Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From the Heartland of America: Iowa's Immigration Reality

Note: AFSC's Central Regional News and Views newsletter (Fall 2009) features an insightful look at immigration in the Hawkeye State. The writer, Sandra Sanchez is AFSC's program director in Iowa. The program provides referral support, legal assistance, human rights training and other services to immigrants and their families. We are grateful for the permission granted to share her community-grounded analysis with our readers.

Iowa - Editor's Note: One of the things we notice in our peace and justice work is that many people who generally share AFSC’s views on most issues still have concerns regarding the economic impact of immigration. As part of a broader interview available at, Sandra Sanchez speaks to concerns that immigrants are “taking away” from taxpayers and hurting the economy. (Photograph: Sandra Sanchez - [extreme right] and community members at AFSC "Know Your Rights training - credit: G. Camacho)

Immigrants are not receiving benefits from other taxpayers, even though they should because they are taxpayers too. I’ve heard allies and supporters say, “Yes, we support immigrant rights, but can we afford it when the economy is so bad?”

To answer this very simply, I would say that all people are consumers and producers. Immigrants are consumers and producers too. And since we are in a recession right now, you need people spending. Immigrants spend money, and they spend it now. Immigrants are also very hard working. In many cases, they’re in their most productive years. Therefore, they are mostly contributing to this economy.

Finally, typically immigrants have not been part of the formal financial system, meaning their savings were not lost. They were not investing in the stock market. They have savings to spend. Where do we want them to spend this money? Here, or somewhere else?

More importantly, in terms of production and consumption, immigrants are very active. Why get rid of them? Too many people believe the anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the fact remains that immigrants are paying taxes. There’s more than $560 billion in the Earnings Suspense File of the Social Security Administration, most of which is believed to be contributions of undocumented workers to this system alone.

Do we really want to stop that? People are afraid that if we give legal status to these undocumented workers who have been contributing to Social Security and who cannot claim one penny out of it, then immigrants will claim those benefits. But the truth is that they can’t. If they get a legal status, eventually they will be able to claim benefits, but only from the time of their legal status onward.

So immigrants represent a win-win to this country. We are winning in the sense that they have contributed already as taxpayers, they have contributed to the economy as workers, and they have contributed to the economy as consumers. Do we want to lose that? No.

I truly believe that if undocumented immigrants are given the opportunity to regularize their status, they will be able to buy homes and more cars. They will be able to send their children to institutions of higher learning. And that will definitely be a plus to the economy. It will help us turn around this recession faster than if we don’t.

Sandra Sanchez is a member of AFSC's Project Voice Network, a national grouping of AFSC staff who work in partnership with communities throughout the United States. Project Voice advocates for the fair inclusion and respect for the human rights of immigrant and refugee communities. You can contact Sandra Sanchez at and Jody Mashek at AFSC Iowa’s phone is 515-274- 4851.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Place of Calm & Centeredness

“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does. Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community." - AFSC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala

Unlike the joint session of Congress last week, no one shouted or waved signs at the town hall hosted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Greensboro, North Carolina. People spoke about immigration without using dehumanizing language or accusing one another of not telling the truth.

How did it happen? Read more and find out ...

More than 300 people attended AFSC Greensboro's immigration Town Hall including, Tony Caravano, a representative from Senator Kay Hagan's (D-NC) office. Prior to the event, Khamala received a phone call threatening that two busloads of anti-immigrant protesters would be in attendance, but it did not materialize.

Mr. Caravano and other attendees heard the story of Sandra, a woman waiting to be reunited with her husband, the story of an ESL teacher who described the daily encounters and challenges faced by US citizen children like "Lucia" a young girl whose parents were dragged from their home in the night and deported, and Luis, who struggles to help fellow students stay in school. (Photo: Tony Caravano of Senator Kay Hagan's Office meets local students).

"Is it incompetence or ill will that is keeping him from us?" asked 12-year-old Fernando Hernandez, as he translated for his mother, Sandra. "How can it take six months to review a marriage license?" (Greensboro News and Record). (Photo:Sandra Hernandez and her son Fernando speak about the wait to reunite with her husband due to the immigration backlog).

