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History > 2009 > USA > Immigration (II)




Immigration Officials

Arrest 300 in California


December 12, 2009
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Nearly 300 illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes were deported or detained this week by federal agents in a demonstration of what immigration officials pledged was a new resolve to zero in on the most egregious lawbreakers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials called the three-day sweep in California their largest operation ever aimed at illegal immigrants with criminal records.

More than 80 percent had convictions for serious or violent crimes and at least 100 have been removed from the country, with the others awaiting deportation proceedings.

John Morton, an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security who is in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Friday that focusing on serious criminals helped improve public safety.

“These are not people who we want walking our streets,” Mr. Morton said at a news conference here, a day after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made much the same point at a Congressional hearing.

The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized by immigrant advocates and civil libertarians in recent years for rounding up hundreds of people whose only offense was being in the country without proper documents, sometimes at the cost of breaking up families.

President Obama had campaigned on a promise of a more compassionate approach to immigration enforcement that would focus on ridding the country of felons and cracking down on employers who deliberately hire illegal workers.

Mr. Morton, citing limited resources, said, “We are going to focus on those people who choose to pursue a life of crime in the United States rather than pursue the American dream of education, hard work and success.”

Last year, 136,126 illegal immigrants with criminal records were deported, a record number, officials said. While department officials trumpeted the mass arrests this week, they could not say how many serious criminal offenders who are in the country illegally remain on the streets.

The Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union reacted skeptically to the announcement, noting that despite assurances that serious criminals were the target, previous sweeps have turned out to capture large numbers of people with no such records.

“We would welcome more effective targeting than in the past but it is not yet clear that is the case here,” said Caroline Cincotta, a fellow at the project, who also questioned whether the swift deportations had allowed people to have full due process.

ICE officials said just six of those arrested had no record at all, and they sought to play up the serious nature of the offenses of those who were apprehended.

Those arrested included a Guatemalan man with ties to a Los Angeles gang who had committed first-degree robbery, a Mexican man convicted of lewd acts with a child and a Mexican man with a rape conviction.

Of the 286 people arrested, 63 had previously been deported. At least 17 face prosecution for re-entering the country without proper documents.

The agents and officers tracked down most of those arrested through tips and a review of immigration files, court and public records. Many people arrested this week were never deported after serving prison time for their offenses because they fell through the cracks.

Mr. Morton said the immigration agency was improving cooperation with local and state jailers, and is rolling out a “Secure Communities” program that by 2012 is expected to permit all local jails nationwide to check the immigration status of inmates.

The deportees represented 31 countries, though the majority, 207, were from Mexico.

Immigration Officials Arrest 300 in California, NYT, 12.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/us/12immig.html






Immigration Detention System

Lapses Detailed


December 3, 2009
The New York Times


Growing numbers of noncitizens, including legal immigrants, are held unnecessarily and transferred heedlessly in an expensive immigration detention system that denies many of them basic fairness, a bipartisan study group and a human rights organization concluded in reports released jointly on Wednesday.

Confirmation of some of their critical conclusions came separately from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, in an investigation that found detainee transfers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were so haphazard that some detainees arrived at a new detention center without having been served a notice of why they were being held, or despite a high probability of being granted bond, or with pending criminal prosecutions or arrest warrants in the previous jurisdiction.

The bipartisan group, the Constitution Project, whose members include Asa Hutchinson, a former under secretary of homeland security, called for sweeping changes in agency policies and amendments to immigration law, including new access to government-appointed counsel for many of those facing deportation.

In its report, the human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, revealed government data showing 1.4 million detainee transfers from 1999 to 2008, most of them since 2006. The transfers are accelerating, the report found, with tens of thousands of longtime residents of cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles being sent to remote immigration jails in Texas and Louisiana, far from legal counsel and the evidence that might help them win release.

“ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of musical chairs, and it’s a game with dire consequences,” said Alison Parker, deputy director in the United States for the human rights group, and author of its report. The data underlying the report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which issued its own report.

The inspector general’s investigation found that the consequences of haphazard transfers include a loss of access to legal counsel and relevant evidence; additional time in detention; and “errors, delays and confusion for detainees, their families, legal representatives” and the immigration courts.

Some detainees were transferred with files lacking a photo and a security classification, field inspectors found in work conducted from October 2008 to February.

Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of Homeland Security, said the agency would issue advisories reminding field offices of 10-year-old national detention standards that require a review of a detainee’s “alien file” before any transfer, and reinforcing the need to coordinate with immigration courts.

In August, the Obama administration announced ambitious plans to overhaul immigration detention, a disjointed network that relies heavily on private prisons and county jails. But taken together, the three reports underscore the gap between the plans and the problems on the ground in a system that, according to the inspector general, is estimated to be detaining more than 442,000 people a year — more than double the number in 2003, ICE’s first year of operation.

John T. Morton, director of the immigration agency, envisions a “truly civil detention system” shaped by more centralized agency control. In contrast, the Constitution Project recommends shrinking the use of detention, in part by adding more constitutional safeguards required in the criminal justice system.

“None of the recommendations being made should in any way compromise national security,” Mr. Hutchinson said Wednesday in an interview before he presented the report at the National Press Club in Washington. “It simply allows for a more humane and more efficient system.”

Immigration law is complex, and the deprivation of liberty is quite similar to the situation in other settings that require court-appointed counsel for the indigent. But 60 percent of noncitizens face deportation without a lawyer, and transfers compound the problem, the reports said.

The immigration agency has said it uses transfers to deal with an imbalance in the number of detention beds at various locations. But the TRAC analysis shows that the number of transfers has grown much more rapidly than the detention population. It found that in the first six months of the 2008 fiscal year, 53 percent of detainees were transferred at least once, and that one in four were transferred multiple times, a fivefold increase since 1999.

Though transfers occur in almost every state, the data show that the jurisdiction receiving the most transferred detainees is the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, covering Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — which is widely known for decisions hostile to the rights of noncitizens and has the worst ratio of immigration lawyers to detainees, the human rights report said.

A strong case against deportation sometimes simply evaporates in such a transfer, the report said. It cited a Jamaican New Yorker transferred to Texas after three months in detention in New York and New Jersey.

Immigration authorities contended that he should be deported based on two prior convictions for drug possession.

In New York, his drug misdemeanors were not considered an “aggravated felony,” and based on the man’s 22 years of legal residency and strong family relationships in the United States, he would have been eligible for “cancellation of removal,” a form of relief from deportation. In Texas, he was barred from relief based on Fifth Circuit rulings, and deported.

The bipartisan group said the agency makes it too hard for people to avoid detention while challenging deportation. It recommended a significant easing in the burden of proof, and a hardship waiver from mandatory detention for lawful permanent residents.

In what it called “an aspirational goal,” it recommended that where free counsel is not available, all indigent noncitizens in standard deportation proceedings have access to a government-paid lawyer. It also urged Congress to give immigration judges discretion to appoint counsel, and to require a lawyer in certain cases, including those involving unaccompanied children and the mentally ill.

Mr. Hutchinson said that the immigration agency could make many other changes immediately, including some that would “correct some potential unfairness in the system” unintentionally left by his own efforts when he was in office.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, a memorandum Mr. Hutchinson issued in 2004 is now used as a loophole to hold detainees for weeks without giving them notice of why the government is seeking to deport them. “This can certainly be tightened up and narrowed,” Mr. Hutchinson said.

    Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed, NYT, 3.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/us/03immig.html






Detentions at Border Are Down


November 26, 2009
The New York Times


Detentions of migrants trying to cross the border illegally dropped to 556,000 in the 2009 fiscal year, a decline of 23 percent over 2008 and the lowest number since the early 1970s, according to official figures released this week.

The number of detentions of illegal border crossers has been falling since 2000, when it reached a peak of 1.6 million. But the especially sharp decline in the 2009 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, was a sign of a steep decrease in the flow of migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, immigration officials and researchers said.

