, isn't it?) Being a good Cuban-American immigrant, Margarita did what many disillusioned Cuban-American voters have expressed they intended to do in this critical election: not vote. 

Having always voted and having always been committed to the process, I was upset.  I reasoned with her, reminded her of what she'd always said to me and, eventually, she cracked: she would vote.  So there I was, in all my lobbyist glory, and I had accomplished one thing: another vote for McCain, despite her expression that he was not the best person for the job.

I resigned myself by remember that "every vote counts", and just because I disagreed with her choice, I had done the right thing...the concept of exercising our rights in a democracy trumps any political agenda, and the massive voter turnout in this election is precisely the manifestation of that fundamental truth about America.  Imagine my surprise when, she asked me again WHY she could not go to Cuba one last time to visit her only living semi-sibling, her first cousin – 88 year old Claudina.  I sighed, having gone over this many times, and I explained once again:

“You cannot visit Claudina because George W. Bush changed the rules and Cuban Americans can now only visit their siblings, children, or parents. Claudina is your cousin so I can’t take you there again.”

This time – and only God knows why it was this time – she looked over at me…and I could see she grasped the full meaning of what I'd been telling her for the last few years.  She remembered our prior trip to Havana before the law had changed as well as our prior discussions and it all came together: the Republican President she has faithfully supported despite what she believed to be an unprovoked war and a million other bad decisions for the country was the SAME Republican President who tightened already restrictive travel rules for Cuban-Americans wanting to visit their relatives in Cuba.  She was quiet for a bit and then wanted to discuss that more, and she asked me about Obama, his ideas, and why I believed so much in his vision.  I pointed out that even the famously hard-headed Cuban American National Foundation is completely unhappy with the Republican’s Cuba Policy and had actually written an opinion piece in the Washington Post last week calling for open travel to Cuba.  Before I left, we confirmed a date for last Wednesday so that I could take her to early voting.

The lines were long but with her in a wheelchair, it took us about an hour to get to the polling machine.  She was glad to be there and thanked me for persuading her to vote.  When it was her turn, I began to assist her with the ballot.  With me hunched over her in the wheelchair, we started, and she asked me to explain the language on the long referendum items.  But at the top of the ballot was the choice for President.  She told me to mark "Obama/Biden". I asked her if she was sure, and told her that she needed to vote for herself, not for me, and that I would soon be casting my own vote when I returned to Gainesville. It took us about 15 minutes to get through her ballot but I have to tell you: never in my life have I felt more hope in my heart than when we inserted the ballot into the box and I looked at her and said “YOU DID IT!”…and I got a high five and a big smile.

As we headed back to her assisted living facility, she laid down the one post-vote rule:

If I tell ANYONE that she didn’t vote Republican, she will VERY upset with me.  She did NOT wish to become a pariah amongst her friends and despite the knowledge that she had voted with both her brain and her heart, she was squeamish about sharing that fact.

I laughed and promised I would not but as I was leaving her apartment, I thought about it.  I said this to her (translated from Spanish):

“Mom, today was an extraordinary day for both of us.  You were able to see beyond the status quo and vote with your mind, exercise YOUR opinion in this amazing election.  I, on the other hand, witnessed all these changes in you these past months.  I think we need to share this amazing day with the readers of my blog, because the theme of this election is “HOPE”, and you have restored mine fully today”.

So, with Margarita Latour’s permission, here it is.  PLEASE GO VOTE!!

[Below is a picture of Margarita, a/k/a Bela (for abuela) and me about a year ago]

Ocean Reef 12-07 Glacier Bay 031
 



 



 



 



 





Sunday, October 26, 2008

Our Low Tech Commitment to High Tech Border Security

Tempted as I am to rant and rave over this latest stunning fiasco just revealed about ANOTHER failure in our national immigration security...I will spare you.  I went to the Holocaust museum today and I am drained.  But here is a brief chronology of events from the point of view of this former State Department FSO who's been pushing for biometric IDs for the last two decades:

1988- As a first tour Visa Officer in Juarez, Mexico, my boss "volunteers" me, the fraud officer, to spend a few Saturday mornings training El Paso border agents on the recognition of fraudulent entry documents.  What sounds like a real drag turns out to be quite interesting.  After the third Saturday I have a roomful of border cops who understand the concept of biometrics and agree that the only way to create secure visa documentation is to incorporated biometry into the IDs, however low (e.g.fingerprints) the technology.

1995-  A few years into private practice, I open a small office in Manila to cater to the increasing number of Filipino health care professionals my office is processing for U.S. healthcare companies.  Color copiers are just coming into corporate affordability, and I am stunned to see that in Roxas area near the U.S. embassy, a cottage industry of color-copier-armend "visa assistance" companies are flagrantly copying the complex color patterns and designs of U.S. visas.  I meet with the CG in Manila, and we agree that most airport entry officers cannot tell the difference between a real visa and a fake one painstaikingly sewed back into a passport after doctoring.  I write a few articles, the State Department ignores them, nothing happens for years until machine readable bar-coded visas emerge.  In the meantime, thousands have probably entered the U.S. illegally via the advent of the color copier.

