A Race To the Bottom - A Broken Immigration System Has a Social Cost, Too

According to a report just released by the Migration Policy institute, although the U.S. economy's nosedive has probably contributed to a drop in the number of undocumented immigrants coming into the United States, those already here will be less inclined to return home due to the manifestation of the economic crisis in the U.S. and abroad. The study does not focus on how border enforcement has deterred immigrants from returning home. 

In a great piece in the Post today by N.C. Aizenman, co-author, Demetrios G. Papademetriou explains,"The immigration system of the United States makes people wait in line for years to get their visa...so, by the time it becomes available for a family member or a valued employee...They don't want to return to the back of the line." The current broken immigration system exacerbates the economic crisis because -as explained in the report - the more likely and worrisome potential effect of the recession on undocumented immigrants is that it will drive them to accept ever-lower-paying jobs under ever-worsening conditions.  This is why it's so imperative that our legislators realize that immigration reform can be a tool to help fix the economy - the economy and immigration are inextricably linked, I hope Members realize they must stop seeing these two issues as separate and unrelated.  For those who argue, "how are we going to pass immigration during an economic crisis? How are we going to let in those immigrants?" I say: you think we have an unemployment NOW?...I refer you to the report's author: 

"We have to be careful about what people desperate for a job may do," Papademetriou said. "This begins to affect the labor standards and wages of not just the immigrants, but the people who work with them". This has very important social and economic consequences for the country. . . . If we're not careful, we could have situations that are unanticipated and that we haven't seen in this country for a while."

Abroad, the International Monetary Fund estimates that economic growth in Mexico will decline from 4.9% in 2006 to 1.8% in 2009 - we've already started to see the dramatic devaluation of the peso - which further reduces the incentive of undocumented immigrants to return home.  Let's pass comprehensive immigration reform and stem this race to the bottom.

Weekly Update on Immigration: It's the Economy Stupid! Will Dems Seize Opportunities? Is White Uncool? WSJ Promotes the Hate

In Politics:
One reason why the economic recovery plan matters to  immigration reform - 
There's been much written debate in major publications about whether the economic recovery plan is causing tension between Congress and the incoming Obama administration.  With Obama not even in office yet, a major concern of mine: if the alleged tension is true, I hope this doesn't cause major rifts that could damage discussions for an overhaul of the current - broken - immigration system.

Another Example of the Broken Immigration System - Even Tim Geithner's cleaning lady couldn't keep her status in check.  Again, we need to fix the current broken system that is so impossible to manage, which is why people fall out of status.  And as for Mr. Geithner's appointment - this guy is going to have to help solve the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression...this whole cleaning lady controversy - let's keep our eye on the ball, people.

Debate in Congress this week - The House is set to vote on legislation to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) this week, and the Senate Finance Committee will also take up companion legislation.  This bill includes provisions that would eliminate the existing five year waiting period LEGAL immigrant children must endure before qualifying for coverage.  We agree this requirement only threatens the well-being of already eligible children, but this debate has equally important political implications.  I know many thought SCHIP could serve as a "mini victory" before going for the "big enchilada," comprehensive immigration reform, but I disagree.  Time and time again, this Congress will try to take action on major domestic policy issues, and time and time again the issue of how these programs deal with the undocumented will come up (even though this bill deals only with legal immigrants), so the best way for Democrats to tackle this challenge is to clear the table - fix the root of the debate, a broken immigration system, and then we can actually make progress on the rest.  Most of the constituency that both Dems and Reps now admit they need to win elections - Latinos and immigrant communities - are unfortunately not monitoring the SCHIP debate, they want to be able to stop having to walk around with their passports in hand for fear of being stopped for no reason other than their appearance.  That is the reality we live in.  This tone will change to a great extent if Democrats seize the opportunity CIR affords them.

Everyone expects Republicans to try to bring up the old anti-immigrant mongering, but right now the Hill is actually buzzing due to Democrats that oppose eliminating this waiting period.  By going for SCHIP first, if it fails, Democrats have put themselves in a position that makes them seem divided (see Sen. Baucus), opened the door for more immigrant hate-mongering, they have taken up their time "preempting" potential Republican attacks on the bill instead of leading the debate and dictating a new agenda, and lost political capital and energy that is going to be needed if CIR legislation is introduced.  And if the bill passes, they have still invested political capital that will be needed for CIR, and if Republicans actually "get it" and shift their tone to an immigrant-friendly one, then that opens the door for Republicans to start making their way back among Latinos and immigrants - while certain Dems oppose this bill.  Until CIR passes, there will continue to be bickering over immigrants and "illegals" on every single policy issue that hits the floor.  And even if SCHIP passes, state and local governments are still left with the unfunded mandate of having to act as immigration agents, which will not stop until we have fixed our broken immigration system.  