Migrants have been discouraged from coming by soaring unemployment among immigrants in the United States and tighter enforcement along the Southwest border, officials and scholars said.

Obama administration officials have pointed to the decreasing flow as evidence that they have achieved a major improvement in border security. In a speech this month laying out immigration strategy, Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, argued that a “major shift” in enforcement at the Mexican border had created conditions for Congress to embark on an overhaul of immigration policy, including giving legal status to more than 11 million illegal immigrants.

Ms. Napolitano said that heightened enforcement meant that such a program would not unleash a new flood of illegal migrants across the Southwest border.

Republican lawmakers said they were skeptical, because hundreds of miles of the rugged 2,000-mile-long border are still thinly patrolled and have no fencing. As a backup to border enforcement, they called for worker verification measures to block American employers from hiring illegal workers.

“We think it’s a combination of increased border patrol and the economy,” Fritz Chaleff, a spokesman for Representative Brian P. Bilbray, Republican of California, said of the low numbers. “But we need measures to make sure that the jobs that are available go to the workers who are authorized to take them.”

The Border Patrol hired 2,600 agents in the past year, official figures show, bringing the total to more than 20,000.

But the main factor in the slowing movement of immigrants is the country’s deep recession, which has hit immigrants particularly hard — especially illegal ones, researchers say. By the first months of this year, unemployment among immigrant workers was significantly greater than that of native-born American workers, reversing a trend during the boom years, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute, a research group in Washington.

Some researchers cautioned that border enforcement would not prevent Latino immigrants from returning if the economy picked up.

    Detentions at Border Are Down, NYT, 26.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/us/26border.html






The Breaking Point

Hospital Falters as Refuge

for Illegal Immigrants


November 21, 2009
The New York Times


ATLANTA — Each had crossed the border years before, smuggled across the desert by a coyote, never imagining the journey would lead to a drab and dusty clinic on the ninth floor of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Some knew before the crossing that they had diabetes or lupus or high blood pressure, but it was only after they arrived that their kidneys began to fail. To survive, they needed dialysis at a cost of about $50,000 a year, which their sporadic work as housekeepers, painters and laborers could not begin to cover.

And so they turned to Grady, a taxpayer-supported safety-net hospital that would provide dialysis to anyone in need, even illegal immigrants with no insurance or ability to pay. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning, the 15 or so patients would settle into their recliners, four to a room, and while away the monotonous three-hour treatments by chitchatting in Spanish.

That all changed on Oct. 4, when the strapped public hospital closed its outpatient dialysis clinic, leaving 51 patients — almost all illegal immigrants — in a life-or-death limbo.

For Grady, which has served Atlanta’s poor for 117 years, it was an excruciating choice, a stark reflection of what happens when the country’s inadequate health care system confronts its defective immigration policy.

Like other hospitals, particularly public hospitals, Grady has been left to provide costly treatments to nonpaying illegal residents who most likely could not have obtained such care in their home countries. American taxpayers and health care consumers have borne the expense.

Over time, the mounting losses have compromised Grady’s charitable mission, forcing layoffs, increases in fees and the elimination of services.

“Years and years of providing this free care has led Grady to the breaking point,” said Matt Gove, one of the hospital’s senior vice presidents. “If we don’t make the gut-wrenching decisions now, there won’t be a Grady later. Then, everyone loses.”

But for the dialysis patients, the sudden end to their reassuring routine has prompted a panic.

“We didn’t know what to do,” said Ignacio G. Lopez, 23, who had been sustained by the clinic for more than three years. “We can pass away if we stay like two weeks without dialysis. They were just sending us out to die.”

The chairman of Grady’s recently reconstituted board, A. D. Correll, has said the hospital would not let that happen. “We made a commitment right up front that people are not going to die on the street because of these actions,” said Mr. Correll, a former chairman of the Georgia-Pacific Corporation and a prominent civic leader here.


Soccer and Telenovelas

In fact, the future for many of the patients remains uncertain. Like most of the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, they have little access to continuing health care, a reality not addressed by the legislation now under discussion in Washington.

Across the years, the Grady dialysis patients had forged a community, a family, really, of people who share a history and language, as well as a life-threatening condition. As the machines cleansed the toxins from their blood, they would talk about the scarcity of work, the ruthlessness of their disease and their hopes for a transplant. Some would sleep, while others crooned folksongs to drown out the snores.

Any given morning might find Mr. Lopez bickering with Fidelia G. Perez about whether to watch their soap operas, or telenovelas, in English or Spanish. From another chair, Rosa Lira, a frail grandmother, would look up from her prayer book to boast of the previous night’s exploits by Club America, her favorite Mexican soccer team. Rosa Palma de Gamez, from El Salvador, would grin when Ismael Sagrero arrived with his trademark greeting — “Hola-hola!” — which had become his nickname.

Now the patients are trying desperately to figure out their next steps.

With limited exceptions, illegal immigrants are ineligible for public insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare and often cannot afford private coverage. When major illness strikes, they have few options but to go to emergency rooms, which are required by federal law to treat anyone whose health is deemed in serious jeopardy.

Officials at Grady, which will provide more than $300 million in uncompensated care this year, estimate that as many as a fifth of its uninsured patients are illegal immigrants. Although the numbers are elusive, a national study by the RAND Corporation concluded that illegal immigrants account for about 1.3 percent of public health spending.

The recession has prompted some state and local governments to pare programs that benefit illegal immigrants. And although illegal immigrants may account for about seven million of the country’s 46 million uninsured, the health care bills being negotiated by Congress exclude them from expansions of subsidized public insurance. (The House bill that passed on Nov. 7 would allow illegal immigrants to buy policies at full cost on government-run exchanges, while legislation being considered in the Senate would forbid it.)

Calling it “a horrible situation,” Mr. Correll said that governments at all levels had decided that immigrants were not their problem. “But somehow,” he said, “they’ve become Grady’s problem, which seems totally unfair.”

Some of the Grady dialysis patients have chosen to return to their countries, encouraged by the hospital’s offer of free airfare, cash payments, three months of paid dialysis and assistance in seeking insurance or other long-term remedies. Others are trying their luck in states where Medicaid policies may be less restrictive.

But most remain in Atlanta, taking full advantage of a last-minute offer by the hospital, in response to a lawsuit, to pay for three months of dialysis at commercial clinics. They are hopeful that the reprieve will buy time for the lawsuit to progress or for private dialysis providers to take them as charity cases.

What they fear, however, is that their already fragile lives will soon be reduced to a frenzied search for their next dialysis, most likely in an emergency room after a descent into crisis.


Looking for a Better Life

They need only look to Ms. Perez to see what the future may hold.

After hearing that the clinic would close, Ms. Perez, 32, set out for Alabama on Sept. 6 because cousins told her they might be able to procure dialysis there. Grady was not yet offering its deal for three months of treatment, and instead gave her $1,300, enough to cover dialysis for a week or two.

Ms. Perez said the money was quickly spent on rent, food and transportation. After going without dialysis for 16 days, she walked into an emergency room near Birmingham, which found that the potassium levels in her blood were high enough to require immediate filtration. Eight days later, she did the same at another Birmingham hospital.

“They said this was the first and last time they would help me,” she said. “They told me I didn’t have any right to be there.”

She went back to the first hospital, where she was dialyzed again, and then found a third hospital that was willing to provide three treatments. A doctor there tried to find a private dialysis clinic that would accept her but came up empty, she said.

So she returned to Atlanta on Oct. 11, and underwent one more emergency treatment before agreeing to fly home to Mexico with assistance from Grady and a California company, MexCare, that the hospital has hired to help repatriate interested patients.

