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.
As the U.S. Senate “Gang of Eight” prepares to unveil their comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand a pathway to citizenship.
The same day, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) held a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues in the senate to assure them that the overhaul will amount to the “toughest immigration enforcement laws in history.” A number of Democrats will have to be convinced of the same before they vote in favor of the bill.
In order to secure bipartisan support for the bill—which is crucial to its eventual passage by a divided Congress—any proposed pathway to citizenship will clearly be accompanied by stepped-up enforcement. This is not inherently a bad thing. With 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—most of whom overstayed their visa, rather than crossing one of our two borders—there is a clear need for a legal framework that enforces the law, while also honoring the economic contributions that immigrants make and creating mechanisms for naturalization and integration. The framework must also recognize that immigration-related violations are civil charges, not criminal ones.
Unfortunately, our current immigration enforcement system couldn’t be farther from that reality. The status quo of enforcement is overly punitive and grossly expensive, making the prospect of a significant increase through CIR worrisome.
Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. Senators hope to introduce immigration reform bill this week; the Brazilian Federal Police will investigate whether Lula had a role in the mensalão scandal; Pablo Neruda’s body will be examined for signs of poisoning; Venezuela’s opposition rallies in Caracas; and the FARC bring extra peace negotiators to Cuba.
“Gang of Eight” Hoping for Immigration Bill by End of the Week: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that the bipartisan group of senators working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill may have legislation ready to present to lawmakers by the end of this week. The bill is expected to provide for a wide range of reforms, including strengthened border security, a new guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Schumer said a best-case scenario could bring the bill up for a vote as early as May after it goes through the Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, April 10, a rally in support of immigration reform is expected to draw tens of thousands to the U.S. Capitol. http://www.voxxi.com/unprecedented-rally-immigration-reform/
Lula to be investigated in Mensalão scandal: Brazil’s Federal Prosecutor has ordered an investigation into allegations by businessman Marcos Valério that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was involved in the mensalão scandal, a 2005 vote-buying scheme involving members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) and others. Valério was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison last year for his role in the scandal. This weekend, the Federal Prosecutor ordered the Federal Police to investigate Valério’s accusation. Lula has denied all involvement in the scandal.
Pablo Neruda’s Body to be Examined: Chilean forensic investigators will exhume the body of Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda today to determine whether Chile’s military regime had eliminated Neruda when he died in 1973. Neruda, a communist, allegedly died of cancer just 12 days after the September 11, 1973, coup that installed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. However, his former driver, Manuel Araya, claimed that a doctor gave Neruda a lethal injection on the day of his death. In February, a Chilean court ordered that Neruda’s body be examined for signs of poisoning. Results are not expected for another three months.
Venezuelan Opposition Rallies in Caracas: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas on Sunday to express their support for opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in the lead-up to Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election. Polls indicate that Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, enjoys a 10-percentage point lead over Capriles. Over the weekend, Maduro made headlines in Amazonas state when he invoked the “curse of Maracapana” on those who vote for his rival, and also accused “Central American mercenaries” of plotting to kill him.
FARC Negotiators Bring in Reinforcements: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced Sunday that rebel leader Pablo Catatumbo (Jorge Torres Victoria) arrived in Havana with other members of the guerilla group to reinforce the negotiating team during peace talks with the Colombian government. Catatumbo has allegedly been critical of leading FARC negotiator Iván Marquez (Luciano Marín Arango). Last Thursday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that the government would not engage in a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC until the two sides reach a final agreement. The next round of peace talks is scheduled to begin on April 18.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán survives recall election; the OAS votes on IACHR reforms in an extraordinary session; the “gang of eight” considers providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will stand trial for genocide; Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo challenge a new royalties law.
Lima Mayor Holds Onto Her Job: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán appears to have survived a popular referendum to recall her from her post on Sunday. According to Peru’s Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (National Office of Electoral Processes—ONPE), 51.7 percent of voters supported allowing Villarán to remain in office, while 48.3 percent supported her removal. Villarán became Lima’s first female mayor in 2010, and while polls as late as last month showed a majority of voters would opt to recall her, the trend was slowly reversing itself in the weeks ahead of the election.
OAS to Vote on IACHR Reforms: The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will vote on recommendations to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In an extraordinary session Friday in Washington DC, the assembly will consider measures proposed by ALBA and UNASUR countries which include limiting the sources of funding for the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and moving the seat of the IACHR from Washington DC to Buenos Aires. Member states met in Guayaquil, Ecuador last week to discuss the proposed reforms.
U.S. Immigration Overhaul May Provide Path to Citizenship Within 13 Years: The bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators working to devise an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system may be planning to increase the wait time for green cards from eight years to ten, but may also reduce the total amount of time that immigrants must wait to apply for citizenship from five years to three. The proposal represents a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the question of providing undocumented immigrants with eventual citizenship. On Monday, the Republican National Committee released a post-election report recommending that the party change its position on immigration in order to win Latino voters in future elections.
Former Guatemalan Dictator to Stand Trial: Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is expected to stand trial on Tuesday for genocide committed during his 1982-1983 regime. The 86 year-old will be tried for the execution of 1,771 Indigenous Maya in Quiché department during an internal conflict in which 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed or disappeared. The trial, which was originally scheduled for August, is expected to present more than 900 pieces of evidence and 130 witnesses. The defense has appealed to delay the start of the trial, though court officials reportedly said Friday that the trial would begin on Tuesday morning.
