NDN Blog

Daily Border Bulletin: Crime and Banishment, Selling Their Souls to the Devil, Border Surge Stirs Outcry in Mexico

Your Daily Border Bulletin is up:

Crime and Banishment “Mexico wants the U.S. government to pass an immigration reform that would set on the path to legality the six million or so undocumented Mexicans now living in the United States. But the cost might be too great for some Mexican communities along that very border Americans are trying so hard to make secure — for themselves.”

Selling Their Souls to the Devil As cited in yesterday’s LA Times article, on Sunday, June 23, 2013, reporter Jorge Ramos Ávalos shared the Mexico viewpoint of the proposed ‘border surge’ amendment to the Senate’s border/immigration bill. The article was originally published in the Mexico City-based paper La Reforma, and a copy is available here. Here is a quick translation of the piece.

In Mexico, U.S. Border 'Surge' Proposal Stirs Outcry After much silence from the other side of the border, some criticism is emerging from Mexico of the proposed increase of border patrol troops and fencing along the US-Mexico border. Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade stated that fences "are not the solution to the phenomenon of migration, and aren't consistent with a modern and secure border. They don't contribute to the development of the competitive region that both countries seek to promote."


Jorge Ramos Ávalos: Selling Their Souls to the Devil, La Reforma, June 23, 2013

As cited in yesterday’s LA Times article, on Sunday, June 23, 2013, reporter Jorge Ramos Ávalos shared the Mexico viewpoint of the proposed ‘border surge’ amendment to the Senate’s border/immigration bill. The article was originally published in the Mexico City-based paper La Reforma, and a copy is available here.

The following is a quick translation of the piece:

“We were about to record a special television program on immigration reform and we could not begin because Senator Chuck Schumer of New York would not hang up his cell phone. But none of the other three senators accompanying him- Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin and Michael Bennet- dared to interrupt him. Me either. Schumer was counting by telephone the number of senators who would support a new amendment to “militarize” the border of the United States with Mexico and the issue was too important to ask him to hang up. When at last he did, we found out about the negotiation that had occurred behind closed doors.

In exchange for securing enough Republican votes to legalize the majority of the 11 million undocumented, the Democrats would have to sell their souls to the devil, as the Mexican saying goes. The agreement includes increasing the number of border patrol agents on the border from 21,000 to 41,000, completing construction of 700 miles of wall between the two countries, putting into practice at a national level the employment verification program known as e-verify, and using the latest technology (like drones) to monitor the border.

 ‘Militarization’ is not exactly the right term because the agreement doesn’t send US soldiers to patrol border with Mexico. But it includes some harsh tactics that are only used between enemy nations. In fact, various private contractors that worked for the American military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now pursuing new contracts on the Mexican border. That is where the money is.

This is undoubtedly the most drastic series of measures in history for physically separating two countries. That is why the absolute silence of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in this debate is so surprising. The passivity and negligence of his government is incomprehensible; it is as if this had nothing to do with him, as if it were not going to seriously affect millions of Mexicans.

This is not done between neighbors. Mexico is not being treated like one of the principal trading partners of the US. With this agreement, it appears as if the two nations are fighting. It’s terrible to return to the epoch of building walls.

The Peña Nieto government lacks imagination to propose migration agreements like that of the European Union, or at the very least, the audacity and temerity of Vicente Fox to ask for a new migration treaty with the United States. What Mexico needs are more visas for its workers in the north, not more US agents that arrest the poorest of Mexicans in the deserts and mountains.

The US senators that devised this border agreement, clearly, did not want narcoviolence from Mexico to cross into their country, nor did they want to run the risk of a terrorist sneaking through the border. After a complicated, long, and difficult negotiation on immigration reform, they also did not want their country to again fill with undocumented immigrants in a few years.

I understand why these US senators did this. The message they received from the Latino community en the past presidential elections is that they had to move forward with immigration reform and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people, no matter the cost. And this is exactly what they did. Now we cannot hold it against them. The Democrats are sacrificing almost everything so that Republicans in the Senate approve an immigration reform bill and so the project passes in the House of Representatives.

