Morning News, 8/6/10

1. McConnell: Hearings okay
2. Senate raises H-1b fees
3. Widespread fraud in CO
4. DC Latinos having trouble
5. Guest workers want comp

GOP's McConnell on Birthright Citizenship: No One Wants to Alter 14th Amendment
By Jill Laurence
Politics Daily, August 06, 2010

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is playing down his party's new scrutiny of the 14th Amendment, which among other things confers U.S. citizenship on anyone born in the United States. McConnell on Thursday portrayed calls for hearings on the amendment as simply an attempt to examine what he calls the "unseemly" business of foreigners showing up just in time to have their babies, then going back home.

"I'm not aware of anybody who's come out for altering the 14th Amendment," McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He said the push for hearings stems from a Washington Post story about foreign businesses that supply visas to expectant mothers. "This is the kind of thing that irritates Americans quite a lot," he said. "I don't think having hearings on an obvious unseemly business is a threat to the 14th Amendment. What's wrong with looking into this? The Post did."

McConnell added that "the remedy for it is not yet clear. But I am not advocating revisiting the 14th Amendment and I don't think any others have. I think the view is, why don't we take a look at this?"
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Senate raises H-1B fees to fund border security
By Patrick Thibodeau
ComputerWorld, August 06, 2010

The U.S. Senate approved a large H-1B fee increase Thursday to help offset a $600 million "emergency package" to improve security along the Mexican border.

The fee increases, which also affect the L-1 visa, will help pay for 1,000 new border patrol agents and drones, or unmanned aircraft, as well as long list of agencies, including prisons.

The Senate measure increases the H-1B visa application fees by $2,000 per application on those firms that have 50% of their employees on this visa.

The fee increase will have the biggest impact on the large Indian offshore firms, such as Infosys Technologies Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services, which use thousands of H-1B visa holders to service U.S. customers.

Firms such as Microsoft and Google also hire many H-1B visas holders, but they are relatively a smaller fraction of their U.S. workforces.

The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and some other Democrats, passed by unanimous consent.

The House also passed a border security funding measure, one that calls for $701 million in spending, but it did not include an H-1B visa fee increase. Both chambers must now reconcile the two versions.

While the Senate's fee increase will also apply to the L-1 visa, it is uncertain whether it would apply only to those firms that are also H-1B-dependent. The text of the legislation has not been released.

Another group of H-1B users that may be affected by this increase are smaller outsourcing companies that dot office parks around the U.S. They include companies such as Logic Planet Inc., a New Jersey company that employs 95 software engineers, developers and analysts, 89 of whom (93%) hold H-1B visas.
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Documents reveal potential widespread fraud at Department of Labor
By Todd Shepherd
Independence Investigates, August 05, 2010

“Independence Investigates” has obtained internal emails from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) showing that a software control intended to prevent the payment of unemployment insurance to unqualified citizens as well as to illegal aliens was shut off in early 2009.

The emails dictate that former CDLE unemployment insurance director Mike Cullen demanded “Work Order 51662” be given top priority within the department. Completion of the work order would mean various questions asked of someone filing for unemployment regarding citizenship would effectively be ignored by a computer system.

The documents also show that several individuals within the department immediately raised the issue that the work order might be circumventing the law, specifically House Bill 06-1023. HB 1023 was passed in a special session of the legislature in 2006, and mandated that certain government benefits, such as unemployment insurance, be denied to illegal aliens.

In one email, an IT technician says, “This seems to be a super fast slam dunk. Do we need anything in writing from [unemployment insurance director] Mike Cullen as this seems to be a violation of the law (HB-1023)?”

Another email from a different IT technician predicted media fallout, saying, “…this ain’t all so hard to do, BUT we will effectively disabling the legislatures HB-1023 which is now state law. When Channel 4 news finds out, lots of people will be pointing finders [sic] and saying, ‘it wasn’t me.’”

