NDN Blog

Invite: Thurs, 11/14 - Reps. Joe Garcia (D), Jeff Denham (R), Steven Horsford (D) Discuss Imm Reform

Update 11/14: Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada will also be joining us today.  Looking forward to a great discussion.

In an effort to jumpstart immigration reform in the House, a group of Democrats led by Rep. Joe Garcia (FL) introduced H.R. 15, a combination of the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the bipartisan border security bill passed out of the House Homeland Security Committee.  A month later, 186 Democrats, almost the entire House caucus, and 3 Republicans have signed on as cosponsors in an effort to pressure leadership to bring it or any other immigration reform legislation to a vote on the House floor.  

We commend Rep. Jeff Denham (CA) for being the first Republican to sign on to H.R. 15, reaching across the aisle to seek a solution that brings 11 million immigrants out of the shadows, fixes the system for future immigration, and boosts the entire US economy and its future global competitiveness.

We are pleased to welcome Reps. Garcia and Denham for a discussion on immigration reform moderated by TV host and reporter Fernando Espuelas.  The Congressmen will each offer preliminary remarks highlighting why immigration reform is imperative for their states and the entire US and its prospects going forward, and then will be joined by Simon Rosenberg for an audience Q&A.  Please join us!

When: Thursday, November 14, 2013. 12-1:15pm
Lunch will be served at 12noon, presentation will begin at 12:15, followed by Q&A

Where: NDN Event Space, 729 15th Street NW, 1st Floor

To RSVP, please email ebuckhout@ndn.org with “RSVP Immigration Nov 14th” in the subject line. 

For more of our analysis about the border and immigration reform, visit this page on our site. Also see Simon’s op-ed in on how the two parties are closer to a deal than ever before and this blog on how immigration reform is alive in the House.

We hope you can join us for this timely and informative discussion.  This is an open event- please feel free to forward to others who might be interested.

We look forward to seeing you on the 14th!

Friday, Nov 22nd - DHS's Alan Bersin on Deepening US-Mexico Ties

As Vice President Biden remarked during the recent High Level Economic Dialogue in Mexico, “there is no reason why our partnership, the U.S.-Mexico partnership, should not be among the strongest that we have.”  Mexico is now the US’s second largest export market, third ranked trade partner, and fourth largest source of tourism revenue.  Two-way trade surpassed $500 billion in 2012, with over $1 billion worth of trade crossing the US-Mexico border each day.  Recent announcements on security collaboration as well as the first meeting of the US-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue indicate that this crucial bilateral relationship is deepening, broadening and improving.   

On November 22nd, NDN and the New Policy Institute are pleased to welcome Alan Bersin, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to a discussion of the US-Mexico bilateral relationship.  Previously having served as Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection and as DHS’s Special Representative for Border Affairs, Bersin is one of the administration’s foremost experts on the border region.  He has travelled extensively in Mexico, most recently in July 2013 to accompany former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to high-level meetings in Matamoros and Mexico City. Drawing upon these experiences, Bersin will share his perspective on improvements in the US-Mexico bilateral relationship, after which he will take questions from the audience.

This event will take place at NDN, 729 15th St NW, 1st floor, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m.
Lunch will be served at 12:00 and the discussion will begin promptly at 12:15.

To RSVP please email ebuckhout@ndn.org with “US-Mexico RSVP” in the subject line. 

This event is open to the press.  Live webcast will be available here and video recording will be posted at ndn.org afterward.

We look forward to seeing you on the 22nd! 

Consequential Months Ahead for Obama Presidency

For those trying to take stock of US politics, last night’s elections confirmed what recent polls have indicated – Democrats head into 2014 in a somewhat stronger position than the degraded Republicans. 