It's the economy stupid - The San Antonio Express had a piece by Hernan Rozemberg this week on why immigration reform is on the "back burner."  The article accurately posits that anti-immigrant forces will argue that, "hard economic times" will impede making reform politically feasible.  We argue that the broken immigration system exacerbates economic problems because - as stated by Rep. Hilda Solis - it affects all workers, not just immigrants.

The economic crisis will not be solved in two months, or in one year.  And in one year, when legislators have to go back to their districts to campaign - what are they going to campaign on exactly? What major achievement? It's not likely that a tangible result like peace in the middle east, or a complete economic turnaround, or a major overhaul of the education system will be achieved in a year, but fixing the broken immigration system can happen in one year.  It is a major issue, recognized by the general public as a "problem" that needs fixing.  SHCIP, Equal Pay...these are all necessary and worthy achievements, but they are not recognized by voters as one of the top five major issues on their mind.

The piece also states, "Other leading national immigrant advocates said in the past week they'll wait patiently while Obama takes care of the economic mess, but they're not willing to let the crisis push the issue aside," which worries me.  Again, those of us for CIR should be advocating that immigration reform is one tool to begin to solve the major economic mess! This issue cannot wait until the economy turns around in two or five years.

Rozemberg adequately points out that the anti-immigrant voices will echo Roy Beck - a prominent member of the white supremacist hate network as reported by SPLC - shifting their focus away from the "illegal" argument (because they now see that Americans don't blame the immigrants), to "protecting American workers from competing for jobs with unauthorized immigrants."  And we have to preempt this strategy.  Our mistake in 2007 was responding to these PR stunts as opposed to anticipating them.  The truth is: 

- 12 million people are currently working outside the system - these people contribute to all our lives and the lives of all Americans will benefit from bringing them out of the shadows.
- The undocumented who are already here do not compete for American jobs, those who are employed work because they take jobs Americans will not fill, for wages Americans would not accept, outside of U.S. labor laws.  The economic crisis has also created many illegal immigrants - many have come into the country legally, and in hard economic times have lost their job or work less hours and thus cannot afford the ridiculous fees charged by USCIS to renew or change their status.  

- Whoever argues, "temporary worker programs or visa programs would only have more immigrants in the U.S. competing for U.S. jobs," completely misses the problem.  The reality is that: 1) visa programs are limited, but the current limits are unrealistic and do not meet business demands (hence 12 million undocumented).  Whether we take action to accept legal immigrants or not, they will come, let's accept that.  The question is: do we want them coming in legally, or illegally?  2) In hard economic times businesses might be particularly predisposed to hire workers who will work for less, and have no rights.  Let's work out a system that is amenable to American workers and helps meet labor demands in specific areas - the reason we have a broken system to begin with is that we are never forward looking, we've always tried to fashion a law that meets our "ideal" as opposed to meeting reality, which is why the 1986 and 1996 laws have not worked. 

Roy Beck said Obama would, "commit political suicide" if he tried to legalize millions of unauthorized workers with so many Americans out of work - that's also what everyone (including Democrats) said after he came out in favor of drivers licenses for the undocumented in the 2008 Primaries, remember? The bottom line is: the American people want Congress to solve problems.  And the broken immigration system is a problem. 

President-elect Obama met with President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. Click here to see NDN's statement on yesterday's visit.  The statement released by Obama spokesman, Robert Gibbs:

"President-elect Obama underscored his commitment to working with Congress to fix the broken U.S. immigration system and fostering safe, legal and orderly migration.  He expressed his strongly held view that immigrants should be treated with dignity and that the immigration debate should not be a vehicle for vilifying any group, and that our two countries need to work more effectively to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the United States." 

Mexico Human Rights Comission Speaks Out Again - This time, the CNDH (initials in Spanish) spoke out against the border fence during a tour of the border, explaining that a fence does not deter immigration, and criticized Mukasey's recent decision to strip immigrants of any semblance of due process during immigration proceedings (see below). 

