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Updated: 19 min 52 sec ago

Central America Needs a Marshall Plan

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 5:17pm

Antigua, Guatemala (Shutterstock)

Central America has lately been prominent in the news, with controversy over how to respond to migrant caravans arriving through Mexico at the U.S. border — up to 10,000 refugees may seek asylum in the United States, much to the chagrin of President Trump.

Even U.S. border agents cruelly firing tear gas at women and children hasn’t deterred a newer caravan from forming in Honduras.

The president has used the situation to amplify his calls for a border wall, even though the number of unauthorized immigrants has been steadily falling and comes mainly from overstayed visas rather than illegal crossings.

More recently, an agreement that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico has created turmoil in Tijuana and other border cities. Mexico and the United States have also proposed a bilateral investment program to curb migration from Central America. Disagreement over the border wall led directly to a U.S. government shutdown and a threat to cancel U.S. support to the region.

Overall, the crisis in Central America is having a dramatic impact on U.S. politics.

All this follows an earlier determination by the Trump administration that removed temporary protected status granted to tens of thousands of Hondurans after a 1999 hurricane had ravaged their country. The administration claimed that conditions had improved sufficiently in Honduras to warrant suspension of protected status, despite the fact that Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. (In fact, its rampant corruption from the drug trade has been investigated in detail by the U.S. government’s own Drug Enforcement Administration.)

There’s a strong case for continued protection for Honduran refugees and the other thousands from Guatemala and El Salvador who have joined them, most of them desperate individuals frantically seeking a new life. Americans have always felt a strong obligation to help those less fortunate, hearkening back to a broad sanctuary movement that directly supported refugees during the Cold War conflicts of the 1980s.

Still, almost totally absent from this discussion is any awareness of U.S. responsibility for the repressive and corrupt governments that have been the driving force behind this flood of refugees.

A Shameful History

A hundred years ago, American businessmen basically took control of Central America.

With the mostly white, Spanish-speaking aristocracy in the region, they set up subservient governments that strongly supported U.S. commercial interests at the expense of the indigenous populations. The U.S. government turned a blind eye to, or abetted, this repressive commercial domination of “banana republics.”

The situation was exacerbated by the Cold War against Soviet communism. Unfortunately, that struggle was given such overwhelming priority in foreign policy that the United States often supported brutal autocrats so long as they were anti-communist. In Central America, this intensified existing U.S. support for its repressive governments.

In post-war Guatemala, popular uprisings had brought in reform governments that directly threatened U.S. business interests, leading to a CIA-led invasion that resulted in a bitter civil war. The United States a supported series of repressive governments responsible for widespread massacres in the country, for which President Clinton eventually apologized.

A U.N.-sponsored peace accord in 1996 ended the civil war and led to free elections, but resulted in deeply corrupt governments. The current government is in the process of trying to terminate a U.N. commission investigating corruption. The United States, initially a strong supporter of the commission, has fallen silent.

The situation is no better in El Salvador, which also had bitter civil conflicts in the 1980s. Pre-war political turmoil had the commercial elites strongly supporting the country’s military government’s brutal suppression of rural resistance. A post-war coup and reform governments supported economic development, but a brief war with Honduras and rising opposition led to another coup and then a civil war.

Opposition elements consolidated into a single Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), and the U.S. government began actively training military elements to suppress it. In many cases these military units committed grievous human rights abuses.

A U.N.-sponsored peace accord in 1992 saw the FMLN transition into a political party which went on to win national elections. But poor economic conditions and drug trafficking led to the rise of two violent street gangs that the government has been totally unable to suppress.

Honduras returned to civilian rule after the peace accord with El Salvador, and the United States established a continuing military presence. As the Honduran army became heavily involved with anti-guerilla activities, a CIA-backed campaign became entangled in a range of extra-judicial killings.

This involvement deepened in June 2009, when a coup d’etat ousted the elected President Manuel Zelaya. The United States declined to insist on Zelaya’s return, instead continuing cooperation with the new government. U.S.-trained forces continue to suppress popular demonstrations in the country, and the government continues to favor foreign corporations at the expense of the local population.

The situation is further complicated by the U.S. demand for illicit drugs — and its prohibition of them — which fuels much of the criminality in the region, as well as helping to destabilize Mexico.