Ms. Perez’s parents live in Mexico and can care for her, but in many cases the patients’ families and sources of support are in the United States. Some do not want to uproot their American-born children, or abandon their spouses or jobs. Often they do not trust the quality or availability of dialysis in Latin America.

Like other patients, Adolfo D. Sanchez, 31, said he was astonished to learn when his kidneys failed in 2004 that Grady would provide him ongoing dialysis without charge. A subsistence farmer in Mexico, he said he had paid a coyote $1,500 in 2001 to lead him on an eight-day trek across the Arizona border to Phoenix and then to Atlanta, where his sister had settled.

Three years later, while working in construction, he found he could not keep down the small tacos he ate for lunch. A local clinic referred him to Grady, which diagnosed his kidney failure and placed him on dialysis.

“No place in Mexico would have offered dialysis for free,” he said, sitting in the spare apartment he shares with his girlfriend and their 13-year-old son. “It was better to be here. I am really grateful that this is possible in this country, because if I were in my country I would already have died”

Bertha A. Montelongo, a 59-year-old widow who said she entered the United States illegally in 2005, started having seizures and shortness of breath about a month after arriving in Atlanta.

“I came to look for a better life,” she said, “but then I became sick, and that was it.”

A diabetic, Ms. Montelongo has survived for four years on dialysis, but lost her vision last December. That has made her dependent on her daughter, who baby-sits and sells homemade tamales; her son-in-law, an out-of-work landscaper; and her granddaughters. They live in a rented house in the suburbs where the mantel is lit with votives.

For a blind woman, returning to Mexico, where few family members remain, is not an option, Ms. Montelongo and her family said.

“All the people here on dialysis think the same thing,” said her daughter, Letecia. “They all think that if they go back to Mexico, they will die sooner. In Mexico, it’s different. There, you have to pay.”


Creating a Crisis on Purpose

It has been different for the 25 or so United States citizens who were patients at the dialysis clinic. They were either already on Medicare or about to become eligible, and are thus being readily treated by private dialysis clinics. After a three-month waiting period, the federal insurance program covers anyone with end-stage renal disease, regardless of age, and pays 80 percent of the cost of dialysis.

But illegal immigrants are not eligible for Medicare, and legal immigrants must wait five years to qualify. A few states use emergency Medicaid programs to cover ongoing dialysis for certain illegal immigrants, but Georgia discontinued the practice in 2006.

That sent waves of uninsured dialysis patients from across the region to Grady, which is supported by direct appropriations from Fulton and DeKalb Counties, ostensibly to care for their own residents. The hospital lost $3.5 million on the dialysis clinic last year, said Mr. Gove, the Grady spokesman. Its 88 dialysis patients accounted for a 10th of total losses at a hospital with more than 800,000 patient visits a year, he said.

The board acted, Mr. Correll said, because Grady’s dialysis equipment had become obsolete, requiring heavy investment. It was evident, given that so many patients were undocumented and uninsured, that the losses would never stop.

“It was just financially hopeless,” Mr. Correll said. “For every vacancy that opened up, another nonpaying patient would walk in the door, so it was going to last forever.”

Mr. Correll said the hospital “had to precipitate a crisis” in the hope that other hospitals, dialysis centers and governments might pitch in.

Each of the remaining patients has signed an agreement stipulating that Grady will pay for private dialysis provided by Fresenius Medical Services for no more than three months, Mr. Gove said. The patients agreed to work with the hospital during that period to devise long-range plans for their care, possibly including repatriation.

What Grady has not told the patients is that its contract with Fresenius, which sets a price of $280 per treatment, covers their care for up to one year. Mr. Gove said the contract gave Grady the flexibility to continue paying for patients who fail to make other arrangements by Jan. 3. But he said the hospital’s offer to arrange repatriation would end at that point.

“As patients, they are ultimately responsible for their care,” Mr. Gove said.

The hospital’s agreement with MexCare, obtained through a state open records request, calls for Grady to pay $18,000 for every patient relocated — $6,750 in travel expenses and escort fees, a $750 administrative fee, and payment for 30 dialysis treatments at $350 each.

Two years ago, the Grady board, then dominated by political appointees, undercut its chief executive’s plan to close the dialysis clinic. The new board, now led by business leaders, hopes to save the hospital by convincing corporations and other potential donors that its fiscal discipline is worthy of support.

Mr. Correll said closing the dialysis clinic was “important to the future financial and operational success of Grady, because people have confidence now that the board will make a tough decision if it has to, and do it in the most humane way possible.”

When Mr. Lopez first showed up at Grady in 2006, five years after he had crossed into Arizona at age 15, his disease had turned his skin a pallid gray. The doctors told him he was lucky he had not waited another day.

The charge for the initial hospital stay ran to $40,000; he said his stack of bills now totaled more than $100,000. “I try to pay little by little,” he said, “but I’m never going to finish.”

He said he had never expected such generosity from American health care, calling it “very humane.” After each dialysis treatment at Grady, he said, he would thank the nurses.

“You saved my life,” he would tell them. “One more time, you saved my life.”


Yolanne Almanzar contributed reporting from Miami.

    Hospital Falters as Refuge for Illegal Immigrants, NYT, 21.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/health/policy/21grady.html







Their Future Is Ours


November 17, 2009
The New York Times


There are 16 million children in immigrant families in the United States, one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. It’s an old American story made new in the age of globalization, when waves of human displacement in recent decades have led to immigration on a scale not seen since Ellis Island. But a country that has been so good for so long at integrating new Americans is stumbling under the challenge.

That is the conclusion of Professors Marcelo and Carola Suárez-Orozco, fellows at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and co-directors of immigration studies at New York University. They have done basic research in immigration for more than 20 years, five of them studying 400 children from China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central America and Mexico.

The results of their research, released this month, show the stark effects of what Marcelo Suárez-Orozco calls “the age of global vertigo.” Dislocation breeds a host of difficulties, starting with family separation. Nearly half of the children in their sample had at some point lost contact with one or both parents, either through migration directly or through divorce or death. The absent parent was most often the father for long stretches or permanently. For 49 percent of the Central American children, separations lasted more than five years.

The children from separated families were, perhaps unsurprising, more likely to show signs of depression. Those symptoms were often accompanied by poverty, isolation and — despite an early period of hopefulness and engagement — a downward academic slide. Immigrant children lagged in mastering standard academic English, the passport to college and to brighter futures. Whereas native-born children’s language skills follow a bell curve, immigrants’ children were crowded in the lower ranks: More than three-quarters of the sample scored below the 85th percentile in English proficiency.

There is clearly a need for policies and programs to support immigrant parents and children, but the reality is as haphazard and tenuous as these children’s lives often are. Millions are growing up in mixed families, with some members here illegally, others not. Bills to help immigrant families with a path to legalization have died repeatedly in Congress, and small-scale reforms like the Dream Act, a path to college or the military for children of illegal immigrants have been stymied for years. New investments in language education, citizenship preparation and after-school and preschool programs have been derailed by economic crisis, harsh immigration politics and a general lack of attention.

This is the great challenge that is forgotten in the heat of the immigration debate. The children of immigrants are Americans. “They” are “us,” a cohort of newcomers who will be filling the demographic void left as the baby boomers start fading away. Their future is our country’s future. The job of integrating them is not only unfinished but in many critical ways has hardly begun.

    Their Future Is Ours, NYT, 17.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/opinion/17tue2.html






Migrants Going North

Now Risk Kidnappings


October 18, 2009
The New York Times


TECATE, Mexico — For 37 days, the Salvadoran immigrant was held captive in a crowded room near the border with scores of people, all of them Central Americans who had been kidnapped while heading north, hoping to cross into the United States. He finally got out in August, he said, after the Mexican Army raided the house in the middle of the night to free them.

“The army said: ‘Don’t run. We’re here to help you,’ ” recalled the migrant, a 30-year-old father of three who insisted that his name not be printed for fear of either being kidnapped again or deported. “I kept running.”

