Complex Problems with Asylum in the U.S.It is no secret that the U.S. immigration system is broken. With thousands of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is detaining them at the border. CBP has effectively jailed immigrant children in detention camps. There are somewhat secretive limits on asylum applications. In order to fix a system, it is necessary to first understand its complexities. The U.S. immigration structure as a whole is a huge and complex system that cannot be simplified into one article. This article will discuss the asylum process and specific areas that have begun to undermine asylum in the U.S.

What is the asylum process?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website defines asylum applicants as people who are “seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” The process begins after an immigrant enters the U.S. either under a different status or as an asylum applicant. An immigrant seeking asylum is required to file a form with USCIS  within one year of entering the country. They must provide extensive evidence that the applicant has a credible fear of returning to his or her home country.

As per regulation, applicants for asylum in the U.S. are able to make a claim at the U.S. border crossing or while they are in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes custody with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In fact, there is no way to request asylum in advance. Olga Byrne, Director of Immigration for the non-profit International Rescue Committee, confirmed that “There’s no way to ask for a visa or any type of authorization in advance for the purpose of seeking asylum. You just have to show up.”

After arriving at the border and going through an initial asylum interview. The interviewer then determines whether the applicant’s fear is credible. If the interviewer determines that there is a credible fear, then the applicant is released and given a court date to plead their case before an immigration judge in addition to filing the USCIS form. If it is found not credible, DHS begins deportation proceedings, though the applicant does have the option of requesting that his or her case be heard by an immigration judge.

What are the immediate problems?

The first and most immediate issue is the lack of legal counsel. The government does not provide counsel to immigrants going through the asylum process. Navigating the U.S. legal system can be difficult for anyone, let alone an asylum seeker that may or may not have full command of the English language. Having an attorney makes a significant difference. A 2016 study by Syracuse University found that having representation increases an applicant’s chances of approval for an asylum case by 40 percent.

In the same study, researchers found that 90 percent of claims for asylum in the U.S. without representation are ultimately denied. This is partly because the burden of proof is entirely on the applicant to show to the courts and USCIS that he or she is eligible under the regulations. This can be a difficult prospect for someone who does may struggle with the language or lacks have access to documents containing regulations and applicable evidence while detained.

The second issue is immense pressure to deny cases. Former immigration judge Jeffry S. Chase confirms that immigration judges are assigned quotas for cases each year. Every day, each judge sees a dashboard of their statistics with a green/yellow/red layout to show them whether they are getting through the appropriate amount of cases each day. Though the quotas are meant to help keep cases moving forward, in reality, they push judges to deny cases since denials go faster. Pushing through cases means that applicants and attorneys do not have time to build the record of evidence and ultimately build their case.

What can people do to help?

There are multiple organizations that provide pro bono representation to asylees. The Immigration Justice Campaign is an organization devoted to providing due process for non-U.S. citizens. Another organization is the American Association of Immigration Lawyers’ pro bono project, which provides pro bono immigration counsel to vulnerable populations such as asylum seekers.

For long-term solutions, it is important that people continually contact their representatives about issues in immigration. One can support immigration reform, such as getting rid of judge quotas or providing those seeking asylum in the U.S. with free legal counsel. Government employees generally are not allowed to disclose any information about their work nor are they allowed to speak publically about what goes on behind the scenes at USCIS, DHS, or similar governmental organizations, but that does not mean that they do not care. There are people in government who want to help, but they need citizens to speak up and speak out against unfair immigration policies.

The immigration system as a whole has problems, but they are not irreversible. The asylum process is currently complicated and difficult, but it does not have to be that way. With the right amount of political activism from U.S. citizens and cooperation, change is possible.

Melanie Rasmussen
Photo: Flickr

European Energy Security
H.R. 1616, The European Energy Security and Diversification Act of 2019, is a bill in the U.S. Senate that aims to incentivize and assist European and Eurasian countries to develop and utilize diverse energy sources. H.R. 1616, that Representative Adam Kinzinger introduced and nine other Representatives co-sponsored, focuses on European energy security that will incentivize American investment into European and Eurasian energy infrastructure and energy markets. According to the European Commission, European energy access is a problem for many Europeans.

The European Commission estimates that between 50 and 125 million people (at the highest estimation, 17 percent of the European population) in Europe are unable to afford the energy necessary for proper indoor thermal heating. H.R. 1616 would directly benefit these individuals, the energy poor, because of the introduction of more cost-effective energy infrastructure, an increase in accessibility in the energy markets.

