Making the border less enticing to cross



CCIS Associate Director David FitzGerald comments on what migrants in Mexico know about enforcement and dangers at the border.


U.S. Border Patrol agents are taking a more proactive tactic to deter migrants: asking Mexican and Central American TV and radio stations and newspapers for the opportunity to tell of the dangers of crossing illegally.

BY PALOMA ESQUIVEL, Los Angeles Times   APRIL 8, 2012

The federal government has tried just about everything to stop the flow of migrants crossing the border illegally. It boosted the number of Border Patrol agents, made punishment harsher, deployed drones and motion sensors, built and rebuilt fences. For years it has even quietly funded the dissemination in Mexico of songs and mini-documentaries about dangers at the border.

Now it is using a more proactive tactic: Since last year, agents in Arizona have called Mexican and Central American television and radio stations and newspapers, asking for the opportunity to tell of the dangers of crossing illegally, particularly through the Sonoran Desert.

The outreach, which was initially greeted with skepticism, is being embraced.

Newspapers in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Michoacan have run stories based on their accounts. Outlets in El Salvador and Guatemala have followed suit. Some ran photos provided by the Border Patrol of packed safe houses and emergency rescues.

“Immigrants are mistreated, assaulted, lied to, made fun of and women are often raped,” was the lead to one story in El Diario de Hoy, a daily newspaper in El Salvador.

The efforts are considered successful enough that this year the agents expanded them to U.S. cities with large immigrant communities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta. The goal on this side of the border is to persuade residents to warn family members back home about treacherous conditions, particularly along the Arizona border, agents said.

“Our message is: If you do decide to come, don’t come through Arizona,” said Border Patrol spokesman Andy Adame. “We’re seeing a big increase in smuggler abuse; robberies with AK-47s and pistols, knives; rapes of women, more physical abuses — not only in the desert but in safe houses where people are tied up with duct tape.”

What effect the public relations effort will have on migrants is unclear. The number of apprehensions at the border is already down dramatically. There were 340,000 last year, compared with 1.6 million in 2000, a drop many experts attribute to fewer migrants attempting to cross.

And many of the threats are already well known. For years, the Mexican government and media have warned migrants about the danger posed by extreme temperatures, crime and U.S. enforcement.

Since 2004 the Border Patrol has spent about $1.1 million annually to anonymously fund the dissemination of musical corridos, mini-documentaries and other public service announcements depicting tragedies at the border.

The campaign, called No Mas Cruces, is not openly sponsored by the U.S. government, in part to make “the message more palatable for the intended audience,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kerry Rogers.

Some critics have denounced the program for lack of transparency. But government officials consider it successful. One of the songs was nominated for a Latin Grammy. And this year, the program will include an art exhibit of tragedies and dangers that will travel to several small towns in Mexico, Rogers said.

David Fitzgerald and others at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego have spent the last several years researching what migrants in Mexico know about enforcement and dangers at the border and how that knowledge affects whether they decide to come to the U.S.

“People are aware that it’s extremely dangerous and that a lot of people are dying,” he said. “They have very high levels of knowledge in terms of what’s going on at the border.”

The researchers found evidence to suggest that people who think the U.S. economy is bad and that the border is very dangerous were less likely to migrate.

Still, the vast majority of people polled who tried to cross illegally into the country succeeded, he said. More than 95% eventually made it through, even after they were apprehended multiple times.

Adame, the Border Patrol agent, and Chris Leon, a Customs and Border Protection official involved in the efforts, said the outreach provides crucial information to migrants. Since October there have been 83 deaths at the Arizona border. Routes are more dangerous now, they said, in part because of increased enforcement.

In their experience, many migrants rely on information provided by people who crossed the border several years ago.

“A lot of times they’ll contact someone who is already here and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, five years ago I came through. It was easy,’ ” Adame said. “A lot has changed in those last five years, including enforcement being tougher so smugglers are having to take the migrants out further.”

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‘After Civil Rights’ explores ‘racial realism’ in the workplace (Florida Courier)

CCIS co-director John Skrentny’s book “After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace” is discussed in the Florida Courier.


BY DR. GLENN C. ALTSCHULER
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER

Over two decades ago, Harvard Law Professor Martha Minow described “the dilemma of difference.” When does treating people differently “stigmatize or hinder them on that basis,” she asked. “And when does treating people the same become insensitive to their difference and likely to stigmatize or hinder them on that basis?”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided one answer to these questions.  An affirmation of classical liberalism, Title VII declared any action based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin that adversely affects the terms and conditions of employment to be unlawful.  Nor does Title VII permit racially motivated decisions driven by business concerns, including the preferences of clients or customers.

Less prominent in law, affirmative action infused race with significance in employment.  Politically charged and controversial, it is tolerated, if at all, as a temporary fix that does not replace color-blind policies – and is confined to situations where imbalances in the composition of the workforce can be authoritatively attributed to past discriminatory practices.

Making assumptions
Both approaches, John Skrentny, a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, points out, are out of sync with actual workplace practices.  In “After Civil Rights,’’ Skrentny demonstrates that in many, many fields, ranging from media to marketing, meatpacking and medicine, employers use perceived or actual racial abilities in recruitment, hiring, and on the job assignments.

“Racial realism,” Skrentny argues, can open doors of opportunity; it can also “freeze in place” racial – and racist – assumptions.  Too widespread to be rolled back, he emphasizes, race-conscious employment dynamics should not “run unchecked as it does today.”

Employment practices
“After Civil Rights’’ makes a compelling case for the pervasiveness of race-conscious employment practices.  Presidents take race into account when making appointments.  Patients express greater satisfaction with the quality of their health care when they are treated by physicians who share their racial or ethnic background.

