Saturday, July 26, 2014

Outrage Over Migrant Children

Cartoonist Joel Pett nails this perfectly:


Friday, July 25, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations Manuscript

I just submitted the manuscript for the 2nd edition of U.S. and Latin American Relations to Wiley. My deadline was August so I am slightly ahead of the game. It's been roughly seven months of sometimes pretty intense reading, chopping, writing, and re-writing while continually searching for new sources and documents to highlight. Several snow days during a busy time of the semester in February helped me tremendously because I sat at home with no meetings, classes, etc. and just worked. I am thinking of thanking the snow in my acknowledgments.


Berating Central America

President Obama is going to lecture three Central American presidents about how they need to stop the child migrant crisis, and I suppose migration in general.

In particular, officials said Mr. Obama will urge the presidents to amplify the public message that most people trying to get into the United States will not be permitted to stay. Mr. Obama will also ask the leaders to do more to go after the smugglers who, for a price, are bringing the children to America.

OK, fine. But this is mostly symbolic and solves nothing. People will listen to what their friends and family say, plus what smugglers tell them--if they hear labor is still welcome in the United States, then that's what they will listen to. If Otto Pérez Molina gives a speech it's hard to imagine a major impact.

And sure, tell the leaders to crack down on smugglers, but why do these smugglers exist in the first place? With immigration and drugs we run smack into supply and demand. Put some guys in prison and it will not make a dent in the problem. There are jobs and/or family in the United States and people want to reach them. The demand for labor and for drugs are solely the responsibility of the United States (and really, all of us). No one in Central America has any power to affect that. Only we do.

Here's the point that lawmakers in the U.S. don't acknowledge: there are too few legal economic opportunities in Central America so people emigrate, but there are significant illegal economic opportunities that exist only because of a U.S. market. In other words, demand in the United States helps lock Central America into this position.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Venezuela Conspiracy Theories

I'm quoted in this Associated Press article on the Venezuelan government's conspiracy theories. What I was trying to get at was that Nicolás Maduro uses domestic conspiracies a lot more than Hugo Chávez and apparently feels he needs to rely on them more. This is not to say Chávez didn't talk about them because of course he did--but under Maduro they are coming fast and furious and are aimed more at domestic opposition specifically rather than, say, the CIA.

And I love the end of the article, which cites Hugo Pérez Hernáiz:

But Hugo Perez, a sociology professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, says activists have reason to worry. When a government starts talking about opposition plots, any target "is no longer a political adversary - it is the local agent of a foreign conspiracy and therefore an absolute enemy," he said. 
For two years, Perez has run a blog devoted to tracking Chavista conspiracy theories. Lately, he's had enough material to post several times a week.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Discussing the Child Migrant Crisis

I'll be live on WFAE's Charlotte Talks tomorrow at 9 a.m. to discuss the child migrant crisis. That's in part why I've been blogging about the past week. So listen if you can!


Political Science Job Market

Mike Allison pointed out this article by Aaron Hoffman (from Purdue) on the political science job market and it is encouraging.

Combined, there are more academic and nonacademic job openings advertised than candidates and, overall, competition for assistant professor positions is less intense than it was in 2009-2010. However, the market for assistant professors has not loosened up for everyone. On the contrary, in some sub-fields there were more applicants per assistant professor position in 2012-2013 than during the recession-hit 2009-2010 market.

As you would expect, political theorists have by far the toughest time--small departments may not have one at all and larger departments may only have one:

But overall the market isn't bad:

  • Slightly more than 79% of Ph.D.s in political science secured employment at the time of their graduation in 2012-2013. This success rate is about 10 percentage points better than Ph.Ds in other social science disciplines.

Good! He also tackles the question of going on the market while ABD and comes to a sensible conclusion:

A more difficult question to answer is whether students should wait to complete their dissertations before searching for jobs. The APSA’s data suggests that finishing is a key to success on the market. This convinces me that students with uncertain completion dates should consider delaying their job searches. My experience on job search committees and watching students from my program on the market, though, suggests that those who can credibly tell hiring committees that they are close to defending are still able to secure good positions.

Speaking from experience as a chair who has run four assistant professor searches in the past two years, I agree completely. Being ABD is fine if your advisor tells us you will finish before you arrive--for a job starting in August that obviously means finishing no later than the summer.

