The Loudest Region

Maria Camila Garcia, Johns Hopkins Foreign Affairs Review

There are many factors that contribute to the connection amongst Latin American countries: a similar culture, a strong passion for celebration, a love for soccer, essentially equal religious beliefs and a shared painful history of subjugation. However, in the past year, another aspect of these nations has become even more characteristic: massive movements that embody an enormous feeling of dissatisfaction, fear and anger resulting from inefficient governments and unfair policies.

One of the most broadcasted protests took place in Puerto Rico this past summer. United to demand a resignation from the governor, over 1 million citizens walked the streets San Juan, the capital, carrying signs with evidence of the inappropriate behavior of their public official.[1] Throughout 7 days of manifestations, arguably more, the population argued that the amount of debt due to corruption, the lack of support to the victims of hurricane Maria, and misogynistic, racist, and homophobic comments were only some of the many economic, social and political reasons why a change of leadership was necessary.[2] The outcome of this protest was in a way successful, as the governor resigned and the wishes of the people were met, however, the negative effects of his administration are ongoing. Another protest that, sadly, did not resonate globally, took place in Panama this past October. The main purpose of this movement was to reject constitutional reforms that promote discrimination, facilitate corruption and lessen punitive measures against dishonest government officials.[3] After 2 days of public rallies, the protest ended due to increasing violence from the police and army, who fired several shots at citizens part of the movement.[4] Additionally, the outcome wasn’t favorable for those unsatisfied with the government, as no change was made to the legislation or administration of Panama. Despite the clear differences between these two Latin American movements, one thing is clear; government structures in this region are unable to satisfy the needs of its population, forcing citizens to use different tools to demand and enact change, such as protests and media coverage.

As a matter of fact, in this very moment, 3 other nations are facing similar situations: citizens are collectively fighting for economic, political and social changes within their territories. In Chile, protests have received enormous attention. What sparked the demonstration was a series of actions taken by the government to raise the prices of public transportation and other basic needs such as living and public health.[5] Inequity is worsening and prompt action is necessary for the well-being of thousands, especially those with the lowest monetary incomes.[6] Despite it being an ongoing movement, Chilean protests have already achieved positive outcomes: the Congress and Senate agreed to start the process of making amendments to the constitution, which hasn’t been changed since 1980.[7] The revolution in Bolivia started on the night of October 20th and is still present by the means of peaceful marches, along with other forms of protest. According to the citizens of this nation, the results of the presidential elections that took place that same day were fraudulent and manipulated in favor of Evo Morales, a president whose time in office has surpassed a dozen years.[8] After the first 20 days of enormous protests, the population managed to force the president, Vice President, the president of the Senate, among others, to resign and called for new elections.[9] On another note, Colombia has officially reached the 5th day of its national protest, that began the 21st of November as a way to demonstrate an overall discontent for the president, Ivan Duque, whose measures haven’t been able to target or ameliorate the corruption and inequity that are very present in the country.[10] What started as a peaceful movement has recently turned into a dangerous and violent confrontation between public official and protesters, specially after the tragic death of a young high school student on the hands of the anti-disturbance squadron in Bogota, the capital.[11] Currently, the strike has sent a strong message to government officials, who have started to propose new methods of dealing with important issues and have begun to demonstrate they accept and value public opinion.[12] Still, most citizens believe it is important to continue manifesting their anger and displeasure, as a way to guarantee and achieve long run effects in the State.[13]

Overall, the large trend for public manifestations, protests and strikes, among many other ways to express desires for change, that is currently prevalent among Latin American nations demonstrates that democracies in this region are unable to satisfy the needs and wants of the majority of the population.[14] Therefore, they are essentially incapable of properly carrying out their duty and purpose. I believe that the only way to mitigate this recurring issue is through prompt restructuring of the social, economic and political facets of the individual nations through cooperation between the government and population, which is precisely what many of these mass movements strive for.  Although many of the revolutions have certainly achieved important steps towards improving weak national institutions, further international media coverage is necessary to target leaders able to influence public and private opinion, thus allowing bigger changes to occur. In this manner, the blaring voices of Latin American citizens in need will be heard from all over the world.

[1] Martinez, Gina. “Puerto Rico Protests: Everything You Need to Know.” Time, Time, 22 July 2019,

[2] Ibis

[3] Petersen, German. “Analysis | Latin Americans Are Protesting – and Throwing out – Corrupt Regimes. Why Now?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 June 2018,

[4] Ibis

[5] “’Chile Woke Up’: Dictatorship’s Legacy of Inequality Triggers Mass Protests.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Nov. 2019,

[6] Ibis

[7] Paúl, Fernanda. “Protestas En Chile: 4 Claves Para Entender La Furia y El Estallido Social En El País Sudamericano.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 23 Oct. 2019,

[8] Miranda, Boris. “Protestas En Bolivia Tras La Cuestionada Victoria De Evo Morales: Cómo Se Radicalizaron Las Manifestaciones y La Violencia En El País.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 7 Nov. 2019,

[9] Redacción. “Crisis En Bolivia: El ‘Uso Desproporcionado De La Fuerza’ Contra Seguidores De Evo Morales En Bolivia Recibe El Repudio De Organizaciones Internacionales.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 17 Nov. 2019,

[10] Semana. “¿Qué Hay Detrás Del Paro Nacional Del 21 De Noviembre?” ¿Qué Hay Detrás Del Paro Del 21 De Noviembre De 2019?,, 20 Nov. 2019,

[11] Ibis

[12] Semana. “Se Siguen Sumando Voces Que Convocan a La Marcha Del 21 De Noviembre.” Paro Nacional 21 De Noviembre Convocan En Colombia a Gran Huelga Contra Gobierno De Duque,, 14 Nov. 2019,

[13] Ibis

[14] Dinero. “Protestas En América Latina, ¿Qué Está Pásando?” ¿Por Qué Hay Tantas Protestas En América Latina?,, 4 Nov. 2019,


Steering Forward in Syrian Quagmire

Chris Park, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

Just as Mitch McConnell said, Jim Mattis’s departure from the Department of Defense more than a year ago was distressing. He was confirmed by a 98-1 vote after gaining a waiver from the National Security Act of 1947 that required a seven year waiting period between a retired military personnel could seek the Secretary of Defense spot. Kirsten Gillibrand was the sole no vote, not on the basis of Mattis’s nomination but on her objection to the waiver–a rare bipartisan support in the contentious confirmation process. The only nominee to get less opposition was former VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama-era VA Under Secretary. 

Mattis’s approach to foreign policy was more hawkish compared to that of the Obama administration but pales in comparison to views of Steve Bannon or John Bolton. He deterred the administration from acting on the President’s impulses, like the assassination of Bashar al-Assad or a military strike against North Korea. Trump’s military transgender ban also never came to fruition. While unsuccessful, he opposed the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and withdrawals from the Iran Deal and the Paris Climate Accord. 

The point of contention between the Defense Secretary and the President at ultimately led to Mattis’s resignation was on pulling troops from Syria. This chism reveals a larger picture about the troubling “America First” doctrine that defies the foreign policy beliefs dating back to the World War II — the rash policies that Mattis thus far kept more-or-less at bay. While Trump ultimately did not withdraw the troops then, he finally did order the withdrawal of ground troops almost a year after Mattis’s departure.