Still No Commerce Secretary - There are many rumors regarding potential appointees - I think the thought of Federico Pena as Secretary of Commerce sounds excellent.  Not only does Secretary Pena - member of NDN's Hispanic Advisory Board - enjoy a wealth of executive experience, he is a community and business leader, he's pragmatic, respected, and most importantly, he is an ally in the fight for immigration reform.  Secretary Pena has acted as advisor to Barack Obama on this issue, and has submitted four key points for immigration reform.

Immigration reform legislation affords opportunities - In 2008, Republicans lost 3 of the 5 seats in the Senate opened by retiring members. In 2010, Republicans must defend 16 incumbents and 3 open seats, while Democrats have to defend 15 incumbents and two open seats.  Passing comprehensive immigration reform in order to solve the very broken immigration system affords Democrats an enormous opportunity to demonstrate a solid achievement as they battle for these Senate seats in states that do not clearly favor either party.  The seats up for grabs:
Jeb does not go to Washington
- Jeb Bush had been mentioned as a contender for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, but this week he announced he is in fact not going to run for U.S. Senate in 2010.  One can only speculate as to Mr. Bush's reasons for not running, but I have the feeling a major factor is discontent with what the Republican brand currently stands for - or lack thereof.  In part it is a shame because he might have followed Sen. Martinez's moderate Republican voice in the Senate, and like Martinez, supported immigration reform.  Bush governed one of the states with the largest Latino populations in the country, and as husband to Columba Bush - an immigrant from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico - is inclined to be more sympathetic to immigrants than most of his colleagues.  On the other hand, given the Democratic win in Florida during the 2008 Presidential, maybe this paves the way for Democrats to make new inroads into what used to be the Republican solid south.

Someone else who won't be seeking reelection - U.S. Sen. Kit Bond announced this week that he will not seek re-election in 2010.  The Republican party is also losing U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez (Florida) and Sam Brownback (Kansas).  These retirements provide Democrats - and those in favor of CIR - major openings (both Bond and Brownback acted as voices against immigrants and immigration reform). Missouri voters have been unpredictable in statewide elections lately. They handed Democrat Jay Nixon an easy victory last year in the governor's race, then backed Republican John McCain in the presidential election. Two years prior, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, managed to win her seat by a slim margin.

Friends in high places - President-elect Obama officially introduced the new DNC Chair, Gov. Tim Kaine, last week - good news for pro CIR advocates.  A little known fact about Gov. Kaine, of Virginia, is that he began his career in public service outside of the U.S., as a missionary in Honduras.  He is still fluent in Spanish.  Virginia has suffered among the highest number of anti-immigrant policies and legislation at the state and local level, but Gov. Kaine has remained committed to respecting the rights and humanity of immigrants in Virginia, arguing for comprehensive immigration reform, and ending divisive and ineffective tactics in Virginia.

George is schizophrenic on immigration - Since early December, NDN reported on President Bush's recognition that not passing immigration reform was among his biggest disappointments.  He repeated the same idea yesterday during his final interview as President, adding that the GOP must be "compassionate and broad-minded," in order to return from its 2008 electoral defeat, and the President highlighted that the immigration debate was particularly harmful because those opposed to reform made it appear that, "Republicans don't like immigrants."  At the same time, he turns around and strips immigrants of their rights through the Attorney General's last major act in office:

GTMO for Immigrants - On Wednesday, Michael Mukasey ruled that aliens have no constitutional right to challenge the outcome of their deportation hearings based on their lawyers' mistakes.  This effectively scraps a 15-year old precedent set in a case referred to as the Matter of Lozada, which stated that while "aliens" have no 6th Amendment right to counsel, Lozada recognized their right to effective assistance under due process.  This is absolutely abominable, and we hope Eric Holder's first act in office is to reverse this ruling.  NDN and other major organizations will be interested in seeing whether Mr. Holder is asked about his position on this issue during confirmation hearings.

Immigration and Race:
Demography is Destiny (continued) - This week The Atlantic and Ron Brownstein talk about race.  Brownstein goes into detail on how Democrats' efforts to pursue the vote of minorities paid off in 2008:

"The biggest source of Hispanic population growth is not immigration, but from the children of recent immigrants. And, by definition, they are voting citizens once they turn 18."

