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Cunningham: Flu Crisis Brought U.S., Mexico Together

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Presidential summits have a well-deserved reputation for being much talk and much less action. President Barack Obama’s April 16 summit in Mexico City with that country’s president, Felipe Calderon, certainly had its share of high-flown, friendly sounding rhetoric.

“Today … we have confirmed the determination of both governments to consolidate the very, very close contacts and links that join and bring together Mexico and the United States,” President Calderon offered. “I see this visit … as an opportunity to launch a new era of cooperation and partnership between our two countries,” President Obama responded.

And then, just seven days later, that rhetoric was put to a real test. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mexican citizens were thought to be sick with a new epidemic flu, and dozens or even hundreds were thought to be already dead. The disease seemed to have almost immediately spread to the United States — including at least one member of President Obama’s traveling party in Mexico. Within days, Mexico City was effectively shut down and newspapers in both countries — and around the world — blared the possible arrival of a major new pandemic influenza with the potential to kill millions around the world.

And in the face of mounting hysteria, the response of both Mexico and the United States was an almost perfect display of the cooperation and partnership the presidents had loftily promised.

As the H1N1 virus broke out, some countries hastily canceled flights to Mexico and some halted trade. Not the United States. When some in this country called for shutting the border, President Obama forcefully rejected the idea and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called it “pointless.” This decision not only made practical sense — since the virus had already jumped to the United States, closing the border would have done nothing more than wreak economic havoc on both economies — but the symbolism carried great weight in Mexico. After all, just a year ago the United States was talking about building a wall between the countries. All three Mexican political parties, in a rare demonstration of agreement, applauded the Obama administration’s response.

Mexico did its part to act responsibly. Rather than hiding its problem or refusing to accept outside help out of a misplaced sense of “dignidad,” or the fear of exposing holes in its public health system, Mexico did not hesitate to immediately ask the United States for material support. The Mexican authorities worked closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and their Canadian counterparts, sending them suspected samples for testing that went beyond Mexico’s capabilities. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the United States would send 400,000 regimens of antivirals to Mexico. Dr. Richard Besser of the CDC reported that 34 CDC staff were in the field in five locations in Mexico. The CDC helped Mexico build a lab capability to do diagnosis and confirmation of the H1N1 virus in Mexico itself — a major step that allowed faster confirmation and response, and a shorter path to identifying risk factors.

In short, officials in both countries cooperated closely without the crippling lack of trust that has frustrated our joint efforts in the past, and that we still find to an extent in law enforcement and narcotics matters.

Now that the immediate threat of a killer pandemic has receded (the CDC recently dropped the advisory against unnecessary travel to Mexico, though a recent death and more infections and school closings in New York and elsewhere suggest the danger is not past), it is possible to look back on these events of the past month and see true signs of a new, stable and confident relationship between the United States and Mexico.

In fairness, of course, Obama and Calderon did not wave a wand and create this new relationship. They have benefited from nearly 20 years of close cooperation — from Bush 41 and Carlos Salinas to Clinton and Ernesto Zedillo, and then to Bush 43 and Vicente Fox — that started with the negotiation of NAFTA. Setting aside the lingering public unease over NAFTA’s economic impact, it’s plain that NAFTA did one thing very well: It helped cement a mindset of shared responsibility and institutional frameworks that promote open exchanges between our governments. Notably, of course, President Obama is no longer talking of renegotiating NAFTA.

Presidents Obama and Calderon are both mature, thoughtful leaders, and they have fully embraced this 20-year evolution and may yet bring it to a new level — truly a “new era of cooperation and partnership.” How they and their governments handled the brief but intense H1N1 public hysteria tells us a lot about how we can expect them to develop their own personal relationship, and that of our countries, in the years ahead.

Next up, perhaps, is an issue that touches deep emotional chords in both nations: immigration, and the fate of the millions of Mexican “illegals” living in the United States. Comprehensive immigration reform is an urgent political need; but maneuvering through the political backlash that progress will unleash will require the skilled management and cooperation we showed during the H1N1 scare.

In August, the three leaders of North America — Mexico, Canada, United States — will meet in what has now become a once-yearly North American Summit. President Obama deserves credit for seeing the value of these meetings, which started during the time of his predecessor George Bush. The flu tested our relationships — and found them strong. Now, on to new challenges.

In the face of mounting hysteria, the response of both Mexico and the United States was an almost perfect display of the cooperation and partnership the presidents had loftily promised.



New Poll Finds Wide, Bipartisan Public Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Today, I participated in a national conference call announcing the release of new polls by our friends at America's Voice and pollsters Pete Brodnitz and Celinda Lake. The polls confirm what we have known for some time - that Americans want their broken immigration system fixed, that they overwhelmingly support the principles of what we call comprehensive immigration reform, and that they believe Congress can tackle immigration reform while addressing more pressing national problems.

The new polls make clear that the political conditions are sufficiently favorable for the President and Congress to mount a major effort to reform our broken immigration system this year.

Results of Spring 2009 Focus Groups on Immigration, Lake Research Partners, 6/1/09

Recent Polling on Immigration Reform, Benenson Strategy Group, 6/2/09

Polling Snapshot from the Past Year, America's Voice, 6/2/09

All of the polling can be found on the America's Voice Web site.