Getting to “el norte” has never been a cakewalk. Along with long treks through desert terrain, death-defying river crossings and perilous rides clinging onto trains, there have always been con men and crooked police officers preying on migrants along the way.

But Mexican human rights groups that monitor migration say the threats foreigners face as they cross Mexico for the United States have grown significantly in recent months. Organized crime groups have begun taking aim at migrants as major sources of illicit revenue, even as the financial crisis in the United States has reduced the number of people willing to risk the journey.

Kidnapping people for ransom is a pervasive problem in this country, although victims have typically been prosperous people with bank accounts that can be emptied at the nearest A.T.M., or those with relatives willing to hand over significant sums to save them.

Migrants may typically be poor, often with little in their pockets except the scrawled telephone numbers of relatives who have migrated before them, but they have usually notified friends or relatives in the United States that they are on their way. To kidnappers, those contacts are golden. “They beat me and kept beating me until I handed over my telephone numbers,” said the Salvadoran immigrant, interviewed at a center for migrants in Reynosa, just across the border with Texas.

In many ways, the man’s account was typical. A study by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission released this year found 9,758 migrants who had been kidnapped as they tried to cross the border into the United States between September 2008 and February 2009. The commission noted that migrants were typically terrified to report such crimes out of fear of being deported by Mexican immigration authorities and that the actual number of victims was probably much higher.

The stories the commission heard in interviews with victims were alarming. There were frequent rapes of female migrants. Fierce beatings were carried out. As a lesson to other captives, the kidnappers killed some migrants who did not hand over the telephone numbers of their relatives.

“They said that if they did not receive payment, they would take away my kidney afterward and throw me into the river so the big lizards would eat me,” a Honduran man who was kidnapped in Tabasco State told commission investigators.

He said he had been kidnapped along with 60 or so others, all Central Americans. The men who took them said they were coyotes, or human smugglers, and promised to feed them and help them cross into the United States. Instead, the men forced the captives over 30 days to call relatives in the United States and extract thousands of dollars from them in order to be released.

The amounts demanded ranged from $1,500 to $10,000, sizable sums on top of the several thousand dollars that the migrants had already paid smugglers to make the crossing.

One victim, a Honduran man kidnapped in Nuevo Laredo at the Texas border, told investigators that he was close to reaching the United States when he fell for a swindle. Two women approached and offered him a day job for about $10, money that he desperately needed.

But there was no job awaiting him at the house where he was taken. Instead, he and a half dozen other migrants were beaten over the course of two weeks and frequently photographed. The captors demanded the e-mail addresses of relatives and sent the desperate-looking photos in order to extract ransoms, he said.

The man said his relatives paid what the kidnappers had demanded, so he and others who had come up with the ransom money were blindfolded one evening and taken to the bank of a river. Dumped alongside them was the body of a Salvadoran migrant whom the captors had killed. The kidnappers fired several rounds at the ground and demanded that everyone jump into the river, the man said. The group never made it across, though, and was later picked up by the Mexican authorities.

Human rights workers say Mexican migrants are not singled out by kidnappers as often as foreigners, mostly Central Americans, but also Ecuadoreans, Brazilians, Chileans and Peruvians. The foreigners are more vulnerable, less familiar with their surroundings and less likely to report what happened to them to the authorities, advocates say.

“If people don’t come forward, we don’t know the extent of the problem,” said Angélica Martínez, a state prosecutor in Tecate, a border town east of Tijuana, where the authorities were pursuing a kidnapper who goes by the nickname “El Gato,” who was believed to prey on migrants.

Complicating the problem, migrants complain that the police are sometimes in league with the kidnappers, rounding up victims and handing them over to kidnappers for a fee. Mexican law enforcement officials acknowledge that some individual officers may be involved in organized crime, but they say the problem is not as widespread as often portrayed and is being combated on a national level.

The Salvadoran victim who was kidnapped in Reynosa said he had first been to the United States in 1999. He had stayed three years, working in the fields and in a furniture store in North Carolina, before returning to El Salvador. After what he had endured, he said he was mulling whether to give up the opportunity of higher wages in the United States and return home.

“There was danger of robbery back then,” he said of his first crossing 10 years ago. “It’s always been dangerous. But now it’s gotten even worse. We’re poor and we’re trying to get ahead. We’re doing this for our kids. I’d advise people to be careful and to pray to God.”

    Migrants Going North Now Risk Kidnappings, NYT, 18.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/world/americas/18tecate.html






U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors

on Expired Visas


October 12, 2009
The New York Times


DALLAS — Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and despite repeated mandates from Congress, the United States still has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.

New concern was focused on that security loophole last week, when Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian who had overstayed his tourist visa, was accused in court of plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.

Last year alone, 2.9 million foreign visitors on temporary visas like Mr. Smadi’s checked in to the country but never officially checked out, immigration officials said. While officials say they have no way to confirm it, they suspect that several hundred thousand of them overstayed their visas.

Over all, the officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.

Mr. Smadi’s case has brought renewed calls from both parties in Congress for Department of Homeland Security officials to complete a universal electronic exit monitoring system.

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the Smadi case “points to a real need for an entry and exit system if we are serious about reducing illegal immigration.”

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, said he would try to steer money from the economic stimulus program to build an exit monitoring system.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, immigration authorities, with more than $1 billion from Congress, have greatly improved and expanded their systems to monitor foreigners when they arrive. But despite several Congressional authorizations, there are no biometric inspections or a systematic follow-up to confirm that foreign visitors have departed.

Homeland security officials caution that universal exit monitoring is a daunting and costly goal, mainly because of the nation’s long and busy land borders, with more than one million crossings every day. The wrong exit plan, they said, could clog trade, disrupt border cities and overwhelm immigration agencies with information they could not effectively use.

Since 2004, homeland security officials have put systems in place to check all foreigners as they arrive, whether by air, sea or land. Customs officers now take fingerprints and digital photographs of visitors from most countries, instantly comparing them against law enforcement watch list databases. (Canadians and Mexicans with special border-crossing cards are exempt from those checks.)

But homeland security officials said that a series of pilot programs since 2004 had failed to yield an exit monitoring system that would work for the whole nation. They have not yet found technology to support speedy exit inspections at land borders. And airlines balked at an effort last year by the Bush administration to make them responsible for taking fingerprints and photographs of departing foreigners.

The current system relies on departing foreigners to turn in a paper stub when they leave.

Last year, official figures show, 39 million foreign travelers were admitted on temporary visas like Mr. Smadi’s. Based on the paper stubs, homeland security officials said, they confirmed the departure of 92.5 percent of them. Most of the remaining visitors did depart, officials said, but failed to check out because they did not know how to do so. But more than 200,000 of them are believed to have overstayed intentionally.

Immigration authorities have put in place a separate system for keeping track of foreigners who, unlike Mr. Smadi, come on student visas. That system has proved effective at confirming that the students have stayed in school and do not overstay their visas, officials said.

Immigration analysts said that given the difficulties of enforcing the United States’ vast borders, it remains primarily up to law enforcement officials to thwart terrorism suspects who do not have records that would draw scrutiny before they enter the United States.

“You can’t ask the immigration system to do everything,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a research center in Washington, and a former commissioner of the immigration service. “This is an example of how changes in law enforcement priorities and techniques since Sept. 11 actually got to where they should be.”

Mr. Smadi, like many tourists who overstay visas, was able to fade easily into society and encountered few barriers to starting a life here, according to court documents and people who know him. He enrolled in high school, obtained a California identification card, landed jobs in two states and rented a string of apartments and houses. He bought at least two used cars, and even procured a handgun and ammunition.

