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  • Immigration in the State of the Union

    February 12, 2013

    by Jason Marczak

    In 2009, in his first State of the Union speech, President Obama did not even mention immigration. Last year, the president was bold in his call for action for the DREAMers.

    On Tuesday night, he dedicated five paragraphs to immigration reform and called for not only comprehensive immigration reform but also for “establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship.” He made his case for reform with the roar of sustained, thunderous applause echoing throughout the House chamber, with Vice President Biden on his feet and Speaker Boehner also clapping in agreement.

    The president made his case for immigration reform within the context of what needs to be done to make our economy stronger.

    On both sides of the aisle, it has become increasingly clear that we need immigrants for our global competitiveness. Immigrants are more likely to start small businesses than their U.S.-born counterparts and their labor often creates jobs for U.S.-born workers across the American economy. As baby boomers retire, immigrants are the ones who will buy their homes, fill the jobs they leave and provide for their health care. One-quarter of all high-tech firms were founded by immigrants.

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  • Deferred Action and the DREAM: Where Does Mitt Romney Stand?

    September 20, 2012

    by Jason Marczak

    Last night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appeared on Univisión’s “Meet the Candidate” forum—President Obama was interviewed today—where the questions from Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas almost immediately turned to his stance on key immigration issues. Unfortunately, Governor Romney did not provide much additional clarity as to his stance on issues such as continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), deportation and a balanced approach to comprehensive immigration reform.

    First, the question of Deferred Action. When first asked about whether he would keep the President’s temporary policy, Romney responded: “The immigration system, I think we all agree, is broken and it’s been a political football for years and years on the part of both Republicans and Democrats. It needs to be fixed.” This answer did not address whether he would continue with DACA. Further pressed to specifically provide an answer on the fate of DACA under a Romney administration, the answer was that a “permanent solution” would be his goal—again, refusing to address whether he would keep the policy.
    Clearly, a permanent solution is necessary. But in the absence of Congress and the White House being able to agree to one—a reality given Washington’s bitter partisanship—voters were left still guessing whether the 1.7 million potential beneficiaries of Deferred Action would be left out in the cold under a Romney administration.

    Given Mr. Romney’s vague response to his stance on the DREAM Act—saying it would “have to be worked out by the Republicans and Democrats together”—the answer is that the President’s Deferred Action policy would likely not be upheld in its current form. This is a good reason for Romney to avoid the question in front of Univisión’s Spanish-speaking audience.

    Why? Deferred Action is largely modeled after the DREAM Act that failed to pass Congress in late 2010—a bill where Mr. Romney disagrees with its core provisions. DACA, similar to the most recent DREAM bill, applies to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, and who are over 15 years old and under age 31, and have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. Potential beneficiaries must also have a high school diploma or a GED, or be currently in school. Military veterans are also eligible. The major difference is that DREAM provides a pathway to citizenship but Deferred Action beneficiaries are only granted a two-year reprieve from deportation along with work authorization.

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    Tags: 2012 elections, DREAM Act, Mitt Romney

  • On SB 1070, Supreme Court Reaffirms Federal Government’s Power to Regulate Immigration

    June 25, 2012

    by Jason Marczak

    In a 5-3 decision today, the Supreme Court issued its long awaited opinion on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 bill. The ruling, with the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (a nominee of former President Ronald Reagan), was a partial victory for the rights of immigrants and for the administration of President Barack Obama which had challenged the constitutionality of four key provisions in the Arizona law.

    The Court ruled that federal law preempts three of the provisions being challenged and ruled them unconstitutional. First, it struck down Arizona’s attempt to require the carrying of an alien registration document (Section 3), with Kennedy writing that registration is “a field in which Congress has left no room for States to regulate.”

    Another key provision of the Arizona law, Section 5(C), would have made it illegal for undocumented workers to apply for, solicit or perform work. This too was ruled illegal since “the provision upsets the balance struck by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and must be preempted as an obstacle to the federal plan of regulation and control.” By invalidating this provision, the Court is essentially saying that states cannot make up their own laws that restrict the employment of undocumented workers since IRCA already sought to do that in 1986.

