Thursday, June 2, 2011

Immigration: the neverending story

National Public Radio recently aired a story about yet another one of those dirty little secrets about the immigration debate. 30 of the 36 legislative co-sponsors of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 had received money and direction from another one of those under-the-radar right-wing organizations, this time called ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council. Twenty-one of those co-sponsors are active members of the group. It’s not easy finding out what exactly ALEC is pushing until they actually help draft laws; on their website they have a list of pet projects, but the details are somewhat obscure, because you have to be an “approved” member to find out. That is to say, you have to be a legislator or businessperson with the proper political “credentials.”

What does ALEC have to do with immigration policy? Some of their membership are in the private prison industry. What is it that they hope to achieve? To build new prison facilities. To fill them with “criminals?” According to an Arizona city manager quoted in the NPR story, a man who resembled a car salesman pitched him a scheme to build a new prison in his neighborhood—to be filled with women and children who were undocumented immigrants. The prison pitchman boasted that he could keep the prison filled indefinitely, and there would be lots of money in it for the city, based on the per diem per inmate charged to the state. How could this largesse be maintained? “Because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law,” according to NPR.

There were a lot of other hands in drafting SB 1070 (like the ironically acronymed FAIR), but the people who stand to gain the most from this law are not the “good” people of Arizona, but the members of ALEC in the private prison business; Russell Pearce, the right-wing extremist in the Arizona legislature and prime mover of anti-immigrant laws, is apparently ecstatic that these private companies could come to Arizona and make hundreds of millions in profits off taxpayers while public services go wanting (this brings to mind a comedy called “Johnnie English” starring Rowan Atkinson; John Malkovich played an evil Frenchman in the private prison business, scheming to turn Britain into the repository for all the “scum” of Europe).

One may ask if in an alleged government of the people, by the people and for the people if businesses running government is democratic or even “republican.” Ask in vain. An ALEC representative baldly claimed to NPR that private companies not only do get to write bills that directly profit them, but that they should. “Yeah, that’s the way it’s set up. It’s a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together.” Where are “the people” at this table? It’s their money going into the pockets of corporations with almost no benefit to themselves.

The ironic thing about all of this is that beyond the federal government’s refusal to address immigration save as a law enforcement issue and dehumanize undocumented workers in a way that justifies anything done against them, the private prison industry has no incentive to push for immigration reform. If anything, it directly profits from the continuation of illegal immigration, which is just another factor in the nonsense that is the immigration “debate.” When it comes to human trafficking, this is where the real money is at; American corporations don't need to be taught anything from foreign amateurs.


Thom Hartmann—“number one” in progressive talk radio, or so he says—should be commended for enlightening his listeners on a variety of topics, and vigorously “debating” right-wing cliché-mongers. There are some issues, however, where he is takes the populist-mob position. The other day I heard him assert that the U.S. was in danger of becoming a Third World country--like Mexico, of course. This “Third World” claim isn’t new; Republicans and mainstream white supremacists like Pat Buchanan have been making this comparison for years. I used to post comments on Hartmann’s daily blog, before my access was blocked; apparently there is a limit to free speech even on a “progressive” site, particularly in regard to the causes of illegal immigration and by association Latinos in general—second only to the political right as the top “threat” to the country in the “progressive” mind. I usually kept to the script on most issues listeners were commenting on, but once the issue of immigration came-up, I was frequently disheartened by the small-mindedness and even purposeful ignorance of what I was reading (or listening to from Hartmann).

All the prevailing myths—they don’t pay taxes, they’re taking YOUR job, they’re driving down wages, jobs are all going to Mexico because of NAFTA—were treated as much as fact as on any right-wing media outlet. I tried to explain to these closet bigots that the tax issue does not stand-up to close scrutiny (although Barack Obama to his discredit used it in his recent immigration speech), and that illegal immigration was caused by pervasive racial discrimination in Mexico (the stratification of Mexican society between Euro-elites and everyone else is quite clear merely by watching Spanish language television), labor shortages in many sectors of the American economy (particularly with the explosion of the middle class jobs after World War II, and the fact even admitted by the recent Westat study that “unauthorized” immigrants are much more mobile than native laborers), the failure to reform the work visa program to address the labor shortage issue, the subsidization of American farmers both before and after NAFTA which led to many Mexican small farmers being forced off their land in search of work elsewhere, and the fact that wages were being driven down much more by price competition from China and other Asian countries. Furthermore, the anti-immigrant sentiment always eventually seeped into anti-Latino territory, if only by “association.”

