H-2A, Immigration, Labor, Opinion/Editorial/Commentary

The Fallout of Failure

From MiamiHerald.com, 28 Sept 2011.

OUR OPINION: Piecemeal fixes for broken immigration system aren’t working

The longer America delays fixing its broken immigration system, the harder it becomes to deal with the fallout.

In the inner cities, a flawed deportation program is sowing mistrust and making the job of policing harder.

That’s the conclusion of a task force appointed by federal immigration enforcers to review the controversial Secure Communities program. It issued a report in mid-September sharply critical of this initiative, which the Obama administration considers an answer to demands for an “enforcement first” strategy to deal with illegal immigration.

The results should have surprised no one. The task force, composed of police chiefs from four major cities along with immigrant advocates and state homeland security officials, found that the deportation program created an “unintended negative impact” on public safety — exactly what its critics had been saying. It blamed federal authorities for issuing inconsistent guidelines that local law enforcement officials found confusing.

The program is hobbled by an essential contradiction: Local police need to gain the trust of residents in the inner cities and barrios so they can fight crime effectively, but they’re not likely to earn that trust if residents fear local police are ready to nab them for immigration violations.

A majority of the task force urged Immigration and Customs Enforcement to go back to Square One — to “reintroduce” the program in communities where resistance was growing. Others thought the program should be scuttled.

Task force member Arturo Venegas, retired police chief of Sacramento, Calif., resigned, saying the recommendations failed to fix what’s wrong with Secure Communities. If the program continues, he said, “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.”

Down on the farm, meanwhile, crops are left rotting in the field because piecemeal attempts to deal with undocumented farmworkers have only made matters worse.

Because of hasty and ill-considered laws born of anti-immigration hysteria, 18 states have mandated that agricultural employers use some form of the federal E-verify system to ensure that their workers are here legally — with unhappy results all around. Farmers have raised an outcry over the ensuing lack of legally authorized manpower that has imperiled their harvests.

Farm employment is a chronic labor problem. About half of the country’s 2 million farmworkers are believed to be undocumented. In Florida, some 65 percent of the 120,000 to 150,000 workers employed in agriculture don’t have required paperwork, according to the Florida Legal Services’ Migrant Farmworker Justice Project. But instead of trying to legalize the existing workforce, lawmakers have resorted to fixes that won’t work even in the unlikely case they could win congressional approval.

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would bring 500,000 foreign migrant workers to the United States each year by expanding the guest worker program known as H-2A. Most farm employers don’t like H-2A. They call the program too costly and bureaucratic and say workers often arrive well after they’re needed.

And does it make sense to bring new workers into the country and overhaul the H-2A program when hundreds of thousands of farmworkers are here already, working productively in the fields? No.

Eventually, lawmakers will have to face the facts: About 11 million undocumented immigrants live and work in America’s farms and cities. Until a humane and reasonable plan is devised to deal with this reality, the immigration system will remain broken.

Source: MiamiHerald.com, “The fallout of failure” Editiorial, 28 Sept 2011.

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