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Hysterical and spot on! Colbert says “I told you so” and highlights the value of migrant workers

Hysterical and spot on. Colbert tells Alabama “I Told You So,” and rips immigration law HB56 to shreds, highlighting the value of migrant workers-

According to government statistics, three-quarters of all crop workers working in American agriculture were born outside the United States, and at least 50% of the crop workers have not been authorized to work legally in the United States.

Since the passage of anti-immigrant law HB 56 in Alabama, many documented and undocumented farm workers left their jobs and even fled the state, leaving the agricultural economy in bad shape. With tomatoes rotting on the vines, Colbert referenced the “Take Back Our Jobs” campaign that he had led last year along with the United Farm Workers of America. The campaign challenged opponents to follow through on their stand that undocumented immigrants “take our jobs” and mobilized unemployed American citizens to willingly walk in the poorly conditioned shoes of these immigrant farmers’ for even a day. On last night’s show Colbert gloated and showed-off a banner saying “I Told You So” when Alabama farm owners were finding that “Americans” didn’t want to take on the jobs that migrant workers did due to the extremely difficult conditions and low wages.

As Colbert put it, very sardonically “Yes, Hispanic farm workers have fled Alabama, stealing yet another thing Americans would like to do.”

Watch, laugh, and stand up for human rights in Alabama-

Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now…and in 2049

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Photo courtesy of seiu.org

Program to stop border crossings diverts resources from more dangerous crimes

Here’s more proof that current methods of immigration enforcement are unjust and inefficient. A Bush-era immigration enforcement effort along the U.S.-Mexico border called Operation Streamline is making us less safe in more ways than one – according to a new report released by The Berkeley Law Warren Institute.

Introduced in 2005 as a disincentive to border crossings, the “zero-tolerance” program requires the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers. Instead, the program has led to unprecedented caseloads in eight of the eleven federal district courts along the border, leading to assembly-line justice and a serious lack of due process.

Picture 1

The report states,

Many Operation Streamline defendants complete the entire criminal proceeding – meeting with counsel, making an initial appearance, pleading guilty, and being sentenced after waiving a pre-sentence report – in a single day.

And while the numerous prosecutions are straining resources to the breaking point with overburdened judges, federal prosecutors and public defenders, it diverts scarce resources from fighting the roots of border violence: drug smuggling and human trafficking. As petty immigration prosecutions have increased in the border district courts, U.S. attorneys are forced to to cut back on prosecuting more serious crimes along the border.

In a New York Times article, Judge George Kazen of Laredo, Texas, has said,

The U.S. attorney isn’t bringing me those cases. They’re just catching foot soldiers coming across the border. . . . But they will tell you that they don’t have the resources to drive it and develop a conspiracy case.

As a result of Operation Streamline, between 2002 and 2008, Federal Magistrate judges operating along the border saw their immigration misdemeanor caseloads quadruple.

Picture 2

And despite their best efforts, it is extremely difficult for border jurisdictions to implement Operation Streamline without depriving migrants of due process and effective assistance of counsel. Chief Judge of the District of New Mexico, Martha Vázquez, has said,

The increase in our criminal caseload, especially in Las Cruces, has caused us to conduct hearings in a way that we’ve never had to conduct them before, and in a way that other jurisdictions don’t have to. . . . We have . . . up to 90 defendants in a courtroom.

Picture 3

Many defendants may have defenses that are not identified because of the speed and en masse nature of the proceedings.  These can include claims to immigration relief, such as eligibility for asylum or relief under the Convention Against Torture. Even U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been identified amongst defendants. This ultimately has consequences nationwide.

As Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn King has said,

we “can’t have a rule of law for the southwest border that is different from the rule of law that obtains elsewhere in the country.

The report recommends replacing Operation Streamline with a comprehensive and effective approach to border enforcement. This includes reverting to the longstanding practice of leaving unlawful border crossings to the civil immigration system, thereby stopping the draining the resources of the district courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Photos courtesy of www.law.berkeley.edu/ewi.htm.