Conference Report Submitted by:
Linda Pepper and Sylvia McCullough
The Conference began with a welcome by Alline Beutler, Site Director for the Justice for our Neighbor’s (JFON) Traverse City Office. The Conference consisted of the following presentations:
Immigration 101 - Marcelo Betti, Immigration Attorney
Local Stories of Immigration - Read by NMC Students
Panel Discussion/Q & A Session
Keynote Speaker - Susan Reed, Managing Attorney, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC)
Immigration 101 - Marcelo Betti, Immigration Lawyer for JFON
Marcelo led off by asking “what is the purpose of immigration legislation?” Are we to be a refuge for oppressed people? Do we want diversity of thought? Do we need an increased workforce? Do we want to keep families together? The implied and stated purpose of immigration policy has always been is to preserve the white “racial stock” of our country and exclude others.
In 1790, we said that a citizen must be white.
In 1870, people who were of African descent were allowed to become citizens.
In the Page Act of 1875, rules were put in place to restrict undesirables who were defined as Chinese women. Before that, there were no restrictions on immigration. In 1882, Chinese men were restricted.
In 1910, criminals and the disabled were excluded.
In 1920, immigration quotas were imposed. Three percent of all nationalities counted in the 1910 census were allowed entry, but this was thought to admit too many southern and eastern European immigrants and the quota was revised downwards to 2% based on the 1890 census where more Anglo-Saxons were counted.
In 1965 the Hart-Celler Act removed quotas for countries that favored northern and western Europeans. The focus of immigration became family relationships and skills. Student visas were designated. There are 7 preference categories. Refugees are one of the preferred groups.
Getting a green card allows someone to be a permanent legal resident who can work legally in the USA. An H2V visa is for a visitors and tourists, including migrant farm laborers. The fees for these categories are substantial. One example cited $1760 to obtain a visa. This does not include fees for language tests and medical exams. Many immigrants do not have the skills or money to apply for a visa and choose to enter undocumented.
If an immigrant entered the US unlawfully, he or she will never get a work visa or apply for citizenship.
There is an overall visa quota for persons wishing to immigrate. I found the number to be one million each year of whom 600,000 are people who are already here as legal residents and are becoming citizens. This is information I found online and was not part of the presentation.
Currently about 14% of all Americans were born in other countries. This has been fairly consistent for the last 70 years, ranging from 13 to 15%. Currently about 40% of undocumented immigrants entered illegally while 60% entered with a visa but overstayed it
Unlawful presence in the US is not a crime. It is a civil infraction. It is the Trump administration that seeks to criminalize undocumented status. If an immigrant entered the US illegally, he/she cannot obtain lawful status. If an immigrant overstays their visa, in some cases legal status can be obtained. Minor children who entered with their parents without documentation may apply for DACA status.
Undocumented people do have rights to due process and a hearing by an immigration judge. While they have a right to due process they do not have a right to a lawyer.
Asylum can be sought at the border if the immigrant and/or their family is persecuted in their country of origin, because of race, sex, political or religious views. At the border, the authorities have been limiting the number of people they process for asylum each day.
In the US at this time, about 5 million immigrants are here that cannot get legal status. That does include DACA or people eligible for DACA. Deportation is expensive. Housing people is very expensive also. Many of the children of undocumented immigrants (who are American citizens) are and will suffer from ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences). These children will require support for years to come.
Panel Discussion -
Justice & Peace Advocacy Center - Gladys Munoz & Rev. Wayne Dziekan
JPAC is a local organization that provides assistance to our local immigrant community in the form of financial assistance for medical bills, transportation, and interpreter services. Gladys Munoz spoke to how the stream of migrant workers has changed. Mexico stopped subsidies for farmers in the early 1990’s. For most of 1990’s, the migrants were from Mexico. This has gradually changed from the northern provinces to the southern. After 2004, she started to see Central Americans from Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and some from the Dominican Republic.
Most of the immigrants in Northern Michigan are farm workers, 71% of whom average in age between 35 - 55 years. They consist of two categories of workers: Migrant Workers who come for a specific harvest and then move on. These workers need housing facilities in addition to all the above. Seasonal Workers who live here full time in the community earn $10K to $12.5 K per year although some make more. They recieve no health insurance benefits so that even a small dental procedure is beyond their reach.
It was explained that our Michigan Agricultural Economy contributes $73 billion dollars per year to the our state economy. An economy that relies heavily on immigrant labor since local labor sources are untrained, unused to heavy manual labor and are often unreliable.
Barriers and Needs - Immigrants often need help navigating in a community that is unfamiliar to them. They need help knowing where resources are located and how to get services. Many do not have drivers licenses so there is a need for volunteers to drive them to appointments, meetings, or church, etc. Many immigrants are not fluent in English and need someone to interpret for them. Spanish speaking volunteers are needed. Immigrants may need legal and cultural advice as well.