The senators Schumer, Menendez, Bennet, Durbin and the Republican from Arizona, Jeff Flake, were very candid with me. No, this was not the agreement that they would have wanted. But immigration reform is a negotiation, not the directive of a single party. Lesson: one does not win what one deserves but only what one negotiates.

Of course, all these deals can change, or even be rejected up to the moment of voting. But the intention is already clear and the message is written on the wall: on the border it’s a heavy hand, not cooperation.

Finally, the principal loser in all this is Mexico. The US is shutting the door in its face and it isn’t reacting. Its ministers and diplomats appear not to understand how things work in the US. Here you knock on doors, lobby Congress, look for influence, use propaganda, appear in the media, and make noise. The Peña Nieto government has not done any of this and there are the consequences: more miles of fence and thousands of more agents to arrest Mexicans.

And the winners, I think, are the undocumented immigrants. It is unimaginable how many people are fighting for them! The reform advances and these immigrants are closer than ever to legalization. It is at an extremely high cost and with binational consequences that will last decades, but their voice is being heard.”

Transitions At NDN

Part of the joy of running an organization is seeing people grow, learn and then move on to new challenges and opportunities.   This week we send off two really good members of our team to exciting new positions.  Chris Bowman, who has been a terrific assistant to me, moves into the Congressional office of Mike Doyle, a home state Congressman for him.  Kristian Ramos, who has been a high-impact and vital member of our team for three years now, takes on an important new assignment as the Communications Director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

Kristian also joins an important club, alums of NDN's pathbreaking Hispanic work, a wonderful club which includes Joe Garcia, Sergio Bendixen, Maria Cardona, Jimmy Learned, Alicia Menendez, Fernand Amandi, Andres Ramirez and Gil Meneses.  Over the 11 years of our project few have done more to advance a greater understanding of the changing demography of the US and advance immigration reform than this intrepid and wonderful group.  I am proud of what we have done together, and for what they continue to do every day to make our politics more modern and responsive to the challenges our country faces today. 

Stepping up to become Policy Director of our 21st Century Border Initiative is Emma Buckhout who has already been a welcome and talented addition to the project.   Emma comes to us from the Latin America Working Group, where she worked on their Mexico and Border program. Prior to moving to DC, she spent two years on the other side of the border working on community development with Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico City. She graduated Summa cum Laude in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

So please join me in saying thank you and good luck to Kristian and Chris, and welcome to Emma. 


Daily Border Bulletin: Cost of Border Deal Questioned, Arizona Sheds Anti-Immigration Policies, On Border DHS Has Earned Trust

Your Daily Border Bulletin is up:

Cost of Border Deal Questioned Read this article for an excellent analysis of the implications of the Corker-Hoeven proposed additional spending to the Senate border/immigration bill. Border experts agree that the spending for additional border patrol agents and fencing is more than needed and probably more than is possible to effectively implement.

Arizona Sheds Anti-Immigrant Policies; House Should Take Note Kristian gives his thoughts on the implications of shifting immigration politics in Arizona: "A combination of real improvements along the border, a series of high-profile legal and political defeats, and a rallying of business and community leaders against the social and economic costs of anti-immigrant politics is ushering in a new, post-SB1070 era in Arizona.  As House Republicans in recent days have committed to SB1070 style anti-immigrant politics, it would be wise for them to pay attention to what has happened in Arizona in recent years."

On The Border, DHS Has Earned Congress’s Trust Simon recently published this op-ed analyzing why Republican criticism of DHS is misplaced and how real success achieved at the border should be guiding Congress’s debate over immigration reform.