Mr. Smadi’s arrest on Sept. 24 for the attempted bombing was not his first encounter with American law enforcement. Two weeks earlier, a sheriff’s deputy in Ellis County, Tex., pulled him over for a broken tail light just north of the town of Italy, then arrested him for driving without a license or insurance.

When the deputy checked his identity, Mr. Smadi’s name showed up on a watch list by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was already investigating him. But the background check turned up no immigration record. The deputy called the F.B.I. and was told there was no outstanding arrest warrant for Mr. Smadi. So on the evening of Sept. 11, Mr. Smadi paid a $550 fine and walked out of the county jail.

“There was nothing to indicate to us that this person was currently in the States illegally,” said Chief Deputy Dennis Brearley.

Mr. Smadi had come to the United States from Jordan in early 2007 on a six-month tourist visa, immigration officials say.

For a few weeks he stayed in San Jose, Calif., with Hana Elrabodi, a retired Jordanian businessman who knew his family, according to Mr. Elrabodi’s wife, Temina. Though Mr. Smadi was not authorized to work, he found a job at a local restaurant. In late March, Mr. Smadi obtained a California identification card using Mr. Elrabodi’s address.

In October 2007, Mr. Smadi moved into an apartment in Santa Clara with his younger brother, Hussein Smadi, and another man he identified as his cousin, according to the manager of the apartment complex, Joe Redzovic. Mr. Smadi took another job, in a falafel restaurant, and in the winter he briefly enrolled in the Santa Clara High School.

After a fire gutted his Santa Clara apartment, Mr. Smadi moved to Dallas. Though his visa had expired by April 2008, he landed a job working behind the counter at Texas Best Smokehouse in Italy, Tex., about 45 miles from Dallas. He rented a bungalow nearby, using his California identification and passing a criminal background check, said his former landlord, David South.

Three months later, Mr. Smadi married one of his co-workers, Rosalinda Duron. They separated in the fall of 2008 after only three months, Ms. Duron said.

Investigators have found no evidence that Mr. Smadi, during his first year in the United States, openly espoused Islamic fundamentalism. Neither have they found any evidence that he received terrorist training abroad or came to the United States intending to commit a terrorist act, said Mark White, a spokesman for the F.B.I. in Dallas.

But by the spring of 2008, he caught the attention of the F.B.I. by posting incendiary remarks about wanting to kill Americans on Jihadist Web sites. Over the summer, he met with agents posing as members of Al Qaeda and planned to bomb the Fountain Place office building in downtown Dallas, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday.

His arrest on terrorism charges came after he parked a truck that he had been told was carrying explosives in the building’s underground garage, according to court documents.

When the F.B.I. later searched his residence, they found a Beretta 9 millimeter pistol and a box of ammunition, along with his passport and the expired visa, the court documents show.

    U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors on Expired Visas, NYT, 12.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/us/12visa.html







Salvaging Immigration Detention


October 6, 2009
The NewYork Times


The Obama administration is unveiling on Tuesday an ambitious plan to repair the immigration detention system, a scandal-plagued mix of federal, state and local lockups that grew vastly and rotted under the enforcement crusade led by former President George W. Bush.

The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deserve credit for proposing to clean up a system notorious for shabby and abusive conditions, poor or nonexistent medical treatment and a trail of preventable injuries and deaths. The reforms, if they work and are maintained, would be a necessary corrective to years of willful neglect.

Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton say that they want to make the system more efficient, more accountable and less costly. The whole point of detaining immigrants, after all, is to quickly figure out which ones should be deported and to deport them, not to let them languish and certainly not to inflict punishment or undue suffering.

But immigration detention has strayed far from that basic mission. Today’s announcement includes statements of “core principles” so fundamental that you have to wonder what they are replacing. Consider these:

• “ICE will detain aliens in settings commensurate with the risk of flight and danger they present.” That means the government has finally come to understand that detainees are not all violent criminals. They include young mothers and their children, asylum seekers, upright members of communities who, but for a lapsed visa or bureaucratic snafu, would not be in trouble with the law. Those who can make no case for staying here should be deported. But it’s gratifying to hear Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton acknowledge that nonviolent noncriminals — particularly those seeking refuge — should not be warehoused behind bars. They have promised to increase alternatives to detention, and we expect them to do that — even if it means a vast effort nationwide.

• “ICE will provide sound medical care.” This fundamental government responsibility has been shamefully neglected in centers around the country. The reform plan refers vaguely to a new “medical classification system” for detainees that should improve treatment and reduce unnecessary and disruptive medical transfers. ICE should make clear what that means and how that will help those who become sick or injured only after they are admitted and classified.

Perhaps the most important principle behind these reforms is the reassertion of central control over the sprawling, subcontracted system. The new plan asserts that central control is not only smarter and more efficient but also cheaper. “Each of these reforms,” the agency says, “are expected to be budget-neutral or result in cost savings through reduced reliance on contractors to perform key federal duties.”

Immigration detention is a prime example of things going bad when the government subcontracts a vital mission to poorly supervised outsiders. The Obama administration, like its predecessor, is under ferocious political pressure to be seen as tough on people who have been unfairly depicted as a fundamentally criminal, dangerous crowd. It is pushing back with an effort to be sane and proportionate. If the reforms announced on Tuesday work half as well as promised, the country will be closer to a detention system it does not have to be ashamed of.

    Salvaging Immigration Detention, NYT, 6.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/opinion/06tue1.html






Immigration Stories,

From Shadows to Spotlight


September 30, 2009
The New York Times


Frail and dignified at 88, the man leaned on his cane and smiled as the story of his immigration in 1936 flashed behind him on a museum wall. Like tens of thousands of others who managed to come to the United States from China during a 60-year period when the law singled them out for exclusion, the man, Tun Funn Hom, had entered as a “paper son,” with false identity papers that claimed his father was a native citizen.

For years, it was a shameful family secret. But Mr. Hom, a New York laundry worker who helped build battleships in World War II and put three children through college, outlived the stigma of an earlier era’s immigration fraud.

A narrow legalization program let him reclaim his true name in the 1950s. His life story is now on permanent display at the Museum of Chinese in America, which reopened last week at 215 Centre Street. And it illuminates an almost forgotten chapter in American history, one that historians say has new relevance in the current crackdown on illegal immigration.

“When we think about illegal immigration, we think about Mexican immigrants, whereas in fact illegal immigration cuts across all immigrant groups,” said Erika Lee, the author of “At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943.” The book traces how today’s national apparatus of immigration restriction was created and shaped by efforts to keep out Chinese workers and to counter the tactics they developed to overcome the barriers.

The current parallels are striking, said Professor Lee, who teaches history at the University of Minnesota. And though some descendants of paper sons do not make the connection, many others have become immigrant rights advocates in law, politics or museums like this one, which hopes to draw a national audience to its new Chinatown space, designed by Maya Lin.

“In the Chinese-American community, it has only been very recently that these types of histories have been made public,” Professor Lee said. “Even my own grandparents who came in as paper sons were very, very reluctant to talk about this.”

For Mr. Hom, who was a teenager when he arrived to work in his father’s laundry on Bleecker Street, the past is now a blur. “It was so long ago that I hardly remember,” he said, as his wife, Yoke Won Hom, 82, straightened the lapels of his suit for a photograph.

But when his memory was still sharp, his daughter Dorothy transcribed 48 pages of his taped recollections, which became the basis of a four-minute first-person narrative produced by the museum. It is one of 10 such autobiographical videos that form the museum’s core exhibit.

“To get into the U.S. under the laws back then, I had to pretend to be another person,” Mr. Hom wrote. His father had bought him immigration papers that included 32 pages of information he was to memorize in preparation for hours of interrogation at Ellis Island.

Such cheat sheets were part of an elaborate, self-perpetuating cycle of enforcement and evasion, historians say. The authorities kept ratcheting up their scrutiny and requirements for documents, feeding a lucrative network of fraud and official corruption as immigrants tried to show they were either merchants or native-born citizens, groups exempt from the exclusion laws.