News organizations hire African-American anchors to attract Black viewers – and assign Latino journalists to cover the Latino community (“the taco beat”).  Retailers admit to race matching sales personnel to their client base.  And many low-skilled jobs go to immigrants because employers deem them more likely to work hard, without complaints and for lower wages, than African-Americans or Whites.

It is by no means clear, however, that “racial realism” in employment produces positive results.  While police officers of different races vary in their knowledge of neighborhoods, Skrentny notes, studies have found little evidence of different behavior.  And a nationwide study showed that the race of teachers did not have an impact on how much students learned.

Mended, not ended
Nonetheless, the advantages of policies based on market realities and employer discretion are obvious.

After all, some would argue, the Harlem Globetrotters and the producers of “Othello’’ should confine their searches to Blacks. And yet, as Skrentny observes, legitimizing race-based BFOQ (“bona fide occupational qualifications”) exceptions to anti-discrimination laws would not only be difficult to draft and expensive, but could be used to defend the preferences of racist customers.

What, then, should be done?  Skrentny suggests that “racial realism” be mended, not ended.  To start the conversation, he advocates multi-cultural training programs in areas where employers believe race is a qualification; interpreting laws to give “breathing room” to initiatives designed to benefit members of minority groups; requiring validation of practices predicated on “racial abilities” and “racial signaling;” and more responsible corporate behavior in locating firms, setting wages, employing immigrants, guaranteeing workplace safety, and taking responsibility for displaced workers.

“After Civil Rights’’ leaves no doubt that current workplace realities – and practices – have diverged from statutes and constitutional interpretations of them.  The “strategic management of racial differences” may or may not always be necessary “to achieve a wide variety of goals in a wide array of contexts.”

But, as Skrentny urges, for now, and for the foreseeable future, we must do a better job of aligning workplace practices “with our values and our laws.”

Dr. Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He wrote this review for the Florida Courier.

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California Congressman To Propose Middle Road On Immigration Reform (KPBS)

BY JILL REPOGLE   NOVEMBER 4, 2013

Southern California Congressman Darrell Issa is rumored to be cooking up his own immigration reform proposal. It’s reportedly designed to find some middle ground in the contentious debate over providing legal status to the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Issa’s district stretches along the coast from UC San Diego in La Jolla to southern Orange County. The district leans heavily Republican: Issa won the 2012 election with a 16-point lead.

Issa’s constituents are mostly white and largely affluent. Still, Issa isn’t immune to the demographic changes taking place throughout California and the nation. About one-quarter of Issa’s district is Latino, and close to 50 percent of his hometown of Vista is now Latino.

Polls have shown that the majority of Latinos want immigration reform with a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

The details of Issa’s plan for immigration reform are still scarce, and his office didn’t respond to numerous requests for an interview. But the plan would reportedly include a six-year period of temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants.

During that time, they would be expected to find a legal way to stay here or leave.

Issa told Politico it’s “halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people.”

But some of Issa’s staunchly conservative constituents say that approach is too soft.

“This whole subject to me right now is about the rule of law,” said Patricia Newman, who manages her husband’s medical practice in Vista.

Newman is Mexican-American, and she thinks the government should make it easier for immigrants to come here legally. But she’s suspicious that Issa’s proposal would reward those who haven’t followed the rules, and encourage others to keep coming here illegally.

She said the Republican Party was compromising its ideals in exchange for votes.

“I really think that’s what they’re doing,” Newman said, a stylized portrait of Ronald Reagan looking down at her from her office wall.

“They’re just considering all these things just so they can get new votes. I don’t think they’re thinking it through.”

But Republicans like Issa are facing pressure from business and faith leaders — and even some GOP donors — to take action on immigration reform.

The Vista Chamber of Commerce recently joined state and national business groups in endorsing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. They also want a temporary worker program for high and low-skilled workers, and strong border security.

“We also have businesses that have had tangible difficulties bringing talent in from outside the country when they needed people,” said Bret Schanzenbach, CEO of the Vista Chamber.

Political scientists warn the Republican party risks becoming irrelevant if it can’t appeal to the country’s growing Latino population. That warning hasn’t seemed to hold much weight for Republican congress members in districts with few Latino voters.

But the political calculations are different for Republican leaders. That likely includes Issa, saidTom Wong, a political science professor at UC San Diego.

“He not only is concerned about his electoral survival, but with eyes towards higher office, he also has to be concerned with the Republican brand as a whole and how that’s perceived nationally,” Wong said.

Several other Republican congress members have recently signed on to the House Democrats’ immigration reform bill, which includes a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

Wong said Issa’s halfway plan could help propel a real discussion on the issue among the Republican caucus.

But time is quickly running out this year to get that discussion going.

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If Vote Were Today, Immigration Reform Would Fail House (Fusion)

BY JOHN ROSMAN of FRONTERAS @ThisIsFusion   Updated OCTOBER 25, 2013

SAN DIEGO — In 2012, statistician Nate Silver made headlines when he accurately predicted the outcomes for the presidential election in all 50 states.

While political scientists have been forecasting election results for decades, very few forecast legislation. But in San Diego, one assistant professor is doing just that. He’s forecasting the outcome for immigration reform.

Most days, you can find Tom Wong inside a boutique coffee shop in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, hunched over a Macbook Pro.

The assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego is crunching thousands of numbers.

“I’m predicting opposition and support for immigration reform among all 535 current members of congress,” Wong said.

How Does It Work?

His forecast is created in three steps. The first is a model that determines what factors create a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on immigration.

It begins in 2006. That was the year millions of immigration advocates protested in the streets across the United States, rallying against H.R. 4437, an enforcement-heavy immigration bill.

Many cite these demonstrations as the starting point for the modern immigration movement.

