Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More on the Child Migrant Crisis

The past several days have seen the continued publication of solid commentary on the increase in the number of unaccompanied child migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, including some which challenges conventional wisdom on the topic.

The biggest story on the subject of late was published in the Washington Post over the weekend, which reported that some in the White House were long aware of the situation, but may have overlooked it as a “local” issue. According to the Post, officials in the Obama administration had received specific warnings about the dramatic increase in undocumented immigration as far back as 2012, two years before the president declared the issue a humanitarian crisis. While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest lashed out at the report in a Monday press conference, criticizing its reliance on anonymous sources, Politico's Dylan Byers notes that Earnest’s remarks are ironic considering the administration’s own frequent use of anonymous sources to provide background briefings to the press.

Another thought-provoking analysis of the issue, from a Mexican perspective, comes from Animal Politico. The news site has a multimedia presentation on the causes of the immigration spike and the challenges that Central American migrants face along the journey northward. Interestingly, the report finds that gangs and migrant smugglers may not pose the biggest threats along the way after all. Animal Politico points to a 2013 survey conducted by a migrant shelter in Coahuila state, in which migrants identified Mexican Federal Police as the main exploiters of their situation.  Some 47 percent of those who had been extorted said Mexican police had demanded money from them, compared to just 16 and 8 percent who blamed Mexican criminal groups and Central American maras, respectively.

If this data holds across the country, it suggests U.S. pressure on Mexican police to crack down on immigration along the Guatemalan border has the potential to lead to even further exploitation and higher bribes being demanded.

Also noteworthy is an analysis of regional crime statistics by Central American Politics’ Mike Allison, who points out that violence can’t be the only contributing factor behind the increase in migration, as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras each saw their homicide rates drop over the past two years. Along similar lines, in an El Pais column Salvadoran political analyst (and former FMLN guerrilla) Joaquin Villalobos places the blame for Central American immigration squarely on economic factors, arguing that the Northern Triangle countries have economies that are uniquely exploitative, marked by wealthy elites who benefit at the expense of the majority. As proof, he points to the lack of migrants coming from “revolutionary Nicaragua, Keynesian Costa Rica and the Panama Torrijos founded by recovering the canal.”

News Briefs
  • Sunday’s New York Times featured an editorial excoriating Congressional Republicans for blocking immigration reform efforts. Noting the recent publication of a HuffPost/YouGov poll which found that 47 percent of U.S. respondents favor deporting immigrant children “as soon as possible”, the Times asserts that it is the duty of the Obama administration and lawmakers to “make the moral and legal case for compassionate action” in the face of such kneejerk nativism.
  • After being re-elected on Sunday as head of Bolivia’s largest federation of cocalero unions, in the Chapare region, President Evo Morales promised to expand legal recognition of coca crops in the country by supporting a new coca law “after the elections” in October, according to La Razon. The AP notes that one reform proposal would raise the legal limit on coca cultivation from around 30,000 acres to more than 49,000.
  • Two months after lawmakers in Mexico’s Puebla state passed a controversial new measure known as the “Bullet Law”-- which was criticized by human rights groups for allowing police to use deadly force against demonstrators deemed “violent” -- the law may soon be repealed. Milenio reports that Puebla governor Rafael Moreno Valle has sent a bill to the state legislature calling for the law to be struck from the books following the death of a 13 year-old child at a protest earlier this month, who was allegedly killed by a police bullet.  Lawmakers will take up debate over the issue tomorrow, according to Animal Politico.
  • Following the arrest of 19 activists in Rio de Janeiro the day before the closing game of the World Cup on July 13, O Globo obtained access to a police investigation which reportedly found proof that the accused were planning on using explosive devices in violent protest against police. After a court ordered their preventative detention, yesterday three Rio activists sought diplomatic asylum in the city’s Uruguayan consulate, but El Pais reports that the individuals since left the building.
  • The Associated Press looks at Haitian President Michel Martelly’s proposed plans to renovate a section of downtown Port-au-Prince, which is being billed as a sign of a comeback in the capital city but is under fire for displacing local residents.
  • Colombian Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez’s lawyers staved off what appeared to be his imminent dismissal last week by demanding the recusal of two magistrates of a lower section of the Council of State, the top Colombian administrative court. The case was then passed on to the full floor of the Council, which is set to decide on the recusals today. While human rights NGO Dejusticia has also called for the recusal of certain judges affiliated with Ordoñez in the full Council, the ensuing legal struggle could last months, and ultimately makes his dismissal unlikely,  Semana magazine reports.
  • In recent weeks, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has been heavily lobbying in support of a package of constitutional reforms presented by his Alianza PAIS party currently under review by the Constitutional Court. They include a number of controversial proposals, including ending term limits for all elected officials and increasing the role of the military in public security.  Writing for Ecuadorean political and cultural commentary site Gkillcity.com, constitutional expert Ramiro Avila Santamaria has a compilation of some of Correa’s main arguments in favor of the reforms. Avila then responds to each one from a legal perspective, highlighting the potential for the changes to undermine judicial independence, freedom of the press and constitutional constraints on presidential power.
  • After a lengthy court battle in Chile ended last week with a cancer patient obtaining legal access to cannabis-based drug known as Sativex, La Tercera notes that the development has raised expectations among some reform advocates that a change is brewing in the country’s drug policy, at least as it applies to marijuana. As BBC Mundo reports, current Chilean law classifies marijuana as a “list 1” substance, on the same level as opium, heroin and cocaine.
  • The trial against jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges of inciting violence is set to restart tomorrow, and he appears to have launched a press offensive in anticipation. Ahead of the trial, Lopez penned a letter published in Grupo de Diarios America papers on Sunday in which he attacked the Maduro government as “corrupt, inefficient, repressive and antidemocratic.” Lilian Tintori, his wife, wrote an op-ed of her own in the Washington Post, calling the charges against him and other alleged political prisoners as a mockery of justice and due process.
  • The body of Honduran TV reporter Herlyn Espinal was found on Monday in the violence-plagued city of San Pedro Sula, one day after he went missing. The national human rights commission notes that Espinal is the 37th journalist killed in the country in the last decade, but La Prensa reports that Security Minister Arturo Corrales told reporters that police do not believe the crime was related to his profession.

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