European Energy Security

The Council of European Development Bank reports that energy poverty is a result of poor energy infrastructure and of the inaccessibility to energy markets. Because the majority of energy insecure homes are already poor, the lack of access to energy compounds the effects of poverty. The choice between energy and food, for instance, is a common choice for those in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution. In Europe particularly, the lack of energy infrastructure across borders is detrimental; 85 percent of those who are energy insecure live in 10 of the 32 European states. Meanwhile, natural gas is 20 percent of the energy in Europe and coal makes up 20 percent of European energy markets. Both are inefficient and the grid infrastructure makes gas and coal inaccessible.

H.R. 1616 Policy Goals and Income

H.R. 1616 would increase access to energy markets by funding the transition away from natural gas and coal through aid, increasing European access to the American energy market and funding accessible infrastructure. The bill also allocates $579.5 million to help properly create supply routes throughout Europe, and between European states, which would ensure rural access to energy. H.R. 1616 would also negotiate cross-border energy infrastructure, including negotiating environmental standards and the accessibility of an array of energy sources.

The E.U. has been diversifying some forms of energy in the status quo by increasing energy production in the Baltics on the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea. However, Europe would be unable to sustain the diversification of energy on its own due to current regulatory restrictions that the U.S. put in place, as well as the economic barrier of opening new markets. H.R. 1616 would raise the regulatory restrictions and fund the new markets, allowing for Europe to continue to decrease energy insecurity in its states. 

A Lasting Effect

H.R. 1616 will decrease energy insecurity in Europe, alleviating the effects of poverty in the lowest echelons of society, and fund the transition away from unsuccessful forms of energy production. The infrastructure that H.R. 1616 would build would increase access to energy and allow cross-border energy trade, making sure that poor states have access to energy. The current European trend of diversifying energy would continue, ensuring European energy security and diversification. The House passed the bill, and the Senate has read it and referred it to the Committee on Foreign Relations for further review.

Denise Sprimont
Photo: Flickr

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

Quotes On Poverty

There are many quotes on poverty from world leaders that make it clear what their stance is. American leaders are no different; they too have things to say about poverty. These former presidents understood the roots and the long-term effects of poverty on human beings. Below is a list of seven quotes on poverty with some background information on the former American presidents.

Seven Quotes On Poverty From Former U.S. Presidents

  1. John F. Kennedy: Kennedy served in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives until he became the 35th U.S. president in 1961. Some of his top achievements include the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Alliance for Progress. It was also Kennedy’s administration that established the Peace Corps by executive order in 1961, thanks to the increasing activism that was spreading among the West. The idea behind the Peace Corps was to find volunteers who would be willing to work on improving the social and economic conditions across the globe in order to promote modernization and development. Kennedy was quoted saying, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. [Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961]”
  2. Bill Clinton: William Jefferson Clinton enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. His two terms as President were correlated with economic prosperity from 1992 to 1998. Clinton’s vision in terms of foreign policy was intertwined with globalization as he believed that domestic events can be sharply affected by foreign events. He was quoted saying, “It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.”
  3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to be president four times even though he was known at Harvard to be an ‘unimpressive C student.’ He led the United States both during the Great War and World War II. He established reforms in the powers of the federal government through the New Deal, including the CCC, the WPA, the TVA etc. In the earlier period of his presidency, he led the “Good Neighbor” policy for Latin America and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt was quoted saying, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
  4. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Dwight D. Eisenhower was first appointed as U.S. Army chief of staff in 1945. In 1951, he became the first Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The following year, he was elected President. Eisenhower served two terms before retiring in 1961. The policy of containment became popular under the Eisenhower administration through the introduction of bilateral and multilateral treaties, including the CENTO and the SEATO. Eisenhower was quoted saying, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
  5. Lyndon B. Johnson: Lyndon B. Johnson initially served as vice president under John F. Kennedy in 1960. After Kennedy’s death in 1962, he became the 36th president himself. Johnson was widely acknowledged for his ‘Great Society’ social service programs, the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Johnson was quoted saying, “The hungry world cannot be fed until and unless the growth of its resources and the growth of its population come into balance. Each man and woman – and each nation – must make decisions of conscience and policy in the face of this great problem.”
  6. George W. Bush: George W. Bush served as the 43rd President in the United States. He is remembered as the leader of the country during the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He was involved in the policy of the fight against HIV/AIDS where he proposed a $15 billion initiative known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This initiative led to an increase from 50,000 to 3 million Africans receiving AIDS medication. Bush was quoted saying, “Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do. And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side. America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected.”
  7. Barack Obama: Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president and the first African-American president of the United States. Before being elected president, Obama served in the U.S. Senate in the state of Illinois. Obama’s main stance on foreign policy was restraint. He tried his best to limit large-scale military operations and maximize diplomatic cooperation. He shared the burdens and responsibilities of international leadership with leaders from other countries. Obama was quoted saying, “As the wealthiest nation on Earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition, and to partner with others.”