In step one, Wong counts every vote cast by every member of Congress on immigration since 2006. Then he pulls a ton of data — unemployment rates, education levels, ethnic makeup — from states and districts.

Wong explains his model is taking into account “the factors that previous research has identified as being important for immigration policy.”

He uses that information to create a model that predicts how a member of Congress will vote based on what their state or district looks like.

Step two is seeing if his model is accurate.

Wong looks at each member of Congress since 2006 to see whether his model accurately predicted how they actually voted on immigration bills.

“In the House we’re talking about a 94 percent match rate. And the Senate we get about 90 percent,” said Wong.

Step three is using the model as a predictor. For example, how will freshmen members of Congress vote, someone like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)?

“His state has certain demographic characteristics, certain economic characteristics and he’s a Republican,” explains Wong.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the model predicts Cruz will be voting against the bill. But what about the rest of the Senate and members of the House?

“Right now the data points to 67 to 71 ‘yes’ votes in the Senate. For the House we’re only seeing about 203 ‘yes’ votes,” Wong said.

So if voted on today, according to Wong’s model, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill would fail by 15 votes in the House.

But, Wong wants immigration reform to pass.

Seeking Change

“My own immigration experience gives me this window into the data where the results are more than just numbers, because I see the families and the people that can potentially benefit,” he said.

When Wong was 16 years old he learned that he and his family had overstayed their tourist visas from Hong Kong. They were living here illegally.

Although they have since become legal residents, that moment is always with him.

“It is very easy for me to simply close my eyes and feel exactly how I felt as my 16-year-old self,” Wong said.

It’s a feeling that he believes is shared among many of the young immigrants who are rapidly changing the demographics of districts across the United States.

Wong is using his model to help pro-immigration reform activists locate Congress members who are poised to vote ‘no.’ But are in positions where they should be voting ‘yes.’

He uses Rep Gary Miller (R-Calif.) as an example.

“Based on the data Gary Miller will vote ‘no’ on immigration reform,” Wong said.

Miller’s voting records show’s him as a staunch opponent of immigration reform. But Wong’s model points to Miller as a candidate whose stance can, and perhaps should, change.

In 2012, Miller ran and won election in a newly formed California district in San Bernardino County. It is made up of young minority voters, and his next election is rapidly approaching.

“The young Hispanic/Latino and the young Asian population — meaning those that will turn actually 18 and become voters — will exceed Gary Miller’s 2012 margin of victory,” Wong explains.

He believes there are enough representatives in the House like Miller, who if presented with these statistics, could change their vote and change the current fate of immigration reform.

You can follow Tom Wong as he updates his data and changes model as the immigration debate conitinues. Check out the CIR 2013 Blog

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A Dream Deferred: America’s Changing View of Civil Rights (Live Science)

BY DENISE CHOW   AUGUST 29, 2013

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of more than 250,000 protesters in Washington, D.C., and called for the end of racial discrimination in the United States in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The political rally, which became known as the March on Washington, and King’s speech became cornerstones of the American civil rights movement.

But the day after people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the legacy of the civil rights movement, many minority groups, including African-Americans, are still fighting for equality, sociologists say.

“Many black people, and other people of color, are experiencing the kinds of racial inequalities that were very much present during the days of the civil rights movement,” said Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and co-author of “Oppositional Consciousness: The Subjective Roots of Social Protest” (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

While the civil rights movement propelled racial inequality into the national spotlight, and helped usher in landmark anti-discrimination legislation, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the idea that Americans live in a post-racial society is a myth, Morris told LiveScience.

“I think many people wish to believe that the civil rights movement largely accomplished its goals, and that the racial nightmare is over and the dream has been achieved,” Morris said. “Yes, there has been considerable change since the heyday of the civil rights movement, but the huge problem emerges when we look at the difference between what people say or believe and what they do.”

Fifty years later

The March on Washington was officially known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedoms, and hundreds of thousands of marchers flooded the nation’s capital to demonstrate in support of civic and economic rights for African-Americans. Yet decades later, African-American communities are still struggling with issues such as unemployment, education and home ownership, said John Skrentny, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“There has certainly been enormous amounts of progress, but African-Americans, by a lot of indicators, are still as bad off as they were 50 years ago,” Skrentny told LiveScience. “Their unemployment rate is twice as high, their incarceration rates are very high, and measures of African-American wealth are quite low.”

This is partly because in the decades since the March on Washington, the civil rights story has receded in the public eye, and the government’s focus has shifted elsewhere, he said.

“Other political issues have risen to prominence, and I think a big part of the story is that the Republican Party does not make a play for African-American votes, whereas with other groups — and I’m thinking specifically of Latinos and gays and lesbians — the Republican Party is in the game for those votes. Not to the extent of the Democrats, but in their postmortem of the 2012 election, it was something that was talked about explicitly,” Skrentny said.

This shift has thrust other issues, such as immigration reform and same-sex marriage legislation, to the forefront. And while these issues also deserve time and attention, political leaders should understand the work that catapulted inequality into the political sphere during the civil rights movement is not yet complete, Skrentny added.

“It’s really difficult to identify a single policy designed to advance the interests of African-Americans in the last 20 years,” he said.

From the foreground to the background

The political change largely began in the 1980s and 1990s, with the rise of the New Democrats, an ideologically centrist arm of the Democratic Party that gained prominence following the 1988 presidential election won by George H.W. Bush. Some members of the New Democrats felt that their party had aligned themselves too closely to African-American interests, and they tried to distance themselves from advancing policies directly targeted at African-American communities, Skrentny said.

