Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category


Mexico: The Other Side of the Story

In Foreign Policy,Immigration,Latin America,Legislation,Mexico,Politics,U.S. Government on April 18, 2011 by ppuentec

Students and activists gather during a drug protest against Mexico’s drug violence in Mexico City on February 17. (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

Every day we hear, read, and watch that hundreds of people are dying in Mexico due to the war on drugs. We also hear of complaints regarding the current Mexican administration and its law enforcement. What we don’t hear about in the news is what is causing the chaos and madness that is going on in America’s backyard.

Mexico has been the target of negative publicity, which continues every day whether it is regarding the war on drugs or the United States complaining about the immigration problem. What many people do not understand is that there are two sides to every story.

I. Immigration

Prior to 9/11 there were discussion of liberalizing the United States’ immigration policy under the Bush administration, but all discussions ended with 9/11. Once 9/11 happened, the focus of the war on terrorism was directed toward securing the borders, specifically the Mexican border. The focus was to keep terrorists from entering the United States through Canada and Mexico. Little effort has been devoted to the security of the Canadian border, however, despite the fact that just a few years ago at least one terrorist sought to enter the United States from the north.

One of the most disastrous projects was the border fence, which failed and has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. During this time, all the energy and negative publicity was focused on the U.S./Mexico border. Stricter enforcement policies and a dramatic increase in deportations and immigration raids have occurred.

Increased border enforcement on the southern border with Mexico obviously has had, and will continue to have, a disproportionate impact on Mexican citizens. Among other effects, enhanced border enforcement tends to exacerbate the problem of human trafficking of migrants – an industry that has grown substantially over the last decade – from Mexico.

There are false contentions that undocumented immigrants are a burden on American society, but it is the American corporations who exploit undocumented workers and who hire them. Law review articles have discussed that the United States does benefit from undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants purchase items, pay property taxes, have insurance, etc. Their contribution to our economy isn’t a large-scale number, but it is still in the millions.

We all agree that there needs to be some type of immigration reform, but not with the measures that Arizona has taken. Arizona’s stance with immigration is conflicted. The whole point of securing our borders was to prevent terrorists from coming in. As my Immigration Professor at Valparaiso said, Mexicans do not fall from the sky or appear mysteriously at the point of entry. When dealing with immigration it is important to note the intent and the history behind such measures. Arizona has failed to do this and our alienating our neighbors that we benefit from. The United States, specifically the border area, depends on the Mexican trade.

II. Mexico’s War on Drugs

In 2006, President Calderon declared a war on drugs. Since then there have been mass graves, dismembered corpses, and entire towns besieged. Rival gangs have escalated their turf battles over smuggling routes and thousands of lives have been lost. The drug criminals have expanded their shadow by intimidating police forces, using kidnapping and extortion, and trafficking migrants.

A Man digs the grave for a funeral of a Mexican policeman murdered in Juarez by members of a drug cartel (Nadav Neuhaus)

I read an article from the Huffington Post by former NLLSA Chair David Perez titled “Mexico’s Last Stand”, which talked about how Mexico’s time is running out because they are at the end of President Calderon’s term. What was interesting was that the article stated that Mexico cannot back out on the war on drugs. It is now or never. What the article failed to state was what the United States is doing to combat the demand of drugs and the supply of arms to Mexico.

People walk past symbolic chalk outlines during an April 6 march in Cuernavaca called out by poet Javier Sicillia after the death of his son, whose body was found along with six other dead inside a car a week ago in Cuernavaca. Nationwide protests against Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on drug cartels that has claimed more than 37,000 lives since late 2006 were planned all over Mexico and in cities as far as Bueno Aires, Paris, New York, and Barcelona. (Margarito Perez/Reuters)

What has been the cause of all this? Drugs. The United States demands them and Mexico supplies them. The same goes with weapons. Mexico receives its weapons from the United States. As long as the demand is there the supply will continue to meet this demand and lives will be lost. Back in March of 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington must do more to stop limit the movement of weapons into Mexico and to address the drug demand. Little has been done, however. Drugs continue to be smuggled in and the problem worsens.

