Jun 22, 2017

‘I Need More Mexicans’: A Kansas Farmer’s Message to Trum

Growers and dairies lobby for a path to legalization for the undocumented workers who power their businesses.

By Michelle Jamrisko

Undocumented immigrants make up about half the workforce in U.S. agriculture, according to various estimates. But that pool of labor is shrinking, which could spell trouble for farms, feedlots, dairies, and meatpacking plants—particularly in a state such as Kansas, where unemployment in many counties is barely half the already tight national rate. “Two weeks ago, my boss told me, ‘I need more Mexicans like you,’” says a 25-year-old immigrant employed at a farm in the southwest part of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s trying to get his paperwork in order. “I said, ‘Well, they’re kind of hard to find.’”

Arrests of suspected undocumented workers have jumped 38 percent since President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders targeting immigration in January. The crackdown is having a deterrent effect along the southern border: Apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection totaled 118,383 from January through May, a 47 percent decrease from the same period last year, which indicates fewer people are trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Michael Feltman, an immigration lawyer in Cimarron, Kan., says his firm has seen more people coming in with naturalization questions over the past six months than over the previous four years combined. “I’m really worried every little traffic ticket’s going to turn into detention,” he says.

Others feel the same way. “The threat of deportation and the potential loss of our workforce has been very terrifying for all of us businesses here,” says Trista Priest in Satanta, Kan. She’s the chief strategy officer at Cattle Empire, the country’s fifth-largest feed yard, whose workforce is about 86 percent Latino.

In Haskell County, where Cattle Empire is the biggest employer, 77 percent of voters cast ballots for Trump, compared with 57 percent statewide. But Priest and other employers interviewed for this story complained that the immigration policies emanating from Washington, 1,500 miles away, clash with the needs of local businesses.

Representative Roger Marshall, a Republican whose district includes southwest Kansas, says immigration is the No. 1 concern he hears about from constituents. The freshman congressman says he’s confident that once the border is secure, “President Trump will look at this, too, as an economic problem.”

The two executive orders issued in January call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants who’ve been convicted or charged with “any criminal offense.” The language is so broad that all the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could be targets, given that anyone who’s evaded border inspection or overstayed a visa could be charged with a misdemeanor or fraud.

Trump has said that even as he ramps up deportations, he doesn’t want to slam the door on immigrants. He’s proposed a merit-based system akin to those of Australia and Canada. Those countries confer legal status via a point system that rewards those with higher education, better employment histories, and language skills. He’s also spoken generally about reforming the short-term visa program for farmworkers. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Congress last month that the existing H2A visa, which admits seasonal workers, “has not been as successful as we would like, and it’s very onerous,” especially for smaller farms, to navigate all the paperwork.

But those proposals do not offer a pathway to legalization for those who are already in the country, which is what agriculture and other industries including construction and restaurants have been calling for. Joe Jury, who’s been farming in Ingalls, Kan., since the 1970s and has employed “probably well over 100 Hispanic immigrants,” wants immigration reform that emphasizes making it easier for foreign-born residents to work as much as it ensures that criminals are deported. “The visa system is so slow and so expensive,” he says. “The government has dug this hole, and now they’re trying to dig themselves out through enforcement.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has proposed that, to “minimize the impact on current economic activity,” unauthorized agricultural workers already in the country should be granted permanent legal status once they prove they have worked in the industry for a set period of time. The AFBF has warned that an enforcement-only approach could slash industry output by as much as $60 billion annually.

Feltman, the immigration lawyer, says his clients would be more than willing to pay hefty fines for assured legalization. If each undocumented worker were charged $1,000 or $1,500, that would change political sentiment, he says. “The people that are the naysayers to all that might say, ‘That’s a lot of money for our country.’” Pew Research Center estimates that 375,000 undocumented workers are employed in agriculture.

