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"The switch to a cash-balance plan is tantamount to a pension pay cut for older workers unless
they get adequate transition protection." - J. Mark Iwry, former Treasury Department counsel"

Amnesty Blows Open the Borders

Employee Advocate – – May 28, 2004

The Associated Press reported that the proposal by G. W. Bush to grant legal status to illegal aliens may be all but dead. But the damage has already been done and is still occurring. It does not matter what Bush calls the proposal; illegal immigrants know what it is – amnesty! They know amnesty when they smell it and they are knocking down the boarders to get into the United States.

Illegal immigration had been declining for four years, until Bush opened his mouth. Now the U.S. Border Patrol says that detentions are up 25 percent in some areas, and up 50 percent in other areas!

The increased border crossings have proven deadly to many illegals, according to the New York Times. Illegal immigrants are killed by heat, freezing, bandits, and cars.

Detainees have said that they are trying to cross the boarder for the Bush amnesty.

What is the penalty for trying to enter the U. S. illegally? Nothing! The illegals are sent back. Sometimes they try it again the very next day!

Leon Stroud, Border Patrol agent, said "It's like catch-and-release fishing. One week, I arrested the same guy three times. If I dwell on it, it can be frustrating."

T. J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said "They've dangled this carrot, and as a result apprehensions in Arizona are just spiking beyond belief. The average field agent is just mystified by the administration's throwing in the towel on this."

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said "We've created an incentive to take foolish risks. In effect, we're saying if you run this gantlet and can get over here, you're home free."

The Amnesty Flop

The Amnesty Flop

Employee Advocate – – March 7, 2004

Knight Ridder Newspapers reported that Congress now has an issue that both parties can agree on. The G. W. Bush illegal alien amnesty plan is dead on arrival. Bush denies that it is an amnesty plan, but everyone knows better.

It was a cheap ploy to buy Hispanic votes. The scheme was so transparent that even Hispanics have protested it. Republicans are often more outraged by the amnesty deal than anyone else.

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo said "It was an absolute flop. His proposal is going nowhere."

Rep. Tancredo talked about the flood of calls and e-mails against the plan. He said "I've never seen anything like it. They were saying things like, 'I'm never going to vote for him again,' or 'I'll never vote Republican again.' That's the thing that was sort of scary from a Republican point of view."

Pollster John Zogby offered this assessment of Bush's proposal: "a trial balloon with lead in it."

More Illegals Because of Bush

More Illegals Because of Bush

Employee Advocate – – February 21, 2004

The Washington Times reported that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of illegal aliens caught crossing into the United States. This epidemic started just days after G. W. Bush began touting his guest-worker program. Is anyone really surprised?

The National Border Patrol Council reported a threefold increase of illegal crossings in the San Diego area alone. The vast majority told the arresting agents that they were seeking amnesty. G. W. Bush should be able to do one thing right, even if by accident. But no such luck. Everything he touches turns into a disaster.

Some people voted for Bush because they though that he would protect our borders from illegal immigrants. There goes another reason to vote for Bush down the drain.

G. W. Bush represents the very worst of both political parties. Republican have traditionally been noted as being financially conservative. Bush has blown that concept out the window.

For years, Republicans have tried to label Democrats as “tax and spend” politicians. Bush has gone this concept one better. He spends lavishly AND reduces tax for the very rich!

Democrats are usually blamed for starting wars to bring about financial prosperity. But Bush is well on his way to declaring war against the world. In the process, he is bringing about financial chaos.

The Democrats are known as being weak on immigration control. But Bush has taken this title away from them, by proposing the very worst possible immigration legislation.

Now some Democrats are trying to outbid Bush, to see who can offer the most generous illegal alien giveaway program!

The Bush administration claims that it is going to fix the broken immigration system. Oh no! It will be “fixed” like Iraq has been fixed. It will be fixed like the budget surplus has been fixed.

Bush did do a crackerjack job of fixing the surplus. There has not been a surplus dollar in Washington since Bush blew into town!

Even many Republicans can no longer support Bush. He has used up all of his chances, and then some. Congressman Lamar Smith is a Texas Republican and member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims. He is not buying Bush’s play on words. He said that the proposal, by definition, is an amnesty program and that past amnesty programs "have not reduced illegal immigration; rather, they have increased illegal immigration."

Mr. Smith added “Amnesty rewards those who broke our laws, and thus encourages others to do the same. Our immigration policies should do the opposite — discourage lawbreakers by sending the message that illegal entry into the United States will not be rewarded."

The National Border Patrol Council calls the Bush proposal a "slap in the face to anyone who has ever tried to enforce the immigration laws of the United States."

