Archive for ‘Illegal immigration’

August 3, 2012

DHS Outlines Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process

DHS Outlines Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=162f81268a8e8310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=68439c7755cb9010VgnVCM10000045f3d6a1RCRD

USCIS to begin accepting requests for consideration of deferred action on August 15, 2012

released Aug. 3, 2012

WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security today provided additional information on the deferred action for childhood arrivals process during a national media call in preparation for the August 15 implementation date.

On June 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain young people who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines may be eligible, on a case-by-case basis, to receive deferred action.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is finalizing a process by which potentially eligible individuals may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.

USCIS expects to make all forms, instructions, and additional information relevant to the deferred action for childhood arrivals process available on August 15, 2012. USCIS will then immediately begin accepting requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.

Information shared during today’s call includes the following highlights:

  • Requestors – those in removal proceedings, those with final orders, and those who have never been in removal proceedings – will be able to affirmatively request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals with USCIS.
  • Requestors will use a form developed for this specific purpose.
  • Requestors will mail their deferred action request together with an application for an employment authorization document and all applicable fees to the USCIS lockbox.
  • All requestors must provide biometrics and undergo background checks.
  • Fee waivers cannot be requested for the application for employment authorization and biometric collection. However, fee exemptions will be available in limited circumstances.
  • The four USCIS Service Centers will review requests.

Additional information regarding the Secretary’s June 15 announcement will be made available on www.uscis.gov on August 15, 2012. It is important to note that this process is not yet in effect and individuals who believe they meet the guidelines of this new process should not request consideration of deferred action before August 15, 2012. Requests submitted before August 15, 2012 will be rejected. Individuals who believe they are eligible should be aware of immigration scams. Unauthorized practitioners of immigration law may try to take advantage of you by charging a fee to submit forms to USCIS on your behalf. Visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams for tips on filing forms, reporting scams and finding accredited legal services. Remember, the Wrong Help Can Hurt! An informational brochure and flyer are also available on www.uscis.gov.

For more information on USCIS and its processes, please visit www.uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), YouTube (/uscis) and the USCIS blog The Beacon.

Last updated:08/03/2012

August 3, 2012

Illegal Immigrants Should Not Receive Child Tax Credit Payouts

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/08/illegal-immigrants-should-not-receive-child-tax-credit-payouts

By and
August 3, 2012

Included in the House of Representatives–passed budget reconciliation bill earlier this year was a provision that would halt payments to illegal immigrants through the refundable portion of the child tax credit.[1] This is a sensible reform.

Refundable Child Tax Credit Provides Cash Payments to Those Who Pay No Income Tax

The refundable child tax credit (also called the additional child tax credit) provides cash payments to low-income parents who pay no federal income tax. The refundable child credit is a means-tested welfare program that is similar to the more widely known earned-income tax credit (EITC).

The refundable credit is provided to families with children. The amount of the credit is capped at 15 percent of each additional dollar of earned income above $3,000. Thus, a family with $13,000 in earned income would receive $1,500 in cash aid from the program. The maximum value of the cash aid is $1,000 per child in the family.

The refundable credit provides added cash benefits to many families receiving the EITC. For example, a family earning $16,000 per year with two children would receive more than $7,000 in combined cash payments from the refundable child credit and the EITC. These refundable payments, even though the IRS administers them through the tax code, are rightfully considered (for budgetary purposes) means-tested welfare outlays rather than reduced tax revenue.

The income tax code also provides a non-refundable child credit worth $1,000 per child for married couples with incomes below specified income levels ($110,000 for married couples and $75,000 for single parents). This credit is used to reduce the amount of income tax a family owes. In the middle-income range, the value of the refundable child credit is phased down and gradually replaced by the non-refundable child credit, which is used to reduce income tax liability.

The combined value of the refundable and non-refundable credits cannot exceed $1,000 per child.[2] For example, a family with two children would be eligible for two $1,000 credits. If the family owed $1,700 in income tax before credits, it would receive $1,700 in non-refundable credits (reducing its tax liability to zero) plus $300 in refundable cash payments.