The crowd also heard from a Gerald Chapman, an immigration lawyer and economist Andrew Brod, Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNC, debunking classic myths held about immigrants.

Senator Hagan to Consider Speakers in Forming Policy

"Planners of this event have been told that Senator Hagan is still forming her opinion on immigration issues," Lori Fernald Khamala of AFSC Greensboro told the crowd. "And so we wanted to share with her - and with all of you - the stories of people affected by our broken immigration system to help better understand these issues and help form the Senator’s opinion."

"These are not isolated incidents. These are the stories immigrants are experiencing every day here in Greensboro, across our state and across the country," she said.

Mr. Caravano, received AFSC's principles for humane immigration policy, A New Path, because change cannot wait until next year or even next month. It is already overdue. This reform must protect the wages, health and safety of ALL workers in our country. This reform must prioritize keeping families together.

Mr. Caravano took a few questions, but reiterated that,"The main reason that Sen. Hagan has asked me to be here today was to listen." Reading a statement from Senator Hagan, Caravano said that the Senator would consider the speakers’ accounts in a "comprehensive immigration reform" package to be written as early as this month. (Greensboro News and Record)

“The reform should cut back on waste, duplication and needless delays by reducing backlogs and streamlining the application process,” Caravano said. “We could provide incentives for individuals and companies to follow rules by restoring common sense in the current system.” (Greensboro News and Record).

Taking Account for Immigration Policy Change

“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does,” said Khamala at the close of the town hall.

“Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community. We are called to love our neighbor, and who are your neighbors? We are different races and colors. We are different ethnicities and nationalities. We speak different languages, but we are all one community. We have an opportunity to move forward with practical solutions that represent the best of who we are...

In the spirit of community, I now invite you to greet your neighbor, ask their name and wish them a good night. But first, in the manner of Quakers, let us spend a few moments in silence, reflecting on what we have heard this evening, and collecting your Spirit to leave this gathering in a place of calm and centeredness. So, take a deep breath, give thanks for this space, and center yourself in silence.

Thank you Friends. Go in Peace."

(Photos: Above - Dr. Michael Palmer, an ESL instructor, shares stories of his students' struggles. Right - AFSC NC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala with local students; All photo credits: AFSC NC)

Slideshow: You can see photos from the event by clicking here.

AFSC NC: To learn more about or contact AFSC Greensboro visit

Myth & Facts: Read more by downloading AFSC's brochure on separating facts from fiction about immigrants in the US. Click here to download.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Farmworkers and the California Veto

It is unacceptable but it happened again. SB789, a measure sponsored by the United Farm Workers and introduced by state Senate President Pro Tem, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. The bill was a renewed attempt to allow farm workers to join a union and to be part of a collective bargaining process. The Governor disagreed and decided that the privacy of the farmworkers was more critical than the option to join a union. Labor-laws violations in the fields have been widely studied and continue to be rampant.

The Governor’s veto comes at a time when the work conditions of those in the fields continue to suffer, and where the daily life of workers and their families are rift with tensions about work mobility, labor standards and their future in the United States.

Dependent on this labor to stock the nation with fresh fruits, leafy lettuces and colorful vegetables, this physically back-breaking work is ignored by employers, contractors and legislators. Consumers also enjoy the fruits and vegetables of this labor but opt to eat and enjoy rather than to worry about how their succulent salad made it to the table.

Without advocates, potential union representation and the monitoring of wage and labor standards, those in the field – men, women and youth – they will continue to suffer under the hot, blazing California sun and other harsh work and environmental conditions. In the past years, media coverage has pointed to some of those who have died in the sweltering sun and the terrible conditions under which farm worker families live.