Granted, an argument can be made that the troop withdrawal is part of an overarching foreign policy agenda. Obama’s much-contested withdrawal from Iraq was a fulfillment of a Bush-era agreement with the Iraqi government. However, what truly sets apart “America First” doctrine is not necessarily a shift in policy, though it often is, but the way in which a policy is carried out. In this case, Trump’s abrupt announcement of withdrawal via Twitter combined with the general disregard of geopolitics and long-standing American commitments in the region show the chaotic and irresponsible nature of the Trump policy agenda.

The reality is that withdrawal of troops from Syria was a mistake. 

As delineated in Mattis’s resignation letter, a part of the reason has to do with the need to maintain alliances, like the one with the YPG, the Kurdish militia in Syria. They serve as necessary American allies against ISIS, helping gather useful intelligence and deterring the rising Iranian and Russian influence in the region. Syrian Kurds will likely continue to hold significant sway over Arab geopolitics. The troop withdrawal would surely fracture the relationship, especially as Kurds continue to engage in a protracted armed conflict with Turkey and with Erdogan—to whom Trump reportedly told Syria is “all yours”—hellbent on crushing the Kurdish rebels. 

While immediate Turkish offensive that ensued after the American withdrawal was troubling, the lack of U.S. support for Kurdish allies likely would not invariably lead to a long-term humanitarian crisis, as Congressman-elect Dan Cranshaw posits in his Washington Post opinion piece. The Kurds would likely find another ally to ward off Turkish influence that would predate and likely prevent a large-scale humanitarian disaster–perhaps a figure like Bashar al-Assad of Syria. If humanitarian concerns do not apply, there still is a massive strategic question that needs to be asked: does the United States want a tyrannical Russia-friendly dictator to retain his relevance as a major player in the region?

There also remains the question of ISIS. Despite what the President says, ISIS presence—albeit weakened—remains strong. 2010 Iraqi withdrawal under Obama is what originally brought ISIS to power. Leaving now would only go back on the progress by the United States to stabilize the region since the insurgence of ISIS and give the terrorist group a chance to reorganize. Having an extreme militant group only adds to the instability of the region, jeopardizing global security which, in turn, jeopardizing American national security. 

To question whether U.S. intervention in the Middle East is the right thing with a microscopic view of today’s engagement is not a responsible thing to do. There’s an argument that could be made that previous U.S. intervention in the region—dating back to Desert Storm—that exacerbated its instability. But the clock cannot be turned back. Instead, the question is what is the best course of action as we remain stuck in this quagmire. 

The least damaging way forward is to bolster American commitments to allies and maintain American forces in Syria. Trump’s decision to withdraw is an alarming potential precursor to more damaging foreign policy headed our way in the remaining year of Trump’s first term.


The Populist Challenge

Gabriela Baghdady, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

“The time of the nation has come.”[i] These are the words of Marine Le Pen, former French presidential candidate, president of the National Rally party in France, and alleged “populist.”  Populism is the international phenomenon that has been sweeping European countries for last decade, prompting a flood of analyses from leading political thinkers. As political scholarship grapples to reach a consensus on populism, populist leaders continue to fight for dominance in European governments. The recent surge of populist movements across Europe has not only transformed mainstream politics but has also posed a challenge to liberal democratic norms, mainly through fostering antipluralism and a rejection of important aspects of democracy.

Is populism an ideology, style, theory, or something else entirely? This has been widely debated among academics. However, analyses have recognized several commonalities in how populists present themselves and their ideas. First, populists usually identify a dichotomy between a “people” and an adversary, usually political and economic elites. In speeches, they rail against the elites for their suppression of the “real” people of the nation. In contrast, the populist often portrays himself or herself as the sole representative of the will of the people and promises dramatic changes to the status quo.[ii] They manufacture a morally charged and inherently exclusionary distinction between a “good” citizenry and an “evil” elite in power, portraying themselves as the hero. However, this hero is often not intent on “saving” every person within a given country—populists have been known to target a certain national or social class that they claim to represent.

In Europe, populists have appeared on both the right and left of the political spectrum. The French National Rally (right-wing) and Podemos in Spain (left-wing) are just two examples. While the policies of these parties are clearly divergent, there are elements of populist rhetoric and tactics found in both. The National Rally (led by Marine Le Pen), has attacked several perceived threats of the French people, including globalism, Muslim immigrants and Islam in general, and the European Union. Le Pen and her party have worked to revive French patriotism and Le Pen portrayed herself as a “candidate of the people” in her presidential campaign.[iii] Left populists like Podemos, though overtly nationalist, have made similar claims about a “people” and advocated for a greater focus on the “nation.” In Spain, the charismatic Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has rallied Spaniards against the corrupt government elites and in favor of rescuing an impoverished middle class, advocating for more economic sovereignty.[iv] While characteristics and ideas vary by leader and across the political spectrum, there are key commonalities: a portrayal of the populist as a champion of a “people” and a rejection of elites and the status quo.

A burning question remains: what does populism mean for democracy? In a number of ways, populism is challenging and even damaging democracy already. Antipluralist rhetoric has fostered a nationalism that has begun to manifest into xenophobia and a rejection of other cultures in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and other European countries. This poses a threat to civil liberties of immigrants in Europe—liberties that democracy is meant to protect—and far-right populism specifically plays a role. Furthermore, populism also poses a threat to the political party system within many European democracies.[v] The tendency of populists to make distinctions between what is “good” and “evil” creates what Jan Werner Müller calls a “moralization of politics.”[vi] An outright portrayal of political opponents as morally “bad,” coupled with populists’ claim that they are the sole representation of the people, rejects the mediation and compromise that is a cornerstone of party democracy. Additionally, some populists have directed attacks against democratic institutions, including global/internationalist institutions, the media, and the free market. Therefore, while the long-term implications of populism are not well-known, it is possible that populist leaders can have a transformative impact on mainstream European politics for much of the foreseeable future, and could possibly become a “new normal” if strong enough.

There are some reasons to believe, however, that populism has the capacity to strengthen democracy. Populists may be able to bring greater awareness to certain issues for an underrepresented population. The potential populist threat to democracy may also motivate politicians to fight more strongly for democratic values and norms. If not, rampant antipluralism and a negative attitude toward the political status quo may erode representative democracy as it exists today.




[i] Peterson, Matt. “2016: The Year in Quotes.” The Atlantic, Accessed 23 November 2019.

[ii] Mudde, Cas and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. Populism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2017.

[iii] Nossiter, Adam. “Marine Le Pen Echoes Trump’s Bleak Populism in French Campaign Kickoff.” New York Times, Accessed 13 November 2019.

[iv] Iglesias, Pablo. “Understanding Podemos.” New Left Review, May-Jun. 2015, pg. 7-22.

[v] Urbinati, Nadia. Introduction. Me the People, Harvard University Press, 2019, pp. 1-39.

[vi] Müller, Jan Verner. What is Populism?, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Should the United States Secure World Oil Prices?

Benjamin Juul, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

In his 1980 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter announced a new doctrine for American foreign policy, saying, “…let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” 

It would be hard to argue that President Carter was being hawkish here. Carter was notorious for having very little interest in armed conflict, at least compared with the presidents who followed him. He also wasn’t particularly enamored with the Persian Gulf monarchies, certainly not enough to guarantee their security. Carter simply saw the political reality of the moment. An attack on an oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf would be tantamount to an attack on the world economy. 

