February 09, 2018

They have been smeared, glorified, made political pawns. But who are the ‘Dreamers’ really?

Dreamers

@glenngarvin @alextdaugherty 

They touched off a political debate that has roiled American politics for years and even briefly shut down the entire federal government last month. But for all their political impact, in a country where demographics are computed, compounded, sliced and diced on practically an hourly basis, the young undocumented immigrants with DACA status live like phantoms in a statistical haze.

“We really know very little about them,” says Jessica Vaughan, directory of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors less immigration. “For a group that’s been at the center of so much controversy, we have hardly any idea of their educational and economic attainment.”

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a status that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children before 2007 to keep living and working here without fear of deportation.

DACA has been controversial since its inception — President Obama created it in 2012 through executive order rather than getting Congress to make it a law — and President Trump’s vow to abolish it next month triggered a brief shutdown of the federal government. This past week, the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, stirred outrage among some when he suggested that those who were eligible for DACA but didn’t sign up were “too lazy” to get off the couch. On Wednesday Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi commandeered the House floor for eight straight hours, the longest speech in the chamber in a century, seeking to have their status resolved as part of the latest spending plan.

Another political flashpoint is approaching, with DACA set to expire on March 5 unless President Trump and Congress can work out a compromise. Democrats have accused the president of holding the immigrants “hostage” to his desire to get Congress pay for a wall on the border with Mexico and curb legal immigration. As the controversy heats up, some supporters try to idealize DACA recipients as model citizens, while some opponents try to demonize them.

But there’s little statistical evidence to support either side. The U.S. government doesn’t collect much data on DACA recipients, and private research has met with limited success. “This is a hard-to-reach population,” says Roberto G. Gonzales, a Harvard education professor whose five-year study of 2,684 young DACA-eligible immigrants is generally considered the most extensive research project on the subject.

“Many of our traditional measures to get a representative sample don’t work well on this. It’s very difficult to do. I’m confident in our research, but you can’t extrapolate it to the entire DACA population. What we say is, it’s a very good snapshot of our sample of 2,684 people. And that’s all it is.”

Because a few hundred of those people, though they were eligible for DACA, never got around to obtaining the status, the real sample of recipients is a bit less than 2,400 — a tiny percentage of the 690,000 or so immigrants who actually have their DACA papers.

Read more here.

February 08, 2018

Why Florida’s orange growers will get more money than Puerto Rico’s broken power grid

IMG_Winter_Weather_Flori_2_1_1JD5G0MJ_L367558154

@alextdaugherty

Congress is poised to pass its first disaster relief plan since October on Thursday as part of a massive government spending deal, but the funds doled out to Puerto Rico fall far short of what Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked for in November, and more money may not be on the horizon.

Rosselló asked for $94.4 billion from Congress to rebuild and remake Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage and triggered an exodus of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland.

He got about $17 billion.

Included in the $17 billion total is $2 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid, about $15 billion less than Rosselló requested, and $4.8 billion for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid fund that was set to run out of money in a matter of weeks.

The $2 billion for Puerto Rico’s electric grid, which affects about 3.5 million people, is less than what Congress secured for Florida’s citrus industry after Hurricane Irma destroyed most of last year’s crop, resulting in a loss of about $760 million and higher orange juice prices.

Florida’s citrus industry, which employs about 45,000 people, received $300 million more than Puerto Rico’s power grid.

“Let’s put it this way, we cannot miss the fact that obviously we lack representation in Congress,” Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration executive director Carlos Mercader said. “We don’t have two senators, we don’t have four or five congressmen to be like Florida. Florida is one of the biggest delegations in Congress, and the storm in Florida happened before the storm in Puerto Rico and they were working for [citrus funding] to be included even before this last supplemental, and they got it here.”

Mercader said Thursday’s disaster funding agreement “was a very good step towards recovery” and said it was a massive improvement over the last disaster funding bill passed in October, which didn’t include any specific funds for Puerto Rico.

“We know this is a process and we’re glad that Congress included Puerto Rico,” Mercader said. “We’re glad that Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on this. Now we’re hopeful we can continue to work with them on the steps that need to be taken.”

But a Democratic aide said it was unclear if a Republican-controlled Congress will have the appetite for another massive disaster deal in 2018.

“With GOP in control, I think a lot of people around here would be surprised if we see another one this year,” the aide said. “Whether we see one next year will depend on who controls Congress.”

Read more here.

February 06, 2018

Democrats demand FEMA response on failed Puerto Rico contract

Nopower

@alextdaugherty 

House Democrats want Republicans to subpoena FEMA documents related to a failed contract for emergency meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. 