Deal Sought on Illegal Farm Labor

No NC Driver’s Licenses for Illegals

Employee Advocate – – January 2, 2004

North Carolina is tightening the loopholes that allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, according to The Charlotte Observer. The list of documents accepted for proof of identity will become smaller.

It is about time. North Carolina has been a haven for illegals seeking licenses.

Senator Fern Shubert said “I think what we're doing is dumber than dirt. It's the policy of the Democratic leadership that they want to give licenses to people here without knowing who they are.”

A new census report showed that North Carolina had the nation's fastest-growing immigrant population during the 1990s.

North Carolina once had the fewest immigrants of any state.

42 Charged in Alien Scheme

Amnesty and Social Security for Illegals

Employee Advocate – – December 13, 2003

G. W. Bush wants to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, according to the Washington Times. The White House verified that the immigration policy is under review. Only two days earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the government had to “afford some kind of legal status" to the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the country.

Heaven forbid enforcing the immigration laws!

Congressman Tom Tancredo called for the resignation of Tom Ridge if he is unable to enforce existing immigration laws. He said that Ridge’s comments would “open a floodgate (of illegals) trying to sneak into the United States in order to be first in line for amnesty.”

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), has serious misgivings about this turn of events. He questions what US security interests were being served “by granting legal status to people whose identities cannot be confirmed and who already have shown an unwillingness to observe U.S. law?”

Mr. Stein added “The law has to be respected before you grandfather in the very people who disrespected it.”

The bozos in Congress legalized 2.7 million wetbacks in 1986. The biggest joke of all is that this was supposed to eliminate illegal aliens in the United States. Today, there are over twice as many illegals as in 1986!

Gannett News Service has reported that the Bush administration is again talking about sending U.S. Social Security benefits to Mexico. G. W. Bush once was paling around with the President of Mexico. They were talking of legalizing millions of illegal aliens and opening up the border. The 9/11 attacks seemed to have given Bush a clue that illegal aliens are maybe not the best friends of America.

Congressman Ron Paul said “Talk about an incentive for illegal immigration. How many more would break the law to come to this country if promised U.S. government paychecks for life?”

Now it looks like Bush is back on the Give America to Illegal Aliens kick.

Giving Amnesty and Social Security to illegal aliens is like rewarding bank robbers with ice cream and cup cakes – even more will want to get in on the act!

300 Illegal Workers at Wal-Mart

Employee Advocate – – October 24, 2003

The Associated Press reported that federal agents arrested over 300 illegal workers at 60 Wal-Mart’s. The illegal worker were cleaning crews, not hired directly by Wal-Mart. But federal officials said that Wal-Mart had direct knowledge of the immigration violations.

Wal-Mart pinches a penny any way it can, and regularly gets bitten because of it. It has been sued for failing to pay employees overtime. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Wal-Mart for age discrimination and retaliation. A Wal-Mart employee was awarded 50 million dollars by a jury, in a hostile work environment case. Wal-Mart had to pay a former employee $8.5 million, after falsely accusing him of shoplifting. It had to pay $6.8 million, due to discrimination against jobseekers with disabilities. Most telling of all, China has pressured Wal-Mart to let its employees in China join labor unions!

Wal-Mart has contributed heavily to the Bush campaign, so he will push “tort reform.” Large corporations, that cannot stay out of legal trouble, frequent try to buy new laws!

In 2001, Tyson Foods had their own immigration problems. Six mangers were charged with immigrant-smuggling. One manager killed himself. Two pleaded guilty. The company and the other three managers were, miraculously, acquitted by a jury.

The Wal-Mart raid covered twenty-one states, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

$5 Billion in Human Cargo

Employee Advocate - – May 26, 2003

The Dallas Morning News reports that the smuggling of humans is estimated to be a $5 billion-a-year industry. It is a perfect business for some. There are millions of customers, profits are outstanding, overhead is minimal, penalties are light, and customers do not have to be pampered – they will not complain. In fact, many customers reach their destination DOA, but more keep lining up to be smuggled.

19 bodies were found in a locked, unventilated trailer in Texas. 100 undocumented immigrants originally began the trip into the U. S. from Mexico.

The next day, 17 undocumented immigrants in a container were intercepted in El Paso. 18 more immigrants in a tractor-trailer were apprehended on May 16, in Texas.

In El Paso last year, 40 immigrants were found crammed into a trailer, along with its cargo. Two died and dozens more suffered heat exhaustion.