Carter was operating based on experience: US support of Israel through the Yom Kippur War led to an oil embargo by many countries in the Persian Gulf, more than doubling the cost of oil within the year. Also in his recent memory was the Iranian Revolution, which took Iran’s oil production from five million barrels a day to zero. This lead to constant paranoia about oil price volatility amongst the American foreign policy community for decades following the oil shock. This fear was so strong that during the Reagan Administration, the United States would reflag Kuwaiti ships as American and escort them through the Strait of Hormuz to prevent Iranian attacks. When an Iranian mine blew a hole in the side of an American ship, Reagan sank the Iranian Navy. This move preempted the first Iraq war, when President Bush invaded Iraq to prevent them from taking Kuwaiti oil fields. 

During this period, US oil production began to decline substantially. In 1985, the United States imported 25% of its oil. By 2005, imports reached 60% of total US oil consumption. On top of this trend, frustrated by the United States’ ease and willingness to slash oil prices, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran, as well as other key oil producers, agreed to coordinate to defend oil prices. Their agreement created the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Nations, or OPEC, which now controls about eighty percent of world crude oil exports. These nations also all began to nationalize their oil industries, so that by the end of the 1970s, international oil companies saw their access to world oil reserves decline from 85% to just 7%. This had the effect of making oil a much more viable economic weapon, particularly against the United States. 

Despite these nearly forty years of precedent, an Iranian attack on the Saudi Abqaiq oil processing facility, which destroyed more than half of the country’s production capability, compelled basically no response from President Trump. This attack followed months of attacks by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and halted production at the largest oil processing plant in the world, causing a 5% drop in global production. 

The president initially tweeted that the US was ‘locked and loaded’ and ready to strike Iran after confirmation from the Saudis. These tweets were then quickly played down by senior aides and by Trump himself, saying that he ‘doesn’t want war with anybody’ despite implicating Iran. The turnaround occurred becausePresident Trump is extremely sensitive to financial markets as a metric of his presidency’s success, and these comments were made while oil prices had their largest spike since the first Iraq War. The administration was forced to quickly backpedal any threats made against Iran, for fear of further destabilizing markets. 

While in the short term, the decision not to strike Iran may have settled investors, in the long term it gives Iran a pass for its aggression, which may destabilize oil prices even more down the road. The attack, if it does not make a compelling case for the Carter Doctrine, at least harkens back to a time where protecting the internal security of the Middle East seemed like a worthwhile task. Each American consumer will have to pay an additional $18 a month as a result of the attacks on Saudi Arabia, which represent the largest oil disruption in history by barrels per day.

The Saudi oil strikes presented a larger disruption by volume to global markets than the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, but there are a few reasons it wasn’t as painful. Firstly, the Saudis claimed they could get oil pumping again within the month, limiting its impact on the sale of oil futures. Additionally, President Trump opened up the US’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest reserve oil fields in the world, to try to moderate the price increase. These actions are coupled with the fact that the oil market is simply much larger than it was in the 1970s, meaning that a five million barrels per day drop represents a smaller disruption by percentage of all oil pumped. However, one of the biggest reasons, and perhaps why we have abandoned the Carter Doctrine, is that the United States is very close to being a net exporter of crude oil.

The United States, through a combination of investment and new technologies like fracking and the use of shale oil, has moved from the third-largest oil producer in the world to the first by about three million barrels per day. This move has occurred in the last ten years and has had large ramifications for US foreign policy. In fact, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Marc Short cited it while discussing the president’s thinking about the attack, telling Fox Business “I think locked and loaded means several things, one thing it means is that America today under the President is far better prepared to handle these sorts of events because we’re now a net exporter of oil.”

There is also the added benefit of Canada, whose new mining of tar sands (an unconventional petroleum deposit made of sand, clay, and water) now provides the US with 40% of its oil imports. It would appear that the United States is on the cusp of its long-awaited energy independence when it can free itself of having to protect Persian monarchies for the sake of protecting global oil prices and simply live off of North American oil. 

Energy independence would hopefully disentangle the United States from some of its Middle East conflicts, to the relief of a very Middle East fatigued American public. It would also mean the complete end of the Carter Doctrine and the United States shielding global oil prices. This would make sense, as China is a much larger consumer of Persian oil than the United States, and does very little to earn its price security. It would also free up the United States to lend human rights issues in the Middle East the platform they deserve, instead of simply sweeping the Crown Prince’s beheaded relatives under the rug. 

Unfortunately, the dream of energy independence remains a dream, despite our new hegemony in production. This is true for a variety of reasons. To start, because oil is priced based on how it sells on the global market, the United States will never be completely insulated from global fluctuations. To make matters worse, ‘OPEC+’ a group that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia, seemingly deciding that the influx of US oil has driven the price too low, has begun coordinating decreases in production. In fact, in 2017, this group overshot their goals in decreasing production, leaving a sizeable effect on oil prices. On top of this, Saudi Arabia continues to hold the largest spare capacity of oil in the world. Spare capacity is oil that can be very easily mined if necessary, allowing swift adjustments in price that can change the world market very rapidly. The fact that Saudi Arabia holds the power to increase or decrease production by 1.5 million barrels per day makes them a ‘swing producer’ with strong control over oil prices, giving the country added power over US consumers. The Arabian Peninsula is full of swing producers, especially because with nationalized oil industries, the government can typically control production unilaterally, increasing US dependence on the region. 

Despite these more dismal features of the global oil market, the fact remains that both the US’s energy independence and its over policing of global oil markets are both improving. That being said, we are a long way from being able to produce enough oil to keep ourselves out of all Middle Eastern conflict. A substantial oil shock, like a $25 per barrel increase, would mean an extra $45 a month for the typical American family. That level of increase would mean the political demise of any American president. Thus, most presidents would still intervene militarily to prevent this kind of shock, meaning the United States is in a sense eternally in service to the global oil market. 

Nevertheless, there is an answer that doesn’t involve bombing Iran or pumping our way to freedom, and it’s found in the other moves the Carter Administration made to insulate Americans from oil shocks. They created the SPR, which holds more than 650 million barrels of oil reserves. They increased fuel economy standards for cars and began financing clean energy sources produced in the United States. Outside of policing the world, the other way to become more energy independent is to become less oil-dependent. Moves like increasing fuel efficiency standards, which were rolled back by the Trump administration, would do an enormous amount to disentangle the US from foreign oil. Increasing our SPR would also be wise, as it is now able to be tapped in times of economic recession and may risk falling too low in the future if overutilized. Finally, a move towards green energy would secure both the environment and the US’s energy independence and allow the United States to operate unmoored from oil prices while its competitors, like China, remain at the whim of cranky despots and fluctuating prices. 



Al-Khatteeb, Luay. “Why the World Oil Prices Should Be High and Stable.” Brookings. Brookings, July 28, 2016.

“Average Crude Oil Spot Price:” YCharts. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Bomey, Nathan. “Why the U.S. Is Less Dependent than Ever on Saudi Oil.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, September 16, 2019.

