Tag: economic crisis

Spain Considers Immigration Reform That Would Make Things Harder for the Undocumented

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor

MADRID, Spain — A little girl stood in tears amidst the crowd at a protest in front of an immigrant detention center in Madrid, Spain. She was wearing a white shirt with her father’s identification number: 2286. An immigrant from Morocco, the man was apprehended while filling up his car at a gas station and had been in detention at the center for 30 days.

“The kids wake up in the middle of the night asking for their dad,” said the girl’s mother, who asked not to be identified by name.

The detention center near the Aluche subway station in Madrid was the focus of a protest on June 20th, World Refugee Day, against changes to immigration law that Spain is considering.

Watch a slideshow of the protest here:

Unlike the comprehensive immigration reform being discussed in the U.S., Spain’s new laws would make things harder for those undocumented workers already here. The proposed bill would, among other things, make it more difficult for immigrants to reunite with their families, impose fines on those who assist undocumented immigrants and increase the maximum allowed detention time from 40 to 60 days.

The demonstrators –including some undocumented migrants– shouted, “Immigration law makes us unequal, we are in time to stop it!” and “Papers for all!” From behind the walls of the detention center, muffled voices of the detainees rose in gratitude. “Thank you!” they yelled back.

Unlike the United States, where immigration is at the core of the nation’s history, Spain has only recently become a destination for large numbers of foreign people. Historically, it has been a country of emigration, and it was not until a decade or so ago that its growing economy began attracting workers from Africa, its former colonies in Latin America, and more recently, other parts of the European Union. Labor demand facilitated two large-scale legalizations in the past decade in Spain.


Reversal of Fortunes? In Economic Crisis, Dominican Immigrants in U.S. Receiving Money from Home

By Maibe González, FI2W contributor

The flow of remittances between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. has undergone an interesting change recently, an apparent consequence of the economic recession that has affected many immigrant workers in the U.S.

Remittances — funds that immigrants send back to their home countries — are a major source of income in the Dominican Republic. Now, a leading New York-based money transfer firm, La Nacional, has reported a spectacular increase in the amount of money Dominicans are sending to the U.S.

Washington Heights, the heart of New York's Dominican community. Photo: serhio

Washington Heights, the heart of New York's Dominican community. Photo: serhio

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of money transfers made from the D.R. to the U.S.,” confirmed Reny Pena, supervisor of customer services and transfers at the company’s office in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

Pena said that the volume of transfers from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. grew from between 80 and 120 monthly transfers in 2006 to the current rate of about 150 transfers a day. The increase has prompted the agency to expand the department that deals with U.S.-bound remittances from one to five employees.

“All of a sudden,” Pena said “this service became an important part of our business. In the past, we did not perceive it as profitable.”



Immigrant Business Owners on Staten Island Struggle Against the Recession: FI2W Reporter Aswini Anburajan on WNYC

By Aswini Anburajan, FI2W reporter

Immigrant business owners have breathed new life into the North Shore of Staten Island, New York’s least populated and least diverse borough.

Feet in 2 Worlds partnered with WNYC, New York public radio, to produce a profile of Victory Boulevard, one of Staten Island’s major thoroughfares, for the Main Street NYC series, which examines the recession’s impact on neighborhoods across the city.

You can listen to the story by pressing play below or visiting WNYC’s web site .


A Mexican grocery store on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island.

The history of Victory Boulevard is like that of a lot of American Main Streets.

It was once part of a thriving downtown area until the development of suburbs drew the middle class community away from an urban center, and left areas like the northern end of Victory largely abandoned.

However, immigration to Staten Island over the past ten years has revitalized this part of the Island, which has stores that represent virtually every corner of the globe. While immigrants were once one out of ten residents in Staten Island in 1990, they are now one out of four residents. Ten percent of these immigrants own their own businesses, but the recent economic downturn has left many business owners struggling.

Wigs on display at A&C Beauty Supply

A&C Beauty Supply is a store that serves the Island’s African community, largely made up of Liberian and Senegalese immigrants.

Its owner, Adam, who is from Senegal, says that he noticed the downturn more than a year ago. Customers who were once avid purchasers of wigs and hair care products, now barely enter. On the day I stopped in, Adam had no customers in his store.

Island Roti's owner Kelvin Hanaf

Kelvin Hanaf is the owner of Island Roti, a Carribbean takeout joint that serves food from his native Trinidad.

When I spoke with him he was at his wit’s end. “No one’s coming in,” he complained, saying that he would usually see weekend traffic start to pile into his store on a Thursday afternoon.

He joked that customers are cutting back so much that if they want to eat chicken roti they order a roti and cook their own chicken. Hanaf has cut prices by 50 cents on every item, and says that he just can’t afford to take the prices any lower.

Mosen Ibrahim at Moe's Cafe

Mosen Ibrahim also complains that penny pinching by the Island’s residents has taken a toll on his business. Moe’s Cafe, which he started five years ago, is one of the few places on Staten Island where you can find Mediterranean food and other dishes from Ibrahim’s native Egypt.