But there is also a sense that the current climate is very unsettled.  Recent stumbles by President Obama raise questions about whether the Democrats can retain their advantage into next year.  While polls have Republicans at historic lows, the President is at the lowest recorded level of approval of his Presidency.  A bad shutdown influenced November jobs report is likely to add the pressure to see better outcomes from Washington

It is my assessment that the 2014 landscape, and perhaps the landscape for the rest of the Obama Presidency, will be determined by how well the President Obama’s very ambitious agenda fares in the months ahead. 

Consider what is in front of him, and the country now: an important debate about how to create growth and jobs in a more competitive global economy, deficit reduction, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Farm Bill, immigration reform, a fast-changing MENA region slipping further into chaos, enormous trade pacts in the Pacific and the Atlantic and post Snowden fallout both abroad and at home.  Of course there are many more critical issues, but even this partial list is daunting, huge, consequential.   

These many challenges present the President with a great opportunity to re-affirm a narrative of modern problem solver, uniquely qualified to understand the great challenges in front of us and with the courage to offer a set of solutions as big as the moment, and the skill and grit to see it through.   

I hope the President reaches back to his 2011 State of the Union Address, my personal favorite of his speeches to the Joint Sessions of Congress, to inform these next few months of his Presidency.  In that speech he seemed much more comfortable about leveling with the American people at how the world was changing, and how America needed to “up its game.”  It was a mature speech by a responsible leader, explaining while the world and our own country are going through deep, structural change, he had a big, thoughtful plan to ensure our success in transformative times.

This narrative is the very opposite of the “you can keep what you have” meme so present in the current debate over health care, or the nostalgic economic themes voiced in the President’s summer Knox College speech.   The truth is that in a time of great change, you can’t keep what you have.  There is no going back.  You/we are going to have something different.  And it is up to the President to make sure that these new times are better, not different, and certainly not worse, for the American people.  

I think the President has to return to some version of “upping our game” in the months ahead as it provides a much needed public rationale for his ambition.  Rather than these issues being seen through the divisive prism of Dem vs. Rep, his approach would be just to be doing what a leader does for his people in time of great transformation.  It is a political antidote to the politics of shutdown, and makes the Republican’s desperate nostalgia for times gone by more favorable to their approach look even more irresponsible and reckless.  It is “forward vs. backward” redux.  

These next few months will be among the most consequential of the Obama Presidency.  If Obamacare gets back on track, the economy continues to improve, our investments in the Middle East seem to be paying off, the President will be in a strong position to propose and fight for the rest of his appropriately ambitious agenda.  But even if these outcomes are undetermined in the days ahead, I think the President needs to adopt a different strategic approach to selling his agenda.  America is not going to have a smooth transition to a new, global age.  It is going to be a difficult one, one that requires sacrifice, risk, investment and honesty.  Mistakes are going to be made.  But the rest of the world is upping its game, and we, more than anything else, must up ours to retain our position in the world.  The choice about forward vs. backward, progress vs. decline needs to be made clearer, starker for the American people.  This is no ordinary moment in our history, and the political elites in the US need to stop pretending it is.  It is our responsibility to level with the American people, and have them participate as full partners in building this better America of the 21st century.  

The success of the President’s second term might very well come down to what happens with his bold agenda in the next several months.  To succeed, I think the President needs to take a step back from the day to day, create more of a national rallying cry for where we need to go, and to challenge Congress and the American people to come along with him.  Together, we can raise our game, and meet the challenges of a new day. 

With Long History of GOP Support, Immigration Reform Is Different

One of the main reasons significant progress on immigration is still possible in coming months is the long history of Republican leadership and support of the issue. With support from Republican voters, important elements of the Republican coalition and many important Republican leaders, immigration reform does not resemble far more divisive issues like health reform and the budget.   A strong Senate framework , coupled with a few modest changes being discussed in the House, provides Republican Members of Congress a powerful legislative package that they should be able to take home and proudly sell to their constituents. 
Consider the following: 
National Republican Leadership – immigration reform has long been an issue championed by national Republicans.  Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and most recently 2008 Republican nominee John McCain were not just supporters of immigration reform, but national, spirited champions. 