Overall, the current dismal governance in much of Central America is a direct result of callous U.S. policies.

A Mini-Marshall Plan

With the refugees from these countries now arriving at the U.S. border, the situation is a stark reminder that the United States has a fundamental stake in global peace and prosperity.

In the case of Central America, the solution lies not in domestic U.S. adjustments alone, but actions in the countries of origin of the desperate refugees fleeing brutal conditions. President Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. aid to the countries refugees flee is exactly the opposite of what’s really needed — a comprehensive regional strategy for economic development in support of democracy and human rights.

The problems have been a century in the making and certainly won’t be resolved overnight. There needs to be an integrated network of actions to stabilize the region, stem the flood of refugees, and align the U.S. with global forces for democracy and development rather than repression.

A significant step could be some sort of mini-Marshall Plan with a Regional Development Council, a comprehensive collaboration to support modern economies.

Upgrading schools and infrastructure would be critical early steps, and returning refugees could contribute significantly to such activities. Agriculture remains the basic driver of local economies ever since banana production brought about an initial economic surge. The situation has been complicated by recent droughts which have added food distress as a major element motivating refugees to flee.

Thousands of current and recent refugees from Central America should be involved in such development programs, helping to make real change in their home countries.

There’s some infrastructure for this already. An “Alliance for Prosperity” launched under President Obama led to Conferences on Prosperity and Security in Central America, the latest held just last month. The National Democratic Institute has also sponsored a conference of Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — to advance a regional legislative agenda on security and human rights. The recent announcement on an investment program could significantly expand these modest efforts.

Such coordination needs to be on a broader regional basis and at the governmental level, developing economies that reduce violence and work for everyone. It cannot be simply be a U.S. effort, so the inclusion of Mexico in the proposed investment program is very encouraging.

China has also pledged $150 million in support of development in El Salvador, and the World Bank has long been promoting jobs in the region. Former Secretary of State George Shultz has recommended working with the Inter-American Development Bank to redirect its finance focus to its poorest member countries.

The principal emphasis should be on infrastructure and public health plans that support economic expansion with immediate job opportunities, as well as a regional market to expand the Central American economies.

Improving Security

Economic development has to be tied to governance improvements, reducing violence with rule-of-law and anti-corruption measures. Former Assistant Secretary of State Rick Barton has made several concrete recommendations on these lines, starting with encouraging governments to broker peace deals between rival gangs while addressing underlying causes.

This requires an unremitting focus on corruption and support to prosecute high-level crimes, reinforcing such prior actions as the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations supporting the prosecution of high-profile crimes in Honduras.

Any such efforts also have to be on an international level. The United Nations, for example, had an independent investigator in Guatemala whose efforts had led to meaningful criminal justice reforms, anti-corruption laws, and high security courts for the prosecution of powerful individuals. But he was banned by the current government without any major international objections.

The United States needs to strongly support such anti-corruption initiatives and work to expand them across the region. Civilian and military officials who fail to cooperate need to be publicly identified, with restrictions placed on their financial dealings as well as travel of their family members to the United States.

Alongside this top-down approach, the United States can help to mobilize citizens and local civil society to reestablish public safety. In Honduras, a U.S. partnership with the Alliance for Peace and Justice helped collect data on violence, vet and purge the police force of corrupt officials, and implement new laws for safer streets. Some 25 community centers now provide safe spaces and programming for young people. Throughout the region, the United States has backed land registration of the disempowered to counter the prevalence of violent, illegal seizures of private property.

All these initiatives are positive steps, but they need expansion and strong support to protect both indigenous populations and the free press essential to anti-corruption efforts.

Initial steps would have to be with those governments which proved to be most cooperative, demonstrating the potential for broad development, focusing on specific industries (such as agriculture and tourism) and working jointly to set up Enterprise Zones insulated from broad political dysfunction. These zones could employ local individuals fleeing violence in their home areas.

Winding Down the Drug War

Illicit drugs remain a fundamental cause for violence and a major challenge for the region, with the demand driven from within the United States. Secretary Shultz stresses the need to reduce this demand with improved economic conditions at home and expanded domestic drug reduction programs.

