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Supreme Court Allows for Broad Enforcement of Trump’s Asylum Rule

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  • The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to enforce a rule that functionally prevents most migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S.
  • A federal district judge in California had previously blocked the rule, but the Supreme Court’s new decision means that it can stay in effect while legal challenges to mandate play out.
  • Under the rule, migrants who have crossed through other countries to get to the southern border cannot apply for asylum in the U.S. unless they have been denied asylum in another country or have been the subject of “severe” human trafficking.
  • The rule will mostly affect Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries. 

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court issued an unsigned order Wednesday allowing the Trump administration to enforce a rule that effectively prevents most Central American migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S. while legal challenges to the rule play out.

The rule was first issued by the Trump administration in July. It mandates that any migrant who has crossed through another country to get the southern border can not apply for asylum in the U.S.

The only exceptions are for migrants who have been denied asylum in another country or who have been victims of “severe” human trafficking.

However, that does not mean people with those qualifiers will be granted asylum; it just means that they are the only ones who can even try to apply.

The Supreme Court’s order reverses a decision by a lower court to block the rule. Right after the Trump administration announced the mandate, it was challenged by immigrants rights groups in court.

Then, towards the end of July, California Federal District Judge Jon Tigar blocked the rule. In his ruling, Tigar said that the decision to bar a group of people from asylum was a decision that had to be made by Congress

As a result, he decided that the administration’s rule “is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.” He also said that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, which requires that there is a period of public comment before a rule is enacted.

In his decision, Tigar issued a nationwide injunction ordering the administration to continue to allow all asylum applications. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that Tigar did not have the power to make that ruling nationwide.

While they agreed that the rule did go against the APA, they decided that the injunction could only apply to the geographic areas in the 9th District, which includes parts of California and Arizona. Meaning the other border states could still enforce the administration’s new rule.

Last month, Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court, asking them to put a stop on the block and to allow the rule to be implemented nationwide while the legal battle continued.

Francisco argued that Congress gives the departments of Justice and Homeland Security power to place restrictions on asylum seekers that go beyond the scope of the existing federal asylum law.

On Monday, Tigar reinstated his nationwide injunction. Again, it was blocked by the 9th Circuit, and again the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to lift the injunction. 

Implications for U.S. Asylum Policy & Asylum Seekers

At the very top level, the rule is a massive change to the way the federal government has treated people seeking asylum under laws that have been in place for four decades.

The current federal law says that any foreign national who “who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States” can seek asylum in the country, as long as they can prove they face persecution in their home country.

A rule that allows the U.S. to deny most people showing up at the southern border the ability to even apply for asylum is a big shift.

According to the legal brief given to the Supreme Court by the ACLU, which represents the immigration rights groups challenging the rule in court, the asylum ban “would upend a forty-year unbroken status quo established when Congress first enacted the asylum laws in 1980.”

“The current ban would eliminate virtually all asylum at the southern border, even at ports of entry, for everyone except Mexicans (who do not need to transit through a third country to reach the United States),” the ACLU continued. “The Court should not permit such a tectonic change to U.S. asylum law, especially at the stay stage.”

The change in asylum policy most heavily impacts Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, many of whom seek asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries. 

Migrants from those countries by far compose the majority of people seeking asylum in the U.S. in record numbers this year. 

According to the New York Times, so far this fiscal year, Border Patrol has arrested 419,831 migrant family members from those countries at the U.S. border. By contrast, just 4,312 Mexican family members have been apprehended.

Most of those families who have tried to enter the U.S. to get asylum have been released to await court hearings, according to the Justice Department, which said that more than 436,000 pending cases also include an asylum application.

Notably, the Trump administration’s new rule also could hurt refugees fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis under the Maduro regime in Venezuela, where more than four million people have already left the country, according to the UN.

That leaves many wondering where all these people will go.

Under the rule, Hondurans and Salvadorans are required to seek asylum in Guatemala or Mexico, and then be denied asylum in those places, before they can apply in the U.S. Guatemalans have to seek and be denied asylum in Mexico.

Both Guatemala and Mexico initially expressed dislike of that plan, because it would basically take the asylum problems the U.S. has and kick the can to those two countries, thus overburdening their asylum systems.

Although both countries eventually tentatively agreed, it was only after President Donald Trump had threatened them with tariffs. 

While the U.S. struck a deal with Guatemala to take in more migrants, the country’s Constitutional Court has ruled that it needs further approval.

The Mexican government has also recently pushed back against the agreement that would force them to take in asylum seekers from Guatemala, which is known as the safe-third-country agreement.

The Rule Moving Forward

The Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling was an unsigned order, and so it did not include any reason or explanation for why they blocked the lower court’s decision.

That does not mean that the highest court agrees one way or the other with the rule; it just means that they decided it can stay while the legal battles progress through court.

That, however, could take months, and until then, the rule will stay in place.

Regardless, this is a huge win on immigration for the Trump administration. Trump noted this on Twitter, writing in a tweet Wednesday, “BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!”

The president also appeared to express his support for the matter again on Thursday, writing on Twitter “Some really big Court wins on the Border lately!” 

Trump is not wrong. This most recent decision follows another from the Supreme Court in July to allow the administration to use $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

If and when the case does go to the Supreme Court, the main issue will be whether or not the administration can change asylum policy in this way without going through Congress.

The Trump administration argues that a provision in the federal law allows the attorney general to “establish additional limitations and conditions, consistent with this section, under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum.

However, the asylum law only has a few, narrow exceptions to the rule that any foreign national can apply for asylum.

On the other side, the ACLU argued in their Supreme Court brief that “Congress went out of its way to underscore that only bars ‘consistent with’ the entirety of the asylum laws […] were permitted.” 

They also added that giving the executive branch so much authority “flouts bedrock principles of separation of powers and administrative law.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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