June 1, 2001

Political Notes:

California: Many political scientists have noted the growing gap between population shares and voter shares in California, in which non-Hispanic whites are less than 50 percent of the population. In the November 2000 election, 73 percent of voters were non-Hispanic whites. About half of the state's general fund is spent on education; 36 percent of children enrolled in public schools were non-Hispanic whites.

There are 2.5 million Blacks in California, and their political representation is being reduced as Latinos and Asians gain population and voters, and elect officials who are Latinos and Asians. Blacks are about six percent of California residents, compared to 33 percent for Latinos and 12 percent for Asians. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley sought to become the nation's first elected African-American governor, but lost by 90,000 votes out of eight million cast in 1982 to Attorney General George Deukmejian.

In 1984, before the massive demographic changes of the late 1980s and 1990s, there were 233 Black elected officials in California, compared to 460 Latinos and 106 Asians. By 1998, there were 233 Black elected officials, 789 Latinos and 503 Asians. Term limits forced many Blacks out of office, and they were often replaced by Latinos and Asians.

 

The state Department of Education filed a civil suit in May 2001 against Los Angeles-based Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, alleging that it failed to account for $7 million in federal grant funds intended for citizenship and English classes for immigrants. The Department of Education also seeks $10 million in punitive damages against Hermandad, one of the oldest Latino immigrant rights groups in the nation, for failing to properly account for grants it received between 1994 and 1998, when the state halted funding. The suit alleges that Hermandad "claimed to have provided thousands upon thousands of hours of instruction that they did not, in fact, provide."

 

Bilingual Education. About 4.1 million K-12 school children, 75 percent Hispanic and mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants, have limited English proficiency; about 40 percent of LEP children are in California. In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 227, which required English immersion for LEP students unless parents specifically requested bilingual education.

The federal government has supported bilingual education- teaching core subjects such as math and history in the student's native language- since 1968. However, the House in May 2001 approved an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would normally limit the time a pupil stayed in bilingual education to three years; states that did not move students into regular classes after three years would lose funds.

In a symbolic move, the bill would change the name of the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs to the Office of Educational Services for Limited English Proficient Children. The federal government spent about $460 million on LEP education in FY01; states spend far more.

 

Guest Workers. Three major guest worker proposals are being considered by Congress. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) favors a guest worker program that would permit unauthorized Mexicans already in the US to obtain seasonal or year-round work permits that would make them guest workers. Seasonal guest workers could return to the US indefinitely, while year-round workers could work in the US three consecutive years and then have to stay in Mexico at least one year before returning.

Gramm's proposal would give unauthorized workers and their US employers six months to register for the new program. After six months, enforcement of employer sanctions laws would be stepped up, and penalties for employing unauthorized workers would increase. The 15.3 percent paid by employers and workers for social security would be diverted to a fund to provide emergency medical care for guest workers, with the balance placed in individual IRA-type funds that Mexican workers could receive when they gave up their work permits in Mexico.

The AFL-CIO supports a general legalization program for unauthorized foreigners in the US and an end to the enforcement of employer sanctions laws, but no new guest-worker program. Labor leaders in April 2001 met with Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Illinois), who on February 7, 2001 introduced HR 500, the US Employee, Family Unity and Legalization Act, that would grant temporary legal status to persons in the US before February 6, 2000, and immediate immigrant status to persons in the US before February 6, 1996. The legalization date would then roll forward a year in each of the next five years, eventually encompassing all of those now illegally in the US.

Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) have been trying for several years to win Congressional approval of a new guest worker program for US agriculture. In December 2000, they agreed to a compromise brokered by Representative Howard Ber-man (D-CA) that won the endorsement of the United Farm Workers and the National Council of Agricultural Employers. The compromise includes legalization followed by an earned immigrant status.

The compromise would grant temporary resident alien status to unauthorized farm workers who could prove that they did at least 100 days of farm work during one of the two seasons before the law was passed. Temporary resident aliens could enter and leave the US and work in most US jobs, but not receive welfare benefits. After satisfying a three-part farm work test, temporary resident aliens (and their families) could become immigrants in five to six years.

Additional farm workers would be admitted under a revised version of the current H-2A program, with major concessions to employers including attestation replacing certification (government-supervised recruitment), freezing the Adverse Effect Wage Rate at 2000 levels for at least three years, and allowing farmers in states in which the governor certifies that there is sufficient housing to provide non-local US and H-2A workers with a housing allowance instead of free housing. Most H-2A requirements do not apply if the employer has a collective bargaining agreement with a union.

Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) said that the Hispanic caucus will oppose any new guest worker program that does not include legalization, while Gramm has said that legalization will be approved only "over my cold, dead political body." The high-level US-Mexican working group is expected to prepare a guest worker proposal to be announced at the meeting of Presidents Bush and Fox in Washington in September 2001.

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