Brazilian States Face Off Over Oil Royalties: The Brazilian oil producing states of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo are challenging a new law passed last week that would distribute oil and natural gas royalties equally between all Brazilian states. Congress overrode President Dilma Rousseff's veto to pass the law last week, and the president signed it into law on Thursday. Rio's government says the law will cost the state $3.4 billion reais in revenue each year and jeopardize its ability to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Some version of immigration reform is almost certain to pass within the next year. President Obama, Republicans and Democrats alike are all strongly supportive of the idea and have each offered formidable, bipartisan proposals. If successful, this will be the first major change in U.S. immigration law since President Reagan’s signing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.
But as we are presented with the rare opportunity to reform our system, we must ensure that we do so in a way that works for all, and that we continue our conversations after an agreement is reached. Doing so will mean accounting for the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people within comprehensive immigration reform and entering a discussion on the realities they face.
Leading up to the 2012 U.S. presidential elections, immigrant and LGBT activists made groundbreaking history. They joined forces and proved the effectiveness of intersectional advocacy. Together, they passed immigration and marriage equality measures in a number of states, and they ensured immigrant and LGBT rights remained a central focus within our national political discourse.
More importantly, they reminded us that these two groups are deeply tied to one another. Many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States identify as LGBT. Some of them are married to same-sex partners in states where they are legally permitted to do so, but are left “with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love,” as stated by White House spokesperson Shin Inouye in a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
On a night where President Barack Obama addressed government investments, gun control and a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the need to overhaul the U.S. immigration system commanded five paragraphs in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The President said it is his responsibility to work toward a government that “encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
The President seized on his first State of the Union since winning reelection to reiterate the details of his immigration reform plan, following broader remarks given two weeks ago in Las Vegas. While he focused on creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S., the President also conceded that increased enforcement must be part of the compromise to get legislation through congress. “Real reform,” the President stated, “means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration's already made, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. “
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was a last-minute addition to the bipartisan Gang of Eight, also addressed immigration—in English and Spanish—in his Republican rebuttal immediately following the president’s speech. “We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
While Senator Rubio has pledged his support for immigration reform, including a pathway citizenship, some of his key Republican colleagues have voiced strong opposition against any kind of reform. Still, the majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented according to a Quinnipiac University survey, giving President Obama critical momentum heading into his second term.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba takes over the chairmanship of CELAC on Monday as the summit wraps up in Santiago; a bipartisan group of U.S. senators release a plan for comprehensive immigration reform a day before Obama lays out his proposals; violence in Colombia increases following the end to the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire; Argentina and Iran seek approval for an international truth commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires; mining protesters blockade a highway in Peru.
Bipartisan Senate Group, Obama Release Plans for Immigration Reform
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators will announce at 2:30pm (EST) a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that is contingent upon first ensuring that new border security measures and an exit system are in place. The agreement comes a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce his proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. The bipartisan group includes Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the discussions more recently. They met over the weekend to finalize the draft of a principles agreement that also outlines a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, and other principles for reforming the immigration system. “Today’s release of bipartisan principles for immigration reform legislation will put down a marker of what will be possible in a potential comprehensive package this spring. This, combined with the president’s speech in Las Vegas tomorrow and the significant weight that is expected to be placed on reform in the State of the Union on February 12, illustrates that if reform is to happen now is the year,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Cuba takes over Chairmanship of CELAC as Summit Concludes
The two-day Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) summit concludes today in Santiago, as Cuba formally assumes chairmanship of the regional body today. CELAC—which includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations and excludes the U.S. and Canada—hosted leaders from the European Union, who pledged to deepen ties with Latin America while meeting with regional trade blocs like Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance for trade discussions. As the summit wraps up today, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro is expected to deliver a message from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—still in Cuba recovering from surgery—who was noticeably absent from the summit. Also absent were Paraguayan President Federico Franco (Paraguay was not invited), Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who left early to deal with the aftermath of the nightclub fire that killed over 230 people in Rio Grande do Sul.
Violent Attacks Increase in Colombia After Ceasefire
In the first week since the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) ended a unilateral ceasefire it had announced in November, the guerrillas have reportedly carried out 32 violent attacks between January 20 and 26, surpassing the number of attacks before the peace talks were announced. The Colombian government warned that the increased violence, including the FARC’s kidnapping of two policemen last Friday, could undermine the rebels’ peace talks with the government in Havana. The third round of talks concluded last Thursday, with no major progress toward ending the conflict between the rebels and the government.
Argentina and Iran Agree to Create a Commission to Investigate Bombing
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran agreed Sunday to create an international truth commission that would investigate the 1994 car bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Argentine prosecutors have said that the attack was orchestrated by Iran’s current defense minister and carried out by Hezbollah. Formation of the truth commission will require legislative approval in both Iran and Argentina to move forward, and would consist of five independent judges from other countries that would analyze documentation investigating the attack. Jewish groups in Argentina have said the agreement will strengthen Argentine-Iranian ties at the expense of the victims of the attack, and expressed doubt that any suspects would be brought to trial.
Hundreds of Protestors Protest Mining Project in Peru
Hundreds of protestors in northern Peru are continuing a week-long highway blockade near Cañaris after 31 people were injured Friday in a confrontation with police over the nearby Cañarico Norte copper project. The protesters say that Canadian mining company Candente Copper Corp. will divert water that locals rely on for farming, but Peru’s vice-minister of energy and mines says that the protesters have been misinformed about the project’s environmental risks. Despite the protests, a roundtable meeting will go forward as scheduled on February 2 to discuss the project. Meanwhile, Peru's Ministry of the Environment will publish a guide to reducing social conflict through "ecological and economical zoning."