Illegal Immigrants Currently Able to Claim Child Tax Credit Refundable Payments

The reformed child tax credit in the House reconciliation bill responds to mounting evidence that illegal immigrants are claiming refundable payments through the credit. They can claim these payments because the current law authorizing the child tax credit does not require tax filers to include their Social Security numbers on their tax returns to prove that they are legal U.S. citizens or are authorized to work in the U.S. to qualify for the credit or its refundable portion.

The Social Security Administration issues Social Security numbers only to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and eligible foreign nationals. Individuals who are not citizens can get Social Security numbers only if the Department of Homeland Security authorizes them to work in the U.S.

People who are not eligible for Social Security numbers earn income in the United States and therefore need to file tax returns with the IRS. This group includes foreign investors and individuals working without authorization in the U.S.—i.e., illegal immigrants.[3]

To allow these individuals to file their returns, the IRS issues them an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITINs are only for individuals who are required to have a taxpayer identification number for tax purposes but are not eligible for a Social Security number because they are not authorized to work in the U.S. The IRS issues ITINs regardless of immigration status.[4]

ITINs are necessary because foreign investors with U.S. holdings must pay U.S. taxes. These foreign investors are not the focus of the problem with the child tax credit. Investors who legitimately use their ITINs to file their taxes are unlikely to claim the credit.

The extensive and rapidly growing problem is that illegal immigrants who reside in the U.S. are able to acquire ITINs from the IRS and then use those identifiers to file tax returns on which they claim the child tax credit and its refundable payment. A study from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports that the number of ITIN filers claiming refundable payments nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008 from 796,000 to 1,526,276.[5] The growth in ITIN filers claiming the credit tracks closely with changes in the credit that increased both the number of tax filers that can claim the refundable payments and the size of those payments.

House Bill Adds Social Security Number Requirement for Refundable Portion of Credit

The House reconciliation bill would stop illegal immigrants from claiming the refundable portion of the child tax credit by requiring tax filers to include their Social Security numbers on their tax returns. Their ITINs would no longer be sufficient identification to qualify. The EITC, a credit similar to the child tax credit, already has such a requirement.[6]

The House bill does not apply the Social Security number requirement to the children claimed under the credit. Illegal immigrants could continue to use the child tax credit to offset their income tax liability if they continue to file tax returns.

The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that if Congress added the Social Security number requirement and thereby stopped child tax credit payments to illegal immigrants, the federal government would spend $7.6 billion less over 10 years.[7]

The JCT estimate vastly understates the savings because it assumes that in 2013, the child tax credit will return to its status prior to the Bush tax cuts, when the credit’s value was half what it is currently and its refundability was much less generous. If JCT took the more sensible approach that Congress is likely to extend the child tax credit’s current value and refundability parameters, the estimated savings would be far higher.

Sensible Reform

The House bill’s requirement that tax filers have a Social Security number to receive a payment through the child tax credit is a sensible and long-overdue reform. Illegal immigrants are in the U.S. wrongfully and are not authorized to work here. The government should not reward illegal immigration by providing illegal immigrants with cash welfare aid through the refundable child credit. The purpose of the refundable child tax credit is to help low-income working families that are legal citizens or authorized to work in the U.S.

Curtis S. Dubay is a Senior Analyst in Tax Policy in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies and Robert Rector is Senior Research Fellow in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation.

Show references in this report below:


[1]Douglas W. Elmendorf, Director, Congressional Budget Office, letter to the Honorable David Dreier, May 9, 2012, http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/HouseRulesReconSequester.pdf (accessed May 24, 2012).

[2]Next year, if Taxmageddon strikes, the credit will fall to $500 per eligible child. See Curtis S. Dubay, “Taxmageddon: Massive Tax Increase Coming in 2013,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3558, April 4, 2012, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/taxmageddon-massive-tax-increase-coming-in-2013.

[3]U.S. Department of the Treasury, Inspector General for Tax Administration, “Recovery Act: Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were Paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits,” July 7, 2011, p. 1, http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2011reports/201141061fr.pdf (accessed May 29, 2012).

