Sunday, March 29, 2009

DHS Signals Policy Changes Ahead for Immigration Raids

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, March 29, 2009; 1:19 PM

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has
delayed a series of proposed immigration raids and
other enforcement actions at U.S. workplaces in
recent weeks, asking agents in her department to
apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation
of targets as well as the timing of raids, federal
officials said.

A senior department official said the delays signal a
pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute --
increasing the focus on businesses and executives
instead of ordinary workers.

"ICE is now scrutinizing these cases more thoroughly
to ensure that [targets] are being taken down when
they should be taken down, and that the employer is
being targeted and the surveillance and the
investigation is being done how it should be done,"
said the official, discussing Napolitano's views about
sensitive law enforcement matters on the condition of

"There will be a change in policy, but in the interim,
you've got to scrutinize the cases coming up," the
senior DHS official said, noting Napolitano's
expectations as a former federal prosecutor and state
attorney general.

Another DHS official said Napolitano plans to release
protocols this week to ensure more consistent work-
site investigations and less "haphazard" decision-

Napolitano's moves have led some to question
President Obama's commitment to work-site raids,
which were a signature of Bush administration efforts
to combat illegal immigration. Napolitano has
highlighted other priorities, such as combating
Mexican drug cartels and catching dangerous
criminals who are illegal immigrants.

Napolitano's moves foreshadow the difficult political
decisions the Obama administration faces as it
decides whether to continue mass arrests of illegal
immigrant workers in sweeps of meatpackers,
construction firms, defense contractors and other

Critics say workplace and neighborhood sweeps are
harsh and indiscriminate, and they accuse the
government of racial profiling, violating due process
rights and committing other humanitarian abuses.

The raids have enraged Latino community and
religious leaders, immigrant advocates and civil
liberties groups important to the Democratic base,
who have stepped up pressure on Obama to stop

At a rally last week in Chicago, Cardinal Francis
George, head of the archdiocese of Obama's home
city, called on the government "to end immigration
raids and the separation of families" and support an
overhaul of immigration law. "Reform would be a clear
sign this administration is truly about change," George

Also last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-
Calif.) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made
similar calls as the caucus met formally with Obama
for the first time.

"Raids that break up families in that way, just kick in
the door in the middle of the night, taking [a] father, a
parent away, that's just not the American way. It must
stop," Pelosi added at a Capitol Hill conference on
border issues sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of

But Obama also faces pressure from conservative
lawmakers and many centrist Democrats, who say
that workplace enforcement is needed to reduce the
supply of jobs that attract illegal immigrants, and that
any retreat in defending American jobs in a recession
could ignite a populist backlash.

When the White House announced plans last week to
move more than 450 federal agents and equipment to
the border to counter Mexico's drug cartels,
lawmakers warned Napolitano against diverting
money from workplace operations.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), ranking Republican on the
House Judiciary Committee, said the
administration "appears to be using border violence
as an excuse" to undercut immigration enforcement in
the nation's interior.

"It makes no sense to take funds from one priority
(worksite enforcement) to address a new priority (the
growth in border violence). This is just robbing Peter
to pay Paul," Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the
powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations
subcommittee for homeland security, said in an e-

Led by Byrd, Congress this year ordered ICE to spend
$127 million on workplace operations, $34 million
more than President George W. Bush had requested.
Reducing those amounts, even in ICE's overall $5
billion budget, would provoke a fight, senior aides in
both parties said.

DHS officials categorically deny any reduction. Instead
Napolitano has sought to chart a middle course by
ordering a review of which immigrants are targeted for
arrest. While a policy is still under development,
Napolitano has said she intends to focus more on
prosecuting criminal cases of wrongdoing by
companies. Analysts say they also think ICE may
conduct fewer raids, focusing routine enforcement on
civil infractions of worker eligibility verification rules.

Former Bush administration officials said their raids
were also targeted against supervisors, but that it took
time to build complicated white-collar cases. In the
meantime, they said, depriving companies of their
workforces and in some cases filing criminal charges
against illegal immigrant workers sent a clear
message of deterrence to both management and

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for
Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce
immigration, said Obama aides are trying to manage
the issue until an economic turnaround permits an
attempt to overhaul immigration laws.

"I think their calculus is, how do they keep Hispanic
groups happy enough without angering the broader
public so much that they sabotage health care and
their other priorities?" Krikorian said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National
Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group,
said that to the contrary, groups such as his support
Obama's focus on going after bad employers and
criminal illegal immigrants first -- or as he put it,
prioritizing "drug smugglers, not window washers."

Within ICE, the front-office vetting of cases has led to
some doubts. Last week, for example, ICE postponed
plans to raid employers at a military-related facility in
Chicago for which they had arranged to temporarily
detain as many as 100 illegal immigrants, according
to one official. A second official said Napolitano
thought the investigative work was inadequate.

The raid would have been the second under the
Obama administration. After the first, a Feb. 24 sweep
of an engine-parts maker in Bellingham, Wash., that
led to 28 arrests, Napolitano publicly expressed
disappointment that ICE did not inform her
beforehand and announced an investigation into
agency communication practices.

In response, Leigh H. Winchell, the ICE special agent
in charge in Seattle, wrote an e-mail to his staff --
subsequently leaked to conservative bloggers --
saying they had acted correctly. He also copied a
statement from House Republicans calling
Napolitano's review "beyond backwards."

"You did nothing wrong and you did everything right,"
Winchell wrote. "I cannot control the politics that take
place with these types of situations, but I can remind
you that you are great servants of this country and this

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Support the the Child Citizen Protection Act (HR 182)

Grania Marcus Says:

March 27th, 2009 at 5:54 pm

All who are concerned about the detrimental impact of US immigration laws on millions of US citizen children whose parent or parents are undocumented should support the Child Citizen Protection Act (HR 182) which has been introduced in the House. Write to your Congressional representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor this bill. If passed, this legislation would allow immigration judges to consider the best interests of a US citizen child when deciding whether to deport or detain an undocumented parent. For further information, see

Citizen Children Neglected and Deserted in Wake of Immigration Raids

Citizen Children Neglected and Deserted in Wake of Immigration Raids
By Michele Waslin

Department of Homeland Security, Enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Raids, Undocumented ImmigrationAdd comments

Photo by raphasantos.
Miguel is a US citizen child who grew up in Minnesota like any other little American boy. But his parents are undocumented workers from El Salvador who worked at the Swift plant in Worthington, MN. On December 12, 2006, the plant was raided by ICE, and more than 200 workers were detained, including Miguel’s mother. Miguel returned home from second grade that day to discover that his mother and father were not there and that his two-year-old brother was left alone. For the next week, Miguel stayed home caring for his brother-with no information about what had happened to his parents. A week after the raid, Miguel’s grandmother arrived to care for her grandchildren. When Miguel returned to school, his teacher reported that this previously “happy little boy” had become “absolutely catatonic.” His performance slipped and his grades plummeted.

This story is echoed by many others in a new report released this week by the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, in conjunction with The Urban Institute, which graphically details the devastating impact of immigration enforcement on US citizen children and their families. The report, “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” puts into serious question immigration restrictionists that have been calling for increased enforcement and increased raids. The raids have dire consequences for the well-being of American children who are either separated from their parents or are effectively deported to their parents’ home country and face poverty and few opportunities. In either case, the psychological damage is devastating to the children left behind.
ICE raids have left children without parents and feeling abandoned, separated nursing babies from their mothers, separated pregnant wives from their husbands and compelled local communities and organizations to scramble to address child welfare crises in their wake. In a country that emphasizes the importance of family unity in the socialization and upbringing of its children, an immigration system that promotes family separation is a broken system.
According to the Urban Institute, one citizen child is affected for every two adults arrested in ICE enforcement actions. These children have been abandoned at school after parents leave work in the morning and are never able to come back. Other times, ICE shows up at their homes and armed agents force their way inside, aggressively question occupants and lead adults out in handcuffs - all of which children witness. Parents may be detained in a prison far from their home; some are denied access to the phone. While ICE has guidelines calling for agents to determine if there are children at home and allowing them to provide an alternative to detention in some cases, there is no uniform policy. Alarmingly, US immigration law does not take the “best interests of the child” into account.
Families, teachers, and psychologists report that children are experiencing sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders - as a result of being suddenly torn from their parents. Neighbors and family members are left struggling to feed and care for children who have been left behind.
Leaders from both sides of the aisle agree that it’s time to reform our immigration laws so that they take the best interests of children into account. Former President George Bush reminded Americans that “family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River…” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently asked, “How then could America say it’s OK to send parents of children away? What value system is that? I think it’s un-American.” Immigrant families and workers are under siege and we need to reform the system so that all needed workers can work here legally and U.S. families can stay strong, healthy, and united.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Nation of Immigrants: Parts One and Two

An Economist's Travelogue
« A Nation of Immigrants: Part One <>

A Nation of Immigrants: Part Two>
Mar 25th 2009 mike Uncategorized

Since the publication of Part One of this post a few days ago, President Obama has decided not to nominate immigrant-rights advocate and attorney, Thomas Saenz, to head the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department. Saenz is currently Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa's chief legal advisor, and he has a long history of commitment to civil rights. Combined with a recent speech in which Obama said that undocumented immigrants had violated our laws and would have to go to the back of the line and apply for legal admission to the country, the rejection of Saenz does not bode well for progressive immigration reform.