Additionally the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush was the first American Presidential campaign to make extensive use of Spanish-language advertising and free media to reach a new generation of Hispanic immigrant voters.   It was in fact a Republican who pioneered these modern techniques, ones now being far more extensively deployed by Democrats than Bush’s successors.  
The most graphic example of this GOP leadership legacy this year came during the immigration reform debate in the U.S. Senate.  We witnessed a true bi-partisan legislative process, led by GOPers including McCain and Flake of AZ, and the final product passed with 68 votes, including 14 GOP Senators.   Few issues of significance in today’s Washington have seen this kind of comfortable, successful bi-partisan result. 

The Modern GOP Grew In Heavily Hispanic Parts of the United States – One of the reasons many national GOP leaders have been so supportive of immigration reform is that the modern GOP grew out of the Sun Belt, and the largest states in the Sun Belt – CA, FL, TX – have large immigrant and Hispanic populations.  
The first true conservative GOP Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, hailed from Arizona.  Nixon and Reagan came from California, the Bushes from Texas and John McCain from Arizona.  All in all 11 of the last 14 GOP nominees have come from AZ, CA and TX, giving these nominees and their Party great familiarity and comfort with the growing US Hispanic populations.  
Recent Polling Shows Immigration Reform Is Popular With Republican Voters  – An Americans for a Conservative Direction poll reported that 79% of Republican primary voters asked said it is “very important” to fix the current immigration system, with another 17% answering it is “somewhat important,” indicating 96% of what is arguably the party’s most devoted constituency think it is something Congress should address.

Furthermore, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings earlier this year found 53% of overall Republicans favor an earned path to citizenship, while 13% favor at least a path to legal residency.  A more recent survey by the PRRI showcases that a path to citizenship aligns with traditionally Republican values.  A strong majority of all Americans think immigration reform would benefit the economy by allowing illegal immigrants to pay taxes (84%), that illegal immigrants would work hard to earn citizenship (76%), and that they would only take jobs that Americans don’t want (64%).

This polling is consistent with polling on the issue going back to 2005.  There has been broad majority support for CIR, and deep support in the Republican Party itself, since this debate began almost a decade ago.   There is also, of course, passionate and deep opposition.  But it is a minority, even of Republican voters, in most polls. 
Large Parts of the Traditional GOP Coalition Support Immigration Reform –Unlike the current debates over Obamacare and the budget, large parts of the GOP coalition support immigration reform and want the GOP to work with the Democrats.   The Chamber of Commerce, High-Tech, Ag groups, anti-tax/pro-business leaders like Grover Norquist, Catholic and Evangelical leaders all support reform, and are aggressively lobbying their GOP representatives.   There are few other issues championed by President Obama that will ever attract this kind of broad-based support from traditional Republican groups.  
For years, the “divisiveness” of the immigration issue has been overstated.   There are few issues in Washington with such a bi-partisan history, and which enjoy so much support with voters of both parties.   The Senate gave the House a good bi-partisan framework to work from.   The House GOP has leaned into the issue much more than is understood right now, having passed five CIR related bills out of committee.  The House Democrats signaled their willingness to deal by grafting the House GOP’s border proposal onto their new CIR bill, HR 15.  And just this weekend we saw a House Republican, Rep. Jeff Denham, sign on to the House Democratic immigration bill, saying more of his colleagues would soon follow. 