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid., p. 4.

[6]Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, “26 USC § 32—Earned Income,” http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/32 (accessed August 3, 2012).

[7]U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Taxation, Description of the Budget Reconciliation Legislative Recommendations Relating to Social Security Number Requirements for the Refundable Portion of the Child Tax Credit, April 17, 2012, https://www.jct.gov/publications.html?func=startdown&id=4421 (accessed May 17, 2012).

August 3, 2012

U.S. set to start program sparing young illegal immigrants deportation

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/03/us-usa-immigration-idUSBRE8721MB20120803

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON | Fri Aug 3, 2012 5:15pm EDT

(Reuters) – Young illegal immigrants – many of whom have spent much of their lives attending schools in the United States – will be able to begin emerging from their uncertain status on August 15 when the Obama administration begins letting them apply to stay temporarily.

An estimated 800,000 young undocumented residents could qualify for the program that would grant deportation deferrals of at least two years for those who are approved.

Two months after President Barack Obama surprised the Hispanic community with a move to suspend deportations for some young illegal immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security will begin accepting applications that also would grant them work permits.

“You cannot overstate how important this moment will be in immigrant communities and Latino neighborhoods across the country,” said Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, who represents a Chicago district with a large Hispanic immigrant population.

Before Obama’s program has even gotten off the ground, however, several Democratic congressmen warned that lawyers and other immigration “specialists” have been trying to prey on the young illegal immigrants. Telling them they need to move quickly to apply, they are charging exorbitant fees to help with applications that most will be able to do on their own, the lawmakers said.

“We have had cases of folks coming into our office … telling us of lawyers who want to charge $750 to get an application ready,” said one House Democratic staffer with knowledge of the issue.

For years, legislation has languished in the U.S. Congress that is aimed at aiding children of undocumented parents who were illegally brought into the United States through no fault of their own. Some entered as young as infants.

Obama, whose administration has aggressively deported illegals with criminal backgrounds, announced on June 15 that he was moving unilaterally to help this group of youths – many of them Hispanic – who have become more and more vocal in calling for help.

“RIGHT THING TO DO”

With the November 6 presidential elections looming, Obama responded to the pressure from the Hispanic community, which is an increasingly important voting block in key swing states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

When he made the announcement, many Republicans in Congress criticized the action, including Senator John McCain – Obama’s 2008 opponent for president – who accused him of a “politically motivated power grab.”

Obama said it was simply “the right thing to do” following Republican roadblocks to legislation. He added that this unique group of illegals “are Americans in their hearts and minds; in every single way but one – on paper.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters in a briefing on Friday that applicants must be under the age of 31 and must have entered the United States before they turned 16 years old.

While the government will do background checks on the individuals, Mayorkas said federal officials will not use information from applications to trigger immigration proceedings against them, unless they find a security threat or serious criminal background.

Once the two-year reprieve expires, an additional two-year waiver can be sought, a senior administration official said.

Angela Kelly, an immigration specialist at the liberal Center for American Progress, praised the rules being set by the administration. But she added, “The program will rise or fall depending on how clear, consistent and speedily both the policy and execution of the program goes.”

Applicants will have to pay a $465 fee, which Mayorkas said would cover the government’s cost of administering the program. The senior administration official said that it could take several months to conduct background investigations and then grant the requests for each applicant.

While Obama’s program does not put these youths on a path to citizenship, which some Democrats want, it would allow them to gain some basic privileges, such as obtaining drivers’ licenses that are often needed to hold down jobs, open bank accounts or get library cards.

(Editing by Fred Barbash and Eric Walsh)

April 23, 2012

Supreme Court immigration case weighs states’ powers

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/23/us-usa-immigration-arizona-idUSBRE83L04I20120423

People relax on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 25, 2012, one day before justices were scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law. REUTERS/Stelios Varias

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON | Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:18am EDT

(Reuters) – A clash over immigration law will go before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, pitting the state of Arizona against President Barack Obama in a case with election-year political ramifications for him and Republican rival Mitt Romney.