Also, since the last post, I have learned that there are labor markets in which native workers have begun to replace immigrants. This no doubt reflects the severity of the downturn, but it also suggests that immigrants are suffereing disproportionately from the economic crisis.

Anyway, here is Part Two of "A Nation of Immigrants."

Third, there has always been anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and it has always been based upon false generalizations. None of the things mentioned at the beginning of this post are true. Immigrants pay their own way and then some. Undocumented workers, for example, contribute billions of dollars to our social security trust funds but will never receive a dime of benefits. If an immigrant happens to use my social security number, money will be deposited in my account. I will benefit not the immigrant. If an immigrant picks a number no one has, the monies put in this account will eventually go into the general soc ial security fund. So undocumented immigrants are subsidizing all of our retirements. Immigrants pay sales taxes and property taxes. And they do work that is valuable to the society, work that it is unlikely native-born men and women would do. What often happens is that immigrants fill job slots that native-born workers have abandoned as they have moved into better employment. As a Boston Globe columnist put it with respect to those here without documents:

They perform jobs that are inseparable from our standard of living. Undocumented workers are about 5 percent of our overall labor force but- according to the Pew Hispanic Center's analysis of Census data-are between 22 and 36 percent of America's insulation workers, miscellaneous agricultural workers, meat-processing workers, construction workers, dishwashers, and maids. The American Farm Bureau, the lobbying group for agricultural interests, says that without guest workers, the United States would lose $5 billion to $9 billion a year in fruit, vegetable, and flower production and up to 20 percent of production would go overseas.

Mexican immigrants, many undocumented, do most of the drywalling in southern California. They are independent truck drivers at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. They toil in the basements of Korean-American-owned greengroceries in New York City. They are the major part of the manufacturing workforce in Los Angeles. They do the arduous garment work in sweatshops and homes that their Eastern European counterparts did one hundred years ago in the Lower East side of Manhattan. They take care of the children of the well-to-do. They manicure lawns, work in nurseries, break their backs in Midwestern meatpacking and Southern chicken and hog processing plants. They clean our motel and hotel rooms. Indian and Pakistani immigrants drive cabs and the limousines that take corporate executives to and from work in our large cities. Along with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai immigrants, they slave away in restaurant kitchens. So do Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans. West Africans labor as grocery delivery men and sell items of all kinds from sidewalk carts. Immigrants do the hard work of the United States, the work the native-born are no longer willing-and with good reason-to do.

Of course, it is inevitable that there is some competition between the two groups, some cases where undocumented workers replace those either born in the country or here through legal channels. Through special visa programs, the United States allows domestic companies and public entities to hire skilled workers such as computer programmers, engineers, nurses, and teachers from countries like India for a fraction of what it was paying its native employees. Here, the domestic workers are clearly hurt by immigrant competition, although the foreign workers are also badly exploited, forced to pay large fees to job recruiters and subject to visa revocation if they make waves at work. Since there are ample reserves of domestic employees in these cases, the competition could be ended if the special visa programs were eliminated or at least altered to demand that employers prove that they cannot hire domestic workers for these jobs. On the whole, though, recent immigrants do not compete directly with native labor. They do work that natives prefer not to do any more (though this may cahnge as the economic crisis deepens), making possible the survival of some businesses, such as manufacturing around Los Angeles, enterprises that either would have died or moved abroad. In addition, as immigrants work and earn and spend money, they genera te new businesses and employment.

Fourth, immigrant workers have been organizing to improve their working and living conditions, giving new life to organized labor and other movements for social change. In the past, organized labor, especially the AFL and then the AFL-CIO, has been, with some notable exceptions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the United Electrical Workers Union, part and parcel of the problem of nativism. But in 2000, the AFL-CIO reversed course and demanded amnesty for undocumented workers. Since then, the relationship between groups trying to improve the life circumstances of all immigrants and the union movement has been much warmer and closer. The 2003 "Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride," in which immigrants traveled across the country holding rallies and educating working people about their conditions, and the May 1, 2006 "A Day without Immigrants" strikes and demonstrations, in which five to six million immigrants and their supporters participated, were strongly championed by the labor movement.

Some of the change in attitudes and policies within the house of labor has come from the realization that immigrants hold commanding positions in occupations and industries that unions would like to organize and they are willing, indeed eager, to organize. The workers who remove asbestos from buildings in New York and New Jersey are overwhelmingly from other countries, many here without documents. The Laborers Union has had great success in organizing these workers. They have stood up firmly in the face of strong employer antagonism, even under the risk of deportation. In their homelands, they may well have experienced themselves or known those who have experienced brutal repression for struggling for trade union rights. So employer resistance here is not something of which they are afraid. Similar stories can be told about packinghouse workers, who are trying to build a labor movement in what was once a union stronghold, or hotel and restaurant workers in San Francisco, who have waged multi-year battles to secure union recognition and better wages, hours, and working conditions. Greengrocery store workers, black car (limousine) drivers, and grocery deliverers have all made heroic efforts to unionize. Name a recent labor struggle and it is likely that immigrants have been in the forefront of it. Here=2 0is how Kim Moody describes the organization of the "black car" drivers in New York City:

The city's 12,000 "Black Car" drivers work for fleets that serve corporate customers who want the elegant cars for their executives and clients. But, like the taxi drivers, they are independent contractors who must lease their cars. After paying their lease fees and other expenses they make between $4.00 and $6.00 an hour. Most are South Asians, but there are also East Asians and Central Americans. In 1995, they began organizing themselves. In this case, through an acquaintance they approached District 15 of the Machinists. Unlike many unions in this sort of situation, the Machinists allowed the drivers to organize and lead their own local, Machinists' Lodge 340. In an unusual turn of events . . . the Machinists won an NLRB case in 1997 declaring the drivers employees. In 1999, Lodge 340 won its first contract with one of the major companies. Resistance from employers was intense, and because many drivers were Muslims they were frequently harassed by the Federal Government after 9/11. Nevertheless, by 2005, Lodge 340 had 1,000 dues-paying members. The effort to organize the whole industry continues.

There is data on the number of immigrants in unions, and it is encouraging. Between 1996 and 2004, the number of immigrants who are union members rose by nearly 25 percent. During this same period, the number of native-born union members fell. The percentage of all union members who are foreign-born also rose, from 9 to more than 11 percent. We do not know how many immigrant union members are undocumented, but given how many they are and where they are working, the number must be considerable.

Finally, it is crucial to understand that what the anti-immigrant movement is really all about is the repression of all workers. The growing desire for unions among immigrants and the threat that union support for them poses to employers (who hold the real power in this society) can be seen in the increasingly aggressive actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been raiding plants where it believes undocumented workers have been hired. In meatpacking plants in Iowa, Nebraska, and elsew here, for example, ICE has arrested and railroaded into quick trials thousands of immigrants, who are either deported or put in prison. Not coincidentally, these raids have disrupted union organizing campaigns. In one case, employers hired Somali immigrants from a nearby state, here with documents because they have been declared political refugees. This, of course, created tensions between the new and older arrivals, much to the benefit of the employers, who love a divide and conquer strategy. In a Mississippi electrical equipment factory, ICE raids conveniently helped employers and their rightwing political allies, who are fearful of an alliance between immigrant and black workers that could challenge their power. These raids, which have occurred across the country, are a boon to employers. As Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center tells us, "raids drive down wages because they intimidate workers, even citizens and legal residents. The employer brings in another batch of employees and continues business as usual, while people who protest get targeted and workers get deported. Raids really demonstrate the employer's power."

2007 ACS Data Tool: Language and Education Characteristics

2007 ACS Data Tool: Language and Education Characteristics

Learn about the language and education characteristics of immigrants and the native born in each state and the United States overall with our updated fact sheets. Simply go to the 2007 ACS/Census tool, select a state, and then choose the "Language and Education Characteristics" fact sheet.

The remaining two fact sheets on the foreign born — covering workforce and income & poverty — will also be updated with 2007 American Community Survey data in the coming months.

The Language and Education Characteristics fact sheets will allow you to find out the following quick stats about immigrants (i.e., persons with no US citizenship at birth; aka the foreign born):

* In 2007, 52.4 percent of the 37.8 million immigrants age 5 and older in the United States were limited English proficient (LEP), which is defined as persons age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well." Nearly two-thirds of all foreign born who were LEP in 2007 resided in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

* The foreign-born LEP population grew more than 70 percent between 2000 and 2007 in Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee. In comparison, the size of the national immigrant LEP population increased 26.3 percent during the same period.

