In an announcement at the White House yesterday, President Barack Obama blamed House Republicans for congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, and said that he would be moving forward with executive action to fix the U.S.’s broken immigration system. Obama went on to say that he would be moving resources from the interior of the country to the border, in part to address the estimated 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S. illegally so far in 2014.
Obama said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder will "identify additional actions my administration can take within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.” Obama expects recommendations by summer’s end, which could affect the midterm elections in November.
Under executive action, Obama could reduce deportations by extending deferred action to certain group of undocumented immigrants, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he started through executive action in 2012.
The announcement comes less than a week after Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner told the president that the House of Representatives would not vote on the comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate a year ago, despite the fact that there is enough bipartisan support in the chamber to pass it.
In a meeting with law enforcement officials at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that House Republicans have a “narrow window” of two or three months to push comprehensive immigration reform legislation through before midterm politics become a priority. Congressional elections will be held on November 4.
At the meeting, Obama cast immigration reform as a security issue, saying that maintaining the status quo “makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job.” The president signaled that the administration could “reboot” the controversial Secure Communities program, which shares information on immigrants gathered by local and state law enforcement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson—who assumed office last December—is in the midst of conducting a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Over the past few months, Johnson has met with stakeholders on both sides of the immigration reform debate, including the national immigrant youth organization United We Dream and the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies.
The president expressed hope that comprehensive reform legislation—like the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support in June 2013—would make it to his desk, provided that there’s movement before the August recess. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told local chambers of commerce in San Antonio on Monday that both parties are “getting closer on the policy side in terms of how to deal” with immigration reform.
In a recent blog, I described Canada’s new and emerging American economic challenge with our neighbor to the south as it was heading towards energy self-sufficiency with its consequent impact on the manufacturing sector of its economy. While Canada has increased its trade with new partners in recent years and is actively pursuing new markets for its products through free trade agreements, I concluded by saying that the United States remains our number one export nation and this will not change in the near future.
On the political front, there are few relationships more stable and predictable than that of Canada and the U.S. We have fought wars together, have done peace missions together, have shared intelligence on national and continental security matters, and generally have had compatible national interests. The post-World War II years have seen some differences between these two neighbors, but none significant enough to doubt the depth of trust, commonality of interest, and shared commitment. At least until recently.
The current trip by Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with a huge delegation of government officials and business people to the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, has raised speculation that Canada has steadfastly decided on a go-it-alone policy at a crucial moment as U.S. diplomacy is actively pursuing peace in the region. The reception offered to the Canadian visitors by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is unmatched in recent memory and Prime Minister Harper has reciprocated with an unequivocal endorsement of Israel’s conditions for peace. Some observers in Canada are asking: is Canada more supportive of the Israeli government’s negotiating position than the brokering efforts of the U.S.?
The Canada-Israel bond contrasts with the frosty relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Considering the Israeli Prime Minister’s warmth to the Republican Party and its 2012 Presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, and his public lecturing of President Obama, Netanyahu’s enthusiastic praise for Harper’s policy seems meant to convey an implicit mistrust of the U. S. government in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Clearly, this did not seem to be a factor in the Canadian Prime Minister’s trip.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal privacy review board, has concluded that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s phone call record collection program is illegal and should be discontinued. The 238-page report published yesterday finds that the spying program “lacks viable foundation” under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, violates the First and Fourth Amendments and poses threats to privacy and civil liberties.
The report comes a week after President Barack Obama’s speech on limiting the reach of the NSA in order to protect civil liberties, during which he pledged to change how the NSA collects civilian telephone records in order to increase transparency on surveillance activities. The president also said he would alter the metadata gathering program, moving the bulk information out of government hands into a third party where privacy can be protected, but U.S. officials have expressed concern about the feasibility of achieving these changes.
The NSA’s surveillance tactics have also recently sparked debate about the impact on U.S. foreign relations, the topic of the Americas Quarterly Winter 2014 Hard Talk Forum. Responding to international criticism, President Obama proposed setting limits on the surveillance of foreign heads of state as part of the planned reform. Many Americans remain skeptical of government surveillance programs according a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Monday, with as many as 73 percent saying they don’t believe the proposed changes will make a significant difference.
Brazilian authorities canceled a delegation trip to Washington that had been scheduled to lay the groundwork for President Dilma Rousseff‘s meeting with President Barack Obama in October. The decision was made on Thursday in response to allegations that the Brazilian president was a target of U.S. electronic espionage.
The allegations were made on September 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret government documents on U.S. electronic surveillance programs from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications network of the Brazilian president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges. According to Greenwald, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was similarly targeted. Both presidents have demanded an explanation from Washington by the end of this week.
For Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, “this represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty.” Brazil’s Senate is creating a special committee to examine the spying allegations and to seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Figuereido said that Brazilian authorities also will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to other developing nations to protest against this breach of national sovereignty.
According to former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Rubens Barbosa, though Brazil-U.S. relations have waned in recent years, the scandal won’t affect commercial ties between the two countries. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face,” Barbosa said.
The October 23 trip would be Rousseff’s first state visit to Washington DC.
President Obama’s recent visit to Costa Rica focused on enhancing competitiveness and deepening economic ties with the Central American Integration System (SICA) through a U.S.-SICA partnership based on human and economic development. The visit also served as a pressing reminder of the need to improve integration efforts within the region.