“I didn’t come over here because I wanted to—my parents brought me here,” says the undocumented worker from southwest Kansas, who says he’s spent $24,000 on immigration lawyers and other expenses in his quest for legal status. “I’m here, I have to work.”

The price of milk would jump to $6.40 a gallon if U.S. dairy farms were deprived of access to immigrant workers, according to a 2015 report commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation, which estimated that half of all workers in the industry are immigrants. Lingering in Congress are two separate bills that would modify the existing H2A agricultural visa program so that dairy farms can hire workers year-round rather than seasonally. In an April 18 statement in support of the legislation, the milk producers’ trade group said: “Without the help of foreign labor, many American dairy operations face the threat of closure.”

Kyle Averhoff, general manager of Royal Farms Dairy in Garden City, Kan., says he’s seen the flow of applicants slow in recent months as the labor market has tightened. Unemployment in Finney County, where Royal Farms is based, was just 2.8 percent in April, down from 3.1 percent a year ago. “We’ve gone to some of the highest-unemployment counties in our state and ran ads, and without success,” he says. An entry-level job at Royal Farms could pay as much as $40,000 in wages and benefits, with no prior skills required, Averhoff says: “For us the immigration issue is not about cheap labor. It’s been about finding people who have the aptitude and want to work in our industry.”

Averhoff’s pain extends beyond Kansas. An extreme shortage of agriculture workers, attributed to “recent changes in immigration policy,” was responsible for some growers in California discarding portions of their harvest in April and May, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which surveys businesses. Meanwhile, U.S. homebuilders, whose optimism soared after the election on promises of deregulation and tax reform, are back to citing severe labor shortages as a big reason for their subdued spirits, according to survey data from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo & Co.

BOTTOM LINE - A group representing farmers has warned that an enforcement-only approach to immigration could slash industry output by as much as $60 billion annually.


Jun 20, 2017

The Mexican Border Newspaper That Died With Its Star Reporter

Jun 19, 2017
For 27 years, Mexican newspaper Norte de Ciudad Juarez employed over 125 journalists and a team of a dozen photographers to cover life in the border city of Juarez.

The lives of the newspaper’s journalists were often threatened, but the assassination of Miroslava Breach was a horror too far. The senior reporter was shot dead as she pulled her car out of her garage with one of her kids inside. A sign was left at the crime scene that read “tattletale.”

After 27 years of service, its founder Oscar Cantu had had enough. “We have 99.95% impunity in Mexico. I realized if we keep doing what we are doing we are not going to get results.” Cantu felt he could no longer guarantee the safety of his journalists, and without that security they could no longer safely conduct critical journalism. So he closed down both the print and digital publications of the regional newspaper. "I closed in protest," he says.

Over a long career, Miroslava had reported on organized crime, corruption and human rights issues for La Journada, a national newspaper and Norte de Juarez. Cantu worked closely with Breach throughout her career. “I truly believe we lost one of the best journalists that we had in the state of Chihuaua" he tells TIME. "It was a very clear message, she was a strategic target. I have never been so emotionally touched as I had regarding Miroslava. I believe I was the last person that she talked to the night before.”

In 1990, Cantu moved his paper from Chihuaua City to Juarez because he felt the citizens there needed a voice. “To defend ourselves against politicians there is no better tool than public opinion.” At the time of Norte's closure, its distribution had grown to 35,000, becoming the largest newspaper in Chihuahua, Mexico’s largest state. It employed 300 people including 125 journalists.

Norte had a dozen staff photographers, but was down to only a few when it closed. Juan Carlos Hernández López, a photographer and graphic reporter for the paper was on the team covering Miroslava's death. During their reporting, they say they were followed by at least four people who were taking pictures of them and asking locals about their reporting.

López also spoke to TIME about less subtle encounters that he claimed happened regularly. Last August, as he covered the divorce proceedings of a business magnate Juan was pushed to the ground by one of the guards. He was then offered 60,000 pesos (approximately $3,200) to delete the photograph he had succeeded in taking, López says. Instead, Norte published the photo the next day.