Mr. Hom was allowed ashore as Hom Ngin Sing, a student and son of a native. In reality, his father had made it to the United States only about six years earlier, through a similar subterfuge, like an estimated 90 percent of Chinese immigrants of the period.

Like many poor families from Taishan, a region that sent many emigrants to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, the Homs had deep ties to the United States. Mr. Hom’s great-uncle, for example, died in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

But unlike any other immigrant group, the Chinese were barred from naturalizing. That bar was part of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed in 1882 after years of escalating anti-Chinese violence in the West spurred by recessions, labor strife and a culture of white supremacy.

The law was expanded in 1892 with a measure that required all Chinese to register with the government and subjected them to deportation unless they proved legal residency, which required the testimony of at least one white witness.

In a comment that reflected the tone in Congress, one senator asserted that the government had the right “to set apart for them, as we have for the Indians, a territory or reservation, where they should not break out to contaminate our people.”

Lawyers argued that the law was repugnant to “the very soul of the Constitution.” But it was upheld in a sweeping Supreme Court decision of 1893, Fong Yue Ting v. United States, which held that the government’s power to deport foreigners, whether here legally or not, was as “absolute and unqualified” as the power to exclude them. That finding reverberates today, said Daniel Kanstroom, a legal scholar and the author of “Deportation Nation.”

Long after exclusion laws were repealed by Congress in 1943, after China became a World War II ally, that vast power over noncitizens was deployed in raids against immigrants of various ethnic groups whose politics were considered suspect.

In the 1950s, Mr. Hom and his relatives, like many Chinese New Yorkers, suddenly faced the exposure of their false papers in just such an operation. The government was tipped off by an informer in Hong Kong as part of a cold war effort to stop illegal immigration.

“We were very scared,” said Mrs. Hom, who worked at the family’s laundry, first in the Bronx, then in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “Everybody was very worried on account maybe they all be sent back to China.”

But in a government “confession program,” Mr. Hom and some of his relatives admitted their illegal entry; because Mr. Hom had served in the military, he received citizenship papers within months.

As someone who never made it to high school, he now beams over his children’s professional successes and his six multiethnic grandchildren. His son, Tom, is a dentist in Manhattan; his daughter Mary is a physician in the Syracuse area, and Dorothy, an interior designer, works with her husband, Michael Strauss, a principal with Vanguard Construction, which recently completed DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Daniel Boulud’s latest restaurant.

At a time when debates about immigration often include the claim that “my relatives came the legal way,” referring to a period when there were few restrictions on any immigrants except the Chinese, the Hom family has a different perspective.

“One’s status being legal or illegal, it’s two seconds apart at any point,” Dorothy said. “For some, the process is more difficult than others.”

    Immigration Stories, From Shadows to Spotlight, NYT, 29.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/nyregion/30chinese.html






Invisible Immigrants,

Old and Left

With ‘Nobody to Talk To’


August 31, 2009
The New York Times


FREMONT, Calif. — They gather five days a week at a mall called the Hub, sitting on concrete planters and sipping thermoses of chai. These elderly immigrants from India are members of an all-male group called The 100 Years Living Club. They talk about crime in nearby Oakland, the cheapest flights to Delhi and how to deal with recalcitrant daughters-in-law.

Together, they fend off the well of loneliness and isolation that so often accompany the move to this country late in life from distant places, some culturally light years away.

“If I don’t come here, I have sealed lips, nobody to talk to,” said Devendra Singh, a 79-year-old widower. Meeting beside the parking lot, the men were oblivious to their fellow mall rats, backpack-carrying teenagers swigging energy drinks.

In this country of twittering youth, Mr. Singh and his friends form a gathering force: the elderly, who now make up America’s fastest-growing immigrant group. Since 1990, the number of foreign-born people over 65 has grown from 2.7 million to 4.3 million — or about 11 percent of the country’s recently arrived immigrants. Their ranks are expected to swell to 16 million by 2050. In California, one in nearly three seniors is now foreign born, according to a 2007 census survey.

Many are aging parents of naturalized American citizens, reuniting with their families. Yet experts say that America’s ethnic elderly are among the most isolated people in America. Seventy percent of recent older immigrants speak little or no English. Most do not drive. Some studies suggest depression and psychological problems are widespread, the result of language barriers, a lack of social connections and values that sometimes conflict with the dominant American culture, including those of their assimilated children.

The lives of transplanted elders are largely untracked, unknown outside their ethnic or religious communities. “They never win spelling bees,” said Judith Treas, a sociology professor and demographer at the University of California, Irvine. “They do not join criminal gangs. And nobody worries about Americans losing jobs to Korean grandmothers.”

The speed of the demographic transformation is leading many cities to reach out to the growing numbers of elderly parents in their midst. Fremont began a mobile mental health unit for homebound seniors and recruited volunteer “ambassadors” to help older immigrants navigate social service bureaucracies. In Chicago, a network of nonprofit groups has started The Depression Project, a network of community groups helping aging immigrants and others cope.

But their problems can go unnoticed because they often do not seek help. “There is a feeling that problems are very personal, and within the family,” said Gwen Yeo, the co-director of the Geriatric Education Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Many who have followed their grown children here have fulfilling lives, but life in this country does not always go according to plan for seniors navigating the new, at times jagged, emotional terrain, which often means living under a child’s roof.

Mr. Singh, the widower, grew up in a boisterous Indian household with 14 family members. In Fremont, he moved in with his son’s family and devoted himself to his grandchildren, picking them up from school and ferrying them to soccer practice. Then his son and daughter-in-law decided “they wanted their privacy,” said Mr. Singh, an undertone of sadness in his voice. He reluctantly concluded he should move out.

So when he leaves the Hub, dead leaves swirling around its fake cobblestones, Mr. Singh drives to the rented room in a house he found on Craigslist. His could be a dorm room, except for the arthritis heat wraps packed neatly in plastic bins.

“In India there is a favorable bias toward the elders,” Mr. Singh said, sitting amid Hindu religious posters and a photograph of his late wife. “Here people think about what is convenient and inconvenient for them.”


Move to the Ethnoburbs

Sociologists call Mr. Singh and his cohort the “.5 generation,” distinct from the “1.5 generation” — younger transplants who became bicultural through school and work. Immigrant elders leave a familiar home, some without electricity or running water, for a multigenerational home in communities like Fremont that demographers call ethnoburbs.

A generation ago, Fremont was 76 percent Caucasian. Today, nearly one-half of its residents are Asian, 14 percent are Latino and it is home to one of the country’s largest groups of Afghan refugees (it was a setting for the best-selling book “The Kite Runner”). Along the way, a former beauty college has become a mosque; a movie house became a Bollywood multiplex; a bank, an Afghan market, and a stucco-lined street renamed Gurdwara, after the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple.

Reliant on their children, late-life immigrants are a vulnerable population. “They come anticipating a great deal of family togetherness,” Professor Treas said. “But American society isn’t organized in a way that responds to their cultural expectations.”

Hardev Singh, 76, and his wife, Pal Keur, 67, part of Fremont’s large Sikh community, live above the office of the Fremont Frontier Motel, its lone nod to a Western motif a dilapidated wagon wheel sign.

They rented the fluorescent-lighted apartment after living for three years with their daughter, Kamaljit Purewal, her husband, his mother and two grandchildren. As the children grew, Mr. Singh and Mrs. Keur were relegated to the garage, transformed into a room. As Mr. Singh said, “in winter it was too much cold.”(Ms. Purewal said that she “tried to give them a better life,” but felt unappreciated because her parents favored her older brother in India. “If you’re a happy family, a small house is a big house,” she said. )

Fraught family dynamics when elderly parents move in with children often leave older members without a voice in decision-making, whether about buying a house or using the shower.

