Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why you should care about the immigrants

I see in the news that immigration reform has yet another lease on life. This is an incredibly important issue affecting the lives of millions of people. Here are some facts, and why you should care, and maybe even write your senators.

There are an estimated 12 million undocumented residents in the US, 60 percent of whom have been here for more than 5 years. There are 3 million US citizen children whose parents are undocumented - and thus can be deported without their children. Two million US families are of mixed legal status, meaning they have a mix of citizens, legal residents and undocumented residents. About 7 million unauthorized migrants account for roughly 5% of our civilian labor force. They make up 24% of all workers employed in farming occupations, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation. (Source: Pew Hispanic Center.)

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been conducting a series of raids, dubbed "Operation Return to Sender," which had rounded up about 18,000 people as of February - so I'm going to generously assume we're up to maybe 25,000 now. That's 25,000 people out of 12 million, or 2/10ths of one percent. People are being picked up a few at a time - 2 here, 200 there - in raids notorious for leaving citizen children stranded. Although Operations Return to Sender is touted as targeting individuals who have broken other laws (beyond immigration laws), 37 percent are "collateral" arrests - people they find along the way.

In my community, ICE agents reportedly show up at a local race track and remove one or two people quietly each day, held without the ability to even make phone calls for several days. Imagine the fear parents feel as they drop their kids off at school each morning, unsure if anyone will come to pick them up. The fear among vulnerable people - many from countries with a chilling history of government-sponsored abuctions, of stealing children as a form of political punishment - when their co-workers and loved ones simply disappear.

The fear is the point, really - otherwise, what would it take to round up 12 million people woven into the fabric of our communities? Imagine the money, the detention centers and hearing rooms, the sheer police presence needed to infiltrate and patrol. Trying to menace and terrorize people into leaving on their own is a calculated strategy. And in good American tradition, some of the profit of it all is already flowing into private hands - our local immigration detention center, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is managed by a private contractor. We even have "family" detention centers in this country, with little toddler-sized prison jumpsuits.

That is the first reason you should care. Because regardless of what you think about how people should or should not be allowed into this country, or about whether these workers fill critical jobs or drag down wages, or about border security or refugee rights or anything else - the United States government should not be disappearing people off the streets; a government that touts the family as the core of society should not be ripping families apart; and our bedrock legal concepts of due process must apply to everyone, or they are safe for no one.

As for the argument about whether illegal immigration contributes to or drains from our economy, people make the statistics say all kinds of things to support their point of view. But I will point out that the IRS itself estimates that 70% of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes - and these taxes paid under "unmatched" social security numbers help shore up the social security trust fund to the tune of $5 to $10 billion per year. As the IRS has made it easier for undocumented immigrants to legally pay their taxes without fear of immigration difficulties, more and more immigrants choose to do so, demonstrating their desire and commitment to be a recognized part of our social and economic fabric.

And for those who say "well, they did break the law" - I will just say that I have heard numerous stories, including from personal friends, who had every intention of following the law and broke it accidentally. Because it changed, and they didn't know it. Because they moved, and something from ICE didn't get forwarded to them. Because ICE employees perpetrated a sort of bait-and-switch, encouraging legal immigrants to apply for a more permanent form of residency and then - oops! - the application was denied while the original, perfectly good, legal documents expired. And once you've ever been out of compliance with immigration law, even for a little while and even if you tried to fix it immediately - you are a criminal.

So, that all said, the situation as it stands is absurd and cruel and untenable, BUT - the current McCain-Kennedy immigration proposal is not good. Here are several things fundamentally wrong with it, as drafted.

1. The "path to citizenship" offered to those 12 million people will take 8-13 years, and require a "touch-back" visit to their home country plus a $10,000 fine. What if they can't afford the $10,000? What if they cannot afford a trip to their home country, or are endangering their lives to go there? What if they're afraid of leaving their families for the "touch-back" and not getting back in? It seems plausible these things might happen, in which case we're right back where we started, with productive members of our communities living in the shadows.

2. The proposal dramatically shifts the immigration system from favoring family connection to favoring professions needed by employers. You get lots of "points" (literally) for having advanced degrees and working in math or science, but very few for having family members or citizen children here. Again, how does that solve the problem? If 24% of our agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants now, and the new legislation doesn't offer them a legal way to stay - will anything change? And besides, do we want to let this become one more way that our country's words say "family values" but our actions say "corporate profits?"