He was lured to Staten Island for the same reasons that many immigrants came — affordable home prices, the chance to start a business on the cheap and a small immigrant community from his native country. However, since the downturn Ibrahim has had to turn to his bank to stay afloat. They extended his mortgage, but he doesn’t mince words on what business is like right now. “Times are tough,” he said. “They’re tough for everybody but for the food business, when 80 percent of the people stop eating outside…” He trailed off with a laugh.


So who is doing well on Victory? Some of the haircutting salons like Against Da Grain Barber Shop report that even in a slow economy you still have to look good. This is one of the few stores on Victory that was crowded with customers the day I visited.

A hair braiding salon, named after its owner, Bissou, also reports that business is slowly picking back up. “A few months ago we were sitting here doing nothing,” Bissou, a Senegalese immigrant, told me, “So I can say that business is getting a little bit better.”

Tulcingo Travel, one bright spot amid the crisis

The one success story on Victory Boulevard, and perhaps for the future of immigrant-owned businesses on Staten Island, is Tulcingo Travel, a Mexican paquetería that facilitates the shipping of remittances and care packages between the United States and Mexico.

Immigrant entrepreneurs usually cater to their own communities, and in recent years the Mexican population on Staten Island has spiked, providing store owners who serve this community a buffer in these tough times. A Tulcingo worker told me that business had dropped off for about two months when the crisis first hit last fall, but things are back to normal now.

Could this bright spot on this struggling street mean that there is a silver lining to this crisis after all?

High Expectations, Low Turn Out at New York Immigration Rally

By Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes, FI2W contributor
May Day rally at Madison Square Park in Manhattan.

May Day rally at Madison Square Park in Manhattan. (Photos: Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes)

About 500 people, many of them immigrants, rallied today at Madison Square Park in Manhattan to call on the federal government to reform the immigration system and legalize the status of about 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States. The march was the first of two to be held this afternoon in New York, with another one starting later in Union Square.

The turnout fell significantly short of the projections of organizers who were expecting to draw at least 1,000 people. The rain and the tough economic situation seem to have affected people’s plans.

“This is the year when we need more people out because we need to remind President Obama that he has to keep the promise and pass immigration reform this year, but the economic situation makes it very difficult for people to miss a day of work,” said Luis Olavarria, 38, an undocumented Mexican worker who took a few minutes during his lunch break from a nearby restaurant to attend the rally.

Make the Road New York, one of the 25 organizations that participated in the demonstration, achieved its own goal of bringing two buses with over 100 of its members from Queens and Brooklyn to the demonstration site.

Ecuadorian ... and Argentinean Javier Cuenca

Ecuadorian Juan Diego Castro and Argentinean Javier Cuenca at the rally.

“I think this is great, there is a lot of hope and energy here today,” said Javier Cuenca, a 33-year-old undocumented Argentinean immigrant. Cuenca had spent the day yesterday preparing for the rally. At the demonstration he joined his friend Juan Diego Castro in clanking a pot and shouting slogans in Spanish, such as “No human being is illegal” and “We are here to stay.”


Foreclosures Still Rising, Immigrants and Latinos Among the Hardest Hit

By Pilar Marrero, La Opinión and FI2W reporter
California has a high rate of foreclosures. (Photo: La Opinión)

California has a high rate of foreclosures. (Photo: La Opinión)

LOS ANGELES — Activists have a pet name for Hope for Homeowners (H4H), the government initiative that’s supposed to help struggling mortgage holders keep their homes: they call it “hoho”.

“It’s a sad kind of humor, but it reflects a reality,” says Kathleen Day of the Center for Responsible Lending, a homeowners advocacy group. “We have yet to see a significant effect of these programs for most people.”

Many people across the country who are –or expect soon to be– unable to continue payments on their mortgages have placed their hopes on H4H, otherwise known as “the Obama plan”. Latinos have been experiencing foreclosures at a higher rate than the rest of the U.S. poulation,  following a decade-long push to increase minority ownership. Figures released this week show that, instead of diminishing, foreclosures are rising quickly.

“I want to know, how much can my mortgage payment be reduced?” asks Norma Ochoa, a woman from Los Angeles that has been keeping up with her payments so far despite losing one of her two cleaning jobs.

Many, like Ochoa, are still waiting for an answer.

“The bank says they can not yet help me. That I need to wait,” she says, at the offices of a local organization that helps people negotiate with banks. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to continue paying for long.”

RealtyTrac’s latest foreclosure report, released Wednesday, shows that during the first quarter of this year, foreclosure filings increased 13% compared to the previous 3 months.


Immigration Reform Buzz Increasing, Obama Sends Signals Through Top Aides

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

The White House keeps sending signals that President Barack Obama intends to follow through on his campaign promise to address immigration reform in his first year in office. As the president prepared for his first official visit to Mexico (later this week), senior administration officials last week repeated the vow the president himself has made before: that action on this divisive issue will begin soon.