Kristian Ramos Op-Ed In NBCLatino: "Arizona Sheds Anti-Immigrant Policies; House Should Take Note"

One of the more interesting developments in the national immigration debate is the retreat of anti-immigrant politics in Arizona, a state which helped bring it to the nation.   A combination of real improvements along the border, a series of high-profile legal and political defeats, and a rallying of business and community leaders against the social and economic costs of anti-immigrant politics is ushering in a new, post-SB1070 era in Arizona.  As House Republicans in recent days have committed to SB1070 style anti-immigrant politics, it would be wise for them to pay attention to what has happened in Arizona in recent years:

Supreme Court Once Again Strikes Down Arizona Law: In 2010, Arizona passed SB1070, creating copy cat laws all over the country. The Obama Administration sued Arizona and took the case to the Supreme Court. The Court struck down most of SB1070, curtailing the rise of state passed immigration laws. This week a conservative Supreme Court struck down another Arizona law which came from the same style of SB1070 politics.  For the second consecutive year a conservative Supreme Court has handed Arizona’s anti-immigrant leaders a significant legal defeat.

The Legislative Architect of SB1070 was Recalled, and is Now Out of Politics: In 2010 Russell Pearce, the then-majority leader of the state Senate pushed SB1070 through the state legislature. In 2011, a coalition which included Republican business leaders became alarmed by the damage to the state’s reputation. It backed a moderate GOP candidate, who defeated the sitting majority leader in a recall election.  A year later, Pearce ran in a newly-redrawn district and was handily defeated in a primary by a moderate Republican candidate.  Embracing virulent anti-immigrant politics ended the political career of Russell Pearce.

Arizona Senators are Now Leaders on Immigration Reform: The weakening of the SB1070 forces has given Arizona’s Senators McCain and Flake the ability to be among immigration reforms most important champions.  Senator McCain now defends progress made on the southwest border, recently taking to the Senate floor to note: “I have been on the border in Arizona for the last 30 years, to somehow say there have not been significant advancements in border security defies the facts.”  These kinds of statements were hard to imagine in the build “the dang fence” frenzy of 2010.

Democrats are Making Significant Political Gains: Despite the reputation of the state as a conservative bastion, the Congressional boundaries have produced a Congressional delegation that is 5-4 Democratic, and is likely to stay so for years.  In 2011, Tucson and Phoenix both elected Democratic mayors, the first time these cities have had Democrats in some time.   Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has become an important opponent to local Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and is among the most spirited advocates for comprehensive immigration reform in the country.

Arizona State legislature rejects Anti-Immigration Laws: After years of legislative sessions dominated by anti-immigrant/SB1070 style politics, this year’s session has seen very little of this type of legislation, and none have passed.  One of SB1070’s most important leaders, and one of President Obama’s most virulent critics, Governor Jan Brewer, recently accepted the new health care law’s Medicaid provisions, something rejected by most other Republican governors in the country and put her on the receiving end of scorn from the state’s Republican Party.  These new provisions will disproportionately help low income Hispanic residents of the state. Brewer’s actions would have been unthinkable at the height of the anti-immigrant political movement. Today they are further signs of the weakening hold that this movement has on Republican lawmakers in Arizona.

Arizona’s Republican Party, once the nation’s greatest champion of anti-immigrant politics, has largely moved on to other matters, not wanting to absorb the costs and losses they were suffering.  The state’s two most important Republican politicians have become important leaders of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform advocacy.   Democrats have made significant gains in the state in recent years, bringing Arizona much closer to being a purple state than ever before.

As someone who grew up in Arizona, I have watched the weakening of SB1070 style politics among the Arizona Republicans with both amazement and joy.  House Republicans ignore their journey at their own peril.

This was originally posted in NBC Latino and can also be read here.

Webcast: Evolving U.S. Policy Toward Syria

President Obama has announced an additional $300 million in direct aid following the apparently confirmed reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons sporadically throughout the conflict in Syria.  It is less clear, however, exactly what will be provide, who precisely will receive it, and when the aid will arrive. This decision occurs while the momentum that the rebels seemed to have been building earlier this year appears to be slipping away as the Assad regime retakes territory and becomes resurgent.  

To explore this evolving situation, NDN’s MENA Initiative hosted an interactive webcast with leading experts:

Yisser Bittar from the Syrian American Council.