For instance, during the 1992 presidential campaign, then Governor Bill Clinton publicly criticized rapper and activist Sister Souljah (her real name is Lisa Williamson) for racially charged remarks about violence in that year’s Los Angeles riots. The episode became known as the “Sister Souljah moment,” and was widely seen as a strategic move to court centrist voters by demonstrating that Clinton was not bound by African-American interest groups, who were perceived to be closely associated with the Democratic Party.

Even Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, may feel even more hesitant than previous Democratic presidents to throw weight behind overtly African-American issues, for fear that his detractors might accuse him of favoring one community over others, Skrentny said.

“Political leaders discovered that if you try to do too much for African-Americans, working-class whites will say: Why are you helping these people? We have problems, too,” Skrentny said. “When it comes to big political issues, white voters who are economically insecure — and that’s not to say they’re racist, just economically insecure — typically react in a negative way.”

For things to change, Morris says people need to actively study how various forms of inequality are manifested in society. “Only when people allow themselves to be exposed to the truth about the nature of inequality in any society will they be able to engage in meaningful action to bring about change,” Morris said.

One thing the government can do is conduct detailed audits of companies to assess and manage the level of discrimination during their hiring process, Skrentny said.

“We need reliable, nonpartisan measures of how much discrimination is out there, and these types of audits are good ways to take the temperature of discrimination,” he said.

A more extensive initiative to address inequality could be to study unemployment based on the geographical distribution of different communities, Skrentny said. For instance, the government tends to use low tax rates to lure companies into more rural or suburban areas of the country. But African-Americans, in particular, tend to live in urban neighborhoods, and may be limited in their abilities to commute to jobs in other, more distant localities.

“We have to limit different geographic localities from competing with one another, because that isolates certain workers,” Skrentny said.

Fighting for rights

While anti-discrimination policies such as affirmative action have helped, more sweeping changes throughout society are needed, Morris and Skrentny said. Affirmative action aims to prevent the exclusion of individuals based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in areas of employment, education and business.

“We spend a lot of time debating affirmative action, but fixing employment problems and incarceration problems is very difficult,” Skrentny said. “It’s easier to just make the numbers right in colleges, but it still doesn’t get at the heart of the problem.”

And while the legacy of the March on Washington should be celebrated, Americans should understand that many communities are still struggling for deep-seated change, Morris said.

“To claim that we are now in a post-racial society — to claim that skin color and so forth no longer matters, is to really engage in a myth that is soothing, but at the same time, does not address reality,” he said.

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Immigration reform predictions are mathematical and personal

BY CINDY CHANG   JULY 30, 2013

Tom Wong sat in the parking lot of a San Diego McDonald’s, scarfing a double cheeseburger and listening to the Senate’s roll-call vote on immigration as it live-streamed over his iPhone.

Landrieu, aye. Leahy, aye. Lee, no.

Just as he had predicted.

Finally, the 100th name: Wyden, aye. Relieved and smiling broadly, he called his wife with the good news. Not only had the bill passed, but his statistical models had worked nearly perfectly. He was right about all but a few senators.

As the immigration battle shifts to the House, word has spread among activists that Wong might be the Nate Silver of immigration reform — the go-to data geek with the crystal ball.

But Wong doesn’t just want to predict the future. He also wants to change it, by giving immigrant-rights advocates the statistical ammunition they need to influence lawmakers.

The UC San Diego assistant professor recently led a conference call with about 30 advocacy groups, including Mark Zuckerberg’s Fwd.us. Still more pro-reform organizations joined a second phone call to talk about his projections.

This time, he would like to be proven wrong. His models show a range of measures, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, flaming out in the House.

“Ultimately, if these groups are effective, then hopefully some of these ‘nos’ become ‘yeses,'” said Wong, 31. “Then, my final tally might be off, but in a way that might make me happy.”

With his crew cut and compact, athletic build, Wong projects a cheerful efficiency, parrying criticisms with a dose of self-deprecation. Outwardly, nothing sets him apart from other ambitious young academics. But his past drives nearly everything he does.

Once, he was one of the 11 million.

A graph on Wong’s computer screen, with 100 dots representing all U.S. senators, helps him predict their votes on immigration reform. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

King Bun and Shiao Ping Wong came to Southern California with their two young sons on tourist visas in 1984, fearing for the future after British-ruled Hong Kong was reclaimed by China.

Their college degrees worthless because they couldn’t speak English, they worked at a Chinese restaurant, hoping to get legal status through their employer. The restaurant closed.

On weekends, they sold toys at swap meets. One employer after another promised a green card, then went out of business. They put off telling the boys — surely, a solution would come along eventually.

When Wong was 16 and wanted a driver’s license, his parents said no. They were just being strict, he thought. He asked to go to a basketball tournament in Canada. That’s when they told him the truth: He wasn’t an American citizen or even a legal resident. The tournament was out of the question. If he tried to cross the border without papers, he might be detained.

He was a toddler when he left Hong Kong, and had never given a thought to his immigration status. He assumed he was American, like everyone else he had known since kindergarten.

“Everything I thought I was, was completely shattered,” Wong recalled. “I felt broken.”


In his spartan third floor office in the weeks before the Senate vote, Wong tapped rapidly on his laptop keyboard. A sequence of dots and lines emerged — his prediction for a border enforcement measure. The solid “nos” clustered in the lower left, the solid “yeses” in the top right. Each line represented a lawmaker’s chance of switching sides.

For those hoping to influence the outcome, the sweet spot is the middle of the graph — the “lean yeses” and “lean nos.”

In the mold of Silver, who is famous for his election predictions, Wong bridges the gap between equations and shoe-leather politics, said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a senior analyst for Latino Decisions, a political opinion research group.

Activists already have an idea of which lawmakers to target, but Wong gives them an extra edge. He can generate a custom analysis for, say, who might be receptive to an argument based on religious faith. With the House likely to consider separate measures rather than a comprehensive bill, Wong covers every permutation.