Borger, Julian, and Martin Chulov. “Trump Says US Response to Oil Attack Depends on Saudi Arabia’s Assessment.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, September 17, 2019.

Carter, Jimmy. “President Carter’s 1980 State of the Union.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Cassidy, John. “Trump’s Awful Middle East Policies Are Coming Back to Haunt Him.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, September 18, 2019.

Congressional Research Service, and Heather Greenley. The World Oil Market and U.S. Policy: Background and Select Issues for Congress, The World Oil Market and U.S. Policy: Background and Select Issues for Congress § (n.d.).

Garside, M. “Oil Production in Selected Countries 2008 and 2018.” Statista, June 25, 2019.

He, Laura, John Defterios, and Anneken Tappe. “US Oil Prices Had Their Biggest Spike in a Decade after Saudi Attack Disrupts Global Supply.” CNN. Cable News Network, September 16, 2019.

Middle East Policy Council, and Views from the Region. “Non-OPEC Countries Join Deal to Cut Oil Production.” Middle East Policy Council. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Nelson. “How an Oil Price Surge Could Hurt the U.S. Economy.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 17, 2019.

Reed, Stanley. “Russia and OPEC Draw Closer on Oil, Joining Other Producers to Manage Market.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 2, 2019.

“The Saudi Aramco IPO May Miss Its $2 Trillion Valuation Target by More than $700 Billion | Markets Insider.” Business Insider. Business Insider. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Shepardson, David. “Trump and California Go to War over Clean Cars.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, September 19, 2019.

Telhami, Shibley. “The Persian Gulf: Understanding the American Oil Strategy.” Brookings. Brookings, July 28, 2016.

“Timeline: Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed November 26, 2019.


A right to DREAM: The historical role of youth in the immigrant rights movement

Written by Heidi R. Woll

The movement to defend the rights of immigrants, particularly those of Latinx[1] undocumented immigrants, was spearheaded by youth in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these youth, having arrived in the United States as children, found themselves in a precarious position when entering adulthood, when many of them discovered – either for the first time or not – that they would encounter significant difficulties when seeking employment or going to college, as well as when embarking on simpler tasks such as obtaining driver’s licenses or boarding flights.

Many of these same youth would also experience the childhood trauma of family separation, on account of the deportation of their parents and/or other family members. All of these distinctive issues ultimately led, and continue to lead, to many youth to be particularly conscious of their own “illegality” – especially when paired with the tangible hostility of many Americans, who view their existence on American soil, void of legal citizenship as “a threat to national sovereignty and the rule of law.”[2]

This essay therefore examines how a state of being formed a movement: How, by adopting the name of ‘Dreamers’ and exposing themselves to the country as a unified group, a vast number of undocumented Latinx youth reshaped their sociopolitical identities in the public sphere; from invaders to contributors, from ‘illegal’ to quintessentially American. This story is integral to the political movement to defend the rights of immigrants that underwent significant growth towards the end of the 20th century and is in full effect today. It also raises inherently difficult questions, particularly regarding the need to strike a political balance that accounts both for the economic viability of adopting a more open-border immigration system, and for the moral drive to hold true to the principles expounded by the founders of a country largely built by and for immigrants.

The role of these Latinx youth in the immigrant rights debate is, however, in a certain way, atypical. Walter Nicholls, author of The DREAMers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate, points out that the immigrant rights movement is exceptional to recent scholarship on immigration politics in the United States and Europe, which largely suggests that usually, “hostile environments would encourage undocumented immigrants to turn away from the public sphere of receiving countries.”[3] Following this behavioural trend, we would expect to find that DREAMers – the name often used to describe the undocumented youth referred to in this essay, along with non-Latinx undocumented youth – would become less politically active following Congress’s multiple failures to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This act would have facilitated the granting of conditional and, meeting certain requirements, permanent residency for undocumented persons brought to the United States as minors; therefore, its failure to pass dealt a major blow to the undocumented youth whose lives it would have improved. Contrary to the hypothesis outlined by Nicholls, however, the DREAMer movement – largely led by the children of Latinx immigrants and supported by non-governmental organizations – appears to have provided a safe environment for youth to ‘come out’ as undocumented in spite of the increased risk of doing so since the declaration of the war on terror.

Illegal immigration through the southern border of the United States accelerated in the mid-1970s and even more in the first half of the 1980s, with “apprehension at the Mexican border ([at the time] 98 percent Mexican nationals), arrests of deportable aliens, deportations, and visa overstays all showing an upward trend.”[4] The number of annually apprehended illegal immigrants first surpassed one million in 1977, and by 1986 it had reached 1,670,000.[5] Still, the actual amount of illegal immigrants during this period, as with any other, is however very difficult to precisely quantify, since the clandestine nature of the illegal alien population makes it extremely difficult to count.[6]

The Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) apprehension and deportation figures and studies of visa abuse “indicated that the Central American countries, particularly El Salvador, [had] become the major source of illegal immigrants after Mexico” by the late 1980s. Moreover, The State Department in 1985 “estimated illegal immigration from El Salvador and Guatemala in 1977 at 25,000 and 15,000 a year respectively; with 350,000 Salvadorans already in the United States illegally by 1980 when civil strife in that country began spurring the outflow.”[7]

In the introduction to Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for their American Dream (2015), Eileen Truax holds that “There are about eleven million undocumented people living in the United States. You can’t tell who they are just by looking at them, but we know they are here […] While it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly who’s undocumented and who’s not by sight, we know one thing with certainty: our daily lives wouldn’t be the same without them.”[8] The book goes on to explore the positive impacts of undocumented immigrants on everything from the American economy to their more personal effect on the lives of everyday Americans – showing that any given American is likely to have a DREAMer as a friend, neighbor, lover, even a fellow student or co-worker.

Philip Kasinitz (2008) went on to argue that “the answer to the question of what large-scale migration will mean for American society […] lies less with the immigrants themselves than with their ambivalently American children. […] This new “second generation” – the children of at least one immigrant parent born in the United States or who arrived by the age of 12 – accounted for one out of six 18- to 32-year-olds in the nation and one out of four of all Americans under 18. In many ways, they will define how today’s immigrant groups become tomorrow’s American ethnic groups.”[9] He explains that

Before 1965, immigrants to the United States were overwhelmingly European. Since then, most have come from other parts of the globe. Given how the United States has historically constructed racial categories, they are not generally regarded as “white.” Yet they are not African Americans either. Since the cleavage between the “white” descendants of immigrants and the “black” descendants of American slaves has so strongly marked big cities, the emergence of a large and rapidly growing group that does not fit easily into either of these categories has enormous potential consequences.”[10]

One of these consequences was the Sanctuary Movement, which began in late 1981 when a small number of churches started sheltering Central American illegal immigrants. The motives of the movement’s proponents were usually of a humanitarian nature. Congregations would give sanctuary to Guatemalans or Salvadorans at risk of being detained and deported by the INS; additionally, movement members would bring Salvadorans and Guatemalans into the US, traveling to Central America to accompany displaced communities, organizing caravans to move Salvadorans and Guatemalans to other parts of the US, and enabling undocumented refugees to testify publicly about their experiences. They lobbied Congress, raised bail bond money for detained Central Americans, and helped detainees file for political asylum.[11] While the sanctuary movement at this time was led both by church congregations and nonprofit legal organizations, it would echo later in the discussion of the current sanctuary movement for Central American migrants.

A New York Times Retro Report video entitled “Safe Haven: The Sanctuary Movement” describes the history of Rev. John Fyfe, who explained how, upon attempting to help undocumented migrants from Guatemala and El Salvador file for asylum, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) attempted to deport them on the grounds that they were economic migrants, rather than fleeing persecution. Seeing clear torture marks on their bodies, Fyfe hid them in the basement of his church. Though Fyfe and the many pastors that were involved in this initial movement were not youths, they displayed an interesting pattern of behavior, including a defiance towards authority that appears youthful in nature. “Afraid he might be arrested,” the report goes on to say, “Fyfe did something unexpected. He went public.” Fyfe goes on to explain, “if we went public with what we were doing, then maybe we would have a base of support.”[12]

The Central American youth that attended churches like Fyfe’s saw a supportive environment there, of a kind they had found nowhere else in the United States. Mario Rivas, for instance, was a young man that had been active in student politics back home in El Salvador. Growing up, he had worked with the local priest, who had organized “a kind of Christian base community for children” that played an integral part of the community in Ilopongo, Mario’s hometown, visiting the sick and elderly on Sundays to help with chores.

In contrast, Mario found that mass in the United States was “a cold place” and that the churches he attended lacked the social action commitment he associated with Christianity. He stopped attending until he found La Placita, a church founded by Fathers Olivares and Kennedy, the latter of which had met John Fyfe during his first assignment as a priest in a small parish in San Diego. Fyfe had asked him if that parish could be part of the Sanctuary network, and he accepted, though the refugee work needed to be kept covert since his superior worried about publicity. Years later, Father Kennedy, together with Father Olivares, formed the Centro Pastoral, which provided Central American refugees attending La Placita with somewhere to stay, medical care, legal services and other previously unmet needs.

For Mario, “the public declaration of sanctuary at La Placita in 1985” was a “historic moment,” since “it was a place where [they] could tell [their] own stories – a place from which [they] could challenge U.S. foreign policy toward Central America.”[13] La Placita also worked closely with the Sanctuary Committee of Southern California Inter-faith Task Force on Central America (SCITCA) to “coordinate speaking engagements by refugees in churches and other locations.”[14] Mario actively partook in the creation of the National Alliance of Sanctuary Committees, which promoted dialogue across the many Sanctuary communities across the U.S., emphasizing the link between the plight of refugees and U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Even more relevant to the role of youth in the Sanctuary movement was the decisive role that university student governments took in creating sanctuary campuses. By the end of 1985, the Sanctuary movement had spread to 10 colleges in California, with the Universities of California Berkeley, Irvine, and Los Angeles, California State University Northridge, and Pitzer and Pomona Colleges in Claremont pledging their support for the movement.

Pitzer and Pomona, as Chinchilla, Hamilton and Loucky note, were interesting cases. Several congregations in the Claremont area had already declared sanctuary beginning in 1982, with fifty Guatemalans and Salvadorans settled by May 1985. But unlike the other colleges, the Pitzer and Pomona student representatives themselves did not decide for the student body; instead, they cast a vote so that the student body could choose whether or not to make the colleges sanctuaries. The result was that more than 80% of the students at each college voted in favour.[15] The students invoked the Geneva Convention, as did the students at several other colleges, to defend their choice – as one Pomona student stated: “What we are doing is neither illegal nor an act of civil disobedience. We are upholding international law. We call upon our government to do the same.”[16] Following much debate, and spurred by the impetus of churchgoers and students all over the area, many cities started to issue resolutions supporting sanctuary: Berkeley issued such a resolution in February 1985, and the City Council of Los Angeles declared LA a sanctuary city on November 27th, 1985.[17]

The Sanctuary Movement was an essential precursor to the broader immigrant rights movement that developed in the 1990s and continues to develop into the 21st century. It helped to educate church congregations, college students and the general public about the plight of refugees, which may have also made them more ready to understand the issues of, for instance, Mexican and Central American migrants coming to the US out of economic necessity rather than immediate danger. This, accompanied with the progression of prior decades away from the heightened nationalism of the World Wars to a more global effort towards international cooperation, based on the prevalent shared socialist ideals of youth during and after the Vietnam War. The impression of a more globalized world, wherein the flow of people from one country to another is less a transgression and more a natural result of both economic and humanitarian necessity is emblematic of this new outlook.

Whereas the Sanctuary movement enabled the safeguarding of the undocumented immigrants and their children, spreading awareness about the injustice of their – and their countries’ – conditions, the immigrant rights movement took it one step further. While the first movement dealt mostly with the immigrants and their children, newcomers first coming to the United States, the 2000s, in particular, began to witness the unique circumstances of youth that had been brought to the United States at a very young age by their parents. As such, they were “undocumented involuntarily” – with no Social Security number, proof of residency or any document to legalize their presence in the country they had grown up in[18]. This situation carries on today for thousands of youth, referred to as the Dreamers – a reference, as previously mentioned, to the DREAM Act, a bill introduced in 2001 to the US Senate that, had it not failed, “would have granted undocumented youth conditional residency status and, after meeting a series of criteria—including graduating from college or serving in the military—[…] would [have made them] eligible for permanent residency.”[19]

A second group that the media has paid more and more attention to in recent years has been the unaccompanied minors arriving into the United States across the border with Mexico. Also undocumented, the treacherous journey north has become a risk that an increasing number of these minors are willing to take for the promise of a life free of violence, particularly at the hands of gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18. But these youth and children are faced with an even higher threat of deportation than other illegal immigrants: As immigration attorney Nick Marritz explained to The Atlantic: “The government is trying to deport them as fast as it can. They’re putting them at the front of the line.”[20] The only legal support for unaccompanied minors is the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status law, or SIJS, which was enacted into law following a 1990 amendment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

However, in 1997, a U.S. Senator from New Mexico claimed that the law was a “giant loophole,” telling Congress that “every visiting student from overseas can have a petition filed in a state court … declaring that they’re award and in need of foster care.”[21] An amendment was then passed that restricted the use of SIJS only to children that could prove that they were dependent upon the state because of “abuse, abandonment, or neglect.” This, Marritz argued, was not a problem, because most of the cases he dealt with did accurately fit that description. Still, this issue – including the broader debate over the failed passing of the DREAM Act – remains one of the immigrant rights movement’s biggest topics since it puts children with supportive parents or guardians at risk for deportation, although returning to their home country is not in their best interest.

