Over the past week, politicians have argued about whether or not President Barack Obama should take administrative action to protected undocumented immigrants and their families. But for small business owners like me, the case is clear: the president should act quickly and boldly.
I’m the proud, tax-paying owner of Latina Beauty Variedades, a clothing and perfume store in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’ve owned my business for four years, and I’ve been proud to be of service to my community and watch my business grow.
When I first came to this country from Uruguay 12 years ago to find a better life for my family, it was hard to make ends meet. So I started working cleaning houses. After several years of doing this back-breaking work to just barely survive, in 2010 I decided that I would not let anyone else be my boss. I started my own small business. But, because I was undocumented, I could not access credit through banks, so I had to use my savings from cleaning jobs to get my business up and running.
My business is now doing well, but my family lives with the constant fear of being separated. I live here with my husband and my two daughters. All but one of us are undocumented: one of my two daughters benefited from President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while the other missed the deadline by less than a month. But my children are American through and through. When the thought of going back to Uruguay comes up, my daughters simply say no. They’ve been raised here and this is their home.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.
Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.
Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.
Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.
Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.
Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.
Today, U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama is planning to announce a broad overhaul of the national immigration enforcement system to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The official announcement could come as early as next week, and Obama’s actions will be manifold. First, an enforcement memorandum would direct federal law enforcement and judicial agencies to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with strong family ties and no criminal history. Another component of the executive order would allow many parents of children who are American citizens or have legal status to obtain legal work documents, thus quelling fears of family separation.
Depending on the strictness of the White House’s final resolution, these protections would be extended to at least 2.5 million of these parents who have been in the country for at least 10 years—and potentially to 3.3 million more who have been in the country for 5 years, plus the 1 million unauthorized immigrant youth. Lastly, Obama’s executive order would expand opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills, reroute security resources to the border, and revive the immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities.
Last October, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Atlanta would be the first major city in the South to join a growing network of cities across the country recognizing the vital contribution of immigrants. At an event in October 2013 organized by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA), Mayor Reed publicly acknowledged that it was time to change the way Georgia—whose 2011 HB 87 law makes it one of the most anti-immigrant states in the country—is perceived. While he acknowledged that “being forward-leaning on immigration is a little tougher in the South,” he committed his city to joining Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties network.
The mayor did not waste any time. Slightly less than one year later, at the recommendation of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group he created this May, Mayor Reed announced that his administration will establish a Mayoral Office of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Atlanta. The creation of this office—one of the first of its kind in the South, and one of fewer than 20 nationwide—came as the top recommendation among 20 that he accepted from the Working Group. Other recommendations ranged from creating a one-stop shop to guide immigrant small business owners through city bureaucracy to improving access to adult language learning programs and improving cultural competency within city agencies.
Suddenly Georgia was making news again—not for an immigration policy that is backwards-looking and inhumane, but for taking leadership in changing the narrative around immigration and creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of immigrant communities.
Why take this on? The answer is in the numbers. Immigrants are critical to the economic competitiveness of the U.S., especially in rapidly-growing cities like Atlanta. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE)—an organization that has helped make the economic case for immigrant integration—immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, employing one in 10 U.S. workers. In Georgia, Latino-owned businesses contributed $6 billion to the state economy and employed 25,874 people in 2013. Mayor Reed gets this. As he told members of the media at a press conference on September 17, “As Atlanta positions itself to be a global leader, attracting and retaining talent is imperative.”
This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.
Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.
Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.
El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.
Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.
Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.
Last Friday at 8:37 pm, 223 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expedite the deportation process for unaccompanied Central American children by revising the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, even though doing so would deport and endanger children, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for asylum. Shortly thereafter, at 9:55 pm, 216 House members voted to end President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and deport more than 700,000 current beneficiaries, known as DREAMers.
This ended—for the time being, at least—the saga that had been brewing for weeks over how Congress would address the surge of unaccompanied minors to the border, and the larger immigration reform debate that has been stalled since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring last year’s bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for a vote.
Now the House has left for summer recess, having passed legislation that the Senate would never approve, and President Obama is left to deal with the mess through executive action.
Seventy-one percent of likely voters—including 64 percent of Republicans—in the most competitive congressional districts in the United States consider support for comprehensive immigration reform an important factor in how they cast their vote in November, a recent Politico poll found. The survey released on Monday polled 867 likely voters in both English and Spanish and had a margin of error of plus/minus 4.1 percentage points.
According to the results, support for an immigration overhaul crossed party lines, with 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents calling it an important factor in deciding who to vote for. The same is true for 85 percent of Hispanic voters, 74 percent of white voters and 58 percent of African-American voters. Only 26 percent of those polled said that immigration would not influence their vote, and just 12 percent opposed comprehensive reform.