In its second-biggest case this term, the court – fresh from hearing the Obama healthcare overhaul case – will consider on Wednesday whether a tough Arizona immigration crackdown strayed too far into the federal government’s powers.

A pro-Arizona decision would be a legal and political setback for Obama, who has criticized the state’s law and vowed to push for immigration legislation if re-elected on November 6.

A decision against Arizona would deal a blow to Romney, who has said the government should drop its challenge to the law.

Americans generally support immigration laws like Arizona’s and are ambivalent about the federal and state roles at the core of the case, a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found.

About 70 percent of those surveyed favored state laws that let police check a person’s immigration status and make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to work in the United States; about 30 percent opposed such measures.

On the question of who has responsibility for immigration laws, the core of the Supreme Court case, 59 percent said immigration was a national issue and laws relating to it should only be made by the federal government; 55 percent said individual states had the right to make such laws, too.

The oral arguments on this essential point set the stage for a rematch of the attorneys in last month’s healthcare battle.

Paul Clement, a solicitor general during Republican George W. Bush’s presidency, will represent Arizona.

Donald Verrilli, a former White House lawyer and solicitor general under Obama, will represent the federal government after what some deemed a lackluster performance in March.

PARTISAN DIVIDE

The case “pits a politically conservative state against a Democratic administration … just six months before the presidential-year elections,” said Steven Schwinn, a John Marshall Law School professor.

Like the healthcare case, the immigration case splits along party lines. Some Republican-led states and Romney supported Arizona’s effort to push out illegal immigrants, while some Democratic-led states backed the federal government and Obama.

Legal and political experts said the Supreme Court’s rulings, expected by June on immigration and healthcare – two hot-button issues – will weigh heavily on the elections.

The online Reuters/Ipsos poll of 960 Americans, conducted April 9-12, found respondents almost evenly split on whether Obama or Romney has a better immigration approach.

The fast-growing Hispanic population, now equal to 16 percent of all Americans, will be a key force in the election. In the past, Hispanics backed Obama and have been skeptical of Romney, who has acknowledged that he needs their support.

Regardless of how the court rules, if Romney continues to back the Arizona law and others like it, “he will find it difficult to win Latino supporters,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an immigration policy expert and associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside.

FEDERAL VS STATE

At issue in the case is whether federal immigration law pre-empted and thus barred the Arizona law’s four key provisions.

The Arizona law requires police to check the immigration status of anyone detained and suspected of being in the country illegally. Other parts of the law require immigrants to carry their papers at all times; ban illegal immigrants from soliciting for work in public places; and allow police to arrest immigrants without a warrant if an officer believes they have committed a crime that would make them deportable.

A federal judge and a U.S. appeals court earlier ruled for the Obama administration and blocked all four parts of the Arizona law from taking effect.

Clement will argue that the Arizona law was designed to cooperate with federal immigration efforts and that it did not conflict with federal policy or law.

“This is another federalism case. This is not all about immigration. It’s really about the relationship between the federal government and the state government. It’s the norm that you have state officials enforcing federal law,” he said in an interview with Reuters.

Clement said the burden was on the government to show why immigration law specifically prevented states from the usual participation in enforcement of federal policy.

There are an estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States, a number that has remained steady over the last several years.

SENSITIVE IMMIGRATION JUDGMENTS

For his part, Verrilli has a standard policy of not commenting arguments he will make before the Supreme Court.

In written briefs filed with the court, Verrilli said that Congress gave the federal government alone the authority to make sensitive immigration judgments, balancing national security, law enforcement, foreign policy and humanitarian factors, along with the rights of law-abiding citizens and immigrants.

“Arizona seeks to impose its own judgment on those sensitive subjects,” Verrilli said. “For each state and each locality to set its own immigration policy in that fashion would wholly subvert Congress’s goal: a single national approach.”

Five other states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – have followed Arizona’s lead and adopted similar laws, parts of which could be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In some of those states, legal immigrants have faced run-ins with local law enforcement.

Legal experts said the Supreme Court could uphold all four provisions; rule that all four were pre-empted; or issue a mixed ruling, allowing some provisions to stand, but not others.

