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Candidates Must Address Bipartisan Roots Of Immigration Crisis

This article was produced in partnership by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Democratic candidates missed the opportunity last week in Nevada—a state with a 30 percent Latino population—to address the root causes of our immigration crisis. They predictably criticized the worst Trump administration immigration policies, such as families separated at the border and chronic uncertainty for undocumented people in the U.S., many of whom arrived decades ago as children. How we treat people at or inside our border certainly deserves attention, but we cannot ignore that many people come to the United States in the first place because our foreign policies—by both Democrats and Republicans—force them to leave their homes in Latin America and elsewhere.

The U.S. displaces its neighbors by displacing their governments. The Obama administration supported the 2009 coup d’état against Honduras’ elected President Manuel Zelaya by U.S.-trained generals. The Obama and then the Trump administrations supported repressive and corrupt governments that followed Zelaya’s ouster, giving a green light to assassinations of dissidents and journalists, government-linked drug trafficking, and spiraling crime. This repression continues to drive tens of thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. each year, regardless of the legal obstacles we erect. More recently, the Trump administration supported last November’s military coup d’état in Bolivia—with little opposition from Democrats—deepening that country’s political crisis.

United States aid and trade policies—often touted as helping our neighbors—also drive people from their homes to our borders. NAFTA opened markets for highly efficient and highly subsidized U.S. farmers by lifting tariffs. Less subsidized Mexican farmers could not compete, and overnight lost their livelihood, forcing many to seek replacement livelihoods in the United States. In Haiti, President Bill Clinton admitted—after he left office—to a “devil’s bargain” on rice tariffs that was “good for some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but destroyed rice farming and generated hunger and malnutrition in Haiti.

The failure of the United States to tackle climate change contributes to a global migration crisis. Catastrophic disasters—growing more frequent and severe —displace more than 20 million people each year. This includes Nicaraguans and Hondurans benefitting from Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States since 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, and hundreds of thousands in Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” now facing their sixth year of drought.

The burden of harmful U.S. foreign policies falls disproportionately on women. In African countries struck by droughts, girls are taken out of school to make the longer walk for their family’s water. Repressive governments we support in Brazil, Honduras, and the Philippines keep women “in their place” with regressive laws, and by committing and permitting attacks against women advocates. Women displaced from their homes and headed to our border face a high risk of sexual assault.

Congress recently demonstrated how bipartisan cooperation can achieve more principled and constructive policies. Last spring, both houses of Congress passed a bill by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) invoking the War Powers Resolution to stop U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen that has displaced 3 million people and killed more than 100,000. President Trump vetoed the bill, but Congress’ War Powers authority, neglected for decades, is now out of the toolbox: on February 13, Senate Republicans and Democrats passed a similar measure to constrain the president’s ability to attack Iran.

The Democratic candidates have moved on to Super Tuesday states, two of which, Texas and California, have 26 million Latinos—more than the total population of any other state. Many Latino voters know from personal and family experience how U.S. policies drive people from their homes. They deserve to know, as do all of us, how candidates will address these root causes of our immigration crisis.

Candidates can start to address the root causes by pledging to respect the choices made by voters in other countries—even if we disagree with them—and ensure that our tax dollars will support economic and social development rather than war.  They can announce trade policies that help farmers farm on both sides of the border, and workers everywhere earn a living wage. They can vow to reduce hurricanes, floods, and drought by putting more solar panels on our roofs and less carbon into our atmosphere. In short, the candidates can show how the United States will help our neighbors live secure, dignified lives in their own communities. Because that is a foreign policy that will ultimately benefit all of us.

Texas Schools Pressed To Accommodate Influx Of Young Immigrants

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON — A year ago, the Las Americas Newcomer Middle School in the low-income Gulfton neighborhood started the semester with 150 immigrant and refugee students. When the new school year began last month, enrollment skyrocketed to 325 students, most of them newly arrived from Central America.

“It’s put a burden on me because I’ve run out of space,” Principal Maria Moreno said of the school’s dozen portable classrooms set up behind another middle school. She hired five new teachers and a social worker, converted a teachers lounge and school police office into classrooms, and used surplus money to buy projectors, laptops, and desktop computers.

But she still had to turn away more than 100 students.

“That’s not going to stop,” Moreno said. “Since I can’t handle them, they’re going next door. But is next door equipped to handle them?”

That’s a question facing educators across the country. School districts from California to Georgia and Maryland have had to add bilingual programs and social services to help new immigrants, with Oakland hiring an “unaccompanied minor support services consultant.”

Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, home to one of the country’s largest Honduran communities, has requested federal assistance after enrolling 1,469 Central American students since the past school year, including 901 from Honduras.

But nowhere is the impact of the recent surge of immigration felt more strongly than in Texas.

More than 66,000 unaccompanied young immigrants crossed into the United States illegally in the past fiscal year, most entering through Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

Of those, 37,477 had been released to sponsors across the country as of July 31, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. California received 3,909 children, while the largest number — 5,280 — went to Texas. Of those, 2,866 have been placed in Houston and the surrounding county.

Texas had long served students who were in the country illegally, and a 1982 Supreme Court case held that the state could not deny them an education. Texas also absorbed 35,000 students after Hurricane Katrina.

The current wave, though smaller, presents special challenges to educators. Many of these students, Moreno said, are fleeing countries in turmoil and need counseling and other social services.

There’s the 12-year-old student at Las Americas sent north by her mother from El Salvador after her cousin was gang-raped. The 11-year-old Salvadoran girl who persuaded a priest to smuggle her north without her mother’s consent. And the 14-year-old Honduran boy whose mother brought him as far as Guadalajara, Mexico, and then ran out of money and told him to hop cargo trains the rest of the way.