The New York Times reported Tuesday that FEMA canceled a $155 million contract to a small Atlanta-based company to deliver 30 million emergency meals after the company only delivered 50,000 meals because they were improperly packaged. FEMA said there was no shortage of available meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria despite the failed contract.

“According to these documents, one of the primary reasons FEMA failed to deliver these meals is because it inexplicably awarded a contract worth approximately $156 million to deliver 30 million emergency meals to a tiny, one-person company with a history of struggling with much smaller contracts,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., said in a statement.

Cummings and Plaskett want House Oversight chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to "produce documents it has withheld for more than three months relating to its failure to provide tens of millions of emergency meals to U.S. citizens who were victims of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico." 

The pair said there are "significant indicators" that the failed FEMA contract directly affected hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.  

“It appears that the Trump Administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Food is one of the most basic necessities for victims of natural disasters. This need is completely foreseeable—and in fact it was foreseen,” Cummings and Plaskett said.

Republicans control the House Oversight Committee and have the power to subpoena federal agencies for documents. Democrats have blasted the Trump administration's response in Puerto Rico while Florida Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott have distanced themselves from the Trump administration's response without directly criticizing the president. 

How Puerto Rico failed to influence its biggest advocates in Washington

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI (2)

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico’s needs in Washington are urgent.

The U.S. territory’s federal Medicaid funding will run out this month. Congress hasn’t passed a disaster relief bill since October. And as Hurricane Maria fades out of the daily news cycle, pushing lawmakers to act through lobbying is one arena where the Puerto Rican government can exert influence.

But Puerto Rico’s government-appointed lobbyists in Washington failed to change the island’s corporate tax status after asking at the last second; the governor urged Congress in November to authorize $94.3 billion in disaster relief — a massive sum that a Republican-controlled House and Senate isn’t likely to approve — and Puerto Rican leaders recently began a statehood blitz on Capitol Hill that even supporters in Washington say has no hope of success.

The nearly year-long negotiations on the massive tax bill in Congress are a window into the Puerto Rican government’s inability to influence the levers of power in Washington, and Hurricane Maria along with the island’s lack of voting representation in Congress aren’t solely to blame.

After failing to get legislative victories, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló attacked Republicans who agree with him on Puerto Rican statehood, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rosselló vowed to use the expanding Puerto Rican diaspora in states like Florida as political leverage in the 2018 elections.

But while Rosselló has started spending time in Florida, his office in Washington has yet to successfully influence major pieces of legislation.

The Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, PRFFA, a Washington-based group of Puerto Rican government officials tasked with representing Rosselló’s interests on Capitol Hill and the White House, constantly shifted legislative priorities throughout negotiations on the tax overhaul, which made it difficult for members of Congress to understand the island’s needs, according to multiple congressional offices.

PRFFA executive director Carlos Mercader, a Rosselló appointee, said the group’s position on taxes “was conveyed throughout the process and it has never varied, to this day.”

“PRFAA never shifted the goalposts,” Mercader said in an email. “On the contrary, it addressed different provisions as they were put forward by Congress.”

Weeks before the tax bill became law, Rosselló’s lobbyists began to argue that the bill treated companies in Puerto Rico as foreign entities under the revamped tax code, putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to their mainland counterparts. But the push came too late and wasn’t a feasible request, according to Republican and Democratic lawmaker offices who work extensively on Puerto Rican issues.

When the corporate tax change failed, Rosselló went on the offensive, publicly criticizing Republicans like Rubio for turning their backs on Puerto Rico in its time of need, three months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s entire electrical grid.

Rubio said Rosselló’s office raised objections about corporate taxes in Puerto Rico just over a week before the bill passed the U.S. Senate, adding that “the bulk of their engagement was always with the disaster relief, and rightfully so.”

But, Rubio added, “it remains to be seen” whether the corporate tax changes will have the negative affects on Puerto Rico that Rosselló claims.

Rosselló isn’t happy that the tax bill imposes a 12.5 percent tax on “intangible assets” of U.S. companies abroad and a minimum of a 10 percent tax on companies’ profits abroad. The measure in the tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

“We will analyze those who turned their back on Puerto Rico, who passed a bill that goes against the spirit of the law,” Rosselló said in December.

Read more here.

January 26, 2018

Out front or out of sight, Rubio takes Miami heat for immigration work

Marco Rubio 3

@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Maybe Marco Rubio can’t win on immigration.

Five years ago, as a first-term U.S. senator, the Miami Republican helped carry a doomed immigration overhaul bill and suffered politically as a result. Now, in 2018, he’s kept a low profile amid a fever-pitch debate over immigration — and it’s beginning to rankle some of his former political allies in Miami.