Last year, an immigrant suffered third-degree burns from a hot trailer door. It took him months to recover. When asked if he would try it again, he said "I don't think so. I've had my moment in hell."

Border Patrol Finds Drug Tunnel

Employee Advocate – – April 5, 2003

The San Diego Channel reported that U.S. Border Patrol agents found a drug tunnel running into the U. S. from Mexico. It was described as being sophisticated, with bracing, lights, and plastic sheeting.

Bundles of marijuana could be transported from the Mexican side of the border into the U. S., via the tunnel. There was a slot cut into a parking lot on the U. S. side of the border. A truck would park over the slot. The drugs would be lifted through a hole in the bottom of a truck.

Friday, agents found 3,000 pounds of marijuana in one truck.

Dying to Get Into America

Associated Press – by Michelle Morgante – March 11, 2003

SAN DIEGO - California Highway Patrol officers did not know a stolen pickup truck was loaded with more than 20 suspected illegal immigrants when they decided to stop it with spike strips, the department said Monday.

Two people were killed and 20 injured Sunday when the driver swerved around a spike strip, slammed into the center divide and rolled the pickup onto its side, tossing passengers onto the pavement.

"We did not know it had that many people inside of it," said CHP Officer Brian Pennings.

Authorities were trying to determine whether the victims were illegal immigrants, but their nationalities were not immediately confirmed.

The crash on Interstate 8 in El Cajon, east of San Diego, prompted immigrants-rights groups to renew calls for the Border Patrol and CHP to stop high-speed pursuit of vehicles that could be overloaded with people.

"Lessons never seem to be learned," said Claudia Smith of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. "This is a replay, virtually, of the previous deadly crashes."

On Jan. 9, a truck packed with 17 people was being pursued by the Border Patrol when it crashed into a bridge abutment. Two women died at the scene and a third died from her injuries a week later.

In October, another chase east of San Diego ended in a crash that killed two men and injured 19 other people. Last June, six people were killed when a van carrying 27 immigrants drove the wrong way on Interstate 8 to avoid an immigration checkpoint and collided with oncoming cars.

300,000 Illegal Immigrants at Large

The San Diego Union-Tribune – by Marisa Taylor – January 10, 2003

(1/9/03) - More than 300,000 illegal immigrants who have been ordered deported from the United States remain fugitives, despite a highly publicized initiative launched more than a year ago to locate them.

Included in that group are about 4,800 men from nations where al-Qaeda terrorists are known to be active.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service repeatedly has refused to answer questions from The San Diego Union-Tribune about the number of fugitive immigrants apprehended in various INS districts or about the number of officers assigned to find them.

Last month, the INS sent an e-mail to all of its field offices, instructing them not to give the Union-Tribune the figures it requested. But five INS officers in San Diego, concerned their agency isn't serious about pursuing the fugitives, provided some data.

About 6,000 fugitives are thought to be in San Diego County. But between October 2001 and the end of September 2002, only 68 were located. Fifty-one of them walked into INS offices and surrendered voluntarily. Officers found the other 17.

A similar situation apparently exists in San Francisco where the Union-Tribune was able to obtain some numbers before the INS clamped down on information. Of 18,576 fugitives targeted for capture, only about 185 have been found since May.

"Everyone assumes after 9/11 that we're looking after the security of this country," one of the San Diego officers said. "The truth is nothing has changed."

The effort to find the fugitives was launched by former INS Commissioner James Ziglar at a news conference on Dec. 5, 2001. He described the plan as key to the Justice Department's crackdown on illegal immigrants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Pursuing them was important, Ziglar said, because unlike other immigrants who are still waiting to go before immigration judges, the fugitives had exhausted their appeals. The INS classifies them as absconders.

Although INS spokesman William Strassberger acknowledged that his agency is still seeking about the same number of people now as on the day the program was announced, he described it as a success.

As proof, he pointed to the fact that INS officers had tracked down 1,108 of the 5,900 emigrants from nations with an al-Qaeda presence.

Strassberger said that except for those nationalities, his agency never intended to send officers out to find the rest of the absconders.

Instead, the INS is entering all the names into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, an electronic clearinghouse accessible to 80,000 law enforcement agencies from local police to the U.S. Customs Service.

The hope is that these agencies will notify the INS if they encounter any of the fugitives.

"It's clear that the administration is interested in tracking down these individuals," Strassberger said. "We're continuing to use every resource that's available."

But the INS officers who talked to the Union-Tribune contend the initiative has been more effective at garnering publicity than in getting results.

They asked to remain anonymous because they were afraid of being punished by the INS for speaking out. They did not fault their superiors, but blamed Washington for the inaction.