The failure of the supply-side approach can be seen in the fact that the United States has the highest drug use among major economies despite leading a global war on drugs for decades. Instead of prohibition, decriminalizing use and small-scale possession of drugs, legalizing responsible marijuana use, expanding well-vetted drug treatment centers, and improving economic prospects for people in the United States could gradually reduce both drug use and profits going south to drug lords, which would reduce incentives for violence while hopefully mitigating the worst impacts of the related U.S. opioid crisis.

Resources currently spent on disrupting supply and paying for the costly domestic incarceration of drug users could be used instead to support drug demand reduction and treatment efforts, as well as development efforts in trafficking regions. There are also broad opportunities to intensify international cooperation on obstructing drug traffic routes and their associated violence, minimizing the associated corruption, and complicating financial support for drug operations.

Giving Refuge

Parallel with this, there needs to be significant improvement in the capacity to fairly and swiftly assess the claims of asylum seekers in the United States. Those who meet the criteria should be admitted without delay.

That means more humane conditions for people awaiting a hearing, more interviewers who determine whether migrants meet the “credible fear” threshold, and more immigration judges. The inadequacy of current capacity has contributed to a backlog of some 1 million cases in the immigration courts. To address this aspect of the challenge, the Deputy Attorney General has recently recommended the establishment of a new appellate court for immigration appeals.

The United States needs to stop quibbling over short-term responses to the Central American crisis and focus on realistic positive programs to address it. Instead of spending an estimated $40 billion on an ineffectual border wall, the money would be much better spent promoting prosperity and improving local governance to minimize the number of refugees who are displaced in the first place.

There are many good options. Combining U.S. ingenuity with local initiatives and enforcing the rule of law could significantly reduce violence and improve economic prospects in the region — and, hopefully, give people a real choice to flourish in their home countries.

The post Central America Needs a Marshall Plan appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Ed Corcoran is a senior fellow at and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He was a strategic analyst at the U.S. Army War College, where he chaired studies for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Operations.

Manufacturing illegality: An Interview with Mae Ngai

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 5:07pm


Mae Ngai is the Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History at Columbia University. On questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism, she is among the most influential legal and political historians in the United States.

Ngai’s book, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, was published originally in 2004, with a second edition and a new forward in 2014. The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America was published in 2010.

She has written on immigration history and policy for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and several other publications. She is also featured as an on-camera authority on The American Experience’s “The Chinese Exclusion Act” and other documentaries on public television.

Peter Costantini interviewed Ngai in October in her office on the Columbia University campus in Manhattan.

Peter Costantini: How did you come to be a scholar of immigration?

Mae Ngai: I was a so-called “non-traditional student.” I dropped out of school around 1972 or so. And then I worked as a community activist. After a while I got a job in a labor union here in New York, District 65. I wasn’t a shop organizer; I worked in the Education and Political Action Department.

Then I worked as a researcher for the Consortium for Worker Education. It delivers education services to union members: ESL classes, basic literacy, high-school GEDs, job training programs.

When I was there, I decided to go to graduate school. I’m the daughter of immigrants, and I was interested in immigration history, so I started reading. I was also interested in labor history. So those things in my own background and experience drove my interest.

PC: What was your family’s story?

MN: Well, my parents were trained as medical doctors in China and they came to the U.S. after World War II. So they had more middle-class, more privileged backgrounds. I grew up in the suburbs, where there were very few Asians at the time.

But I think my interest in immigration as a broader experience — as a mass phenomenon and as a policy question — came from my years working in Chinatown communities.

PC: At that time, where were labor unions on immigration?

MN: Oh, they were terrible. But in New York, the unions were much more supportive, because of course New York is full of immigrants. And our unions had a large proportion of our membership that were immigrants.

We worked with the garment workers union and the hotel and restaurant workers union. They were some of the unions that were far out in front on having a more progressive position on immigration.

But I remember, I think it was in the 90s, there were a lot of struggles inside the AFL-CIO over its position. Because its official position was against undocumented immigration, they were for employer sanctions. And so there was a lot of discussion about how employer sanctions aren’t enforced — they’re just used as a way to discipline workers if they make too many demands. That was a kind of an uphill battle.

But I think what changed was that more and more of the labor movement comprised immigrant workers. And they were the most militant workers, including the undocumented. And so I think that reality, that experience changed the minds of union leaders.

It was in 2000 that the AFL-CIO formally changed its position [to one more supportive of undocumented workers]. But it had already been in the making because of the lead of some particular unions: the garment workers, the service workers, the hospital workers.