* Naturalized US citizens were much less likely to be limited English proficient than noncitizens, 38.8 percent compared to 62.6 percent.

* Immigrant adults age 25 and older performed similarly to their native-born counterparts when compared by higher education rate. Among immigrant adults, 26.9 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 27.6 percent for the native born. In contrast, the share of adults with less than a high school diploma was much higher among the foreign born (32.0 percent) than among the native born (12 ..4 percent).

* Foreign-born adults in the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Vermont were significantly more educated (42 percent or more had at least a bachelor's degree) than foreign-born adults in the rest of the nation. In contrast,=2 0nearly half of the foreign-born adults in New Mexico had no high school diploma.

* From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy:
Nearly one in seven US adults lacked basic English reading skills, translating into more than 30 million adults who had difficulties reading simple English phrases and using written materials such as newspapers.

For more information, go to the 2007 ACS/Census tool and select the desired state.


Since the 1960s, the number of immigrants in the United States has more than tripled. In 2007, 38.1 million immigrants lived in the country, representing about 12.6 percent of the entire population. In terms of absolute numbers, this number is at its highest point in history. However, this percentage remains below the historic highs reached in 1890 and 1910, when nearly 15 percent of the US population was foreign born. Find out more about immigration patterns and characteristics of the foreign-born population through time with our US Historical Trends Tool.

Immigrants and the Current Economic Crisis [pdf]

By Demetrios G. Papademetriou and Aaron Terrazas

As the United States sinks into a recession that may be the worst since the Great Depression, the economic crisis raises fundamental questions about future immigration flows to and from the United States and how current and prospective immigrants will fare. This report examines how the number of immigrants has changed since the recession began; how legal and illegal immigration flows may change; and how immigrants fare in the labor market during downturns.

Migration and the Economic Downturn: What to Expect in the European Union [pdf]
By Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Madeleine Sumption, and Will Somerville
As unemployment rises and household budgets shrink across the European Union, policymakers, analysts, and the public are beginning to ask what the consequences will be with respect to immigration. In this paper, the authors make clear that the implications of the recession should not be underestimated. The downturn is likely to affect th e kinds of immigrants that arrive and leave, with implications for labor supply in certain sectors, for integration, and for the host communities.

On behalf of the MPI Data Hub team, thank you for your interest in and support of the MPI Data Hub.

Crossover Appeal

Comment from: gus chavez

For your information. La migra in action, Hispanic advertising agencies see opportunity and cash in on the plight of the immigrants coming into the U.S. In this case, crossing the line has a new meaning and interesting opportunity for Hispanic marketing and music artists.
Gus Chavez

Crossover Appeal
By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post, March 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - To its arsenal of agents, fences and stealthy sensors skirting our
nation's southern border, the U.S. Border Patrol may soon add another weapon in the fight
against illegal immigration: a follow-up album.

Yes, as in CD. With singers, guitars. Accordions.

In what may be among the lesser-known deterrents exercised by our nation's security forces, the
Unites States Border Patrol (USBP) is deploying up-tempo Mexican folk songs about tragic
border crossings to dissuade would-be undocumented immigrants.

The agency has paid - how much, it won't say - a D.C.-based advertising company to write,
record and distribute an album, "Migra Corridos," to radio stations in Mexico. Its title, its
makers say, is intended to mean "songs of the immigrant" but "migras" [sic] is commonly
understood as a code word for Border Patrol in much of Mexico.

The first CD of five songs was recorded in 2006 and distributed over the past two years. Another
CD in the works is scheduled to be ready by May. There are also tentative plans for a collection
of similarly themed songs with styles of music more geared toward would-be undocumented
immigrants from Central America.

Many of the stations in Mexico that play the songs and the listeners who request them are
seemingly oblivious to who is behind the bouncy ballads of death, dashed dreams and futile
attempts at manhood.

Before you cross the border, remember that you can be just as much a man by chickening out
and staying,
Because it's better to keep your life than ending up dead.

- "Veinte Años" ("20 Years")

"It's pretty slick," says Jason Ciliberti, a spokesman with the USBP in Washington.

The music is part of the Border Safety Initiative, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's push
to squash smuggling and increase safety along the border. As part of that effort, the USBP
launched "No Mas Cruces en la Frontera," a campaign aimed at educating communities with
many potential undocumented immigrants about the dangers of crossing.

Undocumented immigrants can encounter severe hazards on their journey: professional
smugglers and bandits who beat, rob, rape and abandon them; bitingly cold or scorching
temperatures; snakes, scorpions; drowning; and death by dehydration or exhaustion.

"No Mas Cruces en la Frontera" (which means both "no more crossings on the border" and "no
more crosses on the border") has primarily relied on newspaper, television and billboard ads. In
one poster, men walk in a line, with some of their shadows showing as crosses rather than
bodies. In another, someone has collapsed in a seemingly endless desert. "Before crossing to the
other side," the poster advises, "remember that the burial plots are full of the valiant and the

The most recent twist on the media blitz is "Migra Corridos," a brainchild of Elevación, a D.C.-
based advertising boutique, with 20 or so employees, that specializes in Hispanic market
advertising - producing jingles, television spots and billboards. Elevación, which had already
been working on the border campaign, sold the Border Patrol on the idea of songs-as-deterrents.

The five-song album draws on corridos, popular Mexican narrative ballads with roots in Spain's
Middle Ages. Reenergized in recent decades by such popular Mexican groups as Los Tigres del
Norte, the genre reverberates deeply with Mexican and Mexican American communities, says

Martha I. Chew Sanchez, the author of "Corridos in Migrant Memory" and an associate
professor at St. Lawrence University in New York.

The songs, Sanchez says, humanize the experiences of those communities with tales of love,
death, migration, globalization and social and political events. More recently, there has been an
explosion in the popularity of narcocorridos - ballads that recount the drug traders, their
violent exploits and, often, their deaths.

Among the perils mentioned on "Migra Corridos": a cousin who dies from dehydration, a
mother who is raped and beaten by a child-killing smuggler, one man's suffocation in an airtight

He put me in a trailer
There I shared my sorrows
With 40 illegals
They never told me
That this was a trip to hell.
- "El Respeto" ("Respect")

Whatever the subject, the songs can strike a chord with listeners, as long as they tell a
compelling narrative, Sanchez says. "If it's a good story, the people will like it. And no matter
what generation, they will listen to it, dance to it."

"Migra Corridos" lives up to its dance-inducing predecessors, despite its somber stories. The
music is peppy, even cheerful. Drums tippity-tap along with piping accordions and strumming
guitars. The songs were distributed to six Mexican states, where, according to Elevación's
research, many migrants left for the border: Zacatecas, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Guerrero,
Jalisco and Chiapas. Elevación contacted stations and asked them to play the songs as part of the
border initiative.

"When we approached the Mexican media, we approach it as a humanitarian campaign," says
Pablo Izquierdo, vice president of Elevación. "We didn't tell them who was behind it because
consumer research indicated that it wasn't going to be as well-received."

But, Izquierdo says, there's nothing fake about the songs. "There is no commercial message. It's
all heartfelt, and it's all from the point of view of the people."

After some hours
Abelardo opened his eyes
And in the middle of the cold night
Discovered his dead cousin at his side.
- "El Más Grande Enemigo" ("The Biggest Enemy")

Izquierdo says that feedback from the stations was positive and that even though the CDs were
not for sale, listeners started requesting the songs. Research done by Elevación in the
communities where the songs were being played found that the songs became "the talk of the
town," Izquierdo says.

It is difficult to measure how effective the corridos have been in aiding the government's overall
effort, but the Border Patrol's Ciliberti cites a steady decline in deaths and rescues along the
Southwest border over the past four years. He attributes it to the agency's broader approach to
undocumented immigration. According to Ciliberti, 492 people died along the Southwest border
in 2005. Last year, 390 deaths were recorded. In terms of rescues in that same area, the Border
Patrol assisted 2,550 people in distress in 2005. Last year, 1,263 were rescued.

"What we're doing now, that we really haven't done before, is take a more holistic view of
border security," he says. "There's no mention of being punitive in any of these corridos. These
are simply about the dangers."

But whatever its intent, the program raises questions about whether the Border Patrol should be
doing this at all. The U.S. has long used music, art and other forms of cultural diplomacy as a
way of reaching and influencing people in other countries, but those efforts have been relatively
out in the open. The Border Patrol's involvement is not mentioned, nor is it traceable on the
brown glossy CD cover with "migra corridos" printed in gold. More-discerning eyes might
notice "bsi" (for Border Safety Initiative) at the bottom right-hand corner inside the cover.

Still, the agency defends the approach despite the lack of transparency. "I think the message
we're putting out is real, and it's a message that needs to be heard," says Steve Cribby, also with
the USBP. "Whether people decide to hear it or not is up to them. We're not making anything

up. We're educating people."

Juan Flores, a drummer in a Stockton, CA-based band that plays corridos, says the USBP
approach is a smart one. "They are thinking outside the box," he says. "It's propaganda, in a
good way."