It is our sincere hope that these new findings - consistent with years of public opinion research - will help inform the bipartisan congressional meeting at the White House to take place next Monday, June 8.

To learn more about why we at NDN believe that passing comprehensive immigration reform must be one of our highest priorities this year, see our recent backgrounder on the issue, which includes my presentation, Making the Case for Passing Immigration Reform This Year.

For more on this critical issue, I invite anyone reading this to join me for a Web-only "Immigration Reform Seminar" I will be conducting this Thursday, June 4, at 12:15 p.m. ET. In the seminar, I will be reviewing the basic case for why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, and will be available for questions and back and forth with our audience. You can participate in the seminar by visiting ndn.org/livecast.

The poll finds that when voters hear that comprehensive reform entails securing the border, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, and requiring those undocumented immigrants already here to register for legal status, pay back taxes, and learn English to be eligible for U.S. citizenship, 86% support comprehensive reform, with 58% strongly supporting it. With only 7% strongly opposing the plan (14% total oppose), there is little strong opposition. More than 8 in 10 members of all political parties support this form of immigration reform, as do nearly 9 in 10 voters undecided as to whom to support in the 2010 Congressional race.

Some additional findings:

  • Since a previous America's Voice poll in November, support for comprehensive reform has been stable (and high), but increasing numbers of voters see the economic benefit of passing comprehensive immigration reform.
  • With tighter government budgets and local trusted businesses going under, the poor economy is exacerbating problems, and voters are increasingly saying immigration reform should be enacted immediately.
  • Although voters see the benefit of both putting off immigration reform to focus on dealing with the economy and the benefit of addressing both simultaneously, more say that both should be done at the same time and that they are related.
  • By 59% to 39%, voters favor the idea that Congress can handle multiple issues at the same time and should tackle immigration reform this year over the notion that Congress has too much on its plate this year with the economy and health care reform and should wait and tackle immigration reform later.

Of all the important work NDN has undertaken in recent years, I am perhaps most proud of our sustained and spirited advocacy for fixing our broken immigration system. This poll confirms that the conditions for finally getting this done are sufficiently favorable for passage this year, and we are at NDN are anxious and ready to work with friends and allies to do all that we can to get this done by year's end.





Monday Buzz: Immigration, ObamaNet, Una Latina en la Suprema Corte, and More

NDN was one of the first organizations in Washington to explain and celebrate the growing influence of Hispanics in American politics. So it's no surprise that we drove the narrative on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination in many of the nation's largest media outlets. Simon discussed the impact of Sotomayor's nomination in the USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, Politics Daily, and the Mexican paper Excelsior. Here are a few excerpts. From the SF Chronicle article, which also makes extensive use of NDN polling data:

But the president's decision to nominate a daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants will have impacts far beyond the court, said Simon Rosenberg, who heads NDN, the Washington, D.C., think tank formerly known as New Democrat Network.

Rosenberg called it "an acknowledgement and affirmation of the great demographic changes taking place in America today. The percentage of people of color in the United States has tripled in just the past 45 years, and America is now on track to become a majority-minority nation in 30 to 40 years."

Andres Ramirez, NDN vice president of Hispanic programs, said the demographic wave has reshaped voting patters and elections and will recast the look of Congress - and the fortunes of the two major political parties - in the next decade.

In the USA Today piece, Simon talks about how Obama will use his online advocacy machine to push his Supreme Court pick:

"Look, the Obama team is using all the tools every day, and we should expect that," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network, and a pioneering advocate of the use of new media in politics. "This (nomination rollout) had clearly been in the works for some time. They were prepared. They were firing on many cylinders. This is going to be a full, frontal battle over the next several months and the administration is ready and confident."

But that doesn't mean it will be clear sailing.

"It won't be the old pitched battles where there would be 20 or 30 traditional groups fighting it out in Washington," Rosenberg said. He said "amped up" communications through blogs and social networks make a more complicated debate with more actors and activists involved.

And from Salon:

"The Republicans are going to have to be extremely careful," Simon Rosenberg, who's spent a long time analyzing the role of Hispanics in American politics as president of the New Democrat Network, told Salon. "After years of demonizing Hispanics, if they oppose her and it looks political, they're risking further injury with this fast-growing segment of the electorate... There's no road back for the Republican Party that doesn't have them repudiating what they've done on race over the last generation."

Andres also weighed in on Channel 13 Action News in Las Vegas on Sotomayor's nomination, and discussed how Nevada figures into the immigration reform fight in the Las Vegas Sun:

The Republican Party’s stance puts it “in a delicate position” with the increasingly important Hispanic electorate in Nevada and nationwide, according to Andres Ramirez, vice president of Hispanic programs at NDN, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization.

In Nevada, three of four Hispanic voters supported Obama in the general election, according to exit polls — the second-highest show of support among Hispanics nationwide, after New Jersey. In the same election, Hispanics cast 15 percent of all votes in Nevada, a 50 percent increase compared with 2004’s tally.

Immigration, Ramirez said, is a litmus test for Hispanic voters — if they think a candidate, or party, is hostile on the issue, they will show less interest in the candidate’s or party’s overall platform. This occurred in the 2008 election, analysts say.

So the party could “risk alienating Hispanic voters more” by opposing a comprehensive bill, Ramirez said.

Finally, Simon was the kicker quote in a story in the Boston Globe on business warming to the Democrats.

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