3. The guest worker program proposed in the legislation does not offer a path to legalization, penalizes people for keeping their families together, and offers few to none of the basic worker protections that the rest of us enjoy.

4. Nothing actually changes until the border fence with Mexico is complete, the number of border control agents is doubled, and the number of detention center beds is tripled. Citizen kids will continue to see their parents deported until we have three times the number of beds for non-citizen kids in little prison jumpsuits.

Write your members of Congress. Don't let the seeming complexity of the issue paralyze you. Think about what you believe is fair and humane and practical , and tell your elected officials what you think. Even if you disagree with me. Remember that we are all in collusion in creating this situation. If you eat food in this country, or stay at a hotel, you are part of it.

In closing, I'm not a Biblical sort of gal myself, but for those right-wing zealots wanting to lock 'em all up as criminals, I lift a verse from Leviticus, of all places - that baffling book full of dietary prohibitions and burnt offerings and a noticeable obsession with skin diseases. But it also mandates the jubilee, and forbids cheating of any kind, and tells you not to pick on disabled people or harbor hate in your heart. In one of these better moments, it offers a simple expression of desert hospitality, found throughout all the Abrahamic traditions, which I find strangely poetic and timeless.

"The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt." - - Leviticus 19:34
Thank you for your time. (For more information, try Interfaith Worker Justice, the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, or the ACLU.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'll trade you 3 IQ points for a trip to Albania...

My sister recently alerted me to a research study which proports to show that older siblings have a slighter higher IQ. I find it odd that she might point this out since I am the older sibling, but she cheerfully asserted that in fact I am smarter than her. You might think this is what every big sibling wants to hear, but I must disagree. I have no idea what my IQ is - and I don't care - but I'd say Moxie and I are about equal in the smarts department.

I think Moxie was ok with the alleged 3-point IQ difference because younger siblings were supposedly more adventurous travellers and out-of-the-box thinkers, and I must also disagree here. I'm not sure either Moxie or I are going to invent the next big out-of-the-box concept, we're just not that type. We're the reliable, dutiful, keep-the-trains-running-on-time type, both of us (oh, and older siblings are supposedly more dutiful too, another claim I find dubious).

As for the adventurousness of our travel, the very adult exchange between Moxie and I went something like this:
"Of course I'm more adventurous. I've been to Albania."
"Well, I've been to Argentina."
"Aleutian Islands!"
And so on.

So I dunno. Having read a couple of stories on this study, they sure make it seem air-tight (over 240,000 subjects studied!), but I have a few methodological concerns. First of all, they used only men. The researchers cheerfully assure us that IQ tests have been shown to be gender-neutral, but medical researchers assured us for years that drug tests on 160-pound men could be perfectly well extrapolated to women - wrong! Plus, the study asserts that the IQ differences are due to family socialization, not biology, and we know there are differences in socialization between girls and boys, so how can they be sure those socialization differences don't produce different results for the girls? If they've only studied pairs of brothers, how do they know the results would hold with an older sister and younger brother, or vice-versa?

And the study consisted entirely of Norwegians, so what about socialization differences across cultures? Would this study produce the same results in Albania, or Argentina, or the Aleutian Islands?

And in any case, having been a human guinea pig in high school, I am suspcious of all standardized tests. They can all be gamed. I know the IQ test is supposedly rock-solid, but I don't buy it.

In addition, all of the study was done from military records of 18- and 19-year-olds. Now I'm going to assume that Norway, like other European countries, has mandatory military service for all young people, and thus this population still constitutes a representative sample of this age group (that is, without possible bias due to self-selection for military duty). However, they point out that the IQ differences change between early childhood and adolescence, so how can they be sure the IQ issue - let alone the dutifulness and adventurousness - is all settled by age 19?

Not that any of this is very important, but it's not every day of the week that your kid sister insists you are smarter and offers scientific proof to back up the point.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rambling Amtrak tales

I am back from Portland, where I met other people who do what I do, and spent hours in workshops on lively topics like Darfur, shareholder activisim, and immigration policy. Good times. I also got sick, which hasn't happened in a surprisingly long time, because my feeble lungs tend to succumb to the charms of any old bug that comes along. My lungs are easy.