Mai Ngai (Photo: Denison University)

How early immigration policies created “illegality”

In her book Impossible Subjects, Ngai traces the history of United States immigration policy from its origins in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 up through the 1965 immigration act.

The book charts “the historical origins of the ‘illegal alien’ in American law and society and the emergence of illegal immigration as the central problem of U.S. immigration policy in the twentieth century,” Ngai writes. It locates that genesis in the “restrictive immigration laws that Congress legislated in the 1920s and the border-control measures implemented thereafter. Positive domestic law, not race, culture, or bad character, produced ‘illegal aliens’ — an insight that would be not be so novel but for pervasive stereotyping of Mexicans and other Latinos and Latinas in twentieth-century American society.”

The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, “marked both the end of one era, that of open immigration from Europe, and the beginning of a new one, the era of immigration restriction,” Ngai wrote. “The law placed numerical limits on immigration and established a quota system that classified the world’s population according to nationality and race, ranking them in a hierarchy of desirability for admission into the United States.”

The decades from 1890 to 1920 had witnessed probably the largest influx of immigrants relative to population in U.S. history, primarily from southern and eastern Europe. “Paradoxically”, she wrote, “the quota system, while closing America’s gates to the ‘undesirable races’ of southern and eastern Europe, redrew the color line around Europe instead of through it. The law also continued the explicitly racial exclusion from immigration and naturalization of Chinese and other Asian nationalities codified in laws of the late 19th Century.”

Ngai continues: “Restriction also demanded a system of visa controls to track the allocation of quotas and border surveillance to ensure that only persons with the proper documents entered the country. The new regime had two major consequences: it remapped the ethno-racial contours of the nation and generated illegal immigration as the central problem in immigration law.”

The primary sponsors of the 1924 law were Representative Albert Johnson of Washington, and Senator David Reed of Pennsylvania. Both were leaders of the restrictionist movement, and both were notably motivated by eugenics and pseudo-scientific theories of race in vogue at the time. These theories went on to become the underpinnings of Nazi ideology, and its social and racial policies, in Germany.

PC: Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly told an interviewer on Breitbart News — Steve Bannon’s white nationalist network — that he thought the Immigration Act of 1924 had been good for America. What do you think Sessions meant by that?

MN: The Act reflected a history of “scientific” racism that divided the world into any number of races. The Europeans, for example, were divided by Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean races, and the Mediterraneans were the undesirables.

So Sessions’ message, I think, was pretty obvious: They want white people, and certain kinds of white people at that. Trump repeated this himself when he said he wants people from Norway, and considers people from Africa to be coming from so-called “shithole countries.” They’re pretty blatant about the kinds of people they want. They want Europeans, and they want certain kinds of Europeans — northern Europeans, the Nordics. And they don’t want people from the Global South, they don’t want brown people or black people or yellow people. They don’t want anybody that’s not that ideal.

I don’t know how much detail of the 1924 Act Sessions knows, but the ’24 Act also categorically excluded all Asians. Ironically, it did not exclude people from the Western Hemisphere countries, so it did have open migration from Mexico. But I don’t think that’s the part of the ’24 Act he was referring to.

The 1965 immigration law manufactured a new kind of “illegality.”

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, known as Hart-Celler for its sponsors in the Senate and House, was an effort to rectify some of the worst injustices of the 1924 law. Senator Philip Hart of Michigan and Representative Emanuel Celler of New York were both prominent liberals, as was Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who also promoted it.

However, the final version of Hart-Celler caused long-running damage to a functional immigration system by creating a template for draconian restrictions on Western Hemisphere immigration, which had not previously been subject to quotas.

“[I]f the abolition of national origins quotas in 1965 was an inclusionary reform,” wrote Ngai, “Hart-Celler was also an illiberal act because it continued the regime of numerical restriction and imposed it on the entire world, especially on the countries of the Western Hemisphere, which previously had no numerical limitations. The global nature of restriction and the application of equal limits on all countries, regardless of size, need or relationship to the United States, reflected the ethos of formal equality of the civil rights era. Ironically, it has been the single most important reason for unauthorized migration since 1965. The Immigration and Control Act of 1986 legalized nearly three million undocumented immigrants, but because IRCA did not change the basic structures of restriction unauthorized entry continued and in fact soared from 1990s to the late 2000s as part of the United States’ long economic boom.”