“If the court upholds the Arizona statute, then that will really be a significant change in that area of the law,” said Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who leads the appellate and Supreme Court practice at the law firm Ropes & Gray.

“There are a number of precedents going back many decades that immigration regulation is a matter of foreign affairs reserved to the federal government,” he said.

The Supreme Court last year upheld a different Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring illegal immigrants. But that case involved a different pre-emption issue.

KAGAN RECUSED

The case this week will be heard by eight of the nine Supreme Court members. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself, apparently because she worked on the case in her previous job as Obama’s solicitor general. In the event the court is evenly divided on the case, the appeals court ruling for the federal government would be affirmed.

The partisan battle was underscored by the outside briefs filed by the states and lawmakers. Two U.S. senators and 57 members of the House of Representatives, all Republicans, backed Arizona, while 68 Democratic members of Congress supported the position of their president.

Seventeen foreign countries, including Mexico and others in Central and South America, backed the U.S. government. Clement said the appeals court was wrong to allow foreign criticism of the law to influence its ruling.

No matter the Supreme Court ruling, it may not be the final word. Depending on the decision, Congress could rewrite federal law to allow more state regulation or clearly pre-empt it.

If the court rules for Arizona, Cecilia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to press ahead with claims saying that the law violated constitutional rights and was based on illegal racial profiling. “Lawful U.S. citizens will be caught up in the dragnet,” she predicted.

If the court rules against Arizona, supporters of tougher state laws could try to craft new measures.

The Supreme Court case is Arizona v. United States, No. 11-182.

The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for all respondents.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Joan Biskupic; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Howard Goller; Desking by Stacey Joyce)

November 17, 2011

Scammed In Laos, Trapped in America

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.hawaiireporter.com/scammed-in-laos-trapped-in-america/123

Photo courtesy of The Age Cases

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Bouala Phommachanh, 55, agreed to leave his wife and five children behind in the fall of 2005 to take a farming job in Hawaii after a recruiter visited his home in the Loas capitol of Vientiane.

The Laotian recruiter promised that if Bouala answered the questions correctly at the American Embassy, he could make enough as a farm worker in Hawaii to pull his family out of poverty. Bouala wasn’t convinced, but his wife was, and she urged him to go.

The recruiter instructed Bouala to tell the interviewer at the American Embassy that he was visiting his brother in Hawaii. Her plan worked like it had so many other times for Laotian laborers -apparently with assistance from Embassy officials – and Bouala was granted a visa. What he did not know was it was a temporary B2 visitor visa and not an H2A work visa that could be extended for anywhere from months to years.

Bouala was aware that he had to pay the Laotian recruiter, but he didn’t have the sense to ask how much. He thought his wife would take care of such things, and besides he was trusting. The recruiter said it would be easy to repay her because he’d be making considerably more on a farm in Hawaii than he would trying to sell his rice in Laos.

Little did Bouala know, that like thousands of Laotians before him, he would have been better off had he signed a deal with the devil instead.

Journey to Hawaii 

When he arrived in Hawaii in October 2005, Bouala was picked up at the airport by one of the two main labor recruiters responsible for bringing illegal Laotian workers into Hawaii. They delivered him to a farm in the mountains above Kunia where he would spend the next four years picking vegetables for $4 an hour. It was backbreaking work, starting at 7 a.m. and finishing long after the sunset.

He and several other “B2” workers lived in a makeshift plywood shelter that he was told to construct. There was no kitchen, bathroom or plumbing. Workers took showers with a garden hose and had only a freestanding portable for a bathroom. The farm owner took $200 a month out of Bouala’s meager earnings to pay for his share of meals, which were delivered from outside.

Only after he arrived in Hawaii did Bouala learn from his family back in Laos that they owed the recruiter $20,000, and if they didn’t repay her, she’d take away their home. He also found out that he was unexpectedly in debt another $10,000 – he owed that money to the Hawaii recruiter who’d taken him to the farm. Even though there was nothing in writing, and no contract, the Hawaii recruiter came to the farm regularly to collect Bouala’s paycheck. Those regular collections every payday made it virtually impossible to repay the Laotian recruiter or send money to his family.

