Archive for ‘Illegal immigration’

October 1, 2011

Burma: Escaping from Burma but Falling into Slavery


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By JESSE HARDMAN / BANGKOKFriday, Sept. 30, 2011


Migrant workers from Burma work on a fishing boat at the port of Mahachai, near Bangkok September 24, 2011. Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Khun Mint spins in circles on his small motorcycle, joyfully kicking up gravel on a rural road just south of Bangkok, Thailand. It’s hard to express the excitement he feels to have two feet squarely on land.

That’s because the 23 year-old Burmese migrant laborer spent the last year working on a Thai fishing boat. It was the worst year of his life he says, one that comes racing back whenever he hears a horn, the sound that rang in his every day at sea. “Whenever I hear a car honk, I feel like I was going back from freedom back to the prison. I started seeing all the bad things, all the fish, all the torture all over again in my mind.”(Read about whether a peaceful rally could signal real reform in Burma.)

Based on Thai government statistics, there are an estimated 2 to 3 million Burmese working in Thailand. Many of the original wave of migrants came during political turmoil in the late 1980s, but the vast majority arrived in the last decade, for economic reasons. Corruption, international sanctions, and government mismanagement have strangled the Burmese economy. Most importantly, to young Burmese like Khun Mint, the country ranks near the bottom 10% in terms of per capita GDP. So people leave, by the thousands, often with the help of what some migrant labor rights advocates worry is a growing human trafficking network.

What most Burmese migrants find in Thailand is not the fortune they imagined. Around half wind up in garment factories near the border, where they work 80 hour weeks, but often make only around $2 a day. Others find slightly higher paying work on farms, and at constructions sites. The best paying but worst-case scenario for Burmese women is prostitution. The equivalent in both respects for the men is commercial fishing boats, where they can make as much as $200 a month, but face brutal work conditions.(Read why being forced into military labor is almost like being sentenced to death in Burma.)

Khun Mint says two years ago he had made up his mind to head to Thailand, but he needed help. When he reached Mayawatti, the Northeastern town that borders Mae Sot, Thailand, he met what many refer to as a “broker” or “recruiter” at a barbershop. The man helped him cross the river into Thailand, for a fee to be paid later, and from there, he eventually was led to a fishing village in the South. After a week spent locked up in a safe house run by a Thai woman, Khun Mint was sold by a trafficker to a ship’s captain, for 22,000 Thai Baht, around $800. That money recuperated the broker’s cost for transporting Khun Mint, and then some.

The young Burmese man essentially worked as slave labor the first six months, paying off his debt. Conditions were horrible, he says, thanks in part to enforcers on the boat, who carried what Khun Mint refers to as the, “stingray.” “When you’re casting the net or pulling it back up, if he see something he doesn’t like, or even randomly, he’ll start whipping you. It’s like that.”

Read about whether Thailand send Burmese refugees back.

Khun Mint says he was forced to work through a bad injury, got little rest, and was even coerced into taking amphetamines, to help him cast nets for longer hours.

So why didn’t he leave?

He claims he had heard rumors that the police would arrest him, steal whatever money or valuables he had, and either sell him back to the ship’s captain, or deport him. Andy Hall, a foreign expert on migrant labor issues at Mahidol University in Bangkok, says such shakedowns are common: “There’s been systematic corruption, discrimination, exploitation, migrants are treated like walking ATMs.”(Read about Burmese refugees finding solace in Thailand.)

Mo Swe, a Burmese political activist now living in Thailand says migrants are willing to put up with a lot, because the reality of being back home sounds even worse. “One reason is there is no employment in Burma. Another problem is different kinds of human rights abuses. Another reason is the lifestyle here. Electricity and water supply for 24 hours. The living standard is high. They can have light, they can watch the TV.”

The plight of Burmese migrants in Thailand is becoming a more mainstream topic these days. In June the Thai government began a registration drive attempting to get as many foreign workers legalized as possible. Hall says getting formalized can make a big difference. “You can avoid a lot of exploitation by the police, you are protected more, you can negotiate with your employer more.” (Read more about Burma’s minorities.)