It is important to highlight these seven quotes on poverty from our leaders to remind us how national and global poverty can affect everyone’s daily lives. This effect can come through in the forms of policies or everyday interactions.

Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela's Failing Economy
People know Venezuela as one of the most diverse environments in the world because of its natural features, landscape and wide range of wildlife. Venezuela has massive oil reserves and ranks in the top list among countries such as Saudia Arabia, Canada and Iran, making it the most urban country in Latin America. However, in only approximately six years, the country has seen a drastic economic decline. Venezuela’s failing economy has placed the country in headlines across the world. This article will highlight a few casualties resulting from Venezuela’s financial crisis, as well as evaluating its causes.

The Impacts of Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

The extended effects of Venezuela’s economic crisis are hitting those who choose to remain in the country the hardest. Venezuela’s failing economy has led to a severe shortage and rationing of resources, including food, water and electricity. Despite the country being oil-rich, many Venezuelan’s are questioning why they are struggling. “It’s so unfair; we are such a rich country. It’s not fair that this is happening,” Jakeline Moncada told the Washington Post.

Many turn to natural water reserves despite safety concerns as these reserves often come from sewage drains leading to the spread of preventable diseases. Meanwhile, frequent power outages have caused water sanitation facilities to cease proper function. Physicians have noticed an increase in illness that commonly results from contaminated water and food, such as amoebiasis.

Estimates determine that more than 60,000 Venezuelans who started treatment for HIV now lack access to antiretroviral medications as a result of Venezuela’s failing economy. Many Venezuelan’s that could afford medical services before, now experience challenges attempting to access medical and health services. As a result, those dependent on medications must make costly trips to neighboring countries or hope to find donated medicines from organizations outside of the government.

As Venezuela’s economy has drastically decreased, a survey that the country’s top universities conducted estimated that more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. As the country experiences hyperinflation of 1.7 million percent, many families cannot afford to feed themselves more than one meal a day. Various organizations have ceased publishing the statistics of the country after specific data showed significant negative changes. For example, The Health Ministry stopped reporting data in 2017 after reports indicated a high rise in infant mortality rates. After the inflation rates suddenly rose, Venezuela’s central Bank discontinued publishing its figures in 2016. In this instance, Venezuelan organizations stopped sharing information once the statistics showed unfavorable characteristics.

Accessibility

Venezuela’s failing economy has led to difficulty accessing resources like medicare, and as a result, nearly 10 percent of the Venezuelan population is emigrating to other countries. Although Venezuelans are having a few problems getting out of the country, there has been a more significant challenge getting resources in. The military has restricted many resources from passing through its borders or at least the areas where they have the right to. The Pemón community, which borders along Brazil, has spoken in support of permitting assistance through its territory. This region, known as La Gran Sabana, also contains the only paved crossing between the two countries.

When Nicolás Maduro became president in 2015, many nations did not consider him the country’s leader but rather Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader. As a result, Maduro severed the remaining diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. as well as ceasing the accessibility of aid into Venezuela. Maduro has resisted outside assistance, describing the efforts as the United States desiring to meddle in Latin American affairs. However, many believe that the sudden decline results from mismanagement of funds and corruption.

Venezuela has several countries willing to provide support as it endures this period of financial difficulty. It will only receive this aid if its government allows, though, as it regulates the resources that pass through its border. Once nations can establish a common interest and agree on how to address the issue, Venezuela’s reconciliation can begin.

Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr

 

Foreign Aid in sub-Saharan Africa
In recent decades there has been a debate regarding the importance of foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa. Some have argued that foreign aid is not beneficial to developing countries, as it creates a dependence upon aid, rather than fostering growth. Empirical data does not support this view, which reveals that while there is much work necessary in developing countries, foreign aid has stimulated economic growth and positive results in the battle against poverty. The amount the United States spends on foreign aid represents a minuscule fraction of the federal budget, despite compelling evidence that foreign aid is mutually beneficial, serving the interests of the United States and other modern countries, as well as those of developing nations. One cannot overstate the importance of foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa, and if anything, countries could benefit others by stepping it up.