Pravinchandra Patel, the 84-year-old founder of the 100 Years Living Club, intervened when he heard that the son in one family was taking his parents’ monthly Supplemental Security Income check, for $658, then doling out $20 for spending money.

“I ask the son, ‘How much money do you figure you owe your parents for your education?’ ” he said.


Crying, Not Smiling

Once a lush landscape of fruit trees and cauliflower fields, Fremont, 40 miles south of San Francisco, is now the Bay Area’s fourth-largest city, with voters from 152 countries. Physical distances can be compounded by psychic ones: 13 percent of the city’s immigrant seniors live in households isolated by language. Theirs is a late-life journey without a map.

For the men in the 100 Years Living Club, the road leads to the Hub, where they have been meeting for 14 years, since the Target store was a Montgomery Ward. Mr. Patel, who was an herbal doctor in India, started the group after he noticed his friends were in “house prisons,” as he put it, without even the confidence to use a bus. The men keep their spirits alive by sharing homemade chaat snacks. They are the lucky ones.

Two miles away, Zia Mustafa, an Afghan widow, sits at her kitchen table with its plastic tablecloth, looking at a scrapbook with bright color postcards of Turkmen girls in elaborate dress posed against an azure sky.

Mrs. Mustafa arrived here on a desolate emotional road. Her husband and eldest son were killed by a rocket in Kabul; her son Waheed, now 24 and living with her in Fremont, lost his leg in the attack. Other children remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“My family is divided in three,” she said through a translator, weeping.

Waheed Mustafa, after surgery in Oakland, leads the life of a young man in his 20s — going to school, working out, talking on his cellphone, hanging out with friends.

Mrs. Mustafa, who was home-schooled in the Koran, spends her days watching television soap operas, attempting to decipher stories through actors’ facial expressions. She sleeps with the lights on, worrying that even within these safe white walls this son, too, will not come back.

“They come from a country where it takes so much to survive, yet they feel they haven’t done enough,” said Dr. Sudha Manjunath, a psychiatrist who consults with the city’s mental health unit. “To tell them now, ‘It’s time to take care of yourself’ — well, they’ve never heard of such things.”

A recent health survey by Dr. Carl Stempel, a sociology professor at California State University, East Bay, found that most Afghan women here suffer from post-traumatic stress.

“I thought they would be so happy in this country — all the houses, the food, the cars,” said Najia Hamid, who founded the Afghan Elderly Association of the Bay Area, an outreach group for widows, with seed money from Fremont. “But I was met with crying.”

Young couples who need to work to support families have imported grandparents in part to baby-sit. There is a misguided assumption that baby-sitting is sustenance enough for the aging, said Moina Shaiq, founder of the Muslim Support Network, which brings seniors together. “We are all social beings. How much can you talk to your grandchildren?” Mrs. Shaiq said.


Small Things Matter

In 1965 changes to immigration policy allowed naturalized citizens to sponsor the immigration of parents without quota restrictions. By 1996, a growing perception that elderly immigrants were “gaming the system” — that their children were pledging to support them and then enrolling their parents in the Supplemental Security Income and food stamp programs — became an impetus for welfare reform. Congress imposed a five-year waiting period for Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and restricted S.S.I. and food stamp eligibility for adults.

Some states, including California and New York, have chosen to eliminate the waiting period for Medicaid for lawfully residing immigrants, paying with state money.

Michael Fix, senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit center in Washington, said that as immigrants form a larger part of the elderly population, “all the issues that bear on health care and social services will increasingly be transformed in part into immigrant issues.”

In 2007, according to census data, about 16 percent of immigrant seniors lived below the poverty line, compared with 12 percent of native-born elderly, said Steven P. Wallace, the associate director of the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Another 24 percent of immigrant elderly are “the near-poor,” he said, “sitting on the edge of a cliff.”

Kashmir Singh Shahi, 43, a former engineer who was born in India, is a volunteer the Community Ambassador Program for Seniors, offering people like Hardev Singh an attuned ear.

Mr. Singh, a retired driving instructor for the Indian army, is 76 and determined to work full time. He takes two buses to work the night shift at a gas station an hour away. “I don’t want to become idle in the heart,” he said matter-of-factly.

Mr. Singh had not been to a doctor in years, and Mr. Shahi helped him and his wife apply for Medicare. Mr. Singh is also entitled to Social Security but will not accept the additional assistance.

Mr. Shahi’s experiences with his own parents have illuminated the way for his clients. He came to the Bay Area in 1991 to work at a fiber optics company, and he sponsored his parents six years later.

After his father died, Mr. Shahi changed careers so he could care for his mother, who has suffered from depression.

She shares a room with her 12-year-old grandson, Kirat, improbably surrounded by Iron Man and Incredible Hulk posters. In this affectionate setting, amid decorations for her granddaughter’s Sweet 16 party, the 84-year-old woman sat quietly, blue slippers on her feet, her eyes cast downward at her folded hands.

“In India, she would walk to the grocery store, go next door to have tea, talk about common things like the wheat and the corn,” said Mr. Shahi of the ingrained visiting culture so universally missed by many ethnic elders. “At home anyone can knock on the door anytime, to relieve the pressure. Here nothing is similar.”

So at the end of his day counseling others, Mr. Shahi sits with his mother before she goes to bed. He always asks if she needs any warm milk.

“The small things matter,” he said of his mother and other elders longing for home. “The feeling that they are welcomed.”

    Invisible Immigrants, Old and Left With ‘Nobody to Talk To’, NYT, 30.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/us/31elder.html






Shipwrecked Haitians

Tell of Ordeal as Search Ends


July 30, 2009
Filed at 4:41 a.m. ET
The New York Times


PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) -- The young man was weak and alone when searchers found him on an uninhabited island shortly before authorities ended the hunt for victims of the sinking of a rickety sailboat crowded with people fleeing Haiti's poverty.

Fifteen migrants were confirmed dead, 118 were rescued and about 70 others remained missing when the U.S. Coast Guard and local officials called a halt to search efforts late Wednesday afternoon after a 52-hour operation that covered more than 1,500 square miles (3,800 square kilometers) of ocean.

In the hours before the search came to an end, a Haitian man in his 20s was discovered on an uninhabited island of West Caicos and was flown to Providenciales for medical treatment, a police spokesman, Sgt. Calvin Chase, said.

No details were available on his ordeal, but other migrants began to give a fuller picture of the disaster.

There was no warning when the overcrowded sailboat plowed into a coral reef and began to break apart near the Turks and Caicos Islands. In the darkness, some 200 migrants were plunged into the water, grabbing desperately at anything that might keep them afloat.

Joanel Pierre, a skinny 18-year-old, lifted his gray T-shirt on Wednesday to display the scratches clawed into his body by drowning shipmates.

''The ones who knew how to swim, swam,'' he told The Associated Press, speaking quietly and averting his eyes.

''The ones who didn't, died.''

The blue-and-white sailboat set out before dawn Saturday filled with people from miserably poor northern Haiti. Their families had saved up $500 apiece to send them to what Haitians call ''the other side of the water.''

Their destination was the Turks and Caicos Islands, a tourism-dependent British territory where there are jobs in construction and maintenance -- and, sometimes, a little hope for a better future. Pierre wanted to work as a mechanic.

The boat was jammed with people. Men filled the deck, exposed to the hot sun, while women and men alike filled the dark, nearly airless hold below, survivors told rescuers. Pierre said the hold was packed so tight that nobody could lie down.

During the two-day journey, the migrants ate twice, they said -- rice and beans both times. They also had water.

About 10 p.m. Sunday, Pierre clambered onto deck for some fresh air, and was rewarded with a welcome sight: the lights of Providenciales gleaming on the horizon.