The Trump administration’s policies

Two senators were leaders in imposing Western Hemisphere quotas: centrist Democrat Sam Ervin, from North Carolina, and moderate Republican Everett Dirksen, from Illinois.

MN: [Ervin and Dirksen] started to worry about what they called “population pressures” in Latin America, and so they wanted to close the door.

The liberals didn’t really have an answer, because they thought the whole point of a new system was that it was going to be fair, equalizing all the quotas and making them global. Although actually it was retrogressive — it was a reactionary step for Western Hemisphere countries, which had never had numerical quotas.

In fact, all the [proposed] bills until the 11th hour, including the Kennedy bill, had the Western Hemisphere exemption [to quotas]. That was a long-standing foreign policy position. It was about our relations with Canada and Mexico. And a kind of belief that Mexican farmworkers were seasonal, so there wasn’t really a problem. I mean, they didn’t understand anything about the West or the Southwest.

At the 11th hour, though, the moderates in the Congress, in the Senate, held the repeal of national origins hostage to Latin American, Western Hemisphere quotas.

Hart-Celler ended up with a hemispheric quota for the Western Hemisphere like half or maybe 40 percent of the total number [for the entire world]. This [temporarily] enabled more people to come in from Mexico under this hemispheric quota.

This quota for the Western Hemisphere did not yet have country quotas within it. It was a stalling tactic by those in Congress who knew that imposing a 20,000 cap on Mexico would wreak havoc.

[Note: Hart-Celler imposed a quota for the whole Western Hemisphere of 120,000. A 1976 amendment to the 1965 act implemented the quotas of 20,000 for each country. By comparison, the Bracero Program brought in a yearly average of about 200,000 temporary Mexican guest workers to work in agriculture from 1942 through 1964. It was terminated with the passage of Hart-Celler, but many of those workers continued coming and going.]

Once [country-specific quotas] passed, they knew it was going to be trouble. Because you can’t clamp a quota of 20,000 on an area that sends hundreds of thousands. So they appointed a commission to study it, which is always their procrastinating move.

The commission actually said there would be dire consequences if this was imposed. And the Congress said “Well, I guess that’s too bad.”

And that’s why you see, in the late 1970s and by 1980, this so-called crisis of unauthorized movement.

PC: Trump, Sessions, and Trump’s hardline adviser Stephen Miller have been introducing an onslaught of new measures that attack undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, green-card holders, and naturalized citizens. Do you think just the ideology of the 1924 Act explains this? Or are there other things about this administration that would explain its whole phobia around legal immigration, their efforts to take away green cards and naturalization?

MN: Yeah, I think there’s too many brown people in this country for their tastes — that’s what it all comes down to. And Latinos vote. They’re not all illegal. Two-thirds of all Hispanics are citizens. And they’re not all 18, but more and more become 18 every day.

This is the Trump administration’s chief fear. I think it’s pretty obvious: It’s not just about people who are “illegal” — that’s a proxy for racism against all Latinos.

I think there are three things going on.

First is this kind of terror that’s been unleashed against immigrant communities: the sweeps, the raids into meatpacking plants, communities, roadblocks. And then they stopped Greyhound buses in Ohio and Vermont and demanded to see proof of citizenship.

This is all aimed at just terrorizing immigrants. They cannot deport 11.5 million people, which is the population of undocumented. But they can make everybody very frightened. So that’s the first thing they’re doing.

(Photo: Bread for the World / Flickr)

The second thing they’re doing is trying to denaturalize people. Or even people who are native-born citizens, they’re trying to question their birth. There were incidents where they were denying passports to Mexican-American people in the borderlands area.

The third thing they’re doing is treating asylum seekers as though they were undocumented immigrants. And that’s illegal. They have the right to come to the door and ask for asylum.

But Trump’s people are treating them as border violators. They’re taking their children. This is the most horrendous thing we’ve seen since this administration came to power, this taking of babies. And now they’re tear-gassing children as well. You can’t even give words to how bad it is. And that’s because these asylum-seekers are from Central America.

They’re shoving them into this new category. Sessions says the asylum seekers are “exploiting a loophole.” It’s not a loophole: it’s the law. But by calling it a loophole, he can then justify treating them as unauthorized border violators, which is what he thinks they really are.

And then the last thing they’re doing is, they want to change the immigration system so there’s less legal immigration.

They want legal immigration to be restricted to whites. And they’re going to do that by eliminating family sponsorships.

So they’ve now given “chain migration” a dirty name. “Chain migration” has always been a neutral social science term to describe how most migrations take place, including Trump’s family. And now they want to stop family migration, because family migration, they consider, is too colored. And they want to replace it with some kind of “merit-based system” for high-net-worth people, people with high skills.

The problem is that a lot of those people who come under those categories are from Asia. There aren’t are big incentives for European professionals and people with technical skills to come to the United States. So I don’t know what they’re going to do about that.

But they’re going to cut off all these other avenues of legal migration. That won’t end migration from the global South, but it will ensure that migration will now be either unauthorized or through temporary guest-worker status.

Because we’re still going to have the same jobs that need to be done. It’s a way to create another caste, a mudsill class of colored people who do the dirty work, who do the service work, who work in the poultry factories and clean the hotels. And they won’t have any access to the politics. That’s what they want.

PC: It’s a comprehensive vision.

MN: It’s a very comprehensive vision. They’re not stupid. And in my opinion, this is also one of the first fronts in the move towards an authoritarian government.

Because immigrants don’t have rights that citizens have. I mean, they do have rights, but they don’t have rights in removal and entry proceedings. I think [Trump’s people] are pushing the envelope to see how much they can get away with.

The federal courts have not been sympathetic. A federal court ordered the docket to be reinstated recently and said that they cannot indefinitely detain asylum seekers. Because they’re detaining people who have passed the “credible fear” test, they should definitely be released.

The sanctuary jurisdictions have been upheld, except in Texas, So I think that there’s resistance both from grassroots protests and from the judiciary.

But now we have a Supreme Court… In his first oral arguments, new Justice Brett Kavanaugh made it clear that he’s hostile to immigrants.

PC: Do you see Trump’s initiatives as a break from previous immigration policies, or as a continuation or acceleration?

MN: I think they’re a return to the mentality of 1924 act with regard to racial preferences in admission, and a continuation or acceleration of the 1965 and 1996 laws on deportation.

We need to look beyond all the current proposals in Washington and dig deeper into the structural problems with our outdated, isolationist, and fundamentally inhumane policy regime around immigrants and immigration. (Photo: SEIU International / Flickr)


Sensible immigration policies

PC: If you could completely throw away our immigration system and rewrite it — all the aspects of it, from guest workers to all of the laws — what would you come up with?

MN: Well, from a global perspective, we have to understand that migration is the product of an unequal distribution of wealth in the world. So I think people who live in the wealthier nations can do two things: One is that they can adopt practices that reduce inequality. I don’t know if that’s likely to happen. And then I think we can look at migration not as a threat, but as both a responsibility and an opportunity.

We give away less than half a million new green cards yearly, and another half million through adjustment of status here or there. They’re a student, or they get a job, or they marry somebody, or they’re a family member of a citizen, or they’re outside the quota. The total is about a million people who become permanent residents.

We had about a million people come here annually in the 1910s, and we had a much smaller population. So I don’t think there’s a problem of absorption, of being overrun, or anything like that.

I think if we understand that immigration restriction is a kind of protectionism for the wealthier nations, then we have to think about what our moral response to that is. Because we are in America not because we are so great, but by the accident of our birth. Why are we superior to somebody who happens to be born in India or Honduras?

That’s hard for a lot of Americans to swallow — that they have the same moral worth as somebody from Honduras. But I think that should be our starting point.

Then policy-wise, well, we can raise the ceiling on how many people can come. I don’t have a number, but it can be raised.

We can treat unauthorized entry as a kind of inevitability of any restriction. We can build into the system a self-correction.

I have advocated for a statute of limitations on immigration violations. And then we don’t have to go through these agonizing debates every 10 or 20 years about mass legalizations.

We had it in the past. A statute of limitations used to be the case until — was it 1996? It was written into the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act that you could get a suspension of deportation if you lived here for seven years, and you had a citizen spouse or children, and no criminal record. And so a lot of braceros [Mexican laborers brought here under a guest worker program from 1942 through 1964] actually got legalized through that process. In other words, we have had programs that recognize that with time, people establish ties and roots in their community. And they shouldn’t be just be tossed out.

And they contribute to the economy, they’re not freeloaders. People don’t come here to freeload, they come here to work.

So if we understand that unauthorized entry is integral to restriction — it’s not some anomaly — and we understand that unauthorized entry is not exceptional — it’s kind of inevitable — then you have to build in a kind of correction.

How long should someone have to be here before they can adjust their status? That’s up for discussion. Two years, two weeks, 10 years? I think 10 years is too long.

Actually two-thirds of the undocumented people who live outside of the border area have been here for 10 years.

And then I think if we’re going to have a system that allocates visas, it should not be on this principle that we have now, which is that we treat every country the same. Because Mexico has more people and more demand than, say, New Zealand, but they have the same quota.

PC: You mentioned the Hart proposal (which wasn’t incorporated into the final 1965 immigration law) that would have lifted all quotas for the Western Hemisphere. Is there a need for quotas for the rest of the world? If we were looking at a new bill, what do those quotas for everywhere else accomplish?

MN: Well, if you’re going to have some numerical limit, then you have to figure out how you’re going to distribute those numbers.

Hart’s bill was a combination of size — he used population size as a kind of proxy for need — and the other variable he used was family ties. And then he had a provision where it was reviewed and adjusted every five years.

It was a very complicated formula, which I think is one reason why it didn’t go forward. The Kennedy bill was “everybody gets the same quota,” which was much more simple. And it also resonated with the civil-rights ethos of formal equality: you treat everyone the same. But I think Hart’s formulas might be worth revisiting.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The post Manufacturing illegality: An Interview with Mae Ngai appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Peter Costantini is an analyst and writer based in Seattle. For the past three decades, he has written about migration, labor, Latin America, and international economics. He is currently embedded as a volunteer with immigrant rights groups.

Trump Punts on Syria

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 3:03pm


Donald Trump wants to pull U.S. troops out of Syria as quickly as possible.

Well, it’s Wednesday, so that’s what the president wants now. Tomorrow, who knows, maybe he’ll insist that Syria pay for the pullout. Maybe Trump will decide to hold a summit with Bashar al-Assad after deciding that the Syrian leader’s not such a bad guy after all, since he also doesn’t like the Islamic State and owes his position to Russian support. Maybe Trump will team up with Turkey to build a wall around Syria because “if we stop them over there, we won’t fight them over here.”

With Trump, all options seem to be in play, and it all depends on what Fox News covers, what the last autocrat or three-star general whispered in his ear, and whether the president’s spleen is acting up or not. The opinions of his own advisors or the foreign-policy commissariat seem to matter little. If anything, Trump delights in confounding the experts. After all, he believes himself to be the expert-in-chief.

Foreign policy making in the Trump era is a lot like curling. Trump lets lose the stone and then the other members of the team start sweeping at the ice in an attempt to alter the trajectory. Sometimes Trump throws in the general direction of the target. Sometimes his aim is so errant that there’s nothing the sweepers can do.

So, after Trump tweeted his new Syria policy, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went into action to alter its trajectory. In an attempt to placate allies aghast at Trump’s decision, Bolton put so many conditions on the pull-out as to seem to render the announcement null and void. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly tried to assure Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and the Gulf States that U.S. policy remains steady: defeat the Islamic State, shut out Iran.

This cavalcade of caveats accomplished little more than to confuse allies and mystify observers. Bolton angered Recep Tayyip Erdogan so much with his remarks about continued U.S. support for Syrian Kurds that the Turkish president refused to meet with the national security advisor when he visited Ankara this month. A prominent pro-government newspaper decried Bolton’s “soft coup against Trump.”

Trump has subsequently changed his mind about Syria, somewhat, but it wasn’t at the behest of Bolton or Pompeo. The president was persuaded to go slow on the withdrawal when he received a briefing in Iraq from a lieutenant general who explained that the military needed more time to wrap up operations in Syria. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had probably said the same thing to Trump. He resigned when the president ignored his advice. Mattis had disagreed one too many times with the president and thus undermined his authority. With Trump, proximity breeds contempt.