FF to the new millenium:

2006-2008- The infamous TWIC port identification card, the first actual USE of biometry for border/port control, continues to be delayed due to a number of problems, and U.S. taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars per card issued.  As the U.S. marine industry seeks clarification from the Department of Homeland Security, DHS is so busy bragging about the incredibly cool features of the TWIC card that no one except me seems to remember that in reality we've had this technology for at least two decades, and that the TWIC program is perhaps the most bungled, expensive undertaking the U.S. has ever attempted.

And now, this just in from the Wall Street Journal:

"New U.S. border-crossing cards can be copied and remotely disabled
with off-the-shelf equipment, researchers said, the latest finding of
security weaknesses in wireless technology.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has reviewed the
findings, said it was aware of the possibility of electronic mischief
and wasn't concerned."

Basically, after millions in creating border crossing cards with private identifying information -- a confidential,
10-digit ID number for each individual -- it turns out that the secure data can be "remotely extracted
with equipment costing about $2,000, the researchers found, even from
more than 30 feet away." Get this:



"The ID number from crossing cards can be copied to a new card
costing about 10 cents, allowing somebody else to masquerade as the
cardholder.Reproducing a crossing card is easy in part because the government's
cards don't employ an anticopying feature, the study found, even though
a Homeland Security document issued earlier this year touted the
technique and said it would be employed."

Twenty years, folks, TWENTY YEARS...and we still don't have a clue on how to use our abundant technology to actually achieve the border control we tragically lack.  There is simply no excuse for the enrichment of federal contractors whose idea of a biometric ID card is one that costs as much as a small Korean car.



Saturday, October 18, 2008

One Last Immigration Fiasco from the Bush Administration

Well, just when I thought the extraordinary missteps and bungled results of the Bush administration's catastrophic failure to grasp even the basic fundamentals of migratory policy were near their end, he did it again:  amidst much pomp and circumstance in the Rose Garden yesterday, and utterly oblivious to the consequences of his actions, the President announced the following :

"I'm pleased to stand with the representatives
of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to
be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of
these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or
tourism without a visa."
[Emphasis supplied]

You would think that after eight years, SOMEONE in the Administration would have figured out what has been obvious since the inception of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):  the notion that the VWP is an across-the-board gift to be given to our trading partners without a careful consideration of their migratory realities spawns illegal immigration.

When the VWP was first started, the main beneficiaries were Western Europeans.  It made perfect sense given the fact that, historically, Western Europeans rarely overstay their visas.  The 90 day visa-less entry was a great way to facilitate U.S. travel for these folks and it worked fine.  [Remember, folks: while the myth of the illegal alien conjures up a Mexican leaping a fence, the truth is that the majority of those Mexicans leap that fence back the very same day, having done their day's manual labor in a job no American would touch; the true measure of illegal immigration is not border jumpers, but those who enter legally with visas and never leave.]  So the little green cards were issued, visa lines in Europe went down, and all was good.

But then others started clamoring for participation, and the VWP criteria effectively became simply a checklist which, when completed, meant the U.S. automatically gave the country VWP benefits...without so much as a moment of pause to consider its potential migratory consequences on the U.S.  But since the U.S. remains one of the very few countries in the world which
only tracks inbound visitors and not outbound, we don't know who's left
and who's overstayed until it's late.  In fact, given the haphazard
collection of entry documents (which is handled by airline counter
personnel), we don't know until it's WAY too late...and we have no clue
where these folks are.

Soon came Argentina, asking for Visa Waivers, and BOY did we give them Visa Waivers.  In Miami alone I would estimate that there are thousands of Argentine nationals who entered on the Visa Waiver program, never having been interviewed by a visa officer, and who have been here 5+ years, working illegally with fake social security numbers.  The vast majority of these folks -- all of whom willfully overstayed the 90 day limitation -- are decent, hardworking people just trying to make a living.  I would further add that the majority of these folks fill the countless jobs which (again) American workers shun, in food service, in construction, etc. 

But they are illegal aliens.

When it became glaringly obvious to the federal government that although it was issuing many, many little green I-94Ws to these arriving planeloads of Argentines (all Disney-bound, naturally) extremely few of the cards werer making it back to the authorities...they figured it out and took Argentina off the list.  And back for the visa interview they had to go.  And it was quite clear: just because Argentina was improving politically and economically and was a valued trading partner, the VWP was terribly abused and thousands of these folks are illegally in the U.S., without recourse or the ability to normalize status in the vast majority of cases.

So now we are giving the Visa Waiver to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea
.  I don't know how this will unfold as far as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, but I can tell you this much: Florida, New York, and much of the East coast have significant numbers of Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak citizens who are illegal aliens, by virtue of overstaying their B1/B2 visas.  And getting a visa in Seoul is hardly a piece of cake, even these days.  What do YOU think is going to happen?

It blows my mind that in this climate of triggerpoint, across-party-lines demand for migratory controls (both for the sake of protecting U.S. jobs and to keep terrorists out of the U.S.), President Bush is so out of touch that he is granting Visa Waivers to nations whose citizens will do EXACTLY as the Argentines did: bolt to the Land of the Free for a quick trip to Disney...and never, ever leave.