A number of the professional writers, musicians and singers for the "Migra Corridos" project
are Mexican nationals now living in Washington and New York. And all were aware of Border
Patrol's involvement - and concealment - in the project.

Rodolfo Hernández, who works for Elevación, wrote the lyrics for the corridos, inspired by
newspaper clippings. He said any initial hesitation among the musicians was eased knowing the
CD's release would benefit their country. "Mexico is suffering a lot," says Hernández, 35. "The
effect of immigration is not just what happens at the border, it's what we leave behind."

And the backing of the USBP didn't give pause to New York-based Rubén Flores, who sang two
of the tracks on the CD: "En la Raya" and "Veinte Años."

"I thought it was a smart thing to do, to have that kind of approach," says Flores, who once sang
for a popular musical comedy show in Mexico. To those in his native country who might feel
deceived by the project, Flores says, "I would like them to think of their parents, their brothers
and sisters - the people who are left behind if somebody dies - and how they would feel," he

"I would say that if they really listen to the lyrics and what the song is about, that is the most
important thing," he says.

"It wouldn't be important where the message is coming from, but the essence."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Language, laws a challenge for indigenous migrants

Check out Krikorian's statements from this article: But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, cautions that access to interpreters for immigrants facing deportation is not a right.

"To think it's a right, our responsibility, to help you avoid being deported, it's kind of silly," Krikorian said. "If we don't have a translator in your obscure language, well, that's too bad."

We're better than that.

Dra. Valenzuela

Language, laws a challenge for indigenous migrants
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 18, 2009; 5:26 AM

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- When immigration agents arrested 16 farmworkers in a mass arrest of illegal immigrants early this year, legal advocates raced to find interpreters for some of the men, a few who spoke only a language called Mixtec.

But by the time an interpreter was found, most of the men were on their way out of the country after signing away their rights to contest deportation _ a procedure they might not have understood.

The deportations alarmed immigrant advocates in this agricultural city 60 miles north of Seattle. It also raised questions about the deportation proceedings for people who speak little Spanish or English.

"There is no way they knew what they were signing. No way," said the Rev. Jo Beecher of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Mount Vernon, one of the advocates who tried to help the men.

Although federal courts have ruled that immigration proceedings must be translated into the language of the detainee, Beecher said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no interpreters in the area who speak Mixtec _ a tonal language with several dialects.

The case of the Mount Vernon men also highlights some of the clashes that are becoming more common as the growing community of indigenous peoples from Latin America meets the American legal system.

Indigenous peoples are the direct descendants of the inhabitants who lived in the region before colonial times. They have a distinct culture, languages and history than those of their Latino counterparts.

Some observers believe the migration of indigenous Latin Americans to the U.S. is increasing even as the flow of Spanish-speaking immigrants eases.

There are about 500,000 indigenous people in the U.S., according to the Bi-national Center for the Development of the Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, based in Fresno, Calif. That's only counting people from Mexico, not other countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras.

Between 10 and 30 percent of the farm workers in California are now estimated to be indigenous, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. Similar growth has occurred in Washington, Oregon and Florida.

"It's been until recently that the immigration has grown to a point that the government has become aware of the language diversity," said Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, a project director at the Center for Labor Research and Education of the University of California Los Angeles. "Authorities are not very well prepared."

Hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects are spoken in Mexico and Central America, and some of those dialects are drastically different from each other, said Rufino Dominguez-Santos of the bi-national center.

In Oaxaca alone _ the Mexican state where the bulk of indigenous workers in Mount Vernon have come from _ twelve different languages are spoken, Dominguez-Santos said. Fourteen percent of Oaxacans who speak an indigenous language don't speak Spanish, according to Mexican census figures. Mexico's government recognizes 162 living languages, plus some 300 dialects.

"There's a lack of knowledge by immigration agents, police and social workers that there are a lot of languages spoken in Mexico," Dominguez-Santos.

In the Mount Vernon case, agents quickly recognized that the group didn't speak Spanish, said Lorie Dankers, ICE's spokeswoman in Seattle.

But the son of one of the arrested men arrested volunteered to translate, and did so for the two Mixtec speakers who joined 12 Spanish-speaking men in choosing "voluntary return," an option that lets illegal immigrants leave the U.S. quickly, avoiding detention and other sanctions, such as a 10-year entrance ban to the U.S.

"The supervisor observed the interview, based on the body language, he believes they fully understood," Dankers said.

ICE also has the option of contacting an interpretation service run by Philadelphia-based Language Services Associates, which says it has the ability to furnish interpreters for Mixtec and six other indigenous languages.

Using someone in the community is a common practice among law enforcement and other government agencies, but it can lead to trouble and misunderstandings. In many instances, concepts of American law don't translate easily into indigenous law and should be conveyed by a trained interpreter, Dominguez-Santos said.

"If you have a document where you purport to be giving up certain rights, then you have to have that document translated in a language you can understand in order for the process to comply with due process," said Jorge Baron, an attorney and executive director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a Seattle-based legal aid group. Baron's group helped in finding an interpreter for the men.

But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, cautions that access to interpreters for immigrants facing deportation is not a right.

"To think it's a right, our responsibility, to help you avoid being deported, it's kind of silly," Krikorian said. "If we don't have a translator in your obscure language, well, that's too bad."

His organization lobbies for stricter immigration enforcement. He said that bringing up the language barriers is a tactic by immigration attorneys to delay deportation.


On the Net:

Bi-national Center for the Development of the Oaxacan Indigenous Communities:

Center for Immigration Studies:

© 2009 The Associated Press

Plan to Solve Crisis: Let Immigrants Buy Houses

Plan to Solve Crisis: Let Immigrants Buy Houses
Posted Mar 19, 2009 03:52pm EDT by Aaron Task <>
Related: XHB <> , TLT , TOL <> , DHI , PHM <> , UUP , ^DJI

The Fed's actions to lower mortgage rates <> won't stop home prices from falling, because lower rates aren't enough to sop up the huge supply of excess housing inventory, says John Mauldin , president of Millennium Wave Advisors and author of the popular "Thoughts from the Frontline" e-letter.

Instead, Mauldin believes the U.S. government should pursue a controversial idea that's been floated a few times in the past year, including here by Gary Shilling <,%5Egspc,XHB,TLT,TOL,DHI,PHM> , among others: give immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they buy a house.

The economic benefits of this concept are potentially powerful:

An inflow of foreign money into the U.S. economy, which will both boost the dollar and the economy because of related spending.

Help sop up the supply of excess homes on the market, which will help put a floor under prices and revive the construction industry, creating jobs.

Help shore up America's middle class. This assumes most immigrants with the money to buy a home are educated, white-collar workers who can help do what immigrants have done throughout U.S. history - energize the country as they pursue the American dream.

Note: Mauldin doesn't support giving financial incentives to immigrants or making citizenship automatic with a home purchase. We discussed whether this idea could ever fly politically. Mauldin believes that many Americans would welcome hard-working individuals into their neighborhoods to put a floor on their own housing prices and make the local economy thrive. What do you think?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Workplace immigration funds may go to fight drug cartels

By Eileen Sullivan and Devlin Barrett The Associated Press
Posted: 03/18/2009 08:05:59 AM PDT

WASHINGTON (AP)- The Obama administration is preparing to send federal agents to the Southwest border as reinforcements in the fight against Mexican drug cartels, even as officials consider taking money from one immigration enforcement program and using it to fight cartel-related crime.

The deployments are part of President Barack Obama's first moves to boost federal security on the U.S. side of the border.

Immigration officials are considering asking Congress for approval to shift tens of millions of dollars from enforcing workplace immigration laws to the anti-cartel efforts along the Southwest border, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials have not made the request yet to Congress.

Such a request could face stiff resistance from lawmakers who want to see that money spent investigating employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, denied such a request would be made and said it was never under consideration.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Homeland Security officials have been discussing for the past week different ways to respond to growing violence along the border. The idea of shifting money from enforcement of workplace immigration laws came out of those talks.

Another official familiar with the plans said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, known as ICE, will be shifting more than 90 officers to the border. The official requested anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced.

Separately, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is hiring 37 people to target gunrunners operating along the border.

The additional immigration agents could double the size of an ongoing ICE task force that has been working with other federal agencies to fight the criminal organizations contributing to the border violence.

The ATF is hiring agents and support personnel to boost anti-gunrunning teams in McAllen, Texas; El Centro, Calif.; and Las Cruces, N.M.. ATF will also add attaches to U.S. consulates in Juarez and Tijuana. Some of the reinforcement costs will be covered with economic recovery money recently approved by Congress.

The U.S.-Mexico border has been a different problem for Obama than it was for his predecessor, George W. Bush. While Bush sent National Guard troops to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, Obama's first moves are designed more to keep violence from spilling across the border.

Mexican officials say the violence spawned by warring drug cartels killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 so far this year, mostly south of the border.

Over the weekend, hundreds of Mexican army troops arrived in Juarez, a border city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Police in Juarez have been swamped by drug violence. The move brought the number of soldiers patrolling the city to around 7,000.

Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, as well as killings in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Vancouver, British Columbia.

In Misery, in Danger, Hidden and Unheard

In Misery, in Danger, Hidden and Unheard
Immigrant Women's Health

MARCH 17, 2009
Detained and Dismissed
US: Immigration Detention Neglects Health

"I was starting to go blind," said Mary T. A diabetic, she was being held by US immigration authorities when her vision began to fail. I could only see shades of people," she said, "I couldn't see numbers or letters." She repeatedly complained to her jailers, but received no medical care for 15 days as her condition worsened. When a nurse was finally summoned, Mary T. recalled, the nurse asked her, "Why didn't you tell us?"

For Mary T., who regained her sight, and the thousands of other women detained each year by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), speaking up about health problems is not enough. Two new reports, one from Human Rights Watch and the other from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), document dozens of cases in which the immigration agency's medical staff either failed to respond to health problems of women in detention or responded only after considerable delays.

"Women in detention described violations such as shackling pregnant detainees or failing to follow up on signs of breast and cervical cancer, as well as basic affronts to their dignity," said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "Because immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, these abuses are especially dangerous. They remain largely hidden from public scrutiny or effective oversight."

Human Rights Watch researchers visited nine detention centers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, and interviewed 48 women detained or recently released from immigration detention, as well as detention facility staff and health care providers, immigration officials, immigration attorneys and advocates. The FIAC report is based on interviews, phone conversations and correspondence with detainees and jail and immigration officials. It also includes information from US government materials, newspaper articles and other data.

Women described struggling to obtain potentially life-saving services such as Pap smears to detect cervical cancer, mammograms to check for breast cancer, pre-natal care, counseling for survivors of violence, and even basic supplies such as sanitary pads or breast pumps for nursing mothers. The obstacles to health services included inadequate communication about available services, unexplained delays in treatment, unwarranted denial of services, breaches of confidentiality, and failure to transfer medical records. When women were denied services, complaint mechanisms were ineffective, according to the two reports.

More than 300,000 people were in immigration custody in 2008; women accounted for about 10 percent of the total. Immigration law violations are civil infractions, and detainees are held in administrative - not punitive - custody. The average stay is 38 days, but some detainees are held for months and even for years.

Under international standards, detainees are entitled to the same level of medical care as individuals in the community at large. Still, the researchers found a disturbing pattern of neglect. Before her detention, Lucia C., was told by her doctor to have semi-annual Pap smears because the results of her most recent procedure showed abnormalities. When she was detained at a county jail in New Jersey, authorities rebuffed her request for the procedure. "I was supposed to be checked every six months," she told Human Rights Watch. "I asked my daughter to send the records. I got it and I brought it to medical so they could see I'm not lying. I have asked a lot of times." Despite her efforts, Lucia C. did not receive a Pap smear over the 16 months spent in detention. "It's terrible because you feel like you have something you can die for ... and you don't have no assistance."

ICE health-care policy focuses on emergency care. Most of the difficulties arise when detainees require non-emergency care. ICE policy governing off-site medical visits permits non-emergency care only when lack of treatment would "cause deterioration of the detainee's health or uncontrolled suffering affecting his/her deportation status." This policy exists alongside a set of detention standards that were recently revised to upgrade medical care requirements for facilities, but that are not to take effect until 2010. For some of the women currently in custody, they may come too late.


ICE detains individuals at more than 500 facilities nationwide; Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS) personnel provide on-site medical services at 21 of these. At other facilities, medical care is contracted out along with other detention functions.

Women constitute 10 percent of the immigration detention population, currently a total of about 30,000 on any given day.

Women detainees are held in more than 300 facilities.

Half of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had experienced delays in receiving requested medical care and nearly as many were forced to make repeated appeals to obtain an appropriate response to their medical concerns.


Ensure that those currently detained are fairly and quickly considered for release and alternatives to detention;
Issue federal regulations so that ICE detention standards have the force of law, and detained individuals and their advocates have recourse to courts to redress shortfalls in health care;
Revamp and improve policies limiting access to non-emergency services;
--Stop detaining women who are suffering the effects of persecution or abuse, or who are pregnant or nursing infants;

Adopt specific standards addressing women's health services, including reproductive health services; and
Prohibit the shackling of pregnant women.

Documentary focuses on family detention center

Documentary focuses on family detention center
By ANABELLE GARAY Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
March 12, 2009, 5:31PM

DALLAS — A documentary chronicling the case of immigrant children held at a former prison with their families premieres next week at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.
"The Least of These" follows the 2007 lawsuit that led to changes at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, a Central Texas facility advocates contended inhumanely housed adults and children. It also focuses on four families who were detained at Hutto, including the Yourdkhanis, an Iranian couple who had been trying to reach Canada with their Canadian-born son.
"In the case of these four families, they all have very compelling and moving reasons to be in the country. They are all seeking asylum," Marcy Garriott, one of the film's producers, said Thursday.
Many of the Hutto detainees told of guards disciplining children by threatening to separate them from their parents, scant medical care and school days that lasted a few hours. Children were housed in tiny cells furnished by bunkbeds and a toilet. Concertina wire used to line the outside of the site.
In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic and the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae filed lawsuits on behalf of 26 children held at Hutto. They reached a settlement with the federal government that called for a softer environment and improved conditions at Hutto.
The settlement also ordered more oversight of the facility. Michelle Brane, one of the advocates featured in the film and director of the Women's Refugee Commission's Detention and Asylum Program, plans to return to Hutto on Tuesday to review the changes.
"The Least of These" is co-directed by Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda, both of whom also produced the film with Garriott, an Austin documentary filmmaker. It premieres Monday at SXSW and can be viewed for free online after premiering. Follow-up screenings are set for Wednesday and Friday at SXSW and later in the year at New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
"Our goal is really to raise awareness," Garriott said. "Our goal is not to convince people on one opinion or another ... it's whether this makes sense as a solution for keeping track of families."
On the Net:

Cities and counties rely on U.S. immigrant detention fees

Cities and counties rely on U.S. immigrant detention fees
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department and other agencies cover budget shortfalls and save positions using the federal payments.
By Anna Gorman

March 17, 2009 / From the Los Angeles Times

At a time when local law enforcement agencies are being forced to cut budgets and freeze hiring, cities across Southern California have found a growing source of income -- immigration detention.

Roughly two-thirds of the nation's immigrant detainees are held in local jails, and the payments to cities and counties for housing them have increased as the federal government has cracked down on illegal immigrants with criminal records and outstanding deportation orders.

Washington paid nearly $55.2 million to house detainees at 13 local jails in California in fiscal year 2008, up from $52.6 million the previous year. The U.S. is on track to spend $57 million this year.

The largest federal contract in the state is with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, whose 1,400-bed detention center in Lancaster is dedicated to housing immigrants either awaiting deportation or fighting their cases in court. The department received $34.7 million in 2008, up from $32.3 million the previous year.

Some smaller cities have seen their income rise much faster. Glendale received nearly $260,000 in 2008, triple what it got the previous year. In Alhambra, last year's $247,000 was more than double the previous year's payments.

For some cash-strapped cities, the federal money has become a critical source of revenue, covering budget shortfalls and saving positions.

Santa Ana's Police Department, for example, expects as much as a 15% budget cut and has had a hiring freeze since October that has resulted in more than 60 sworn and civilian positions remaining vacant, Police Chief Paul Walters said. To offset reductions, Walters plans to convert two multipurpose rooms at the 480-bed jail into dormitory rooms this spring. That will accommodate an additional 32 immigrant detainees, which he expects will bring in $1 million more in revenue each year. He also hopes to get approval to raise the nightly price per detainee from $82 to $87.

"We treat [the jail] as a business," Walters said. "The cuts could have been much deeper if it weren't for the ability to raise money there."

When Santa Ana received bond money to build a police headquarters and jail, it did so with the future in mind. Rather than constructing a facility to house its own inmates, it built a much larger facility and soon started contracting with Orange County and state and federal governments.

The federal contracts cover nearly the entire cost of the jail, said Russell Davis, the jail administrator. On a recent day, the jail housed 20 Santa Ana arrestees, 283 U.S. Marshals prisoners and 165 immigration detainees. Some of the detainees, from Mexico, Vietnam, El Salvador and elsewhere, had landed in immigration custody after serving state prison sentences. Others were arrested after ignoring deportation orders or because of criminal records that made them eligible for deportation.

The contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency brought in more than $3.7 million in 2007 and $4.8 million last year.

If he had to do it all over again, Davis said, he would have built another floor on the jail.

The immigration agency "is inundated with detainees," he said. "If I had 100 more beds, they'd fill them."

Immigrant detainees stay in the local jails anywhere from a few hours to many months. At most jails, they are not separated from the rest of the population.

Not everyone is as pleased as Davis over those arrangements. Immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns about local jails not following federal detention standards and not segregating detainees from people suspected of committing crimes.