Rev. Wayne Dzieken asked, “where do we go from here?” He said we have a great need for moral, humane comprehensive immigration reform. At present the lack of such a law is creating a humanitarian crisis at our southern border that is not being addressed. There are vested interests in keeping things the way they are now. For example, the illegal arms trade, human and sex trafficking, and for-profit H2A visa providers. This crisis has led to family separations, children being put in cages, government sponsored child kidnapping, and dealers in H2A visas. Farmers have to pay the dealers, like the Michigan Farm Bureau, to expedite the complicated H2A visa application process. Because of these corporate middlemen, the personal relationships that farmers and immigrants have established over decades, in many cases, has been disrupted and become increasingly impersonal.
John King, Fruit Farmer - from Antrim County, explained he has worked on fruit farms since he was 12 years old as his family had a cottage on the Peninsula where he fell in love with orcharding. After college in the 1980’s, he was able to get a 100% financial loan and bought 80 acres of an apple orchard in Antrim County. He explained that as a first generation farmer, it is very tough as there is no backup from family and land, trees and equipment are very expensive. He said he had a fantasy that he could pick a third of the trees himself. That went by the wayside almost immediately. In 1984, the first immigrants showed up to help with care and picking. Over time, they brought more relatives with them and a wonderful relationship grew between himself and his workers.
Today because of competition from fruit importation from Mexico and Central America, keeping labor costs low is important in order to compete as exports come into local markets at the same prices as locally produced fruit and produce. King has been able to increase tree density where he now has a thousand feet of trees per acre planted three feet apart. They must be pruned, tied to trellises, sprayed, watered, and picked. Local labor is unused to hard, manual labor, schools do not train kids for this sort of work, and most simply will not do it. However, local workers do spraying and drive delivery trucks to market.
Under the Trump administration, farmers are experiencing increased ICE raids arresting workers. He stopped planting for a while, unsure he could secure enough labor. The granting of H2A visas to farmers has helped but the application process is complicated so that they rely on the Farm Bureau to get them for him. Farmers are not able to apply in the Fall to insure adequate labor come Spring. The window of application is very limited. He pays $15.54 per hour. He has to pay his local labor that amount as well. Some housing must be provided for migrant workers which then sits empty for the rest of the year. Farmers must meet government standards, and facilities are costly to maintain. Farmers are being put in a real bind
Keynote Speaker - Susan Reed, Managing Attorney for Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
Joining us by Skype, Susan began by telling us that she has a definite bias as she has seen so much suffering, but the facts that she presents are true.
Susan stressed that preservation of white domination of our society is the goal of the present immigration system. It is clearly race based and has been since the beginning. Because of this, for many wishing to come to the United States legally, there is no line to get in because they are the wrong color or come from the wrong country.
She informed the group that prior to full naturalization, an immigrants' status can be revoked for a variety of reasons. Many immigrants feel shamed by lack of legal status. People think that undocumented nationals are all from south of the border or countries in Africa or Asia, when in fact we have many undocumented Canadians living in the U.S. due to expired visas, or other reasons.
The United States had no immigration laws at all for about a hundred years or so after the founding of our country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States. Citizens on the West Coast were especially prone to blame declining wages and economic ills on the despised Chinese workers. Although the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the nation's population, Congress passed the exclusion act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white "racial purity."
Congress passed The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants.
Presently, the United States has enacted country quotas. In the 1960’s, in response to the Civil Rights Movement, language referring to race was removed from immigration law, but maintaining white supremacy remains the goal to this day. Emphasis, however, was placed on family reunification until the Trump administration changed it under the direction of Steven Miller, an ardent anti-immigration formulator of policy. Family reunification has been detrimentally renamed “chain migration,” in an attempt to halt family reunification.
Under the Trump administration a partial ban on Muslim immigration from certain countries has been upheld by the Supreme Court, refugee admission quotas have been cut in half, and family separation policies have been enacted in an effort to stop refugees from Central America from entering the US. Some of the efforts to block Muslim immigration has been mitigated by the significant Arab voting bloc in our country. A similar Latino voting block has yet to be energized. In Michigan former Gov. Snyder was pro-immigration which prevented anti-immigration bills from landing on his desk to protect him from vetoing. This will not be the case with Gov. Whitmer. Republicans will pass anti-immigration laws and she will be forced to veto them.
Susan explained that it is a historic fact that people move to survive. The question should be “how do we react humanely,” not “how do we block them.” In a capitalistic system, people's values are often enmeshed in their economic status. The emphasis is on finding cheap labor sources. Throughout our history we have achieved this by enslaving people, to using migrant labor from less developed countries, to the present emphasis of acquiring cheap labor through the H2A visa system.
Protecting immigrants and their rights is being attempted by the ACLU on the macro level. Organizations like JFON operate in immigrant communities on micro level, serving individual immigrants and their families.
An excellent source of crime statistics regarding immigrant communities is published by the libertarian Cato Institute. It is a well-established fact that immigrants, documented and undocumented, commit crime well below the levels of ordinary citizens.