Here's the official White House news release.



Sunday, October 5, 2008

WIth Liberty and Justice...for SOME

The Fed's GAO office just released a statistical study of how political asylum applicants in the U.S. fare in their filings.  The results are simply more proof of what we already know...that the U.S. immigration is so hopelessly, pathetically, completely broken that the next President needs to make its reform one of his first initiatives in office...no matter HOW little mainstream Americans seem to care.  If we care about justice, we need to fix this and fix this NOW.

Before I point out the stats, I need to explain something to those of you who are not up to speed on the reality of political asylum applications.  You've probably heard the long-unresolved argument between those who distinguish between "political" refugees -- i.e., protected by asylum laws -- and "economic" refugees, who are not protected by such laws.  Nowhere are the political ramifications of this imprecise and arbitrary line-drawing more obvious than in the disparate treatment afforded to those who arrived on U.S. shores from Cuba, versus those who arrive from Haiti.  But the political refugee application process is messed up for a far more sinister reason: frivolous applications by those who have no business applying for asylum.

In the past decade, unscrupulous attorneys have taken to telling people from many comparatively peaceful countries and with absolutely no legitimate evidence of persecution that the asylum process was right for them...and, btw, it can get you an employment authorzation card.  KACHING!  I can't tell you how many of these applicants make up the total amount of asylum applications, but I've been approached by folks who have applied for asylum while hailing from countries ranging from the relatively  pacific Argentina to the definitely-not-asylum-worthy Canada (really).  So the system is clogged with ridiculous applications; invariably, they are denied and as the "victim" points an angry finger at the admittedly dishonest attorney who suggested asylum...

Reality check: in most cases, the "victim" is really a co-conspirator, trying to circumvent U.S. immigration law, plain and simple.  With no disrespect intended to anyone, it would appear to me that only the singularly stupid and profoundly clueless individual from a country like, say, Canada, could truly be a "victim" in these silly, baseless applications.  And in my experience, God tends to protect the profoundly clueless.

I'm not sure how these phony-baloney applications fit into the new GAO report, but I'll tell you this much: while current discretion parameters are obviously far too ample in defining legitimate, deserving asylum applicants, the entire process is tainted by a significant number of immigrants and the dishonest attorneys who are simply using the asylum application process the same way they filed false amnesty applications a decade and a half ago: a tool to buy time with no consideration to eligibility criteria whatsoever.

The main stats in the report:

-A petition filed in San Francisco is 12 times as likely to get approved as one filed in Atlanta.

-The greatest number of asylum petitions are submitted in New York...where COURTS ARE 420 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO APPROVE THE APPLICATION than other jurisdictions.

-Those represented by an attorney are twice as likely to get approved as those who are not.

-Those who have been detained by the USCIS are more likely to get approved.

-Male judges are 60% more likely to approve an asylum application than female judges.

Crazy stuff, huh?  Talk about a clear call for forum shopping...which is totally illegal!  I'll leave you with one final stat, quoted my the Miami Herald this morning:

"Records showed that in Miami, Judge Sandra Coleman denied 21.3 percent of the asylum applications she adjudicated between 2002 and 2007, while her colleague, Judge Mark Metcalf, denied 89.7."

Time to standardize asylum laws for uniform adjudication, Mr. President...whoever you are.



Thursday, October 2, 2008

It's Basic Supply and Demand

Once again, the xenophobes are proven wrong: despite the hysteria, illegal immigration to the U.S. is the direct result of U.S. labor shortages, and when the jobs stop coming...so do the illegal migrants.

The Associated Press reported today that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington think tank, the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States has slowed significantly the past few years, falling below the number of those entering the country legally.  The report estimates there were 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as of March. That would be a decline of 500,000 from the center's estimate a year ago. 

Speculation by most experts is that this is due to the nation's struggling economy and stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.  One expert:

"The decline in job prospects in construction, service and other low-skilled jobs are communicated through extended networks of would-be movers from Mexico and Latin America," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, another Washington think tank. "It also may propel more return migration."

The way things are going, maybe we won't be needing that fence after all, eh?



Thursday, September 25, 2008

Basic Economics

I sat there, stunned, as George W. Bush gave the nation a nutshell explanation of basic economic theory, reading his Teleprompter quite well and not stumbling as he usually does.  Still, what he was saying would have been more clearly stated to the American people via a simple "We in a HEAP o' trouble, people..."  The current mess is the result not only of the fat cats on Wall Street but of the lies told by the millions of home purchasers in their greedy desire to buy more home than they could possibly afford by agreeing to ridiculous mortgages they almost all understood at the time of purchase, but have conveniently "forgotten" in the aftermath of their greed.  Between the ambulance chasers and now the "what do you MEAN the mortgage is adjustable" crowd, we have gone from a nation of leaders to a nation of victims, and it's embarrassing.   And the only ones we have to blame are ourselves, period.