Around a million Burmese workers turned out for the recently completed government survey. Hall says it’s anybody’s guess how many Burmese workers didn’t register. He says many don’t have a formal employer, are unemployed, or have employers who don’t want to cover their registration fees. He says registrations aside, the main need is for a cultural shift in how migrant laborers are viewed and treated. “So unless we see a real change of attitude by Thai employers, by Thai officials, by the Thai population as a whole, then a lot of these positive developments will not have the impact they should have.”

For his part, Khun Mint says he’s happy to still be in Thailand, but glad his fishing days are in the past. “Working with someone who doesn’t value human life, who don’t treat people well. It’s not worth the dangers.”

See photos of decades of dissent in Burma.

See photos of Burma’s shifting landscape.

July 27, 2011



Democrat Luis Gutierrez, a critic of Obama’s policy on illegal immigration, fined after protesting with Dream Act supporters

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Luis Gutierrez, not pictured, was part of a rally in support of immigration reform outside the White House. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Democratic US congressman Luis Gutierrez was arrested in front of the White House on Tuesday afternoon while protesting the deportation of illegal immigrants, a spokesman said.

Gutierrez was later released and made it back to the House of Representatives in time for the final vote of the day after paying a $100 (£60) fine, said Douglas Rivlin.

The 10th-term Illinois congressman has long worked on immigration issues, taking a prominent role in pushing the Dream Act, which would give a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the US as children. The measure has so far failed to pass Congress.

Gutierrez and about a dozen other protesters were arrested after sitting down in front of the White House, in an area where people are supposed to keep moving.

The arrests were part of a larger protest by groups that say more people have been deported under Barack Obama‘s watch than under any other president.

“The president says Republicans are blocking immigration reform and he’s right, but it doesn’t get him off the hook. Everyone knows he has the power to stop deporting ‘dreamers’ and others with deep roots in the US and we think he should use it,” Gutierrez said in a statement released after his arrest.

The Obama administration has said that while it supports the Dream Act and other reforms, the deportations are in accordance with existing law.

In May 2010, Gutierrez was also arrested at the White House during another immigration protest.

June 21, 2011

Over 2,400 arrested in one-week immigration crackdown

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(Reuters) – More than 2,400 convicted foreign nationals were arrested by officials during a nationwide seven-day operation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on Tuesday.

The “Cross Check” enforcement operation, conducted in May, detained individuals convicted for crimes such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, child abuse, sexual crimes against minors, aggravated assault, theft, forgery and DUI, an ICE statement said.

“The results of this operation underscore ICE’s ongoing focus on arresting those convicted criminal aliens who prey upon our communities, and tracking down fugitives who game our nation’s immigration system,” ICE Director John Morton said in the statement.

Twenty-two percent of those taken into custody were immigration fugitives who had already had outstanding orders of deportation.

ICE has removed a record number of criminal foreign nationals this year, according to the agency: more than 109,700 in fiscal year 2011.

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh and Molly O’Toole; Editing by Jerry Norton)

May 27, 2011

Immigration program opt-out OKd by Assembly

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Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, May 27, 2011

(05-26) 17:06 PDT Sacramento — The California Assembly approved a bill Thursday to allow counties to opt out of a federal program to combat illegal immigration that opponents say rips families apart, leads to racial profiling and erodes trust between law enforcement and immigrants.

Under the Secure Communities program, initiated by President Obama, the fingerprints of anyone booked into a county jail are automatically cross-checked against immigration databases. If a person is determined to be undocumented, local authorities hand them over to federal officials for possible deportation.

Several law enforcement authorities and other public officials have criticized the program, saying it jeopardizes relations with immigrant communities and separates people who have not been convicted of crimes from their families. Opponents have cited instances in which illegal immigrants were deported after they were booked on nothing more than traffic violations.

The measure by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, seeks to allow counties to opt out of the program. Two Bay Area counties – San Francisco and Santa Clara – have formally sought permission from the federal government to do so. Several other cities and counties in California have passed resolutions supporting the bill, AB1081, or are considering doing so.

Elsewhere, Illinois has said it will withdraw from the program, and Maryland and Massachusetts are studying whether to do so.

Contract changes

Under Ammiano’s measure, the state would be required to renegotiate its contract with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division so counties could opt out.

It is not clear how federal officials would react. Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told The Chronicle that local communities cannot opt in or out of Secure Communities.

Nevertheless, Thursday’s 43-22 vote in favor of the measure is a big win for Latino advocates and other supporters, including San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who said the federal program violates “hard-earned trust” between law enforcement and immigrants.

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration. Gov. Jerry Brown has not said whether he will sign the measure.

Heated debate

During a heated floor debate on the bill Thursday, Republican opponents said supporters were violating their oath of office by refusing to uphold federal immigration laws and accused them of wanting to protect dangerous and violent criminals.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, countered that nearly 70 percent of people who have been referred for deportation under the program have either committed minor offenses or have not been charged at all.

He cited the case of Isaura Garcia, a Los Angeles County woman who faced deportation after she reported being physically abused by her boyfriend. Immigration officials eventually suspended the deportation hearings after an outcry, but Alejo said the case “sent a chilling message across the immigrant community.”

Ammiano called the program a “farce,” saying it leads to racial profiling.

“There is no shame in protecting people who are vulnerable,” he said. “Who is it that is cleaning your house but cannot sleep there, who is paying taxes but can’t stay in our country, who is fighting in Afghanistan but is being dehumanized?”

San Francisco case

In speaking against the bill, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks (San Bernardino County), cited the case of Tony Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, who were shot to death in San Francisco in June 2008. The alleged gunman, Edwin Ramos, is undocumented and, despite being convicted of two felonies as a juvenile, San Francisco officials did not turn him over to immigration officials.

Donnelly blamed San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” law for the killings. At the time Ramos committed his juvenile offenses, city officials interpreted the law as barring them from referring underage felons to federal officials for deportation.

“Shame on San Francisco and shame on anyone who would invite and protect dangerous criminals – we’re not talking about ordinary people pulled over for traffic violations,” Donnelly said. “I would urge a no vote, and I would ask one thing: I would invite you to sit in the living room of (widow) Danielle Bologna, whose family was slaughtered by an illegal alien drug thug who was put back on the street by San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy.”

Angry reaction

Ammiano reacted angrily, saying that the Bologna family has specifically asked not be used in the Secure Communities debate and noting that immigration officials were informed of Ramos’ immigration status months before the Bolognas were slain.

“That assailant was reported to ICE and you know what happened? ICE didn’t act because they were probably out busting a crossing guard or a mom on her way to work,” Ammiano said.

E-mail Marisa Lagos at

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

May 27, 2011

RI weighs in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

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By David Klepper Associated Press / May 26, 2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Students who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as children could pay in-state tuition at Rhode Island’s public colleges and universities under legislation reviewed by state lawmakers Thursday.

To qualify for reduced tuition, students would have to earn a Rhode Island diploma after attending a state high school for at least three years. They would also have to sign an affidavit stating that they are seeking legal residency in the U.S.

It’s the seventh year Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, has supported the legislation. She said the state would benefit by encouraging more students to get a college education. Supporters of the bill say giving immigrant students a tuition break would actually raise money for the state because most could not afford out-of-state tuition.

“If we are committed to education this is a great opportunity to prove it,” she told a House panel that reviewed the proposal Thursday. Similar legislation was reviewed Thursday by a Senate committee.

Eleven states now grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who are working toward legal status, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut is expected to join the list this year after lawmakers approved such legislation earlier this week.

Anti-illegal immigration groups oppose the measure, arguing tuition breaks would offer an incentive to immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally. Terry Gorman, director of the group Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, said giving immigrants in-state tuition would be unfair to students now paying out-of-state tuition.

“Your heart goes out to these kids, but we have to enforce the law,” he said. “What about the kid from Connecticut or Seekonk, Massachusetts?”

Supporters predict the bill would affect an estimated 130 students. The state has three public institutions of higher education: the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College or the Community College of Rhode Island.

In-state tuition at the University of Rhode Island this year was $9,000. Out-of-state students paid more than $25,000.

Lawmakers have considered the legislation before, but it’s never passed the House or Senate. No votes on this year’s legislation are scheduled.

A spokesman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, said the administration is still reviewing the legislation.

© Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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