BOSTON (CBS) – Immigration reform is a simmering debate in this country and there’s no disputing the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.
WBZ News Radio’s Mary Blake continues her week-long report Immigration: The American Dream.
“We have individuals that are trying to gain access to our country who rightly do not have a legitimate reason to visit. On average we send back 4,300 people that come to the border.”
Kevin Weeks, director of the Boston field office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in a rare Boston office interview, talks about trusted traveler programs that Homeland Security is hoping more of the legal American traveling public will sign onto in order to free up agents to go after illegals– these programs allow vetted individuals to bypass customs and process themselves using a kiosk as they re-enter the country.
70-thousand are currently enrolled.
“It’s really done in partnership. It’s their contribution to help us…manage the border in a much more efficient way.”
ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the other enforcement arm under Homeland Security refused an interview request, but did supply its Boston enforcement numbers: 1,047 convicted criminals and 1,943 non-criminals were removed in fiscal 2010.
The flip side of the illegal immigration crackdown is going after U.S. businesses that hire undocumented workers.
Here in Massachusetts, the Patrick administration formed a joint enforcement task force on the underground economy two years ago and in its annual report, noted nearly 6.5 million dollars was recovered in fiscal 2010.
Task force head George Noel says it’s about fairness, “depending on the study we’re talking billions…billions of dollars a year that are lost in revenue.”
The task force relies on workers coming forward and that includes illegals according to Noel, ”that drives the problem underground [when] we start asking questions about immigration status.”
How do illegal immigrants find work?
Renata, here illegally since she was 6, says it’s easy, “you can always find a job. It’s not going to be the best job. maybe cleaning houses…working at a store.”
She’s done both, cleaned houses and worked at a donut shop.
E-verify is a voluntary program that specifically ensures companies are hiring legal workers.
It’s run jointly by the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security Immigration Services says as of fiscal 2010, 228-thousand New England employers have signed on.
Northeastern’s Center of Labor Market Studies estimates there are 400-thousand payroll business establishments in New England which means nearly half of affected businesses haven’t stepped up.
Immigration attorney Joshua Goldstein offers an explanation, “our immigration laws are so restrictive, there’s practically no way for the business community to meet its labor needs through immigration legally.”
But Matt Fitzgerald disagrees. He owns Mann Orchards in Methuen which his family has been operating for 133 years.
He employs 3 Jamaican workers each fall thru the H2A program and calls them the backbone of his operation, “currently, I have three gentlemen up from Jamaica working for us and without them my other 53 employees would not have jobs.”
More on the politics surrounding the immigration debate in our next report.