“In the House, everybody’s in their own unique geopolitical context,” Damore said. “What he’s doing is very, very useful.”

The equations Wong uses are familiar to many political scientists. So are his raw materials: each lawmaker’s past votes and the ethnic composition of his or her district. But no one else appears to be applying those tools to immigration in quite the way Wong does.

Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is part of the CAMBIO coalition seeking immigration reform, said: “It helps to know where you’re starting from, that this is a member on the fence, or who has had the population in the district change dramatically and so might have a different approach to immigration than in the past.”


King Bun Wong, right, and Shiao Ping Wong came to Southern California in 1984 from Hong Kong with their sons David, left, and Tom. (Wong family photo)

After his parents revealed their secret, Wong took it out on them, yelling at them in broken Cantonese, switching to English for the curse words.

“If you knew it was going to be like this, why’d you bring me here?” he remembers saying.

At his Riverside high school, he had been a popular jock with good grades. But what was the point when he couldn’t go to college, when he would end up working at the swap meet like his parents? He stopped studying and barely graduated.

Wong’s girlfriend, Rose Bloomberg-Rissman, wanted him to get back on track.

She had been dating him only for five months, but she was sure she wanted to spend her life with him.

When she proposed, Wong was so shocked that he mumbled something noncommittal. The relationship was going well, but so soon? He was only 19. He had long resisted the idea of marrying for a green card. But Rose was the one. They were only speeding up the timetable.

The next day he said yes. They were married in Las Vegas on March 24, 2001. They sailed through their immigration interview, and Wong began classes at UC Riverside.

More than a decade later, they’re still together, the parents of 2-year-old triplet boys Soul, Pace and Ever.

Wong is haunted by his experience and inspired by it. He mentors young immigrants without legal status — the so-called Dreamers, kids who remind him of himself. He funds scholarships so they can apply for a new federal program and receive temporary work permits.

“I saw school as one of the things that was taken away from me,” Wong said. “So I had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to show everybody that I could actually do this and do it well. So that’s what gave me the drive to go through undergrad, graduate magna cum laude, get my PhD, get an academic position. After I get tenure, I’m going to law school.”


With House Republicans signaling their reluctance to support a path to citizenship, the pro-immigrant forces are looking for every vote they can get.

For a comprehensive bill, Wong predicts, at most, 203 likely yes votes, when 218 are needed. Many House members are from districts with few immigrants, insulating them against Latino and Asian voter backlash.

The House is unlikely to pass even a measure awarding citizenship to the Dreamers, according to Wong’s analysis.

Hurried fast-food lunches have become the norm for Wong as he fields requests from dozens of groups hoping to coax legislators into the “yes” column. He works mostly pro bono, with the occasional stipend. So far, no one from the anti-legalization side has approached him. His answer to them would be no, though they are free to use the data on his blog.

“If there’s actually legislation that goes through that takes the rough edges off some of our immigration policies, and I can say I played a role in that, that’s motivation enough for me,” Wong said.


The curses he once hurled at his parents make Wong cringe.

Now he knows how byzantine the American immigration system is, that sometimes no matter how hard people try, a green card remains out of reach. His brother also married a U.S. citizen. For his parents, the road was almost two decades long.

Tom was angry when he found out about his immigration status, but understandably so, his parents recall. Their pride in him is obvious. “He’ll be governor one day,” his father interjected at one point.

“We had bad luck, and it affected our kids. I feel very guilty,” his mother said in Mandarin, which she and her husband speak in addition to Cantonese. “Everyone hopes things will go smoothly for their children. We really tried.”

Wong desperately wants to apologize to them. But he can’t, not yet. It’s painful to dig up those dark days. And there is the language barrier — his Cantonese remains stalled at a kindergarten level, while his parents never learned English.

For now, he speaks through others.

“I will tell my story to any stranger, but I’m still not comfortable enough with my family and closest friends to get deeply into it,” Wong said. “There are still wounds those conversations might open up. This is so much easier — I know my parents can hear my story through what you write.”

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Border security faults may be result of poor analysis

BY BOB ORTEGA   JULY 20, 2013

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora – Three times in the past month, Paloma Flores Lopez has been caught by the Border Patrol crossing into the U.S. illegally. She’s spent $8,000 on “coyotes,” or guides, to take her across. Now Flores, 26, has to decide: Will she try again?

She knows the dangers. But she says she sees a chance for a better life in the United States that she doesn’t see in Michoacan, where she’s from, or in Tijuana, where she lived briefly before trying to cross in Agua Prieta, where an 18-foot-tall steel fence looms between Mexico and Douglas, Ariz.

Arizona delegation demands information

So, said Flores, flipping her pony tail, “I have to try.”

As Congress weighs whether to pin immigration reform on reaching a threshold of border security, the measure most often cited would call on the Department of Homeland Security to stop 90 percent of illegal border crossings. Doing that means figuring out how to persuade people like Flores not to try again and stopping others headed for el norte from slipping over the border.

That, in turn, hinges on solid answers to such questions as: How many people actually get through? Where do they get across? When they’re caught, do they give up or keep trying until they make it?

Homeland Security officials don’t fully know the answers to those questions. And the reason, say leading migration researchers, is that DHS officials don’t want to know, and don’t want the public to know, either.

“There is zero interest in that kind of analysis among DHS’ leadership,” said economist Bryan Roberts, who served as the agency’s assistant director of the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation until 2010. “There was no interest when I was there, and there still isn’t any.”

Among the kinds of findings outside researchers are seeing that they say the DHS ought to be examining are:

Three-quarters or more of migrants who set out to cross make it. Even when they’re caught, detained for days or weeks, or deported hundreds of miles from where they crossed, most simply keep trying until they succeed.