Hartmann’s “Third World” comparison is only true in the sense that like in the U.S., racial inequality is pervasive; Mexico itself is virtually two separate states in a societal sense. The difference in Mexico is that the practice of inequality is done openly, and the Euro-elites rarely feel obligated to even address the issue. The U.S. also shares responsibility for the drug violence in the country, and not just because of the lax laws on firearms (Arizona, as we’ve learned, is one of the states that have zero “common sense” gun laws). The U.S., after all, is the world’s biggest market for illegal drugs. And as in many inner-city communities where jobs are scarce, the drug “economy” is virtually the only “reliable” employment in town.


Fox News, the Seattle Times and other media outlets dived head-first into the claim made in the recently published Westat study on the veracity of the E-Verify system—an on-line tracking device to check the legal status of individuals who apply for work—that it missed “unauthorized workers” half the time. I, on the other hand, actually read the study, and found its conclusions wanting, when not contradictory and usually completely confusing. Currently only a relative handful of companies use it, and from that Westat examined a fraction as a sample in which to study “in-depth” its accuracy. While the study claims that E-Verify’s accuracy has improved since its last report card, it still allegedly has a 54 percent inaccuracy in regard to detecting “unauthorized” workers, which could have included workers from Asia or Europe who over-stayed their work permits or visas—not necessarily the stereotypical “illegal immigrant.”

During the 2006-2008 time frame under scrutiny, employers sent in 1,500,000 names to E-Verify. Out of all of these, 1,246 employee records were reviewed and employees interviewed. Even if employees identified for review were no longer employed and were no longer living at an indicated address, the researchers tried to hunt them down, questioning neighbors or landlords; one suspects that Westat was targeting people they assumed to be illegal immigrants—most likely those who had Spanish names—and these assumptions would be used in their final conclusions, regardless of factual information. If potential interviewees were reluctant to talk, a $25 “incentive” was offered in exchange for cooperation. Fifty-five of the interviews were conducted in Spanish; this does not necessarily mean the interviewees didn’t speak at least some English or should be automatically assumed to be illegal, but just a comfort level in communicating. After all, most recent Eastern European and Asian immigrants (who apparently everyone believes are all here legally, which is not true) generally prefer to converse in their native tongues. Some interviews were conducted by phone, since some workers lived in areas “that the interviewer was not comfortable visiting.” Between the lines, one detects the intent to pursue and harass a particular targeted group (can’t we guess who that might be).
The report admitted that its undersized sampling might not lead to accurate assessments:

“The high nonresponse rates and small sample size for the employer sample did not permit development of weights that would permit reliable estimates of the population from which they were drawn. Since the record review and worker onsite samples were selected from the employer samples, these estimates must also be considered unreliable for population estimates. Therefore, unweighted counts are presented in the report. These results cannot be generalized to the entire population of E-Verify employers and workers and thus should be viewed as the results of qualitative case studies.”

That, course, did not stop the researchers from turning those very generalizations into “facts” for media-ready fodder for the right and the “populist” mob. A little magic dust here, and some hocus-pocus there, and voila:

“The transaction data were subjected to extensive cleaning routines to delete cases that were transmitted in error (e.g., when the employer realized that a typographical error had been made or when the same case was mistakenly transmitted more than once) and to correct situations in which it appeared that the employer had improperly resubmitted cases to SSA as if they were new cases. Although not all errors can be detected by such cleaning programs, the resulting database is a truer reflection of actual case processing for analysis purposes than the original database was.”

Although the “error” rate for native-born citizens barely registered, that for non-native born citizens and legal immigrants accounted for a majority of the initial errors in the E-Verify system; Many if not most of these errors were due to 21 percent of all employer records having input errors, and the failure of federal record keepers to take into account changed immigrant status (sort of like credit reports). But not to worry, because

“Since there are assumed to be a much larger number of workers with employment authorization than workers without employment authorization, the total inaccuracy rate, which can be viewed as a weighted average of two types of inaccuracy rates, is much closer to the inaccuracy rate for workers with employment authorization.”
Whatever you say, whatever that is.

A great many assumptions and complicated-looking mathematical equations are used in the study; no one is supposed to be able to understand them—particularly politicians and journalists—but the more indecipherable, the more “credible,” somehow. After all, someone smarter than you came-up with this hogwash. However, Westat didn’t merely rely on confusing mathematical equations:

“Between April and June 2008, approximately 130,000 noncitizen cases were initially found to be work authorized. In approximately 3,700 of these cases (3 percent), employers requested additional verification of the work-authorized decision through the E-Verify system. Among these questionable cases, 135 cases had a final finding of FNC or unauthorized to work. These 135 cases represent 0.1 percent of all cases initially found work authorized by E-Verify. These cases were presumably erroneously determined to be work authorized initially, but their final finding was correct. However, given the amount of employer lack of familiarity and/or noncompliance with procedures that are more widely publicized than this one, it is reasonable to believe that for each case in which the employer requests additional verification, there are several similar cases in which employers did not request additional verification when it would have been reasonable to do so.”