While of course there is opposition coming from certain Republican circles, we are in fact closer to a deal today than any point since Senators McCain and Kennedy introduced their original legislation in 2005.
The current Senate/House bill gives House Republicans a lot to take home to their voters.  It grows the economy and reduces the deficit by a trillion dollars.  It strengthens border security and interior enforcement.  It invests in border infrastructure and adds more customs agents, allowing more job producing trade and tourism.  It makes our immigration skills-based and much more business friendly.   It helps resolve issues with visas for agricultural workers, something agribusiness has been clamoring for.   And the path to citizenship for the 11m undocumented immigrants is likely to be so arduous that those Republicans wanting to make sure they “don’t reward bad behavior” should be satisfied.  
When Republicans go home to make their case for why they voted to reform our antiquated immigration system, they know that while there are Republican voters and coalition partners who will decry them for taking this tough vote, there are far more voters, and far more powerful members of their coalition ready to reward their courage.   For after all, immigration reform has been as much a Republican as a Democratic issue over the past two generations of American politics.   And this history, and its legacy, is one of the main reasons we remain optimistic that Congress can overcome a nasty period and pass immigration reform in the months to come.

The Urgent Need to Support Our Foreign Affairs Budget

As part of the agreement to re-open the government, the House and Senate have finally agreed to form a budget conference committee and pass actual appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. While the top-line funding numbers are important, the details of how the foreign affairs budget is reconciled are also critical. The foreign operations bill provides funding for nearly all of the non-defense functions of U.S. foreign engagement. The need for American engagement is as urgent as ever, but the version that came out of the House Committee earlier this year made deep and dangerous cuts to our diplomatic toolkit and sequestration is systematically starving key programs. Legislators who understand the vital role of American leadership t need to fight hard for robust and funding in the coming weeks and months as critical accounts like the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the MENA Incentive Fund hang in the balance.

Programs like these need to be grown as they represent the best and most effective approaches to international support. We need to be doubling down on region-wide tools that can help our policy become less reactionary, investing in long-term U.S. interests, and building up the capacity of populations through health, education, and active civil society.

This type of assistance is not simply foreign charity; it is a vital component of American leadership and economic growth. Then- Secretary Clinton laid out the basic ingredients earlier this year, encouraging governments to “ view civil society not as a threat but as an asset. A genuine democracy is like a three-legged stool. One leg is responsive, accountable government; the second leg a dynamic, job-creating private sector; and the third leg is a robust and vibrant civil society.”[1]  The U.S. has the tools and expertise to help developing countries construct this three-legged stool, but our diplomats and partners can’t do that work while being forced into robbing Peter to pay Paul. The importance of maintaining a strong defense is without questions, but the country is weaker if we allow our military to be our primary actor on the global stage. If we wish to see a world comprised of more modern, inclusive, and open countries – we need to invest in strategy designed to do just  that.

Too many politicians believe their constituents are too shortsighted or un-engaged to see the value of these investments, but that is simply not the case. After hearing that foreign assistance makes up merely 1% of the Federal budget, only 24% of Americans believe we spend too much while 36% believe that we don’t spend enough. With another 30% saying that 1% is about right, the last thing we should be doing is cutting back.[2] The Better World Campaign recently commissioned a nationwide survey finding that over 85% of Americans support funding programs which help women and girls in foreign countries achieve better health, education, and economic opportunity as well as being overwhelmingly supportive of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger around the world.[3]  When it comes to fully funding the foreign operations budget, politicians have a much easier case to make than many of them think.

[1] Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State (Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit, Washington DC: US Department of State)

[2] Kaiser Family Foundation Survey. May 2012

[3] Polling done in October 2013 for the Better World Campaign by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research http://www.betterworldcampaign.org/assets/pdf/bwc-fall-2013-poll-interview-schedule.pdf

Immigration Reform: Alive, Not Dead, in the House

A surprising number of recent media reports declare once again that immigration reform is dead- surprising because numerous House Republicans are signaling the exact opposite.  It is true that responsibility for action lies with the House GOP after the Senate passed its bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, House Democrats have introduced both CIR ASAP and H.R. 15 (now with 184 cosponsors), and President Obama has declared immigration reform a legislative priority. However, the House GOP passed five separate bills out of committee, and this week members have affirmed they are still working on more related to legalization of undocumented immigrants.  As long as a contingent of the House majority is willing to keep moving on meaningful pieces of legislation, immigration reform is very much alive.