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    Tags: Immigration, Arizona

  • Amicus Briefs in Opposition to SB 1070

    April 3, 2012

    by Jason Marczak

    On April 25, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona, et al., v. United States, a case which questions the constitutional legality of Arizona’s restrictive SB 1070 immigration law that was passed by the state legislature in 2010. The Court, in taking up the case, jumps right into the center of a national political debate. Paul Clement, who argued against U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in last week’s equally highly charged hearings on the federal health care law, will do so again on behalf of the plaintiff.

    The decision on whether to uphold the April 2011 ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which barred certain provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect, will fundamentally shape the way immigration policy is determined in the United States.

    Arizona argues that a state should have the right to pass whatever measures it deems prudent—independent of how legislation will affect the historical, long-standing rights that immigrants (and those who may appear to be immigrants) have long enjoyed in this country. But in its decision last year the Ninth Circuit noted that: "The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol […] and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt."

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    Tags: Immigration, Supreme Court

  • Beyond Politics: Canadian Oil and the Keystone XL Pipeline

    December 8, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    With his decision on November 10 to review the route of the Keystone XL pipeline—and delay a final determination on whether to give the green light—President Obama had likely wished that the issue would not surface again until after the 2012 elections. But politics are not so easy, especially when it comes to this 1,700-mile long project that would carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. To put it in perspective, that amount is about half of what the U.S. imports from the Middle East.

    This week, the Keystone XL pipeline is yet again taking center stage. Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to hold hostage the president’s top legislative priority for December—extension of the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance—unless the package includes a provision that would move the decision making over the pipeline from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and shorten the period in which a decision must be made. Obama’s response came yesterday after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll-tax cut, I will reject.”

    Get ready for a showdown. On Thursday, the House leadership announced that the vote will occur next week.

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    Tags: Canada, energy, Oil sands, Keystone XL

  • Latin American Mayors at the Forefront of Innovation

    August 10, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    It’s not often that mayors from nine Latin American countries and even Jordan have the opportunity to come together for three days to learn from each other about how to deal with some of their cities’ most pressing issues: balancing budgets, increasing citizen participation, promoting public-private partnerships, fostering economic growth, improving security, and, of course, strengthening democracy. But that’s precisely what happened in Bogotá, Colombia, last week at a conference organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

    The message was clear: these mayors are among those at the front line of creating new, creative policies and programs that respond to their communities’ most urgent challenges. And policymakers at the national level have much to learn from these local laboratories of innovation.

    Take Oscar Montes, mayor of the municipality of Tarija in Bolivia. He inherited a city drowning in debt and revived it through a participatory budgeting plan. Montes’ initiative is structured so that citizens and local interest groups submit their priorities for infrastructure projects and jointly decide with the municipality which projects should be financed. Involving local stakeholders in city planning is more time consuming than simply rolling out a budget—but the process has paid off. Tax collection is up because tarijeños now feel like they are part of the city’s development, and project beneficiaries are now willing to financially contribute to infrastructure development that is aimed at their particular interests or neighborhoods.

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    Tags: Local government, Carlos Ocariz, Carlos Montes, Oscar Ortiz, Jeaneth Ordoñez

  • What Georgia Stands to Lose Through Enactment Today of HB 87

    July 1, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    Three years ago, I led efforts to bring together leaders from civil society and the public and private sectors to identify ways in which to expand the integration of immigrants and Latinos overall in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Today, July 1, marks a rather unceremonious change in how Georgia’s politicians have caved into anti-immigrant sentiment.

    The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011—HB 87—is likely to not only drive out immigrants, but also restrain current and new investment and jobs.

    Back in 2008, the working group—comprised of both leaders from Atlanta and beyond— recognized the importance of the fast-growing Hispanic market and noted how integration of this constituency into the workforce is good for business. Michael Thurmond, the then-Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, opened our meeting with a discussion of the contributions of Hispanics to Georgia’s economy both as laborers and as consumers. Hispanics, he said, represented $1.8 billion in buying power in Georgia. 

