Tuesday, June 24, 2008

E-Verify Hits Home

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Fellow

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) expressed concerns about E-Verify: "I question all of these systems," said Representative Waters. "I question whether or not we really know whether or not there is a 0.5 percent error or a 4 percent error in the E-Verify system."

On June 10, the House Judiciary Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law Subcommittee held a hearing on the Electronic Employment Verification System, also known as "E-Verify." The system uses information in databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to check an individual's employment eligibility.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee, expressed concerns about the system's faulty database and the potential effects of making E-Verify mandatory for all employers. The SSA's Office of the Inspector General reports that 4.1 percent of its records contain discrepancies related to name, date of birth, or citizenship status, with 12. 7 million of those records pertaining to individuals born in the United States.

Rep. Lofgren highlighted Traci Hong's story. Hong serves as Rep. Lofgren's Legislative Counsel. When a government agency used E-verity to check Hong's work eligibility, Hong made "six separate trips" to the personnel office and to SSA to prove that she was a naturalized U.S. citizen. Navigating the system proved difficult for Hong, an immigration lawyer. "Others might have given up," said Rep. Lofgren (USA Today).

Half a Percent Goes a Long Way

Although Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) argued that the error rate in E-Verify is "only 0.5 percent", House members pointed out that a 4.1 percent error rate in the SSA database translates to 17.8 million errors that could affect an employee's work eligibility. Subcommittee members raised questions about Representative Shuler's legislation, the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE Act, H.R. 4088), which would mandate the use of E-Verify by all employers.

Proponents of Employment Verification at Odds

Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), cosponsors of the New Employee Verification Act (NEVA, H.R. 5515) were also amongst the list of witnesses questioned by House Immigration Subcommittee members. NEVA mandates the creation of a new Secure Electronic Employment Verification System (SEEVS) that would use the SSA database to verify employment eligibility for U.S. citizens or nationals, and DHS information to verify employment eligibility for non-U.S. citizens.

According to Representative Giffords, "In Arizona, E-Verify is carrying into virtually all other aspects of life. Media outlets report instances of racial profiling and discrimination on the part of employers." Arizona became the first state to mandate the use of E-Verify for all its employers.

However, Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) expressed concerns that NEVA still mandates the use of the faulty SSA database. "I question all of these systems," said Representative Maxine Waters. "I question whether or not we really know whether or not there is a 0.5 percent error rate, or a 4 percent error rate," Rep. Waters said.

House Members Apprehensive About Potential Discrimination

Representative John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns that "for many employers, it will be easier to just not hire employees with 'unusual' names or who appear foreign."

Members of the Immigration Subcommittee are also wary about the potential effects of E-Verify on employer discrimination. A September 2007 evaluation on E-Verify conducted by Westat, a research agency for the U.S. government, revealed that "31 percent of employers reported using E-Verify to verify employment eligibility before the employee's first day of paid work." E-Verify prohibits registered employers from using the program for pre-employment screening of job applications.

Despite Growing Concerns, Administration Moves Ahead with E-Verify

Despite discussions in Congress about the dangers of making E-Verify mandatory for all employers, on June 9 President George Bush amended Executive Order 12989 to mandate the use of the electronic employment verification system for all federal contractors. DHS has designated E-Verify as the electronic employment eligibility verification system that all federal contractors must use to comply with Executive Order 12989.

AFSC is troubled with this development and encourages the public to call for the laying down of E-verify. This proposed 'will have a negative impact on the rights of workers, and civil the liberties and labor rights of immigrants and non-immigrants alike. E-verify do not resolve the realities of a broken immigration system which has not kept pace with global changes, economic shifts or the root causes of migration.

Friday, June 20, 2008

World Refugee Day: A Global Urgency

Today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commemorates the eighth annual World Refugee Day. This year's events focus on four major refugee situations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and Myanmar. According to a survey released by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a half million Iraqis fled their country in 2007 (Associated Press).

Support Iraqi Refugees on World Refugee Day

AFSC joins the global community in calling for a humane and united response to the dire situations in these countries and in other regional pockets of the world. Join AFSC in bringing attention to the approximately 5 million Iraqis who fled the violence spurred on by war and occupation.

Please write a letter to the editors of your local newspapers drawing attention to this crisis. Below is a sample letter with tips and links on how to send that letter to the editor of your local paper.

> Is Your Newspaper Covering the Iraqi Refugee Crisis?

> Write a Letter to the Editor

To Learn More

> Volunteer to Help Refugees

> More About AFSC's Work with Iraqi Refugees

> AFSC's Living Beyond Borders Blog

World Refugee Day Events

To find a World Refugee Day event near you visit one of the following the links:

(Photo Credit: AFSC - Iraqi family)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guestworkers' Dream of a Better Tomorrow Becomes Exploitation Nightmare

In 2006 Vijay Kumar and Sony Suleka travelled from India to Mississippi with a promise of gainful employment and a better life by labor recruiters in return for $20,000 (Associated Press). The advertisement for welders and pipe fitters to rebuild oil rigs destroyed by Hurricane Katrina read "permanent lifetime settlement in the USA for self and family" (Washington Post). "These workers came to help rebuild the Gulf, and on arrival their nightmare began," said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich (D - OH) this week at a rally in front of the Department of Justice.

According to the facts found in the civil class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of over 500 Indian workers, Signal International, LLC, abused the H-2B visa program in a fraudulent, coercive, and threatening recruitment process that resulted in the grave mistreatment and severe exploitation of the Indian workers.

"When we complained we were told we could be deported," said Shivan Raghavan (Washington Post).