The Atlantic has a very interesting piece, "The End of White America?" While I agree with the article's general premise that the future will belong to those who can navigate what we at NDN consider a new racial construct of America, I disagree that we live in a "post" racial America.  The Atlantic piece also weaves in the role of race in pop culture, is it "cool" to be white? Will other ethnic groups grow to be considered more "American" now?  The article explores how the role of race has changed as our demographics have changed - you no longer need to be "white" to be included, incorporated into society, to be able to run for office or to be a Hollywood star. An excerpt:

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America,  we're approaching a profound demographic tipping point....those groups currently categorized as racial minorities-blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians-will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023.......it's now very cool and in to have multicultural friends. Like you're not really considered hip or 'you've made it' if you're rolling with all the same people."

People should be recognized as individuals, not for their color or creed (and as Obama said, we're all muts anyway).  At the same time, we're not there yet. Just because we're in a new, very exciting, stage of the racial construct of America, does not mean that we are "post" racial. 

Hence the current case before the Supreme court trying to do away with the landmark Voting Rights Act is absolutely preposterous.  The act ended literacy tests and other state measures that had kept blacks from the polls, and now helps ensure that all minorities are ensured the right to vote.  Obama's election reflects an enormous advancement in race relations, but voting, particularly in the South, remains significantly polarized.  Exit polls from the Nov. 4 presidential election show whites in many Southern states heavily favored John McCain to Obama. In Texas, 73% of whites favored McCain, in Georgia, 76%, and in Alabama, 88%. Nationally, the percentage of whites for McCain was 55%.

The Wall Street Journal joins the White Supremacist groups who have changed their strategy from openly demonizing Hispanics to arguing that "population control" is needed and that overcrowding - largely caused by "immigrants" - is the reason we have a climate change problem.  Now the WSJ joins the chorus by blaming us (Hispanics) for the economic crisis, namely the Latino members of Congress, Joe Baca and the CHC. Deplorable.  

Muslims and Hispanics - Victims of racial profiling.  Thanks to the Bush fear mongering machine, we are "suspect" just by virtue of being in a room.  After an American family who happens to be of Muslim faith was detained last week due to overzealous passengers who thought they "posed a threat" because of "suspicious" remarks (yeah, I'm sure it was the remarks), DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton calls for a hearing to look into the way these people were treated when detained.

U.S. to collect immigrants' DNA - Beginning on Friday, the U.S. government will collect DNA samples from people arrested and detained for suspected immigration violations (which are not criminal, immigration violations are civil).  Key word: SUSPECTED, previously the government only obtained DNA from persons convicted of certain crimes.

Setting the Record Straight - Great, updated version of IPC's fact sheet on the myths of immigrants and criminality released this week. Keep it handy.

In case you missed it - The GAO released a report on USCIS’s processes for screening individuals applying for permanent residence, and found vulnerabilities that need to be addressed, like backlogs and improved collaboration with FBI in the case of FBI checks. 

NDN Statement on the Meeting between President-elect Obama and President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón

NDN President Simon Rosenberg and NDN Vice President for Hispanic Programs Andres Ramirez today said President-elect Barack Obama's meeting with Mexico President Felipe Calderón this afternoon signifies more than long-standing protocol; it also reflects the realities of deeply rooted economic, cultural and political ties betweenthe two countries.

"Never before has a U.S. President been elected by such an overwhelming number of Hispanics in the United States," Rosenberg said. "The United States now has the third largest Latin population in the Americas and the futures of the United States and Mexico are bound together as never before. Hemispheric relations have taken a backseat for too long. Today's meeting is the first step to a genuine and sustained partnership that addresses pressing regional and global challenges. It  is the start of a new day for U.S.-Mexico relations."

"This meeting follows the commitment expressed by President-elect Obama and his advisors throughout the 2008 presidential campaign and during the presidential debates to make it a priority to build a more profound and engaged bilateral relationship with Mexico," Ramirez said. "This meeting also occurs at a time when Mexico is better positioned as a partner of the United States. Since the 2000 election in Mexico, that country has demonstrated major progress in governance, in its democratic institutions and it has developed increasingly diverse international economic and political relations."

Click here for additional background information on NDN's work in studying Latin America foreign policy.

Monday Buzz: A Party of One, Real Realignment, Keys to Economic Recovery, and More

NDN had some great mentions in the media this week. Simon was quoted in the cover story of  New York Magazine, "A Party of One," on the unique character of this election and its implications for the future. From the exellent New York Magazine piece by John Heilemann, which echoes many of NDN's most important arguments:

Obama is difficult to pigeonhole not simply because he’s new but because of the newness of the moment that he—and we—inhabit. It’s a moment dominated by an economic crisis that’s shaken bedrock beliefs about the infallibility of free markets. A moment when a revised architecture of power is arising globally, challenging America’s status as an unrivaled superpower. When the networked age has finally arrived, inciting the implosion of the broadcast paradigm that governed politics in the Industrial Age. When the country is being transfigured demographically, hurtling toward becoming a majority-minority nation.

This crescendo of forces produced Obama, made his ascension possible. Now he has a chance to shape the new era, to leave his stamp on it. “This really is the first presidency of the 21st century,” says Simon Rosenberg, head of the Democratic advocacy group NDN. “Those who try to hold on to twentieth-century descriptions of politics are going to be disappointed and frustrated by what’s about to emerge in the new administration, because American politics no longer fits into the old boxes—and neither does Obama. For better or worse, what he is doing is building a new box.”

Simon was also quoted in The Washington Times, and his essay on the need for "Progress, Not Motion" was featured in The Hill.

Rob was quoted in The National Journal, Washington Post Global, and The Street, and received a great shout-out from Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne in ECommerce Journal. From the National Journal article:

For Obama, who is in no position to tighten fiscal policy, trade liberalization is today's best analog to Clinton's gamble. "If Obama thinks that Doha could contribute to an economic recovery and expansion that will be in full flight as he's running for re-election, he'll do it," says Robert Shapiro, a Washington-based economic consultant and a veteran of the Clinton administration's Commerce Department. "Just like Bill Clinton raised taxes because he was convinced that would be the effect."

In 2007, Shapiro notes, almost one-third of everything produced in the world was exported across a border, up from less than one-fifth as recently as 1990. America, he adds, is one of the world's two most globalized countries (the other is China). Like it or not, globalization, meaning cross-border commerce, now drives the world's economic growth.

Finally, new NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais were featured in the USA Today on the realigning character of this election. From the article, by Chuck Raasch:

And so, a 30-year era is ending, an era in which one political party, the Republicans, saw government as the problem. Whether or not it is smart to run $1.2 trillion deficits and massively expand government's control over private enterprise, the course has been set.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, co-authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics," say the United States is undergoing the sixth major political realignment in its history. The nation is transforming, they say, from the worn-out arguments of an idealistic but fractured baby boom generation to a more civic consciousness exemplified by "millennials" born between 1982 and 2003. Civic generations, Hais and Winograd say, are primarily interested in strengthening government and political institutions.

Getting the Stimulus Right

The stimulus package, no longer on track for an Inauguration Day signing but still the largest stimulus in modern history, is working its way rapidly through Congress.  The timetable remains so short, and the stimulus so large, that the job before Congress and the skeleton Obama economic team remains huge.  There is still time to get the stimulus right.  But there is also a risk that things may go wrong.  Here are a few thoughts on how to make the largest stimulus in history something we can all be proud of that will live up to its goal of aiding our economy in the short term and the long term.

First, we need to recognize that fiscal spending is messy, and accordingly, requires real effort and supervision.  Not for nothing is it a fiscal tool that is rarely taken out of the shed.

Unlike monetary policy, which is highly virtual and information age -- you flip a switch, the target rate for federal funds, and the economy (ideally) responds -- or tax cuts, which at most involved mailing out a rebate, fiscal spending is very sticks and mortar.  Clean infrastructure stimulus -- vital as it is to our future at this point in our history -- involves truck rolls, deliveries of heavy materials and actually putting shovel to earth.  So far, the debate around fiscal stimulus has resembled the discussion prior to a monetary move -- what should the level of stimulus be, 600, 850 or perhaps a thousand billion.  It must now take equal account of the process by which that number, whatever it is, gets translated into real economic activity.

Second, we need to face up to the fact that this level of stimulus is massive.  For those not used to calculating in twelve digits, $850 billion is 6% of GDP (3% for each of the two years the stimulus will run), about one sixth of the annual budget per year and equal per year to almost all current discretionary spending.  While yesterday, President Elect Obama signaled that a large chunk of the stimulus (about $300 billion) will take the form of a tax cut, reducing the size of the spending package, we are still talking about a massive amount of spending.

This is important because Congress must generally do two things to spend a dollar.  It must first write law to authorize the spending and, second, appropriate money against the law.  The first step, the "how," usually requires years of deliberation.  The second step, the "how much," is easier once the spending authority exists.  To meet the exceptional timeline, lawmakers are now combing previous authorization bills for authority to spend.  However, even allowing that a substantial chunk of the stimulus will go to reimbursing state medicaid expenses -- in essence to state budget relief -- and another chunk to to a middle class tax cut, finding ways to spend this much money is no walk in the park.

For this reason, it is likely that substantial sums will have to go into holding pens of one type or another, where some official, a governor or perhaps a cabinet Secretary, will have the money available to spend once he or he has identified where to spend it.

So what potential holding pens exist?

State block grants are one potential holding pen for money.  With a block grant, the money is sent to governors with light strings attached for them to spend.  There is much to be said for pushing spending decisions as far down the line as possible. 

However, the governors themelves have requested only $180 billion.  Moreover, money dispatched to states risks being used to relieve pressing budget pressure, rather than on projects that create real jobs.  As an example, in the 1990s Icetea legislation, billions that Congress wanted to go into new transportation projects were diverted by governors to covering ordinary transportation overhead when the economy weakened.  If the Obama Administration is serious about rebuilding our infrastructure and creating new jobs, block grants are not a comprehensive answer.

Another potential form of holding pen is money allocated to a department, such as the Energy Department.  However, again, money dispensed in this matter is likely to sit around until bureaucrats determine how to spend it.  This, also, is inadequate to the crisis at hand.

Since this much spending is not easy and will require massive supervision to avoid waste and generate jobs quickly, the following two ingredients are critical to a successful plan.

Congress should empower a board to oversee the spending program.  As I have written in a prior post, business as usual won't work when we're talking about almost doubling normal discretionay expenditures.  A board would have the ability to act quickly to keep the money moving and oversee the entire process.

Second, Congress should establish a national state-by-state supervisory structure, staffed with auditors, engineers and managers, responsible to the board to oversee spending.  During the New Deal, one state director of the youth activities of the WPA in Texas was Lyndon Johnson. 

In short, it is important that we get this right.  It is neither practical nor responsible to double discretionary spending without creating a supervisory mechanism to oversee and monitor it.

Update: Franken Officially Wins Election, Great Op-ed on the "Failed State Next Door"

Franken - The Minnesota State Canvassing Board confirmed today that Al Franken has won his Senate election, ending a weeks-long recount process that started with the Democratic challenger facing a roughly 215-vote deficit.

Black Swans - A great blog by David Rothkopf on Latin America and foreign policy.  Here, the term "Black Swan" means a recurring theme throughout history in which key events or discoveries of real significance forced a rethinking of the rules and standard approaches that had previously guided society.  And we definitely need to rethink our policies in Latin America.  Excerpt of the piece: 

The best place to begin looking at what might be unexpected is to identify
what most Washington types think is in store for us. As of right now, 2009 looks
like this: deeper, messier recession worldwide, the beginning of the U.S.
pullout from Iraq, worries about Pakistan and Iranian nukes, hopes that Obama
can restore U.S. standing. Oh, and recently a recognition that Israel-Palestine
will continue to be an open wound. But here's five black swans that could arrive and wreak unanticipated havoc: 

1. The failed state next door

At a meeting of leading diplomats from around the Americas I attended not too long ago, the subject that caused the greatest concern was the situation in Mexico. Organized crime has taken a dominant position in a number of provinces and the federal government is struggling to contain the growing security threat. The country is losing oil revenue due to plummeting prices and mismanagement of PEMEX, the national oil company. The Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia-lite for Mexico, has not made the progress some had hoped for and the result is a fragile situation. Add the possible consequences of a very tough 2009 economically and a match is tossed on tinder. In a world in which there is no such thing as foreign policy any more -- every key event has U.S. domestic consequences -- there is no better example than our neighbor. The symptoms of crisis will come streaming over our borders and border-state politics will make it a problem Obama cannot ignore. (Especially with a Homeland Security secretary who is a former border-state governor.) 

The Census Confirms: The U.S. Increasingly More Southern and Western

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its estimates of state-by-state population, which show a decades-long pattern continuing apace: growth in the country's Southern and Western states continues to out-pace that in the states of the Northeast and Midwest.  Sound familiar? Yes, that's because you heard it here first.  Since NDN began its analysis of the Hispanic electorate and the demographic trends nationwide, we concluded that our nation is becoming:






Some have criticized President-elect Obama for having a Western-heavy cabinet and administration, and while this might not have been intentional, it does reflect the demographic trends of the nation.  Finally, the Census data is important because it provides our first clues as to re-districting based on the 2010 Census - for example, Texas is expected to gain three House seats, Nevada will most likely gain at least one. Stay tuned as NDN continues its demographic analysis during 2009, in preparation for re-districting analysis. 

The Obama Administration Reflects 21st Century America

Over the past week the number of Hispanics/Latinos in Barack Obama's administration jumped to 7 individuals, an historic number, with the appointments of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis.  Even before this week, Obama was already receiving praise for setting a record of top Hispanics in the Cabinet (full First Read Cabinet Census listed here).  The number of senior Latino staff to the White House might increase once again, if Adolfo Carrion is in fact named to head the White House Office of Urban Policy.  The Latinos named to the administration so far, and their posts: 

- Gov. Bill Richardson (NM), Secretary of Commerce
- Nancy Sutley (of an Argentine mother), Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Moises "Mo" Vela, Director of Administration Office of the Vice President
- Luis Caldera, White House Military Office
- Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
- U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), Secretary of the Interior
- U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), Secretary of Labor

Additionally, Rep. Xavier Becerra was approached for the position of USTR, but it is reported that he decided to remain in the House of Representatives.  Rep. Becerra and others have been asked by the Spanish-language media if they feel that the number of Hispanics named is "sufficient," which completely misses the point of what these appointments mean.  As stated by Rahm Emanuel, "diversity wasn't the driving force here....most importantly, the quality is of a single standard.  We wanted to make sure that we got a great staff of seasoned people - both on the policy front and political front - who knew their stuff."  What we celebrate is not that Hispanics are filling some sort of quota, we celebrate that the new administration is inclusive and receptive of talent, regardless of background and ethnicity, and we celebrate that the Latinos being named are leaders who have excelled in their respective fields.   We celebrate that Latinos are not only a growing demographic, but that it is finally out in the open that they are also a part of the most talented pools of leadership in the United States.

As Simon has stated, these appointments mean that Democrats - and President-elect Obama - are working to build a very 21st century, and potentially durable, coalition.  They are discovering the new electoral map of this new century, and employ the latest and potent tools to engange the American people.  Obama particularly engages the Latino community through his Spanish-language updates and press releases on the inauguration, and through the Spanish translation of all his press releases and weekly address.  

NDN congratulates all of the Presidential nominees, particularly our friends and collaborators - Rep. Hilda Solis is a longtime friend of NDN's and provided important support to our affiliate Latino voter mobilization campaign, Adelante 08.  Gov. Richardson and Sen. Salazar are also longtime friends and formed part of NDN's founding advisory board. The nomination of our fellow Latinos not only demonstrates the power of the Latino vote, it is a reflection of the reality of our nation's demographic makeup and reflect's our nation's true mixed racial and ethnic identity.  We congratulate President-elect Obama's commitment to reflecting the talent that comes from this racial reality in his Administration. Moreover,  these appointments are proof of our community's abilities - these Latinos are also the most qualified people for the job. 

Long Road for the GOP in this Center-Left Nation

Long RoadNDN got some fun attention over at Townhall today, where Don Lambro gnawed on Simon's argument (originally posted here, and featured in The Hill yesterday) that the GOP is looking at a long road back to anything resembling power. Townhall, for the uninitiated, is one of the leading right-wing news sites-- something like a conservative answer to the Huffington Post.

Lambro accused Simon of "irrational exuberance," brushing off geographic, demographic, and hard electoral realities, and falls back on the old saw that "we still live in a center-right nation." To Lambro, I say, quit falling back on your saw, and fall on your sword, instead!

The simple fact is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are playing on a field that is much larger-- and growing.

