August 12, 2007 in Nation/World

Immigration crackdown shows results

Traci Carl Associated Press
 

At a glance

White House unveils tougher rules

» WASHINGTON – A month after immigration reform failed in Congress, the Bush administration on Friday mapped a broad campaign to tighten border security and to pressure employers to fire illegal immigrant workers. Here are highlights of the regulations, which take effect next month:

» •Hold employers liable for employing workers who have been notified of problems with their Social Security information and have not resolved those problems in 90 days.

» •Reduce the number of documents employers can accept to verify a worker’s eligibility.

» •Raise civil fines imposed on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants by about 25 percent.

» •Prevent illegal immigrants who have agreed to leave the country from remaining in the country through legal maneuvers by making them subject to deportation if arrested and fining them $3,000.

» •Direct the Labor Department to make changes to the H2A agricultural seasonal worker program so it is easier for farmers to use, provides them workers on time and protects workers’ rights.

» •Correct processing delays in the H2B program for hiring seasonal workers for landscaping, hospitality and other industries.

» •Require the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security to devise a way to prevent undocumented workers from earning credit in the Social Security system for work they’ve done while in the country illegally.

» •Expand lists of organized gangs from other nations whose members are barred from automatic entry to the United States.

» •By Jan. 31, 2008, begin phasing in requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean to carry passports to re-enter the country at sea and land ports.

Associated Press

TECATE, Mexico – Mexican shelters, usually the last stop for northbound migrants, are filling with southbound deportees. Fewer migrants are crossing in the wind-swept deserts along an increasingly fortified border. Far to the north, fields are empty at harvest time as workplace raids become more common.

Mexicans are increasingly giving up on the American dream and staying home, and the federal crackdown on undocumented workers announced Friday should discourage even potential migrants from taking the risks as the United States purges itself of its illegal population.

U.S. border agents detained 55,545 illegal migrants jumping over border walls, walking through the desert and swimming across the Rio Grande River between October and June. That’s down 38 percent for the entire border compared with the same period a year before.

U.S. and Mexican officials say increased border security, including 6,000 National Guard troops, remote surveillance technology and drone planes, have thwarted smugglers who had succeeded for years at beating the system.

Migrants also say they feel Americans are increasingly hostile toward immigrants.

“It’s the discrimination,” said 28-year-old George Guevara, who was deported to Tijuana last month after living in the U.S. for 18 years. “It’s making people step back. It’s just too much of a risk.”

Guevara, who speaks perfect English and has only distant memories of Mexico, was living at a Tijuana migrant shelter filled with deportees, many of whom are Mexican-born but find themselves in a country that is foreign to them.

“I barely remember living here,” Guevara said. “But I see this as an opportunity. I’m going to go back to Guadalajara to see my family and forget what happened.”

While some migrants try to set up new lives, others are caught between two worlds. Salvador Perez has a pregnant wife and three small children in Bakersfield, Calif., where he worked on a pistachio ranch before he was deported. He’s tried to cross the rocky, snake-infested mountains near Tecate three times this summer to get back to them, but failed each time.

“I want to try again, but I’m scared something will happen,” Perez said.

The biggest drop in Border Patrol detentions – a 68 percent decrease – was in the remote, heat-seared desert surrounding Yuma, Ariz., once popular with smugglers. Border Patrol spokesman Jeremy Chappell credits the additional troops and tougher security.

“Where an alien before was able to sneak across, now he has the National Guard watching him,” Chappell said.

The only area that has seen an increase – 1.5 percent – is the San Diego sector, which runs along the California border and includes the harsh, roadless desert surrounding Tecate. The Border Patrol has responded with helicopters and increased intelligence from detained migrants.

Crossing there requires hiking up to six miles, scrambling over or under the border fence, then walking some more, usually in the dead of night. The region is difficult to patrol, making it one of the few places migrants believe they can still get through.

That’s why 22-year-old Romeo, a Salvadoran who refused to give his last name for fear of reprisals, was in Tecate’s town square after failing twice to sneak into El Paso, Texas, once in a car and once on foot. He was flown back to El Salvador each time.

“They tell me this is the best place to cross, but it isn’t easy anywhere,” Romeo said.

Deportations also are up for illegal immigrants who have lived in the States for years. Some are caught for minor infractions like a burned-out headlight. Others are rounded up in workplace raids that the Bush administration has vowed to intensify.

The new measures announced Friday will force employers to fire anyone who cannot prove their Social Security numbers are legitimate.

U.S. employers are already complaining, especially those in agriculture, where most workers are believed to be working with false documents.

On a recent visit to Mexico, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said some crops are already rotting in the fields for lack of workers.

Many employers join President Bush in blaming Congress for stalling an accord that would allow more people to work legally.

“Pretty shortly people are going to be knocking on people’s doors saying, ‘Man, we’re running out of workers,’ ” Bush said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon also lashed out Thursday. “The U.S. Congress, which today turns its back on reality, knows full well that the American economy could not move forward without the labor of Mexicans,” he said.

Fewer Mexicans are sending home cash remittances – Mexico’s biggest source of foreign income after oil – leaving many Mexican relatives with no other resources, the Inter-American Development Bank reported Wednesday.

Despite all this, some migrants are still trying to beat the odds.

Isaac Mendiola, 41, mapped out how he would cross near Tecate.

“We start walking about 7 p.m., hit the Golden Casino on Highway 8 by 4 a.m.,” Mendiola explained. “Then we call this Indian guy from the reservation, and pay him $200 to take us to Oceanside, Calif. An American lady gets us past the checkpoint for another $200. Then we take public buses to Disneyland, and we are in L.A.”

Still, even Mendiola wants to work in construction for only two more years, then return to Mexico to run a convenience store his family has opened with the money earned up north.

“Crossing is getting a lot harder now,” he said. “You gotta stop sometime. This year and next, and boom, I’m done.”

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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