Monday, February 23, 2009


A brutal year for immigrants closes, possibly opening up another

In the eyes of many Central Americans, US immigration policy is as perplexing as it is heartless. In any case, immigrants may find the coming year even more difficult than the last. The recession will almost certainly deepen; work will become scarcer.
Central America Report

According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), of the more than 210,000 people deported from the US in fiscal year 2008, 80,448 were Central Americans. This is only a slight increase over the year before when 79,632 were deported, but it represents a continuation of a radically heightened enforcement effort that began only several years ago.

In 2004, 7,049 Guatemalans were deported; by the end of last year the number spiked to 28,344, which is consistent with the regional trend. In 2008, as in past years, Hondurans topped the list, with 29,307 being deported, while 20,516 Guatemalans were deported, along with 20,516 Salvadorans, and 2,281 Nicaraguans.

Cheap Labour

Illegal Pakistani and Sri Lankan immigrants arrives at the port of Santa Cruz on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife.

Given President George W. Bush’s close relations to business interests that desire cheap labour, it may seem contradictory that his government would deport so many immigrants. After all, between 2005 and 2007, Bush pushed for legislation that putatively offered “a path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, and that moreover, proposed a massive guest worker program.

The bill was criticized by immigrant rights advocates, who argued, among other things, that guest worker programs are inherently abusive. But its most vocal opponents by far were the anti-immigrant forces. Two years ago, goaded on by media personalities and politicians, citizens overloaded Congress’s phone system, complaining that the government should be enforcing the law and not rewarding those who break it. The Senate voted the bill down.

Many observers say the rising deportations under Bush are a response to the public’s clamour for enforcement. More specifically, in the October edition of The Nation, David Bacon, a journalist specializing in immigration issues, argued that the Bush administration has expanded enforcement, particularly work place raids, in the years before and after the Senate vote as part of a campaign to push for a guest worker program.

Bacon points out that Michael Chertoff, the head of US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), justified workplace raids in July 2008 by telling the New York Times that “we are not going to be able to satisfy the American people on a legal temporary-worker program until they are convinced that we will have a stick as well as a carrot.” Chertoff has made similar comments since 2006.

Although guest-worker programs are sometimes pitched as a compromise with hard-line opponents of illegal immigration, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called them “close to slavery”. In a 2007 report, the SPLC noted that foreign workers are tied to a single employer under the current guest worker regime; if they don’t like the workplace conditions, they must go home. “In practical terms, employees are much less likely to complain about safety or wage issues (than native employees),” the report argues.

Bacon argued that it is for precisely that reason that guest worker programs have long been favoured by US industry. In 2001, the Essential Workplace Immigration Coalition (EWIC), a group created two years earlier by corporate trade associations, sent a letter to Bush arguing that labour shortages require the programs’ expansion. According to Bacon, the Bush administration’s immigration proposal in 2004 was identical to a plan backed by the EWIC a year and a half earlier.

In the years since, enforcement has exploded, with workplace raids in particular multiplying. While there were only 850 workplace arrests in 2004, there were more 6,200 in 2008. Of course, under the administration of President Barack Obama, all of this may soon be irrelevant.

But according to Tom Berry, an analyst for the Center for International Policy, a US think-tank headed by former State Department officials, the Democratic Party, including Obama himself, has largely ceded to the right-wing approach of framing the immigration debate. This approach stresses the “rule of law,” which, in effect, means increasing enforcement. As Obama said of his own aunt who was living in the US illegally, “if she is violating laws, those laws have to be obeyed. We’re a nation of laws.”

Berry contends that Obama’s decision to replace Chertoff with former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano as head of DHS is consistent with this tendency. “While realistic. about the impossibility of completely sealing the border, “ Berry writes, “she has called for more border patrol agents, s, deployed the state’s National Guard, and supported in- creased federal-state cooperation in immigration law enforcement.”

Bush administration
Similarly, David Bacon wrote in December in The Nation that Napolitano “has publicly supported most of the worst ideas of the Bush administration, including guest-worker programs with no amnesty for the currently undocumented, and brutal enforcement schemes.” He adds, however, that Obama “does not have to be imprisoned by the failure of Napolitano to imagine a more progressive alternative.”

