Monday, December 17, 2007


“G” is a first-year Korean American undocumented student attending the University of California, San Diego. To protect her identity and family, we have not included her name.

From the Korean Resource Center and

THERE I was standing before a crowd of 100 people - their faces, I could not see because of the bright lights, bur-l could hear their thunderous applause. I was the lead and first chair of my high school orchestra and had just finished my solo on violin performing “The Theme From Schindler’s List.” As I bowed before the appreciative audience, I couldn’t help but think: The United States of America is a place where anyone can earn a position of distinction with hard work.

It was in stark contrast to an experience I had as a fifth-grader in Korea, my birth country where I grew up until age 12. My peers had voted me vice president of our class, and I was so excited. But that day, the principal called me into his office and asked me to give up my position. He told me that if you’re vice president, that means you have to help support the school financially, and he knew my family was not in a position to do so.

So he gave my title to one of my friends, whose parents were well-off and had called the principal campaigning for their daughter. All I remember is crying all day. My mom told me, “It’s OK. It’s not your fault.”

Five years later, I was in a country where I could earn and keep the title of first chair of my orchestra, though my parents were not rich or influential. This is what I love about America, my adopted country.

To read more go to:

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Political SceneReturn of the Nativist

The Political Scene - Return of the Nativist
Behind the Republicans’ anti-immigration frenzy
by Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker December 17, 2007
(See the great artwork on the webpage above.Artwork caption: Tancredoism-a hard line on immigration-is abetted by an absence of Party leadership and by Bush’s unpopularity.)
Once upon a time, John McCain was favored to win the Republican nomination. His straight-talking appeal and his cultivation of the Republican Party’s right wing put him first—at least in the early conventional wisdom. Then, last summer, his campaign seemed to spontaneously combust in a puff of fund-raising troubles and staff intrigue. But McCain has slowly made his way back into contention. The usual line is that he has done it by being “the old McCain,” the one that New Hampshire voters (and many journalists) fell for during his 2000 Presidential run. Unlike Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, or Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, two of his chief competitors, he holds a press conference after nearly every campaign event. Just before a recent trip to South Carolina, he invited a dozen reporters for lunch at his Arlington, Virginia, campaign headquarters (on the thirteenth floor, naturally).Rather than trying to woo religious conservatives, an awkward alliance at best, McCain is focussing more on his natural base of independents (in New Hampshire) and veterans (in South Carolina). Instead of trying to run a by-the-numbers conservative campaign, he is emphasizing issues on which he has taken what he believes to be principled but unpopular positions. He is the only one in the Republican field who seems eager to talk about Iraq. “My friends, here’s the news,” he told a small crowd in Seneca, South Carolina, a few days after returning from Thanksgiving with the troops. “We are winning in Iraq. We are winning in Iraq. We are winning in Iraq.”Over lunch in Arlington, McCain had given the stock explanation for what caused last summer’s difficulties. “The problem, which was my problem, was that our fiscal expectations weren’t met by reality,” he said—in other words, he couldn’t raise enough money. But the next day, as I travelled with McCain around South Carolina, he told me that his campaign’s brush with death had less to do with fund-raising than with his role in championing the ambitious immigration-reform bill, supported by the White House, that died in Congress this year. “It wasn’t the budgetary problems. That was an inside-the-Beltway thing,” he said, referring to press coverage of his campaign’s setbacks. McCain gets animated whenever he discusses the immigration issue. After a town-hall meeting in Anderson, South Carolina, he recalled how the Irish were discriminated against in America. As he quoted a placard that hangs on the wall of an aide’s office (“Help Wanted—No Irish Need Apply”), he jabbed his finger in the air with such emphasis that he knocked my voice recorder to the ground and erased our conversation. “It was immigration” that hurt his campaign, he said when he continued, after a series of apologies on both sides. “I understand that. I was told by one of the pollsters, ‘We see real bleeding.’ ”There were two major factions in the immigration debate in Congress. A bipartisan coalition wanted a bill that included tough border-security measures, which everyone favored, as well as more controversial provisions concerning temporary-worker permits for undocumented aliens and a way for them to attain citizenship. Conservatives, led by Tom Tancredo, a Colorado congressman and Presidential candidate, demanded a bill that dealt only with security. McCain seems torn by how to address the issue, and he makes a small but telling concession to the Tancredo faction when he argues that security legislation must indeed come first. “You’ve got to do what’s right, O.K.?” he told me. “But, if you want to succeed, you have to adjust to the American people’s desires and priorities.”During another conversation, when I asked McCain what he had learned from the arguments about immigration, he said, “I think the main lesson is that Americans had no trust or confidence in the government. So when we said, as part of this comprehensive solution, we need to secure the borders, add temporary workers, and address the twelve million people here, they just didn’t believe us, O.K.?” He argued that the mismanaged response after Hurricane Katrina, the Washington corruption scandals such as those involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and unchecked government spending had undermined public confidence. “So what you have to do is prove to them that you’re going to secure the borders. And then I think that at least most of them—except for the Tancredos, who want to stop all immigration—would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to address these other issues.’ ”McCain’s standard answer to immigration questions is that he “got the message.” But every so often this practical McCain, bending to the mood of the primary electorate, gets shoved aside by the quixotic McCain, the one who never seems happier than when he’s championing a lost cause. At one stop in South Carolina, at Clemson University, a student engaged McCain in an argument about whether his plan rewarded illegal immigrants for breaking the law. McCain was by then in a combative mood. Minutes earlier, a professor had asked about a piece of Internet-crime legislation that he argued would group terrorism researchers with actual terrorists. “Am I a terrorist?” the professor asked, his querulous tone suggesting that McCain hadn’t answered the original question. The questioner was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, a pink polo shirt, and a gray blazer, and McCain looked at him carefully. “With those sneakers, you’re not a snappy dresser,” McCain replied after a pause, as audience members gasped and laughed. “That doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist. Though you terrorize the senses.” To the student with the immigration question, McCain patiently explained that some illegal immigrants had faced unusual circumstances, and he mentioned a woman who has lived in the United States for decades and has a son and a grandson serving in Iraq. When the student said that he wanted to see punishment meted out to anyone who has broken the law, McCain stopped trying to find common ground. “If you’re prepared to send an eighty-year-old grandmother who’s been here seventy years back to some country, then frankly you’re not quite as compassionate as maybe I am,” he said. Next question.McCain could stop discussing the controversial parts of his immigration plan or he could drop his support for them altogether, admitting that he was simply wrong, as Romney has done with abortion and other issues. I asked McCain about Romney, who had once expressed support for the comprehensive legislation backed by the Bush Administration—it sounded “reasonable,” he’d said—but now rails against it as “amnesty.” McCain said, “Both he and Rudy had the same position I did. In fact, Rudy was even more liberal. But, look, if that—” He paused and shrugged. “I don’t want to be President that bad.”Later that night, at the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida, immigration declared itself the dominant and obsessive issue of the Republican primaries, and the issue also clarified some essential differences among the candidates. The two formerly moderate Northeasterners, Romney and Giuliani, taunted each other about who was tougher on illegal immigrants. On the other side were McCain and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who told their opponents that illegal immigrants “need some of our love and compassion” (McCain) and that “we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did” (Huckabee). The Romney-Giuliani exchange prompted Tancredo, whose platform calls for restrictions even on legal immigration, to giddily declare that his opponents were trying to “out-Tancredo Tancredo.”The emergence of Trancredoism as an ideological touchstone for two Republican front-runners is a stunning development, another indication of the Party’s rejection of nearly everything associated with the approach taken by George W. Bush. As a border-state governor, Bush boasted of his relationship with Vicente Fox, who became the President of Mexico, and he and his political adviser Karl Rove later argued that Republicans needed a pro-Latino vision for immigration reform. His strategy of cultivating immigrants as integral to the future of the Party seemed to work, and Bush did surprisingly well with Latino voters: in 2004, he won some forty per cent of their vote—double what Bob Dole achieved just eight years earlier.In the late nineteen-nineties, when the Republican Party began embracing Bush’s pro-immigrant message, Tom Tancredo was a relatively anonymous backbencher. “When I first started on this, when I came to Congress, nine years ago, I