Where is the United Nations and why aren’t they addressing the flagrant human rights violations due to the mass killings and political assassinations in Mexico? Where is the transitional justice? Countries with similar human rights violations such as South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone have received assistance from the United Nations. There are several different initiatives that countries have adopted as approaches to transitional justice: criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, amnesty, monetary compensation, symbolic compensation, and institutional reform. The mass murders and the political assassinations are violations of international law and the United Nations should have stepped in by now. On October 18, 2010, 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia became the police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, Mexico. She later fled to the United States to seek asylum because she feared for her life and the life of her child. Innocent people are dying in Mexico every day because of the war on drugs. The result: people are fleeing to the United States.

The United States government is ignoring what is going on in Mexico and should be focusing its efforts on the people who are demanding the drugs and supplying the weapons. Instead it is focusing on undocumented immigrants. As long as Mexico is continuing to destabilize, there will be more immigrants trying to enter the United States. The United States’ efforts should be toward helping Mexico combat the war on drugs and taking responsibility for the drug demand. “Ignoring the sending country as an explanatory variable yields a sad sort of policy solipsism.” Bernard Trujillo, Mexican Families & United States Immigration Reform, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 415 (2010).


Kevin R. Johnson and Bernard Trujillo, 9/11 Five Years On: A Look At the Global Response to Terrorism: Immigration Reform, National Security After September 11, and the Future of North American Integration, 91 Minn. L. Rev. 1369 (2007).

Bernard Trujillo, Mexican Families & United States Immigration Reform, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 415 (2010).


Priscilla Puente-Chacon is a second-year law student at Valparaiso University School of Law and serves as NLLSA’s Public Relations Director.



Plight of Puerto Rico: constitutional violations rampant, yet undiscussed by rest of the country.

In Foreign Policy,Latin America,NLLSA on March 26, 2011 by NLLSA South Atlantic Regional Director Tagged: , , ,

As of December of last year, students of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have protested against an increase in tuition and faced brutality from the local government. Initially, the students demanded to know the reasons for what they saw as an arbitrary tuition hike, but they are still waiting for those reasons, according to several eyewitness accounts.  All they received was a declaration capping the increase at $800. Consequently, the highest tribunal of the island issued an order that prohibits demonstrations on the UPR campus. Law enforcement officials got a green light to enter the campus in order to disband the protests, but their effort degenerated into indiscriminate violence against students exercising their rights to free speech and assembly, as well as against thousands of civilians who joined them in support. It has been months since the situation reached a boiling point caused by the police’s violent crackdown. The fundamental freedoms of American citizens, specifically Puerto Ricans of course, are being ignored.

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This is old history, however. In the 1970s, after the police entered the UPR’s campus, they killed a female student when suppressing protests. After great public outrage, the government enacted a Non-Confrontation Policy that barred police entry into the campus, designed to prevent future violence from the cops against the civilian population they are supposed to serve and protect.

The student protests of December 2010 are framed by an uproarious context. In the past two years, Puerto Ricans have faced increased unemployment, budget cuts from the government, and protests from public sector workers as well as teacher’s unions demanding better wages and working conditions. UPR protests are not uncommon, since the threat of privatization looms on the horizon, on top of rising tuition.

However, in midst of the recent protests at UPR, the current Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, abandoned the Non-Confrontation Policy. The UPR’s administration shut down the campus in December of 2010 and held its own students captive inside: protesters and non-protesters alike, without food or water, according to one UPR alumn source.

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The use of force against one’s own citizens is a classic human rights violation under international law. See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. For a current example, Libya serves our purposes.  What is equally surprising to me is the absence of media coverage about these events, happening inside this country! I suspect that if similar happenings were noticed in the Continental USA, the authorities would have been put in their place long ago. Imagine police violence of this type in the Midwest (Wisconsin sound familiar, anyone? ), where teachers’ unions have protested for wage cuts in the public school system. I wonder of anyone can visualize that happening in 21st Century mainland USA. It appears that Puerto Ricans are treated as second class citizens, akin to our African-American brethren during the 1960s. They similarly faced oppression from governmental authorities (good old boys in the police, judiciary) until the nation took notice of their struggle, and the nation evolved. Through that suffering, this country emerged into a better one.