Most students don’t speak English. Some indigenous children barely speak Spanish, like the Honduran boy who spoke Mayan Quiche and kept asking Moreno in Spanish, “How do you say this in Spanish?”

The Las Americas school, which serves grades 4 through 8, has students from 23 countries who speak 17 languages. Arabic, Nepali, and Swahili were more common than Spanish until recently. Houston public schools, which plan to expand the Newcomers program, have already enrolled 1,825 new students from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Some Texans fear that the schools cannot afford the newcomers. But Texas Education Agency officials, who oversee the state’s more than 1,200 school districts and charters, say they already budgeted to cover the extra students and can draw from a state fund with a $263 million surplus if new costs arise.

Agency officials estimate that it will pay districts $9,473 to educate each bilingual student this academic year. That’s $1,573 more than it paid for the typical student.

If most of the young immigrants placed in Texas enroll in school, the total cost of educating the newcomers could top $50 million.

Federal officials say that it’s difficult to estimate how many of the young immigrants have enrolled in schools. The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance to schools, but has not tallied costs.

“The financial impact of unaccompanied immigrant children is an incredibly complicated number to calculate in a particular state, district, or school, much less nationally. It depends on a range of local factors,” department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said.

Those factors include the number of English-as-a-second-language students already in a school and the level of community programs and state support. Also key is existing enrollment, Nolt said, adding that some urban districts are underenrolled and may have extra capacity.

“There was this concern at first that there was going to be this flood of kids,” Nolt said. “Some urban districts have seen a lot, but the vast majority have not.”

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and other Texas conservatives complain that the migrants will place new demands on already overcrowded schools.

“Regrettably, American taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill for the burden on these school districts,” Smith said.

In the Houston area, Liberty and Galveston counties and the cities of Magnolia and League City recently passed resolutions condemning federal efforts to house migrant children in temporary shelters, or directing officials not to cooperate with federal authorities to maintain the facilities. One resolution branded a shelter a health risk.

Moreno has spoken to conservative community groups and tried to allay such concerns, noting she screens birth certificates and proof of immunization.

“What’s better than having an educated child who can get a job and pay taxes?” she said. “You want them to be educated and fend for themselves.”

As Moreno walked among classrooms recently, she stopped to talk to the 14-year-old Honduran boy who rode the trains north and has transformed himself, in a few short weeks, from class clown to dedicated student, she said.

In a math class of 30 students, a girl with curly brown hair and dangling gold earrings gave Moreno a shy wave. It was the 13-year-old Salvadoran who had been struggling with her father.

Moreno bent low, whispering to the girl that she would catch up with her later. The girl’s father had not telephoned the principal for help this weekend. Moreno took that as a sign of progress.

Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT/Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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Immigration Crisis At Border Afflicts Heartland Harvest

By Ali Watkins, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The heated tempers of the nation’s border states are driving the debate over immigration policy. States farther away from the U.S.-Mexico border, though, are reckoning with a different set of challenges: a skimpy agriculture labor market and cumbersome immigrant-worker programs that go unfixed amid partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill.

More than 20,000 U.S. farms employ more than 435,000 immigrant workers legally every year, according to 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census data. Thousands — probably tens of thousands — more are employed illegally. Naturally, agricultural powerhouses near the border, such as Florida and California, employ tens of thousands of seasonal immigrant laborers every year. But deeper in the homeland, such as the fruit orchards of the Carolinas, farmers confront a blue-collar labor vacuum.

“Because we’re not a border state, it’s definitely harder to get people over this far from the border to work,” said Chalmers Carr, the owner of the East Coast’s largest peach grower, South Carolina’s Titan Farms. “2006, 2007, even 2008, we had a very robust economy and there were not enough farmworkers then. And there’s truly not enough farmworkers now, legal or illegal.”

South Carolina in particular has a unique view, having seen the greatest percentage increase in Hispanic population in the country from 2000 to 2010 — nearly 150 percent, according to the most recently available census data. Although its Hispanic population sits at a comparatively low 5.1 percent, the increase reflects decisions by immigrants to make the trek deeper into the United States. And while many are taking temporary seasonal work, the labor shortage has become a permanent issue for growers and workers alike.

“It’s not a temporary situation,” said Lynn Tramonte, the deputy director of America’s Voice, which focuses on changing immigration policy. “It might be a seasonal job, but we’re going to keep having grapes that need to be picked and cows that need to be milked, and immigrants are coming to do that sort of labor.”

Immigrant workers who slipped over the borders years ago are aging out of the workforce, and their younger, more able-bodied counterparts are being kept from the fields because of the bureaucratic clutter. But the crops and the growing season don’t wait.

“We’re losing that aging population, but we’re also not getting anybody replacing them because of the mess we have at the border and no immigration law,” said Manuel Cunha Jr., the president of California’s Nisei Farmers League, which represents over 180 types of farms, including those that produce raisins, vegetables, and flowers.

The trend certainly isn’t limited to the southern edges of the country either.

“In northern Ohio, we’re on the front lines, and it’s not because we’re on the northern border,” said Mark Gilson, the owner and operator of Gilson Gardens, a nursery in northeast Ohio, which relies largely on seasonal immigrant workers. “It’s because the agricultural jobs are here.”

The idea by those on the anti-immigration front that U.S. workers should fill those agriculture jobs is simply out of kilter with reality, the farmers say.

“I get lambasted for why do I hire migrant workers? Why don’t I hire Americans?” Carr said. “I can clearly tell you Americans aren’t out there willing to do these jobs.”

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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