Bush's invitation of Obama and McCain to the White House this morning is being seen by many in the media as a sort of final admission that he's completely lost control of things, and it is difficult to argue with that conclusion.  Perhaps it's eight years of seeing the same smug look on his face, but it is difficult to accept stern words of warning from the same man who triggered the Post-Katrina spike in fuel prices by refusing to follow the advice of his Secretary of Energy and announcing the availability of a small fraction of our national reserves BEFORE Katrina hit; in the weeks that followed, his father's main client, the Saudi Royal family, made millions in the sale of the oil futures they held.

Nope, despite his dire warnings last night, it is unlikely the Bush clan will be worrying about college tuition anytime soon.

But the good news is this:  after the disatrous presidency of the current President, I feel pretty certain that whether it's Obama or McCain, the next four years will be a time of intelligence, prudence, and restoration of our national economy, identity, and self-respect.  Whoever wins will understand that immigration policy must not simply be a knee-jerk reaction to political pressure but, rather, an intelligent balance of complex considerations which, ultimately, must restore America's role as a global political and economic leader, as both manufacturer AND consumer. 

A critical component of the restoration of our economy will be the need to remove emotion from the politics of American immigration and replace it instead with prudence that both protects American jobs AND insures a steady flow of the healthcare, technology, and science professionals upon which our aging population will continue to rely.



Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tweaking E-Verify

With the election just weeks away, the economy reeling, and the future looking anything but bright, the rhetoric regarding employment verification has cooled a bit of late.  But one thing remains clear: E-Verify, love it or hate it, seems to be solidly established as the federal government's solution for the foreseeable future.  How E-Verify plays out reveals the very complex nature of the subject matter, and opinions are anything but what you'd expect them to be. 

Take FAIR, the Federation for Immigration Reform, one of the more rabid critics of the government's immigration policies.  Given the error rates cited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and FAIR's historical distrust of the USG, one would expect its position on E-Verify to be negative.  Yet in early August, FAIR referred to E-Verify as:

"...a highly successful program that allows employers to verify
electronically that workers are legally eligible to be work in the U.S.
"

Hmm.  Meanwhile, SHRM, the nation's leading human resources organization, represents employers nationwide and has tremendous resources dedicated to workforce compliance via both national and state chapters.  But instead of working diligently to educate its members on how to best work with E-Verify, the organization wasted most of 2008 pushing a rather ill-conceived alternative and deeming E-Verify a complete and utter flop.  Their proposed "solution" would have trashed all the progress made via E-Verify.

The truth is simple, notwithstanding all the hyperbole from the various lobbyists and interest groups:  E-Verify is fundamentally sound but needs more work.  The DHS has invested a lot of time and energy into developing it and, for ONCE, the USG deserves credit for reaching out to organizations like i9 Advantage in helping us improve our employer solutions through better integration with E-Verify. 


Here's an idea, folks: let's start working together to develop the private sector tools which truly make E-Verify an integrated, effective part of employment verification.  Let's educate employers.  The government is doing its job pretty well, I'd say, and companies like ours are working very hard to develop the solutions employer needs. 

Perhaps if we spend less time trashing and more time tweaking, we can get this baby up and running the way we need it to run to both prevent unauthorized employment AND protect the good companies trying so hard to comply with the law.

J



Wednesday, September 3, 2008

So where have I been...?

Well, I must say that it was a bit flattering to come back to a handful of messages asking why I've been silent for the past six weeks.  The answer: I was wrapping up business in various other countries and was out of the U.S. for almost two months...but I'm back and so is the blog.

We are working on updating the i9advantage E-Verify status map and you'll have it soon.  In the meantime, please remember: if you know of new municipal or state laws enacted which affect the hiring practices of employers, WRITE ME AND TELL ME!



Manager Pleads Guilty Plea in Agri-Processor ICE Raid Case

The Associated Press reported on August 28 that Martin De La Rosa-Loera, a supervisor at the Agri-Processors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, has pled guilty to “aiding and abetting the harboring of illegal immigrants”.  The charges stem from a massive immigration raid on the company in May of this year.  He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

WHAT THIS MEANS:  

The guilty plea specfies that he – a supervisor at a plant – was violating federal law by “knowing and recklessly disregarding the fact that” workers were illegally in the country [Emphasis added.]

IMHO, this plea – accepted by the defendant – establishes a new level of risk to ALL levels of corporate management, not just HR and Legal departments.  Given all of the massive publicity the Department of Homeland Security has given the subject of employment verification, I-9 regulations and, most notably, E-Verify, the use of the term “recklessly disregarding” should prompt urgency among compliance departments nationwide.

Why?  Because Mr. De La Rosa-Loera is a manager, not a principal! Think about that term, "recklessly disregarding".  Translation: any decent human being who finds out in one form or another that one of his or her employees may not be in legal status and does not immediately act to terminate that person is "recklessly disregarding" the law, according to this decision.  So now, middle management is tasked with immigration enforcement and if they don't do it...they go to jail.

This decision, and the continued ICE/DHS rhetoric, leaves little doubt that major U.S. employers who STILL continue to hem and haw about implementing a comprehensive employment verification solution are prime targets for prosecution.  

