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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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Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount

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  • As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
  • Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
  • Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
  • A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
  • They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”

Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. 

Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.

Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths. 

As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.

While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”

Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.

According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”

The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.

In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines. 

As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.

In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”

Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”

Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.

“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. 

However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.

Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.

For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model. 

Should Purdue Be Punished More?

There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.

“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”

“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.

While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.” 

Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Fox Business)

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Parents of 545 Children Separated at U.S. Border Still Can’t Be Found

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  • A Tuesday filing update from the ACLU and Department of Justice revealed that a Steering Committee in charge of reuniting families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border has not been able to find parents of 545 separated children. 
  • Efforts to reach these parents via telephone have been unsuccessful and those involved are not hopeful that will change. Two-thirds of these parents are believed to be in their respective countries of origin.
  • So far, parents for 485 kids have been reached.
  • Finding these parents is an already complicated process made even more strenuous by the coronavirus pandemic. On-the-ground searches were suspended because of COVID-19 but have now picked up in limited capacity.

Parents of 545 Children Remain Unfound

A Tuesday court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice and American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the parents of 545 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have not been found or contacted.

Two thirds of those parents are expected to be in their respective country of origin. While there have been efforts to reach these families via phone, they have not been successful. Other efforts to reach these parents are in the works. 

Thousands of families were separated in 2018 under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, but a federal judge ordered that those families should be reunited. Soon after, many were, but in reality many more families had actually been separated. It was later revealed that the Trump Administration had been separating families back in 2017 under a pilot program. A court order reuniting those families was not issued until last year. 

A Steering Committee, of which the ACLU and other organizations are members, is now searching for these parents. According to the filing, the government provided a list of 1,556 children. The current focus on reaching children whose membership in this case is not contested and who have available contact information for a sponsor or parent. The Steering Committee has attempted to reach the families of all 1,030 children who fit that bill, and have successfully reached the parents, or their attorneys, for 485 kids. 

“There is so much more work to be done to find these families, Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC News, which broke the story.

“People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” he continued. “But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

Efforts to Find Parents

Because so much time has passed between family separation practices and today, initiatives to find those parents are difficult. They are also further complicated by the fact that during the pilot program, U.S. officials did not collect thorough information from these parents, and many were deported before courts ordered they be reunited with their kids. 

Nan Schivone, the legal director for Justice in Motion, which carries out on-the-ground searches for parents, told The Washington Post that attorneys “take the minimal, often inaccurate or out-of-date information provided by the government and do in-person investigations to find these parents.” 

Schivone said it is an “an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day.” Sometimes, these lawyers might find themselves in remote villages where outsiders are suspect and language barriers can slow down communication.

The pandemic halted these efforts as lockdowns and curfews made it impossible for Justice in Motion to look for parents abroad. Though, Tuesday’s filing revealed that “limited physical on-the-ground searches for separated parents has now resumed where possible to do so.” 

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

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Scott Peterson’s Murder Convictions To Be Re-examined

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  • Scott Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
  • He was sentenced to death for the crimes, but the California Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in August of this year after finding that the trial court improperly dismissed potential jurors. The court did, however, uphold the convictions.
  • Now, the CA Supreme Court has ordered the San Mateo County Superior Court to review the convictions and determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the grounds that one juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings.”
  • That juror had not disclosed the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant.

Peterson’s Death Sentence Was Previously Overturned

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a review of Scott Peterson’s 2004 convictions for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

Peterson was sentenced to death by lethal injection for those crimes in 2005, but in August of this year, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. 

We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,“ the court said at the time. “But before the trial began, the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection.”

As far as what errors the court is talking about, it said the trial judge wrongly discharged prospective jurors who expressed opposition to capital punishment but said they would be willing to impose it.

Court to Decide on Potential New Trial

Now, weeks later, the California Supreme Court has ordered that the case return to the San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the ground that a juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, that juror had not shared the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant. 

Peterson’s lawyers even say that when all potential jurors were asked whether they had ever been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit, the juror said no to both questions.

They also say she was one of the two holdouts for convicting Peterson of first-degree murder for killing his unborn child, with the jury ultimately convicting Peterson of the first-degree murder of Laci and the second-degree murder of the unborn child. 

For now, it’s up to the San Mateo Court to decide what happens next, but the California Supreme Court did say that prosecutors could again seek the death penalty for Peterson at a new hearing.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News)

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