    Beginning with the construction boom around the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, immigrants have increasingly become a source for Georgian economic prosperity. These new laborers helped to build Centennial Olympic Park and other critical infrastructure for Georgia to host the Olympics and leap onto the world stage. Following the Olympics, between 1996 and 2004, an average of 71,414 homes were built in Georgia, as the Atlanta metropolitan area became a hub for real estate and construction.

    And, as Americas Society documented a few years ago in our white paper on Atlanta, although immigrants’ contributions are generally recognized, “a slowdown in economic growth and rising unemployment can shift public attitudes toward immigrants and generate concerns about their costs and the transformation of communities. This leads to social division and an unwelcome environment for Hispanics, including those who are legal residents or citizens.” Regrettably, this is exactly what has happened with today’s enactment of the anti-immigrant HB 87.

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  • Security in Central America: A Glimmer of Hope

    June 29, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.

    The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.

    Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.

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    Tags: Central America, Security, Crime, Youth

  • Obama’s Renewed Push for Immigration Reform

    May 10, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    The President’s speech today from the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, hit the right message: immigrants are vital to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. As was reiterated today, the U.S. can no longer afford to idly sit by without passing legislation to create an immigration system that fosters entrepreneurship and addresses the plight of those in the U.S. without authorization. With flags fluttering in the background on a hot Texas day, he emphasized that “reform will make America more competitive in the global economy.”

    The numbers are clear. Immigrants come to the U.S. to contribute to this country’s future and to create a better future for their families. It’s no surprise that people who give up everything to start a new future in the U.S. are also innovative businesses people. In fact, according to a 2008 study issued by the Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants. And overall, The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute reported in 2007 that Hispanic entrepreneurs have established an estimated 2 million businesses in the United States, generating $350 billion annually. Here in New York, immigrants accounted for $229 billion in economic output, or 22.4 percent of the state’s total GDP, according to a 2007 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

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    Tags: Barack Obama, Immigration Reform

  • Inspiration from a Favela not on Obama’s Rio Agenda

    March 17, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    The route from the international airport into downtown Rio de Janeiro along the Linha Vermelha passes through parts of the city unnoticed by the casual business traveler or tourist. Instead, a first-time visitor is likely to focus on the favelas dotting the hillsides in and around Rio, or on that first glimpse of the sea in anticipation of the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

    On Saturday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama (in his first trip to Rio) will be taking that same road after he lands at Galeão Air Force Base in Rio. On Sunday, some of his visits will include Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, a speech at Cinelândia Square (moved to the municipal theater as of March 18) and a visit to the Cidade de Deus, or City of God, favela made famous in the 2002 movie. The visit to Cidade de Deus is certainly a good choice given the implementation of Governor Cabral's Pacifying Police Units (UPP) strategy in that favela.

    But as the President leaves Galeão Air Force Base on Saturday night or arrives on Monday morning, he—like other visitors flying into the adjacent international airport—may unfortunately not notice the community of Maré, which sits along the Linha Vermelha leading into the city center. The wall constructed along the highway to block the view of Maré, which seemed bigger when I recently visited Rio and Maré, is a concrete reminder of the isolation of one of Rio’s largest favelas. With 140,000 people living in Maré, its population is on par with that of Kansas City, KS, or Savannah, GA. But that is where the similarities—at least on the surface—end.

    The youth of Maré have long faced an uphill battle in being able to move up the socioeconomic ladder, a major factor of which is a lack of education. Among Maré’s 16 communities, there are just three public high schools and 16 elementary schools. Of these schools, 88 percent do not have a public library according to data from Rio Como Vamos, a Rio-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that measures the city’s quality of life. But even more worrisome, schools are sometimes closed for a month or so at a time with teachers simply not showing up for work. And shockingly, less than 0.5 percent of Maré’s youth receive a university education. This compared to the 16 percent of Brazilians nationwide from the lowest income quintile that go on to post-secondary institutions—a number that is still low when compared to the 52 percent attendance rate for those from the highest quintile.

    Without post-secondary education, there is little chance for Maré’s youth to enjoy the widespread mobility and rising middle-class status that Brazilians increasingly enjoy.