In general, this is nice to see.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Congressional Response to Child Migrants

In an electronic newsletter, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) pretty well sums up the conservative response to the child migrant crisis. He gives viewers a poll to fill out:

Every response except "I don't know" is disingenuous. "Securing" the border is obviously not as binary as everyone makes it out to be--you can only be more or less secure, and we're more secure than ever in history (total security with a new Berlin Wall would completely strangle the economies of all border cities on both sides). We're at a point of diminishing returns there as well--every $1 billion more in border enforcement will not get you very far. 

Immigration laws are currently being enforced so aggressively that record numbers of people are being rounded up and deported, such that judges are well over a year behind

The idea of solving the problem holding Mexican and Central American governments "accountable" is a chimera--punishing them will very obviously make the problem worse

Reuniting children with their families gives the impression that they simply need to return to their loving parents and siblings and we can return to regularly scheduled programming. But those same parents sent them in the first place. Assuming you can even find the family (no mean feat) they will likely send them again immediately.

None of these options resolve anything. They only give the impression of doing so. There is absolutely no hope of finding a solution if you stick to only one side. It requires a complicated combination of enforcement, amnesty, acknowledgment of labor needs, intelligent and directed foreign aid programs and a willingness to admit what won't work and why. Compassion would be nice but I'd take a good bill even without it. It might be asking too much anyway, when people literally protest children.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century

I read Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The reviews by economists intrigue me (Tyler Cowen, who wrote his own critical review in Foreign Affairs) links to a lot of them, which is useful). The book seems to have generated a lot of heat within the discipline itself. Most seem really annoyed by him:

Piketty’s further policy views come in two chapters to which the reader is bound to arrive, after almost five hundred pages, a bit worn out. These reveal him to be neither radical nor neoliberal, nor even distinctively European. Despite having made some disparaging remarks early on about the savagery of the United States, it turns out that Thomas Piketty is a garden-variety social welfare democrat in the mold, largely, of the American New Deal.

He does return throughout the book to criticisms of economics as a field, arguing it is so centered on empirical models that content is ignored (the same argument, it must be said, goes on within political science). So the reciprocal antipathy isn't any big surprise.

Others are haughtily dismissive. One example is here:

The book is aimed at thoughtful non-specialists who don't know about all the cognitive illusions in the public finance literature.

Ah, that is me. I am smart but not as smart as him. Sorry for being reasonably smart but ignorant. Let me offer some ignorant thoughts.

1. This is a powerful argument that touched a big nerve. Critics are too tempted to attach ideology to it as a way to dismiss the argument. But I would say the massively defensive reaction demonstrates why we need such a conversation in this country. It's worthwhile for that alone, really. What he argues that if inherited wealth becomes dominant, then democracy will suffer and violent responses become more likely. When the rate of return on capital is high and growth is low, unrest becomes more likely. At the same time, I agree with reviewers who say he doesn't pursue that correlation enough--he mentions it multiple times but does not go into detail.

2. The debate over data doesn't refute Piketty. It just makes the conversation more interesting. In particular, it's a good thing to argue whether it's a problem to focus so much on labor income when so many people rely on more than that. People may not inherit wealth but they are vested in different types of retirement plans, for example, along with social security. Yet if people's wages are relatively low, they have little to contribute to those plans.

3. All the controversy about his policy prescriptions miss an important point--a core part of his argument is that we have the power to change things, which means we should talk about it. With regard to inequality, "There have been many twists and turns and certainly no irrepressible, regular tendency toward a 'natural' equilibrium'" (p. 274). And, incidentally, there are plenty of responses that are not Marxist! On the other hand, global catastrophe also changes inequality--the rich people who started World War I weren't aware of that at the time.

4. His policy prescriptions, such as the global tax, should be seen as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end. He makes it very clear he considers it utopian, as a reference point. Further, he also argues that making government a lot bigger isn't the answer because that creates organizational problems--not exactly a Marxist viewpoint.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Using Leverage in Central America

Members of Congress are starting to echo each other about using leverage on Central America.

The argument is that the United States is so powerful that we can compel Central American governments to bend to our will to resolve the problem and punish them if they fail. That they are clearly incapable of solving the problem seems not to enter into the equation.