Christy Delafield from the Washington office of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Shadi Hamid from the Brookings Institution and Research Director of the Brookings Doha Center.

Watch the full video here.

Some Thoughts on the Senate Border Deal

This fall when the President signs a new immigration bill into law in a beautiful Rose Garden ceremony we may look back on the border deal announced yesterday as the savvy compromise which paved the way.   I hope that is the case.  But I am not convinced that what happened yesterday was strategically advantageous for the cause of reform.   While the Democrats received nothing new in the “deal,” the Republicans achieved something very significant – they got the Democrats to buy into one of the big lies of the anti-reform movement, a big lie which is now part of the bill and will be part of the life of the nation for years to come.

I refer to the idea that the border is so unsafe that we would need to put as many armed troops on it as we have on the North Korean border today.  As I have written elsewhere, the US Mexican border is if anything a remarkable success story, far safer and better managed today than it has been in years.  Violent crime is one third of what it was a decade ago in the largest border cities; the flow of unauthorized migrants is a quarter of what it was a decade ago; meanwhile trade with Mexico will have doubled in just the past four years, turning Mexico in our third largest trading partner and second most common destination for American exports.   While troubles remain, the governments of two countries along with many local partners has made the border far safer than it was a decade ago, while dramatically expanding the flow of trade through the 47 ports of entry along the border itself. 

Some have described the border strategy agreed to yesterday as a “surge.” But what exactly is our government going to surge against? Net flow of unauthorized migrants between our two counties is now zero, and the CBO said the border provisions in the Senate bill pre-surge would drop that number even further.   The Wall Street Journal reports today on another reason the flow is not what it was – Mexico is growing, modernizing and producing far more jobs for its people than it did during previous decades.  Border cities are already are among the safest in the country, net flow is zero, we are close to the goal of a 90% apprenhension rate in 4 of the 5 high traffic corridors, the average patrol border patrol agent has seen their annual apprenhension rate drop from 300 to just 17, or one every three weeks...so why a "surge?"

In my work along the border these last three years I have heard regional leader after leader tell the same story – the exaggeration of the violence along the border by conservative politicians has brought great economic harm to the region.  Tourism has dropped off, investments end up in other places.   It was this economic threat that caused the business community in Arizona, for example, to recall from office the sitting state Senate Majority Leader and architect of the virulent anti-immigrant “SB1070 style politics of recent years.   These communities, among the safest in the whole nation now, are desperate to move beyond this perception which has done so much harm to their economies.  What these leaders want more than anything else is more investment on border infrastructure and customs agents, something that will create more jobs on both sides of the border and modernize our ports staining under the explosion of trade with Mexico we've seen in recent years. 

But this new compromise, crafted by three Senators not from the border region, institutionalizes the big conservative lie about the US-Mexican border.   We have now accepted as fact and policy that the threat posed by the US-Mexican border requires a response similar to what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, and equal to what we are doing today to defend against North Korea.   It is all out of proportion to what is actually happening in the border region today.   Remember, the Senate bill, which passed out of Judiciary Committee with broad bi-partisan support, a bill which has been characterized as the toughest border bill even written, called for no new border patrol agents.  Not a single one. 

Consider these statements by John McCain in the last several weeks:

“I have been on the border in Arizona for the last 30 years, to somehow say there have not been significant advancements in border security defies the facts.” 

“The fact is that we can get this border secured, and the answer, my friends, as is proposed in the Cornyn amendment, that we hire 10,000 more border patrol is not a recognition of what we really need,” McCain said. “What we really need is technology.”

At a strategic level, the wall of reasonableness erected by the Gang of Eight to keep the crazy politics of the anti-immigrant right out of the Congressional immigration reform legislative process was breached yesterday.  The timing of this breach of course is unfortunate, for the next step in this process is to move the bill to the House, where anti-immigrant forces are much stronger, and their ideas much crazier.   This “deal” accepted by the Senate Democrats established a precedent of accepting crazy conservative ideas in this tough debate, one which the other side is surely going to exploit in the weeks to come. 