Benefits of Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is useful for fostering economic development in impoverished nations. In 2015, a study that the University of Western Australia conducted concluded that foreign aid had a significant and long-term positive impact on GDP growth in the 25 countries it examined. It also found that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa directly correlated with the increase in foreign aid from 1970 to 2012. Additionally, countries that received the largest amount of foreign aid also displayed the greatest amount of economic growth.

Foreign aid is also crucial for providing humanitarian aid and ameliorating suffering. In sub-Saharan Africa, the focus of foreign aid is often to reduce poverty and provide food. A 10-year case study that the Global Development Network conducted showed that Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in Kenya had positive results on poverty reduction in the country between 1999 and 2009. The Global Development Network also found that foreign aid most largely benefits the poorest of the poor, who are most desperately in need of humanitarian aid.

US Involvement

The United States could benefit from increasing its contribution to foreign aid for sub-Saharan Africa. An increase in the budget allocated towards foreign aid would not carry any substantial financial burden, as the portion of the federal budget that the U.S. currently spends on foreign aid totals at less than one-fifth of 1 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa itself accounts for only about one-third of that minuscule amount. While the costs of increasing foreign aid to the country are insignificant, there are potentially heavy costs that one can associate with inaction. Poverty and state failure in Africa can lead to refugee crises and terrorist havens, which may pose a threat to the United States’ national security. Additionally, the provision of foreign aid cultivates favorable views of the United States worldwide. As a result of aid from other countries, sub-Saharan Africa perceives the United States very positively, as 80 percent of respondents report a positive view of the country. The potential benefits, coupled with insignificant costs show how the importance of foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa extends also to the United States and other developed nations.

Following World War II, foreign aid to developing countries became a commonplace practice among wealthy nations. Foreign aid has been a successful strategy for promoting economic growth and lifting millions out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Given the importance of foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa, such aid programs should continue, and even expand.

– Karl Haider
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Immigration and US Gun Policy
Thousands on the migrant caravan were outside Arriaga, Chiapas. To avoid some of the heat of the day they began walking at 2 am. Negotiations began in the dark, and shortly after dawn, the caravan continued towards Juchitan, Oaxaca. As the U.S. tightens its immigration policy at the border, civilians throughout Central America are struggling to cope with the bloodshed largely brought about by smuggled, American-made guns. Here is some information explaining the influence of immigration and U.S. gun policy on Mexico and various other Central American countries.

Variations in Gun Laws

Mexico and the United States have different gun laws. Although the constitutions of both countries protect a citizen’s rights to bear arms, Mexico’s licensing process is more rigorous. In Mexico, only one establishment, the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), can produce and sell firearms. Anyone who purchases a gun in Mexico must register the weapon with this defense department. Even after proving employment, military service, proof of residence, picture identification, a Unique Population Registry Code and no criminal record, the country still bans some styles of AR and AK assault rifles from civilian purchase. Gun policy in the U.S. is far more relaxed giving further incentives to smugglers and those who hope to profit by obtaining guns illegally.

Smuggling Firearms has Increased

The illicit presence of U.S. guns has increased across Central America. Between 2011 and 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) found that a licensed gun dealer in the U.S. purchased 70 percent of 106,001 guns that Mexican law enforcement recovered. Forty-nine percent, 45 percent and 29 percent of guns recovered from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, respectively, were of U.S. origin. Between 2014 and 2016, El-Salvador had more U.S. sourced guns used for a crime than 20 states combined.

This type of activity, where someone purchases a gun legally only to give that firearm to someone who cannot purchase a gun legally, is a straw purchase. According to Gifford’s Law Center, U.S. law does not currently regulate or prohibit this act enough for change to occur.

Violent Crime

People use the majority of these smuggled weapons for violent crimes. The U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in 2016 that just around half of the guns that the U.S. manufactured or purchased in Mexico at the time were either semi-automatic, AK or AR rifles. Mexican government officials are concerned because these firearm models can easily become automatic in style and have become the choice weapon of gang members for that reason.