Rubio is taking heat on the home front for not being out front as Congress works to pass new immigration legislation in time to avoid another government shutdown next month. Business groups and immigration activists such as billionaire Coral Gables healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez are calling the Cuban-American senator out for doing too little to support one of the largest immigrant communities in the country.

Fernandez, despite being a former GOP donor, supported Rubio’s Democratic opponent in 2016. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday blasted his one-time mentee for lacking the political courage to on a risky issue.

“God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price,” Bush told USA Today. “That’s the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he’s working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful.”

Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Local leaders, including Miami Dade College President Eduardo Pardon, say they have been contacting Rubio’s office to talk about immigration. Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Julio Fuentes said Rubio’s office told him the senator “is not the right person to be that champion” on immigration after his efforts failed in 2013.

“Sen. Rubio is so important because of what he represents: His father came here to this country [from Cuba] in the pursuit of the American Dream. This is something that should be near and dear to his heart,” said Felice Gorordo, a board member of the bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund that Fernandez established last year to help pay for the defense of undocumented immigrants. “And yet we see him absent in this debate.”

Rubio has remained in the background as other members of South Florida’s delegation, particularly Republican Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario-Diaz Balart, have been vocal leaders for immigration legislation. In Diaz-Balart’s case, he said he chose to be criticized for staying silent about Trump’s reported “shithole” comments about nations where citizens have temporary protected status in the U.S. in order to preserve his ability to talk immigration.

Rubio’s low profile on the topic comes as a group of senators try to craft an immigration bill that could win some Democratic support in the Senate while remaining conservative enough to win support from the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump. And lately, Rubio has opened up a little about his strategy, telling the Miami Herald Thursday that legislation crafted by a small group of senators in secret has little chance of producing a bill that will pass a conservative, Republican-controlled Congress.

“I just don't think that you can produce an immigration bill that five, 10, 12 people behind closed doors drafts and then brings to the floor and basically says our job is to pass this bill and fight off everybody’s amendments,” Rubio said. “I don’t think that will work. In fact, I think that would implode in the current environment and with the current realities.”

Read more here.

January 25, 2018

How a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could diminish Miami’s political clout

008 Downtown Miami Skyline

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami.

Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire.

“The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted. The census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many people are living in a given area, and the federal government attempts to count everyone regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. If more people are counted in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to approximately 450,000 undocumented immigrants, there’s a better chance that more federal dollars for infrastructure projects or programs will come South Florida’s way.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he hasn’t decided whether it’s a good idea for the census to ask about citizenship status.

“I want to understand both arguments on it more clearly before I reach a firm opinion on it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he’s concerned some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked.

“Unless I am provided with compelling statistics and facts as to why it is necessary, I would oppose its inclusion,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

And there’s also the looming reallocation of congressional seats due to population changes that occurs every 10 years after the census, called redistricting.

Read more here.

January 22, 2018

Miami Republican says Senate-brokered promises for Dreamers 'aren't good enough'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a rebuke to her own party and a significant amount of Democrats on Monday, voting against a short-term spending bill agreed to by Senate leaders because it didn't include a legislative remedy for Dreamers, a group of nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March in Congress fails to act. 

“I’ve heard these promises once and again that we will find a permanent legislative remedy for Dreamers but a promise ain’t good enough any longer so that is why I voted no on the CR (Continuing Resolution)," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The congresswoman also mirrored the arguments of Democrats who voted against the bill, saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to debate and vote on a solution for Dreamers, which will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans, isn't the same as concocting a deal. 

"We have been duped and strung around enough so Dreamers can’t rely on broken promises any longer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will vote to approve a budget once we fulfill our pledge to these young people who know no other home but the U.S.”

Her comments were similar to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of 16 Senate Democrats to vote against the deal, which funds the government through Feb. 8. 

"Nothing in this legislation gives me any confidence that in three weeks Congress won’t end up exactly where we are today," Menendez said to CNN. 

Ros-Lehtinen's No vote differed from the majority of Senate Democrats, where moderates like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson praised McConnell's commitment to debate and vote as enough of a concession to reopen the government after it shut down on Friday night. 

"Now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

While only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, the majority of House Democrats did vote against the bill. Five other House Republicans also voted against the bill with Ros-Lehtinen because they typically disapprove of spending bills without spending cuts attached. 

Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection in 2018, though she represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican. She is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump and has signed on to multiple legislative solutions for Dreamers before an Obama-era executive order rescinded by Trump expires. 

January 18, 2018

Where Miami lawmakers stand on a spending bill without an immigration compromise

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down at 11:59 p.m. Friday unless the House and Senate pass a short-term spending bill.