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    Tags: Brazil, Obama, Education

  • Birthright Citizenship is the Wrong Debate

    January 14, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    Rather than focus on crafting real solutions to our broken immigration system, legislators have started the new year again playing politics. Last week, on the first day of Congress, Representative Steve King (IA) introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 (HR 140) as legislators from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina also unveiled their plans to introduce local measures to create state-by-state, two-tiered citizenship categories. Nine other states also intend to introduce similar bills this year. Neither of these proposals should be part of the answer to the United States’ immigration discussions.

    The King bill made it onto the list of the first 150 pieces of legislation to be introduced in the new session of the House of Representatives. What about the economy or jobs? Only four job-related bills (HR 72, HR 117, HR 132, and HR 133) were introduced before Mr. King’s bill and none have come close to gathering the 33 cosponsors that the King bill can already count on. Actually, each of these bills has zero to one cosponsor at the time of this post. Instead, 33 Members of Congress chose to focus part of their attention on a bill that would restrict citizenship to only those children with parents where one of whom is either: “a U.S. citizen or national; a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States; or an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.”

    Supporters of restricting citizenship cite the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment—adopted in 1868 to allow former slaves to become U.S. citizens—as the basis for their argument. The 14th Amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Restrictionists say that the children of undocumented immigrants should not be citizens since their parents, given their unauthorized status, are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction. But as many legal scholars have noted, this phrase was inserted in order to prevent automatic citizenship for diplomats’ children and for those of an invading army—a legitimate concern just over 50 years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

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    Tags: Immigration Reform, Immigration and migration

  • 2010 Elections: Implications for Immigration Reform

    November 3, 2010

    by Jason Marczak

    With control of the U.S. House of Representatives switching to the Republican Party, the future of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform is now in greater doubt. And Democrats—unable to put forward a proposal that could muster the necessary support to right our broken immigration system—will take a back seat to the immigration plans of the new House leadership.

    One of the first orders of business when the new Congress convenes in January will be the designation of new committee chairpersons. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is out as the House immigration subcommittee chairperson, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will likely take the gavel. As for the full Judiciary Committee, it will likely be led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). This means a new approach for immigration-related issues. And in essence, going back to the drawing board on many of the core concerns.

    The Democrats had been working on comprehensive immigration reform that revolved around four pillars originally put forward by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) in March. (That is before Sen. Graham withdrew his support a few months later.) The approach included: requiring biometric Social Security cards; beefing up border security; creating a system for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path for the legalization of certain undocumented immigrants. And President Obama asserted that the chance for reform was close, noting last week: “Right now on immigration reform, we’re eight votes short or 10 votes short.”

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    Tags: U.S. Congress, Immigration Reform

  • Latin America Focuses on an Arizona Courtroom’s Decision on SB 1070

    July 22, 2010

    by Jason Marczak

    The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton will be at the center of the U.S. immigration debate at 4:30 pm (eastern) today. That’s when Edwin Kneedler, the U.S. deputy solicitor general and the lead lawyer for the Justice Department, will square off against John Bouma, a private lawyer representing Governor Brewer and the state of Arizona.

    Both legal teams are coming to the Sandra Day O'Connor Courthouse in Phoenix with their battle lines already drawn. But what is at stake is much, much more than just another legal case.

    Set to take effect next Thursday (July 29), the misnamed Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act will give law enforcement the power to question the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the state without authorization and mandate that immigrants carry their papers on them.

    Bolton seems to be the right person for the job. Nominated by then President Bill Clinton and praised by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), she is highly regarded for her ability to handle complex legal questions.

    Representing Arizona, Bouma will likely argue to the judge that SB 1070 does not conflict with federal law and that states have the right to enforce federal law. The Justice Department will argue that the law is pre-empted by federal statutes and that the government has “preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters.” Translation: the Arizona law cannot go into effect.

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    Tags: Immigration, Arizona

  • Hilda Solis Talks Immigration

    May 12, 2010

    by Jason Marczak

    The nationwide fury over Arizona’s SB 1070 has yet to diminish. And rightfully so. When this new law goes into effect at the end of July, any American citizen can be asked for their documents if they look to be undocumented. This is just plain un-American.