I remain deeply concerned at the number of major employers who are, without a doubt, “recklessly disregarding” their legal obligation to have a current and provable employment status program.  If this sounds like your company, please contact Terry Madden at tmadden@i9advantage.com so he can demonstrate why America’s leading employers are turning to i9 Advantage as their comprehensive I-9 compliance solution.





Thursday, July 17, 2008

McDonald's Franchisee Agrees to Whopper of a Fine...

I know, I know, I apologize for the headline but it was impossible NOT to do it.

The most telling part about this news is its source: released on PR Newswire by the USG, which used the opportunity to boast of the $31 million in criminal
fines, restitutions and civil judgments as a result of worksite
related enforcement actions collected in FY 2007.

Ouch.  I've edited out a little fluff but left in most of it so you can see just how serious the USG is working to instill fear in the hearts of employers who are NOT maintaining workplace compliance rules.  Save yourself a million bucks and contact Terry at i9 Advantage and let us get your compliance in order

McDonalds Franchisee Admits to Two Felony Counts - Agrees to Pay
$1 Million Fine

Two executives from a company which owns 11 McDonalds restaurants in the Reno, Nevada area pleaded
pleaded guilty in federal court in Las Vegas today to federal felony
immigration offenses for "encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the
United States".


U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Gregory A. Brower and
Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE Julie L.
Myers announced the plea agreements, which are the latest
developments in an ICE probe that began in March 2007 after the
agency received a tip about a possible incidence of identity theft
from the sheriffs office in Lyon County, Nev.


Attorneys for Mack Associates Inc., which owns
the Reno-area McDonalds restaurants, pleaded guilty on behalf of the
franchisee to one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce an
aliens unlawful residence in the United States and one count of
aiding and abetting an alien to remain in the United States, both
felony offenses. Joe Gillespie, 53, of Sparks, Nev., the Director of
Operations for Mack Associates Inc., also pleaded guilty to one
count of aiding and abetting an alien to remain in the United
States. Both defendants waived indictment by a federal grand jury
and agreed to plead guilty to criminal informations.


The government and Mack Associates agreed that the corporation
will pay a $1 million fine -- $500,000 for each count, the maximum
allowed -- and be placed on probation during the period that the
fine is outstanding. The court accepted this agreement and sentenced
Mack Associates today to one year of probation and ordered the
corporation to pay the agreed upon fine, with $300,000 payable
immediately and the balance to be paid within nine months.


The plea agreement details how Mack Associates management
employed individuals they knew were in the country illegally,
including two restaurant managers, by furnishing them with names and
Social Security numbers belonging to other individuals.


In addition, Jimmy Moore, 47, the franchisees former vice-
president, pleaded guilty to one felony count of inducing an illegal
alien to remain in the United States. At sentencing, Moore faces a
maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


A third defendant in the case, Anntoinette Richmond, 44, the
corporations controller, has been charged with one misdemeanor count
of continuing employment of an unauthorized alien.


This case should serve as a reminder to employers that knowingly
hiring illegal aliens violates federal law, said U.S. Attorney
Brower. Companies and their managers who engage in such conduct are
on notice that violations will be prosecuted and that the criminal
penalties can be significant.


This investigation clearly shows our resolve to pursue those who
willfully violate our nations hiring laws, regardless of their place
on the corporate ladder, said Assistant Secretary Myers. On
television, criminal cases are wrapped up in an hour; but in real
life, these investigations are complex and can take months, or even
years, to build. We will invest whatever time it takes to ensure
that those who flout the law are brought to justice.


In September 2007, ICE agents executed federal search warrants at
the 11 McDonalds restaurants owned by Mack Associates in the Reno
area and at the franchisees corporate office. During the operation,
agents encountered 58 illegal aliens who were working illegally at
the McDonalds restaurants. The illegal alien workers were arrested
on administrative immigration violations and processed for removal.
Approximately 30 of those workers have been returned to their native
countries. The remaining illegal workers were provided with
documentation allowing them to remain in the United States pending
the outcome of the criminal investigation.


Since its establishment in 2003, ICE has dramatically enhanced
its efforts to combat the unlawful employment of illegal aliens in
this country. ICE's comprehensive strategy for worksite enforcement
is aimed at promoting national security and public safety,
protecting critical infrastructure, and ensuring fair labor
standards.


Thus far in fiscal year 2008 (October 2007 through July 11,
2008), ICE has made 937 criminal arrests in connection with worksite
enforcement investigations. Of those, 99 involve owners, managers,
supervisors or human resources employees who face charges ranging
from harboring to knowingly hiring illegal aliens. In addition to
the criminal arrests, ICE has made more than 3,500 administrative
arrests for immigration violations during worksite investigations in
that same time frame. Last year, ICE made more than 4,900 arrests in
worksite enforcement cases, including 863 involving criminal
violations. Last years figure represents a 45-fold increase in
criminal worksite arrests compared to fiscal year 2001. Furthermore,
in fiscal year 2007, ICE obtained more than $31 million in criminal
fines, restitutions and civil judgments as a result of worksite
related enforcement actions."



