Nation & World: Biden faces pressure as U.S. pivots on immigration
photo by: Associated Press
TIJUANA, MEXICO (AP) — After a weeklong bus ride from Honduras, Isabel Osorio Medina arrived in northern Mexico with the hope President Joe Biden would make it easier for people like him to get into the United States.
“It seems the new president wants to help migrants,” Osorio said as he got ready to check in to a cheap hotel in downtown Tijuana before heading to the U.S. “They’re saying he is going to help, but I don’t know for sure how much is true or not.”
The 63-year-old is among thousands of people who have come to the U.S.-Mexico border with the hope they will be able to ask for asylum and make their way into the U.S. now that former President Donald Trump is no longer in office.
While Biden has taken some major steps in his first weeks in office to reverse Trump’s hardline immigration policies, his administration hasn’t lifted some of the most significant barriers to asylum-seekers.
In fact, it’s discouraging people from coming to the country, hoping to avoid what happened under both Trump and former President Barack Obama — border agents getting overwhelmed by migrants, including many Central Americans with children.
“Now is not the time to come,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a recent briefing, “and the vast majority of people will be turned away.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken struck a similar tone on Feb. 6 as he announced official steps to end Trump-era agreements with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that required many asylum-seekers to seek refuge in one of those countries instead of the U.S.
“To be clear, these actions do not mean that the U.S. border is open,” Blinken said. “While we are committed to expanding legal pathways for protection and opportunity here and in the region, the United States is a country with borders and laws that must be enforced.”
That message hasn’t reached everyone.
More people have been arriving at a encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, a dangerous city just south of the Texas border where hundreds of asylum-seekers have been waiting under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program.
It’s possible even more may come after the Biden administration announced Friday that it would slowly allow an estimated 25,000 people to enter the U.S. as their cases are reviewed. The first wave is expected Feb. 19.
Walter Valenzuela, a 37-year-old Honduran, said he had been waiting in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, for months for a chance to either seek asylum or risk an illegal crossing.
For years, asylum-seekers who met the initial threshold of demonstrating a “credible fear” of persecution in their homeland could generally stay in the U.S. until an immigration judge decided whether they qualified for permanent residency, which can take years.
Trump administration officials believed many asylum claims were fraudulent or lacked merit, submitted by people simply looking to remain in the U.S. But the issue is murky as tens of thousands flee violent gangs, natural disasters and political upheaval.
The Biden administration has signed several executive orders on immigration, including allowing in more refugees and establishing a task force to find the parents of about 600 children who were separated under Trump and still haven’t been reunited.
But it hasn’t ended a public health order Trump issued at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to immediately expel nearly everyone, including asylum-seekers.
Psaki said the government is still working to develop a “humane, comprehensive process” to evaluate people coming to the U.S.
“Asylum processes at the border will not occur immediately,” she said. “It will take time to implement.”
Alan Bersin, who held top positions dealing with border security during the Clinton and Obama administrations, warned that Biden is headed for a crisis if he releases all asylum-seekers into the United States in the short term.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting.
The number of people apprehended at the border has increased since January, though it’s below some previous periods. Authorities say many are getting caught and returned multiple times.
Complicating matters, a law has taken effect in Mexico that prohibits holding children in migrant detention centers, and the U.S. has stopped sending back some families along parts of the border. CBP, which doesn’t have capacity to hold families because of COVID-19, in recent weeks has released dozens of people into the U.S. with instructions to appear in court later.
Authorities fear that as word spreads of those releases, more people will come. And asylum is not the only immigration issue creating headwinds for Biden’s administration.
Texas and Arizona have both sued to stop Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium, which a judge temporarily put on hold. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement officers are complaining about proposed rules to focus on detaining and removing people in the country illegally who pose national security threats or have been convicted of more serious crimes.
Jon Feere, a senior adviser to ICE under Trump, said such moves are part of a larger pattern that the Biden administration will come to regret.
“When you send the message that you are not serious about immigration enforcement, you can’t act surprised when you see a massive influx of people that you have to manage,” he said.
Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, said last week that as a liaison to the Biden transition team, he found the staff to be “very attentive” to the issues. Some had experience with surges of asylum-seekers under Obama.
“This wasn’t uncharted waters,” Ortiz said in an interview produced by the Border Patrol. “It wasn’t like we were starting from scratch.”
The larger debate is lost on Osorio, who came to Tijuana because he heard Biden wants to help people like him. He says he intended to seek asylum based on the dangers he faced as an environmental activist protesting illegal logging in Honduras.