Plan Mexico and Migration
Whatever may happen under the Obama administration, arrest and abuse at the hands of authorities is not only a menace to Central American immigrants living in the US. As Jorge Bustamante, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said in March, Mexico “does worse things to Central American immigrants than the US does to Mexican immigrants.”

Despite the abuses, the number of Central Americans deported from Mexico has actually fallen since 2007. While almost 40,000 Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans were deported from January to November of 2007, that number dropped to about 30,000 during the equivalent period in 2008. As is true for deportations from the US, Hondurans suffered the most, followed by Guatemalans, Salvadorans and finally Nicaraguans.

Next year, though, it may be more difficult for Central Americans to pass through Mexico: it has come to light that one fifth of the US$400 million destined to Mexico under Plan Merida, a US anti-drug initiative, will be spent on strengthening migration control. In December, the government of Felipe Calderon received an initial disbursement of US$197 million, US$22 million of which went to the National Institute for Migration.

The Mexican newspaper Excelsior reported that this money will be spent, in part, on the “search and capture of Central Americans who crossed irregularly into the country” (Excelsior, December 4, 2008) The Calderon government will also use the funds to build a laboratory that specializes in detecting false documents, and there are further plans for Mexican authorities to take biometric measures of frequent border crossers, such as temporary workers from Central America (Jornada, December 12, 2008).

Although the US and Mexico insist that the Merida Initiative is primarily meant to fight the traffic of drugs, high-profile skeptics have expressed doubts. The Guatemalan ambassador to Mexico, Jose Luis Chea, has said that “in the end (this) is a strategy to halt the flow of human beings and not drugs. (It) obviously needs to be discussed in greater depth by the Guatemalan authorities” (, December 11, 2008).

Human Rights
Days earlier, UN official Jorge Bustamante wrote an editorial blasting the Mexican Government for “selling Mexico’s obligation ( ... ) to protect the human rights of Central American immigrants in exchange for the dollars coming from the Merida Initiative.” Bustamante argued that in past years “the US has virtually tried to transport its southern border to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Now they have achieved this ‘in the dark’ with the Merida Initiative” (El Sol, December 7, 2008).”

In another editorial, Laura Carlsen, an analyst for the Center for International Policy, noted that the Merida initiative happens to coincide with efforts by Mexico to improve its treatment of immigrants. In April 2008, the Mexican congress decriminalized undocumented immigration, and throughout the year, human rights training for migration officials was expanded.

But these efforts, Carlsen argued, will be overwhelmed by the Merida Initiative, which enforces the “security paradigm for migratory policy.” Much like Bustamante, she notes that this is just the latest chapter in a long push by the US “to control immigration over its southern border as part of stretching the US security perimeter.”

Public Eye
According to Carlsen, the Merida Initiative is part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), an agreement reached between the Bush, former Mexican President Vincente Fox, and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005.

The SPP’s agenda has largely been set by the corporate interests assembled in the North American Competitiveness Council, whose dealings have been obscured from the public eye. Carlsen notes in another article, published in the NACLA Report on the Americas, that the SPP defines itself as “a White House-led initiative among the US and the two nations it borders - Canada and Mexico - to increase security and to enhance prosperity among the three countries through greater cooperation.”

As Thomas Shannon, the US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, has said, “To a certain extent, we’re armoring NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).”

- Third World Network Features


Tension at Padukka, one person killed in clash

By Yohan Perera and Senaka De Silva

Tension gripped Padukka and security was tightened after a mob killed a man and later attempted to set fire to some houses on Saturday night, police said.

They said the deceased was Selvaraj an employee of Ayre estate and the mob had later tried to attack the colony after cutting the electricity wires and plunging the colony into darkness which led to some villagers hiding themselves in the forest nearby according to reports from the area.

Democratic Peoples Alliance Leader Mano Ganeshan referring to the clash said it was a personal dispute, which had later turned into a mini clash.