Monday, July 7, 2008

Sheer Pandelerium

The title, a Jeff Foxworthy quote, aptly describes the current state of workplace regulation nationwide.  In the past week, I had conversations with immigration attorney friends in different states and each made essentially the same comment: with all the changes occurring in their OWN state and hardly keeping up, how on earth am I keeping the i9 Advantage regulatory map current??  My response: I'm NOT! )-:

Much to my embarrassment, our map is less than perfect simply because the amount of time required to monitor I-9 and employment verification legislation being churned out en masse by state legislatures is simply more than I can dedicate to the mission.  Now, that being said, I can tell you this:  I am not aware of anyone out there with a more current and up to date legislative map.  But is it "real time"?  No way, Jose.

That'll change soon.  We are looking at a variety of strategies to cope with the workload and are aware that being the best around isn't enough...our clients, both big and small, need 100% accuracy they can rely on, and so we press on.

In the meantime, amidst this confessional, remember this much: if you want to know what is happening with employment verification legislation nationwide, your best -yet still imperfect -- resource can be found at www.i9advantage.com.



Tuesday, July 1, 2008

If Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery...

...well, then www.i9advantage.com has every right to be blushing: our competition is starting to look, well, a LOT more like us!  As we scour the Web daily to keep our clients and readers up to date with the latest developments in workforce compliance, part of our searches includes our competitors.  Funny how the release of that priceless, excruciatingly-difficult-to-design-and-execute State Legislative Map has triggered a whole bunch of lookalike maps on other sites (albeit linked to the same erroneous information as before in most cases.)   The fact is that a substantial amount of information we gather comes from attorneys, agency officials, and others those of us at i9A have befriended in our two-plus decades of trying to keep employers safe and sound.  As an attorney with a considerable investment in time in the development of our protected intellectual property, you know what I think about all this "borrowing" from our information?

I think it's GREAT. 

Honestly.  I believe that the situation in I-9 compliance is SOOOOO disastrous and the stakes so high that each time ANYONE sounds the trumpets of new information  -- even if that information is something they cut and pasted out of our own website -- it is good for U.S. employers.  It's not just that there is more than enough business to go around for those of us involved in compliance; it's that the mainstream media and business publications seem more intent on pumping out the tabloid-like tales of raids (okay, well, alright...just like the one I wrote about a minute ago right here...(-:) than on matters of substantive compliance of use to employers.  In other words, the more people there are talking about this, the more employers will wake up and realize that a comprehensive I-9 management solution is no longer a luxury but an indispensable necessity.

Remember this: i9 Advantage is the ONLY I-9 compliance solution designed by in-house, full time programmer/partners AND legally monitored by a grizzled old compliance attorney who does this full time as well (yours truly).  If you want compliance straight from the horse's mouse, write me.  And for those of you "borrowing" so enthusiastically from us, an invitation:

Try i9advantage as your technology and not only will your service quality and sales...

...but you'll sleep better at night knowing you did the right thing. (-:



ICE Raids: Close to Home

[NOTE: first of all, a quick apology to those of you who expressed concern over the absence of blogs for the past couple of weeks; I am quite fine and in fact, better than when I last wrote you.  I took two weeks off to take the U.S. Coast Guard 100 Ton Captain's License course I've been wanting to take since I was a wee lad...and I passed!  I should have told you what I was up to so the greatly exaggerated rumors of my death could have been prevented...but thanks for the love!- JEL]

The Associated Press reported Friday that 69 people were picked up in what I believe to be among the first-ever raids targeting a temporary employment agency.  More on the raids in a minute, but I will begin by telling you that I see this as a continued step toward increased enforcement in places previously "respected" by the USG as easy targets.  Consider your local Home Depot, where no doubt dozens of unauthorized workers gather every morning, along with U.S. workers looking for day labor.  In this season of economic chaos, one would think the administration would take the circumstances for which it is ultimately responsible under consideration, but not this administration.

Unfortunately for Jones Industrial Network, the Baltimore based employment agency, finding undocumented workers trying to make a living proved to tempting for D.C. ICE.  And it wasn't just the workers who were seized: the agency's account containing $600,000 was also grabbed by the feds.  Even more interesting:

ICE not only searched the agency, but three other businesses for whom the agency provided staffing.

Employment verification is no longer a luxury, folks, and as this latest enforcement effort shows, as far as ICE is concerned, the buck simply does NOT stop anywhere.



Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Arizona Employers: E-Verify...WHAT'S E-VERIFY???

Well, despite two phone calls from reputable Chamber of Commerce folks in key Arizona cities, I resisted the urge to report on their stories of employers "playing ostrich" and simply ignoring the new mandate on electronic verification of new hires.  I verified the two opinions with a couple of other contacts in the state, yet I didn't write anything, because it all sounded so...I don't know...tabloid???

Well, I got scooped by the Associated Press, and it is official:

"An immigration official says a large percentage of Arizona
businesses aren't using a federal database to check the work eligibility of
their employees, as they are required to do by state law."

