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.
A Representative from California became the third Republican in the House of Representatives to pledge support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation proposed by House Democrats. Rep. David Valdadao of California’s twenty-first congressional district joins Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in publicly supporting H.R. 15 this week, the House version of the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June.
Similar to the Senate version, H.R. 15 includes a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but includes a distinct border security measure approved by the House Homeland Security Committee in May. "By supporting H.R. 15 I am strengthening my message: addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait," said Rep. Valadao, who represents a largely Latino district and was targeted in an online ad campaign last week highlighting that public opinion in his district overwhelming favors comprehensive reform. The bill currently has 190 cosponsors, short of the 218 needed to get a majority in the House. So far, Speaker of the House John Boehner has declined to allow a vote on the Senate bill or H.R. 15, unless a majority of his Republicans colleagues support it.
Rep. Valadao’s announcement comes on the heels of a “fly-in” on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by 600 advocates, including conservatives, evangelicals, and business leaders who lobbied their representatives in support of immigration reform. While the chances of comprehensive reform passing the House this year still appear slim, the fallout from the government shutdown may make it more politically difficult for House Republicans to opt for inaction on the issue.
Likely top stories this week: U.S. legislators make a last push for immigration reform; Correa visits Bolivia; The Colombian defense minister travels to Panama; Juan Manuel Santos declines help from Jesse Jackson; a Chilean general involved in the “Caravan of Death” commits suicide.
Renewed Push for Immigration Reform in U.S. House of Representatives: Despite a looming government shutdown, House Democratic leaders said last week that they plan to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill similar to the one passed in the Senate in June. Meanwhile, some House Republicans have been working on a series of bills that would address individual aspects of immigration reform, such as border security, the legal status of young undocumented immigrants and the creation of a low-skilled worker visa program. Immigration reform advocates are expected to participate in rallies across over 80 U.S. cities on October 5, and to converge on Washington DC on October 8 to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Correa to Visit Bolivia, Morales to Visit Argentina: The Bolivian government confirmed Sunday that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will visit Bolivia this week, while Bolivian President Evo Morales is scheduled to visit Argentina the following week. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that he will receive Correa on Thursday, October 3, and will discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations. Correa last visited Bolivia on July 4, and Morales returned the visit to Ecuador on July 23.
Colombian Defense Minister Begins Seven-Country Tour: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón will begin a seven-nation tour this week to discuss security with Central American and Caribbean leaders. On Monday, he will meet with Panamanian Security Minister José Raúl Mulino to discuss security along the countries' shared border and in the jungles of the Darién Gap, where the FARC's "Frente 57" has been active. Pinzón’s trip will conclude on October 4, after visits to Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Santos Refuses Jesse Jackson's Offer to Mediate Hostage Release: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declined an offer from U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday to help mediate the release of a U.S. marine held hostage by the FARC since June. While in Cuba on Saturday, Jackson said that he was willing to help mediate the release of Afghanistan war veteran Kevin Scott Sutay, who was kidnapped on a trek to the Venezuelan border. The FARC invited Jackson to participate in the negotiations in a statement on Saturday after Jackson called for Sutay's release. However, Santos has said that he will only allow the Red Cross to receive Sutay.
Chilean General Who Served Pinochet Commits Suicide: Eighty-seven year-old former general Odlanier Mena fatally shot himself this Saturday, a day before he was scheduled to return to a military prison where he is serving a six-year jail term. Mena was found guilty of involvement in the "Caravan of Death," a military operation that rounded up and murdered at least 100 Chileans across the country opposed to Pinochet's 1973 coup. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had announced plans to close the Cordillera military prison, where inmates had access to a tennis court, gardens, and a barbecue area, and Mena's lawyer said that the general was upset by the proposed move.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Brazilian protests expand across the country; Ecuador approves a controversial new media law; FARC negotiators aspire to Northern Ireland-style ceasefire; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio says immigration bill needs to contain stronger border security provisions; Ecuador’s foreign minister travels to London.
Brazilian Protests Grow: Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the national stadium in Brasilia on Saturday at the beginning of the opening Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Japan to protest the growing cost of living in Brazil, as well as public expenditures for major sporting events set to take place in Brazil, like the World Cup and Olympic Games. Brasilia’s new stadium reportedly cost $600 million to construct. Authorities said that at least 15 people were arrested in Brasilia on Saturday, but the match continued without disruption and ended with Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Japan. The protests come two days after protests against bus fare increases in São Paulo led to hundreds of arrests.
Ecuador Approves Media Law: Ecuador's congress approved a controversial new media law in a 108-26 vote on Friday. The law will create official media overseers and impose strict limits on the percentage of licenses granted to private radio and TV companies. The Ecuadorian government has called the law a “milestone” and said it would make media in the country more democratic. However, press freedom groups and members of the political opposition have said that the new measure, which they characterize as a “gag law,” will have a chilling effect on free speech and dissent.
FARC Aspires to Northern Ireland-Style Ceasefire: FARC negotiator "Andrés Paris" said Sunday that he hoped that the negotiated peace process between the guerrillas and Colombian government will be inspired by the ceasefire that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to in 1994, resulting in an official end to the conflict four years later. The FARC is calling for a major constitutional reform before they join the political process, and said they would not participate in the 2014 presidential elections unless this happens. So far, the Colombian government has resisted their proposal.