One problem many Laotians have is finding a doctor who will see them. They don’t have health insurance, and because they are in Hawaii illegally, they cannot qualify for a state insurance. They also don’t have the money for an emergency visit, so they can’t get medical care.

Laotian workers here on expired B2 visitor visas are spread out on farms across the state

When Bouala became sick soon after he arrived in Hawaii, his employer and his recruiter wouldn’t take him to the doctor. This went on for years, despite his repeated requests that some times turned frantic. A tumor was growing in Bouala’s sinuses making it virtually impossible to breathe from his nose, and the dusty farm and his poor living conditions made this simple act even more difficult. As more years passed with the tumor untreated, the bigger the blockage grew.

Another illegal farm worker from Laos had an appendicitis attack when Bouala was on the farm, and instead of getting her to the doctor, the farm owner ordered her and her husband to leave because he did not want an ambulance driver discovering the poor living conditions and illegal workers. Bouala’s heart sank knowing he’d never be able to get treatment, even though he thought he might be dying.

Bouala didn’t dare run away. He’d been warned by both his recruiter and farm owner that if he left the property or spoke to anyone outside the perimeter, he would be arrested and deported back to Laos, which would mean he’d be unable to repay the debt and would lose his family home. He was sick, he was broke and he was stuck.

Rescue Efforts Underway

In 2011, Bouala was quietly rescued by another Laotian/Thai family living here legally. The first request Bouala had from them was to visit the doctor. The second was to see Waikiki Beach – a place he’d heard about and saw in a postcard but he had never been allowed to visit. He could see the city lights from his make shift shelter on the farm, and dreamed of what it would be like to go there.

Waikiki Beach - Photo: Emily Metcalf

Bouala was welcomed by other people in the community who gave him a nice home, new clothes, housing supplies, food and spending money. He also told his story to Hawaii immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty, who helped rescue him, and she reported his story to the proper authorities and helped him obtain a work visa so he could stay here legally.

But several weeks after that, Bouala, now 62, decided to go home and face whatever reality he’d have to in Laos. His seven years in Hawaii without family, friends and culture was lonely, difficult and too much for him to bear. Generous Laotians gave him the money for the ticket home and he slipped quietly back behind his country’s border.

Not everyone is as lucky as Bouala and can make it home.

Some Laotian Farm Workers Not so Fortunate

Touane Tipphavanh

On October 28, 2011, Touane Tipphavanh, a 51-year old Laotian farm laborer who was about to return to Laos to see her sick child, became ill at work. She died shortly after on a Kahuku farm and was taken to Kahuku Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Friends say she was not given health insurance as would be required under Hawaii law for any employee working more than 20 hours a week at either of the two farms where she worked, and she had not been taken to a doctor for several years despite a known heart condition.

A cremation ceremony was held for her in early November. Her husband, who traveled here with her in 2006, planned to return home to face their children.

Bouala and many other farm workers interviewed by Hawaii Reporter over the last several months have similar stories of being trapped in Hawaii or mainland states.

They are unable to go home because of huge debts incurred after being tricked by recruiters in Laos and America, fees that range between $10,000 and $30,000 a person.

They can’t make any money to send home because the recruiters take it, some of the farm owners take advantage of them with illegally low wages and no benefits, and they are afraid to leave because they have been told they will be arrested and they don’t speak English. As a result, the workers are stuck living as modern day slaves.

Laborers Suffer in Deplorable Living Conditions, Unsafe Work Environments

Hawaii Immigration Attorney Melissa Vincenty courtesy of HawaiiConversation.org

Many have also told horror stories not only about their living conditions, but also about their working conditions.

“I am disgusted and ashamed at what I have personally seen and experienced on these farms,” said immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty after she helped rescue Bouala.

“Victims right now are dealing with deplorable living conditions, severe medical conditions, and unsafe work environments. Questionable pesticides are being sprayed on the produce that we are buying in Chinatown and local farmer’s markets.  Victims of this form of labor trafficking are also on the mainland and continue to live in the shadows,” Vincenty added.