    As President Obama said at a Cinco de Mayo event at the White House last week: “We can't turn law-abiding American citizens—and law-abiding immigrants—into subjects of suspicion and abuse. We can't divide the American people that way.”

    A similar message is being reiterated by members of his administration including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the first Latina to serve on a presidential cabinet. At the Council of the Americas’ 40th Washington Conference on the Americas today, Secretary Solis, the last speaker of the day, emphasized that the U.S. “must change the direction of our immigration policies.” Speaking before business leaders at the State Department, she flat out said that she “doesn’t agree with what’s happening in Arizona.”

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    Tags: Immigration, SB 1070, Hilda Solis

  • Arizona Immigration Law Threatens all Immigrants…and the State Economy

    April 26, 2010

    by Jason Marczak

    The clock is now ticking for enactment of SB 1070—Arizona’s new law that makes the state the country’s most regressive in how it treats all immigrants, not just the undocumented. What can Arizonans expect? Besides the inevitable racial profiling that is to result, the economic consequences will be grave for a state that already faces a budget deficit of at least $1.4 billion this year.

    When it goes into effect—90 days after the legislative session ends, or likely mid-late summer—SB 1070 mandates law enforcement to “determine the immigration status” of a person “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” It also makes it illegal to transport somebody who may be unauthorized to be in the U.S. and it builds on previous Arizona law in punishing employers who may unknowingly have undocumented workers.

    The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act are anything but what the law’s title says it will do. In fact, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill saying it could erode trust with immigrants and would distract police from dealing with more serious problems.

    The result: Arizona will drive out business, push out its immigrant workforce and spend the next few years spending tax-payer dollars fighting legal challenges. Of course, that’s not to mention how it will harm every one of the state’s 1.96 million Latinos, a number that represents 30.1 percent of the state population according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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    Tags: Arizona, immigrants, SB 1070, Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, Latinos, Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • Extending Gay Marriage Rights in the Americas

    January 8, 2010

    by Jason Marczak

    Last week marked an important victory for gay rights in our hemisphere. Seven years after Buenos Aires became the first Latin American city to permit same-sex civil unions, two men legally married in the country’s southern province of Tierra del Fuego.

    The couple had originally planned to marry in Buenos Aires, but the wedding was moved after a local judge issued an injunction to block the ceremony. Governor Fabiana Ríos called the marriage "a breakthrough in human rights and social inclusion."

    The Argentine marriage has now been referred to the country’s Supreme Court, but whatever the Court decides, gay couples’ right to marriage is gaining steam.

    Almost five years ago, Canada became the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage. Five U.S. states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa—and WashingtonDC have followed suit. (A lawsuit filed yesterday challenges last month’s legalization of gay marriage in Washington.)

    But the most striking development is Mexico City’s legalization of gay marriage with a law approved just before Christmas. It follows the city’s Cohabitation Law from 2006, which had granted same-sex couples marital rights identical to those of heterosexual couples. For Mexico City officials, gay marriage is a civil rights issue as well as a potential source of income. “We are already in talks with some travel agencies that are planning to offer package tours…and everything they need for a wedding,” according to Alejandro Rois, the city tourism secretary. Clearly, preparations are well underway for when the law goes into effect in March.

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    Tags: Same-sex couples; Gay marriage

  • Congress' First Step Toward Immigration Reform

    December 15, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    This afternoon Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) reminded the American people what awaits in 2010: a much-needed national discussion on immigration reform. Joined by lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Progressive Caucus, Gutierrez introduced his long-awaited Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009. Or, CIR ASAP as the bill’s acronym fittingly spells out.

    And while his legislation is unlikely to be the bill that ultimately passes, it puts pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to step up their efforts at finding a workable solution to one of the United States’ most challenging domestic issues. By introducing CIR ASAP now—before Congress leaves town for the holidays—Gutierrez is sending a message that “there is no excuse for inaction in the New Year.”

    Of course, health care reform must first be voted on in the Senate, and if passed, reconciled with the House version before discussions shift to immigration reform. But when they do, all eyes will be on Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration.