In other words, in order to come-up with a politically more “acceptable” number, Westat comes right out and admits that it assumes that the information it is getting from employers is incorrect, so it is fudging the numbers on its own. Out of all this confusion, Westat estimates that 54 percent of unauthorized workers are not caught by E-Verify. The researchers admit that this is only a guess, suggesting a “plausible” range of 37 to 64 percent. How it reaches this guess is, as we have seen, subject to made-up “facts.” Take this statement in the report: “The Pew Foundation’s estimate of unauthorized workers in the labor force is most likely an underestimate according to the Director of Homeland Security.” Of course we are supposed to believe the paranoids over at DHS, whose principle occupation is justifying why they exist, like promoting frame-up projects to snare “terrorists” who didn’t know they were.

According to the report, out of the 1.5 million verification notices sent by employers, 5,000 U.S. citizens came back as a “tentative noncomfirmation” by E-Verify. According to the report, only 20 percent of employees or employers contested the false TNC; the reasons why most of these were not contested were the following:

"Contesting a Tentative Nonconfirmation is not encouraged because the process required too much time; providing assistance to employees who contest a Tentative Nonconfirmation is an excessive burden on staff; contesting a Tentative Nonconfirmation is not encouraged because employment authorization rarely results; establishing employment authorization has become a burden because there are so many Tentative Nonconfirmations; work assignments must be restricted until employment authorization is confirmed; pay is reduced until employment authorization is confirmed; training is delayed until after employment authorization is confirmed."

What does all that mean? Just more reasons why not to trust the conclusions of the Westat report.


Meanwhile, with all this convenient fodder for bigots and paranoids, and the Obama administration now targeting businesses instead of individuals just in time for the 2012 election season, the Immigration Policy Center has just released a report critical of the stupidity of Arizona’s (and by default, Georgia’s) new immigration laws and their negative short and long-term impacts on the economy of the state. As suggested above, Arizona would rather forgo tax revenue, labor and consumerism to help drive the economy from undocumented workers, and spend taxpayer money locking-up women and children for private profit; nobody should ever say that racial prejudice makes any sense. The Center noted that some political elements in California are also considering such laws as Arizona’s, and addressed the foolishness of them in the following language:

“Our analysis finds that the economic and fiscal consequences of widespread deportation for California and L.A. County would be even more devastating than in Arizona. When undocumented workers are taken out of the economy, the jobs they support through their labor, their consumption, and their tax payments disappear as well. Particularly during a time of profound economic uncertainty, the type of dislocation envisioned by harsh immigration enforcement policies runs directly counter to the public interest.” The Center quantified the negative effects of wholesale deportation as such:

Deportation effects on California:

• Decrease total employment by 17.4 percent
• Eliminate 3.6 million jobs
• Shrink the state economy by $301.6 billion
• Reduce state’s tax revenues by 8.5 percent

If all undocumented workers were legalized in California, the effect would be far from catastrophic:

“Conversely, our analysis shows that legalizing the undocumented population in California and L.A. County would yield significant economic benefits. Based on the historical results of the last legalization program under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, similar program would increase wages not only for immigrants but also for their native-born co-workers. This would generate more tax revenue and more consumer and business spending, supporting additional jobs throughout the state and L.A. County economies.” The effect of legalization in California would be the following:

• Add 633,000 jobs
• Increase labor income by $26.9 billion
• Increase tax revenues by $5.3 billion

Thus if California followed Arizona and Georgia's lead of “mass expulsion,” it lead to a “self-destruction” of the California and L.A. county economy. One may recall that this disastrous path was tried in California before by Gov. Pete Wilson, who some voters mistook for a “moderate.” It is pointed out that the simple-minded “debate” on the negative effects of immigration—legal or not—fails to take into account that not only do illegal immigrants pay taxes, they are also consumers. The Center’s figures estimate that undocumented immigrants in California contribute $2.6 billion in taxes to state government now (interestingly, California has recently reported a surge in unexpected tax revenue—from increased income among the wealthy; the bottom 80 percent of the work force continue to lose ground relative to inflation).

Yet misinformation passing for “truth” continues unabated, and reality takes a back seat to politics and racial paranoia. When will it stop? When racial prejudice stops, which will probably be never as long as the human species exists.

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