The United States can indeed punish Central American governments by withholding aid. Doing so will almost certainly lead to more migration as whatever meager economic gains they make are slowed. That outcome is not in the interests of the United States.

Their argument hinges on the pervasive belief that immigration problems result from lack of will. If President Obama would just try harder, there would be no problem. Since IRCA, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II apparently had no such will either. If we don't have the will, then maybe we can force it onto Central American presidents, then whack them if the result is unsatisfactory.

Objective conditions and historical realities therefore slide easily into the background; complexity give way to simplicity; and responsibility shifts to blaming others.


Are Unaccompanied Children Refugees?

Media headlines commonly refer to the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America as "refugees." In fact, it's a precise term that's not easy to qualify for.

Even before getting to that, it is worth noting that many of the children do not legally qualify to be called "unaccompanied." I know that sounds weird, but to qualify you must not have legal status and you cannot have a parent in the United States. If your parent (with legal status or not) is already here, you are not unaccompanied even if you came alone.

Refugee status requires demonstrating persecution. From the Immigration and Nationality Act:

(42) The term "refugee" means:
(A) any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or
(B) in such circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 207(e) of this Act) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, and who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The term "refugee" does not include any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For purposes of determinations under this Act, a person who has been forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or who has been persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control program, shall be deemed to have been persecuted on account of political opinion, and a person who has a well founded fear that he or she will be forced to undergo such a procedure or subject to persecution for such failure, refusal, or resistance shall be deemed to have a well founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion.

For the children, "persecution" seems to refer largely to being forced into gangs or suffering abuse from family members. Providing evidence of that is no easy matter. Plus, if you are a minor whose parents are in the United States, you are ineligible to seek asylum.

One study argues that 40% of children would have a valid claim of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which focuses specifically on parental abuse or abandonment. Not only does that exclude 60% (still tens of thousands of kids) but even those 40% aren't automatic--they need to make a convincing case. The only way these children can have any hope of staying is to have extensive legal assistance, which is not likely given the sheer numbers.

The bottom line, then, is that popular usage considers the children refugees whereas most of them will likely never actually legally qualify as such. The only way that could happen would be for President Obama to declare them refugees en masse, a la Cubans. It's very hard to see that happening in the current political climate. The number of children exceeds the normal amount of refugees typically accepted in a year (there were 58,000 in 2012) but the Mariel boatlift is an example where it got very high one year (207,000 in 1980) so there is precedent. There were also 130,000 in 1975 when the United States left Vietnam.

One final note on the political side. Bill Clinton attributed his gubernatorial loss in 1980 to the Carter administration's resettling of Cubans in Arkansas. The logistics of refugee resettlement are formidable.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Immigration Case Backlog Crisis

I've written periodically about the immigration case backlog. Syracuse University's backlog tool has detailed numbers. Right now (at least as of June 2014, with the fiscal year ending at the end of September) the total number of backlogged cases is 375,503. Of particular note is the fact that Central America is already high on that list. Here are the five countries with the most:

Mexico: 124,408
El Salvador: 48,319
Guatemala: 40,807
Honduras: 36,842
China: 26,969

This of course is why President Obama is seeking emergency money for judges. There is no possible way the children currently here (and the more arriving) can even get in front of a judge for a long time. The average number of days to wait is 587. He is asking for 40 judges (in addition to 35 in his regular budget request), which really seems inadequate. Some is better than none, but how much will that decrease the wait? The administration provides an estimate that each judge will decrease the caseload by about 1,000 per judge per year. That requires the judge to do almost three cases a day, 365 days a year. Once you insert weekends, federal holidays, vacation time, snow days, etc. it seems a stretch. Cases involving children also take longer.

And the backlog gets worse and worse--it has skyrocketed under Obama, which is more evidence that he has been enforcing the law aggressively despite efforts to claim the opposite.

2009: 223,809
2010: 262,799
2011: 297,551
2012: 325,044
2013: 344,230
2014: 375,503 (and counting)


2008 Trafficking Law and Unaccompanied Minors

Increasing attention is being paid to the "William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008," signed into law by George W. Bush. I note that primarily because it was signed back at basically the last moment that immigration policy was bipartisan. Once President Bush left office, it disappeared.