See these articles (Updated November 4th):

Congressman Fred Upton Says He Will Be Part of 'Bipartisan Effort' to Pass Immigration Reform this Fall, Yvonne Zipp, MLive, November 1, 2013
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich): "I will be part of a bipartisan effort to fix the problem, because it has to be fixed."
"I do believe that we'll have at least half our caucus for it."

Immigration Reform Is Definitely Undead, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, October 30, 2013
Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.): “By supporting H.R. 15 I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.”

Ros-Lehtinen Becomes Second Republican to Back Immigration Bill, Rebecca Shabad, The Hill, October 29, 2013
“‘It's important to keep the conversation going in trying to fix the broken immigration system. I favor any approach that will help us move the negotiations forward,’ the congresswoman said in a statement that was provided to The Hill by a spokesman. ‘Other Members may soon produce a bipartisan product that may also deserve support and I'm cautiously optimistic that we can pass meaningful immigration reform.’”

Denham Co-Sponsors House Immigration Reform Legislation, October 27, 2013
“I support an earned path to citizenship to allow those who want to become citizens to demonstrate a commitment to our country, learn English, pay fines and back taxes and pass background checks. This is a common-sense solution to our broken system. I also support a faster pathway for the children who were brought here by their parents through no fault of their own, who have been raised in America and educated in our schools and have no other country to call home.”

Franks Supports Citizenship, Expects House Vote on Immigration, Rebekah L. Sanders, Arizona Republic, October 28, 2013
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.): "I believe the issue will come to the floor and I support bringing it to the floor….We are meeting one to two times a week, and I can tell you that there is a plan to bring immigration to the floor."

Rep. Joe Heck Statement on Immigration Reform, October 25, 2013
“There is a clear, bipartisan consensus among House members that immigration reform is the right thing to do both for people in this country and for our economy.”

Immigration Reform Is Dead. Or Maybe It Isn’t., Greg Sargent, Washington Post, October 25, 2013

Seven Reasons To Stop Being Fatalistic About Immigration Reform, Alec MacGillis, New Republic, October 24, 2013

Immigration Reform Is Alive and Kicking on Capitol Hill, David Leopold, Huffington Post, October 24, 2013

Obama: House Republicans Must Prove They Can Govern Again, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, October 24, 2013
"GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart  and Darrell Issa are working on proposals to do something about the 11 million, and House GOP leaders plainly want to find a way to pass something."

Darrell Issa to Introduce Immigration Bill, Seung Min Kim, Politico, October 23, 2013
“Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is planning to release legislation next week that would provide legal status for six years to undocumented immigrants in the United States, he said in an interview Wednesday.”

Speaker Hopeful of Immigration Reform This Year, Donna Cassata, Associated Press, October 23, 2013
“Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and David Valadao, R-Calif., joined immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children who want to join the military at a Capitol Hill news conference. Coffman and Valadao have been working with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., on legislation that would offer citizenship to the children.”

Boehner Says He Might Bring Up Immigration Reform This Year, David Lawder and Caren Bohan, Reuters, October 23, 2013
House Speaker Boehner: "I still think that immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I am hopeful."

Immigration Reform: Still Not Quite Dead, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, October 22, 2013
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R, Fla.) says he is working with a number of representatives to figure out: “what to do with the millions of undocumented who are here in a way that completely conforms with the rule of law.”

House Republicans Drafting Immigration Measures, Kristina Peterson, Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2013
“Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) and a small group of other lawmakers are working on one proposal that includes elements of –but is expected to diverge from– a bipartisan plan Mr. Diaz-Balart had worked on earlier this year.”

“Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) is also working on a proposal that would offer temporary legal status to qualifying illegal immigrants, his spokesman said Tuesday.”

Is Immigration Really Dead in the House?, Fawn Johnson, National Journal, October 22, 2013
“Powerful House Republicans like Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan all want to see something happen on immigration.”