Violent gun crime has grown substantially in recent years in this part of the world. The current rate of homicide in Mexico is 20.5 per 100,000 people. The percentage of fatal shooting homicides increased from 15 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2017. Firearm usage also grew from 58 percent to 68 percent in Mexican robberies between 2005 and 2017.

Many cite the overall increase in violence as a major reason for the increased northbound movement of Central American refugees and asylum seekers. Known as the migrant caravan, groups of up to 10,000 will join together on their trek towards a less violent and less corrupt life. They are unlikely to find a solution to this type of life until their countries address their serious political problems.

The profits from gun sales in the Central American States fuel the violence and corruption still present in those countries. Weaponry will continue to pour into these countries for profit. As of February 2019, the Trump administration solidified a new approach to international arms deals allowing for little to no congressional oversight on large sales. This process is to go to the Department of Commerce instead of the State Department.

Paths Towards Improvement

Though immigration and U.S. gun policy have a close relationship as of now, there are legitimate solutions all individuals can participate in. Three possible paths to follow towards improvement include to:

  1. Encourage U.S. congressional leaders to support universal background checks in upcoming legislative sessions. Some have attempted these efforts but have not promoted them enough. A 2017 effort “to stop the flow of arms to Mexico” by one California representative and two New York representatives in the U.S. House stalled. Policymakers allow for individuals that cannot purchase guns to resort to even more opaque transactions, because they have not yet instituted background checks for all gun sales and purchases in the U.S. If it is true that people who desire weaponry will find a way to obtain it, the best option moving forward is to at least ensure every step possible is taken to keep guns out of the wrong.
  2. Support moves that would make straw purchasing and gun trafficking a federal crime. In the status quo, the only crime a straw purchaser or gun trafficker can receive charges for is paperwork violation. Any introduction of law specifically targeting those willingly involved in these acts is in the U.S. and Central America’s best interest.
  3. Increase access to data regarding specific details of recovered firearms. Being able to know the types and calibers of certain firearms could be very helpful in identifying which are the most widespread and may need increased supervision. Also, ATF reports cross-referencing types with U.S. states of origin could be very useful for local and state legislative bodies to know whether or not their direct action is necessary.

The presence of U.S. guns has become something of an epidemic for Central Americans. People in the United States and across Central America can benefit from changing the narrative surrounding immigration and U.S. gun policy.

– Fatemeh Zahra Yarali
Photo: Flickr

 

History of The United States Agency of International Development
Foreign aid refers to any donation that one country makes to help another. The United States has proven itself to be a leading figure in foreign aid projects through the work of the United States Agency of International Development (USAID). This article focuses on the history of USAID.

USAID is the United States’ foreign aid branch which is responsible for diminishing poverty, innovating development and ideological progress around the world. The organization harbors an interesting history scattered with different approaches and methods. Each decade has acted as an era to test new theories on how to best assuage purveying poverty.

A Quick Historical View

On November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order that created the first U.S. agency that would take on global development challenges. USAID emerged “with a spirit of progress and innovation.”

The need for a specific agency to handle global development projects became clear after World War II. The Marshall Plan, active from 1945 to 1949, focused on rebuilding European nations after the damaging war. This demonstrated to U.S. lawmakers that providing assistance to stabilize countries is an effective way of initiating positive change. The 1960s was the decade of development. International powers united under the belief that poverty was a moral blot in the world. Groups like UNICEF and UNDP formed to strengthen infrastructure and industrialization in third-world countries.

Since its early stages, USAID has morphed and shifted focuses. The 1970s had a humanitarian ideal, the 1980s a market-based one and the 1990s saw an effort to stabilize democracy. The 2000s have thus far been reminiscent of USAID’s original purpose.  The all too numerous episodes of violence and war have caused much of USAID’s efforts to go towards rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods and governments.

How Does USAID Implement Aid?

The history of USAID shows that while the organization has taken on multiple approaches, funding methods have remained stagnant. USAID sometimes gives donations to governments and predominantly channels them through NGOs that use the money for very specific purposes.

Many NGOs use their budget to directly affect the lives of individuals and families. Communities receive humanitarian aid in the aftermath of natural disasters. Events like these are particularly harmful to impoverished individuals, as many of them rely on agriculture as the sole means of income. Education and health services are also a primary focus of NGO groups as these are both methods to bring third-world countries onto the modern development stage.

 Which Countries Receive the Most Aid?

There are over 100 countries that receive foreign aid assistance from USAID. The history of USAID shows that countries riddled with violence are often the highest receivers.