On March 2, 2011, Congressman Luis Gutierrez declared his indignation at the rampant human rights abuses taking place in Puerto Rico. Mr. Gutierrez described police brutality, racial profiling, silencing protestors, violating the First Amendment’s freedom of expression, and even efforts by the judiciary to silence the local bar association (which was striving to educate its members about the impropriety of covering for the government’s abuses and how to denounce corrupt practitioners) to name a few. The ACLU of Puerto Rico has also taken notice: “Human Rights Crisis in Puerto Rico: First Amendment Under Siege.”

In essence, I am surprised that this information has not been given proper coverage and importance. I believe the media and the government to be cooperating in dominating (or selecting?) content on the airwaves, the internet, and news networks. What is broadcasted as “news” and is on everyone’s lips is not the ongoing atrocity in Puerto Rico, but distractions like Charlie Sheen’s most recent ramble, or the merits of allowing homosexuals to fight for their country (as if sexual inclination mattered when the enemy is shooting to kill).

At present, classes are ongoing at UPR, but the student protests continue, along with the police oppression. (See  more photos here.) I await a peaceful outcome to this mess, and hope that  the Federal Government puts Puerto Rico’s caudillos (strongmen) in line. Peace to all. Fight the good fight.

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“Presunto Culpable”: A Film All Law Students Must See

In Latin America,Mexico,NLLSA on March 13, 2011 by Barbara Tagged: , , , ,

Imagine being picked up off the street after a long day of work by a group of men you’ve never seen before and being told “You did it,” over and over again. You have no idea what they are talking about and the next thing you know, you’re being tried for murder. Your lawyer is practicing law under falsified documents and you are eventually convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

This is the story of Toño, a Mexican man who was falsely accused of murder. He contacted two lawyers who had been conducting statistical research on criminal justice in Mexico after learning of their short film, El Tunel, to see if they could help him with his case. Over a two-and-a-half year period, these lawyers captured Toño’s story on film and the result was “Presunto Culpable,” or “Presumed Guilty.”

When I saw this film, I had no idea what the judicial system in Mexico was like or what happened when defendants were accused of a crime. I had never seen a Mexican courtroom, much less a trial, and was curious to compare this system with the U.S. criminal justice system.

I was shocked by what I saw. Defendants’ files, compiled by the prosecution, were placed in stacks several feet high in warehouses. The “courtroom” looked like a standard office building, and the defendant was not sitting next to his lawyer but stood behind bars in a small cell behind the judge. Defense attorneys could not ask questions about anything that was already in “the file.” The judge would repeat everything that was said by the parties, even though the court reporter was within earshot of all who were present. As a result, the record only included the judge’s words.

This film demonstrated the terrible odds that many criminal defendants face in Mexico, primarily because they live in a system where they are guilty until presumed innocent. Toño shared a cell with twenty other men, many of whom were accused of crimes they did not commit and most of whom were young adults. While Toño had a team of attorneys to assist him with his case, the vast majority of these men will serve their sentences without any chance of appeal.

It is important for all law students to see this film to know about the injustice happening in Mexico. It will forever change the way you think about a courtroom, how parties can present evidence, and what the judge’s role is in the process. You can hold a film screening at your law school. For example, La Alianza at Vanderbilt Law School, the Latin American law student association at Vanderbilt, is holding a screening on Wednesday, March 30. Screenings last fall were held at Berkeley and Harvard.

To learn more about Presunto Culpable, visit the film’s website (in Spanish) at

You can also view the film’s Facebook page and the PBS page that describes how the film was made. Until March 31, you can watch the film in its entirety.

Finally, you should read last week’s New York Times feature story on the film to get a sense of what has been going on recently. You’ll never think about the judicial system the same way again.


Barbara Barreno is a third-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School and Chair of the National Latina/o Law Student Association.


