Author Archives: John-Michael Torres

Colonia children receive Christmas gifts thanks to local pharmacies

Children visit with Santa Claus at LUPE annual posada in Mercedes

Thanks to the generous donation of Richard’s Pharmacy as well as eight additional pharmacies, over four hundred colonia children received a Christmas blessing Saturday. Each year Richard’s Pharmacy sponsors a gift give-away and posada event at three different LUPE offices, where colonia children receive a gift and goodie bag, talk to Santa, and spend time with family and neighbors, celebrating the spirit of the holidays.

Special thanks to the leadership of Richard’s Pharmacy, who sought additional donations from local pharmacies on top of its own, this year we were able to give out more gifts than any year before. In all, nine pharmacies donated to the children: Family Care Pharmacy, Lino’s Pharmacy, Med Care Pharmacy, Lone Star Pharmacy, Ochoa’s Pharmacy, Fry’s Prescription Pharmacy, Saenz Pharmacy, Med-Aid Pharmacy, and Richard’s Pharmacy.

San Juan area family receive gifts from Santa

Colonia residents are some of the poorest, yet hardest working families in the Rio Grande Valley. Between paying bills, housing costs, food and other expenses, for many, Christmas may not come this year. When they join with LUPE, however, colonia residents gain the tools to overcome many of the barriers keeping them in poverty. Our yearly Christmas posadas are just one way that LUPE helps colonia residents live a little better and keep up their spirits while they work toward their American dream.

Our gratitude and appreciation goes out to the independent pharmacies, and especially Richard’s Pharmacy, for helping give these children a special Christmas this year.

Check out facebook and flickr for all the beautiful, bright faces of the children and their parents!

Drop in migrants to the U.S. shows the major role of economics in immigration

The Department of Homeland Security last week released tallies showing arrests of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border have dropped to levels not seen since the early 1970s. The statistics are a commonly used way of gauging undocumented immigration to the U.S.

While this past year has seen the passage of Arizona SB1070 copycat legislation in a handful of states, as well as a brutal deportation policy by the Obama administration resulting in over 1 million since he took office, we are also seeing the deepening effects of the economic crisis on the U.S. workforce.

While the economic indicators say that we are hovering above the cusp of a recession, the reality for U.S. workers is far worse than the indicators reveal.

The unemployment rate, which has dipped slightly in recent months, hides the increasing number of workers who have given up search for work. The unemployment rate does not include anyone who has not looked for a job in the last 4 weeks. More and more U.S. unemployed workers are giving up the search for a job, meaning their unemployment is not reflected in the official figures.

At the same time, job growth has not matched the corresponding growth in the population. The two figures combined create a grim picture for those hoping to land a job. As the Globe and Mail reports, “The work force participation rate, which peaked at 67.3 per cent in March, 2000 and 66.4 per cent in January, 2007, fell another 0.2 points in November to 64 per cent. The ranks of the long-term jobless also increased to 43 per cent of those officially unemployed.”

Further, both hourly earnings and real wages are down, meaning that, despite the employment figures, what U.S. families are taking in is decreasing. As Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, opined on, “to some extent Americans have been substituting lower wages for lost jobs – either by accepting lower wages at their current place of employment, or getting the boot and settling for lower wages elsewhere. A job is better than no job, of course, but a job with a lower wage isn’t nearly as good as a job with at the same or better wage.”

With the overall stark economic picture for U.S. workers, it is no wonder that migration rates to the U.S. have dropped. If there are no jobs for them, migrants look for them elsewhere or resign themselves to unemployment, just like 2.6 million U.S. workers this year have done.

This shows that immigration to the U.S. is highly based on necessity–the necessity of Mexicans and other immigrants to find and keep work, to send money back to their families, and to continue getting by. When the U.S. economy slumps, there are less opportunities for immigrants to provide for their families, and they have to look for other ways to get by at home or by migrating to other countries.

Anti-immigrant commentators regularly refer to immigration reform bills, like the DREAM Act, as magnets that would encourage illegal immigration if enacted. They advocate for increased border enforcement as the solution. The real magnet, however, is the prospect of providing for ones family back home. When faced with the decision between stagnation, starvation and a slow death at home on one hand, and chancing death or incarceration crossing the border for the possibility of getting by and providing for your family on the other, anyone would choose the latter. But when chancing death and incarceration does not bring better economic opportunities in the U.S., as is the case during the deepening economic crisis we are facing, then staying or returning home is a better and safer choice for many.

The biggest tragedy in this situation is that US-backed policies that have been damaging the economies of countries where immigration originates are now showing their increasingly negative impacts on our own economy. When NAFTA was passed, it was boasted by governments on both sides of the border to be a major force in decreasing illegal immigration to the US. Yet, as Public Citizen records, “the number of annual immigrants from Mexico to the United States surged from 332,000 in 1993 (the year before NAFTA) to 530,000 in 2000 – a 60 percent increase.”