An email from a business analyst attempts to assert a rationale for the work order saying, “The reason: Currently, we have several admins who are doing nothing else but keying in the returned UIB-1 information in order to ensure that people get paid. With our heavy workload, the Business needs to reassign these people to other tasks.” The same email also says that HB 1023 will be enforced again, eventually. However, no specific target date was given for the reinstatement of enforcement of HB 1023.
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District Latinos face challenges in employment and housing, study says
By Carol Morello
The Washington Post, August 06, 2010

The recession has been particularly harsh for many of the District's Latino residents, who are heavily represented in some of the lowest-paying jobs and have clustered in neighborhoods where rents and condominium conversions soared during the decade, according to an Urban Institute study.

The State of Latinos in the District of Columbia paints what it characterized as a "bleak picture" of recent Latino employment trends in the city. The study says that many District Hispanics are vulnerable because their education levels and English-language skills are low, making it difficult to shift to another line of work when they lose their jobs. Almost half have no high school diploma, including a third with less than a ninth-grade education, the study said.

The report relied on census data through 2007 and interviews with community leaders and organizations to measure the recession's impact. It was commissioned by the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs to help determine how to help Latinos thrive.

"We don't have a strong Latino middle class," said George Escobar, deputy director of the office. "The jobs don't pay at a level that allows them to stay and grow a family. The American dream is in Maryland and Virginia, regionally. That's where they flock when they save enough and invest in long-term housing."

The report was released simultaneously with another Urban Institute study on the children of immigrants in Maryland, many of them from Hispanic families that have moved out of the District for less-expensive housing in the suburbs. The number of the state's children with at least one immigrant parent more than doubled between 1990 and 2006. Non-Hispanic white children are now a minority in Maryland schools, the report says.

Because of the migration, several groups that formed in the District to serve Latinos have opened offices and expanded their programs in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The Spanish Catholic Center, part of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, has seen a 15 percent increase in people looking for job training in each of the past three years, said Julieta Machado, head of social services for the center. It also has started offering mental-health services because of demand from people experiencing depression.

Many clients held stable jobs with benefits for a decade or more before losing their jobs, and in some cases their homes.

"They're completely lost," Machado said. "There are a lot of desperate people that come in and they just cry, because they don't see a solution for their lives."

Latinos make up about 9 percent of the District's population. Most are from El Salvador or Mexico. Nearly one in three speaks little or no English. The most common jobs are low wage -- maids and janitors, food preparers and dishwashers. Construction work also is common, but those trades have been hit hard by the housing bust.
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Mexican Guest Workers, Laid Off, Want BP’s Help
By Tamar Lewin
The New York Times, August 06, 2010

Soon after the oil from the Deepwater Horizon began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, business at the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., dried up — and so did the jobs of five Mexican housekeepers who were guest workers at the hotel under contracts guaranteeing them work until Nov. 1.

“On June 30, they told us our jobs were over, and that we had to leave our housing and go back to Mexico,” Salvador Luna Espinoza, one of the housekeepers, said in a telephone interview conducted with a translator. “I’m staying with friends now, but I don’t know how long they’ll put up with me.”

While thousands have lost their jobs as a result of the oil spill, the layoffs present special hardships for guest workers, mostly hotel workers and those working in shellfish processing.

Under their H-2B visas, they are allowed to work only for the employer who arranged their visa, and they must leave the United States within 10 days of losing their job.

Most took on debt of $1,000 or more to pay for the trip to the United States, planning to pay it back with their earnings.

Mr. Luna Espinoza, who has a wife and five children at home in El Tizate, Mexico, said that without the $7.75-an-hour hotel job, he had no hope of repaying his debt — and unless he could do so, no one would back him in arranging another visa or another job.

So he is still in the United States, awaiting compensation.

“What they face is basically a guillotine the moment they’re laid off,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, a grass-roots New Orleans organization that is helping the laid-off housekeepers, and other guest workers laid off from a Baton Rouge seafood processor, file claims with BP. “We would like to see them treated not as disposable workers, but as people who deserve relief in a disaster.”
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