The protests against unjust immigration legislation continued well into the 2000s. The year 2006, in particular, witnessed a number of massive demonstrations, specifically against the Sensenbrenner bill – a piece of legislation that would have criminalized assistance to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. that sought housing, food or medical services. On March 10, 2006, a crowd of over 100,000 protesters, filled Chicago’s downtown Loop with chants of “¡Sí se puede!” (translatable to ‘Yes we can!’ or ‘It can be done!’). Following this, demonstrations “cropped up in more than 140 cities in 39 states,” many of which naturally took place in Southern California. These manifestations also culminated in the May 1st “Day Without Immigrants,” when more than 500,000 rallied in Los Angeles to demand a pathway to citizenship, particularly for the immigrant youth that were in the foundation and the forefront of the movement.[22]

While it may not have prompted immediate legislative action, the 2006 protests triggered a change in the political climate regarding undocumented immigrants, especially among college students and youth who grew up with friends that were directly affected by the issues. Furthermore, many young people who “tasted political power for the first time in 2006” were then inspired “to promote the DREAM Act.” By 2010, regaining the attention of the country, they “mirrored LGBT advocates by broadcasting “coming out” stories about their status.” They also “organized marches, building occupations, and traffic blockades to keep their cause in the public eye.”[23]

All these images, arguments and the protests of undocumented immigrants in the United States point to an underlying notion that is highly convincing to youth in a globalized age: that the American Dream must apply to all. That the laws concerning undocumented immigrants, who often should qualify for asylum in the first place, are either outdated or morally unjust. That Central American and Mexican immigrants, undocumented and documented alike, have already demonstrated astounding contributions to American economy and society because their conditions meant that they needed to work harder to provide for their families.

For undocumented youth, the most important issues involve the constant threat of deportation, especially under the more severe Trump administration, and the barriers they face in obtaining higher education and employment. This past September’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy has put further strain on the prospects of Dreamers to be eligible for work permits and to receive deferred action from deportation. This action, in the midst of Donald Trump’s descent into very low public support (with a 38% approval rate in September) prompted further rebuttal from Dreamers and their supporters alike, with Facebook profile pictures changing to include a filter demonstrating support for DACA, and protesters gathering in Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, and in front of Trump Tower in New York.[24] Many colleges continue to offer sanctuary to undocumented students in the age of Trump, yet protesters remain aware that the most vulnerable undocumented youth are those that cannot afford a lawyer to represent them – much less a college degree.

Still, those who document the immigrant rights movement today highlight that the discussion mostly poses the questions of what to do about the undocumented youth – from SIJS to the DREAM Act to DACA – and whether or not the United States has a humanitarian responsibility towards them, particularly due to past US foreign policy in Central America. Furthermore, as undocumented immigrants comprise not just newcomers, but also youth that have been in the country since their early childhood, the immigrant rights movement may be benefiting from the solidarity of not only the institutions that support undocumented migrants but their American peers as well.

While the opposition is undoubtedly vociferous, the undocumented youth that are ‘coming out’ appear to feel secure enough to do so, drawing this sense of security from the peer groups that support them and within the broader movement. They may also feel that coming out constitutes a sense of sacrifice for the movement since through this action, more people will find out how many of their most hard-working employees, closest friends, and nicest neighbors are – in fact – undocumented. This act of bravery on the part of these youth, and the support of their peers will hopefully continue to advance the movement towards better immigration legislation in the United States.



  •         Coutin, Susan Bibler. The Culture of Protest: Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement. Boulder: Westview Press, 1993.
  •         Kasinitz, Philip. Inheriting the City: the Children of Immigrants Come of Age. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008.
  •         Nicholls, Walter. Dreamers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2013.
  •         Pallares, Amalia. Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 2014.
  •         Simcox, David. U.S. Immigration in the 1980s: Reappraisal and Reform. Boulder & London: Westview Press, 1988.
  •         Truax, Eileen. Dreamers: an Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream.Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2015.


[1] The use of the term ‘Latinx’ is flush with controversy, sparking discussion about ethnic and gender identity as well as privilege. I utilize it in this essay for the purpose of including more gender identities than the words ‘Latino’ and ‘Latina’ allow – namely, those individuals that identify as being transgender or otherwise outside the gender binary, but who still identify as ethnically Latinx. For more information, read Reyes (2017), in bibliography.

[2] Nicholls, 10

[3] Nicholls, 7-8

[4] Simcox, 23; for original source see “Surge of Illegal Aliens Taxes Southwest Towns’ Resources,” New York Times, March 9. 1986.

[5] Ibid, 24

[6] Ibid, 25

[7] Ibid, 24-25

[8] Truax, 1

[9] Kasinitz, 1

[10] Kasinitz, 3

[11] Coutin, 3

[12] Haberman, 5:05

[13] Chinchilla et al, 113

[14] Ibid, 114

[15] Ibid, 116

[16] Ibid, 117. Originally quoted by Valle (1985).

[17] Ibid, 117.

[18] Truax, 4

[19] Martinez (2015)

[20] Phippen (2015)

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Meghan Keneally (2017)


Brain Drain in Colombia

Written by Juan C. Gomez on December 13, 2017


Migration is an extraordinarily complex issue that has gained immense international attention by world leaders in recent years, specifically how migration impacts countries that receive immigrants en masse, such as the United States. Migration’s impact, however, is not only felt by countries that receive migrants but also from migrant’s home country. Migration can have varying effects (positive and negative) on the sending country and can impact how the state develops economically, socially, and politically. The intersection between migration and development is a complicated nexus of factors, including the impacts of migration patterns on development. One interesting migration phenomenon that greatly impacts development is known as brain drain. Brain drain is an exodus of high-skilled immigrants (college education or higher) from developing to developed countries. Brain drain creates an economic loss in developing countries in two ways: investment loss of educating future migrants and weakening of high-skilled economic sectors. In the long-term these economic consequences weaken prospects for developing countries to create prolonged economic growth and advancement. [1]

This paper will analyze a case study of the brain drain phenomenon in Colombia and see how the emigration of highly skilled migrants to the United States has impacted the economic development of the country. I will be primarily concerned with the emigration of high-skilled workers in STEM fields and the economic consequences their loss has on growth, inequality, and poverty. Further, I will also address governmental responses to brain drain and how the Colombian government has attempted to incentivize these high-skilled workers to share knowledge, practices, and research with their domestic counterparts.

Through an analysis of brain drain, this paper will answer the following two-part question: How has the brain drain phenomenon impacted Colombia’s economic development and how has the Colombian government responded to such phenomenon? I will answer the first part of the question through an analysis of emigration of highly educated workers from the 1980s until today. Due to limited research, I will primarily focus on the emigration of workers in STEM fields as there is more extensive research on these migrants. Further, the government has established programs and policies specifically targeting these groups. Economic development will be measured by how it impacts STEM economic sectors in Colombia.

The second part of the question will address how the government has responded to this emigration and what policies they have implemented to reverse the detrimental consequences of brain drain. The bulk of this analysis will be done using the Caldas network (Colombian Network of Scientists and Engineers Abroad) which was established by the Colombian government in 1991 to create a network where migrants in developed countries could interact with scientists and engineers back in Colombia. This network sought to establish joint projects, conferences, and events between the diaspora groups and intellectuals back in Colombia.[2] The program was an attempt to mitigate the effects of brain drain and instead utilize these migrants to help support STEM sectors of the economy.

