Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
As the U.S. Senate “Gang of Eight” prepares to unveil their comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand a pathway to citizenship.
The same day, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) held a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues in the senate to assure them that the overhaul will amount to the “toughest immigration enforcement laws in history.” A number of Democrats will have to be convinced of the same before they vote in favor of the bill.
In order to secure bipartisan support for the bill—which is crucial to its eventual passage by a divided Congress—any proposed pathway to citizenship will clearly be accompanied by stepped-up enforcement. This is not inherently a bad thing. With 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—most of whom overstayed their visa, rather than crossing one of our two borders—there is a clear need for a legal framework that enforces the law, while also honoring the economic contributions that immigrants make and creating mechanisms for naturalization and integration. The framework must also recognize that immigration-related violations are civil charges, not criminal ones.
Unfortunately, our current immigration enforcement system couldn’t be farther from that reality. The status quo of enforcement is overly punitive and grossly expensive, making the prospect of a significant increase through CIR worrisome.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles kick off their campagins; U.S. business and labor leaders reach an agreement on immigration; Argentina faces a court ruling on its debt; Brazil faces more stadium-related woes; and Venezuela auctions $200 million in foreign currency.
Maduro and Capriles Face Off: Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, said Saturday that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was trying to incite violence by scheduling his first campaign rally in Barinas state, the birthplace of the late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro and Capriles had both scheduled rallies on Tuesday to kick off their respective campaigns in Barinas state. On Sunday, Capriles announced that he would move the kickoff of his campaign to Monagas state on Tuesday, and campaign in Barinas on Wednesday.
Business and Labor Groups reach Agreement on Immigration: U.S. business leaders and labor groups have reportedly reached an agreement to implement a guest worker program that would introduce a new type of visa – the “W” visa – for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. The deal was reached during a conference call on Friday between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO that was convened by Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who is one of eight senators negotiating an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Friday’s deal is a positive sign that the bipartisan group of senators will introduce a broad immigration reform bill within the next few weeks.
Argentina’s Day in Court: A New York court is set to rule at any moment on whether Argentina must pay $1.4 billion to holders of its defaulted debt. Argentina submitted a proposal last week to pay back the debt at a discounted rate. If Argentina is forced to pay the holdout bondholders immediately, the country would owe $43 billion in additional claims. Argentina may still appeal to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that limits suits against foreign governments.
Another Setback for Brazil’s 2016 Olympics: Brazilian officials suddenly closed Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium last weekend after declaring the structure unsafe, cancelling a scheduled match between the Botafogo and Vaco da Gama soccer teams in the process. Engenhão is scheduled to host the track and field events in the 2016 Olympic Games, but authorities have said there is a danger that the roof of the stadium could blow off. Meanwhile, Rio officials must find an alternate location for the Confederations Cup in June if repairs to the stadium aren’t completed before then.
Venezuela Auctions Foreign Currency: The Venezuelan government’s decision to auction $200 million in foreign currency to a group of chosen companies last week has triggered a de facto currency devaluation, according to analysts. According to the government, 383 companies participated in an auction under the government’s new Sistema Complementario de Administración de Divisas (Complementary System of Currency Administration—SICAD) plan. The official exchange rate is currently 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars per dollar, but the government did not name the sale price of the dollar in the auction. Investment bank Barclays Capital has said that the government’s decision not to publicize the sale price of the dollar in the auction was a way of “avoiding the political cost of the announcement of a second devaluation.” Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said that the SICAD program will make it possible for individuals to obtain foreign currency with transparency.
White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said yesterday that immigration reform legislation is coming “early” in President Obama’s second-term agenda. Axelrod’s comments followed shortly after Obama’s inauguration address in Washington DC in which he only briefly touched on immigration. Axelrod went on to say that the president could push for reform as soon as the State of the Union speech in three weeks.
The near-record turnout by Latino voters in November favoring Obama over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by a margin of 71 to 27 percent gave the president a new mandate to reform the U.S. immigration system. A number of immigrant reform groups organized events around the inauguration to make sure the issue of got the attention it deserved. For example, 120 members of advocacy group Casa de Maryland—many of whom worked on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012—marched on the National Mall yesterday calling for sensible reform that goes beyond Deferred Action.