Tough “consequence” programs, imposing more and tougher criminal penalties on crossers, are very expensive and don’t seem to be an effective deterrent.

The billions of dollars spent on fences, thousands more agents, and high-tech surveillance have pushed migrants into more remote regions, driving up the number who die each year. But when it comes to stopping migrants or getting them not to try, the fences and agents pale compared with factors such as how the U.S. economy is doing, or how scared migrants are of the drug cartels in northern Mexico.

Over the past four years, more undocumented migrants have left the United States than have entered.

Roberts and several other researchers said that the DHS doesn’t have the answers because it doesn’t jointly analyze data from the Border Patrol, which works between ports of entry; Customs and Border Protection, which works at ports of entry; and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which works across the interior of the country.

Not looking at the big picture makes it harder for the DHS to figure out whether, say, to build more fences or focus on interior enforcement, the researchers said. And there’s little pressure on the DHS to work with outside experts or better analyze its data to figure out what has worked and what hasn’t.

In response to written queries from The Republic, DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard issued a statement last week that “DHS measures success utilizing many metrics, each of which paints a different portion of the overall border security picture and each of which informs tactical decision making.”

Boogaard noted that the Obama administration has made “significant investments in border security” and that “dozens of metrics we use every day clearly demonstrate significant progress and improved quality of life at the border.” Boogaard would not address any specific questions.

Controversial findings

It is clear that the past seven years have seen an unprecedented investment in border security, topping $106 billion. There’s also no dispute that apprehensions, often seen as a rough proxy for crossings, have fallen by 66 percent since 2006. And the Border Patrol, its parent agency Customs and Border Protection and the department they’re part of, Homeland Security, gather reams of data on migrants they apprehend or spot. But researchers say that the DHS and its agencies seem to take a don’t-ask, don’t-tell approach to data that might lead to politically troublesome conclusions.

The immigration bill passed last month by the Senate, now languishing as the House weighs its own measures, would evaluate border security using an “effectiveness rate” based on data that the DHS and its agencies won’t release to the public. The bill would provide more than $46 billion and nearly double the size of the Border Patrol by adding 19,200 agents along the Mexico border over the next eight years, to help the agency reach a 90 percent effectiveness rate.

That rate is meant to show how effectively the Border Patrol prevents illegal crossings. To estimate the number of illegal crossings, the Border Patrol adds up three figures: apprehensions; “turn-backs” (people spotted starting to cross who turned back to avoid getting caught); and “got-aways” (people detected by agents or surveillance equipment but not caught). A 90 percent effectiveness rate means nine apprehensions and turn-backs for each got-away.

The Border Patrol doesn’t release information on turn-backs or got-aways to the public, just apprehensions; and it admits that the effectiveness rate is a flawed yardstick. Among other gaps, it can’t account for crossers whom agents don’t see. And because the Border Patrol works between ports of entry, its rate doesn’t include those who cross illegally at ports of entry, either hidden in vehicles or using false documents.

The Government Accountability Office, in a report last December, published previously unreleased data showing that the Border Patrol’s effectiveness rate for fiscal 2011 was 84 percent. By that yardstick, getting to 90 percent isn’t a huge stretch, noted former DHS official Roberts.

The Border Patrol hasn’t released turn-back or got-away data for fiscal 2012, and hadn’t responded by deadline to The Republic’s request for that information.

Outside researchers say efforts to come up with a better approach to accounting for undocumented migration run smack into Homeland Security’s unwillingness to let academics analyze its data.

Last year, for example, a panel of leading statisticians, economists and demographers at the National Academy of Sciences conducted a study on illegal immigration at the request of Homeland Security. But the DHS refused to provide the panel key apprehension data, such as coded fingerprint figures that would identify precise numbers of repeat crossers. The DHS had demanded that researchers promise not to disclose that data to the public. Panel members said keeping the information classified would impair the quality of their work; they declined, and didn’t get the data.

That study, which included data from Mexican governmental sources and previous U.S. academic studies, suggested that about three-quarters of those who decide to cross keep trying until they make it. Other outside studies have found 85 or even 90 percent make it.

“Almost everybody who really tries eventually gets in,” said Jeffrey Passel, a member of the panel and a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C., that studies the U.S. Hispanic population.

The National Academy of Sciences study essentially was ignored in presentations that the DHS gave to the Senate earlier this year during the immigration-reform debate, said the study’s panel members.

They said the DHS was not eager to draw attention to the study’s findings even though it paid for the report. “In a sense, it throws a monkey wrench into the discussions on immigration. I’m totally for immigration reform, but this report would make Republicans giddy and Democrats go, ‘Oh, crap,’ ” said Alicia Carriquiry, a professor of statistics at Iowa State University and a co-author of the study.

The massive buildup in border security may make some difference in reducing illegal immigration, the researchers said. For example, independent research suggests that many migrants who might have tried to cross in the past now look at the dangers and don’t set out in the first place. Those people don’t show up in Border Patrol or DHS data.

But Carriquiry and several other researchers said they’re frustrated that enormous decisions about future spending on border security are being made with little or no reference to research.

“The effectiveness rate is pretty deceptive,” Carriquiry said. “There is a lot of data one could use to get a much better idea of the probability of successful crossing, and those data are being held very close to the vest by DHS.”

Seemingly ignored

Researchers say similar data was ignored in the last go-round on immigration reform, in 2006 and 2007, when a bill passed the Senate but failed in the House. Instead, lawmakers ramped up border security: building fences, hiring thousands of new Border Patrol agents, and acquiring billions of dollars in new technology.