The worldwide reaction to the paper's closure surprised even Cantu. “For almost 10 days. From all parts of the world. The secretary of the interior came to visit that they were going to do everything they could to get the criminals. I haven’t seen any results from them.”

Despite closing the publication, Cantu still employs the majority of the newsroom to work on important projects that they had begun before Norte closed. “These are stories that don’t really have a deadline. There are one or two stories that are very interesting and we’re trying to figure out what we can do to get them out.”

Cantu is hoping to find a way to reopen the newspaper as a community project. It is unclear where exactly the funding will come from, but he hopes the local population it has helped to keep informed for all of these years will help to keep Norte — and its tradition of reporting — alive.

Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Journalists and Their Families

Jun 19, 2017

Stranded Haitian Migrants Adapt to Life in Mexican Border City


Stranded Haitian migrants adapt to life in Mexican border city

16 de Junio de 2017
Tijuana, Mexico, Jun 16 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of Haitian migrants who became stranded in Tijuana nine months ago have been adapting to life in this northwestern Mexican border city, where they have found jobs and brought their own culture.
Louissaint Roosevelt, 26, is one of more than 3,000 Haitians still in Baja California, the northwestern Mexican state where large numbers of migrants from the impoverished Caribbean nation had waited fruitlessly for weeks starting in September 2016 for the chance to cross the border into the United States.
Like many of his fellow countrymen and women, Roosevelt has decided that staying in Tijuana is a better option because entering the US has become more difficult, partly due to President Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.
"I'll wait here, and I'll be working," said Roosevelt, who got a job as framer in a small company not too far from the shelter where he was lodged on arrival in this border city across from San Diego, California, in February.
He was one of many Haitians who came to Tijuana from Brazil, where they had taken advantage of opportunities provided by the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and worked in construction and other sectors.
Many Haitians embarked on the long journey to the US due to shrinking job opportunities in recession-hit Brazil; they had been drawn by a policy whereby US authorities had been allowing about 100 migrants per day to apply for entry via Tijuana.
But then-President Barack Obama's administration caught many of these migrants off guard when it changed that policy last September, saying that Haitians who crossed into the US illegally would face deportation to their homeland.
Roosevelt said that Mexicans has been welcoming to him and that the other Haitians who came with him from Brazil had not had much trouble finding employment either.
The number of Haitians living in Tijuana shelters has fallen drastically and soup kitchens are no longer overflowing like they had been after these migrants began arriving en masse starting in late May of last year.
Even so, these migrants still need support in obtaining basic items.
The "Cielo sin fronteras" (Sky Without Borders) food hall launched a project named "Tijuana con trenzas" (Tijuana with Braids) in which Haitian women braid locals' hair in exchange for staples such as cooking oil, tuna, sugar, soap or butter.
Most Haitian migrants work at maquiladoras (plants where goods are assembled for export), fisheries, car washes, farms or construction sites as "they wait for a legal permit to seek other jobs," Claudia Portela, coordinator of the Desayunador Padre Chava food hall, said.
"The city has shown great solidarity with the migrants," she said. If there has been any instance of discrimination, "it has been minimal, the black grain in the rice."