Background information

To properly analyze how the emigration of high skilled workers has impacted Colombia’s development I will give historical, social, and economic context of Colombia and its migratory patterns to the United States. During the latter half of the 20th century, Colombia faced increasing political and economic turmoil.[3] The economic and political crisis throughout the 1980s and 1990s produced a stagnant economy and high chronic unemployment. Following the turn of the century, however, economic prospects for Colombia have grown significantly. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has grown from $95 billion in 2003 to $270 billion in 2012 and there is rapid economic growth in cities that were historically plagued by high levels of poverty and violence.[4] Further, a fifty-year armed conflict between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a guerilla-Marxist group in southern Colombia, and the National Government has ceased and both parties are negotiating a peace agreement.[5]

The economic and political conditions throughout the latter half of the 20th century led to a tremendous growth in the migration of Colombians to the United States. Since 2013, there are an estimated 1.1 million people of Colombian origin living in the United States, a 131% increase from 1990.[6] Education is a crucial and appropriate demographic characteristic to consider in analyzing the brain drain effect. Thirty four percent of Colombian migrants had a bachelor’s degree, comparable to the average US population of 30%. [7]  Between 1970 and 1980 there was a 66% increase of migrants from Colombia who were professionals or technicians, while between 1980 and 1990 there was a 77% increase in this migration.[8] Continuing higher education is also an important motivation for migration of Colombians; the plurality of these migrants went to the United States and are enrolled in doctoral or postdoctoral studies. Nearly three quarters of these migrants completed their undergraduate studies and pursued higher levels of education abroad.[9]

Migrants with education and experience in the STEM field are also a significant portion of highly-educated Colombian emigrants. An estimated 4% of Colombia’s scientists and engineers had migrated to the United States as of 1997.[10] Furthermore, Colombia also has the largest number of physicians working in the United States in the entirety of South America.[11] Nearly 6% of the national population of physicians had migrated to the United States.[12] Not only is Colombia sending a large quantity of its STEM workers to the United States, but they are also qualitatively amongst the best workers in their fields. According to a study, 17.4% of migrant physicians had outstanding scores equivalent to the United States, while the general control only had 3 to 5 % meeting this criterion.[13] The emigration of the most educated people in Colombia poses a problem, as the people who qualitatively are the most prepared and prosperous are leaving at a higher rate than their less successful counterparts. Colombian migrants view the United States and other developed nations as a place with opportunities to expand their educational opportunities and achieve higher levels of income.

The Colombian government has been aware of the exodus of highly educated workers and sought measures to reduce the negative effects that result from it. As a result, Colciencas, a “governmental agency in charge of national research management and funding” established the Caldas Network in 1991.[14] Previous government efforts were focused on incentivizing the return of these highly-skilled migrants, but these policies largely failed because the Colombian government could not create an adequate incentive for migrants to return to worse economic and social conditions.[15] The goal of this agency was to create a brain circulation between the diaspora groups in STEM fields and those in Colombia. Brain circulation is information flow between diaspora and home groups to help alleviate the effects of brain drain and instead turn these high-skilled migrants into a positive asset for national development. Instead of pushing for these migrants to return home, they encouraged them to share projects, ideas, and information with scientists and engineers at home. The utilization of migrants as positive agents of change for underdeveloped STEM sectors was also paralleled by an aggressive expansion of research and development in Colombia. During the 1990s there was a 400% increase in research and activities funding as well as the creation of the National System of Science and Technology which sought to increase research and development in STEM. [16] It is evident that the integration of migrants into a STEM network was not the only policy the government sought. Instead, they used migrants as a part of a larger holistic plan to expand science and technology research to expand domestic STEM sectors.

The expansion of technology also helped facilitate the feasibility and effectiveness of the Caldas network. R-Caldas was created in 1993 to discuss academic information between Colombian scientists and engineers.[17] This network exchanges substantial academic papers that discuss a wide variety of topics: there are an estimated 71 specialized groups within R-Caldas.[18] Further, since its inception there have been constant number of members but an exponential increase in the number of messages amongst them.[19] The expansion of technology and the internet specifically has allowed these networks to be more successful and create sustained academic discussions between diaspora intellectual groups and their Colombian counterparts.

The success of this program is uncertain due to research limitations, but there is some concrete evidence about the possible benefits of the Caldas program. It has successfully created ties and ease of communication between intellectuals abroad and at home, establishing permanent relations that have led to join venture projects. Further, these research projects have created closer ties with global universities and local Colombian ones.[20] Although the Caldas network has created a flexible network that spurs intellectual sharing directly with diaspora groups, it still has flaws that limit its full potential. The main flaw of the program is the heterogeneity of the diaspora group.[21] The expansion of key scientific sectors using this network is limited by the heterogeneity of the migrants’ academic specialty, spanning over nearly 300 thematic issues.[22] Due to the vastness of the intellectual specialization, growth of certain STEM industries is difficult because there are not enough intellectuals working in a single field of study. These migrants are spread throughout different STEM sectors and physical locations, limiting the feasibility and effectiveness of an all-encompassing approach to bring these migrants into national discussion.

Theoretical Application


There is a plethora of theories attempting to explain what initially causes migrants to move. The neoclassical theory is best at explaining why Colombian high-skilled migrants decided to move to the United States. According to the neoclassical theory, migrants make the individual decision to migrate to maximize their income.[23] This applies most specifically in regard to high-skilled migrants, who go to countries where the rate of return for their human capital is the highest.[24] High-skilled Colombian migrants can expect a higher level of income in the United States, and that is what pushes them to migrate. Although this theory can be applied to explain why high-skilled migrants emigrate, there exist broader concerns outside of purely economic ones that the neoclassical theory cannot adequately encompass. Many of these migrants choose to leave the country for educational reasons, to expand their research in countries that have greater opportunities for than Colombia.[25] Economics does play a factor in this decision, as developed countries can provide higher earnings for the research done, but it is not the sole motivating factor. A sense of improvement in the academic arena and prestige also play an important role in pulling these migrants to highly developed countries, particularly the United States.


Assimilation is the integration of an immigrant into the socioeconomic culture of the country they migrated to. Assimilation, however, is not a uniform occurrence and strongly depends on the economic and social conditions of the immigrant.[26] Assimilation can occur at three levels: upward mobility to the middle class, downward mobility towards impoverishment, and personal economic growth while retaining traditional cultural ties.[27] Based on demographic characteristics, high-skilled Colombian immigrants typically assimilate upwardly into the white middle class. High levels of education ease assimilation because of the selective nature of their migration pattern. Migrants who possess a high level of education and migrate will have an easier time adjusting to the host country and most likely will live in middle-class neighborhoods. Evidence of this assimilation is limited by research constraints but data has shown that demographic indicators such as average education, age, employment, and marriage are comparable with average national levels in the United States. These demographic indicators are often higher in Colombian migrants than the general Hispanic immigrant community.[28] Furthermore, assimilation for second generation Colombians is much easier, especially because nearly 57% of them have a parent from an origin outside Colombia, particularly the United States. [29] Many first generation Colombians marry outside their nationality to “white America” which makes assimilation for their children a much easier phenomenon.