Trump originally demanded that troops withdraw in 30 days. Now, the Pentagon has four months to redeploy the couple thousand troops. The rush to the exit will be more like a covert crawl. And they won’t likely be going very far. The latest reports suggest that the redeployed soldiers are heading for Iraq — to bases in Kirkuk and Anbar.

A History of Ambivalence

Trump has been roundly criticized for the incoherence of his policy toward Syria. But let’s face it, Washington has never figured out how to deal with the country — its ruthless leader, its fragmented opposition, its breakaway Kurds, its covetous neighbors — since the Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011.

At the very outset, the Obama administration hesitated to throw its support behind pro-democracy demonstrators and was even more ambivalent about intervening militarily when the demonstrators chose to take up arms.

This was not surprising. Obama had been slow to withdraw support from Hosni Mubarak in Egypt earlier that year when crowds gathered in Tahrir Square. When civil strife broke out in Libya, Obama was equally reluctant to get involved, finally opting to “lead from behind” in the international effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi. The situation in Syria promised to be even more complicated and volatile.

Eventually, the Obama administration dipped its toe in the water with two principal programs, one run by the Pentagon, the other covertly by the CIA. The Pentagon’s program was a spectacular failure, with graduates of the training program either exiting the program to fight for radical groups the United States disdained or going on to ignominious defeat on the battlefield. This initiative ended in 2015.

The CIA program, Timber Sycamore, funneled billions of dollars of arms and equipment to fighters on the ground in Syria, thanks to Saudi financing and Turkish logistics. This program, too, encountered many difficulties. For instance, arms ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda sympathizers. The United States was also reluctant to go all in for fear of provoking Russia. In 2017, Trump canceled this program.

Trump or no Trump, the United States faces myriad problems in Syria. Assad has consolidated his position, with the help of Russia and Iran. The Islamic State has been reduced to a beleaguered fiefdom, but religious extremism hasn’t disappeared and a pretty unsavory group remains in control of Idlib province. The Kurds in the north have established an autonomous region, with U.S. assistance, but the Turkish government considers them a mere extension of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that it’s fighting within its own borders.

The United States can’t expect to influence this state of play in Syria, and certainly not with only 2,000 troops. So, it makes a lot of sense to pull them out. Let the Israelis and Saudis get angry, and let the Russians, Iranians, and Turks rejoice. U.S. involvement in Syria — hesitant, misguided, quixotic — has been benighted from the beginning.

Trump recently tweeted in support of his action that the United States must “stop the endless wars.” That makes eminent sense.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that Trump actually believes what he tweets. Even as he was making his withdrawal announcement, the president was directing the Pentagon to increase its air strikes on targets in Syria.

More War, Not Less

It’s ludicrous to paint Donald Trump as a peace president. The man is only selectively anti-war. He just doesn’t like the wars that other presidents started.

Trump threatened to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. He considered military options in Venezuela and discussed the potential of a coup with dissident army officers.

But it’s Iran that’s served as the focus of Trump’s most hawkish ambitions. The president hasn’t been content just to unravel the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration, alongside representatives of several other countries, negotiated with Iran. Nor does Trump want to stop at simply applying another round of economic sanctions against the country.

In September, John Bolton asked the Pentagon for military options to strike Iran. “It definitely rattled people,” a former senior White House official said. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

But Trump’s confrontational approach to Iran preceded the brashness of Bolton, who has openly advocated regime change in Iran. Shortly after entering the White House, Trump began pushing for the Pentagon to blow up Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf. Mattis, who’d been fired from the Obama administration for his anti-Iranian obsession, thought the plan was ludicrous and never provided the plans Trump wanted.

Countering Iran has been an organizing principle of the administration’s foreign policy, from helping the Saudis in Yemen to pressuring countries worldwide not to trade with Tehran. In his recent speech in Cairo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that even with the Syria pullout the administration remains focused on countering Iran, which “has spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and further into Lebanon.”

With Bolton and Pompeo by his side and Mattis departed, Trump may well go with his gut and attack Iran militarily. He’ll be encouraged in this delusion by Israel and Saudi Arabia. He’ll be looking for some way to distract the media and the American public from his disastrous record as president and the multiple investigations into his affairs and policies. He won’t care about the consequences.

The forever war in the Middle East is far from over.

The post Trump Punts on Syria appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the new dystopian novel Frostlands.