found that I could get few, if anyone, to pay attention to the issue,” Tancredo told me as he was being ferried between campaign events in New Hampshire. “I remember going into a Republican conference meeting and asking if I could show a video that a night-vision camera had taken of people coming across the border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in Arizona. You had all of these campers parked, people sleeping, and in between were probably hundreds and hundreds of people, most of them carrying guns. And I was showing this and it was two hundred and twenty-two members of the Republican conference, and there were four left at the end of it. And it was a three-minute video. They walked out murmuring things, you know”—he made a mumbling sound—“ ‘immigration, immigration, immigration.’ ”When I asked Tancredo about Bush’s argument that Republicans risked losing a generation of Hispanic voters if they adopted an immigration policy that many regard as nativist, he laughed and said, “It doesn’t seem to be holding its own very well, considering what happened the other night at the debate. If you think for a moment that Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson”—Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator—“haven’t polled the heck out of this thing, you’re wrong. They have. And they are there now because the polls tell them this is where they should be.”The rise of Tancredoism has been aided and abetted by a number of factors, including an absence of strong leadership in the Republican Party and the greatly diminished power and popularity of the President, whose approval ratings fell as the war in Iraq went wrong and the government failed to act effectively after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In December, 2005, the nativist wing of the G.O.P. in the House—marginalized by Bush’s semi-successful rebranding of his party as progressive on immigration—passed legislation requiring seven hundred miles of fence along the Mexican border, and reclassified as felons illegal immigrants. (The bill set off huge immigrants’-rights protests in dozens of cities in 2006.) The post-Bush, pre-Tancredo era of the Republican Party had begun.Another catalyst was the peculiar dynamics of this year’s Republican Presidential campaign. In 1999, when Bush made his initial foray into Presidential politics, he already had credibility with conservatives, largely based on his tax-cut promises and his religious convictions. It gave him latitude to be heretical on other issues. By contrast, the 2008 Presidential campaign features five leading Republican candidates, each of whom is viewed with suspicion by at least part of the so-called base. Unlike Bush in 1999 and 2000, Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Thompson have spent most of the campaign trying to establish their bona fides with conservatives. The effect has been to push the field farther to the right, especially on immigration.Anti-immigrant passion also owes much to the disproportionate influence of a few small states in the nominating process. National polls show that, as an issue, immigration is far behind the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy, and health care as a concern to most Americans; a recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote. “It’s the influx of illegals into places where they’ve never seen a Hispanic influence before,” McCain told me. “You probably see more emotion in Iowa than you do in Arizona on this issue. I was in a town in Iowa, and twenty years ago there were no Hispanics in the town. Then a meatpacking facility was opened up. Now twenty per cent of their population is Hispanic. There were senior citizens there who were—‘concerned’ is not the word. They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions in Iowa, in the small towns in Iowa. So you get questions like ‘Why do I have to punch 1 for English?’ ‘Why can’t they speak English?’ It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.”Mike Huckabee is the latest victim of the Republican shift on the immigration issue. We talked on what should have been a happy day for Huckabee. According to at least one poll, he had taken the lead from Romney in Iowa, and was enjoying a sustained burst of positive media coverage. “Oh, man, it’s been unbelievable,” he said in his winning, Gomer Pyle-like voice. “We’re up in New Hampshire and I’ve got more press coming to the events than I’ve got people. I’m not kidding. It’s unbelievable. We have so many people coming we can’t fit them in the places.” But Huckabee’s excitement was tempered by Romney’s persistent attacks on his immigration record as governor of Arkansas, and he seemed to be grappling with the intensity of the question among Republicans. “It does appear to be the issue out here wherever we are,” he told me. “Nobody’s asked about Iraq—doesn’t ever come up. The first question out of the box, everywhere I go—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, it doesn’t matter—is immigration. It’s just red hot, and I don’t fully understand it.”Romney has not been similarly reflective in trying to discern the source of the issue’s power. Rather, he has quickly and easily adopted the negative code words of the anti-immigration movement—“sanctuary cities,” “amnesty”—and has tried to attach them to Giuliani and