In the meantime, farm workers are consistently side-stepped in the search for a genuine remedy to their awful plight and to their tenuous immigration status. Why not? They are expendable, sometimes transient and often abused. Who else would work under these harsh and inhumane conditions -- where you may be sick, but you have to work; you may be injured, but you have to work; or where your wages may be stolen (or shortchanged), but you still have to work! It is because of this uncertainty that farm workers need representation and an organized vehicle that can support their labor rights and their basic human rights, not to mention fair treatment at the hands of employers, contractors and sub-contractors.

A report issued this past week points to the egregious work violations taking place in the nation’s labor market. Titled, Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, this comprehensive report identifies the ‘gloves-off practices,’ the workers who are affected by them, and the strategies needed for monitoring workplace standards.

In the meantime, sweatshop standards and dehumanizing labor conditions, are but two of the bitter realities many workers tolerate while we sit to enjoy delectable salads or fruits that were cultivated or picked by these same workers. And thousands of farm workers and their families continue to toil away hoping that they too can one day enjoy the fruits of their labor. Terrible flavor, isn't it?

To learn more about the work conditions of workers in the United States and AFSC’s recommendations for labor rights and protections read: A New Path: Toward Humane Immigration Policy at http://www/afsc/org.

To read Confronting the Gloves-Economy: America’s Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, visit

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Communities Lead While Leaders Retreat

Recent news coverage has indicated that immigration will not be on the legislative or White House agenda for yet another year. What gives? After so much promise and the sense that change was around the corner, advocates and communities have confronted renewed delays, back-pedaling and verbal calisthenics to stall a substantive legislative discussion and policy solutions. Avoidance seems to have become the ongoing bug of choice in the nation’s capitol.

Despite the ongoing impasse, the collective spirit of the nation's immigrant communities has not diminished. Indeed, trainings, workshops, Know Your Rights and organizing sessions have continued as have vigils, public actions, letter-writing and telephone-tree efforts to reach out to legislators and policy leaders to urge their leadership in changing the current stalemate. (Photo: AFSC New England "Know Your Rights" training in Boston - 2007/photo courtesy of G. Camacho).

How many more immigrants will be attacked, killed, vilified or deported before humane policy emerges from the White House and the halls of Congress? How many more families will be separated due to their multi-immigration status in the US? Surely, our nation’s leaders can do much better to honor the founding principles, and the basic and inherent dignity of all.

Not too long ago while meeting with the Presidents of Canada and Mexico, President Obama indicated his administration’s commitment to repair the current immigration system. But like leaves flying and spinning into the wind, there's been lots of spinning and words on the issue but still, far from substantive action. In the meantime, immigrant communities and non-immigrant immigrant allies have been pressing forward, meeting, holding discussions, organizing and working with each other to change the current policy and political impasse.

AFSC has joined more than 500 organizations calling for an end to several past punitive and enforcement actions that have now been continued by the Obama administration. In addition, immigrant and non-immigrant communities have been conveying a unified message that the continued delay of immigration reform is the wrong way to proceed.

Unfortunately, punitive programs such as 287(g) – a program that enables local police to act as immigration agents – has continued to receive support and the Department of Homeland Security has in fact, expanded the program. This has taken place despite the fact that the program has fostered fear in immigrant communities, led to racial profiling and abuses.

It is imperative that Congressional leaders and the White House moved toward a process that begins to address the current and broken down immigration system. Delays, half-baked promises and stalling will do nothing to change the reality the nation confronts. Increased detentions, deportations and family separation are not long-term solutions to the existing national and global economic, social and political realities.

But the stalling tide can be changed. In fact, hearing from their constituents can move the nation's leaders to make this a 'front and center' issue. It is not lost to elected officials or the White House when community members call to urge movement forward on key policies.

Now you can
join AFSC and many other faith, labor and community organizations in calling for humane immigration policy. Urge Congress not to dither. Urge President Obama to move with deliberate speed! It is time for forward-thinking and humane immigration policies.

§ Contact the White House general switchboard: 202-456-1414 or leave your message for President Obama at 202-456-1111. A quick e-mail will also help! Send to:

§ Contact members of your Congressional delegation and urge them to lead in efforts that repair the current immigration system.

· To contact your Senator: 202-224-3121
· To contact your Representative: 202-225-3121