The two U.S. senators from Florida and the five U.S. representatives from Miami-Dade County are divided on the spending bill, which faces opposition from conservative House Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

Keep in mind that the calculus can change quickly if an immigration compromise to protect Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — is imminent.

Here’s where the Miami-Dade delegation stands on the short-term spending bill as of Thursday afternoon:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Rubio said on Monday “you can’t shut the government down over DACA,” and is likely to support a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Nelson is undecided, and is waiting to see how the House votes before deciding his vote. The Florida Democrat is facing pressure from immigration activists to vote against a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Curbelo will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. He voted against the short-term spending bill in December due to DACA.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): Ros-Lehtinen will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. She also voted against the December spending bill due to DACA.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Diaz-Balart will vote in favor of the bill. “Shutting down the government, which among other things puts the lives of our troops in danger, would be detrimental and must be avoided,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): Wilson voted against the December spending bill along with the majority of House Democrats. She’s pledged not to support any immigration compromise that includes funding for a border wall. “I do not plan to vote for the continuing resolution unless it includes measures to protect Dreamers and TPS holders; critical funding for CHIP and community health centers; and additional disaster recovery funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and states impacted by wildfires.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): Wasserman Schultz opposes the short-term spending bill due to concerns over DACA and funding for community health centers. “We remain mired in this unbreakable habit” of passing short-term spending bills, she said Thursday.
 

Why the fate of Dreamers is fueling talk of a government shutdown in Washington

102Daca06 NEW PPP

@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down on Friday at 11:59 p.m. if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill in the next 36 hours.

Because Republicans control the government, leaders like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put together a spending bill that gains enough support to pass the House and Senate.

But some Democrats and Miami Republicans say they will vote against any spending bill if a solution for 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — isn’t imminent. Friday is not the final deadline for passing a Dreamer fix, because the Obama-era executive action called DACA, which allows Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation, expires in March. Congress has a few more weeks to come up with a deal, but lawmakers upset with the ongoing negotiations are using the Friday deadline as leverage to force action.

Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the House and Senate to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open even if leaders can’t agree on a DACA solution by Friday night.

“You can’t shut down the government over DACA,” Rubio said earlier this week. “The deadline is in March, not Friday of this week. One of the implications of doing so is that the government will not be able to process the permits that people are applying for, so it’s almost counterproductive.”

If Senate Democrats uniformly oppose a short-term spending plan because it lacks a Dreamer solution, the government will shut down, because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

But Republicans in Congress have traditionally relied on Democrats to join them on votes to keep the government open — to make up for the Republicans who are concerned about the federal deficit and object to short-term spending bills that don’t cut the federal budget.

Here are some of the biggest questions that must be resolved to pass a spending bill. Keep in mind congressional leaders will typically make last-second deals to secure the votes of members who are wavering.

Read more here.

January 10, 2018

Puerto Rico leaders create a 'shadow delegation' in Washington and demand statehood

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI

@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and a host of current and former officeholders are using newfound attention after the U.S. territory suffered a direct hit by Hurricane Maria to push for their biggest political priority: statehood. 

Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González are using a 2017 plebiscite where a small portion of the electorate voted overwhelmingly for statehood as justification for Washington to listen. The pair appeared with a group of current and former political leaders in Puerto Rico who will act as four symbolic "shadow" U.S. Representatives and two shadow U.S. Senators. The group will meet with members of Congress and their staffs to demand statehood. 

"If we were an island of 3.5 million Irishmen, we would have been a state long ago," said Carlos Romero Barceló, a shadow U.S. Senator who served as governor of Puerto Rico from 1977 to 1985.

Baseball Hall of Famer Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez is also serving as a shadow U.S. Representative, but was absent on Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict.

The effort by Rosselló and the New Progressive Party leadership is mostly symbolic but it does have precedent. Tennessee sent a shadow congressional delegation to Washington to demand recognition as a state and succeeded in 1796. Alaska carried out a similar plan in the 1950s. 

Puerto Rico's ongoing debt crisis, significant hurricane damage and complicated tax status are all barriers to statehood, and statehood doesn't appear to be a top priority for either party in Congress, though both Republicans and Democrats have signaled support for statehood in the past. 

"It is our moral imperative to demand Congress recognize 3.4 million disenfranchised Americans," Rosselló said. "It is time to end Puerto Ricans' second-class citizenship, and statehood is the only guarantee for that to happen." 

Rosselló has said he will put political pressure on those "who turned their back" on Puerto Rico during the hurricane recovery process and discussions on the tax bill, and thousands of Puerto Ricans have settled in Florida since Hurricane Maria struck the island.