Series of interviews: Obama after Midterm Elections (Susan Segal, President and CEO Americas Society/Council of the Americas)

1.     What are the implications of the mid-term electoral results in the U.S. for the political agenda of President Obama, for instance, the TPP, the immigration reform, etc.?

We should not misinterpret what the elections results really say. I think there is a general dissatisfaction on what is happening in Washington and people are exasperated with Congress and with the executive branch. So what the Republicans see as a mandate, I do not really see it that way. What the election said, more than anything, is that people want president Obama and Congress to work together to get something done.

As for the TPP, president Obama will need fast track and I do not know whether he will get it. I think that the TPP is good for the U.S. and trade policy is something that potentially Republicans can agree upon. However, the real answer is that I do not know if trade policy is something that mainstream America really thinks about.

2.     What do you think would be in the Republican agenda for the next Congressional period?

I believe that both Democrats and Republicans want to get something done. The question is whether they can agree on what gets done.

3.     What effects could the Republican victory in the last election have in the next presidential election in the U.S.?

It will depend on who the presidential candidates will be. If you look at the politics in the U.S., and this is a personal point of view, voters are basically centrists, either center-right-or center-left. But because of districting in the country, in some areas mainstream Republicans and Democrats do not necessarily win primaries. My view is that it is too early to predict what will happen and what we will see is potential candidates positioning themselves throughout the upcoming year.

4.     It seems there will not be much time for Congress to approve any major laws and then they are going to be very careful as the presidential election nears. Do you think there could be a major breakthrough related to immigration during this upcoming congressional period?

The president has, to a certain degree, said to Congress: “we need to do something on immigration and although I would prefer to have Congress pass legislation, I will use my executive power”. Hispanic votes count in the U.S., so moving forward on immigration matters seems to me very important even for Republican congressional representatives.

What I can tell you is that the U.S. has an immigration system that does not work and we need to do something to fix it. An executive action creates a space for a couple of years but it is not a permanent solution, and we need a permanent solution.

5.     How will the executive order on immigration enacted by President Obama impact U.S. relations with Latin America?

If you ask Latin Americans about this, they will argue that this is an American issue and that they cannot get in the middle of it. But if you dig down, everyone in Latin America –not only Mexico or Central America– will tell you that the current situation is untenable and inhumane, and needs to be regularized. This measure should have a positive impact on U.S. -Latin America relations because it sends the message that president Obama is trying to do something. But the optimum solution is a comprehensive immigration reform passed by the U.S. Congress, especially because there is strong support for it among the public opinion. A recent poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal showed that 67% of the respondents either strongly favors or somewhat favors providing a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. Another survey, by the Pew Research Center, found that 71% of respondents are in favor of undocumented people currently living in the U.S. being allowed to stay if certain requirements are met. Moreover, in a CBS News/New York Times poll 63% of those surveyed said that undocumented U.S. residents should be allowed to remain in the country.

6.     Under what conditions do you think the American people would accept to give U.S. residents living illegally in the U.S. a path to citizenship?

I think the American people do not want immigrants with criminal records but they do want people who pay taxes and make their social contributions. And that is fair.

At Americas Society we have a big immigration program that is a little different from others. Our project doesn’t consist of talking to Washington about immigration. It is about working with cities to create a welcoming environment for immigrants, while being neutral to whether they are documented or undocumented. We have done studies that show that immigrants going into neighborhoods raise property values and make important economic contributions. The lack of a project that would offer a permanent path to citizenship and that would allow for temporary worker visas is not positive for the economy..

7.     The numbers seem to indicate that the American people are willing to support president Obama on immigration.

Yes, and that takes us back to the beginning of our conversation.  People want Washington to work together in order to create meaningful legislation which means a comprehensive immigration legislation.

8.     In what issues do you think president Obama will focus for the remaining two years of his term? What will president Obama’s big legacy be?

That is a really good question. He is obviously focusing on healthcare, which could be his biggest legacy. I also think president Obama wants to make immigration reform part of his legacy, as well as his leadership on racial issues, which have been dominating the agenda lately. We have to add to that mix Cuba, which came into the picture a few days ago and it is a long overdue, historic step in the right direction.

9. Where does that leave U.S. – Mexico relations for the remaining two years of president Obama’s term in office?

The relation between Mexico and the U.S. should be seen in a very broad sense. The U.S. is Mexico’s largest trading partner and Mexico is the U.S.’ third largest trading partner. We are inextricably linked: every product manufactured in the north of Mexico is brought across the U.S. border three or four times before it is finally assembled. North America –the U.S., Mexico and Canada– is the most competitive region in the world, so it’s true that we have fix immigration and some other aspects of the relation, but in the long-term there is no space for a bad relationship between these three countries. We are too important to each other.

10.     How does the U.S. look at the reforms that have been approved and are currently being implemented in Mexico?

The reforms, particularly the energy and telecommunications reforms -if implemented correctly- will be groundbreaking. The U.S., especially the private sector, is very enthusiastic with the idea of investing in Mexico and as we start to see these reforms implemented, the interest will only get stronger.

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