The debate on immigration reform will likely focus on the high rate of unemployment. (Photo: ABCNews/AP)

The debate on immigration reform will likely focus on the high rate of unemployment. (Photo: ABCNews/AP)

While pro-immigration advocates welcomed the new statements –by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz–, others pointed out that they were essentially repeating what the president himself has said recently.

Still, with the news this time being picked up by major newspapers–The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal–, momentum seems to be building for the much-expected debate on immigration.

In a story published on Wednesday, Muñoz told the Times Obama “intends to start the debate this year,” framing his initiative as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system.”


Immigration And The Global Recession: Debate Heating Up In Australia And The UK

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Migrants in the French town of Calais, hoping to seek asylum in the UK - Photo: The Times

Migrants in the French town of Calais, hoping to seek asylum in the UK. (Photo: The Times)

With an historic recession casting its shadow on economic prospects around the world, the U.S. is not the only country where the immigration debate has become heated these days.

Australia –a traditionally immigrant-friendly country– announced this week it will reduce its intake of immigrant workers for the first time in a decade.

The argument that pits immigrants against rising unemployment is also winning support in the U.K., where an opposition spokesman called for following the Australian example in setting limits to immigration as a response to the crisis.

“We don’t want people coming in who are going to compete with Australians for limited jobs,” Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said Monday, when he announced a 14% cut in the number of immigrants to be allowed in this fiscal year, according to Reuters.


In California and Elsewhere, Latinos Disproportionately Affected By Recession

Social worker Lourdes Cienfuegos, at right, talks to an Imperial Valley resident - Photo: La Opinión

Social worker Lourdes Cienfuegos, at right, talks to an Imperial Valley resident. (Photo: La Opinión)

Sara Espinosa chose to sleep on the street rather than leave her 12-year-old son to spend the night alone at a men-only homeless shelter. As a consequence, Sara, her son and her two daughters have been sleeping in her car.

Espinosa is one of hundreds of people in conditions of extreme poverty in Imperial Valley, one of the poorest counties in California and the nation, La Opinión reporter Claudia Nuñez wrote Wednesday.

Here, the unemployment rate has already passed 24 percent, almost four times the national average, and one out of every 18 families has lost their home.

While Imperial Valley is an extreme case, a report released last week by the Pew Hispanic Center shows the economic recession “is having an especially severe impact on employment prospects for immigrant Hispanics,” according to Rakesh Kochhar, the center’s associate director for research.

The unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics increased from 5.1 percent to 8 percent, or by 2.9 percentage points, from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008. During this same time period, the unemployment rate for all persons in the labor market increased from 4.6 percent to 6.6 percent, or by 2 percentage points.


From Coast To Coast, Latino Small Business Owners At Risk

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

In New York and Los Angeles, the effects of the economic slowdown are hitting hard in one important sector of immigrant communities: small business owners.

Daily News.

Ramon Murphy in his Red Apple Grocery in Manhattan. (Photo: Daily News)

A fixture of many New York neighborhoods, the bodega, is fast disappearing from many corners. The president of the Bodega Association of the United States claims that “every day, two or three bodegas close in New York.” High rents and leases that force them into rent hikes are their main enemy.

In L.A., vendors at the Grand Central Market — many of them Latino — are facing a similar situation. Business is down, way down, and they can’t meet rent payments.

A vendor at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.

A vendor at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. (Photo: La Opinión)

A survey done by the USA Latin Chambers of Commerce said rent hikes and increasing operational costs threatens to put 61% of New York City bodegas out of business, according to a recent article in El Diario/La Prensa.

One example is Luis Sánchez, a bodeguero on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan who says his rent goes up 7% every year. He started paying $2,940 a month three years ago and now his rent is at $3,400 — he’s even had to fire his own brother recently. (more…)


Hispanic Businesses Fight Downturn in Detroit: FI2W's Martina Guzmán on Latino USA


Mexican Town, Detroit (Photo: Girl.in.the.D/flickr)

Nationally-syndicated radio show Latino USA featured one of FI2W reporter Martina Guzmán’s recent pieces this weekend.

You can listen to it here:

From Latino USA‘s website:

“The numbers are bad, and they just keep coming. Home Depot reports 7,000 jobs lost, and as Circuit City closes its doors, 4,000 more disappear. Car sales haven’t been this low in 27 years, and everywhere we look there are more signs of the times. In south Boston, Esther’s Country Kitchen leaves a note on the door reading, ‘Due to budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel is being turned off.’ Still, Americans continue to look for a bright spot. Some are finding a glimmer in what might seem to be a surprising place: immigrant neighborhoods.

“As part of Latino USA’s ongoing series focused on immigrants, New American Voices, we take a look at Detroit, and the dynamics of immigrant businesses inside their communities and beyond. Though Michigan’s unemployment rate is hovering at 10%, and people are leaving the state in droves, there is also an influx of immigrants. Martina Guzman reports on one community in Detroit that is holding the torch for Michigan with energy and undeniable growth.”

You can also listen to a conversation between Latino USA anchor María Hinojosa and John Austin of the New Economy Initiative For South East Michigan about how immigrant businesses help the city’s economy.

The interview is on this page, where you can also listen to the whole show.