Rubio Calls Immigration Law "95 Percent Perfect": U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in an interview Sunday that the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate is "95 percent perfect," but needs to contain stronger provisions for border security. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that a perception that the Republican Party is responsible for blocking passage of the bill would add to the party’s “demographic death spiral.” On Thursday, the Senate majority rejected a proposal to make border security a precondition for the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Patiño to Meet With Hague, Assange in London: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño is arrived in London on Monday and will meet with his British counterpart, William Hague, to discuss bilateral relations. Patiño also met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is still living in the Ecuadorian Embassy after more than a year in an attempt to avoid extradition on charges of sexual assault. Assange told Patiño that he was prepared to spend five more years living in the embassy if necessary. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Ana Alban, announced last week that she would leave her post before Ecuador decides whether to extend political asylum to Assange.
Ending a seemingly unbreakable deadlock, the U.S. Congress has made tremendous inroads toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators popularly known as the “Gang of Eight” released their highly anticipated reform proposal. Days later, tens of thousands descended upon Capitol Hill in a “Rally for Citizenship,” demanding a legal framework for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Public support is at an all-time high, with bipartisan polls showing as many as 77 percent of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship.
Despite tremendous advancements, divisive tensions have persisted around a series of proposals to ensure that the legislation is inclusive of all immigrants. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment last week to extend existing citizenship and residency benefits to binational same-sex couples. Inspired by the proposed United American Families Act (UAFA), the measure seeks to benefit an estimated 24,700 couples by granting foreign-born same-sex partners access to legal permanent residency through green cards. Although it is a seemingly sensible measure to ensure that the comprehensive reform bill serves all immigrants, conservative opponents have said it would threaten Republican support and derail hopes for bipartisan consensus.
Opposition against UAFA stems from a moral objection to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pundits have labeled it a “wedge issue” and prominent reform advocates such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have said it would cost their support. Yet despite this rhetoric, the bill makes no change to existing definitions of marriage, which are decided by states and are currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court as they pertain to same-sex couples. Furthermore, UAFA boasts bipartisan support from numerous Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. During a recent visit to Costa Rica, President Obama joined a chorus of supporters and called the measure “the right thing to do” in guaranteeing equality for all Americans.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
After months of negotiations, the bipartisan Gang of Eight group of U.S. senators filed a long-awaited comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill early this morning. Hearings on the 844-page bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled for Friday and Monday.
The proposed bill would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived to the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011 to apply for temporary legal status as long as they have been in the U.S. since their entry and have no felony convictions. Among many proposed reforms, the bill would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to travel and work without fear of deportation while in this provisional status.
The bill outlines a path to citizenship that, for most undocumented immigrants, will take at least 13 years. After receiving provisional status, undocumented immigrants would have to wait at least 10 years, pay back taxes and at least $2,000 in fees, learn English, and maintain regular employment before becoming eligible to apply for a green card. After an additional 3 years they could apply for full naturalization.
However, immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and served in the military or attended college—also known as DREAMers—would go through a shorter process and be exempt from a $500 fee. DREAMers and agricultural workers, who are also in high demand, would be eligible to receive green cards within five years.
In an effort to gain bipartisan support, the CIR bill includes “trigger” measures that would ensure that any path to citizenship is dependent on increased border security and internal enforcement provisions, including a mandatory national employment verification system and electronic exit systems at air and seaports. The bill stipulates that $4.5 billion be spent on border security, including extending the U.S.-Mexico border fence, increasing patrols and using drones for surveillance. Additionally, border officers would have to apprehend 90 percent of those crossing into the U.S. in “high risk sectors.” The bill would also increase the number of H-1B, or high-skill visas, to 110,000 visas per year with the possibility of raising the cap to up to 180,000 in future years. The current cap of 65,000 visas was reached in just 5 days this year.
Overall, the bill also begins to shift the focus of the U.S. immigration system from family unification to work skills through a major new merit-based program for immigrants to become legal permanent residents—a recognition of the need for immigrants for U.S. economic competitiveness.
This week marked several milestones in the immigrants’ rights movement. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies descended on Capitol Hill to demand a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The “Rally for Citizenship” was held on the forty-seventh anniversary of the first farmworker march in Sacramento led by Dolores Huerta, who celebrated her 83 birthday the same day. And sources announced yesterday that the bipartisan immigration bill will include a major merit-based program for foreigners to become permanent legal residents based on their work skills.
The labor provision of the bill aims to shift immigration policy’s focus from family ties to work skills that meet the U.S. market demands at all skill levels. Today’s announcement is due in part to an agreement reached last month between top business and labor groups on a year-round guest worker program for blue collar workers. The deal established the pay level and creates a pathway to citizenship for these workers. At Wednesday’s rally, “Gang of Eight” member Senator Robert Menendez said of sweeping reform, “It is in the nation’s interest, in the economic interests of the United States and in the security interests of the United States.”
Over her half-century-long career as a labor leader, Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFA), along with the deceased labor rights activist César Chávez has worked to organize agricultural workers and protect their rights. While the guest worker provision of the forthcoming reform bill appears promising, the Senate announced today that proposed reform would bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship. The bipartisan group of senators is putting the final details on the bill and will unveil the details early next week.