Legislation will likely include measures that seek to resolve the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—especially for young arrivals and so-called “Dreamers”—while stepping up enforcement mechanisms like E-verify. Other components of immigration reform legislation will likely also address visas for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs with agricultural visas a likely sticking point between the two parties. Immigration reform was expected to be the president’s first order of business in 2013, but the Newtown shooting and the consequent push for gun control legislation mean that introduction of a bill is now expected to occur in the spring.
Enrique Peña Nieto’s meeting today with President Obama and other senior U.S. government officials in Washington sets the stage for a productive and vibrant bilateral relationship, but challenges await. As expected, the atmospherics surrounding the brief visit are welcoming and congratulatory. Both leaders seek to establish a meaningful personal connection that will carry them through the coming years of inevitable ups and downs in a dense and fluid bilateral relationship—one of the most complicated, yet potentially rewarding, in the world. At the same time, they are anxious to discuss the outlines of the agenda anticipated under a Peña Nieto presidency, including energy and tax reform, social security, and security, all areas that impact Mexico’s global competitiveness and priority areas for reform.
Fundamentally, these are issues for Mexicans to address. The United States can nonetheless assist the new president by taking actions that are in our own self-interest. Foremost among these is immigration reform, which President Obama has promoted as an issue for 2013. The United States could also do more to promote the rule of law, first by curtailing our own demand for illegal drugs and also by curtailing the supply of automatic weapons and ill-gotten financial gains from the United States to Mexico.
But the real opportunity, as Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan has suggested, is to move from a transactional to a strategic relationship, much like the United States enjoys with Canada, especially in the economic sphere. The three nations of North America now make up an integrated platform for manufacturing and production; for example, it no longer makes sense to talk about cars that are “made in America.” Now, they are made in North America, as are numerous other products. Rather than resisting this trend, we should be celebrating and promoting it, because doing so makes our own economy more efficient and our people more prosperous, as it does with both Mexico and Canada.
A new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll revealed that Florida voters overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform that would give people living in the state illegally a pathway to citizenship. Of the 800 registered voters interviewed from across the state, 66 percent said they support immigration reform that allows people living in the Umted States without legal status to stay and apply for citizenship. Another 28 percent oppose it, and 6 percent are undecided. According to Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the nonpartisan, company that conducted the poll, "most voters here support some sort of way to solve the problem."
The telephone survey, conducted from July 9-11, also found that 53 percent of Florida voters favored President Barack Obama's recent move to protect some younger illegal immigrants—so-called “DREAMers”—from being deported, while 42 percent opposed it and 5 percent of voters were undecided. Coker noted that support for the president's action is wide, but may be dulled by the way President Obama handled it. Although the administrative action will allow young undocumented immigrants who were raised in the U.S. to remain for two years under a deferred deportation, work and go to school, it does not provide a path to citizenship for them.
Both Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are courting Hispanic voters, especially in the swing stages of Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Although President Obama leads Romney among this voting bloc in most polls, he must shore up his support among Latino voters to win in November. Romney would not need to win over all Hispanic voters, but he does need to peel away some to compete in the swing states.
The Mason-Dixon poll also found that 53 percent of Florida voters support the right of police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest for a violation or crime. Forty percent opposed it, and 7 percent were undecided.
The margin of error for the poll was 3.5 percentage points.
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.
Top stories this week are likely to include: G-20 economic summit in Los Cabos; Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro; the hemisphere reacts to Obama’s immigration policy shift; South Korea’s president and China’s premier embark on separate Latin America tours; and Humala’s approval hits a new low.
G-20 Summit Kicks Off in Mexico: The annual global economic and financial summit known as the Group of Twenty, or G-20, takes place today and tomorrow in Los Cabos, Mexico, after having been preceded by the B-20 business summit. The G-20 is comprised of the European Union members and 19 other major economies; together, they represent 90 percent of the world’s GDP, 80 percent of worldwide commerce and two-thirds of the globe’s population. The world will pay close attention to any developments from the summit, given the fragility of the eurozone and the apparent slowdown in China, which has led to a growth deceleration in Brazil and other economies dependent on Chinese manufacturing. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “President Felipe Calderón has promised a major breakthrough on the economic crisis that has the world on edge. But can the G-20 really affect the deeper structural and confidence issues facing the global economy?”