Do you suppose that has anything to do with the fact that Congress has yet to give our friends at E-Verify
the money they need to continue refining the user-friendliness of their powerful tool, much less to educate U.S. employers on the what is actually REQUIRED to be in compliance?  It is supremely ironic that, in their quest to act when the feds haven't, states such as Arizona are simply socking it to employers without solving the underlying compliance issues.

Arizona's tough-talking legislatures are already responding to this "ostrich syndrome" and a Chertoff-like promise of increased enforcement is all we are hearing.

If you are an Arizona employer still trying to figure out how your new state mandate "helps" you, stop hiding your head under the beautiful desert sand and call Terry at www.i9advantage.com and let him demo our amazing solution.

We are -- sorry, I can't resist -- RAISING ARIZONA to a state of I9 compliance one employer at time, and we have the solution you need!

Jose



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Heads Up, Megafilers, Ze Jig EEZ up...

This from DHS: a pending regulation will prohibit employers from filing multiple H-1b petitions for a foreign national.  My prediction: this will very adversely affect the leaders of the IT sector.  Why? Glad you asked...

Not many folks sit around pondering the unponderable as much as I do, and it is for this reason that I am such a font of useful and useless information.  This one is useful, but first a question:

Q: How do the big, foreign-based H-1B mega-users manage to staff so well despite the fact that 4 out of 5 new H-1Bs filed in April don't make the 65,000 cap?

A:  They file multiple petitions.

That is correct, even with filing fees as astronomical as they are, the profits are even MORE astronomical, so the filing of 2,3, or even five petitions for the SAME new H-1B prospect can make economic sense.  With in house visa processing mostly handled offshore, it works.  Look at the numbers:


  • Tab Hunter is an IT grad from Nepal and Co. X wants to bring him to California.  Tab has accepted an offer of $75,000 per year plus benefits and is a happy Nepalese camper.

  • Knowing that Tab is a prize hire and that he has a 20% chance of capturing an elusive H-1B, the company files FIVE H-1B petitions, all identical...let's just say that with filing fees and all the hassle, each filing runs the company $3000, a total of $15,000 (and let's assume further that filing fees are lost on the four which do NOT make it.)

  • Tab will travel as a consultant and he'll be invoiced out at a solid hourly, grossing his company $250,000 while costing them $100,000.


Okay, this next part is kind of like in Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum is in the helicopter hitting on the blond paleontologist and explaining chaos theory:

-Let's assume that one out of five Tabs for company X gets the H-1B for every four that doesn't.  The total cost of filing those 25 petitions -- five for each of the five applicants - is $75,000, right?  Well, it doesn't take a math whiz to realize that even with this massive overhead, Co. X is making money:

TAB'S GROSS BILLING = $250,000
TAB'S Cost to Co. X      = $100.000
COST of all the filings   =  $75,000
CO. X Profit                 =   $75,000

Not bad, huh?  I figured all this out last year when I was researching the IT sector and found that some of the top H-1B companies had filed about 4 times as many petitions as had been approved.

If you are from one of those companies and are as freaked out as you should be after reading this, talk to me.  We still have time to structure an L-1 offshore seed program and get the folks you need here BEFORE the 2009 October crop of H-1Bs is ready for harvest.

Don't just think outside the box, guys.  Smash it to smithereens.






Buncha Stuff....some good, some scary...

...GOOD GRIEF what have I gotten myself into?  Here I am thinking this blog will be a nice little writing outlet but a hyper-caffeinated Chertoff and minions have me playing Headline News...here's the latest from that wacky cast of characters in your national capitol...

-USCIS announced today that on June 16, 2008, it will begin
accepting Premium Processing Service requests for Forms I-140 (Immigrant
Petition for Alien Worker) filed on behalf of certain alien workers who are
nearing the end of their sixth year in H-1B nonimmigrant status.  I know a lot of good folks who will smile at that one. (-:

-The Washington Times yesterday FINALLY relayed the news of the federal contractor mandate with E-Verify days after your faithful immigration bloodhound reported it.  Am I cool or what?  I outscooped a Washington newspaper on something that happened in Washington...while sitting in Gainesville. Gotta love the Internet.

-This is actually from March guys but I don't think I read it before and if I did I didn't report it:  Chertoff -- who has in my book evolved into one of those people known by a single name (e.g., Nosferatu, Godzilla, Prince, Nostradamus, etc.) -- let it be known that fines for violating federal immigration laws would increase by "nearly 25%".  That means that the maximum civil penalty is going from $11,000 to $16,000 for multiple violations.

Suggestion:  CALL ME.  We can get your small-midsize company audit ready for less than the five grand increase in the penalty!





Tuesday, June 10, 2008

HSA's Chertoff: The Heat and Raids will Continue

Yesterday was a busy immigration day in Washington: not only did the President finally invoke the long-promised mandate of requiring E-Verify from all federal contractors, but two of his execs hunkered down for a rather verbose press conference dubbed the "State of Immigration Address".  Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff (a/k/a Bush's lead immigration enforcer) and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez (who appeared more because of his surname than because of his contributions to the issue at hand) waxed poetic on a bunch of stuff, so I'm culling the "Employer Relevant" nitty gritty for you from the transcript, write me if you have questions...