Republicans want to amend the law to speed up the processing and removal of the children currently in the United States. As it stands, only children from contiguous countries are processed quickly. Since the surge of children is coming from Central America, they go under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, getting hearings and staying with families (sometimes their own) while they await a final decision. They get an immigration judge rather than a border patrol agent. That is why the Obama administration is asking to hire more judges, which are in embarrassingly short supply.

That is potentially a reason for the surge--word has spread that if children arrive in the United States, they are not immediately deported. As with other potential reasons, it suffers from timing--if the law was passed in 2008, why would it take six years for a surge? But it's possible.

But what should we do? There is evidence that from a humanitarian perspective, it's a mistake to treat Central American children like their Mexican counterparts. From Dara Lind (who has been writing a lot of interesting stuff at Vox):

It's not that Border Patrol agents aren't sympathetic to the plight of Mexican children — indeed, they're personally very kind to the children in their care. But the secret report shows that Border Patrol agents simply don't know what to look for to figure out if a child is being victimized, or what to do if he or she is.

It's a rushed, confused process that would become more even chaotic given the numbers we're dealing with. I tend to agree that we should treat children the same, but we should take the most humane approach, not the least.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unaccompanied Minors and Causation

The puzzle over the surge of unaccompanied minors is tied directly to the difference between correlation and causation. The essential problem is understanding the surge. On one side--usually associated with the Republican Party--the argument is that President Obama's promises about deferred action acted as a catalyst. From Senator Ted Cruz:

Is it really your testimony that granting amnesty to some 800,000 people who came here illegally as children had no effect in causing a dramatic increase of children being handed over to international drug cartels to be smuggled in here illegally?

There are problems with that when we start trying to move from correlation to causation.

First, the timing is off. From Adam Isacson:

Border Patrol statistics, depicted above, show that arrivals of unaccompanied Central American children began increasing during U.S. fiscal year 2012, which ran from October 2011 to September 2012. DACA was not announced until June 2012. Immigration reform legislation had not yet been proposed, and the review of deportation procedures was far off. In fact, in 2012 the Obama administration broke the United States’ single-year record for deportations of undocumented foreign citizens (409,849 people): hardly a welcoming message for would-be migrants.

Second, there is no evidence that immigrants knew about DACA at all. From Elizabeth Kennedy, who was doing fieldwork:

“The rumors did not start until Obama called it an urgent humanitarian situation,” she said. “In over 300 interviews, only one asked about DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. Otherwise, no one ever named any specific U.S. legislation. Some asked if children should lie about their age and say they were over 18.” 

Third, if rumors about DACA are rampant, why are there so few sending countries? From federal officials:

Federal officials have said that if migrants were coming to the U.S. because of the DACA program, there would be many more families arriving from countries other than Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — such as India and China — to also take advantage of the program.

There is no surge from Mexico, for example, which makes no sense if this logic is to hold. Incentives like DACA would spread southward through Mexico, yet somehow affect only Central America.

On the other side of the debate, violence in Central America is blamed. From Tom Wong:

Violence is among of the main drivers causing the increase. Whereas Central American countries that are experiencing high levels of violence have seen thousands of children flee, others with lower levels of violence are not facing the same outflow.

He equates "violence" with "homicide." Mike Allison notes that homicide rates have actually improved so cannot explain a surge, and attributes emigration to gang violence instead:

What seems to be a better explanation for what is driving people to leave their homes is the threat from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs that have been operating in Central America for two decades. Violence worsened in the 2000s when governments adopted mano dura ("strong hand") security policies rather than investing in social programmes, education, and gang prevention and rehabilitation strategies. Regional drug cartels and gangs have grown increasingly powerful as the region has become a much more important transit point for drugs.

This is really hard to measure, though. If the "mano dura" approach was taken a decade or so ago, how do we explain the lag?

Correlation is easy to find, causation much harder. I probably buy Mike's hypothesis more than any other, but even then I would have to see more data to be convinced. It's a sad, tragic, and still largely unexplained phenomenon.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

U.S. Occupation of Cuba

On September 14, 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt informed the Cuban foreign minister that he did not think they were capable of governing themselves and so invoking the Platt Amendment he was sending William Howard Taft to clean things up. It's quite an insulting message, as you would expect, though of course couched in terms of how much he wants the country to be independent.