"Immigration detention is civil, not criminal," said Ahilan Arulanantham, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "If you are holding them in the same place, that distinction is meaningless."

Even though the cities may benefit financially, the savings do not get passed along to taxpayers, he said. "We're still paying for it," he said. "It's still a waste of resources to detain people who do not need to be detained."

Several of the foreign nationals housed in Santa Ana said they believed they should be let out on bond rather than incarcerated while fighting their immigration cases, especially if they had no criminal records or had already served their time.

Victor Hidalgo, 36, finished a five-year sentence in state prison on a drug charge before being transferred into immigration custody. Hidalgo, who is from Nicaragua, said he and others have jobs, families and homes here and are not a danger to society.

"We're not national security risks," he said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the jails that house detainees for more than 72 hours -- including in Santa Ana and Lancaster -- are subject to "stringent detention standards" and undergo inspection by a contracted company. Other jails are inspected regularly by the immigration agency.

The federal contracts with local jails began about a decade ago but have expanded over the last few years. The federal government operates some of its own detention centers and contracts with private companies to run others but relies heavily on the local jails.

The cost varies from around $80 to just over $100 per detainee per day, generally less expensive than the cost of housing detainees at federal immigration facilities.

"These facilities enable us to place detainees at appropriate sites with minimal travel so we can begin the removal process quickly," Kice said.

In Southern California, the need for bed space became more pressing after the immigration agency closed the San Pedro detention center on Terminal Island in 2007. And in Northern California, where there is no dedicated immigration detention center, Santa Clara County began housing the detainees in 2003.

"It was a strategy to help us financially," said Edward Flores, chief of Santa Clara County's Department of Correction.

Those budget cuts have only gotten worse, with the county expecting $1.25 million less in fiscal year 2010.

In turn, the federal contract has become even more important. Flores said he expects to make up about half the expected deficit with federal contracts, both with the immigration agency and the U.S. Marshals Service. He is also trying to negotiate a higher nightly rate.

The county received nearly $7 million to house detainees in 2008.

"We have become very reliant on this revenue," Flores said.

Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

Emergency plans would send troops to Mexican border

By Chris Strohm


March 12, 2009The Homeland Security Department has drawn up emergency plans for dispatching U.S. military personnel to the nation's southwest border if violence in Mexico continues to spiral out of control, but such action would occur only as a last resort, a senior department official told lawmakers Thursday.The department has been "actively engaged" with the National Guard, the Defense Department and U.S. Northern Command in planning for worst-case scenarios along the Mexican border, retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Roger Rufe, director of Homeland Security's office of operations coordination, told the House Homeland Security Border Subcommittee."The most extreme measure would be calling upon significant DoD support, which we don't see [the need for] at the present time but nevertheless is there," he said. Rufe said deploying troops is one part of a series of contingency plans the department has developed.National Guard troops were sent to the border under the Bush administration as part of an effort called Operation Jumpstart. But that program ended in the summer. President Obama said on Wednesday that his administration will examine "whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense," according to McClatchy Newspapers.Obama said he did not have a trigger in mind that would tip the scale in favor of sending Guard troops back to the border. At Thursday's hearing, lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to obtain information from Homeland Security officials about what would prompt a U.S. military response to Mexican violence. "There's no real bright line about what that tipping point would be," Rufe said. "That is essentially a last resort." He said the department does not want to militarize the border, adding that there is no plan to keep the National Guard along the border on a prolonged basis.Lawmakers questioned whether U.S. laws need to be changed, either to curb the availability of weapons in the United States or to improve federal interagency cooperation. Arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico is the primary source of weapons for drug cartels, according to officials from both countries. "If you stop the growth of marijuana, you don't have to worry about it being sold. We have to approach guns the same way," said Rep. Al Green, D-Texas. Homeland Security Border Subcommittee Chairwoman Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., told department officials to inform her panel in writing if any legislative changes are needed. Salvador Nieto, a senior official with Customs and Border Protection, said his agency does not have enough personnel or the right infrastructure to inspect all vehicles traveling from the United States to Mexico to determine if they are smuggling weapons.

Workers Without Borders

March 10, 2009
Workers Without Borders


AMERICANS are hardly in the mood to welcome new immigrants. The last thing we need, the reasoning goes, is more competition for increasingly scarce jobs. But the need for immigration reform is more urgent than ever. The current system hurts wages and working conditions — for everyone.

Today, millions of undocumented immigrants accept whatever wage is offered. They don’t protest out of fear of being fired or deported. A few hundred thousand guest workers, brought in for seasonal and agricultural jobs, know that asserting their rights could result in a swift flight home. This system traps migrants in bad jobs and ends up lowering wages all around.

The solution lies in greater mobility for migrants and a new emphasis on workers’ rights. If migrants could move between jobs, they would be free to expose abusive employers. They would flow to regions with a shortage of workers, and would also be able to return to their home countries when the outlook there brightened, or if jobs dried up here.

Imagine if the United States began admitting migrants on the condition that they join a network of workers’ organizations here and in their home countries — a sort of transnational union. Migrants could work here legally. They could take jobs anywhere in the country and stay as long as they liked. But they would have to promise to report employers that violated labor laws. They could lose their visas by breaking that promise.

This plan, which I call Transnational Labor Citizenship, would give employers access to many more workers on fair terms. It would give people from countries like Mexico greater opportunities to earn the remittances upon which their families and economies rely. It would address the inconsistency and inhumanity of policies that support free trade in goods and jobs but bar the free movement of people.

How could we make this happen? Congress could certainly mandate the change. If that seems unlikely, we could start with a bilateral labor migration agreement with a country like Mexico, making membership in a transnational workers’ organization and a commitment to uphold workplace laws a requirement for Mexicans to obtain work here.

We might try a smaller pilot project involving a single union in an industry like residential construction or agriculture. One model would be the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s guest worker union, which protects migrant agricultural workers on some North Carolina farms. The union provides representation and benefits wherever the workers are. It has organizers near North Carolina’s tobacco and cucumber fields, and an office in Mexico, where the laborers return home for the winter.

Migrant mobility has been tried with success in the European Union. When the Union expanded in 2004 to include eight Eastern European countries, workers in Western Europe feared a flood of job seekers who would drive down wages. In Britain, for example, the volume of newcomers from countries like Poland was staggering. Instead of the prediction of roughly 50,000 migrants in four years, more than a million arrived.

Yet, as far as economists can tell, the influx did not take a serious toll on native workers’ wages or employment. (Of course, what happens in the global downturn remains to be seen.) Migrants who were not trapped in exploitative jobs flocked to areas that needed workers and shunned the intense competition of big cities. And when job opportunities grew in Poland or shrank in Britain, fully half went home again.

To be sure, Europe’s approach has its problems. Some migrants were cheated on their wages and worked in unsafe conditions. This illustrates that mobility alone is not enough. We also need good workplace protections, and effective support to realize them.

Unions could play a key role in rights enforcement if they embraced migrants as potential members, becoming for the first time truly transnational institutions. And government could partner with workers’ organizations. Recently, the New York Department of Labor announced that it had begun to work with immigrant centers and unions to catch violators. This is a promising example of a new alliance to protect the rights of both immigrants and native-born workers.

Like it or not, until we address the vast inequalities across the globe, those who want to migrate will find a way. Despite stepped-up enforcement at the borders, hundreds of thousands of immigrants still come illegally to the United States every year. Raids terrorize immigrants but do not make them go home. Instead, rigid quotas, harsh immigration laws and heavy-handed enforcement lock people in. As the recession deepens, undocumented immigrants will hunker down more. They may work less, for worse pay, but they will be terrified to go home out of fear they can never return.

The United States needs an open and fair system, not a holding pen. The best way forward is to create an immigration system with protection for all workers at its core.

