- 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)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.