"For there is just one way in which Cuban independence can be jeoparded, and that is for the Cuban people to show their inability to continue in their path of peaceful and orderly progress."

Replace "Cuba" with Chile, Guatemala, Panama you name it, and it's almost like a motto of U.S. foreign policy.

Here it is from FRUS:

I will be including this collection of digitized FRUS pages on Cuba for the "further sources" part of my U.S. and Latin American Relations 2nd edition textbook chapter that covers the first third of the 20th century. The University of Wisconsin has a lot of stuff digitized that is not on the State Department's own website.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Luis Vicente Leon on Venezuela Sanctions

David Smilde translates Luis Vicente Leon's comments on potential Venezuela sanctions from a WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) event. If you want a really good, concise argument about why they are a bad idea, then you've got it.

Using poll data, he shows that Venezuelans see the sanctions as an excuse for the United States to meddle and force regime change. Leon sees the sanctions stemming in large part from legitimate concerns mixed with a typical election-year gimmick in anti-Chavista Florida districts, but Venezuelans are understandably suspicious of U.S. motives.

The money quote:

Taking the individual route of Big Brother usually ends up being a Big Mistake, or as Marino Alvarado of Provea says, an own goal from midfield.

This sentiment is exactly the same as the post I wrote about President Obama's approach to foreign policy, which involves a credo of "don't do stupid shit." Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons the chances are good we will.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Admitting Immigration Failure

Boz makes an excellent point here about the well-intentioned ad campaign to let would-be migrants in Central America and Mexico know that the journey is too dangerous to undertake. What it indicates is policy failure--that journey actually shouldn't be that dangerous.

I would take this a step further and note some specific ways that specific policies have failed:

--the Immigration Reform and Control Act had as an explicit goal the regularization of immigration, thus greatly reducing illegal border crossing.

--NAFTA was explicitly framed as something that would reduce migration. I don't recall off the top of my head whether the CAFTA debate was quite so emphatic in that regard but its logic is obviously similar.

--the War on Drugs (or whatever you want to call it) was explicitly intended to reduce drug-related violence.

--the Obama administration's response to the 2009 coup in Honduras was explicitly phrased as helping to bring democracy and stability to the country.

This doesn't mean all these policies (or elements of them) are bad or that there was a magic answer to the problem. But it does mean that collectively we need to figure out why they failed and how to improve them.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

U.S. and Latin American Relations writing (part 9)

It's been a while since I've updated but I've made tons of progress, to the point that I don't need to think in terms of chapter goals anymore. Every existing chapter has been revised and I've completed a draft of the new chapter (on the challenge to hegemony) that I am now attacking with a pen. There is more work to do but it is doable--it involves finding another book or two for suggested additional readings to replace old ones that perhaps are dated; making some additions to the chapter timelines; going over sources, especially internet ones that disappeared or changed (my thanks to those websites that did not change over what was sometimes 10 years since I last referenced them!); cleaning up footnotes; and checking a few facts for updates (like ratification of treaties/agreements).

In short, I will have this book manuscript submitted by the end of this month. What I hope is that the final book is ready for adoption for Fall 2015 classes. But what authors hope for books and what happens rarely match (for me, they have never matched). There are all sorts of unexpected delays and that's just the way it is. For my recently published Understanding Latin American Politics book among other things I spent months dealing with permissions issues. It was maddeningly slow but it had to be done right. I was sent long Excel spreadsheets that I had to read and comment on, which sometimes entailed changing or deleting content because a permission just couldn't be obtained.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The U.S. and Brazil's National Truth Commission

Peter Kornbluh at the National Security Archive discusses the documents that Vice President Biden gave President Rousseff when he visited for the World Cup. It's awful stuff. Brazil tends to get less attention for human rights abuses because the intensity of repression during the dictatorship was not as severe as in Argentina and Chile. But it deserves more scrutiny:

It's sickening to read. All of this helps Brazil's National Truth Commission, which is working on documenting the period. This is a great step for the United States government--it has the benefit of being the right thing to do while also improving U.S.-Brazilian relations (and indeed the naysayers paid no attention to it).

During his meeting with President Rousseff, Biden announced that the Obama administration would undertake a broader review of still highly classified U.S. records on Brazil, among them CIA and Defense Department documents, to assist the Commission in finalizing its report.  “I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future,” he noted.

That's good news.


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