Jennifer Gordon is a professor of labor and immigration law at Fordham Law School.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Border agency draws fire for weapons traffic to Mexico

Border agency draws fire for weapons traffic to Mexico

By Chris Strohm


March 11, 2009

For years, the Homeland Security Department has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent illegal immigrants and drugs from coming into the country across the southern border. Now the department is under heavy fire for not stopping the flow of illegal weapons from the United States to Mexico.Homeland Security officials told lawmakers Tuesday they are quickly trying to clamp down on arms trafficking into Mexico that is fueling a bloody war between drug cartels and the Mexican government.According to the Mexican government, about 90 percent of weapons seized from the cartels came illegally from the United States.One shipment seized in November included 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 288 assault rifles, 287 grenades, two grenade launchers and a rocket launcher used to take out tanks, Mexico's ambassador to the United States wrote recently in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ramping up its ability to inspect vehicles traveling through checkpoints into Mexico, Jayson Ahern, the agency's acting commissioner, told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee at a hearing Tuesday.The effort includes using nonintrusive inspection equipment and dogs to find weapons, Ahern said. He added that the department's fiscal 2010 budget request in April will include initiatives to inspect southbound traffic.But lawmakers expressed frustration over the lack of coordination among U.S. agencies to combat arms smuggling.House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., demanded a detailed report explaining what CBP is doing, and what Immigration and Customs Enforcement is doing, to address the situation.Price said he wants the report to include what kinds of weapons are being smuggled from the United States into Mexico.Other lawmakers said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an arm of the Justice Department, lacks enough resources to inspect firearm dealers in the United States.Ahern said stopping illegal arms smuggling depends on assistance from the Mexican government, especially through inspections at Mexico's border checkpoints.He said after the hearing that CBP is examining what it needs in terms of checkpoint improvements and technology to sustain inspection efforts of southbound traffic over time. He said everything is under consideration, from scanners to personnel.Feinstein and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., want the Senate to ratify the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.To date, 29 countries have ratified the convention, including Mexico -- but not the United States.Feinstein and Durbin wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., asking them to consider the convention and report it to the full Senate.They said ratification would "provide an unequivocal statement that the United States is serious about stemming the tide of weapons flowing to Mexico."Feinstein asked President Obama in a letter Monday to support ratification of the convention."The bottom line is this: Mexican drug cartels are spewing death and destruction across large swaths of territory along the U.S.-Mexican border which will inevitably spill over to the American side and threaten American lives," Feinstein wrote.Lawmakers emphasized at Tuesday's hearing they worry that violence will spread in the United States due to Mexico's drug wars."This is a war with potentially devastating consequences for the United States," said Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky."Don't tell me there's no spillover possibility in the United States," he added. "And yet I don't believe we're taking it seriously."Ahern said CBP has developed contingency plans under which it would flow more personnel and technology to the border if needed. He declined to provide details on the contingency plans to reporters after the hearing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

40 Years of Youth Liberation

This is beautiful!


40 Years of Youth Liberation
New America Media, Commentary,

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez, Posted: Mar 15, 2009

In my class, History of Red-Brown Journalism & Communications, at the University of Arizona, I see the future mayor of Tucson. I see it in her eyes. In another student, I see the next Sandra Cisneros. I hear it in her Xochitl In Cuicatl – in her poetry and song. I also see the next Ruben Salazar. In others, I’m not sure if I’m seeing Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta or Barack Obama. In still others, I see temixtianis or great teachers, members of the noblest profession.

These same students are found in every corner of the nation. Some of them are former students of Raza Studies at Tucson Unified School District. Others are direct descendants of the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, convened by Denver’s Crusade for Justice. Others are members of Movimiento Estudiantli Chicano de Aztlan or MEChA, also founded 40 years ago.

I can proudly say that I was part of that movement in its incipient Stages. Not as a founder, but simply as a youngster who was swept up in this youth liberation movement. I was not even Chicano, but what one of my students terms a Mexican Mexicano. I never got be a Mexican American, much less Hispanic. In spirit, this volcanic political eruption was akin to the Mexican Independence Movement of 1810 and also the Mexican Revolution of 1910. We rebelled, not simply because of a war or because of the daily denigration in the schools, the streets or the factories, in the cities and fields; more than anything, we rebelled against dehumanization.

Often missing from history’s pages is preeminent American-Indian scholar Jack Forbes, who was part of the founding of another movement in the early 1960s: Movimiento Nativo Americano or the Native American Movement, which at its core called upon people of Mexican, Central and South American origin to reclaim their Indigenous roots. This was the antecedent for the Chicano Movement.

And now, we know that Mexican youth in this country had actually rebelled in the previous generation, creating the Mexican American Movement. Pioneer University of Southern California journalism professor Felix Gutierrez, whose parents were part of this national organization, recalls that they did not use acronyms in those days. But they, too, fought for their human rights.

If you did deep enough, you find that Mexicans in this country have been rebelling against oppression since 1848. That’s what the students in my class are finding out. Particularly, they are finding writers from the 1800s and early 1900s – many of them women – who led and/or documented many of these struggles. But it is said that the rebellions actually started even earlier, when the first arrow was shot at the Spanish conquistadores.

This 1960s Movement was tumultuous and convulsive. Some of what was created was romantic or idealistic. And some of it was not very liberating. Chicanas had to rebel to assert Chicana Power! Mexicanos/Mexicanas, Central/South Americans, Indigenous peoples, or peoples from the LGBT community weren't included in the liberation, either.

All these communities continue to have to assert their rights as full human beings. Yet, it cannot be denied that a tornado-like force was unleashed that created something unique, including the discipline of Raza or Chicano/Chicano Studies. Where once people denied their Mexicanness and/or their Indigeneity – and meekly accepted their subjugation--people began to grasp for anything that affirmed our right to exist.

Whereas a generation ago young Chicanos, including Mechistas, competed to see who was the most Chicano/Indigenous and revolutionary, we now see them express more clearly a broader concern for all of humanity. I see it in their opposition to yet another interventionist war, their fight against the criminalization and incarceration of youth of color and in their battles against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who is now being investigated by the feds for racial profiling). I have seen it when these youth, some as young as 10, testify before bureaucrats in defense of and for the expansion of Raza Studies. They fight not simply for their rights, but the rights of all peoples.

Forty years later, the fire remains. So, too, the courage, love and intelligence. And it continues to evolve. It’s called Ollin or movement. Wisdom or 52 years is around the corner, and with it, human liberation. Not simply resistance, but Creation.

Rodriguez, who writes columns for New America Media, including Arizona
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

TAMIU students fell cane

TAMIU students fell cane
TAMIU student Crystal Compass was one of many who cut carrizo Saturday.
Published: Sunday, March 8, 2009 6:17 AM CDT

Students from TAMIU labored tirelessly in humid, sticky temperatures Saturday morning cutting down the carrizo cane that blankets the banks of the Rio Grande next to LCC.

In a combination of community service and political activism, students came out to show their anger at the Border Patrol's plans to aerially spray 16 miles of Rio Grande vegetation with a toxic herbicide.

"They want to create a clear site to the river," said Jay Johnson-Castro, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center.

"There is a better way to do this."

Passion in action

The students joined forces to show the Border Patrol that cutting the cane down is more environmentally friendly than killing it with chemicals.

"When I first heard about this, I was upset; we all feel really passionate about what (Border Patrol wants) to do," said Charlotte Jackson, a member of the Student Government Association at Texas A&M International University and one of the organizers of the day's efforts.

According to Johnson-Castro, the Border Patrol will be using a helicopter to spray the chemical imazapyr, which will kill not only the carrizo cane but also many indigenous plants and animals in the area.

"We have nothing against getting rid of the (cane)," he said.

"But you don't have to kill all the good stuff to get to the bad stuff."

The area that will be sprayed with the herbicide is home to over 1,000 species of animal: 633 bird, 184 mammalian, 65 amphibian and 156 reptilian.

Johnson-Castro added that the chemical will also penetrate 3 feet into the soil and eventually run off into the river.

"The (Border Patrol) has every intent of doing this, and we have every intent of doing everything we can to stop it," Castro-Johnson said.

According to Jackson, in only a couple of weeks, she and TAMIU's student government were able to organize students and get about 70 volunteers to come and help.

"The community has no idea what is going on," Johnson-Castro said.

"There are a lot of people just as passionate as I am who want to help."

As an alternative to chemically spraying the area, Johnson-Castro and the students are asking the Border Patrol to simply hire people to cut down the cane.

"The Border Patrol has $1.5 million at (its) disposal for this project; rather than waste it (on chemicals), they could use it to put people to work," Johnson-Castro said.

According to Jackson, pulling the cane down is simple and not too time-consuming.

"It's not hard; I'm pretty girly, and I can do it," Jackson said.

"(Using the cutter,) it's a matter of swinging your arms from side to side."

The TAMIU student government currently has no plans for any further protests, but according to the president of the association, James Cortez, the group may feel the need to hold another protest in the future.

(Taryn White may be reached at 728-2568 or

Copyright © 2009 - Laredo Morning Times

Thursday, March 5, 2009

State of War

State of War

By Sam Quinones

March/April 2009

Mexico’s hillbilly drug smugglers have morphed into a raging insurgency. Violence claimed more lives there last year alone than all the Americans killed in the war in Iraq. And there’s no end in sight.

Tomas Bravo / Reuters

What I remember most about my return to Mexico last year are the narcomantas. At least that’s what everyone called them: “drug banners.” Perhaps a dozen feet long and several feet high, they were hung in parks and plazas around Monterrey. Their messages were hand-painted in black block letters. They all said virtually the same thing, even misspelling the same name in the same way. Similar banners appeared in eight other Mexican cities that day—Aug. 26, 2008.

The banners were likely the work of the Gulf drug cartel, one of the biggest drug gangs in Mexico. Its rival from the Pacific Coast, the Sinaloa cartel, had moved into Gulf turf near Texas, and now the groups were fighting a propaganda war as well as an escalating gun battle. One banner accused the purported leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, of being protected by Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the army. After some time, the city’s police showed up politely to take the banners down.