At the same time, they said they hoped top officials would heed their concerns and improve the program in March, when the INS will be merged with the Department of Homeland Security.

The officers say the current program is failing because each case requires at least six hours of research – time they don't have because of understaffing.

In February, for example, four San Diego agents were assigned to find 350 men from nations with an al-Qaeda presence, but 236 remain at large.

Eighty of the cases have been referred to other districts. Sixteen were determined to be in the United States legally or have been located outside the country. Only 18 individuals have been taken into custody in San Diego.

The success rate is low, one officer said, because the agents assigned to do the searches must also perform all their pre-9/11 duties. Those duties include investigating immigration-related gang activity and deporting immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.

They also have another handicap: important identifying information, such as photographs and fingerprints, are missing from INS files created years ago, the officer said.

For instance, more than 250 of the fugitives being sought in San Diego are Somalian, and the INS only recently discovered that dozens of them had used the same fake address.

"It was our screw-up," the officer said.

A long list

The agents assigned to the lower priority job of finding the 6,000 or so fugitives from countries without al-Qaeda ties are working against even greater odds.

Only three officers have been dedicated full-time to the job. And while they're searching for the missing 6,000, new names are being added to the list at a rate of about 1,000 per year.

The officers also say the total number of fugitives at large is higher than the INS indicates, because hundreds of immigrants are taken off the list each year after the agency has concluded they can't be located. The officers suspect many of those immigrants went into hiding years ago and are working in underground jobs.

"We have so many people out there that for all we know any one of them could pose a real serious security risk," one officer said.

Other agents, who earn up to $80,000 a year, could be assigned to help, but instead are stuck at their desks doing clerical duties, the officers said.

"Bottom line, it's a disservice to our country and to American taxpayers," one officer said. "You don't need a gun to shuffle paperwork."

Lauren Mack, an INS spokeswoman in San Diego, referred questions about the absconder program to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Agency officials in Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, Miami, New York, and Chicago also refused to comment on efforts to locate absconders or release the number of agents assigned to the initiative.

Strassberger, the INS spokesman in Washington, said headquarters instructed field offices not to release the information to the Union-Tribune because the agency didn't have the clearance from the Justice Department, which has jurisdiction over the agency for the next two months.

Justice Department officials did not return repeated phone calls.

Edward Bell, the president of the union that represents INS employees in San Diego, said the agencies didn't release the information because they don't want to be criticized for lackluster results after being praised for their efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

"If I had gotten kudos for my great job for keeping the border safer – and it's pointed out there are thousand of absconders just across the border – the public just might suspect that the whole thing is really just smoke and mirrors," Bell said.

But INS officials said their agency's resources are limited and must also be used to track down immigrants convicted of serious crimes. An estimated 20,000 immigrants are serving sentences in California prisons at any given time.

"There are always going to be critics out there saying not enough is being done," Strassberger said. "The reality is that we have to focus on those who are the highest risk. Everyone in law enforcement has to make these decisions. It can be frustrating for the average officer because they would like to catch every criminal. Unfortunately law enforcement doesn't work that way."

Timothy Heck, head of the INS detention and removal program in San Diego, also defended his office.

No matter what the agency does, Heck said, finding absconders or any of the roughly 7 million other illegal immigrants living in the United States is difficult.

"Just think about: If one-tenth of 1 percent of them were people who wanted to do harm to this country, that's a lot of people," he said. "Even if the INS was 99.99 percent effective, that still leaves a lot of people who can do bad things. It's an enormous challenge. We would need well over 1 million officers to do everything we need to do."

Finding fugitives

The INS has considered absconders a low priority for years, instead concentrating most of its resources on stemming the flow of immigrants crossing into the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border. Officers were generally encouraged to pursue illegal immigrants inside the country only if they had been convicted of crimes.

Most absconders, however, are wanted only for violating immigration laws. For example, 8 percent of those wanted in San Diego are believed to have criminal records.

"Many of these people just blend in," Heck said. "They work at factories, restaurants or hotels. They don't break the laws so they're never encountered again by any authority."

Because most absconders aren't criminals, the INS has traditionally relied on the fugitives to turn themselves in. The agency sends them letters, ordering them to show up at field offices so they can be deported. But agents call the notices "run letters" because the recipients rarely show up.

Once someone is reported as a no-show, deportation officers are supposed to research possible locations where the fugitive might be living and track them down to conduct "knock and talks."

But until November, there was no national policy defining the procedures officers should follow when they made these arrests.

This lack of a consistent policy raised questions about how the INS handled the few raids it had conducted.