At that time, CBP asked the Homeland Security Institute, a federally funded research center, to study border-crossing recidivism and the likelihood of apprehending crossers. The study found that, from 2001 to 2005, when border security and the consequences imposed on crossers were both relatively slight, the likelihood of being apprehended on any crossing attempt was about 35 percent, according to sources familiar with the study. But to this day, that study, completed in 2007, remains classified as “law-enforcement sensitive.”

“The department doesn’t want to release it, and they have the final say,” said Joe Chang, the author of the report and a corporate fellow at what is now called the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute. Chang said he worked almost continuously on expanding and updating that study year after year; but all of that work remains classified, too.

It isn’t clear what impact, if any, that study had on the DHS’ border-security strategy during the buildup, which created 652 miles of fencing and pushed migrants into more remote and dangerous areas.

More than two years ago, the DHS promised Congress that it would create a new Border Conditions Index to measure more accurately the impact of the additional agents, fences and other infrastructure on a range of border-security issues. But in March, as the immigration-reform debate got under way, officials told Congress that they couldn’t report any progress on the index. At the time, DHS spokesman Boogaard said that declining apprehension numbers showed that “we’re heading in the right direction.”

Apprehensions have dropped dramatically in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2006 to fewer than 365,000 last year.

Meanwhile, since about 2008, at least as many undocumented immigrants have gone back to Mexico as have come north, said Passel, the demographer, for a net flow of zero.

Other researchers see a stronger flow south. Roberts estimates that, based on apprehension data and surveys of migrants in Mexico, between 250,000 and 270,000 undocumented migrants likely entered the United States last year. By comparison, Customs and Border Protection deported just under 410,000 people last fiscal year.

That balance likely will change, say some researchers, as the U.S. economy slowly recovers. So far this year, the Border Patrol has reported a 13 percent increase in apprehensions of illegal border crossers compared with a year ago, though numbers remain near historic lows. And that rise doesn’t necessarily mean overall crossings are up to a similar degree — because many apprehensions are repeats, the same person is being caught several times.

Out of 365,000 Border Patrol apprehensions last fiscal year, barely half, 183,000, were of people being apprehended for the first time, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the non-profit news organization Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif. The rest were people caught at least for the second time, and 21,000 had been caught six or more times, the center said.

To discourage crossers, the Border Patrol uses what it calls consequence programs. These include more criminal prosecutions, tougher penalties, and moves to make it harder to come right back, by transporting those caught hundreds of miles either to another part of the border or back south to their hometowns in Mexico.

But the programs have proven expensive, and the prosecutions have clogged federal courts. Last year, immigration cases made up more than 40 percent of all federal prosecutions nationwide, according to the Department of Justice. In high-traffic border sectors such as Tucson, prosecutors have had to limit immigration prosecutions to no more than 70 a day.

As a result, many migrants don’t get hit with these penalties. Paloma Flores Lopez, for example, said she and her sister were held 24 hours, then sent right back across to Agua Prieta all three times they were caught trying to cross last month.

That’s common. One recent morning, at the modest Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, less than 100 feet from the border fence, volunteers passed out homemade burritos and cups of coffee to eight migrants, sweating and fanning themselves in a room that has no air-conditioning. One woman hadn’t crossed yet. Five of the other seven had been caught trying to cross at least twice in prior weeks.

“My husband wants me to try again; I haven’t seen him for eight years, since he went north,” said Lilia Garcia, from the Mexican state of Guerrero.

She’d been caught two times in eight days, she said. Both times, she walked at night with a group several hours out of Agua Prieta, crossed the fence, and then headed to Douglas. “I think two times is enough. My husband wants me to keep trying, but I want to go back home,” she said.

Keep trying to cross

Garcia’s inclination to give up is unusual, say researchers.

David FitzGerald, a sociologist at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego, is part of a project that since 2005 regularly surveys three towns in central and southern Mexico that send large numbers of undocumented migrants north.

“Consistently, the vast majority keep trying until they get across,” often paying for door-to-door service from coyotes, FitzGerald said. “In our most recent survey, in January 2013, about 85 percent of those who try to cross are getting across.”

At the same time, he says, the surveys show evidence of what he calls “remote deterrence,” people deciding not to set out. The top two issues people cite, he said, are a belief the U.S. economy is still bad (making it harder to find work), and fear of running afoul of the drug cartels that control northern Mexico.

“People aren’t afraid of being caught by the Border Patrol; they’re afraid of physical harm and death,” FitzGerald said. “Fear of crime along the border is the most important fear. The terrible things that have happened are very well publicized even in the smallest villages.”

And people fear dying of exposure or thirst in the desert.

“To the extent that U.S. policy has any effect, it’s based on the fact that our current policy is channeling migrants into remote areas where they’re dying at the rate of more than one a day,” he said.

Their research also suggests that the Border Patrol “consequences” programs make little difference. Even the long bans imposed on migrants who sign voluntary-departure orders, barring them from legally entering the United States for five or 10 years or longer, have little effect, said Wayne Cornelius, founder of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and a political-science professor at UC-San Diego. He has researched Mexican migration for 38 years.

“Factors like family reunification trump fears of incarceration or prosecution. If you have children or spouses in the U.S., that’s going to trump everything else. If you have a desperate economic situation in Mexico, and you can’t feed your family, that’s going to trump any fears of enhanced consequences,” Cornelius said.

“U.S. policy has consistently underestimated the sheer determination, the sheer tenacity of Mexicans once they have made that decision. They will find a way to rationalize the costs and the risks and to borrow the money to make the trip, and to persist until they succeed.”

Where researchers find a deterrent effect, there are significant trade-offs.