Jun 15, 2017

A renewed focus on criminalizing some immigration

A renewed focus on criminalizing some immigration

Published 12:00 am, Saturday, June 10, 2017

After the defendants in orange jumpsuits filed out of U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Song Quiroga’s courtroom, federal marshals led in a line of men and women dressed in street clothes and shuffling in shackles.
As happens almost every morning in federal magistrate courts along the Southwest border, Song Quiroga interrupted preliminary hearings for felony defendants, most of them charged with some sort of smuggling offense, and turned her attention to the morning misdemeanor docket.
All of the 37 defendants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic in the court were charged with illegally entering the U.S., a “petty offense” in federal court that carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail. Almost all of them had previously been detained by the Border Patrol. Many of them had enough of a criminal history that they were eligible for felony prosecution under guidelines handed down in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In a memo, Sessions directed U.S. Attorneys to expand the prosecution of immigration crimes, which already make up more than half of all federal charges nationwide. Sessions’ directive orders federal prosecutors along the southern border to work with the Department of Homeland Security to set guidelines for misdemeanor illegal-entry prosecutions.
“These guidelines should aim to accomplish the goal of deterring first-time improper entrants,” Sessions wrote.
Legislation introduced recently in Congress would expand the misdemeanor charge from those caught crossing the border to immigrants found living without permission in the interior of the country.
Sessons’ guidelines direct prosecutors to file felony charges that come with a two-year maximum prison sentence for immigrants with multiple misdemeanor convictions like those Song Quiroga was doling out in Laredo. The maximum for the felony illegal reentry charge can go up to as much as 20 years in prison for those with serious criminal histories.
Supporters of such prosecutions say increasing felony charges is part of a deterrent strategy that has resulted in record decreases in immigrants illegally crossing the border. Critics deride them as the latest escalation of an ineffective program that wastes government resources on prosecuting people who, in the past, were punished by deportation through civil immigration courts.
Officials in the Western District of Texas, the San Antonio-based judicial district that covers the border from west of Laredo to the New Mexico state line, said that almost all border-crossers face misdemeanor charges and that anyone caught in the district with a prior deportation and a previous criminal history is charged with illegal reentry.
Song Quiroga warned Jose Alberto Mascial Hernandez, a citizen of Mexico who’d been apprehended a few days earlier after crossing the Rio Grande in a boat, that he could have faced a stiffer penalty because he’d served three years in prison on a felony conviction more than a decade ago in Houston. He was one of several who had previous felony convictions, including two who’d previously been charged with illegally reentering the country.
“The government could have charged you with illegal reentry of a previously deported alien because of your felony conviction, and you’d be looking at more than a year,” she said. “Because they … gave you that break, they charged you with only a misdemeanor. The maximum is six months. That’s what I’m going to sentence you to, 180 days, but you need to understand, don’t come back.”
For the immigrants who lined up in front of Song Quiroga’s bench and spilled over into the jury box, it was the first time they appeared in court since their arrests over the previous few days. All pleaded guilty and were sentenced to between seven and 180 days in prison.
Operation Streamline
The speedy pleas and sentences are vestiges of a controversial program known as Streamline, which started more than a decade ago in Del Rio.
In 2005, Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass, which is covered by the Del Rio court, were confronted with large numbers of immigrants from countries other than Mexico crossing the border. The process for deporting citizens of countries other than Mexico and Canada is slow, and those showing up in Eagle Pass were being released with notices to appear in immigration court.
To prevent their release prior to deportation hearings, the Border Patrol began referring almost everyone they caught in the region to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Soon dozens of immigrants were being lined up before magistrate judges in Del Rio and pleading guilty and being sentenced. Over the next few years, Streamline spread to other border jurisdictions, including the Houston-based Southern District of Texas that includes Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley and the San Antonio-based Western District of Texas that includes Del Rio and El Paso.
Poor record-keeping at the time by the Department of Justice makes it difficult to determine how much the numbers increased, but in 2008, prosecutors filed at least 49,000 illegal entry cases, more than any other charge in the federal court system.