In Houston, three immigration deportation officers were accused of beating a Mexican man and denying him medical care during a raid in March of 2001. The father of five ended up paralyzed from the neck down and was eventually taken off life support because he was declared brain dead.

Two years ago in San Diego, an officer reported being attacked by a female relative of a fugitive when he and several others tried to arrest the fugitive in a raid. During the scuffle, an officer who was supervising the raid sprayed the woman with pepper spray.

Although the woman was taken to the hospital for a checkup, she didn't have any injuries. The incident, however, prompted San Diego officials to suspend all "knock and talks" until three months ago.

Now, the team assigned to pick up fugitives goes out once a week and relies on volunteers. One officer said they consider themselves lucky if they manage to detain three people a week.

Illegal Alien in the White House

New York Post – by Michelle Malkin – January 4, 2003

January 3, 2003 -- IF YOU thought the New Year's Eve FBI manhunt for illegal aliens with fake passports was a disturbing sign of homeland insecurity, wait until you hear about who's been working on President Bush's front lawn.

While the Secret Service has now instituted criminal- and citizenship-screening procedures for all tourists (including children) who visit the White House, federal agents failed to detect an illegal alien who used a false identity and fraudulent documents and was employed for at least two years as a supervisor of tent installation for White House social events.

This illegal alien had been ordered kicked out of the country by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in February 2000, but was able to evade the law and fool both his employer and the Secret Service through petty identity fraud.

He was finally caught at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, but it was no thanks to the law enforcement agents in Washington who are assigned to protect the White House from unknown intruders.

Posing as "Kelvin Rodriguez," a Mexican citizen named Salvador Martinez-Gonzalez worked for HDO Productions Inc., which bills itself as "the nation's most respected provider of special event tent and accessory rentals." The company designs elaborate outdoor settings for galas, weddings and government functions.

Martinez-Gonzalez had access to the White House grounds, the Pentagon and NASA, and rubbed elbows with Washington's most powerful officials - from former President Bill Clinton to current Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne. Martinez-Gonzalez kept festive photos of himself with Clinton and the Cheneys as souvenirs to show off his insider access.

On Dec. 2, according to a Justice Department intelligence report I obtained, Martinez-Gonzalez tried to return to the United States from a trip to Mexico. He showed up at the Laredo, Texas, port of entry claiming to be a U.S. citizen, and provided inspectors with the photos of himself with Clinton and the Cheneys.

A routine fingerprint and immigration database check showed that he had been apprehended in Brownsville, Texas, two years ago, and at that time was ordered to leave the country. He should have been immediately detained for fraudulent entry and kicked out.

But Martinez-Gonzalez was neither detained nor removed from the United States, as required by federal law. Instead, immigration officials learned, Martinez-Gonzalez was freed, and purchased a birth certificate from the real Kelvin Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican national who lent his identity to Martinez-Gonzalez.

According to the intelligence report, Rodriguez helped Martinez-Gonzalez obtain a Social Security card, Maryland driver's license and a U.S. passport.

According to the report, Martinez-Gonzalez/"Rodriguez" moved to the Maryland suburbs and began to work for HDO Productions.

An Associated Press article shows that the company had past problems with illegal labor at the White House.

In the summer of 1998, immigration officials arrested two Mexican nationals who worked for HDO Productions and were trying to gain access to the White House grounds using fake alien-registration cards.

Secret Service officers detained them after they presented the fake documents. The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia authorized prosecution for possession of fraudulent documents, and the two workers were reportedly deported.

As for Martinez-Gonzalez / "Rodriguez," he left HDO Productions sometime in the fall. Company President Jerry O'Connell said that he was not aware of any immigration problems and that Martinez-Gonzalez's departure had nothing to do with immigration-related fraud.

His current whereabouts are unknown.

According to the Department of Justice intelligence report, the FBI and Secret Service were both contacted by immigration investigators for further interviewing of this illegal-alien impostor. But an FBI spokesman in Washington said he was unfamiliar with the case. My calls to the White House were unreturned. The Secret Service refused to comment.

Hopefully, President Bush will have better luck getting answers. For if his own guardians can't keep low-level, illegal border-crossing identity impostors out of the White House back yard, how in the world can we count on his administration to keep far more sophisticated, illegal-alien evildoers - like the five that President Bush personally ordered hunted down last week - out of ours?

Harsh Reward for Hard Labor

Washington Post – by Nurith C. Aizenman – December 30, 2002

For Many Hispanic Immigrants, Work Injuries End Dreams of a New Life

Sunday, December 29, 2002; Page C01

One moment, Pedro Velazquez was standing on the roof of the partially built townhouse, preparing to anchor his harness to the top. The next, he was careening downward, grasping in panic for a handhold as he sailed over the edge toward the frozen ground four stories below.

