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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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IPS Blog

Entries since August 2011

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Obama Announces Deportation Policy Reform

August 18, 2011 ·

The announcement today that the Obama administration will review the deportation cases of more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants is one positive step among many missteps in an administration that has failed to provide a coherent strategy on immigration.

On the White House blog, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz talks about the steps that will be taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create that review committee which will review those deportation cases:

DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. 

It remains to be seen if this latest announcement is the beginning of a pivotal moment where Obama begins shifting to a more liberal immigration policy, or if months from now we see it as the only moderately positive step among many negative ones.

Throughout his time in office, Obama has let immigration policies evolve on their own, providing little input other than periodic speeches in Latino-heavy areas. By making no comment on congressional increases in enforcement-related spending, while opting to ratchet up enforcement policies that raise the number of deportations, Obama created the need for political actions like today’s.

300,000 cases is a small fraction of the entire undocumented population, and much more reform will be needed at the congressional level to move the country forward. The question is whether Obama and his administration can recognize that their actions on beefing up the "deportation pipeline" that Muñoz talks about, i.e. their support for mandatory Secure Communities, are likely to do more damage than any cosmetic reforms to the prosecutorial process can undo.

Reframing Development in the Age of Vulnerability

August 17, 2011 ·

The contemporary triple crises of finance, development, and environment, which have shaken the global economy since 2008, have exposed what should be seen as the Achilles heel of the dominant development theory and practice of the past thirty years: vulnerability.  The crises not only add momentum to the delegitimization of the old model, but also offer legitimacy for paths that lessen vulnerability and increase what we term “rootedness” – a term we prefer to “resilience” and “sustainability”.

Over this past year, the two of us have traveled and looked into the many different factors that make countries more or less rooted in this age of economic, environmental and social vulnerability.  Our first academic article from this research (from which this blog is drawn) was just published in Third World Quarterly.  The article moves from development in theory and practice, to case studies, and then offers 13 such measures with appeals to United Nations’ agencies and governments to start measuring them.

To cull key points for this Triple Crisis audience: Prior to the late 1990s, proponents of the “neoliberal” model ignored the fact that market-opening policies might leave countries tragically vulnerable to external shocks.  But, such shocks did appear.  A financial crisis that started in Thailand in 1997 spread around the world in what became known as the Asian financial crisis.  Then, a decade later, the year 2008 became a perfect storm of deleterious impacts of the vulnerability path: A global food price crisis erupted at the beginning of the year.  Another global finance crisis spread around the globe in September and October.  And environmental crises of climate, water and biodiversity shook the world.

Separately and collectively, the crises have exposed a range of adverse aspects of households, communities, and countries being overly vulnerable in economic, environmental, and social terms. By the turn of the 21st century, most countries were significantly open to global trade, investment, and finance.  Indeed, by 2007 the value of trade (imports and exports) was greater than the value of GDP in 71 countries around the world.  Only in Brazil, the United States, and the Central African Republic was trade as low as a quarter of GDP.  Analyzing statistics in 2009 as the financial crisis spread, one sees that many Western and Eastern European countries have very high dependencies on trade and suffered sharp decreases in GDP that year.

Likewise, the bigger Latin American countries that are most trade dependent, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela, all had GDP shrinkages in 2009. A key point here: countries that were more trade and investment vulnerable, like Mexico, suffered more in human and economic terms than countries that were less vulnerable, like India.  Most African countries, less trade dependent than other regions, grew in 2009, albeit at lower rates than before the crisis.  Asian countries such as the Philippines present a more complicated picture.  Many are highly trade dependent but have done relatively well in terms of GDP growth since the onset of the crisis, as they have fed off of continued growth in China and India.

Our analysis emphasizes that these post-2008 vulnerabilities faced by many nations were the result of conscious policies.  Nations became vulnerable to food price hikes because policies encouraged food imports.  Nations became vulnerable to financial crisis because their banking systems were consciously opened to global “hot money” flows.  Countries’ forests and fishing grounds were consciously opened to plunder by foreign firms.

For decades, we have joined critics of this model from various disciplines to pose alternative frames of development.  Some centered on human rights, some on ecological balance, some on participatory or “living” democracy, some on redistribution and equity, and some on combinations of all four.  Our current research leads us to believe that, in this current era of vulnerability, such frames can be integrated under the overarching frame of rootedness.

Building case studies of the Philippines and Trinidad (and subsequently adding El Salvador), we suggest that households and communities and countries fall along a spectrum of vulnerability versus rootedness in economic, environmental, and social terms.  Some are more vulnerable and some are more rooted in different of these categories.  We then spell out 13 key measurements to assess where households or communities or countries fall on the spectrum.  We contend that these measurements and this frame provide a more revealing lens to assess “development” obstacles and opportunities.