On 2-year EADs- Employment Authorization Documents will be issued with a 2 year validity period beginning later this month, doubling the current limit of one year and making stressed out adjustees a lot less stressed.  Good job, Mr. Chertoff, given that the promised processing timeframes are rarely realized and a lot of folks have to sit out employment while waiting for the renewal of timely filed EAD extensions.

On State Legislation- Chertoff cited the state of Washington, which is
currently issuing its own version of an approved, enhanced driver’s
license that will be acceptable at the border. New York has announced
that it has completed its business plan to begin producing those
enhanced driver’s licenses. [Comment: I remember when the concept of federal sovereignty would have made this state involvement an outrage in D.C.; talk about a tacit admission of federal failure in immigration...!]

On E-Verify: Mr. Chertoff was positively giddy about the system, calling it "a tremendous success".  Unfortunately, his reasoning is a little loopy, and he seems to fail to grasp the connection between increased E-Verify usage and the fact that HSA has terrorized the nation with raids, insuring front page comments.  His words:



"The proof of the pudding is the
marketplace itself. Every week on average, about a thousand new
employers join this program. And I will tell you that at this point, I
will estimate that is almost -- maybe actually more than ten percent of
the new hires being hired in the United States are currently being run
through this E-Verify system...The system
works. Of those workers who are legal, 99.5 percent of them roughly are
verified essentially instantaneously. And if those workers who have a
mismatch -- legal workers who we estimate to be about a half a percent,
they are able generally to resolve their issue within less than two
days."



[NOTE: I respectfully disagree with Mr. Chertoff and so do all the organizations tracking the system, but it IS improving.  Unfortunately, these numbers still represent a small fraction of U.S. employers and E-Verify remains a complex and user-unfriendly application; that's precisely the reason behind the rush to implement full-spectrum compliance tools such as our own i9 Advantage]

On Raids, Enforcement, and Nailing the Big Guys:  If there was any hope that in its waning months the Bush Administration was going to lay off the raids and focus on improving employer education, Mr. Chertoff calmly and quickly dispensed with any such illusions:

"Finally, we are going to continue to keep the pressure up on
employers and on illegal aliens by bringing significant cases. As you
know recently we brought a case against a meat-processing operation in
Iowa. Almost 300 immigrants, illegal immigrants pleaded guilty to using
fraudulent documents to get their jobs in an Iowa meat-processing
plant. That means they took the identities of innocent Americans and
misused those identities. And at least in some instances, caused damage
to the innocent American whose identity was stolen.



For those who say that we are only focusing on the illegal workers
themselves, I point out that last year we had over 90 employers, or
those in a supervisory chain who were convicted of crimes. We have had
one CEO or President of a company sent to jail for 10 years.
We have
had recent conviction of a union official from the United Food and
Commercial Workers union for his involvement with the activities at --.



We will continue to pursue employers. I know these cases take a
little bit longer. There is a -- it is always more difficult to work up
the chain. I can tell you as an old organized crime prosecutor and as
an old drug prosecutor, you always start with the bottom ring first,
then you work your way up to the top ring. But I guarantee we are
continuing to work on making cases against that top ring and we will do
so whenever the evidence supports bringing that kind of a case.
"[Emphasis supplied]

No punches pulled there, eh?  Here are some interesting excepts from the Q&A that followed:

Question: Secretary Chertoff, about the executive order on
E-verify for federal contractors, do you have somewhat of a number of
how many contractors that would involve and how many workers
potentially?



Secretary Chertoff: I think we were potentially talking about
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers.
This is going to
apply to contractors who are getting a new contract. Once this comes
into effect they're going to be required to run all their employees
through E-verify. Or if they have a contract and they're going to bring
new employees onto the contract, they're going to have to do that.



Since I can' t predict what contracting is going to be like in the
next two or three years I can't give you a precise number, but it's
going to be at a minimum hundreds of thousands and I think maybe
millions of people will be run through that program
.



Question: Can you tell us whether this will cover subcontractors as well contractors?



Secretary Chertoff: I think now we're getting into exactly
the area where we're going to wind up having to write the detailed
regulation. There are all kinds of issues about what the contracting
entity is, so we're going to get into all kinds of topics that will be
fascinating for the lawyers. But I'm not going to try to give the legal
analysis from up here.



The basic principle is this: if you're working for the federal
government and you're being paid with federal taxes you ought to make
sure that you're employees are obeying federal law when it comes to
their employment authorization
, and this executive order as implemented
in detail by the regulation will do precisely that.

Question: One of -- for one, on the contractors, number one, the E-verify is voluntary? Is it voluntary for them or is it --



Secretary Chertoff: No.



Question: -- going to be mandatory for them?



Secretary Chertoff: No, for federal contractors who are
getting new contracts who are putting new employees on existing
contracts, it's going to be -- it's not going to be voluntary. They
will have to do it as a condition of getting the contract
.