As someone who has fought for immigration reform for eight years now, I hope I am wrong.  I hope the border deal will in fact be the moment which enabled us to get this deal done.  But where I sit, today, I am not convinced it was worth it.  And I know the tens of millions of Americanswho live in the border region, tired of the mis-characterization of their communities and proud of the hard progress which has been made in recent years, share my concern. 

Updates: Some good analyses on the border proposals have come out in the past few days.  See this Economist article, "Secure Enough: Spending Billions More on Fences an Drones Wil Do More Harm Than Good." Also see this excellent piece from Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic, this one from the Los Angeles Times and this one from Josh Gerstein at Politico.

Update: In an Op-Ed I wrote in the Hill on Wednesday, i argued that if more money were to spent on the border it should be for border infrastructure, which would help create more jobs on both sides of the US-Mexican border.

Invite: Thursday, July 18th - Globalization, Power, and Politics: A Conversation w/Moises Naim

Join NDN on July 18th for a discussion of the impact that globalization is having on the future of international power and the international political landscape. Moises Naim, world-renowned thinker and writer, will be unpacking some of the insights of his new book The End of Power. 

Dr. Naim is a Senior Associate in the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Chief international columnist for El Pais and La Repubblica, Spain and Italy’s largest daily papers. He was previously the Editor in Chief of Foreign Policy and has served as Venezuela’s Minister of Trade and Industry, director of Venezuela’s Central Bank, and as executive director of the World Bank.

This will be a rare opportunity to converse with one of the keenest observers of the global forces reshaping every aspect of our economies, culture, security, and politics. Francis Fukuyama has said that “Naim makes eye-opening connections between phenomena not usually linked, and forces us to re-think both how our world has changed and how we need to respond.

July 18th

12:00 Noon – 1:30PM

NDN Event Space

729 15th St NW

Washington, DC 20005

RSVP here

Analysis: CBO Scoring of Immigration Bill A Game Changer

The new CBO report is a bit of a political game changer for the immigration debate.   While it has been long argued that the Senate Immigration Bill would do many things – improve border security and interior enforcement, resolve the issue of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working here in the US, improve the legal immigration system, smartly invest in expanding our trade with Mexico – we now know that it will also help improve the US economy, create jobs and significantly lower the budget deficit. 

The bar for the opposition to the Senate immigration bill just got higher.  Already specious arguments that already effective and ambitious Senate border security goals don’t go far enough are no longer sufficient for opposing this bill.   To oppose the Senate bill means one is now for increasing the deficit, slowing growth and reducing the number of jobs created in the US in coming years. 

Finally, it needs to be understood that the new attack by House Republicans on what is known as “prosecutorial discretion,” a provision they have attacked in both the recent King Amendment and in the just passed SAFE Act, would result in the elimination of the current government policy of prioritizing criminal migrants for deportation.   Thus, it can now be said of those House supporters of the SAFE act today that they are voting to eliminate the prioritizing of criminals from removal of the country, and for increasing the deficit and reducing US economic growth.

How exactly the House GOP found itself in these tortured set of policy positions is one of the great mysteries of the current immigration debate.

Simon's Op-Ed in The Hill: "On the Border, DHS Has Earned Congress' Trust"

Simon recently penned an op-ed in The Hill, "On the Border, DHS Has Earned Congress' Trust," that was first published on June 18th. A version can also be found below: 

On The Border, DHS Has Earned Congress’s Trust

As the state of the US-Mexico border moves front and center in the national debate over immigration, a little perspective is needed. 

What is apparently driving Republican efforts to alter the border security provisions of the Senate immigration bill is a distrust of the Obama Administration and DHS’s commitment to the effective management of the US-Mexico border.   At the core, this concern is misplaced, and Republicans are simply going to have to find a better argument for their proposed changes to the Senate immigration bill.