Our 13 measures merge our own research with important work over the past decade on alternatives from fora like the World Social ForumSocial Watch (and their Basic Capabilities Index), and citizen groups like the U.S.-based New Economy Working Group.  We also draw from a series of commissions and studies around the world that attempt to lay out new indicators to measure well-being and progress as a replacement for the universal measure of gross domestic product.

In sum: Rootedness could be key to enhanced well-being for communities and countries in the 21st century, given the Achilles heel of vulnerability.

* Robin Broad is Professor at the International Development Program, School of International Service, American University.  John Cavanagh is Director of the Institute for Policy Studies. Their most recent book is Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match (2009).

The Lineup: Week of Aug. 15-21, 2011

August 15, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Matias Ramos explains why states should allow undocumented immigrants who have graduated from their high schools to pay in-state tuition. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.


  1. Diplomas vs. Deportation / Matias Ramos
  2. AT&T Takeover of T-Mobile Won't Create New Jobs / Dave Saldana
  3. How to Make the Super Congress Open and Accountable / Andre Francisco
  4. Truckers Play a Key Food Safety Role / Amanda Hitt
  5. Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? / Donald Kaul
  6. Illegal Foreclosure Epidemic / Jim Hightower
  7. We've Come a Long Way, Baby, Since 1776 / William A. Collins
  8. Deporting Mom and Dad / Khalil Bendib

Deporting Mom and Dad

Unconventional Wisdom: Rebuilding the American Dream

August 12, 2011 ·

The United States and the world face an enormous crisis. It's an economic crisis for sure, with all that means in lack of jobs, lack of housing, lack of health care, and lack of education. But it's equally a crisis shaped by endless war, by environmental injustice, and by discrimination. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us so many times, the enemy is the "giant triplet of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism."

King's words  still ring true. We've learned that the best movements are those that speak to all of those urgent needs, and that fight against racism, poverty, and war. The Rebuild the Dream coalition recognizes that King’s vision remains unfulfilled, and is starting to pull together, through the new Contract for the American Dream, a new movement-in-the-making to challenge power, to reach out to new allies, and to build bridges instead of walls.

IPS is working hard to generate ideas and policies around many of the core 10 pieces of the contract, and we're collaborating with a broad coalition of citizen groups on many of them.

Stopping the wars is central to our work. Ending corporate tax dodging, taxing Wall Street speculation, and ensuring the top 2 percent pay their fair share are also key elements of our policy initiatives as is a new program for green Main Street jobs as the centerpiece of a new economy. All this is part of the Contract for the American Dream.

As Dr. King also taught us, changing the world and changing history requires powerful people’s movements. We're enthusiastic co-creators of this one.

Dragnet Nation

August 10, 2011 ·

The Secure Communities program was always an intended tool for the war in Eastasia. Or was it Eurasia?

There is no societal benefit to family separation. CC Photo by cfpereda.The Obama administration continues to use Orwellian language in its quest to take the over-reaching Secure Communities nationwide. This pilot fingerprinting program would create a deportation dragnet for undocumented immigrants around the country. After struggling to nail down memoranda of agreement in states like Illinois and New York, and counties like Arlington, Virginia, the administration is now saying that local governments can't demand to be exempt from this program. Rather than listening to mounting concerns from state and local officials, it has dropped the premise that states, counties, and cities can opt out of this program.

Secure Communities hit a roadblock recently, when a judge ordered it release documents detailing its relationship with the FBI. Now the government is making the ICE-FBI relationship official, and has canceled its previously signed agreements with state governors. From the New Mexico Independent:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent out letters to 39 governors Friday, terminating all existing memoranda of agreement between states and ICE for the Secure Communities program, which shares fingerprints collected by state and local law enforcement to deport criminals. The letters say simply that such MOAs are not necessary to enforce the program.

ICE's letters made the claim that it doesn't have to ask for the information if it can get it from another federal agency. Here's an excerpt from the letter sent to Delaware Governor Jack Markell [pdf]:

ICE has determined that an MOA is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities in any jurisdiction. Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs.

This announcement, made last Friday, shows that ICE is being lazy in trying to justify its own powers. By claiming that it can simply share the information that the FBI gets, it avoids any obligation to meet the needs of the actual communities the agency says it wants to secure. Those communities have been calling for a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants for years, and have fought back this enforcement-only approach.

My fear is that President Obama's penchant for seeking the political center of every argument will render him unable to take a stand for humane immigration reform if and when such debate in Congress happens. As of now, it's hard to imagine it happening before 2013 at the least. Until then, there could be millions more deportations. And, millions more undocumented immigrants could wind up spending the rest of their lives on the underground economy. 

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