I'm thinking I probably picked up the bug on the Amtrak train down to Portland, because despite the fact that I used half a bottle of hand sanitizer to clean off the seat tray, it was pretty gross. I'm going to suggest that Amtrak institute a fifty-cent surcharge that allows them to clean the seat trays at least once per day. Otherwise, the ride down was lovely, with all the water and mountains and bird life to gaze upon out the window.

On the ride back, I had switched to an earlier train than originally planned, and ended up in a car half-full of young drunk people riding up to Seattle for a Mariners' game. Two groups, who kind of merged together, with many bottles of hard liquor, yelling loudly and profanely in that particular youthful arrogance that assumes everyone around you wants to hear what you're saying, because whatever you're saying is so much more funny and important than anything anyone else might want to discuss with their neighbor, or think to themselves, or read, at that moment. In which any parent who doesn't want their young child exposed to a stream of profanity is just THE MAN, man, an uptight fuddy-duddy.

I feel incredibly old saying that, and I'm also well aware that anyone who knows me might reasonably want to point out right about now that I can out-cuss a drunken sailor any day of the week (a habit that can in no way be blamed on my parents, whose language is always impeccable, so go figure). But for heaven's sake, I know better than to hone my profanitory arts at high volume around grannies and children. THAT is the wisdom that comes with maturity, my friends.

Anyway, people complained, and the train conductor threatened to throw them off the train at the next stop, and they took that threat reasonably seriously. Plus the ringleader was so drunk by then that he passed out, which helped.

Once the noise settled down I was able to have a lovely conversation with my neighbor, a Reuters reporter from India who was doing some travelling while visiting her brother here in the US. I asked her why Bollywood movies are always in Hindi, and she asked me why on earth we re-elected George Bush the second time around. She said a surprising number of the people she'd met, travelling by train from San Jose to Seattle, were in some kind of social activist job, and with so many people here trying to make the world a better place, how was it that we still had such an asshole for a president? Only she didn't say it exactly that way, because she was a very polite Indian woman. I'm reading between the lines a bit.

Anyway, she was arriving in Seattle without pre-arranged lodgings, and I was a little worried about all the drunken out-of-towners who were apparently descending on the city for the Mariners' game, so I gave her my phone number and told her to call me if she had trouble finding a hotel room. I never heard from her so I hope she's having a lovely visit here today, wherever she is.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Catching up

Enrico started his new job today, after taking a five-day weekend between jobs. He referred to it as having four Saturdays, and one Sunday. Very civilized. I took a three-day weekend myself - it takes discipline to ignore work for three whole days when you're self-employed, with work just sitting there in the extra bedroom, on the same computer where you check for movie times and trail conditions - so we had a lovely combination of fun and house-cleaning. Not that housecleaning is fun, per se, but our stuff was starting to get the better of us and it's satisfying to purge. Enrico also did a dust-and-mold-busting campaign, which always makes me breathe easier - literally.

Tomorrow I head off to Portland for the rest of the week, on the train. I love taking the train to Portland, it's such a civilized way to travel. The dogs will be very pissed at me though, after all this togetherness we've had lately.

I am in contact with various and sundry distant relatives about the family history, which is quite exciting. Several boxes of family papers have been located in the far North, including, allegedly, a journal dating from the 1880s from my great-great-aunt, long sought after by family and academic researchers alike. I'm arranging a trip up to stay with very distant cousins to look over the material before they place it into archives.

I've also connected with a great-grandson of The Famous One, the long-ago uncle with stuff named after him, whose clan may have answers to some of the great family mysteries. This distant cousin turns out to be a well-known radio reporter working overseas - a relative distant not only genealogically but geographically.

Meanwhile, we've started receiving our weekly food deliveries from the local organic farm we subscribed to for the summer. We pick up our bag at the local farmer's market on Wednesdays. It's a lot of greens right now, and radishes, plus we get a half-dozen fresh eggs each week. Last week we got the best strawberries I have ever tasted, ever, and the salad greens had edible flowers mixed in. We should have done this years ago.