US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Immigration advocates are losing patience with Obama

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

An immigration rally at La Placita in Los Angeles, the historic downtown church entrusted to the Claretians, reflected a growing pessimism on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform among immigration activists. The Massachusetts election had something to do with it, but Rep. Luis Gutierrez  (D-IL) ventures the lukewarm support of President Barack Obama had as much.

In his State-of-the-Union speech the president had only 38 words on immigration -- and Gutierrez feels --  no passion. The congressman realistically admits his own comprehensive reform bill has little chance in the House – needing at least 18 more votes – much less in the Senate. Despite the doubt in Washington on the wisdom of pushing for immigration reform now, the Arizona Republic still feels it is urgent for the country, for the economy and for immigrants to push on this year.

H-1B Temporary Guest Workers
When thinking of foreign guest workers in this country, we usually call up images of field hands, fruit pickers, nursery workers – mostly Mexicans. They come legally into the country to work with one employer, who is to have certified to the government there are no native workers who want the job. But that's the H-1A program that covers agricultural workers – and most people agree no one wants those jobs. For non-agricultural workers there is the more controversial H-1B. The designations refer to the section of the law that describes the program. Both programs have their own set of abuses. To achieve a comprehensive immigration reform, it is essential that the section on temporary workers be carefully crafted to respect the rights of native workers and redress the grievances of the guest workers.

J. R Morrow introduced us long ago to the near slave conditions that agricultural workers  experienced in his famous "Harvest of Shame" TV documentary. A recent article in the New York Times reveals that that abuse exists as well in the H-1B program.

After Hurricane Katrina a Mississippi company hired Indian steel workers to repair oil riggings out in the Gulf. These workers, many of whom paid thousands of dollars to recruiters for their visas, had expectations that after a few years they would receive green cards or permanent residency. When they realized they had been tricked, they began to complain. Their employer dismissed their complaints as “chronic whining” and sought advice from Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents on how to handle the malcontents. ICE's suggestion was to pull the troublemakers out of line as they filed to work, pack them off in a van, and send them back to India The employer tried that, but was stopped by alert immigration advocates blocking the gate so the vans could not pass through. The workers are now suing the company, the company is suing the recruiters, and both the Justice Department and Homeland Security are investigating the conduct of employer and ICE agents. The New York Times editorialized: “[The guest workers] were trapped as surely as if they were shackled”. Basically they were at the mercy of one disgruntled employer. That's no way to treat honest workers who were recruited to help us after a tragedy – Hurricane Katrina.: