- More than 100 people from the Bahamas seeking humanitarian refuge in the U.S. were kicked off a ferry going to Florida for not having proper documentation.
- The ferry operator said Customs and Border Protection had directed them to remove the undocumented passengers, but CBP officials disputed that claim and said the operator just did not want to wait the time required to process the refugees.
- Acting Head of the CBP Mark Morgan doubled down on the CBP’s claim Monday, saying that Bahamians could enter the U.S. “whether you have travel documents or not.”
- President Trump, however, seemed to contradict that claim later in the day, telling reporters that “Everybody needs totally proper documentation.”
Refugees Turned Away By Ferry Operator
President Donald Trump caused confusion Monday when he told reporters Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian needed travel documents to enter the United States, directly contradicting a statement the acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan made earlier in the day.
The United Nations has estimated that around 76,000 people in the Bahamas have been left homeless just over a week after Dorian tore through the country.
Now, thousands and thousands of people are being evacuated to the U.S., as well as islands in the Bahamas that were not hit as hard by Dorian.
The confusion over evacuee restrictions first started on Sunday when more than 100 people seeking humanitarian refuge in the U.S. were ordered off a ferry that was carrying people from the Bahamas to Florida.
In a video of the incident, a crew member on the Balearia Caribbean cruise ship can be heard telling all passengers who did not have U.S. visas to get off the boat.
Under a standing CBP rule, Bahamian citizens traveling to the U.S. who have a passport, police certification, and no criminal record can enter the U.S. without a visa as long as they are pre-cleared to leave from two specific airports in the Bahamas.
Balearia Caribbean & CBP Point Fingers
Reporter Brian Entin said in a tweet that Balearia Caribbean crew members had explicitly told him they were directed to extend that rule to the people on the boat.
“They say they were told it was ok to accept Bahamian evacuees with passport and copy of police record,” Entin wrote. “They boarded boat. Then when they sent manifest to US Customs and Border Patrol — they were told those without visas would not be accepted.”
On Monday, Balearia Caribbean also pinned the blame on the CBP in a statement to the Miami Herald.
“We boarded these passengers with the understanding that they could travel to the United States without visas, only to later having been advised that in order to travel to Ft. Lauderdale they required prior in-person authorization from the immigration authorities in Nassau,” the statement said.
However, CBP officials denied that claim saying it was the ferry operators that made the decision and not them.
“Their decision to make all those people get off board had nothing to do with CBP,” a CBP spokesperson told the Herald. “The company knew the U.S. would have welcomed all of them even if they didn’t have the documentation.”
“The ferry would have just had to just wait at Port Everglades for about 12 hours for every passenger to be processed and that didn’t make good business sense for them,” the spokesperson added. “So they shifted the blame on CBP.”
Trump Contradicts CBP Head
On Monday, acting head of the CBP Mark Morgan also attempted to clear up the incident in a White House briefing.
“We are not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents, that’s just not being done,” Morgan said. “We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here, we’re going to process them expeditedly.”
“This is a humanitarian mission,” he added. “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas and you want to get to the United States, you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, right, whether you have travel document’s or not.”
Morgan also noted that people with criminal records would need extra vetting.
A few hours after that briefing, President Trump contradicted Morgan’s statement and told reporters that refugees from the Bahamas did need documents.
“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation,” the president said.
“The Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States — including some very bad people and some very bad gang members, and some very, very bad drug dealers,” he added, before going on to argue that “large sections” of the Bahamas had not been hit by Dorian.
Just hours after Morgan indicated that the U.S. was loosening visa restrictions, Trump seemed to say the U.S. will tighten the same restrictions.
Department of Homeland Security Statement
Following Trump’s remarks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a statement clarifying visas requirements.
In that statement, the agency essentially reiterated the CBP rule that people from the Bahamas can apply to enter the U.S. without a visa from two specific airports as long as they meet the stated requirements.
However, the statement also added that: “Bahamians arriving to the United States by vessel must be in possession of a valid passport AND valid travel visa.”
DHS’s statement appears to contradict both Morgan’s statement about refugees not needing travel documents, as well as Trump’s statement that all refugees must have travel documents, ultimately making the situation even murkier.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Miami Herald)
Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week
Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”