Rio+20 Hits the Ground Running: Although the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, began last week, the high-level meetings take place from Wednesday through Friday after the G-20 concludes. Nearly 115 heads of state are expected to attend this environmental summit, which is the largest UN conference in history—with nearly 50,000 in attendance. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be noticeably absent. Will Rio+20 produce any tangible results? Notes Sabatini: “What was once considered the starting point of global discussions over environmental issues has unfortunately become just an anniversary. To inject this forum with the importance and urgency that is necessary to change the course of global environmental issues, the United States and other developed nations need to step up—this time for real.”
The Hemisphere Reacts to Obama Policy Shift: Friday’s surprise announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the Obama administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants with no criminal records and who have completed some college education or military service sent shockwaves around the U.S. and beyond. While critics of the Obama administration, such as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, derided the move as “backdoor amnesty,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) praised the Obama administration for answering “the prayers of families across the nation by implementing a long-awaited change to the current immigration policy.” However, some in Latin America lament the timing of the directive. La Tribuna in Honduras believes that the policy shift “arrived late” for many Hondurans, with La Opinión concurring that the Obama plan came late for “many dreamers.” Says Sabatini: “While appreciated, it’s sad that it’s taken this long to get to an issue that should have been easy three years ago. Has the immigration debate sunk so low and political opportunism climbed so high that this is the most important pro-immigration piece of policy reform that can be passed today—and clearly for electoral reasons?” AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak agrees: “The president’s executive action is a great moment for the 800,000 undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and will now be able to more fully contribute to our society. But why couldn’t this have been done in late 2010 when the DREAM Act was blocked in Congress? The beneficiaries of this policy could have been legally working without the fear of deportation for the last 18 months if action had been taken sooner.”
South Korean and Chinese Leaders to Visit Latin America: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will attend the G-20 and Rio+20 conferences, and then depart afterward to Chile and Colombia later this week for bilateral visits. Further, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay official visits to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, where he will meet with the presidents of those four countries and deliver a speech at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) secretariat in Santiago.
Humala’s Approval Rating Hits New Low: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark since he took office in July 2011, according to a new poll from the Ipsos Apoyo firm published yesterday. His approval rating stands at 45 percent while his disapproval rating is 48 percent. This is likely due to his stance on pushing forward with mining projects and invoking the emergency law to quash protests in northern Peru. Can he turn the unpopular tide? Sabatini says that “President Humala has failed to articulate how his outsider campaign and alleged commitment to social inclusion is different from his predecessors. In the absence of a defined, structured party system, Peruvian presidents are hostage to the vicissitudes of popular opinion—and this can be very dangerous.”
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."
During Vice President Joe Biden’s one-day visit to Mexico City on Monday, President Felipe Calderón asked that the United States do more to "strengthen actions against the trafficking of weapons into our country and money laundering,” according to a statement from the president's office. More than 60,000 of the weapons used by Mexican cartels have been identified as originating in the United States.
Biden also met with the three presidential candidates participating in Mexico’s July 1 general election to discuss security and cooperation. The frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, said after his meeting that his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) party is committed to fighting organized crime. "The discussion is not whether we should or shouldn't fight against it, but what we can do to achieve better results, he told reporters. Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said later that the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship should prioritize development, jobs and welfare to decrease the push of migration. Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Josefina Vásquez Mota, who is closing in on Peña Nieto’s lead in the polls, said that the candidates in the U.S. and Mexican presidential should avoid the contentious immigration issue in the lead up to their respective elections.
Biden travels to Honduras today to meet with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, as well as the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Over the past several months, the presidents of these Central American nations—including Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina—and Mexico have said they are open to the idea of legalizing drugs as a response to the U.S.’s inability to curb demand. But after Biden said "there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy."