From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Calderón and Obama Condemn Arizona Immigration Law
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderón to Washington this week where the two leaders decried a tough immigration law approved by Arizona last month. During remarks, Obama said he would ask the Department of Justice to take a “very close look” at the law to determine its constitutionality. “We're examining any implications, especially for civil rights, because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person, be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico, should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.” Calderón rejected SB1070 as “discriminatory.” In his first official visit to Washington, the Mexican president will deliver remarks to U.S. Congress on Thursday. Read an AS/COA analysis about Calderón’s visit.
AS/COA will explore bilateral relations during our March 25 conference in Mexico City. Get a full list of speakers, conference agenda, and more information about the event, which is free and open to the public. The event will be liveblogged in English and Spanish.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón today announced that his government will work to defend the rights of dual nationals adversely affected by the passage last week of the controversial Arizona state law SB1070. His concern was echoed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, among others.
Calderón described the new law, which directs police to determine the immigration status of people suspected of being unlawfully present in the United States, as “inhumane, unacceptable, discriminatory and unjust.” Critics have raised concerns that SB1070 will likely lead to racial profiling and will inadvertently target Arizona’s legal Latino immigrant community.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza says that the law creates the basis for racial discrimination and that the regulation of immigration should not come at the “cost of not respecting human rights, the rights of the people and by creating stereotypes that do not correspond to reality.” The dialogue over the Arizona law took place at an OAS conference on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities held in San Salvador.
Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom added that the law was in total contradiction to the policies of President Obama and his efforts to “humanize” immigration laws in the United States. The chancellor of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, took the opportunity to reiterate his government’s “concern and discontent” over the signing of SB1070.
President Calderón’s statements support the notion of an organized legal defense of migrant rights by Mexican expatriates abroad and calls on the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and its consulates abroad to assist in those efforts.
Last Sunday, Mexico witnessed how the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party (a heterogeneous grouping of right-of-center groups and revolutionary nationalists), reasserted its standing and overtook President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) in the elections for Congress, six governors, and municipalities and local congresses in 11 states. The PRI also defeated the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which lost many of its traditional constituencies and is now facing one of its worst crises.
The PAN's electoral strategy didn't help. While the PRI relied on the political and financial resources of its governors to operate the party’s campaign, the PAN chose an approach of direct confrontation. It also counted on President Calderón's popular image, paralleling a vote for the PAN with a vote against drug traffickers.
Yesterday’s mid-term legislative elections in Mexico—where 500 federal deputies, six governors and city mayors in a number of municipalities were up for grabs—had one clear result: President Felipe Calderón and his party (National Action Party – PAN) lost influence. This was welcome news for the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) old and new guard.
Preliminary results show that the PRI, along with their allies for nine years, the Green Party, will have an absolute majority. Together, they will likely hold around 252 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Calderón’s party is expected to keep around 146 seats, and the rest will be divided among the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and smaller parties.
Governor races confirm this trend. At least three of the six states will go to the PRI.
His announcement was met with little surprise; rumors that Calderón was seeking his former office were numerous. Complicating his bid, however, are corruption charges from 2004, which landed him briefly in jail, and his ongoing trial—which has dragged on for years.
Indeed, as some feared and others hoped, the Obama administration does like its czars and special envoys.
We’ve already got the war czar, climate czar, health czar, urban affairs czar, drug czar, and a special envoy for the Summit of the Americas, to name a few.
And as of April 15, we now have a border czar when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano named former federal prosecutor Alan Bersin, 62, to the newly created post at a press conference in El Paso, Texas.
Well, his official title is Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs.
Somehow I imagine him as Superman, swooping in to save the U.S. from spillover of narco-violence, and to crack down on the flow of guns and drugs across the border.
Actually, his job is even bigger than that (though no cape is involved, as far as I know). Bersin will coordinate the efforts and resources of local, federal and state agencies on counter-narcotics matters, as well as other transnational issues, like cross-border commerce and immigration.
"Alan brings years of vital experience working with local, state and international partners to help us meet the challenges we face at our borders," said Secretary Napolitano. "He will lead the effort to make our borders safe while working to promote commerce and trade."
That’s a mighty big challenge.
But Superman or not, Bersin does come to this position with plenty of experience. During the Clinton administration, he served as the U.S. Attorney General’s Southwest Border Representative and the U.S. Attorney for California’s Southern District, with a focus on stemming illegal immigration, and coordinating law enforcement between Mexico and the United States. As federal prosecutor, he racked up an impressive number of drug convictions. As the Southwest border czar, Bersin in 1994 oversaw “Operation Gatekeeper,” a controversial program that beefed up security in the southwest border region.
While human smuggling decreased in that area, the “higher levels of surveillance and patrol along key urban corridors of the border basically pushed many of the undocumented immigrants out to desert and mountain areas and led to much higher levels of death and injury for people crossing the border,” according to David Shirk of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego in a discussion with The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
For that reason, his appointment was met by criticism from several human rights groups, like the American Friends Service Committee.
Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee told the San Diego Union Tribune that Bersin’s “iron fist” approach doesn’t “respond to the needs of border community members who are still dealing with the errors of policies, like Gatekeeper.”
Nevertheless, Chappell Lawson of MIT, who served as a director of inter-American affairs on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and knows Bersin personally, called it “a brilliant and inspired choice.”
“I’m going through my mental rolodex—and it’s hard to think of anyone else in the U.S. who would be more qualified than him. He understands the border region; he lives in a border area, he’s been immersed in border issues going on two decades now. Plus, he’s well respected in the U.S. and in Mexico,” Lawson said.
When asked why this new czar position was even created in the first place, Lawson called it “essential for the DHS to coordinate the inter-agency process” on counter narcotics, trade and immigration issues.
So, is a new czar enough to tackle the narco-violence and human smuggling problems along the U.S. border with Mexico?
One surely can’t expect a mere mortal to do the superhero task of solving these problems.
Certainly not alone.
“My great hope is that Mexico will name a counterpart on their end—to have parallel structures on the border. Right now, there is no Mexican border authority—that would help a lot. There are consulates, but not a Mexican border patrol to talk to their U.S. counterparts with their walkie talkies,” Lawson told me.
“You need a coordinator on that side. So, long-term goal, there needs to be a real border control and customs agency in Mexico. In the short term, it would greatly improve the working relationship if Mexico had its own border czar,” Lawson concluded.
As assistant secretary for international affairs for Homeland Secretary, Bersin reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security. His portfolio includes the southwest border, overseeing relevant DHS agencies, helping to coordinate border security efforts with the State and Justice Departments, and building relationships on the state and local levels. It does NOT include having a direct role with the Merida Initiative, or taking on a policymaking role, an official from Homeland Security said. He’s not going to be working at the White House or for the White House, as a good source said, stressing, he’s going to be the secretary’s point man on border issues.
But, it’s not yet clear what authority he may or may not have over other DHS agencies, like Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Permanent chiefs for both agencies remain vacant.
Napolitano’s announcement came a day before President Obama headed to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Drugs, guns, border security and commerce were expected to be top items on their agenda.
*Liz Harper is an americasquarterly.org contributing blogger based in Washington DC. To reach a blogger, send an email to: email@example.com
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and its Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhán were at Mexico City’s airport at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to great the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration’s new era of bilateral relations. Both Clinton and Espinosa were ready to discuss areas of cooperation and move beyond the recent trade dispute—where Mexico imposed $2.4 billion of tariffs in response to the U.S. ending a pilot program (and caving into the Teamsters) allowing Mexican trucks to operate on U.S. roads—that had clouded bilateral relations in recent weeks.
But the excitement over Clinton’s visit extended far beyond her official meetings. Currently in Mexico City for a conference on immigration, I was able to coincide with the Secretary’s visit. And I can report that people around town had high expectations for what would come of her talks and those of future U.S. officials. Mexicans are rightly weary not just of the narco-violence but of U.S. media sensationalism of their country’s plight and the inaccurate label of a failed state.
There’s a lot on the agendas of the three cabinet members and President Obama when they travel to Mexico this month to meet with Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon. First it’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (March 25-26), then Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (April 1 and 2), and then the President—on his way to the Summit of the Americas.
For the first time in U.S. history the full complexity and proximity of our relationship with Mexico is being dealt with at the level it deserves. Everything from drug-cartel related violence, the economic crisis, trade, security, intra-regional relations, trade, NAFTA, and immigration will be on the list of items to be discussed. And the best part is that, at a rhetorical level, the administration is approaching this with the appropriate level of partnership that the relationship deserves—a trend started with President Bush’s Plan Merida program to support Mexico’s war on narcotics trafficking.
My concern? That immigration will slip through the cracks. To be sure, the context is set to deal with it in the right way: bilaterally. But the risk is that issues like the drug violence, trade spats and the economic crisis that have dominated the media coverage (particularly the former) will crowd out one of the most important bilateral issues we face: the flow of humans across our borders that serve the U.S. labor market and—through remittances back home—provide a crucial social safety net to poor communities in Mexico.
For Latin American leaders, the place to be this week was either Davos,
In its latest report, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Security is one of Mexicans’ top concerns. Since taking office, the government of President Felipe Calderón has responded. Troops and federal police are one answer, but the government now has a new weapon: a law that creates a national cell-phone registry. Cell phones are not AK-47s but they are used by criminals for kidnappings, organized crime and extortions.
The registry—passed by the Senate on December 9 along with other measures to widen police powers—mandates substantial changes to the way telecoms operate. But in the English-language media, the registry received just passing attention.
Its goal is laudable: to help police in cracking down on ransom demands made from often untraceable cell phones.