Pia Orrenius, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has studied Operation Streamline, a controversial policy calling for criminally prosecuting nearly all undocumented crossers. First-time crossers receive sentences of up to six months; second-time crossers are subject to felony prosecutions and much longer sentences before being deported. That program began in 2005 on part of the Texas border, and the next year in Arizona’s Yuma Sector, but has since been extended to most of the border.

As the policy was rolled out across more and more of the border, the deterrence effect vanished.

“Once most of the sectors implemented the policy, there was no overall negative effect on apprehensions,” said Orrenius. She said that having to serve jail sentences does seem to matter, “but it’s also the most costly for the U.S. government.”

Last fiscal year, the U.S. spent about $2 billion detaining undocumented immigrants, at an average cost of $164 per day per person, according to the DHS.

A study published in May by the Congressional Research Service detailed how aggressively the U.S. government has pursued its consequence programs: In fiscal 2005, more than three-fourths of those apprehended were granted voluntary returns, which allows them to avoid criminal charges. Last fiscal year, fewer than one in seven was granted a voluntary return — with seven out of eight getting some combination of criminal prosecution, formal removal or being transported hundreds of miles from their original crossing point.

Even as apprehensions along the border fell by 58 percent from 2007 to 2012, the absolute total number of criminal prosecutions and other enforcement actions taken against migrants climbed by 60 percent, to nearly 453,000. (Some people were subject to more than one type of enforcement action.)

But researchers continue debating the impact of these programs, with many suggesting that, in the end, they are not proving particularly effective at discouraging crossers.

“Look at it this way,” says Bryan Roberts, the economist. “Imagine if you could triple your salary by emigrating illegally to Canada. … We have a wage gap of at least three to one with Mexico. It’s very hard to fight against that.”

One can hear echoes of that notion in conversations with would-be crossers at the Migrant Resource Center in Douglas.

“It’s hard because one comes to escape from Mexico. There’s a lot of poverty, corruption, narco traffic,” says Ivan Pacheco, 28, from Teotihuacan, in central Mexico, puffing on a cigarette outside the shelter. “I want to get ahead honestly, not by getting on with the mafia. But I don’t see a way to get ahead here.”

Pacheco says he’d like to join his brother in Utah. He crossed nine years ago, in Tijuana, without any problems. Pacheco has been apprehended twice by the Border Patrol trying to cross in recent days. The first time he signed a five-year voluntary deportation. The second time he says he had to sign a 20-year ban. He’d never been in any trouble with the law before, he said. But he sees little choice but to try again.

“I’ve been without work eight months,” he says, with a shrug. “Before that I worked in a paper factory. I earned 700 pesos a week ($55), working six days a week. You’re working to eat, nothing more.”

Republic reporter Brenna Goth contributed to this article.

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Making San Diego an international hub (UT San Diego)

BY DAVID FITZGERALD & JOHN D. SKRENTNY   JULY 3, 2013

An effort to dramatically increase spending on U.S. border enforcement was a key reason for Senate passage of immigration reform and will be key to bipartisan support in the House. The debate has focused on walling off the border rather than thinking of it as a conduit. Yet border states such as California, and cities such as San Diego, have the unique opportunity to leverage proximity to Mexico to generate jobs and bolster economic growth for the themselves and the United States as a whole. By further integrating with its Mexican sister city, Tijuana, San Diego could become an international trade hub of more than 5 million people in a binational, regional metropolis.

The economic challenges of recent years have aroused fear and skepticism in the United States around global trade and outsourcing. While moving manufacturing outside the United States can cost American jobs, not all trade and outsourcing is equal. Mexico’s shared border with the United States mitigates the costs associated with trade and maximizes the benefits. Many goods imported from Mexico are actually coproduced on both sides of the border, creating jobs for American workers. In fact, according to a report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 40 percent of the value of imports from Mexico was actually created in the United States by American workers — about 10 times the level of value created in the United States for goods imported from China. Coproduction keeps jobs in North America that might otherwise be lost altogether overseas.

A further benefit of trade from Mexico compared to transoceanic trade is environmental. While all transport of goods relies on the burning of fossil fuels, trade within North America has a smaller environmental footprint and thus produces less pollution and greenhouse gases than transoceanic transport.

The benefits of integration are clear, but many barriers stymie its full potential.

A 2007 study by the San Diego Association of Governments found that border wait times cost the regional economy $7.2 billion in lost economic output and more than 62,000 lost jobs. The hassle of crossing is a major deterrent to mobility. Improvements underway at the San Ysidro crossing and the upgrading of state Route 905 to Otay Mesa are a good start, but more could be done. Programs like FAST (Free and Secure Trade Program) and SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) that speed crossing for businesses and individuals who have undergone background checks could be expanded. Additional spending authorized by a new immigration bill could ease the logjam, with more agents dedicated to processing travelers and goods, rather than further militarizing a border between two friendly countries.

Old and limited-capacity border infrastructure is another impediment. On the Tijuana side, the design of roads feeding into the border crossing area is confusing and aggravating for drivers. A faster trolley service from downtown San Diego to the border would spur tourism in both directions. An expansion of the San Diego port could export goods coproduced in San Diego and Baja California. To his credit, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has identified border development as a top priority. Yet the mayor faces an uphill battle, as much of the problem with border infrastructure is resolved at the federal level.

Although San Diego has been a border-crossing city as long as there has been a border, the city’s rail, freeway and air links historically made it a southern spur of Los Angeles rather than an important link for the entire state. A more robust partnership between San Diego and Tijuana would re-center the region. Rather than San Diego being the end of the line, it would be a major hub linking the two Californias. The immigration reform now being debated in Congress provides the opportunity to make this dream a reality.

FitzGerald and Skrentny are co-directors of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, and co-leaders of the San Diego Scholars Strategy Network.

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