“It is unfortunate to see a personal dispute turning into a clash which is the last thing the country needs at this time,” he said. Mirihana Police Senior Superintendent Deshabandu Tillekeratne said the clash was a result of an argument between kassipu sellers and estate workers in the area where a man was killed but the but the police intervened to bring the situation under control. Police are on the lookout for the miscreants and security tightened to defuse the tension in the area and prevent it spreading to the adjoining Labugama Estate.

Friday, February 6, 2009


No houses for 11,811 tsunami families: Govt. tells House

By Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera

The government told parliament yesterday that 11,811 families that lost their houses due to the tsunami were still languishing without permanent abodes.

Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena made the disclosure responding to a query by the JVP MP Lakshman Nipunaarachchi.

During the tsunami tragedy that struck the country’s coastal belt on December 26, 2004, about 126,268 families lost their residences.

In this tragedy, the Chief Government Whip said that 116,641 houses were destroyed. Of these families, 83,751 have been provided with permanent houses or compensation given to live in a permanent house with the state intervention.

Besides, 26,898 houses had been constructed by various organisations and individuals with no direct intervention by the government.

Mr. Gunawardena said one-third of 11,811 families were yet to be given houses in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

“Now, these areas have been cleared. So they can be given houses now,” he said.

JVP MP Nihal Galappaththi said the houses had been constructed in excess of the required number in the Hambantota district.

“There are 10 or 15 families that have come to Hambantota from other areas to live in after the tsunami. Please give these additional houses to them,” he said.

Mr. Gunawardena said the houses had been provided for all the affected families in Hambantota.

SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem said there were 465 houses to be constructed for the tsunami victims in the Ampara district.

Mr. Hakeem said the NGOs that came forward to construct them had now gone because the government failed to provide lands for the purpose.

He said a constituent party had even gone to the Supreme Court against the construction of houses saying the relevant land belonged to a sacred site.

Mr. Hakeem charged the unnecessary communal unrest had been created through this exercise.

However, the Chief Government Whip said it was now an issue taken up in the Court.

“Let’s allow the court to make a decision,” he said.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


officer who took magazines into custody not fluent in English

Tissainayagam trial

By Susitha R. Fernando

Testifying before Colombo High Court at the trial of arrested journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, the police officer attached to the Terrorist Investigation Division said that he took nearly 50 North Eastern Monthly magazines into custody from the Outreach office at Colombo-12.

The witness Inspector Nishantha Pusphalal (33) in his evidence led by State Counsel Sudarshana de Silva before High Court judge Ms. Deepali Wijesundara said he did not understand English much.

IP Pusphalal said that he joined the Police Department in the year 1997 and served in Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) from the year 2006 to September 2008. On March 17, 2008, the witness went to Outreach Multimedia Pvt Ltd at No. 313 Jampettah Street, Colombo-12.

The police officer said he went along with V. Jeyasiharan, the owner of the publishing company, who was in custody and there he took around 50 magazines of North Eastern Monthly into custody.

Out of these magazines the sections of two magazines published in July 2006 and November 2006 were presented to court and they were marked as productions.

The two articles marked as production was an editorial of the North Eastern Monthly magazine under the heading “Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future” and the other article under the heading “With no military options government buys time by offering watered down devolution”.

The witness also said that he checked with the National Archives whether the magazine was registered in Sri Lanka and found that it was not.

Defence counsel, Anil Silva in his cross examination questioned the witness whether he could give an opinion on the articles which he had taken into custody.

At this stage the prosecution objected to seeking an opinion from the witness on the magazines he took into custody. The court upheld the objection.

Later the defence counsel gave the marked sections of the magazines to the witness police officer and asked him to read them aloud.

Re-examined by the prosecution the witness said he could read and understand English though his knowledge was not so good.

Asked by the State Counsel, the witness said that he had read only Sinhala translations of English material.

In this case journalist J. S. Tissainayagam was indicted for an offence said to have been committed during the period between June 1, 2006 and June 1, 2007. He was charged for committing an offence of creating racial or communal disharmony through printing or distribution of the publication North Eastern Monthly magazine, an offence which is punishable under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He was also charged for committing an offence by contributing or collecting or obtaining information relating to or donating funds for the purpose of terrorism through the collection of funds for the magazine, which is an offence punishable under Emergency Regulations.