But because he can’t seek asylum at the official border crossing in San Diego, other migrants told him about a place he could try to cross illegally. He said if he encountered the Border Patrol, he would ask for asylum and see what happens.
“They already told us more or less how to do it,” Osorio said. “We’re going to take a look.”
Luxury car brand Jaguar to go fully electric by 2025
London (ap) — Struggling luxury car brand Jaguar will be fully electric by 2025, the British company said Monday as it outlined a plan to phase out internal combustion engines.
Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Indian conglomerate Tata Motors, hopes the move will help turn around the fortunes of the 86-year-old Jaguar brand, which for many epitomizes class but has struggled in recent years.
The switch to an electric future will involve moving car production from JLR’s Castle Bromwich factory east of the central England city of Birmingham to nearby Solihull.
Pelosi says independent body will examine Capitol riot
Washington (ap) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Congress will establish an independent, Sept. 11-style commission to look into the deadly insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol.
Pelosi said the commission will “investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex … and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”
In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the House will also put forth supplemental spending to boost security at the Capitol.
After former President Donald Trump’s acquittal at his second Senate impeachment trial, bipartisan support appeared to be growing for an independent commission to examine the deadly insurrection.
Cold disrupts power in Texas
Austin, Texas (ap) — A sprawling blast of winter weather across the U.S. is likely to blame for the deaths of two people in Texas, where an unusually snowy emergency Monday knocked out power for more than four million people, shut down grocery stores and air travel and closed schools ahead of frigid days still to come.
As nightfall threatened to plummet temperatures again into single digits, officials warned that homes still without power would likely not have heat until at least Tuesday, as frustration mounted and the state’s electric grid came under growing demand and criticism.
“Things will likely get worse before they get better,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the county of nearly 5 million people around Houston.
Law enforcement reported two men were found dead along Houston-area roadways. Causes of death were pending, but officials said the subfreezing temperatures were likely to blame.
The toll of the worsening conditions included the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments, which were expected to be delayed until at least midweek. Massive power outages across Houston included a facility storing 8,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, leaving health officials scrambling to find takers at the same time authorities were pleading for people to stay home.
Police say Nicki Minaj’s father hit, killed by car
Mineola, N.Y. (ap) — The 64-year-old father of rapper Nicki Minaj has died after being struck by a hit-and-run driver in New York, police said.
Robert Maraj was walking along a road in Mineola on Long Island at 6:15 p.m. Friday when he was hit by a car that kept going, Nassau County police said. Maraj was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead Saturday.
Police are asking any witnesses to the fatal crash to come forward.
Okonjo-Iweala is 1st woman, African to lead world trade body
Frankfurt, Germany (ap) — Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Monday to head the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to take on the role amid rising protectionism and disagreement over how the body decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was named director-general by representatives of the 164 countries that make up the WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations based on negotiated agreements.
Former NFL receiver Vincent Jackson found dead in hotel
Brandon, Fla. (ap) — Former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson was found dead Monday at a Florida hotel room, days after authorities spoke with him as part of a welfare check, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
A housekeeper discovered the 38-year-old’s body at around 11:30 a.m. Monday, official said.
There were no signs of trauma and the medical examiner’s office was looking into a cause of death at the Homewood Suites in Brandon, near Tampa.
Sheriff’s officials said his family initially reported Jackson missing on Wednesday. Deputies tracked him down to the hotel two days later, spoke with him and canceled the missing persons case.
Guinea declares Ebola epidemic, neighboring countries act
Dakar, Senegal (ap) — Guinea has officially declared it has an Ebola epidemic after at least three people have died and four others have been infected in the West African nation.
Neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia have put their citizens on high alert as the three West African nations battled the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016, which began in Guinea and in which more than 11,300 people died.
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has flown to consult with Guinean President Alpha Conde.
Perdue files paperwork for potential 2022 Senate run
Atlanta (ap) — Former Georgia Sen. David Perdue filed campaign paperwork Monday, opening up the potential for the recently defeated Republican to run against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022.
Perdue, 71, filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, an early step toward a possible bid to return to Washington.
Perdue lost his reelection bid during a closely watched runoff last month against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Ossoff’s win, along with Warnock’s victory over Sen. Kelly Loeffler, resulted in Democrats taking control of the Senate for the first time since 2011.
WHO authorizes AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use
Toronto (ap) — The World Health Organization has granted an emergency authorization to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, a move that should allow the U.N. agency’s partners to ship millions of doses to countries as part of a U.N.-backed program to tame the pandemic.
In a statement Monday, the WHO said it was clearing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.
The WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second one the U.N. health agency has issued after authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Monday’s announcement should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the U.N.-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, the WHO’s Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.