An Immigration Challenge for Boehner, William Galston, Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2013
“…a majority of rank-and-file Republicans, backed by evangelical leaders and business, favor immigration reform….”

Did Shutdown “Poison the Well” for Immigration Reform?, Carrie Dann, NBC News, October 20, 2013
"Another proposal being worked on by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would allow some children who were brought the United States illegally as children to obtain legal status.”

Written Off for Dead, Immigration Reform Could Still Live On, Byron York, Washington Examiner, October 17, 2013
"’There is still a window,’ says one House GOP aide involved in crafting a reform proposal. ‘The leadership has said keep working on it and see what you can do.’”

Time Running Out for Immigration Reform, Dan Nowicki, Arizona Republic, October 20, 2013
"’We're still committed to moving forward on step-by-step, common-sense reforms,’ Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told The Arizona Republic in an email. ‘The Judiciary Committee has already passed several bills that could see floor action.’"

See these regarding a deal:

Immigration Reform Is Very Much Alive, Simon Rosenberg, Huffington Post, July 18, 2013

Bring Fig Leaves: House Needs Cover to Reform Immigration, Editorial Board, Arizona Republic, October 22, 2013

Slower Job Growth Could Spell Enormous Trouble for the GOP

We know now that the Great Shutdown of 2013 has been a catastrophe for the GOP.  It caused historic levels of across the board brand damage.  It prevented the GOP from drawing attention to the early, probably soon-to-be-fixed problems with the fall rollout of the ACA’s insurance exchanges.   And perhaps what is most perilous for the GOP, it puts the Party in grave danger of being blamed for an economic slowdown if one comes this fall and winter, something the new disappointing jobs report out today made a bit more likely. 
This last point could have a major impact on budget negotiations this fall, and again next year.  If the economic damage caused by the shutdown comes to be seen as event triggering slower growth, or even a mild recession, the GOP will be blamed.  Adding job loss and a slow down to the already decimated Republican brand could very well be enough to cause the House to go Democrat in 2014, while also creating even more lasting brand challenges. 

Thus, the Republican Party now has a major incentive, for arguably the first time in the Obama Presidency, to pursue policies that create immediate growth.  From a classical economic standpoint, this means taking threats of default and government shutdowns off the table to reduce “uncertainty;” avoiding large spending cuts which take money out of the economy and cause further job loss; and looking at, dare I say it, short term stimulus to prevent further slippage.   This path, of course, means abandoning their current party-wide obsession with spending cuts. 
Assuming that the Republican leadership is reading these events as I am, this new political landscape dramatically weakens the GOP’s negotiating position going into the current budget talks, making the final product likely to look a lot more like the Obama than the Ryan budget.  Of course, an agreement on such a budget would trigger a brutal internal budget fight between the GOP pragmatists and the Tea Party government cutting absolutists, causing even greater friction inside an already battered GOP (recognizing that it was internal tension over the budget which caused the govt shutdown in the first place). 
For Democrats, this new landscape offers two very important opportunities outside of prevailing in the coming budget talks.  First, it allows the Party to do lasting damage to the fallacious and damaging theological argument undergirding much of the radical right’s current economic approach – that reducing government spending is a necessary pre-condition for growth.    Weakening this argument in the public domain will not just weaken the power of the Republicans in Washington, but allow better and more appropriate economic policies in future years. 
Second, it forces the system to look for deficit reduction measures in other places other than through contractionary economic policy.    The best idea hanging out there right now, one that the CBO says will add 3-5% to GDP and reduce the deficit by almost a trillion dollars over the next 20 years, is the recently introduced House version of the Senate immigration reform bill.   The current landscape may indeed make the passing of a good immigration reform bill more likely now. 

Of course, Congressional Republicans may not see the current landscape this way.   They have been far too prone to ideologically-driven delusions this year.  But if the economy slows now, it will be hard to escape the conclusion that the reckless and highly unpopular pursuits of the GOP these last few weeks got us there.   And adding the prospect of a GOP-induced economic slowdown to the already devastated brand may force a degree of pragmatism into the GOP that would be welcome by all Americans. 