Immigrants Seek Help

Some Laotians interviewed believe there are up to 1,000 others living like them on Hawaii farms.

Joanna Thakhamhor, a Laotian who spent her early childhood in Laos and Thailand before moving to Hawaii, speaks a number of languages, and has acted as a community resource and advocate for many Asian immigrants.

She said dozens of B2 workers have sought her help over the years, and in some cases, the farm owners have asked for her assistance to drive farm workers to the doctor, file paperwork or take care of other necessities. Many Asian farm workers, including so called “B2s”, just show up at her doorstep.

“I deal with many B2s because they come forward. Some farm owners are good and they want to get help for their workers and do what is right. Other B2 workers say they need help, but are not allowed to leave,” Thakhamhor said.

”I am worried for them because they have medical problems, especially some of the older workers. There are those who are treated as slaves and they are stuck because of the loans they have to pay,” Thakhamhor added.

Vincenty said the abuse of the B-2 program has been going on for years, but little has been known about where these recruited workers lived and worked.

Now that more has been documented, both Vincenty and Thakhamhor are helping to initiate a wider rescue effort.

“The reality is that these workers have been trapped on Hawaii farms for years.  As a community, we cannot let this go on for any longer,” Vincenty said.

Thakhamor said the workers can get help if they ask – she personally has connected dozens of workers over the years with the proper services.

Plight of Thai Workers Investigated but so Far Laotians Ignored

Joanna Thakhamhor and Melissa Vincenty team up to help Hawaii B2 workers

Considerable national and international attention has been focused on Hawaii farm labor issues since Aloun Farm owners Mike and Alec Sou were indicted in 2009 on criminal charges of visa fraud and forced labor related to importing 44 Thai laborers to work on their Kapolei farm.

The Sous’ case was dropped in the midst of the September federal trial by U.S. prosecutors who gave no explanation, and the case is still in court because the Sous, who at one time pled guilty to one count of forced labor before changing attorneys and recalling their plea, are seeking compensation for their legal fees.

Another criminal case against employees of Global Horizons Manpower Company based on similar charges to those brought against the Sou brothers is set for trial in February 2012. The Thai workers placed on various Hawaii and mainland farms by Global were brought to America legally through the H2A visa program.

These cases are unrelated to the Laotian workers’ plight and the Laotian B2 workers are not employed at any of the farms included in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against six Hawaii farms and two mainland farms related to alleged poor treatment of Global Horizons’ Thai recruits.

While the Thai workers who came here legally are getting some help and jobs, Laotian workers who never realized they arrived on the wrong kind of American visa until it was too late, are turning more desperate.

Laotians Being Threatened

Since several workers have been interviewed by Hawaii Reporter over the last several weeks, the main Laotian labor recruiter, who will be named along with others in a future Hawaii Reporter story, apparently ordered farm owners to prevent the B2 workers from leaving their respective farms for any reason, whether to buy groceries or to see a doctor. The B2 workers are threatened with being fired and deported if they don’t comply.

The workers said they have been told that if they see anyone new coming on to the farm to run and hide in the mountains or they may be arrested.

Many of the Laotian workers believe they are trapped in Hawaii, that no one is looking out for them. They see no easy way out.

Vincenty, who has helped a number of human trafficking victims in Hawaii and currently represents Thai workers in pending civil litigation against Aloun Farms, said that it is no longer in question that members of our community entrapped victims for their own financial gain, but how to deal with this reality “is up to us as a community.”

“We need to hold the farm owners, recruiters and those who were complicit in this scheme accountable for their actions,” Vincenty said.

“Many people knew about these abused workers and did nothing to help them. Now that we know what has happened, it is time to step up, make sure the perpetrators are punished, and ensure a stable future for all of the victims. These victims are here, and it is our responsibility that their voices are heard loud and clear.”

Bouala Phommachanh’s name was changed in this story to protect his family from physical and financial harm.

Short URL: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/?p=42458

Author: Malia Zimmerman

Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top “Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters” and “Hawaii’s new media thought leader” by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com Malia Zimmerman has written 281 articles for us.

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