At the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, doctors surveyed the damage: Smashed wrist. Broken leg. Fractured spine. Shattered dream.

"All I could think of was my wife and my children in Mexico," the 43-year-old roofer recalled in Spanish recently, blinking back tears as he sat in a sterile nursing home room in Manassas. "What will they live on without me to support them?"

Like many of the Latino immigrants who have swelled the nation's workforce over the past decade, Velazquez was drawn by the prospect of a booming economy and plentiful jobs, settling illegally in Dale City less than a year before his accident in February.

Now, paralyzed from the chest down and unable to use his lower arms and hands, he has joined the growing ranks of a different class of newcomer: one of the thousands of immigrant Latino men -- both documented and undocumented -- who are injured or killed while working in the United States each year.

According to authors of a study to be released soon by the National Academy of Sciences, foreign-born Latino men are now nearly 2 1/2 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average U.S. worker.

Government statistics on nonfatal injuries are less revealing because they lump immigrants together with American-born Hispanics, who tend to have more education and better language skills. Yet here, too, the news is grim, with Hispanic men about 50 percent more likely to be injured than the average worker.

And under the laws of many states, employees who are in the country illegally are ineligible for full medical coverage or monetary compensation for their injuries. Instead, they must depend on emergency rooms or simply forgo medical care.

"Our nation is being built on the backs of these guys," said Daniel P. Barrera, a lawyer who has helped Velazquez and other injured Latinos in the area navigate the workers' compensation system. "It's really unfair that they're being treated this way when they're hurt."

Researchers are trying to determine all the reasons behind the rise in injuries, but one is clear: Often minimally educated and desperately poor, Latino immigrants have flocked to some of the nation's most dangerous industries in record numbers, eagerly snapping up nonunion construction, manufacturing and agricultural jobs that are too low-paying and high-risk to attract enough U.S.-born workers.

Largely as a result, the number of fatally injured Latino workers rose by more than 50 percent -- from 533 in 1992 to 815 in 2000 -- even as the nation's non-Hispanic fatality rate dropped.

Among the latest to be added to the tally were two Hispanic steelworkers from North Carolina who were killed in Rockville last month when a concrete parking garage they were building collapsed on top of them. A non-Hispanic worker was also killed, and another Hispanic worker was seriously injured.

In the greater Washington area, where Latinos make up 8 percent of approximately 5.4 million residents, the walking wounded increasingly fill the waiting rooms of rehabilitation clinics. Prompted by an explosion in its Hispanic clientele three years ago, one of the region's largest injury-treatment centers, Rehab at Work, opened an office in Alexandria with four Spanish-speaking therapists.

And at the Shady Grove offices of another group, Rehabilitation Services of Greater Washington, occupational therapist Rich Shegogue said he spends much of his day speaking Spanish.

A recent visit to that clinic amounted to a tour of the underside of the American Dream.

At one table, Mexican-born Mario Perez -- whose right pinkie tendon was sliced by a falling piece of plasterboard -- winced in pain as a therapist massaged his hand.

Nearby, Peruvian-born Luis Enrique Bonta waited his turn, distractedly rubbing the stumps of three fingers he lost in a printing press accident.

The psychological damage to such workers can be tougher to cure than their physical disabilities, Shegogue said.

"Because of the machismo ideal in Hispanic culture, it's a very heavy blow for our Latino clients to be told they can't work," he said. "I see a lot of frustration and depression stemming from that."

Bonta said he has struggled with both. "My family is really feeling the change in my character," said the 46-year-old, who lives with his wife and two of his children in Gaithersburg. "I'm in pain all the time and bothered by everything. And I don't want to do anything anymore. I just feel so impotent."

Yet for all their difficulties, Shegogue's clients are at least getting medical care and financial assistance for their injuries. That can be a challenge when an injured worker is one of the nation's estimated 7 million to 8 million illegal immigrants.

While many states do not distinguish between documented and undocumented immigrants when it comes to workers' compensation, plenty do. The most extreme is Wyoming, where undocumented immigrants are excluded from all compensation. Virginia's Supreme Court held the same in a 1999 decision, prompting the state legislature to pass a law extending most medical and wage benefits to illegal immigrants the following year.

Even so, in Virginia, Maryland and the District, undocumented workers are not eligible for vocational retraining if their injuries prevent them from doing their original jobs.