Update - For more on the potential economic impact of the GOP's brinksmanship, see this excellent new analysis by Rob Shapiro. 

There’s Real Economic Development Gold in El Dorado—Arkansas

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais. October 19, 2013.

For centuries, explorers searched for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, seeking instant wealth in the jungles of South America. But today’s treasure trove may be found much closer to home; cities like El Dorado, Arkansas, for example, that have successfully linked their economic development strategy to improving the educational attainment of their residents.

El Dorado, a city of about 20,000 people that was at the heart of Arkansas’s oil boom in the 1920s has been hard pressed to reprise that economic growth experience in this century.  Instead of chasing after the fool’s gold of becoming cool, it has found a way to attract new residents and increase its economic vitality by promising its public school students a free college education if they graduate from high school with good grades. That promise has the potential to provide the critical glue in holding together a broad based economic recovery not just for cities such as El Dorado but for entire states or even the country.

The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program established and funded by Murphy Oil Corporation, the town’s largest employer. Modeled after a similar program in Kalamazoo, MI, It provides graduates of the city’s high school a scholarship covering tuition and mandatory fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private, educational institution in the US up to an amount equal to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university.

Since its inception in 2007, 1239 students have taken advantage of the offer. Over 90% of them have completed at least one year of college. The first high school class to enjoy this benefit has graduated after five years from college at a rate almost 40% greater than the state’s higher education student population. These gains in acquiring the skills necessary to be competitive in today’s global economy have been achieved by virtually all of the city’s high school students, over 90% of whom graduated from high school last year.

Furthermore the culture of a college-bound student population is now permeating throughout the school district, with a recent study finding that students in grades three through eight in the city scored significantly higher than their matched peers in nearby school districts in both math and literacy. The greatest gains have come from those who were the youngest when the Promise was announced.

The goal of the El Dorado Promise was not just greater educational attainment, however. The visionaries who established the program also wanted to use this program to improve the community’s economic vitality and quality of life. They have clearly done that.  Enrollment in the city’s schools was up 5% in just the first four years of the program’s existence. As the Promise website says, “the prospect of an increasingly educated workforce gives economic development leaders new tools to attract businesses to the region.”

The first such Promise was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2005 by still anonymous benefactors seeking to restore the reputation of a city made famous in 1942 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s hit tune about a “gal” who lived there. Rather than raise taxes to balance the city’s budget, those who established the Kalamazoo Promise offered a fully paid four-year scholarship to any public institution of higher education in Michigan to any student who went to the city’s high schools for all four years. Under the terms of the Kalamazoo Promise, students have no obligation to repay the money or even to reside in Kalamazoo after they graduate from college.

The results are very similar to those of El Dorado. Kalamazoo’s student population is up 17.6% and dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of the city’s female African-American high school graduates have gone on to college. On the economic front, the proportion of residential construction in the city rose sharply from around 30% to nearly 50% of all permits issued in the greater Kalamazoo area. The community’s careful tracking of the results has identified 1600 families who say they are living in the city because of the Promise.

The economic challenges that caused El Dorado and Kalamazoo to up their game in getting local residents to graduate from high school and go on to college are no different than the challenge facing the country as a whole  in trying to create a competitive workforce in today’s increasingly global and technology driven economy.  For example, the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 62% of the jobs in the United States by the year 2018 will require at least some college education – for example a certificate for a specific skill – and that more than half of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. Unless the nation wants to fill those jobs with immigrants from other countries, it will have to do a much better job of giving each American who graduates from high school a chance to pursue a two year skill certificate or a baccalaureate degree. 