The GOP is seriously limited by geography-- they are increasingly competitive only in the South and upper Rockies.  In the next Congress, three-fifths of Senate Republicans will come from those two areas. Obama proved that Democrats can win without winning the Deep South, while picking up three states in the new progressive south-- Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The GOP will need to find a new part of the country to win, and it's not looking good for them anywhere.

Even more ominously, Democrats represent a large, diverse, and growing demographic coalition, while the Republican coalition is homogenous and shrinking. In particular, Hispanics and Millenials both voted for Obama by a 2:1 margin this year. Neither of these demographic groups carried any electoral significance 25 years ago (we Millenials weren't even born!), and are positioned to become serious political forces in the 21st century.

Lambro also marshals historical references to shore up his argument, but his analogies are bogus. While some have compared 2008 to 1964, it seems far more appropriate, given the current state of the economy, to compare this election to 1932.  And if I may, I'll call Lambro's attention to the congressional election of 1934, when the Democrats picked up nine seats in the House and ten in the Senate. In 1936, Dems sealed the deal as they maintained their majorities in congress, and Roosevelt won all but two states. En garde!

And as for Lambro's favorite old saw, I'll pass that question to Hoover Institution fellow Tod Lindberg. Says Lindberg, the idea that we live in a center-right nation is dead. Welcome to a center-left America. 

Of course, events could change these patterns and shift these trends, but the way things are going, Simon's "coroner's report" was anything but irrational exuberance.

Thanks to Mike Hais and Morley Winograd for their help in putting this together!

Violence in Mexico Unprecedented, No One Outside of Mexico Seems to Care

A controversial Blago and a shoe being thrown at President Bush are stories that have made it around virtually every website and every newspaper in the world. The story of an American security expert being kidnapped doesn't even make front page news in his own country. The difference between the first two and the third is that the last is a reflection of a much broader crisis in America's own vicinity, which has much, MUCH more severe consequences for the U.S. and Latin American region. Felix Batista, 55, was taken by a group of armed men last week in the state of Coahuila, where he was giving seminars for business owners. Batista is a security expert, as well as an expert negotiator - he successfully led negotiations in high-profile kidnappings and criminal cases in Mexico. This kidnapping occurs just days after the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights issued a report on the "Fundamental Right to Security in Our Country," the Commission found that there have been approximately 20,000 kidnappings and 10,500 drug-related killings from 2006 to 2008. To put the number in perspective, this is more than twice the number of soldiers killed in Iraq over a longer period (2004-2008).

The Human Rights Commission concluded that an average 43,835 crimes are reported daily, there are no estimates as to how many go unreported. This fact is made more dramatic by the levels of impunity found by the Commission - according to its study, 9 out of every 10 crimes that occur in Mexico go unpunished, which translates to a 90% rate of impunity. And yet the international community has still not declared this a humanitarian crisis - Mexicans are not granted asylum or refugee status just because of a little drug war. And then they are criticized for trying to leave these dangerous conditions, particularly in Northern Mexico. Nor is the international community demonstrating much support to President Calderon as he tries to fight drug cartels that enjoy bottomless resources, while he also deals with the corruption within government ranks that is under investigation.

Almost one week later, the story of Batista made it into Time and the Times. Just in case no one had noticed, this is front page news. It is front page news to the communities who suffer the constant fear and threat of these drug wars, and it is front page news for the entire region. Just this week, a 3-ton shipment of cocaine was discovered in Peru, just before it was shipped off to Spain.  Hypothetically, let's say Mexico succeeds in cracking down on organized crime, as Colombia did - then what? Then some other poor Central American or South American country's shores will become ground zero of the fight for control among drug cartels.  It seems that the international community still doesn't get that this is not one country's problem, that this is an issue of shared responsibility, and that we will all be increasingly affected as it continues to spiral out of control. And the root of this crisis is not drugs - it is a lack of opportunity, corrpution, lack of education, lack of economic upward mobility.

What will it take for the international community to take notice? It would probably require a tragic turn affecting a non-Mexican, but then we'd probably have in international crisis on our hands. Let's hope it doesn't take an international tragedy - there have been enough Mexican tragedies in this war. I propose that the crisis is here. The question is, what is everyone going to do to solve it. As NDN has long said, we need to start a policy of engagement, as opposed to one of observation in Latin America. Ever heard of the frog in hot water.....


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