To date, USAID has given Afghanistan the most foreign aid from the United States. The country has received a considerable $4.89 billion in total. About 73 percent of this aid has gone directly to military projects. Counter-terrorist projects are particularly important in Afghanistan, as USAID attempts to stabilize legal and judicial systems that work to hinder the threat of violent groups. This not only protects the domestic Afghan population but also works to improve U.S. national security.

Iraq, Israel and Jordan are the next three countries that receive the most foreign aid assistance from USAID. The purpose of these donations is similar to that of Afghanistan.

Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya are also big receivers but for different reasons as economic aid is the primary concern. These programs are diverse and unique to the concerns of each country. Many, however, focus on relieving the spread of disease and allocating food security to suffering populations.

 A Recent Project

When reviewing the history of USAID, it is difficult to pick just one outstanding success. The record has shown that it has integrated democracy, erected countless schools and brought the miracles of modern-day science to neglected regions.

One of its recent projects that focuses on agriculture shows that USAID plans for the future and is also pragmatic. The Avansa Agrikultura Project from April 2015 to March 2020  focuses on farming in East Timor. At its completion, the project should help 5,500 individuals in earning more income and benefitting from a nutritious diet. USAID hopes to improve the daily goings of farm life in East Timor in addition to opening international trade markets to recipients.

A glance at the history of USAID personifies it as an organization dedicated to eradicating worldwide poverty through appropriate methods. With its record, it is no secret that this U.S. foreign aid branch poses as an international leader and will more than likely continue to be so in the future.

Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr


Every year Congress must approve the fiscal budget, which includes a request for foreign aid spending from the current Secretary of State. By examining the proposals for foreign aid spending through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2008 to 2020, it highlights the United States’ international goals and concerns. A common thread amongst all three budgets is a concern of national security and instability within foreign nations.

The 2008 Congressional Budget Justification – Secretary Condoleezza Rice

In the 2008 Congressional Budget Justification, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice outlined the international concerns of the Bush Administration. As a whole, Secretary Rice requested $36.2 billion in funding from Congress for the 2008 fiscal year, as well as $6 billion in supplemental funding in 2007 for, as she details, additional expenses from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Secretary Rice stated that the overarching goal of this budget for foreign aid spending is to “mobilize our [the U.S.] democratic principles, our diplomacy, our development assistance and our compassion to win what will be a generational struggle.” As a result of this priority, much of the outlined spending in the report focused on the allocation of funds to programs that support democracy-building programs, peacekeeping, diplomacy and child-health programs. The United States, Secretary Rice details, ought to shift from a historically paternalistic relationship towards other nations in the world and, rather, act in partnership with foreign countries in the hope that it can establish positive and lasting change.

The 2016 Congressional Budget Justification – Secretary John Kerry

In the 2016 Congressional Budget Justification, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns that were similar to those of Secretary Rice under the Bush Administration. In 2016, the international sphere continued to face uncertainty. He places emphasis on this by asking that Congress “begin by understanding what is at stake – by realizing that our overseas actions, the alliances and partnerships that we form, the cooperation we engender, and the investments we make have a direct bearing on the safety of our citizens and the quality of life enjoyed by our people.” The budget that Secretary Kerry requested $50.3 billion from Congress, a marked increase from the proposal of Secretary Rice in 2008.

Despite a change in the party — from Republican to Democrat — the concerns of each administration are the same. In the 2016 proposed budget for foreign aid spending, Secretary Kerry expresses concern on behalf of the Obama Administration for the stability of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as for the health, education and safety of families around the world. Secretary Kerry asked for the allocation of $7 billion to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which works to establish stable political environments in volatile regions in which the U.S. involves itself. Also included in this budget is $5.6 billion in humanitarian aid for Migration and Refugee Assistance, International Disaster Assistance and food assistance. On a similar note to the 2008 proposal, Secretary Kerry states that “the United States will continue to do its part to ease suffering and prepare the groundwork for recovery.”

The 2020 Congressional Budget Justification – Secretary Michael Pompeo

The 2020 Congressional Budget Justification from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo strikes a different note from the previous two administrations. While a concern towards international security remains, Secretary Pompeo focuses on foreign aid spending with a more exclusionary approach to international relations.

