Saturday, October 30, 2010

For U.S. jobless, illegal immigration can be a sore point

Javier Gonzalez believes he would have a job today were it not for illegal immigration. "I think that illegal immigrants do take jobs away from native workers, especially out here in the Bay Area," said the 43-year-old son of Mexican immigrants. "I'm unemployed, but I shouldn't have to be. I'm from the area. I was born here and I can't get a job here."

For the jobless, especially those who work in the trades, the thought of competing against an illegal work force of undocumented immigrants can be a sore point. Labor market economists have long differed about whether such fears are grounded in reality.

But a study released Friday by the Pew Hispanic Center adds fuel to the fire, finding that as the economy slowly recovers, foreign-born workers are taking up jobs faster than their native-born counterparts. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, gained 656,000 jobs since June 2009, which is the month that federal economists consider to be the end of the Great Recession. Native-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs in the same period of economic recovery, according to the report.

"There are some reasonable explanations," said Rakesh Kochhar, associate research director of the nonpartisan think tank. "I think the main one would be that the recession started earlier for foreign-born workers. They were hit hard earlier in the recession. Now, it seems they are bouncing back quicker."

The study does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants because such data is not available, but unauthorized workers are undoubtedly a big part of the picture, Kochhar said.

Immigrants who come to the United States with limited job skills and educational backgrounds are typically the most vulnerable when there are volatile changes in the job market, he said. They also, however, tend to be more flexible in a bad economic environment, willing to move from one region or occupation to another. "They are more sensitive to the business cycle," Kochhar said. "They get hit harder, but they bounce back sooner."

Because they are denied unemployment insurance, undocumented workers are also more desperate to take whatever job they can find, even if the work is sporadic and earns them a low wage. The study found that though immigrants found more jobs in the past year, they were not doing much better financially -- the median weekly earnings of immigrants dropped 4.5 percent since summer 2009, while remaining relatively steady for U.S.-born workers.

Several variables affected the results, including the loss of thousands of temporary census jobs in the spring and summer. This disproportionately affected U.S.-born workers, because illegal immigrants are disqualified from jobs in the federal government.

The stagnant construction industry accounted for more than half the 1.2 million jobs lost by native-born workers. It was also the sector that saw the starkest difference between foreign-born and U.S.-born workers, especially among those who identify themselves as Latino.

Latino immigrants gained 98,000 construction jobs from 2009 to 2010, but Latinos who were born in the United States lost 133,000 construction jobs in the same period, along with 92,000 jobs in transportation, warehousing, wholesale and retail trade.

The study may help confirm and challenge beliefs of those who hold strong views on immigration, but Kochhar cautioned against drawing easy conclusions. "There are so many things, really, that we don't know," he said.

Born in San Francisco, Gonzalez attended community college to obtain a communication degree, paying out of his own pocket, but couldn't really find a job in that field. His father was a migrant farmworker who moved to California from Mexico in the 1950s, though Gonzalez is not sure how he was able to get in. "He's never really given me the exact story, the details of what path he took," Gonzalez said.

The majority of his American family members went into municipal trash collection. Gonzalez has also spent years working in labor-intensive jobs, but today finds most of those jobs unavailable. He considers illegal immigration a chief culprit, though he says finding a constructive solution is difficult.

Gonzalez is not alone in his thinking. Another study released by the Pew Hispanic Center on Thursday found that Latinos, though traditionally sympathetic to the challenges faced by illegal immigrants, have increasingly mixed feelings about the issue.

The national survey of about 1,400 Latino adults found that just 29 percent felt that illegal or undocumented immigration had a positive impact on Latinos already living in the United States. In contrast, half of those who took a similar survey three years ago said the impact of illegal immigrants was positive.


Over 100 Tamils arrested en route to Canada: Kenney

Thai authorities have arrested more than 100 Tamil migrants who were probably on their way to Canada, says Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Thai media reported Friday that 114 Sri Lankans were detained for being illegal migrants. Reports said many of the detainees had improper identification or none at all, and some were suspected of being linked to the Tamil Tigers. It was unclear if they were travelling by boat.

Kenney said the arrests -- along with proposed legislation to crack down on human smuggling -- should deter other migrants hoping to sneak into Canada. "We understand that they ... detained over 100 illegal immigrants who apparently were planning on coming to Canada through a smuggling operation," Kenney said. "We think this sends a strong message to the smugglers and their would-be customers that they should think twice."

Opposition critics said they were supportive of Canada helping to crack down on human smuggling, but urged the government to make sure the operations are not endangering the safety of asylum-seekers. "Where we need to be careful is that that doesn't bleed over ... interfering with legitimate movement of refugees and migrants who are truly seeking to escape persecution," NDP public safety critic Don Davies said.

Kenney wouldn't say whether Canadian officials were involved in the arrests, but he made a point of highlighting increased co-operation between Canadian law enforcement and authorities in southeast Asia, especially in Thailand. The co-operation is part of Ottawa's efforts to prevent ships of smuggled migrants from coming to Canada by disrupting their operations before they set sail.

"We acknowledge that the best way to stop boats from arriving in Canada is to stop them from leaving the transit countries in the first place," Kenney said. "So local police action against illegally smuggling rings is essential. And for that reason we congratulate the Thai authorities for their alertness."

There was no immediate detail about charges against the detained Sri Lankans. In the past, Thailand has moved to deport migrants without proper documentation.

Canada has seen two boatloads of Tamil migrants land on its shores in the last year. When a ship carrying almost 500 Sri Lankans landed in Vancouver in August, Kenney and his cabinet colleagues promised a crackdown, both through legislation and by increasing Canadian co-operation overseas.

Earlier this month, Thai officials arrested more than 150 Tamil migrants in an operation that Canada may also have played a role in. But that's only the tip of the iceberg, Kenney warned. "We're aware ... of more than one smuggling syndicate, very active, that are specifically targeting Canada, with the capacity to potentially bring several large steel-hulled vessels with hundreds of passengers each year," he said. "Hundreds of people, we believe, have paid upfront fees."

The federal government is proposing new legislation that would impose stiffer jail terms on human smugglers, detain smuggled migrants for up to a year and put them on a type of probation for five years. The aim is to scare off not just the human smugglers, but their customers as well. Ottawa wants to destroy the business model that makes human smuggling to Canada a profitable enterprise, Kenney explained.

But opposition parties have been reluctant to support the bill -- and the government's operations overseas -- for fear of penalizing legitimate asylum-seekers. "I hope that it's a case of going after smugglers and that the hundred people arrested were indeed traffickers in human beings and smugglers, and not asylum seekers who are in a very vulnerable position," Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau said.

The Bloc Quebecois has said it will oppose the smuggling bill, while the Liberals and the NDP have reserved judgment, suggesting that they will propose amendments instead.


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