Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Immigration is big in the news today

Immigration is big in the news today; I’ve compiled some articles from around the state. I’ll start with a huge arrest near Yuma yesterday.

USBP arrests 138 in surprise stop

"That tells me the people who are circumventing the (known) checkpoints are entering the United States illegally," Nicely said. He said the labor bus arrests are further proof illegal immigrants are being hired to work in the county — a claim that the California-based Western Growers Association denied in late November when they publicly protested Border Patrol enforcement during harvest season. In a statement just before Thanksgiving, WGA claimed border enforcement was deterring legal migrant workers from coming to work and as a result, some of their members were only able to harvest 30 percent of their crops. When asked then if members of the growers association knowingly hire illegal immigrants, WGA Vice President Matt McInerney said they do not.

A movement towards citizenship is gaining steam as a reaction to fears from Proposition 200.

Rush is on for immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship

"PHOENIX (AP) -- Even before Arizona voters passed Proposition 200 last month, the Phoenix office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services was overwhelmed with applications for citizenship and green cards. Now, legal immigrants throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area are pouring into the offices of document preparers and lawyers to apply for citizenship. Advocates say legal residents from Mexico and Latin American are taking steps to become citizens because Proposition 200 makes them feel like it's open season on immigrants."

Finally, a success story and some insight into the perspective of the Mexicans who come here seeking work.

Coffee co-op percolating

SALVADOR URBINA, Mexico - A decade ago, plunging coffee prices sent farmers in this Mexican village fleeing north toward the Arizona border in search of other jobs. Now a handful of those refugees have set out to rescue their hometown, forming a cooperative to ship Salvador Urbina's coffee beans over the border to Douglas, then sell them throughout the United States. ...For decades, Mexicans and their Guatemalan farmhands in this town of 7,000 made a decent living off of those coffee plants, picking the red berries from October to January, processing them and selling them to wholesalers in the lowlands. "We used to do pretty well here," said coffee farmer Reynaldo Cifuentes. But it is time-consuming, costly work. ...Until the mid-1990s, a 100-pound sack of unhusked Arabica beans fetched about $100. Then the government relaxed its controls on coffee prices, and imports started arriving from automated, chemically fertilized farms in Colombia, Brazil and Vietnam. The price per sack dropped as low as $40. Salvador Urbina was devastated. Thousands of men stopped growing coffee and headed north to the United States, looking for jobs. So did the Guatemalans who used to work on their farms. Like so many other Mexican towns, Salvador Urbina became a village of women, children and old men. Then some of the refugees got an idea. It began in early 2002 with Daniel Cifuentes, Reynaldo's cousin. He had settled in Agua Prieta, Sonora, just south of the border from Douglas. Bouncing from layoff to layoff in maquiladora assembly plants, Daniel Cifuentes began talking about his hometown with a Presbyterian minister, Mark Adams. Adams works for Frontera de Cristo, a ministry in Douglas and Agua Prieta. "We started talking about why people immigrate to the north, and I told him why we had to leave our town," Cifuentes said. "Then I started thinking of a way for our people, the ones who work the soil, to sell our coffee directly, without middle men." Other Mexican villages, even some near Salvador Urbina, have tried to tap into the U.S. appetite for gourmet coffee by forming similar cooperatives. But many of them end up selling their crops to U.S. companies because they don't have a way to get it to customers. Other efforts have failed because they're organized by American activists with little business experience. Cifuentes and Adams enlisted the help of a former maquiladora manager, Tommy Bassett, and came up with a business plan. They would form a company called Just Coffee Inc., roast Salvador Urbina's coffee in Agua Prieta, send it over the border to Douglas and sell it directly to Americans through an Internet site, justcoffee.org. "You had a couple of coffee farmers, an old business guy who wanted to try something new and a pastor who didn't know anything about running a company," Adams said. "But with a lot of prayer, we managed to get it off the ground." With a $20,000 loan from the Presbyterian Church, they bought a roasting machine and grinder and began organizing friends and family back home. Eventually, 26 families in Salvador Urbina and three relatives in Agua Prieta signed on. Word of the effort spread through Presbyterian churches, and the orders began flowing in. Sales began in November 2002. Just Coffee's goal was to sell 800 pounds of coffee in its first year, Daniel Cifuentes said. It sold 32,000 pounds. ..."Without this, I would probably have to leave coffee entirely and head up to the border," Victor Barrios Pérez, 64, said as he raked a bed of Arabica beans on his patio. Eventually, Just Coffee wants to expand to include the entire town, Daniel Cifuentes said. "The goal is to rescue our town from this crisis," he said. "But the vision is also to create work and reduce the rate of immigration to the United States." That prospect drives older farmers like Arnufo Lopez Perez, 76, who has five children in the United States. He dreams of working with them again among the coffee trees and the flamboyan flowers. "I would like to see them again," he said. "I would like them to come back."

Update: I almost forgot to mention President Bush's renewed interest in a guest worker plan.
Bush Renews Call for Guest Worker Plan

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday renewed his call for a guest worker program for immigrants seeking employment in the United States, saying the Border Patrol shouldn't be chasing "goodhearted people who are coming here to work."

Bush has wanted such a program since taking office four years ago. But the idea was sidetracked by the Sept. 11 attacks and then left on the sideline because the White House did not want to tackle such a controversial issue during an election year.

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