And while Virginia and Maryland do allow undocumented workers financial compensation for permanent disabilities, such workers cannot receive compensation from employers for a temporary loss in wages they experience if they can only do light work while recovering.

That was devastating news to a Bolivian-born construction worker living in Virginia whose hand was crushed by a plummeting scaffolding plank last year.

The worker, who asked that his name be withheld because he is undocumented, received no compensation during the roughly six months he was recuperating from the accident. As a result, he said, he was forced to exhaust his savings to pay his share of the apartment he rents with five other laborers.

Worst of all, he said, was the knowledge that his wife and three children back in Bolivia -- to whom he used to send about $1,000 a month -- were having to get by on much less.

"They used to eat meat once a week. Now they can't afford it," he said.

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said he has some sympathy for such immigrants.

Nonetheless, he noted, "these folks are in the country knowingly and willingly violating our immigration laws. . . . And the more you extend benefits to them, the more you normalize their presence and convey to them, to their employer and to people thinking about coming here illegally that the United States simply isn't serious about its immigration laws."

Lawyers for such workers counter that illegal employees should not have to suffer while the companies that employ them -- often at lower wages than legal workers -- get a free pass.

Immigrant advocates also speculate that undocumented workers face greater chance of injury because the companies that are willing to risk hiring them may be more likely to reduce costs by cutting corners on safety.

"The employer's calculus is that these are workers who won't raise issues of health and safety because they either don't know they can, or will be afraid of losing their job and getting deported," said Brian Christopher, executive director of the Alice Hamilton Center, a nonprofit work-safety training center in Silver Spring.

Unscrupulous employers also may fail to inform immigrant workers of their rights under the compensation system or neglect to obtain legally required workers' compensation insurance, immigrant advocates said.

The latter can be a particularly thorny problem for workers in the District, where it can take a year or more to get compensation from a special fund for workers at uninsured companies.

Eric May, a lawyer based in the District, said he recently had to turn down a house cleaner seeking compensation from a janitorial company for injuries she suffered in an accident while driving from one job to another in the firm's vehicle.

"From what I could tell, the employer wasn't insured, so it would have been too long and arduous a process to come to the woman's rescue," May said.

Even when employers are insured, they may contest an employee's claim in court, causing long delays during which immigrant workers who cannot afford to pay for treatment out of pocket must simply go without.

Such was the case with another one of Barrera's clients, a construction worker who suffered massive head injuries when he fell off a 25-foot-high roof, then had to wait nearly a year to get speech and cognitive therapy until a judge ruled in his favor.

Velazquez, the roofer who was paralyzed in the fall from a townhouse in February, was luckier in that regard. His employer was insured and did not contest Velazquez's claim that he slipped on a piece of tar sheeting that had not been properly nailed to the roof. He is now getting $373 a week in compensation benefits, plus medical care.

But that is small consolation for a man who once reveled in his speed on the soccer field. Still too fragile to return to his wife and children in the central Mexican city of Morelia, he has as yet been unable to persuade immigration authorities to allow relatives to come to him.

So he has had few visitors to lighten his mood as he soldiers through a succession of bedsores, excruciating nerve spasms and other complications of paralysis.

At first, Velazquez said, he spent the hours of isolation staring blankly through his nursing home window, sliding ever deeper into what seemed an unfathomable despair.

But in the past two months, he has begun to search for more active ways to pass the time.

Perhaps, he wonders, he can catch up on some of the schooling he missed when his father set him to work selling vegetables on the street at age 8. As a start, he's borrowed a book of Spanish love poems by Latin American authors. And he's even learning a little English from an instruction video.

On a recent afternoon, he rolled his wheelchair up to a nurse and tried out one of his newest phrases: "Medicine for pain, please?"

Social Security to Mexico?

Washington Post – by Jonathan Weisman – December 20, 2002

Thursday, December 19, 2002; Page A01

Pushed by the Mexican government, the Bush administration is working on a Social Security accord that would put tens of thousands of Mexicans onto the Social Security roster and send hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits south of the border.

White House and Mexican government officials say discussions on an agreement to align the Social Security systems of the two countries are informal and preliminary. But excerpts from an internal Social Security Administration memo obtained this month say the agreement "is expected to move forward at an accelerated pace," with the support of both governments, and could be in force by next October.

The pact would be the latest, but by far the largest, of a series of treaties designed to ensure that people from one country working in another aren't taxed by both nations' social security systems. In its first year, the agreement is projected to trigger 37,000 new claims from Mexicans who worked in the United States legally and paid Social Security taxes but have been unable to claim their checks, according to a memo prepared by Ted Girdner, the Social Security Administration's assistant associate commissioner for international operations.