But before he could savor the moment there was a powerful jolt and a skidding sensation, ''like a car had blown its tire,'' Pierre said. The hull began to splinter as waves smashed the vessel against a reef, survivors said. People spilled into the water.

''People started yelling, `God help me!''' Pierre said.

Pierre spoke in Cap-Haitien, the northern Haitian city where he and dozens of other survivors were flown back from the Turks and Caicos. Other survivors were being held in a gym in Providenciales, while the worst-off were in the hospital.

Like most of those who made it, Pierre managed to swim through 6-foot swells to the jagged reef that sank the boat and clung to it for his life. The sun was scorching, and there was no food or water.

''We were hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable,'' he said. ''We went through every misery at once.''

Others clung too pieces of the boat -- all that remained of the homemade craft -- terrified that their bleeding wounds would attract the black tip and tiger sharks that come to the area to eat snappers, the fish that spawn in the summer.

Early Monday, a boat passed nearby. Survivors waved and screamed, but it didn't veer from its course, said rescuer Dja Castel, recounting what survivors told him. Many gave themselves up for dead.

By the time the first rescuers arrived, the survivors had been in the 15-foot-deep water for 17 hours, and nobody was strong enough to scream.

Castel, who was on a boat in the area, spotted a red piece of clothing waving in the wind -- someone's shirt. As he approached, he couldn't make out people amid the wreckage of the boat.

Eventually the rescuers spotted a man clinging to a piece of wood. Two others were trying to swim toward a reef where about 20 people held on to the coral.

The rescuers threw a rope to one of the swimmers and pulled him aboard.

The other swimmer was going under, and Castel dived in to help. The swimmer's arms flailed in the waves. ''He was fighting the water,'' Castel said.

On the boat, Castel gave the man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Water poured from his nose and mouth and ran down the sides of his face. After 10 minutes, the crew pronounced the man dead and turned their attention back to the living.

Some on the reef were wearing only their underwear. ''They looked like someone who had lost hope,'' Castel said.

In Cap-Haitien, relatives gathered at the airport Wednesday to meet returning survivors being flown home by Turks and Caicos immigration authorities.

Pierre, who was reunited with his mother, said that for all the horrors of the voyage he was still desperate to get out of Haiti, where 80 percent of the people survive on less than $2 a day.

''I'm not going on the water again,'' he said. ''But if God made it possible for me to get a plane ticket, I would go.''


Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay reported this story from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, and Jonathan M. Katz from Cap-Haitien, Haiti.

    Shipwrecked Haitians Tell of Ordeal as Search Ends, NYT, 30.7.2009,  http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/30/world/AP-CB-Turks-and-Caicos-Boat-Capsized.html






U.S. Shifts Strategy

on Illicit Work by Immigrants


July 3, 2009
The New York Times


Immigration authorities had bad news this week for American Apparel, the T-shirt maker based in downtown Los Angeles: About 1,800 of its employees appeared to be illegal immigrants not authorized to work in the United States.

But in contrast to the high-profile raids that marked the enforcement approach of the Bush administration, no federal agents with criminal warrants stormed the company’s factories and rounded up employees. Instead, the federal immigration agency sent American Apparel a written notice that it faced civil fines and would have to fire any workers confirmed to be unauthorized.

The treatment of American Apparel, which has more than 5,600 factory employees in Los Angeles alone, is the most prominent demonstration of a new strategy by the Obama administration to curb the employment of illegal immigrants by focusing on employers who hire them — and doing so in a less confrontational manner than in years past.

Unlike the approach of the Bush administration, which brought criminal charges in its final two years against many illegal immigrant workers, the new effort makes broader use of fines and other civil sanctions, federal officials said Thursday.

Federal agents will concentrate on businesses employing large numbers of workers suspected of being illegal immigrants, the officials said, and will reserve tough criminal charges mostly for employers who serially hire illegal immigrants and engage in wage and labor violations.

“These actions underscore our commitment to targeting employers that cultivate illegal work forces by knowingly hiring and exploiting illegal workers,” said Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency known as ICE, said it had sent notices announcing audits of hiring records, like the one it conducted at American Apparel, to 652 other companies across the country. Officials said they were picking up the pace of such audits, after performing 503 of them in 2008.

The names of other companies that received notices have not been made public. American Apparel became a window into the new enforcement tactics because, as a publicly traded company, it issued a required notice on Wednesday about the hiring audit.

The Obama administration’s new approach, unveiled in April, seems to be moving away from the raids that advocates for immigrants said had split families, disrupted businesses and traumatized communities. But the outcome will still be difficult for illegal workers, who will lose their jobs and could face deportation, the advocates said.

Immigration officials have not made clear how they intend to deal with workers who are unable to prove their legal immigration status in the course of inspections, but they said there was no moratorium on deportations.

Executives at American Apparel were both relieved and dismayed after receiving the warning from the immigration agency of discrepancies in the hiring documents of about one-third of its Los Angeles work force. The company has 30 days to dispute the agency’s claims and give immigrant employees time to prove that they are authorized to work in the United States, immigration officials said. If they cannot, the company must fire them, probably within two months.

But no criminal charges were lodged against the company and no workers have been arrested, American Apparel executives and immigration officials said.

The fines followed discussions over 18 months between federal officials and American Apparel, after immigration agents first inspected the company’s files in January 2008, said Peter Schey, an immigration lawyer representing the company. Mr. Schey said a raid had been averted because the company cooperated with the audit and because immigration agents had not found any labor abuses.

“There is no evidence of any exploitation of workers or violation of labor laws,” he said. “And there is not a single allegation that the company knowingly hired an undocumented worker.”

American Apparel and its outspoken chief executive, Dov Charney, have waged a campaign, emblazoned on T-shirts sold across the country, criticizing the immigration crackdown of recent years and calling on Congress to “Legalize L.A.” by granting legal status to illegal immigrants.

Most garment workers in American Apparel’s huge shop in Los Angeles work directly for the company, not for subcontractors, its records show. They earn at least $10 to $12 an hour, well above minimum wage, and receive health benefits.

At a news conference last year, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles publicly lauded Mr. Charney for helping the city with its faltering economy by providing “the dream of a steady paycheck and good benefits for countless workers.”

While it has been no secret that American Apparel’s largely Latino work force probably included many illegal immigrants, Mr. Schey said the company had been careful to meet legal hiring requirements. Many illegal immigrants use convincingly forged Social Security cards or other fake documents when seeking work.

In a statement, Mr. Charney said that many of his workers cited by the immigration agency were “responsible, hard-working employees” who had been with the company for more than a decade. Mr. Charney, an immigrant from Canada, said he hoped they would be able to prove their legal status. But because of the recession, the company said, it will not be hurt financially if it has to replace them.

Mr. Schey said the hiring audit at American Apparel had been “professionally done.” By contrast, Mr. Schey has brought more than 100 damage claims against the immigration agency on behalf of American citizens who said they were illegally arrested last year in Los Angeles in an immigration raid at a different company, Micro Solutions Enterprises.

Immigration officials, who asked not to be identified because the case is continuing, said the fines to American Apparel so far were about $150,000.

Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, said it had taken steps to limit negotiations with employers that in the past had resulted in steep reductions in fines the employers ultimately paid.

Representative Brian P. Bilbray, a California Republican who heads an immigration caucus in the House, said the amount of the fines was crucial.

“If this is a truly conscientious effort to get tough with employers to say the days are over of profiteering with illegal immigrants, that’s fine,” said Mr. Bilbray, who opposes any effort to give legal status to illegal immigrants. “But if the fine will be so low that it’s just part of doing business, there’s no deterrent.”

Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, an advocacy group, said she welcomed the end to “showboat enforcement raids.” But in the end, Ms. Salas said, “there is still enforcement of laws that are broken,” adding, “The workers will still lose their jobs.”

U.S. Shifts Strategy on Illicit Work by Immigrants, NYT, 3.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/us/03immig.html