Columbia’s M.A. Program in Regional Studies-Latin America and the Caribbean

In Academic,Latin America,NLLSA,Universities on February 13, 2011 by Barbara Tagged: , , , ,

The 1-year interdisciplinary M.A. program in Regional Studies—Latin America and the Caribbean (MARSLAC) at Columbia University provides a broad social science-based approach to modern and contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean. The curriculum combines core seminars on region-specific scholarship and research with the opportunity to take courses in different disciplines throughout Columbia University.

During the first semester, students obtain solid foundations in the most relevant scholarship on key issues of contemporary Latin America (democratization, rule of law, urban development, environmental change, trade and immigration, gender relations, cultural expression of diversity, among others). In the second semester they hone research methodologies and the critical use of scholarship in order to develop their own projects and complete an M.A. thesis.

The program is ideal for both professionals seeking regional knowledge and students intending to pursue a Ph.D. and prepares graduates for careers in government, public policy, non-profit organizations, journalism, education, the private sector, and academia.

For more information about MARSLAC, please visit or contact The deadline to apply for the fall semester is Friday, April 1, 2011.


Comparing Egypt’s Present Uprising with Latin America’s Past

In Foreign Policy,Latin America,NLLSA on February 10, 2011 by Barbara Tagged: , , , , , ,

The Arab League announced this week that the third Arab-Latin American summit, which was to be held in Lima, Peru from February 13-16, has been postponed indefinitely due to the unrest in Egypt. This summit, when held, will bring together the leaders of over twenty Arab nations and twelve countries that comprise Latin America to discuss trade and commercial relations.

Similarities between these two areas of the world may not easily come to mind, but in the past few days various articles and blog posts have compared the civil unrest in Egypt and to a lesser extent Tunisia to past uprisings in Latin America and opined about possible future uprisings. Several authors have explained why the present movements advocating for new governments in Africa are not likely to spread to South America. Others, however, have raised the possibility that countries such as Cuba, in certain circumstances, may be vulnerable to mass protest.

Click on the articles and posts below for more information about these comparisons:

The Wall Street Journal – Will Cuba Be the Next Egypt?

Nearshore Americas – Egypt Violence: Could it Happen in Latin America?

Council on Hemispheric Affairs – Possibility of the Wild Fire Crossing the Atlantic?

Global Voices – Latin America: Drawing Parallels with Egypt


Barbara Barreno is a third-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School and Chair of the National Latina/o Law Student Association.


The American DREAM

In Academic,DREAM Act,Immigration,Jobs,Latin America,Legislation,Mexico,NLLSA,Politics,Supreme Court,U.S. Government on August 21, 2010 by nllsachair

From a recent article on the Huffington Post’s website written on behalf of NLLSA:

Given the increasing importance of a college education, it’s finally time for Congress to end this absurdity and pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (“DREAM Act”). The DREAM Act, a bipartisan proposal, would provide qualifying students the opportunity to go to college or enlist in the military. To qualify an immigrant must have lived continuously in the United States for five years or more, have good moral character, and either earn a two-year degree from an accredited college or serve at least two years in the U.S. military within a six-year span.

If passed, the DREAM Act would restore every student’s right to finish her studies and to continue dreaming.


Indeed, immigrant students who go to college later step into higher-paying jobs, increasing our tax revenue and consumer spending. This is a win-win for America: more education and more jobs.

Read the full piece here.


Registration Open for 2010 NLLSA Moot Court Competition at Yale Law School

In Academic,Immigration,Latin America,NLLSA,Politics,Sotomayor,Supreme Court,U.S. Government on July 2, 2010 by nllsachair

September 30 – October 2, 2010

Yale Law School

New Haven, CT

May the Immigration and Nationality Act impose different residency requirements on unwed citizen-fathers as compared to unwed citizen mothers whose foreign-born children seek derivative citizenship?

Latina/o law students from around the country will try to answer that question during the annual NLLSA Moot Court Competition this October at Yale Law School.

The Moot Court question is now ready for release.  Registration forms can be found here. More info after the jump. Read More »