Last year, more than half of all federal criminal charges filed in the country were immigration related, and almost all of those were illegal entry or reentry cases, according to Tracfed, a clearinghouse of open records information operated by Syracuse University. The Texas Western and Southern districts, two of the busiest dockets in the country, saw more immigration-related criminal cases filed last year than any other judicial districts.
Priorities by prosecutors have since shifted and the number of people entering the country illegally has fallen — between 2006 and 2012, the number of felony prosecutions of those charged with illegal reentry more than doubled while the number of people caught illegally entering the country fell by two-thirds.
Proponents of increased border security point to the decline in illegal border crossings as evidence that federal tactics that included Streamline — doubling the Border Patrol and constructing 650 miles of border fencing — were effective.
Immigration experts, however, have pointed out that the decrease in illegal crossings, which leveled off in 2014 before plummeting earlier this year, coincided with declining birthrates in Mexico and the crash of the U.S. housing market, a major employer of immigrant labor, among other factors.
The hearing in Song Quiroga’s courtroom had a sense of well-worn choreography. All of the government officials, from the Border Patrol agent assigned to prepare cases for prosecution to the assistant federal public defender who’d handled hundreds of illegal entry cases, were intimately familiar with their roles.
The defendants, mostly men and all of whom wore the same clothes — T-shirts or hoodies and blue jeans for most, an FC Barcelona soccer jersey for one — they’d crossed the river in, lined up in two rows before Song Quiroga’s bench. The rest were led into the jury box, and she asked the marshals to rearrange them so she could make eye contact with each one.
Throughout the hearing, Song Quiroga stopped to get a verbal confirmation from each defendant that they understood their rights, their pleas and the sentences she was delivering. Still, the whole ordeal was over in less than an hour.
The rushed nature of these hearings has drawn complaints from defense attorneys since Streamline’s inception in Del Rio.
“I think one of the biggest problems is, it's just really hard to get an individual assessment of each case,” said Jodi Goodwin, a Harlingen attorney who practices at the federal court in Brownsville. “And depending on how many people are there on any given day, the public defenders might not have enough time to talk with everybody sufficiently, or develop enough of a rapport to determine if people have defenses.”
If immigrants say they’re afraid of being returned to their home country, Border Patrol agents are required by law to refer them to an asylum officer. In the Streamline shuffle between different agencies and to and from the courthouse, “there are people who slip through those cracks,” Goodwin said.
Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based advocacy group that opposes large-scale incarceration, estimated in a report last year that the jailing and prosecution of illegal entry cases has cost the U.S. government $7 billion since 2005.
“It’s clear that in both Texas border districts, improper entry and re-entry charges occupy an enormous amount of time and resources and place an unequal strain on these courts,” the authors of the report wrote.
U.S. District Judge Alia Moses, whose courthouse in Del Rio launched Streamline in 2005, noted that the Border Patrol will expend resources on immigrants caught illegally entering the country regardless of whether they’re charged criminally.
Magistrate judges in Del Rio make sure each defendant is aware of their rights and has time to speak with their attorneys, much as Moses does when she takes large numbers of felony pleas in one group hearing, the judge said.
“I take felony pleas of guilty in groups of 10 to 15 people, and the circuit courts have never had an issue with that,” she said. “I get them to answer individually. I look at them. If I see they’re not understanding, I ask them questions. We give them a chance to ask questions, to tell us what they don’t understand. So if we take care of 40 cases in an hour, hour and a half, how many hours do you want us to take? Four hours? Will that change the outcome?”
How effective Streamline is remains unclear. In a 2015 report, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that the Border Patrol only measures recidivism by fiscal year, giving a narrow view of how likely an immigrant is to try to come back to the U.S. illegally. Border Patrol data found that in 2013, the recidivism rate for those charged under Streamline was 9.26 percent, while the recidivism rate of those who were voluntarily returned to their home country was 28.61 percent. However, the OIG report noted that immigrants who returned in following years were not counted.
Victor Manjarrez, the former Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and Tucson who’s now project director for the Center for Law & Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso, said he found Streamline to be effective at deterring crossing the border in certain areas. He wondered how effective it would be if applied across the board, though.