Extrapolating from U.S. and Mexican government statistics, the accord could cost $720 million a year within five years of implementation. One independent estimate put the total at $1 billion a year -- a large sum, but a trifle compared with the $372 billion in Social Security benefits currently being paid to 46.4 million recipients.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has been pushing President Bush to sign a Social Security agreement with Mexico as something of a consolation prize to make up for Bush's failure to pursue promised immigration reforms, according to Latino lobbyists close to the Fox administration. Mexican officials began pressing the White House hard at meetings that preceded the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Los Cabos, Mexico, in October.

"When the legalization talks began going nowhere, the Mexicans began focusing on this," said Maria Blanco, national senior counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "They really bore in at Los Cabos."

Arturo Sarukhan, a top official in Mexico's foreign ministry, said that after Mexico's failure to win a comprehensive package of immigration reforms from Bush, it is lobbying in Washington for important incremental steps. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," he said.

The Social Security agreement, he said, is one of those less-sexy things that Mexico has been pushing to deepen its relationship with the United States and improve the day-to-day lives of Mexicans.

Just yesterday, Fox underscored the political pressure he is under domestically to secure concessions from the United States when he journeyed to the border city of Nuevo Laredo to call for an "urgent" immigration accord to end discrimination against Mexican workers north of the border.

Concern is rising on Capitol Hill -- and even among some White House economic aides -- that any agreement on Social Security could add a new burden to the benefits system, just as the baby-boom generation is preparing to retire. House Ways and Means Committee staff members are meeting today with Social Security officials to hash out projected costs for such an agreement.

"We are concerned about the sheer magnitude of the agreement," said a House Republican aide who is an expert on Social Security. About 94,000 beneficiaries living abroad have been brought into the system by the 20 existing international agreements. A Mexican agreement alone could bring in 162,000 in the first five years.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the issue is being explored only at a "technical level" at this point, and the administration has not yet decided to move forward with formal negotiations. "A totalization agreement with Mexico would have significant implications," she said.

Miguel Monterrubio, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy, said several meetings have taken place between the Social Security Administration and its Mexican counterpart since November 2001, but he, too, called them informal.

The Social Security memo indicates that work may be further along than both governments are saying. According to the memo, "the application workloads generated by an agreement with Mexico will be much larger than those resulting from any of the 20 existing agreements" with other countries.

In addition to the flurry of new claims, an additional 13,000 Mexicans entitled to benefits but cut off by provisions in recent immigration laws could also begin receiving their checks. In a 1996 immigration reform law, Congress decreed that foreigners not legally residing in the United States could no longer claim benefits, unless their home countries were subject to a treaty. Those beneficiaries alone were owed nearly $50 million in 1998, according to a Mexican government document.

The team of negotiators from the Social Security Administration and State Department working on the agreement already anticipate that the U.S. government will have to erect a new building in the embassy complex in Mexico City just to deal with the crush, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

If the new beneficiaries in Mexico received payments roughly equal to the average $8,100 benefit that Mexican-born retirees in the United States now receive, the total would easily surpass $1 billion a year, said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan research organization. And even that number could seriously underestimate the number of Mexicans who would seek Social Security benefits, if not qualify for them, he said.

Such talk has caused growing concern at the State Department and on Capitol Hill. A memo from the State Department's assistant secretary for consular affairs, Maura Harty, to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell even indicated the White House National Economic Council has raised objections. As one State Department official put it, "the staffing and budget implications haven't been fully worked out, but we're thinking about it."

To the Mexican government and immigrant advocates, such concerns are beside the point.

"How can [the U.S. government] say this is too costly?" Blanco asked. "This is money these workers paid into the Social Security system. This is their money."

The United States has been negotiating Social Security "totalization" agreements with other governments since the late 1970s. They allow workers to "totalize" the number of years they have worked in both countries to meet the minimum years required to qualify for benefits in one of the systems.

Until now, the cost of such agreements has been relatively small, since they have been almost exclusively with European countries. According to the Social Security Administration, the annual cost of all 20 existing accords equals about $183 million.

"All of the deals before this have been noncontroversial and low-cost," said a House Republican expert on Social Security. "This could be dramatically different in all kinds of ways."

The GOP aide said Mexican officials would also like benefits to be adjusted upward for a legal Mexican worker who worked in the United States for some time illegally and paid into the Social Security system using a false Social Security number. Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said as much as $21 billion in Social Security payments have not been tracked to potential beneficiaries, most likely because they were paid under a false Social Security number.

Correspondent Kevin Sullivan in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Immigration - Page 5