Let’s review some data from the last decade or so.  Crime on the US side of the border has plummeted, dropping from just over 19,000 incidents of violent crime in 2004 to just over 14,000 in 2011. In the five high traffic corridors which experience most of the flow of unauthorized migrants, two already have achieved a 90% effectiveness rate, and two are over 80%.  Due to both the drop in flow and significant increase in the border patrol (10,650 in 2004, 21,300 in 2012) the apprehension rate per border patrol agent has dropped from 327 in 1993 to just 19 in 2012. With such improvements in enforcement, the normal churn of immigrants returning home, and record levels of deportations (400,000 in 2012), the total population of unauthorized immigrants in the US has dropped from its peak of 12 million in 2007 to roughly 11 million today.  The average annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants is now nearly half of what it was at its height, declining from 550,000 or more to 300,000 over the last decade.  Unauthorized migrants from Mexico, the largest sending country, have decreased from 7 million in 2007 to 6.5 million in 2010, and net migration with Mexico has dropped to zero or less.  The numbers suggest that, in fact, overall unauthorized immigration must be hovering around a net value of zero if the average influx is 300,000 per year and the administration is deporting 400,000.

Importantly, this enforcement success has not come at the expense of trade with Mexico, which is rising at extraordinary rates.  In 2009, US trade with Mexico was $300 billion; in 2012 it was $536 billion, and we are on track this year to see it hit close to $600b – a doubling in just four years.  Six million US jobs are dependent on this exploding trade, and Mexico has become the US’s second largest destination for our exports, buying almost double what China purchases from our businesses every year.

The Senate immigration bill establishes ambitious enforcement targets to build on DHS’s recent success.   The bill calls for a 90 percent effectiveness rate across the entire border;  it requires a new exit visa system at air and sea ports of entry; and it nationalizes our worker verification system, giving businesses better tools to ensure their workers are legal.   Achieving any one of these three objectives in the next decade would be ambitious; doing all three together is going to require significant bipartisan cooperation, adequate funding levels and strong leadership from DHS in the years to come.   None of the current Republican border amendments, including the one being offered by Senator John Cornyn, do much to alter this strategy.  They move the enforcement timetable up a bit, which would be expensive and given the already ambitious targets, make the overall strategy much more likely to fail.  Many of the other recommended additions are unnecessary and often terribly expensive flourishes which may sound strong and tough but do little to alter the strategic trajectory the Senate has already agreed to.  In almost every case these new GOP provisions make the Senate bill more expensive and worse, not tougher and better. 

What the Cornyn Amendment gets right, however, is the need for additional investments in our ports of entry.  The explosion of our trade relationship with Mexico in recent years has made the need to modernize and update our 47 ports of entry along the border a national economic priority.  The current Senate bill makes a nod in this direction, adding 3,500 customs agents to facilitate the movement of more goods and people, and establishes a grant program to upgrade our ports.  But Cornyn goes further, committing $1b a year for six years to improve infrastructure and add personnel at our land ports of entry, and calls for changing the law to allow DHS to enter public-private partnerships along the border to help mobilize private capital to improve these ports.  While we think much of the enforcement side of the Cornyn Amendment is unnecessary and unrealistic, the ports of entry investment provisions should be adopted on the Senate floor and woven into the final Senate bill.  They will help create good jobs here in the US while improving security at the border. 

To be adopted, Republican proposals to alter the current Senate immigration bill’s ambitious border enforcement provisions should have to demonstrate two things: 1) they make the current Senate Bill better 2) they acknowledge the significant success the Administration has had in managing the border.   You can’t really have it both ways on this last one – the reason the Senate bill has set such ambitious targets for enforcement in the coming years is because DHS has shown it can manage the border effectively.  If you think DHS has failed, and is not to be trusted, as some have suggested, then why in the world would you make the border provisions even more ambitious and harder to achieve?   

The answer, of course, is that these Amendments are not designed to make the bill better, or the border safer, but to derail the process altogether.  You can’t have a “tougher” bill without also trusting DHS to carry it through.   

Update - See here for a comprehensive ppt deck which offers up the data cited in here, and more.

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