For this partnership to succeed, the countries involved should recognize that most regional challenges arise in part because of poverty. Young men and women don't see a brighter future ahead and institutions are not working for their people.
President Obama’s trip provided a renewed perspective on the relationship between the U.S. and Central America—especially for a region more used to talking about its problems than coming up with solutions and more used to asking for assistance than offering mutual cooperation. In that spirit, here are the three main themes that Central American leaders must follow up on after this visit.
Today, as U.S. President Barack Obama kicks off his sixth visit to Latin America, Americas Quarterly releases its Spring issue, Latin America Goes Global, in which, among other articles on the region’s increasing role in global affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson reveals 10 generally unknown initiatives that are advancing U.S-Latin American relations.
In “10 Things You Didn’t Know about U.S.–Latin America Relations,” Jacobson looks at both long-standing and nascent efforts to promote many of the broader issues President Obama will discuss during his meetings with Latin American leaders in Mexico and Costa Rica. The president departs for Mexico this morning and will be visiting the two countries from May 2–4.
Economic and trade relations, security and cooperation will be top agenda items. And Jacobson points to local efforts already in place to connect small entrepreneurs and bolster education and opportunities in the region. From bicultural centers throughout the region that offer education in English and technology, among other subjects, to the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), the hemispheric collaboration Obama seeks to expand has firm roots in place, Jacobson notes. On a larger scale, Jacobson notes multilateral alliances like the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also explored in the Spring AQ—and its potential to deepen economic ties and opportunities.
President Obama has committed to discussing efforts to coordinate the hemispheric energy supply and demand and to launch new environmental partnerships, and Jacobson details existing efforts to collaborate on environment and energy issues. Local initiatives are raising environmental awareness and furthering initiatives to connect Latin America’s private sector entrepreneurs to U.S. clean energy companies.
The Spring AQ explores many other aspects of Latin America’s increasing global presence that will, in part, guide the issues Obama discusses and the initiatives he puts forth.
In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”
On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.
Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.
Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.
President Barack Obama hosted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón for the sixth annual North American Leaders summit at the White House on Monday. The summit featured a two-hour, closed-door meeting and a joint press conference where the three heads of state issued a joint statement outlining their plans.
Trade between the three countries, which exceeded $1 trillion for the first time last year, topped the agenda. President Obama said North American trade is an important driver of job creation, and said the three leaders agreed to “simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger.” Prime Minister Harper, who will travel to Chile later this month, said that Canada seeks to improve trade relations with the U.S. and Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries.
The three heads of state also discussed regional issues, such as crime, energy, immigration, and the drug war. In his statement to the press, President Calderón once again called on the U.S. Congress to stem the illegal flow of American weapons into Mexico. “The expiration of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we’ve ever seen,” said Calderón.
President Obama responded by saying that while the U.S. is actively preventing illegal gun trafficking, but more can be done to stop the violence plaguing Mexico. Absent from the press conference was any mention of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States. Obama tabled the issue last November, which drew criticism from Prime Minister Harper.
The three heads of state will meet again at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14 and 15.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Strong Earthquake Rocks Mexico
The largest earthquake since 1985 rocked Mexico on Tuesday, with the U.S. Geological Survey placing the epicenter near the border between the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, and giving it a 7.4 rating on the Richter scale. Compared to the 8-point earthquake in 1985, which killed at least 10,000 people and destroyed parts of the capital, Tuesday’s earthquake resulted in no reported deaths and light damage. Officials attributed the lack of destruction to stronger building standards set after the 1985 quake. Mexican daily El Universal offers images and video of damage resulting from yesterday’s quake.
Mexico and Cuba Prepare for Six-Day Papal Visit
On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico, for a three-day visit before going to Cuba until March 28. While the Vatican says the visit is purely for religious aims, the pope could play a political role in both countries. The Washington Post reports that, in Mexico, where presidential campaigning officially begins next week, the visit could bring support to President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party, which is close to the Church. In Cuba, the pope may look to expand the Church’s role following a religious opening in the 1990s. “Now the Church is an umbrella for many groups who seek more space for social action. This pope will try to strengthen this space, to try to position the Church to play a strong role in Cuba,” said Eduardo Barranco, a Catholicism specialist at the Center for Religious Studies in Mexico.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the pope’s upcoming visit to the region.
Ruling-Party Candidate Drops Five Points in Mexican Polls
A recent poll by GEA/ISA registered a 5-point drop for Mexican National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, decreasing from 36 percent to 31 percent of expected votes. The poll widens the gap between Vázquez Mota and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose lead grew from 43 to 48 percent. The third major candidate in the campaign, the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s (PRD) Andrés Manuel López Obrador, retained 21 percent. The decline for Vázquez Mota comes after her poorly attended inauguration as the PAN’s candidate, which took place in a stadium where crowds left due to delays.
Mexico to Be World’s Seventh-Largest Economy by 2020
A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicts that Mexico will become the world’s seventh-largest economy by 2020. By that year, Mexico should contribute 7.8 percent to global GDP, more than India or Russia, two of the so-called BRICS countries. Goldman Sachs, which created the concept of the BRICS, said it previously excluded Mexico from the BRICS because it was not growing at the same rate as countries like Brazil or China. This year, Mexico’s GDP should grow by 3.6 percent—equal to Brazil’s expected growth.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.