Huckabee. In doing so, he became the first top-tier candidate to seize the Tancredo mantle. My own sense, from talking to Huckabee, a Southern populist, and McCain, a border-state senator, is that they are genuinely appalled by Romney’s tactics, not only because of the damage to their campaigns but also because of the damage they believe he’s doing to the Party’s image. Romney’s communications director, Matt Rhoades, said, “Both Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee have decided that to win in 2008, Republicans need to be more like the Democrats when it comes to illegal immigration. That’s the wrong course. McCain-Kennedy”—Edward Kennedy was a sponsor of the initial legislation—“was the wrong course. Governor Huckabee’s plan to give tuition breaks to illegal immigrants was the wrong course. America doesn’t need two politicians with records on illegal immigration that are in tune with Senator Clinton.”“He’s clearly distorted my record as well as my position,” Huckabee told me. “But I’m not interested in getting in a war with him to see which of us can be the meanest son of a gun running for President.” He went on, “My experience has been—not just in politics but in any realm of life—when people keep saying something over and over, and louder and louder, it’s to compensate that they don’t want you to know that’s really never what they believed.” Nevertheless, last week, Huckabee, too, found his inner Tancredo: he announced the Secure America Plan, which included tough language about enforcement and pressuring illegal immigrants to return home. This leaves McCain as the only Republican candidate who hasn’t folded in the face of Romney’s attacks. At the press lunch in Virginia, after McCain had discussed his warm relations with several candidates, a reporter asked about Romney. “I’ve never known him,” McCain said icily. “I’ve never had a relationship with him.”Barack Obama, during a recent interview with the editorial board of the Boston Globe, predicted that the Republicans will run next fall on two issues: terrorism and immigration. When I asked a leading Republican strategist and former Bush lieutenant if he agreed, he said merely, “I hope not.” He argued that it was incorrect to think that immigration was the second most important challenge facing the United States. “We need to address other issues, like the economy, health care, and education,” he said. When I asked Tancredo if he was leading his party “over a cliff” or “to the promised land,” he laughed and said, “I see manna out there.”The evidence so far, though, points to a cliff. In several election contests in the past two years, Republicans tried and failed to deploy immigration as a campaign weapon. This November, Republicans in Virginia and New York who ran on the issue were defeated. Not even Eliot Spitzer’s misbegotten plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which was thought to be ruinous for Democrats, has damaged the Democratic Party; rather, the Party increased its numbers in local races around the state. McCain says that last year he saw how toothless the issue was in Arizona. “Congressman J. D. Hayworth had a pretty good opponent,” he said of the former Republican from Arizona, who lost his seat in the 2006 midterm election. “J.D. ran just on the issue of immigration, in a moderate but Republican district. Arizona State University is there, in Phoenix. And J.D. got beat by four points in the general election. There was a guy who was going to take Jim Kolbe’s seat”—an Arizona congressman who retired last year. “Jim was there twenty years, and had always carried the district well. The Republican candidate was another one where immigrant, immigration, anti-illegal immigration was his theme. He lost by twelve points. So I think there is a lesson in some of those elections when people use anti-immigration as a major part of their campaign. But I also know that it galvanizes a certain part of the Republican Party.”Far from fearing the immigration issue, some Democratic strategists are quietly cheering how the subject has played out. Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist who has closely studied the politics of the issue, says simply, “The Bush strategy—enlightened on race, smart on immigration, developed in Texas and Florida with Jeb Bush—has been replaced by the Tancredo-Romney strategy, which is demonizing and scapegoating immigrants, and that is a catastrophic event for the Republican Party.”Besides McCain, who was the original Republican sponsor of the comprehensive immigration bill, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is the Republican most associated with the legislation. Graham negotiated the details of the final version of the bill, which went down to defeat, and as a consequence he has become a target of ridicule on the talk-radio right. On the afternoon of the YouTube debate, Buddy Witherspoon, a Republican National Committeeman, was finishing a two-day tour of South Carolina, announcing his campaign to run against Graham in the June Republican primary. Witherspoon’s sole issue is immigration. After watching McCain’s testy forum at Clemson, I travelled a hundred and twenty miles to see Witherspoon in Aiken, a town of about thirty thousand. I found him setting up for his speech in front of a government office building at the end of an alley that abutted a shopping thoroughfare where tourists occasionally passed in a horse-and-buggy, casting curious glances. Exactly thirteen people were there to listen to him, including a ten-year-old who had accompanied his grandmother.Dean Allen, a plump and friendly fellow sporting an American-flag tie, told me that he runs something called Spirit of Liberty; he’s also helping Witherspoon’s campaign. “Some of these people may be coming in here to get jobs washing dishes, but some of them are coming in here to hijack airplanes,” he explained. “If you’re down there trying to look at the people coming across the border, maybe a lot of them are just motivated by economics, and they want a job washing dishes or cutting grass. But I can’t tell Jose Cuervo from the Al Qaeda operatives by looking at them, because they cut their beard off. It’s like trying to get fly manure out of pepper without your glasses on, you know? I mean, not a racist thing, but they’re all brown with black hair and they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Arabic or Spanish, so if they don’t belong here and they don’t come here legally, I want to know who’s here.” He echoed McCain’s observation that the anti-immigrant feeling is strongest in states with new Hispanic populations. “The illegal Hispanic population, it’s definitely growing,” he said. “I can tell you just from how many you see when you walk in Wal-Mart, and you drive down the street and you see buildings now with writing in Spanish that says ‘tienda,’ which is Mexican for ‘store.’ You didn’t see that even a year or two ago.”After speaking for forty-five minutes, Witherspoon walked across the street with me to Tako Sushi and we sat outside, where heat lamps warmed us. Witherspoon is tall and bald, and he spoke quickly, like a man full of opinions he’s been eager to vent. In his speech, he had run through many of the issues that have been festering on the right: the Law of the Sea treaty; an alleged plan to combine Canada, the United States, and Mexico into a super-state; the Patriot Act. But he was most exercised about immigration and about Lindsey Graham’s betrayal on that issue. “There’s a lot of unrest in South Carolina,” he told me gravely. “And people are concerned that the Senator no longer represents the views of mainstream South Carolinians in a lot of ways. Immigration is the No. 1 issue, no question there. We’re concerned about illegal immigrants coming in here and—well, under the Bush Administration, it’s now seven years into his term, and he hasn’t done a lot about it.” He was not impressed by Bush’s big-tent philosophy of courting Hispanics as the future of the Republican Party. “The big tent is great. But that doesn’t mean ’cause it’s a big tent you should include everything under the tent.”When I talked to Graham a couple of days later, he did not sound alarmed by the Witherspoon challenge. With more than four million dollars in his campaign account, he can afford to be somewhat, but perhaps not entirely, relaxed. His pollster, Whit Ayres, has been monitoring the issue closely, and Graham was eager to share the results. His role in the immigration debate has indeed hurt him. “What’s happened for me is my negatives have gone up about ten points,” he told me. “My approval rating has come down about eight or nine points. That’s the consequence to me.”But the numbers told another story, too. Graham read me one of the questions that his pollster asked about immigration. The poll tested voters’ opinion of three different proposals to deal with illegal immigrants: “arrest and deport”; “allow them to be temporary workers, as long as they have a job”; “fine them and allow them to become citizens only if they learn English and get to the back of the line.” In two separate polls, the majority supported the third option. The average for the first option was only twenty-six per cent.“What it tells me is that the emotion of the twenty-six per cent is real, somewhat understandable, but if not contained could destroy our ability to grow the Party,” he said. “And I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re going to win a general election you have to do well with Hispanic voters as a Republican.” He continued, “My concern is that we’re going to have an honest but overly emotional debate about immigration, and we’ll say things for the moment, in the primary chase, that will make it very difficult for us to win in November. There’s a fine line between being upset about violating the law and appearing to be upset about someone’s last name.”Graham, who is one of McCain’s staunchest supporters, had not yet seen a new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, which reported that the gains made among Hispanic voters during the Bush era have now been erased. Nevertheless, he had a warning for Republicans: “Those politicians that are able to craft a message tailored to the moment but understanding of the long-term consequences to the country and to the Party are the ones that are a blessing. And the ones who live for the moment and don’t think about long-term consequences, demographic changes, over time have proven to have been more of a liability than an asset.” He added, “Be careful of chasing the rabbit down a hole here.” ?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Immigration more an issue for media than voters

The Lou Dobbs Primary?

Immigration more an issue for media than voters


Media coverage of the 2008 presidential election identifies immigration as a key issue for the U.S. electorate--even though, according to most polling, it does not rank as a top priority for voters.CNN's Republican debate on November 28 opened with a full 35 minutes of the debate devoted to the issue of immigration. Washington Post columnist David Broder (11/15/07) recently referred to "illegal immigration" as one of two major "icebergs ahead for the Democrats" in the upcoming presidential race (ex-President Bill Clinton being the other one). Columnist and CBS correspondent Gloria Borger (U.S. News & World Report, 11/10/07) declared immigration a "killer issue," and that Democratic candidates "had better get started" on a solution: "Independent voters are unhappy that nothing has been done on the matter, and anyone who wants to be president needs to keep independent voters happy." Borger approvingly quoted Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who thinks the time has come for a "welfare moment"--an allusion to Bill Clinton's pledge to "reform" welfare in 1992. NPR decided to make immigration one of the three issues of concern of its December 4 Democratic presidential debate. (Iran/Iraq policy and China were the other categories.) The following day's New York Times report on the debate (12/5/07) was headlined (in the print edition) "Immigration, a Relentless Issue, Confronts Democrats in an Iowa Debate." The paper alleged that the issue of immigration is "a topic looming large both in the Iowa caucuses next month and in the general election."That's not what voters have been saying, though.The Iraq War still tops the list of priority issues for both Democrats and Republicans. "It's raised twice as often as the next-ranking issue, the economy," according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll (11/30/07-12/1/07). Another recent poll (L.A. Times/Bloomberg, 11/30/07-12/3/07) found only 15 percent of Americans ranking immigration as one of the top three issues of concern to them. In fact, noted L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten (12/1/07), "more than nine out of 10 Americans think something matters more than immigration in this presidential election." Even when the question is posed in terms of "illegal immigrants"--a politically loaded phrase--public opinion on undocumented workers is, as it is on most political issues, quite mixed. But "a strong bipartisan majority -- 60 percent -- favors allowing illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements," according to the most recent L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll (L.A. Times, 12/6/07). The polling data suggests that immigration is not at all the "relentless issue" the New York Times makes it out to be. If anything can be described as "relentless" about the issue of immigration, it's the way it has been pushed by the media.CNN's Lou Dobbs--who has a record of touting inaccurate xenophobic claims and promoting white supremacists on air (see Extra!, 1-2/04; Intelligence Report, Winter/05)--led into CNN's Republican debate (11/28/07) by calling immigration advocates "misguided abject fools" who are "working to subvert the will of the majority of the people of this country." Given the clear disdain U.S. media are showing for Americans' priorities for the upcoming election, one would think it was not the U.S. electorate but Dobbs himself whose vote was going to determine the 2008 presidential vote. Of course, time spent talking about immigration-- which appeals to more conservative voters--is time not spent talking about, say, the economy or the Iraq War. This could very well be smart politics for Republican presidential candidates; as GOP pollster Whit Ayres put it (USA Today, 12/4/07), "Anything that pushes Iraq farther down the agenda is good news for Republicans." But media shouldn't mistake GOP campaign priorities for evidence of a shift in the public's priorities.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Check out Alternet's Headlines

Alternet, a alternative news site, has 3, count 'em, 3, articles today about immigration and worker's rights.

Check out their website at: You may have to search for the third article, which is specifically about Burger King.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Protesters Ask Chipotle to Put its Money Where the Burrito Goes

Many many thanks to Kate Bernuth!
Protesters Ask Chipotle to Put its Money Where the Burrito Goes
by: Kate Bernuth
Mon Dec 03, 2007 at 09:20 AM MST
The hometown fast food joint, Chipotle Mexican Grill, has built a reputation for preferring naturally raised pork purchased from family farms. Activists would like to see the company take a similar interest in improving the well-being of farmworkers in its supply chain.
Kate Bernuth :: Protesters Ask Chipotle to Put its Money Where the Burrito Goes
A local coalition formed in support of Florida farmworkers is turning up the heat on Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill to live up to its slogan of "food with integrity" by agreeing to pay tomato pickers an extra penny per pound.
Local groups allied with a farmworker alliance based in Immokalee, Fla., staged a protest Saturday outside the Chipotle restaurant on 16th and Blake streets, just blocks from the company headquarters. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has targeted fast-food chains in its quest to raise wages and improve working conditions for migrant farm laborers who harvest tomatoes in south Florida.
"We think 'food with integrity' is a great idea," said Jordan Garcia, of Coloradoans for Immigrant Rights, a member organization of the Denver Fair Food Committee. "The reason we have chosen Chipotle is because they have said very clearly that they believe in honest food."
Chipotle, which at one point purchased about 20 percent of its tomato supply from Florida for 12 weeks a year, has responded to the CIW claims of farmworker abuse by ceasing to buy Florida tomatoes. But that's not acceptable for those who want to see the company incorporate the fight against farmworker exploitation into its mission of "food with integrity."
"We're asking Chipotle to take a stand," said Seth Donovan of Prax(us), an anti-human trafficking organization in Denver and ally of the CIW. "Fast-food chains have such huge buying power, they are in a position to pressure farmers to raise wages and protect workers."
The CIW negotiated hard-fought penny-per-pound deals with McDonald's Corp., and Taco Bell owner Yum Brands, Inc. - agreements that, if adopted industrywide, would essentially double wages for farmworkers. But those deals are in danger of collapsing under pressure from Miami-based Burger King, which has refused to sign on, and a tomato growers group that is threatening $100,000 fines against any farmer that participates. A spokesman for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange called the penny-per-pound deals "un-American" because they allowed a third party to set wages. The growers also claim the deals are in violation of anti-trust laws but have so far offered no specifics.
Given the precarious future of these deals, Colorado organizers say it's more important than ever that Chipotle, with its focus on humanely raised livestock and organic produce, become an industry leader in the struggle to improve the lives of farmworkers. Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold did not return repeated calls for comment. In a short e-mail Arnold wrote, "We certainly respect their right to protest, but we don't buy any Florida tomatoes at all. We are reviewing practices among Florida tomato growers, but don't have any plans in place to begin buying Florida tomatoes." Arnold did not specify where Chipotle purchases its tomatoes. Florida supplies roughly 80 percent of the nation's fresh tomatoes between November and February.
Farmworker advocates say Chipotle's move does nothing to address the problem as the sub-poverty wages and abuse suffered by Florida pickers are well-documented and endemic throughout the tomato growing industry.
Migrant laborers - many of them illegal immigrants - have long been among the nation's most impoverished and most exploited workers. Over the past 10 years, the Justice Department has prosecuted six cases of farmworker slavery in Florida. There, the backbreaking job of harvesting tomatoes takes place in hot, pesticide-laced fields, where the workers must stoop to pick and haul tomatoes for 10 to 12 hours a day. They earn a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket. That can mean up to $10 an hour for those who can fill more than 200 buckets a day - 6,400 pounds of tomatoes. But the work is not guaranteed, and tomato pickers get no health insurance and receive no overtime pay.
"Chipotle preaches 'food with integrity,' but if they're not going to step up and protect the rights of human beings, I don't see much integrity in that at all," said Scott Kwasny, executive director of Colorado Jobs with Justice. His comment was in reference to Chipotle's well-publicized efforts to buy all its pork and some of its chicken and beef from "free range" farms, seen as more humane, where the animals are allowed to roam rather than kept in small cages.
Sarah Gill, a Denver resident who came out for Saturday's protest downtown, also said she'd like to see Chipotle's practices fall in line with its rhetoric.
"If you say you care, I want to hold you accountable."