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Surge in Migrants Defies Easy or Quick Solutions for Biden

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned on Tuesday that the United States expected to make more apprehensions along the southwestern border this year than at any time in the past two decades, underscoring the urgency for the White House to develop solutions for the chronic problems with immigration from Central America.

The grim prediction by Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, came as President Biden was being assailed for his handling of a surge at the border involving thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers from the region — with attacks coming from the right for not being tough enough and from the left for not being humane enough.

The president has pleaded for time and patience, blaming his predecessor for dismantling the immigration system in his zeal to keep foreigners out. But even Mr. Biden’s top advisers acknowledge that after unwinding the harsh policies of President Donald J. Trump’s, there is no easy or quick fix for a problem that has been a recurring crisis.

“We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday as the House prepared to vote this week on several immigration measures and the administration rushed to provide more housing for the young migrants arriving at the border. But, he added, “We will get it done.”

The approach being developed by the administration involves steps that it can take relatively quickly and others that will take longer and require agreement from Congress or cooperation from the governments of Central American nations. And it will have to deal with several categories of people, including the unaccompanied minors who are overwhelming the system now and eventually asylum-seeking families and those trying to slip past border agents.

In the short term — as warmer weather invites even more people to migrate north — Mr. Biden’s administration must find a way to temporarily care for the thousands of migrant children who are arriving at the United States border without a legal guardian.

That includes expanding facilities where the children can be held legally for up to 72 hours in the custody of the Border Patrol. And it means finding more residential places where the migrant children can live for weeks or even months while the government searches for a relative or friend to take care of them while officials decide whether they must return to their home countries.

The Biden administration is struggling to quickly ramp up capacity. But the longer-term challenges are even more daunting.

Mr. Biden’s advisers have said they want to establish systems in Mexico that would provide a way for migrants to file applications to seek refuge to the United States in an orderly, safe manner, without coming to the border. But doing so will take months, and it is not yet clear whether migrants will use them.

For those who do apply for asylum, Mr. Biden’s team has said it will shorten the review process, which currently can take years to reach a final decision. Mr. Mayorkas has said asylum cases should be decided in weeks, one way or the other. But making that happen will require investing money and hiring people to process huge backlogs of cases.

Finally, Mr. Biden has vowed to vastly increase support for places like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala so that Central Americans no longer feel the need to flee their homes. But even with the $4 billion that the president has proposed, rebuilding societies wracked by violence, gangs and stagnating economies will take years or decades — if it works at all.

All of the solutions Mr. Biden is considering have been under discussion for decades, often included in comprehensive immigration legislation that has repeatedly failed to get through Congress, falling victim to deep partisan divisions.

For now, Mr. Biden has left in place a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule that empowers agents to rapidly turn away most migrants other than unaccompanied minors without providing them the chance to have their asylum claims heard.

“The administration, they’re asking for patience, but that only goes for so long when you’re looking at these kind of numbers. And what happens after patience?” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, a commissioner of Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama. “What is the plan for dealing with this? What is the plan going forward?”

During the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, Customs and Border Protection has recorded more than 396,000 migrant crossings, including at official ports of entry, compared with about 201,600 during the same period last fiscal year.

A majority of those crossings involved single adults, who under current rules are often quickly expelled back to Mexico or their home countries. But unaccompanied children are taken by a border agent first to a detention facility, where they are then supposed to be transferred within 72 hours to a shelter managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Those shelters were operating until recently with restricted capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands of minors stuck in the jails along the border, including some who have been left to sleep on mats with foil sheets, according to lawyers who visited a facility in Texas.

But even before the pandemic, the shelter system had often been pushed beyond capacity.

The Biden administration this month directed the shelters to return to their normal capacity, allowing the government to increase the number of available beds in those shelters by about 40 percent.

With the number of minors at the border climbing, the administration is now scrambling to find additional space, including at a convention center in downtown Dallas; at a former camp for oil field workers in Midland, Texas; at a NASA site in California; and at a tent encampment in Arizona.

The government is also trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to transfer a child from border facilities to the shelters by streamlining a system that sends them through three different bureaucracies: the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Department of Health and Human Services. Coordination between the three agencies has often broken down and resulted in delays.

The Biden administration has started placing officials from the Department of Health and Human Services in border facilities to accelerate the process of finding a relative or other sponsor in the United States who can take the migrants in.

While the administration continues to invoke the emergency pandemic rule to turn away most adults and migrant families, senior homeland security officials have acknowledged that they will be able to use the emergency rule only for so long as vaccination becomes more widely available.

In the meantime, the president and his top border officials have issued statements about the perilous journey to the United States, hoping to discourage migration to the border.

The administration held a series of private calls with pro-immigrant groups and advocates last week to discuss Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda. David Shahoulian, a top immigration official at the Department of Homeland Security, said the messaging to discourage migrants from coming had not been working and that the administration would need to be clearer in the future, especially given that smugglers continue to encourage migrants to travel to the United States, according to a people familiar with the call.

Mr. Mayorkas had said this month that the administration’s message was not “don’t come” but rather “don’t come now.” Roberta S. Jacobson, a special assistant overseeing border issues, initially said mistakenly in Spanish during a news briefing that the border was not closed, but then corrected herself to say it was closed.

The administration is working with Central American countries to reduce pressure on the border, Mr. Shahoulian said on the call. And it is examining options for expediting the processing of asylum cases.

“We will shorten from years to months the time it takes to adjudicate an asylum claim,” Mr. Mayorkas said in his statement on Tuesday, adding that the administration would soon introduce a regulation to improve the system.

Mr. Biden said in his campaign platform that he would increase the number of judges and immigration officers to combat a backlog that nearly doubled during the Trump administration to more than 1.2 million cases.

Mr. Biden has already begun to restart the Obama-era Central American Minors program, which was intended to allow some children to apply in their home region for permission to live in the United States with a parent or other relative. When Mr. Trump ended the program, about 3,000 Central American children had been approved for travel to the United States.

It will take time to ramp up the program, which has strict vetting requirements, in order to verify the relationships of the children and their relatives.

Now, the administration is eager to examine even broader efforts to consider asylum applications remotely.

The administration is already testing a system where migrants, who were told by the Trump administration to wait along the border in squalid camps in Mexico, can use an app on their cellphones to apply for asylum and track their cases. That kind of system might be expanded more broadly, officials said.

“This is the road map going forward for a system that is safe, orderly and fair,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

Many of the changes Mr. Biden wants are included in comprehensive immigration legislation he sent to Congress on his first day in office. But that bill is a long way from becoming law, especially with Mr. Trump and other Republicans again using immigration to stoke their partisan base.

Mr. Biden’s most ambitious — and difficult — goal is to use the United States’ wealth and diplomatic power to reshape the region in the hopes of diminishing the root causes of migration from Central America, starting with poverty and violence.

It is an effort that has been tried before, Mr. Obama and members of Congress from both parties agreed to invest several hundred million dollars into Central America with the hope of improving the courts, diminishing the cartels and improving economic conditions.

Mr. Trump cut that spending, arguing that it was a waste of money, before restoring some of it. But Mr. Biden’s team is betting that even more investment will produce results. In Honduras, for example, the country’s coffee production has been hurt by hurricanes and slumping prices for coffee beans, driving many people into poverty.

But helping to reverse those kinds of economic trends could take years.

“When the president talks about ‘root causes,’ some of this is immediate humanitarian aid, but a lot of it is policy and aid together, making sure that you tackle the root causes of migration,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Otherwise, what you see is continued cycles.”

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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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