I’d recently lived in Mexico for a decade, but I’d never seen anything like this. I left in 2004—as it turned out, just a year before Mexico’s long-running trouble with drug gangs took a dark new turn for the worse. Monterrey was the safest region in the country when I lived there, thanks to its robust economy and the sturdy social control of an industrial elite. The narcobanners were a chilling reminder of how openly and brazenly the drug gangs now operate in Mexico, and how little they fear the police and government.

That week in Monterrey, newspapers reported, Mexico clocked 167 drug-related murders. When I lived there, they didn’t have to measure murder by the week. There were only about a thousand drug-related killings annually. The Mexico I returned to in 2008 would end that year with a body count of more than 5,300 dead. That’s almost double the death toll from the year before—and more than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq since that war began.

But it wasn’t just the amount of killing that shocked me. When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

Then there are the guns. When I lived in Mexico, its cartels were content with assault rifles and large-caliber pistols, mostly bought at American gun shops. Now, Mexican authorities are finding arsenals that would have been incomprehensible in the Mexico I knew. The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, was in Mexico not long ago, and this is what he found:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

These are the weapons the drug gangs are now turning against the Mexican government as Calderón escalates the war against the cartels.

Mexico’s surge in gang violence has been accompanied by a similar spike in kidnapping. This old problem, once confined to certain unstable regions, is now a nationwide crisis. While I was in Monterrey, the supervisor of the city’s office of the AFI—Mexico’s FBI—was charged with running a kidnapping ring. The son of a Mexico City sporting-goods magnate was recently kidnapped and killed. Newspapers reported that women in San Pedro, once one of Mexico’s safest cities, now take classes in surviving abductions.

All of this is taking a toll on Mexicans who had been insulated from the country’s drug violence. Elites are retreating to bunkered lives behind video cameras and security gates. Others are fleeing for places like San Antonio and McAllen, Texas. Among them is the president of Mexico’s prominent Grupo Reforma chain of newspapers. My week in Mexico last August ended with countrywide marches of people dressed in white, holding candles and demanding an end to the violence.

In Monterrey, most were from Mexico’s middle and upper classes, people who view protests as the province of workers and radicals. In all my time in the country, I had seen such people turn to protest only once: during the 1994 peso crisis, when Mexico was on the brink of economic collapse.

I’ve traveled through most of Mexico’s 31 states. I’ve written two books about the country. And yet I now struggle to recognize the place. Mexico is wracked by a criminal-capitalist insurgency. It is fighting for its life. And most Americans seem to have no idea what’s happening right next door.

What happened in the four years I was gone? Fueled by American demand, dope was always there, of course. So was a surplus of weapons and gangs to use them. When I lived in Mexico, drug violence was a story, but not the story it is today.

I remember grander concerns back then: Mexico peacefully shedding 70 years of one-party authoritarian rule and dreaming of becoming a stable and prosperous democracy. But Mexico’s one-party state, led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), gave way to the control of a few parties, which were as inert and unaccountable as their authoritarian forebears. They bickered about minutiae in congress, and the hoped-for reforms didn’t come. The PRI’s centralized political control was gone, but nothing effectively took its place. This vacuum unleashed new opportunities for criminality, and Mexico’s institutions weren’t up to the new threats that emerged.

Most of the cartels that now battle for drug routes into the United States emerged in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa—a mid-sized Mexican state with an outsized drug problem. Mexican drug smuggling began primarily among rural and mountain people from lawless villages who are known to be especially bronco—wild. Marijuana and opium poppies grow easily in Sinaloa’s hills. A narcoculture has evolved there, venerating smugglers and their swaggering hillbilly style, called buchon. Hicks became heroes. They moved into wealthy neighborhoods and fired guns in the air at parties. Bands sing their exploits; college kids know how they died. Sinaloa is that rare place where townies emulate hayseeds, and youths yearn to join their ranks.

These renegades have grown into a national security threat since I’ve been away from Mexico. One reason is that regional drug markets have changed a lot in the past few years. The Colombian government grew more successful against narcotraffickers who had taken over large parts of Colombia. Enforcement in the Caribbean also improved. Once-settled Mexican smuggling routes suddenly became the best way to move dope through Latin America and into the United States. Those routes were now up for grabs, and much more was at stake. Old gang enmities exploded. Mexico’s cartels could not let their rivals take over new drug routes for fear they’d grow stronger. The gangs began vying for turf in an increasingly savage war with a constantly shifting front: Acapulco, Monterrey, Tijuana, Juárez, Nogales, and of course Sinaloa.

With war raging between Mexico’s narcogangs, and with plenty of cash available from drug sales to Americans—$25 billion a year, by one reliable estimate—cartel gunmen began to grow discontented with the limited selection of arms found in the thousands of gun stores along the southern U.S. border. Instead, they have sought out—and acquired—the world’s fiercest weaponry. Today, hillbilly pistoleros are showing signs of becoming modern paramilitaries.

Mexico’s gangs had the means and motive to create upheaval, and in Mexico’s failure to reform into a modern state, especially at local levels, the cartels found their opportunity. Mexico has traditionally starved its cities. They have weak taxing power. Their mayors can’t be reelected. Constant turnover breeds incompetence, improvisation, and corruption. Local cops are poorly paid, trained, and equipped. They have to ration bullets and gas and are easily given to bribery. Their morale stinks. So what should be the first line of defense against criminal gangs is instead anemic and easily compromised. Mexico has been left handicapped, and gangs that would have been stomped out locally in a more effective state have been able to grow into a powerful force that now attacks the Mexican state itself.

The first sign of trouble was Nuevo Laredo in late 2005. The Gulf and Sinaloa cartels staged street shootouts and midnight assassinations for months in this border city, which the Gulf cartel had controlled. One police chief lasted only hours from his swearing-in to his assassination. The state and municipal police took sides in the cartel fight. Newspapers had to stop reporting the news for fear of retaliation.

Enter Calderón, who took office in late 2006, determined to address the growing war among Mexico’s cartels. He broke with old half-measures of cargo takedowns that looked good but did little to damage the cartels. Calderón wanted arrests. He also began extraditing to the United States the capos and their lieutenants—more than 90 so far—who were already in custody and wanted up north.

But when Calderón looked across Mexico for allies to help him escalate the war on the narcogangs, he found few local governments and police forces that hadn’t been starved to dysfunction. So he has had to rely on the only tool up to the task: Mexico’s military. Calderón has also turned to the United States for help. The Merida Initiative, launched in April 2008, is a 10-fold increase in U.S. security assistance to a proposed $1.4 billion over several years, supplying Mexican forces with high-end equipment from helicopters to surveillance technology.

Fighting criminal gangs with a national military is an imperfect solution, but Calderón has scored some victories. He has captured or killed key gang leaders. Weapons seizures have been massive. Last November, the Mexican Army seized a house in Reynosa that contained the largest weapons cache ever found in the country, including more than 540 rifles, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, and 165 grenades.

The cartels have responded to Calderón’s war with the kind of buchon savagery that so struck me upon returning to Mexico. In addition to fighting each other, the cartels are now increasingly fighting the Mexican state as well, and the killing shows no sign of slowing. The Mexican Army is outgunned, even with U.S. support. Calderón’s purges of hundreds of public officials for corruption, cops among them, may look impressive, but they accomplish little. The problem isn’t individuals; it’s systemic. Until cities have the power and funding to provide strong and well-paid local police, Mexico’s criminal gangs will remain a national threat, not a regional nuisance.

There’s little reason to believe 2009 won’t look a lot like 2008. And there’s reason to fear it will be worse. The financial crisis is hitting Mexico hard. How long it can hang on is unclear. The momentum still favors the gangs, meaning the bloodshed will likely subside only when they tire of warring.

Americans watch this upheaval with curious detachment. One warning sign is Phoenix. This city has replaced Miami as the prime gateway for illegal drugs entering the United States. Cartel chaos in Mexico is pushing bad elements north along with the dope—enforcers without work and footloose to freelance.

Phoenix—the snowbird getaway, the land of yellow cardigans and emerald fairways—is now awash in kidnappings—366 in 2008 alone, up from 96 a decade ago. Most committing these crimes hail from Sinaloa, several hundred miles south. In one alarming incident, a gang of Mexican nationals, dressed in Phoenix police uniforms and using high-powered weapons and military tactics, stormed a drug dealer’s house in a barrage of gunfire, killing him and taking his dope.

Phoenix is hanging tough—for now. Its capable local police, so desperately lacking in Mexico, are managing to quarantine the problem. No one unconnected to smuggling has been abducted, police say, and no kidnapping victim has been lost in a case they have been asked to investigate. As a result, most Phoenix residents live blithely unaware that hundreds of people in the smuggling underworld are kidnapped in their midst every year.

Still, violence and criminality are moving north at a rapid pace, and Americans would be foolhardy to imagine capable police departments like Phoenix’s going for long without cracking under the pressure. As one Phoenix police officer told me, “Our fear is, we’re going to meet our match.”

Sam Quinones, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, is author of two books on Mexico. His Web site is