A promise that rewards good academic performance in high school with a scholarship that pays for four years of college tuition has demonstrated it can make a major difference in achieving our educational and economic goals. Now it’s time for the rest of the country to find the gold that Kalamazoo and El Dorado have already discovered. Just as the country, as part of its overall economic development strategy, once expanded access to a universal free education first for primary schools and later for high schools, it must now find ways to make these two pioneering cities’ promise to their young people America’s Promise to all of its youth.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America and Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics and fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.


Invite: Mon, Oct. 21st - "A Border and Immigration Reform Seminar"

Now that the government is getting back to work, President Obama said immigration should be next on the agenda, and we agree.

This Monday, join us as Simon gives an updated version of our presentation, “The Border Is Safer, The Immigration System Is Better, and Mexico Is Modernizing and Growing.” 

This fact-filled presentation highlights the Obama Administration’s success in managing the complex US-Mexico border, recent improvements in US-Mexico relations and vital economic ties that have paved the way for comprehensive  immigration reform that includes a 21st century approach to our southwest border.

We will discuss the outlook for the immigration reform debate and possibilities for a bipartisan bill- please join us!

When: Monday, October 21, 2013. 12-1:30pm
Lunch will be served at 12noon, presentation will begin at 12:15, followed by Q&A

Where: NDN Event Space, 729 15th Street NW, 1st Floor

RSVP here

For more of our analysis about the border and immigration reform, visit this page on our site, which includes a link to an earlier version of this presentation and related materials.  Also see Simon’s op-ed in on how the two parties are closer to a deal than ever before.

We hope you can join us for this timely and informative discussion.  And please don’t be shy about forwarding this information, which is so important to the current debate, to others you think might be interested.

Shutdown - The Latest from the NDN/NPI Team

Recent articles relating to the shutdown from team NDN/NPI:  

- "A Special Note About the Current Crisis in Washington." Oct 16, 2013. Simon Rosenberg. Rosenberg identifies the steps needed to bring concrete solutions and better politics to our country, contrary to the GOP-led gridlock we witnessed this month in Congress.

- "Will Tea Party Insanity Cost America $3 trillion and 2.75 million jobs?" Oct 16, 2013. Dr. Robert Shapiro. Shapir explores the economic consequences of the government shutdown and argues that Congress' reckless behavior threatens access to the low-cost capital on which the economy depends. 

- “The Shutdown Endgame: Getting to a Budget Deal, Protecting our Democracy."  Oct 2, 2013. Simon Rosenberg.  As the governenment shutdown takes on day 3, Simon Rosenberg makes the case that President Obama should focus on getting a budget deal to fund the government for next year and refuse to negotiate on any other item.

"Are Republican Leaders Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?" Oct 1, 2013. Dr. Robert Shapiro.  Shapiro analyzes the economic implications of the House GOP's strategy of holding normal government operations hostage to a variety of demands tied to the Affordable Care Act.

"Confrontation and Crisis will Create New Millenial Era Civic Ethos."  Oct 1, 2013. Mike Hais & Morley Winograd. Mike and Morley explore how older politicians will have to get beyond their ideological blinders to recognize the opportunity waiting with both halves of the Millennial era civic ethos paradox.

- "GOP's attack on ACA May Harm Party with Latinos As Much As Immigration Reform."  Sept 19, 2013. Simon Rosenberg. Simon points out that more Hispanics will be elibigible for health insurance under the ACA than are undocumented Hispanic immigrants in the country. His take: debate over the ACA is going to have a deep impact on the GOP brand with Hispanics.

"The Biggest Risks to the U.S. Economy Now Come from Congress and China" Sept. 4, 2013. Dr. Robert Shapiro.  Shapiro warns us that the most clear and present threat to growth lies in the looming fight over the debt ceiling and China's economic heft to materially affect the path of the American economy.


- "Forward or Backward?" October 25th, 2012. Simon Rosenberg. In a flashback to 2012, we revisit Rosenberg's analysis that a new coalition of progressive leaders must rise to address the political, cultural, social, and demographic changes affecting our nation in response to an aging, reactionary American right.



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