    Schumer is said to be working closely with Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and is expected to introduce an immigration reform bill in January. Leaders in both chambers expect action in February or March. But the House is likely to take its cues from the Senate on this one.

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    Tags: Janet Napolitano, U.S. Congress, Immigration Reform, Undocumented immigrants, Luis Gutierrez, Charles Schumer

  • Nicaraguans Lose $62 Million in Assistance as Ortega Stands Firm in Defending Flawed Elections

    June 18, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    Eight months later, the consequences of last November’s municipal elections continue to reverberate throughout Nicaragua. Now the latest victim is not the legitimacy of the democratic process but Nicaraguan citizens. And the government of Nicaragua is to blame.

    Last week, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—a U.S. government entity established in 2004 that ties aid to good governance, economic freedom and investments in people—announced that it would cut $62 million in aid to Nicaragua. This money, suspended a few weeks after the municipal elections, was part of a five-year, $175 million agreement (or compact) that was signed with the Nicaraguan government in July 2005.

    The reason? MCC assistance only goes to “governments who are governing justly,” and according to MCC Acting Chief Executive Officer Rodney Bent, Nicaragua has not shown “meaningful reforms or progress” in this area. The MCC had been looking for the government of President Daniel Ortega to address the voting irregularities that helped his Sandinista candidates win the mayorship of Managua, and the country’s second city, León. In Managua, Alexis Arguello defeated Eduardo Montealegre (Ortega’s challenger in the 2006 presidential election) amid accusations of voter identity fraud and suspicious polling station tallies. For the first time in 20 years, independent observers were barred from monitoring the election.

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    Tags: Nicaragua, assistance, Elections, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega

  • Congress Takes Up Immigration Reform

    May 1, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    "Every interest group, left, right and center, for one specific reason or another opposes the [immigration] bill. The question is, in a complicated world can Congress rise above those specific interests?"

    That’s a quote from the new chair of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who held his first immigration reform hearing yesterday. But my how things remain the same. Schumer actually spoke those words in 1986 as a Brooklyn (NY) congressman. That year he played a key role in brokering a compromise on agricultural workers—allowing undocumented farm workers to become legal immigrants if they had worked at least 90 days from 1985 to 1986—that paved the way for passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

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    Tags: Mexico, Immigration, US, Economy

  • Managing Expectations at the Summit of the Americas

    April 16, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    The Carnival Victory and Caribbean Princess cruise ships have sailed into Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, to provide an additional 3,000 hotel rooms as delegations and guests get ready for Friday’s arrival of the hemisphere’s 34 democratically elected heads of state for the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

    Expectations are high as U.S. President Barack Obama—popular in the region as in much of the world—prepares to meet his Latin American counterparts. Beyond meeting with five hemispheric leaders at the G-20 Summit in April, and Obama’s one-on-one talks with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (in Washington), Mexican President Felipe Calderón (in Washington as President-elect and in Mexico City today) and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in Ottawa), this is Obama’s moment to create a first impression with leaders who want to see for themselves how his policies will differ from the wildly unpopular ones of the last eight years. In fact, hemispheric leaders are lining up and “expect to have 10 or 15 minutes with the President” at the Summit, notes Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Trinidad and Tobago, Obama

  • Clinton Delivers a Long-Overdue Message: Mexican Drug War is a Co-Responsibility

    March 26, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and its Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhán were at Mexico City’s airport at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to great the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration’s new era of bilateral relations. Both Clinton and Espinosa were ready to discuss areas of cooperation and move beyond the recent trade dispute—where Mexico imposed $2.4 billion of tariffs in response to the U.S. ending a pilot program (and caving into the Teamsters) allowing Mexican trucks to operate on U.S. roads—that had clouded bilateral relations in recent weeks.

    But the excitement over Clinton’s visit extended far beyond her official meetings. Currently in Mexico City for a conference on immigration, I was able to coincide with the Secretary’s visit. And I can report that people around town had high expectations for what would come of her talks and those of future U.S. officials. Mexicans are rightly weary not just of the narco-violence but of U.S. media sensationalism of their country’s plight and the inaccurate label of a failed state.

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    Tags: Mexico, Narcotics, Calderon, US, Clinton

  • Samba and Security in Rio de Janeiro

    March 2, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    Cariocas (Rio locals) and tourists are back to reality now that Brazil’s five-day Carnival has wrapped up for the year. And what a Carnival. The Salguiero Samba School beat out a fierce rival to win the two-day Schools Parade competition—its first title in 16 years. Among the 80,000 spectators packed into the Sambadrome stadium, President Lula da Silva, describing the parade as “marvelous,” could be seen in a white shirt and Panama hat enjoying the festivities until 5:00 a.m.

    Tudo bem? Not quite. Beyond the masks and costumes, another issue continues to creep into the headlines coming out of Rio: crime. A total of 9,800 police were deployed for Carnival but armed assailants still managed to grab attention with brazen attacks on two hotels, robbing tourists of IPods, money and cameras. But as he must, the head of the tourist police, Fernando Veloso remains confident: “One or two cases won’t ruin Rio’s image. There is always a problem of some sort. But every big city has problems.” In fact, things have gotten better. In Rio de Janeiro state, the murder rate has declined from a high of 64 per 100,000 people in the mid-1990s to 39 per 100,000 people in 2007.

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    Tags: Brazil, Security, Lula

  • Presidents Calderón and Uribe Go on the Economic Offensive

    January 30, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    For Latin American leaders, the place to be this week was either Davos, Switzerland or Belém, Brazil. For Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the choice was the World Economic Forum in Davos. Joining his Venezuelan, Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Brazilian counterparts, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa—scheduled to be in Davos—instead opted for what is often termed the “anti-Davos”—the annual meeting of the World Social Forum. And although both forums are making headlines, the real question remains: How can Latin America best confront the global economic crisis?

    In its latest report, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that the region’s combined GDP is likely to expand by only 1.9 percent this year—the lowest in seven years. For Mexico, the news got even worse this week. Guillermo Ortiz, the Central Bank governor, told reporters in Mexico City that the GDP may shrink 0.8 percent to 1.8 percent in 2009. This after growing 1.5 percent last year.

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    Tags: Mexico, Colombia, Uribe, Financial Crisis, Calderon

  • The Start to More Sensible Immigration Policies May Just be Around the Corner

    January 16, 2009

    by Jason Marczak

    Washington is abuzz this week. Yes, Beyonce will be sharing the stage with Garth Brooks at Sunday’s Lincoln Memorial concert, but a new tune also may be developing in regard to U.S. immigration policies. Both the incoming administration and congressional leaders have signaled that the chorus for ’09 may yet be a new, practical approach to fairer treatment of our nation’s immigrants.

    For one, imminent changes are on the horizon at Homeland Security. At yesterday’s confirmation hearings, Secretary-designee Janet Napolitano again emphasized her sharp differences with the Bush administration’s program to build a fence along the Mexican border: “I don't think I would be giving good advice to the committee if I said that's the best way to protect our border." And Napolitano knows. As the Arizona governor, she has first-hand experience with securing the border. But more impotantly, under Napolitano, fixing the “broken” U.S. immigration system would be a priority.

    This week we also saw President-elect Obama continuing the 28-year tradition of the U.S. president-elect meeting with his Mexican counterpart prior to inauguration. At a joint news conference with President Felipe Calderón, Obama underscored the importance of the bilateral relationship, vowing to open “a new page” on topics such as immigration. In the meeting, the Mexican press reports that Obama committed to enacting immigration reform that includes family unification. However, that news didn’t make it into the U.S. media.

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    Tags: Immigration, Obama, US

  • Crime in Mexico and Cell Phones. Mexico’s Fight Against Insecurity Moves to Congress.

    December 18, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    Security is one of Mexicans’ top concerns. Since taking office, the government of President Felipe Calderón has responded. Troops and federal police are one answer, but the government now has a new weapon: a law that creates a national cell-phone registry. Cell phones are not AK-47s but they are used by criminals for kidnappings, organized crime and extortions.

    The registry—passed by the Senate on December 9 along with other measures to widen police powers—mandates substantial changes to the way telecoms operate. But in the English-language media, the registry received just passing attention.

    Its goal is laudable: to help police in cracking down on ransom demands made from often untraceable cell phones.

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    Tags: Human Rights, Mexico, Security, Calderon

  • A Bipartisan Approach to Reduce Poverty and Boost the Western Hemisphere’s Middle Class will Soon Fall by the Wayside.

    December 3, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    Congress will meet one more time next week before likely packing up and heading home for the holidays. That may be good news for automakers seeking relief but lawmakers will be leaving behind much unfinished business for our Americas policy. For one, the Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements (FTAs) have yet to be considered. Passage of these agreements would offer a rare win-win for the U.S.—helping our economy while showing the region that the U.S. delivers on its promises. Beyond the FTAs, Congress may soon punt on another key hemispheric initiative: the bipartisan Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas.

    Then-Representative Robert Menendez introduced the first version just over five years ago. Now a senator, he has introduced it in every Congress since. And along the way he has found more supporters. Menendez introduced it for a third time last year—this time in the Senate—and on the House side, Representative Eliot Engel offered it up for consideration. Soon after, AQ wrote about it first with a special feature in our Fall 2007 issue. Since then, 13 senators (including newly nominated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) signed on to the Senate bill and 30 to its House equivalent, with support coming from both parties. This time around the Senate bill got further along than any previous time—making it through the Foreign Relations Committee. But that’s where it came to a halt.

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    Tags: Peru, Colombia, Free Trade, US, Economy

  • The Colombia FTA is an Economic Stimulus that Doesn’t Cost $25 Billion

    November 20, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    The election campaign has ended, but Commerce Secretary Gutierrez is still on the campaign trail for the Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). This week, he was on the hustings at the Small Business Administration trade symposium.  The message: we must pass the Colombia free-trade agreement “with the same sense of urgency that we passed a stimulus package several months ago.” He’s right.

    And these small businesses owners certainly understand that our economy would benefit. Approximately 10,000 U.S. companies export to Colombia, and of that about 8,500 are small and medium-sized firms—the engine for economic growth in the United States. With this FTA in place, the U.S. trade relationship with Colombia would shift from one of unilateral preferences granted to Colombia through the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act to a relationship where U.S. industry enjoys the same benefits already granted to Colombia. The Colombian market would open on a reciprocal basis to U.S. goods, allowing 80 percent of U.S. products to immediately enter Colombia duty-free. Without an FTA, the high tariffs levied on U.S. products means that a Caterpillar truck, for example, faces more than $200,000 in taxes when sold in Colombia. Clearly, this is not good for either country.

    In these unsettling economic times, it is mystifying how Congress could shy away from passing an agreement that—combined with the already-in-place Peru FTA—would increase U.S. farm exports by $1.39 billion and provide over 18,000 new jobs.

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    Tags: Colombia, Free Trade, Uribe, Economic Stimulus

  • How Did Immigrant-Related Ballot Measures Fare on Tuesday?

    November 6, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    The 2008 election results gave a decisive victory to the Democrats. At last count, President-elect Obama had 364 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 163 and won by the popular vote by 7 percent. The Democrats also picked up six Senate seats (Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota have yet to be called) and at least 18 House seats. But what about those ever-famous ballot initiatives?

    Back in the 2006 election, anti-immigrant ballot initiatives were the cause du jour in the West. Conservatives hoped they would help get out the base. Arizona and Colorado were the center of the storm. Four measures (Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300) passed in Arizona, each with over 70 percent of the vote, and the two Colorado proposals (Referendums H and K) squeaked through with just over 50 percent supporting each. The roots for these initiatives can be traced back to California’s landmark Proposition 187, which in 1994 was the first public backlash against undocumented immigrants at the ballot box. Yes, it passed, but the courts did thankfully rule it unconstitutional.

    This year, Missouri and Oregon joined Arizona in proposing initiatives that would affect immigrants. The results were mixed. Oregon’s Ballot Measure 58 would  have limited the use of foreign-language instruction in public schools. It was not endorsed by any major state newspaper, and 63 percent of citizens joined together in striking it down. Schools can now breathe a sigh of relief and continue to teach English as needed.

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    Tags: Immigration, Elections

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