One way Manjarrez said Border Patrol used Streamline was to target for prosecution immigrants sneaking across the border in a difficult-to-patrol region, pushing them into areas that were easier for agents to cover.
One result of Streamline is an increase in defendants who are eligible for prosecution under the illegal reentry felony statute. Anyone found in the U.S. after a previous deportation can be charged with a felony, but before Streamline, when the Border Patrol was deporting more than 1 million people to Mexico a year, the agency often relied on what are called “voluntary returns,” which aren’t technically deportations and don’t trigger the felony charge when immigrants came back to the U.S.
Once they’ve been formally deported, either through the Border Patrol’s administrative process or by an immigration judge, immigrants can be charged with illegal reentry and face years in jail. It’s a much more lengthy process, involving indictments and individual hearings for pleading and sentencing, which must happen before a district judge.
In 2005, when Streamline started, federal prosecutors filed 13,963 felony reentry charges, according to Tracfed. The number peaked at nearly 38,000 in 2014 before falling to 28,995 last year.
In practice, prosecutors near the border usually only bring felony reentry charges against those with serious criminal histories.
Under current law, illegal entry misdemeanor charges are more or less limited to immigrants caught entering the U.S. near the border. Immigrants who come to the U.S. on visas but stay after they expire make up an estimated 40 percent of the 11 million people here without permission. Those who overstay their visas can be deported but do not face criminal penalties. A piece of legislation indroduced in May by Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, would create a misdemeanor crime for an immigrant who “knowingly is unlawfully present in the United States.” It was approved by the House Judiciary Committee May 24.
Expanding immigration prosecutions
Along with increasing the illegal entry misdemeanor prosecutions, Sessions’ memo sets out guidelines for illegal reentry felonies. It directs prosecutors to dust off a little-used felony law that allows a maximum sentence of two years in prison for immigrants already convicted of illegal entry. Those with two or more illegal entry convictions should be prosecuted under that statute, according to Session’s memo.
The more-often used illegal reentry statute also carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison that can be enhanced up to 10 years for those with a criminal history of three or more misdemeanors involving drugs or crimes against persons or a felony, and up to 20 years for those with a previous conviction of an aggravated felony. Sessions wrote that districts should consider prosecution under that statute “for each illegal reentrant.”
“Priority, however, must be given to defendants who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, have any prior criminal history indicating the defendant poses a danger to public safety, have one or more administrative or criminal immigration violations, gang membership or affiliation, or where other aggravating circumstances are present,” the memo states.
Richard Durbin, the U.S. attorney in San Antonio, said those more or less cleave to the guidelines his office uses. The Sessions memo “is not a substantial change for us,” he said.
Officials for the Southern District of Texas wouldn’t comment for this story, but Goodwin, the Harlingen attorney, said it’s not unusual for prosecutors to downgrade an illegal reentry charge to a misdemeanor. In Song Quiroga’s Laredo courtroom, several of those pleading guilty to illegal entry had previous convictions on felony illegal reentry charges.
“I think that we are already taking the cases that he says we should take,” Durbin said. “If there’s suddenly an influx and they bring us more cases, the prosecutions will go up under the new guidelines.”
Chris Cabrera, the spokesman for the union representing Border Patrol employees and an agent in the Valley, said his group supports increasing immigration prosecutions.
Jerry Robinette, the former special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Antonio, said smugglers sometimes learn what the threshold is that the U.S. Attorneys Office is setting for prosecution and try to stay below the number of immigrants required for prosecution.
“You have to have thresholds,” Robinette said. “I don’t think anyone likes them. You have a prosecutable case, you should be able to prosecute, and when you don’t it is frustrating ... But it’s a reality of life, unpopular as it may seem.”
Or, as Murphy, the former top federal prosecutor in San Antonio, put it: “Certainly Deptartment of Justice and Attorney General have authority to set priorties and express to the U.S. Attorneys where they should be concentrating their efforts, but I don’t think they’ll ever standardize all prosecutions within each district. and probably shouldn’t.
As she gave out sentences in her courtroom, Song Quiroga added warnings for those who didn’t have previous criminal records.
“You are going to have a record in this country,” the judge said. “And if you come back illegally, you’re going to be facing a lot more time. You’ll never get 15 days, that break, ever again.”
Jason Buch is a reporter who covers immigration issues for the Express-News.