Colombia’s emigration of high-skilled migrants effects can be analyzed through two different, but complementary theories: world system analysis and state theory. The creation of the Caldas Network can be seen as an attempt by the Colombian government to create a developmental state. A developmental state is one where the government bureaucracy is free from special public interests but is also linked to society and understands the needs of its citizens, a concept known as embedded autonomy.[30] Colombia’s network is an attempt to form a developmental state which cooperates with diaspora and non-migrant groups to create a network that is mutually beneficial for both parties. The success of this attempt as a developmental state, however, is hindered by Colombia’s position in the global hierarchy. World Systems Analysis argues that there is a strict hierarchy of wealth among core, semi-periphery, and periphery countries.[31] Core countries are one that have the highest level of income, followed by the semi-periphery, with the periphery at the lowest level. For the purposes of this discussion, Colombia will be considered a semi-periphery country because of its upper middle-income GDP per capita and regional military and political influence.  As a semi-periphery country, its development path is limited because the hierarchy of wealth is a rigid structure and if a country makes too much economic gain it will be pushed down by the core. Using this analysis, no matter how the Colombian government reacts to brain drain it will not end the long-run inequality inherent in the world order. This analysis can be applied to the emigration of physicians from Colombia. The physicians at the top of their academic and medical fields are also the ones who are migrating disproportionately to the United States, creating a double negative effect of the brain drain. Essentially, World Systems analysis implies that the unfair labor and income stratification of the world gives Colombia little prospect for upward relative mobility. World systems analysis would argue Colombia is a semi-periphery state that is attempting to make the best out of a bad situation and use its resources to mitigate the worse effects of its brain drain, while in the long-run maintaining its position on the hierarchy of wealth.


The theory of Transnationalism belongs to a different sphere of the migration development nexus. It is the space where migrants participate in social, economic, political, and cultural practices across borders of the country they reside in and their home country.[32] Of particular importance is how transnationalism occurs in the economic, political, and social spheres and how these spheres are constantly evolving according to the actions of the migrants. Transnationalism also occurs at many different levels, from political institutions and grassroots activities.[33] In Colombia’s case, these institutions and organizations are very powerful in helping establish and continue transnational networks between highly educated individuals. For example, A state level organization like the Caldas Network attempts to establish a permanent network so that diaspora intellectuals can cooperate and share knowledge with non-migrants. This Colombian governmental policy can be seen as an attempt to proliferate their knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is an idea developed from a World Bank Report that argues through the expansion of knowledge economy as a pathway to development, this would allow developing countries to leapfrog light industrialization and move towards high-tech industry.[34] Colombia is attempting to follow this knowledge for development model through the use of transnational networks.


The conclusive data on how brain drain has impacted Colombia is uncertain, but there is evidence of its impact on certain economic spheres, particularly the healthcare industry. The healthcare industry in Colombia is more vulnerable to brain drain compared to other sectors because of the double negative effect of the brain drain. The combination of large number of physician emigrants and the quality of those physicians weakens the growth of a strong and advanced healthcare industry. People who would be at the top of their fields in Colombia instead move to the United States. This problem is further exacerbated because emigration of physicians weakens the rural healthcare sector, limiting the scarce healthcare opportunities that rural citizens have access to.  This helps entrench inequality further as this physician emigration produces “an exodus of physicians from poor, rural areas.”[37] The physician emigration has negatively impacted the advancement of the healthcare industry and widened a rural-urban gap of healthcare access.  Due to limited evidence, an analysis of brain drain on other economic sectors is not feasible. However, the physician case showcases that emigration can not only widen economic opportunities between countries but also within them.

The government’s ability to react to the brain drain phenomenon has led to an increase in transnational activities between diaspora groups and domestic ones, but success has been limited and the program has met with structural issues due to the heterogeneity of its members. The Caldas network is a positive move towards the incorporation of migrants into a national development plan, but it needs a more dynamic approach to adapt itself properly to different fields of study and projects. The Colombian government initiated steps in the 1990s towards mitigating the negative effects of brain drain, but it needs to develop new and innovative networks to create a brain gain from the emigration of high-skilled workers.



  1.     Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 285-315. Accessed December 3, 2017.
  2.     Meyer, Jean-Baptiste. “Network Approach versus Brain Drain: Lessons from the Diaspora.” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 91-110. Accessed December 3, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00173.
  3.     Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2492-500. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.
  4.     Rosselli, D. , Otero, A. and Maza, G. (2001), Colombian physician brain drain. Medical Education, 35: 809–810. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.1014f.x.
  5.     Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 111-32. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.
  6.     López, Gustavo. “Hispanics of Colombian Origin in the United States, 2013.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. September 15, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2017.
  7.     “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 1-14. Accessed December 8, 2017.
  8.     Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1-9. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  9.     Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  10.  Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. “The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530 (1993): 74-96. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  11.  de Haas, Hein. 2010. “Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective.” International Migration Review 44:227–264.
  12.  Evans, Peter B. “Predatory, Developmental, and Other Apparatuses: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on the Third World State.” Sociological Forum 4, no. 4 (1989): 561-87.
  13.  Arrighi, Giovanni. “The Developmentalist Illusion: A Reconceptualization of the Semiperiphery.” In Semiperipheral States in the World Economy, 11-42. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
  14.  Levitt, Peggy, and B. Nadya Jaworsky. “Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends.” Annual Review of Sociology 33, no. 1 (2007): 129-56. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.33.040406.131816.
  15.  Radhakrishnan, Smitha. “Rethinking knowledge for development: Transnational knowledge professionals and the “new” India.” Theory and Society 36, no. 2 (2007): 141-59. Accessed December 6, 2017. doi:10.1007/s11186-007-9024-2.


[1] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 112. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.


[2] Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1-2. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[3] “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 3. Accessed December 8, 2017.

[4] Ibid. 3

[5] Ibid. 3

[6] López, Gustavo. “Hispanics of Colombian Origin in the United States, 2013.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. September 15, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 127. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.

[9] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 294. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[10] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 128. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.

[11] Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2493. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.

[12] Rosselli, D. , Otero, A. and Maza, G. (2001), Colombian physician brain drain. Medical Education, 35: 809–810. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.1014f.x.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 289. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[15] Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[16] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 291. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[17] Ibid. 299

[18] Ibid. 300-301

[19] Ibid. 300

[20] Ibid. 309

[21] Ibid. 311

[22] Ibid. 296

[23] Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009: 17 Accessed December 5, 2017.

[24] Ibid. 19

[25] Meyer, Jean-Baptiste. “Network Approach versus Brain Drain: Lessons from the Diaspora.” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 99 Accessed December 3, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00173.

[26] Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. “The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530 (1993): 48. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[27] Ibid. 48

[28] “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 1-14. Accessed December 8, 2017.

[29] Ibid. 3

[30] Evans, Peter B. “Predatory, Developmental, and Other Apparatuses: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on the Third World State.” Sociological Forum 4, no. 4 (1989): 575.

[31] Arrighi, Giovanni. “The Developmentalist Illusion: A Reconceptualization of the Semiperiphery.” In Semiperipheral States in the World Economy, 11-42. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

[32] Levitt, Peggy, and B. Nadya Jaworsky. “Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends.” Annual Review of Sociology 33, no. 1 (2007): 130. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.33.040406.131816.

[34] Radhakrishnan, Smitha. “Rethinking knowledge for development: Transnational knowledge professionals and the “new” India.” Theory and Society 36, no. 2 (2007): 142. Accessed December 6, 2017. doi:10.1007/s11186-007-9024-2.

[35] Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009: 224. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[36] Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2495. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.

[37] Ibid. 2498



Discussing the Mexican Elections with Professor Christy Thornton

Welcome to the third episode of the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs! Today we discuss the upcoming Mexican elections of July 2018 and what their potential effects on the world will be. We are joined by special guest Christy Thornton, assistant professor of Latin American Studies and Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.