Now policies that promote deregulation and give more decision-making power to big corporations and away from the people, such as NAFTA and other Free Trade policies, are having increasingly negative economic impacts on the U.S. economy and all working people are suffering, whether first generation immigrant or 10th generation.

In order to really stem illegal immigration, in times of economic boom as well as bust, the root causes of immigration–unemployment, unequal development, and oppressive agrarian policy–must be addressed. And policies that hurt workers on both sides of the border must be ended.

Public outcry against S-Comm continues to grow

We are anticipating that the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on Nov. 30 about Secure Communities. This Congressional hearing will be led by the Republicans, who are generally supportive of the Secure Communities program.

The Democrats on the committee, on the other hand, are generally more supportive of reforming the program. While their party’s top official continues to roll out S-Comm nationally and has deported an unprecedented number of undocumented Americans, a number of Congressional democrats have come out against the program, calling on the Commander-In-Chief to terminate the program (opens a pdf).

In preparation for the upcoming hearing, we have written the following letter calling for congressional action on S-Comm and ICE enforcement programs. While Congress cannot directly terminate S-Comm, it does have the power to direct funding away from the program that criminalizes workers and toward apprehending and prosecuting the real criminals: drug and gun traffickers and human smugglers.

An excerpt from the letter follows. Read the letter in its entirety here (opens a word document).

Immigration is a federal policy issue that can no longer wait to be addressed. Any attempts at the local or state level are only piecemeal approaches that will fail to provide comprehensive solutions. We cannot be misled by extreme xenophobic rhetoric pushing more and more enforcement policies, In fact, these radical enforcement policies are exacerbating the problem, funneling more and more individuals into a broken immigration system that separates families, criminalizes workers, divides communities, and profits off of taxpayer money through the jailing of immigrants in private, for-profit detention centers.

Our America is greater. Our values are about embracing innovation and diversity, and recognizing the contributions of every sector of our society. President Obama, however, has not lived up to these true American values. Under his administration, over one million immigrants have been imprisoned. According to numbers recently updated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Obama deported 982,548 immigrants from January 2009 to July 2011. It is likely that the total has surpassed one million by now. The majority of immigrants removed continue to be non-criminals.

There has been a higher rate of deportations under President Obama than at any time in American history. Obama’s record number of deportations means that a record number of families have been separated. A record number of sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers have been pushed into the dark maze that is the immigrant detention system, where private companies make record profits from tax dollars, treating immigrants as criminals.

This is because of federal ICE ACCESS Programs like the Secure Communities Initiative (S-Comm) that place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities in the hands of local and state law enforcement. S-Comm is an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the immigration status of every individual that is arrested by local law enforcement—whether or not they are charged with or convicted of a crime—and transfer into ICE custody those who are found to be in the country illegally.

Collaboration between federal immigration officials and local law enforcement drives a wedge between local law enforcement and immigrant and Latino communities. The duty of law enforcement to serve and protect becomes the duty to serve those who look like they are in the country legally at the expense of those who don’t. Undocumented immigrants, as tax payers and members of the community, deserve and depend on the protection of local law enforcement. Yet when local officials participate in ICE ACCESS programs, immigrant communities lose their right to be protected, instead becoming targets of local law enforcement.

What’s worse, under the S-Comm program, even the intentions of local police officials to mend the broken relationship between immigrant communities and law enforcement and reinstate community policing are undermined. The program operates electronically and automatically when finger prints are sent for criminal background checks—with or without the consent of local law enforcement officials.

While the recently commissioned Task Force on Secure Communities, responding to the increasing public outcry against the program, did offer recommendations on changes to the program, those changes do not go far enough to maintain the security of the community. As retired Police Chief Arturo Venegas wrote in his resignation letter from the task force,

If the scheme recommended by the task force is implemented, individuals simply arrested for minor violations, including traffic violations, will still be put through the system. The federal government will decide whether they are candidates for deportation, based on enforcement priorities that include people whose only “crime” is a prior civil immigration violation. I believe that many people with minor infractions, such as driving without a license, will still be put into deportation proceedings based on the scheme recommended by the task force. Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported, and criminals will remain free to prey on others. Civil immigration enforcement will continue to trump crime control in our communities.

What’s more, immigrants charged with more serious offenses, but never convicted, have no protection in the task force report. It seems we are agreeing to turn the long-standing principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head for certain groups of people. If you are an immigrant, and you are charged with a more serious offense, you are ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and you will be referred for deportation. As an immigrant myself, and as an American, I cannot support that differing standard.

As Mr. Venegas observes, the program, and indeed many ICE ACCESS programs like it, denies due process to undocumented immigrants. The US Constitution guarantees due process to all people on our soil, yet if they are immigrants, they are deported before having the opportunity to be proven innocent or guilty of the crimes they are charged with.

Download a copy of the letter in doc format to continue reading.