At the start of his proposal, Secretary Pompeo outlines the concerns for international security that lie in the denuclearization of North Korea as well as the “great-power competition against China and Russia.” Secretary Pompeo currently has requested $40 billion in foreign aid spending, a decrease from the amount requested in 2016. He states that the funds will be “to protect our diplomats and our borders, recruit and develop our workforce, and continue to modernize our IT infrastructure.” The funding for democracy strengthening programs as well as health and education in poor nations continues, but a tone of gradual withdrawal from direct involvement in global affairs persists in the language used by Secretary Pompeo throughout the proposal.

Funding to international organizations has faced cuts with a decrease of $141.46 billion to approximately $2.15 billion. Overseas programs have also faced cuts with a decrease of $69.33 billion to approximately $1.52 billion and requested funding for border security is $3.75 billion. To conclude his budget request, Secretary Pompeo states that “we must continue to put U.S. interests first and be a beacon of freedom to the world.”

Throughout all three administrations, a concern for the changing and uncertain status of the international sphere is present. Foreign aid spending peaked under the Obama administration, but both the Bush and Obama administrations focused on direct U.S. involvement in world affairs as a means of spreading peace and democracy, while the Trump administration appears to have turned its focus on protecting the U.S. from threats abroad.

– Anne Pietrow
Photo: Media Defense

Ten Features of the Parliamentary System

Despite the fact that numerous nations around the world follow the parliamentary system of government, many Americans do not understand what it is. The parliamentary system is a democratic government. In this government, a coalition of political parties with the greatest representation in Parliament form the nation’s governing body. Below are ten features of the parliamentary system that describe this popular form of democracy.

Ten Features of the Parliamentary System

  1. The first of the ten features of the parliamentary system of government is the supremacy of its legislative branch. This is its defining feature. The legislative branch conducts its business through a unicameral (one house) or bicameral (two houses) Parliament. This group is composed of representatives or members that are elected by citizens of the country. The primary job of members of Parliament is to create and pass laws.
  2. The parliamentary system of government, unlike the presidential system, creates a divide between the roles of Head of Government and Head of State. Rather than citizens, members of Parliament elect the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister oversees Parliament. This creates an overlap between the legislative and executive branches of government. The Head of State in a parliamentary systam is largely a symbolic role. Hereditary monarchs typically have this role reserved.
  3. The Prime Minister has no official term length. Thus, so long as Parliament is satisfied, the Prime Minister remains in position. Should it ever be called for, members of parliament will use a majority vote known as a “vote of no-confidence” in order to remove a Prime Minister from office.
  4. Majority vote of Parliament passes laws. Then, they are then signed into legislation by the Prime Minister, who does not have veto power. This is contrary to the presidential system. In the case of disagreement, the Prime Minister can return a bill to Parliament. However, a majority vote by Parliament can veto that return.
  5. In most parliamentary systems of government, there is a Supreme Court that can declare a law as unconstitutional. This would be done if it were to pose violations against the nation’s constitution. However, some countries, such as Great Britain and New Zealand, lack provisions for judicial review. In these countries, the only check against the legislature is the results of the next election season.
  6. Though uncommon, some parliamentary systems have an elected president who exercises foreign powers. An example of some foreign powers would be national defense and military command. The elected president exercises these powers. Some countries that follow this system are Lithuania, Bangladesh and France.
  7. Though members of Parliament hold their positions in office by each election season, they can be turned out of office. If one respective party loses majority holdover members of Parliament, they can be removed. Other members of Parliament, as well as the Prime Minister, are then able to vote out a member of Parliament. A no-confidence vote accomplishes this.
  8. Parliamentary systems lack what presidential systems call “Checks and Balances.” Therefore, the parliamentary system tends to be more efficient. This is because political gridlocks cannot delay them.
  9. A parliamentary system of government consists of members serving various political parties. Therefore, coalitions are a very popular type of agreement in parliamentary governments. Members of opposing political parties will often form a coalition, otherwise known as a temporary union. This alliance utilizes its combined resources to accomplish a common goal.
  10. Depending on the rules of voting within a country, the political representation within members of Parliament may consist of one party. It may also be proportionally representative of the nation. If a country follows a “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) principle, Parliament will most likely consist of one or two majority political parties. An FPTP is a principle in which candidates with the most ballots win a seat. However, some countries follow a rule of proportional representation. This means that the political makeup of Parliament members is appropriate to that of the nation.

With so many types of government around the world, it can be difficult to understand how each works. These are ten features of the parliamentary system that can help citizens around the world have a better understanding of this popular form of government.

-Shreya Gaddipati
Photo: Flickr