Workers Risk Safety to Bring Traffickers to Justice

In March 2008 the workers escaped from the work camps and reported themselves as survivors of human trafficking to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The workers bravely requested that DOJ investigate the actions that led to their being held in servitude. In addition, they have agreed to cooperate with a federal criminal investigation of Signal International, LLC in order to ensure that their suffering is not repeated.

"We could have disappeared, but we chose to come forward and report the company to the Department of Justice. We sacrificed our ability to work and be with our families for the sake of bringing Signal and its recruiters to justice," the workers said in a collective statement read by Sabulal Vijayan. At the rally, the workers suspended a 29-day hunger strike as they await action from the Department of Justice.

Members of Congress Request DOJ Action

Twenty members of Congress wrote a letter to DOJ requesting a grant of "continued presence" status as trafficking victims under the Trafficking Victims Projection Act (TVPA). This would allow the workers to remain safely in the U.S. without the threat of deportation while the federal government conducts a criminal trafficking investigation.

Congressional members included Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert Brady (D-PA), John Conyers (D-MI), Gene Green (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Doris Matusi, James Moran (D-VA), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Fortney Stark (D-CA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). (Photo credits: Sara Ibrahim).

AFSC Joins in Call for Workers' Justice

AFSC stands in solidarity with those who suffer the injustice of being stripped of their fundamental rights of liberty, family, livelihood, and fairness.

To Learn More

Visit the New Orlean's Center for Racial Justice website and blog.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Detainee Deaths Push Congress to Act

Today the House Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee will question the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a hearing about problems with immigrant detainee medical care. "The Department of Homeland Security's denial and delay is leading to death and disability," House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) said. "It is time for answers, not excuses," said Conyers (Washington Post).

The hearing follows a series of news reports by the New York Times, Washington Post, 60 Minutes and PBS about immigration detention. Boubacar Bah, a 52-year old tailor from Guinea, detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center, lay unconscious for three days without any official informing his family. His story, reported in the New York Times, brought light to serious concerns about treatment in detention.

From January 2004-November 2007, 66 people died in immigration custody, according to a list obtained by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Detainee Basic Medical Care Act Introduced

This month House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act (HR 5950) to require reporting of detainee deaths to the DHS and Congress and mandate standards of care. "The legislation will help guarantee that minimal standards of care are put in place," said Representative Lofgren. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a Senate companion version of the bill (S. 3005).

"Many of those in immigration custody are there for minor violations, many for administrative and paperwork related mistakes. Their detention should not be a death sentence," Lofgren said.

AFSC and Faith-Based Partners Take Action

"Our misguided national fervor to build more jails and incarcerate more individuals, even on the basis of immigration status alone, can only lead to more tragic deaths. We are in grave danger of a nationwide lack of recognition that every individual deserves to be treated with respect. We must reverse this trend before it is too late," wrote Amy Gottlieb, program director, AFSC Immigrant Rights Program in Newark in a letter to the New York Times.

Through its provision of legal services to detainees in New Jersey, leadership development, and support for families of people in detention, AFSC's Newark office has monitored the impact of immigration detention on communities. Members of those communities are bringing their stories to legislators, increasing awareness of the physical, psychological, and social costs of unjust detention.

AFSC has signed onto a national interfaith letter urging members of Congress to support the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act. The letter states, "The faith community is concerned about the government's increasing use of immigration detention and its harmful impact upon children, families and our communities...Our diverse faith backgrounds teach us that every human being must be treated with dignity and respect."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Lost in Translation: Due Process and Constitutional Rights

"There must be amidst all the confusions of the hour a tried and undisturbed remnant of persons who will not become purveyors of coercion and violence, who are ready to stand alone...for the way of peace and love..." - Rufus Jones - (Quaker historian and theologian)

It has now been more than two weeks since the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Postville, Iowa. The massive ICE operation led to the arrest and detention of 390 undocumented immigrants who were employed at a local meatpacking processing plant. But the raid's impact has been felt by both Postville's immigrant and non-immigrant communities.

National media and public attention has heightened concerns about the timing and scope of the raid; concerns about the hasty hearings that took place; the lack of access to legal counsel and due process for those who were detained; the inability of detainees to communicate with their loved ones; and other questionable and troubling ICE actions. The raid, coupled with allegations of labor law violations by the meatpacking plant created a state of chaos and confusion for Postville's immigrant workers and their families.

Aurelio Zamol, brother of one of the detainees shared, "I am willing to pay for my sister's return to Guatemala. We ask pardon to this country's highest authorities. We did not know one needed permission to come here. "

Sandra Sanchez, director of AFSC's immigrant rights program in Des Moines, Iowa asserts, "Aurelio Zamol's situation is similar to that of many detainees. They are Guatemala's indigenous Mayan communities and have limited understanding of the laws in their own country; much less of the layers of this nation's federal and state laws, and that each person has constitutional rights and fair treatment under the nation's judicial system." (Photo Credit: Sign outside of St. Bridget Church Postville, Iowa - courtesy of Sandra Sanchez).

AFSC joins its voice to the many faith-based organizations who continue to urge the White House, designated agencies and officials to immediately:

  • Adhere to policies that ensure fair treatment and respect for the constitutional rights of all detainees, this includes immediate access to legal counsel;
  • Attend to and release those who may have a medical condition or humanitarian needs;
  • Ensure that all detainees to stay in close proximity to their loved ones; and,
  • Work with Congressional leaders to find a fair and bipartisan solution which places the nation's founding principles at the core of future immigration policies and legislation.