The poll comes less than a week after President Barack Obama set a timeline for action on reform during a meeting with law enforcement officials last Tuesday. While the Senate passed a comprehensive bill last June, similar legislation has been stalled in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is in the midst of conducting a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies, specifically the controversial Secure Communities program.
Likely top stories this week: Honduras’ election results are still pending; the Dominican Republic deports Haitian immigrants after violence in a border town; Henrique Capriles urges the Venezuelan opposition to vote on December 8; a new report says that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; Juan Manuel Santos and Rafael Correa meet in Colombia to discuss bilateral ties.
Honduran Elections: With a little over half of precincts reporting in Honduras’ presidential election on Sunday, the ruling National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández reportedly has a slight lead over Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) candidate Xiomara Castro, who led the polls just a month ago and is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup. The Honduran electoral tribunal said last night that Hernández had secured approximately 34 percent of the votes, versus Castro’s 29 percent. However, both candidates have claimed victory in the election that saw a record turnout. The electoral authority is expected to release an update on the election tally this afternoon.
The Dominican Republic Deports Haitians After Killings: As of Sunday, at least 244 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic, a spokesman for the Group for Repatriates and Refugees said on Monday. The deportations were sparked after mob violence in a town in the southwestern Dominican Republican led many Haitian immigrants to seek refuge. The violence began when a bungled burglary led to the killing of a Dominican couple near the Haitian border and an enraged mob retaliated by killing a Haitian man. Anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic have grown after a September ruling that threatened to strip Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. Advocates say some of the deported have sought refuge, fearing further violence.
Capriles Urges Venezuelan Opposition to Vote: As Venezuela’s December 8 municipal elections approach, opposition leader Henrique Capriles told his supporters on Saturday that they should go to the polls to express their discontent with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of members of the Venezuelan opposition marched through the streets on Saturday, several days after the National Assembly gave Maduro powers to rule by decree for the next 12 months. The president says the new powers will allow him to fight corruption, and claims that his enemies are using “economic sabotage” to discredit his administration.
Majority of Americans Favor Pathway to Citizenship, Report Says: A Public Religion Research Institute report published Monday says 63 percent of Americans favor legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to become citizens. Though the U.S. Congress appears to have abandoned legislation that would offer a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats said that they supported some form of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens, according to the report. A full 71 percent of respondents said that they would support citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met requirements like paying back taxes and learning English.
Santos and Correa Meet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are meeting in the Colombian border town of Ipiales on Monday to discuss bilateral relations and to inaugurate a new bridge between the two countries. Relations between Ecuador and Correa were reestablished in 2010 after the two countries broke off relations when Colombia bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador without the authorization of the Ecuadorian government in 2008. Ministers from both countries are expected to meet today to discuss security and defense as well as shared commercial interests.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner announced Wednesday that the Republican-led House of Representatives would not vote on comprehensive immigration reform before next year. Specifically, Speaker Boehner said that the House would not vote on the bipartisan Senate bill passed earlier this year, saying: “I'll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill.” The announcement follows a statement last week from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to immigration reform proponents that there would not be enough time for a House vote to take place this year.
Political analysts believe Boehner’s decision to call off the vote was meant to signal that he would not be willing to consider the issue of citizenship. The Senate bill proposed offering a pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., to be acquired through a multi-year legal application process and payment of fees and back taxes. The pathway would only be made available following implementation of new security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Boehner has said repeatedly that he will attempt to pass reforms “in a common sense way,” referring to committee deliberations that have focused on specific aspects of legislation, but that have not been scheduled for a full House vote. Only three Republican representatives have come out in support of H.R. 15, the House version of the comprehensive Senate bill.
The decision poses a considerable challenge to Republicans’ efforts to reach out to Latino voters since their loss in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney trailed behind President Obama by 44 percent among Latino voters. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted his concerns regarding the effects of immigration reform on the Republican Party, stating, “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) met at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss “a broad range of issues,” including strategies for moving immigration reform forward in Congress. While a bipartisan reform bill passed the Senate in June, the House of Representatives has yet to schedule a vote on its comprehensive reform bill, H.R 15.
Senator McCain, a long-time advocate for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that crafted, and ultimately ensured the passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act in the senate. Once political opponents, the President and Sen. McCain have become unlikely allies on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. The two were expected to discuss how to garner more support from conservatives in the House, after three Republican representatives pledged their support for H.R. 15 last week.
With increasing pressure from conservative groups including businesses, evangelical Christians, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there is renewed optimism that the House may take up immigration reform before the end of the year. While five piecemeal bills on issues such as boarder security and mandatory use of the E-Verify system have passed their committees, none have been brought to the floor for a vote. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not set a timetable for a full House vote. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have both endorsed the House’s piecemeal approach as the most likely to yield passable reform legislation this year.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.