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Immigration Politics Roils Pandemic Response

A man stands at the wall that divides Mexico from the United States at Tijuana Beach.
For a brief moment last week, it looked as if Congress might actually fulfill, in part, the basic responsibility of keeping Americans safe in an emergency. A $10 billion deal was reached to restock supplies of COVID vaccines, therapeutics, and tests, using revenue from canceling previously issued relief funds. It’s ridiculous that the government needs to “pay for” lifesaving items, and worse, funding for global vaccines was left on the cutting-room floor, taking the “pan” out of pandemic and ensuring fertile breeding grounds for more mutations that will eventually come ashore.

But just when we were celebrating with the tiniest of flags Congress’s ability at least to minimally function, even that ground to a halt.

The pandemic funding vote, which the Senate attempted to squeeze in before confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, was abandoned, because Republicans sought an amendment to extend the Title 42 policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. Title 42 allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expel migrants and asylum seekers through the Public Health Service Act of 1944, a measure initially intended to prevent tuberculosis outbreaks. It has been in effect to stop the spread of COVID-19 for two years, but the administration has announced it would end on May 23.

More from David Dayen

An amendment extending Title 42 would likely pass, as a handful of Senate Democrats also oppose lifting the order, in a rebuke to the administration. Five Democrats and six Republicans have signed on to one bill that would block the expiration without a detailed plan from the Department of Homeland Security. A separate bill from ten Senate Republicans would simply extend Title 42 until February 2025.

This is clearly an election-year proxy fight about immigration and border security. But when you break it down, it’s an astounding fight for Republicans to wage. For well over a year, Republicans have been resisting pandemic restrictions with a unified voice, from mask and vaccine mandates to school closures. They have called these safety measures an impingement on American freedom, and lauded no-restriction zones in states like Florida as a refuge from tyranny. On March 3, all 48 Senate Republicans in attendance voted for a resolution to end the federal COVID state of emergency that has been in effect since March 2020.

Yet this one pandemic restriction, this order to safeguard Americans from COVID, must stay in place, Republicans insist. Only noncitizens traveling into the U.S. at a land or coastal port of entry without proper travel documents are impacted. Though someone entering the U.S. on a travel visa could just as easily have COVID, though a U.S. citizen could also enter the country from abroad while infected, only noncitizens are singled out. Once in the country, no person should experience any infringement on their life due to the virus, Republicans maintain. But while entering the country, this one subset of travelers should be forcibly removed, for the stated purpose of maintaining public health.

“The biggest lie in Washington today is that Title 42 is a public-health issue,” said Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. “It’s a pandemic restriction for Black and brown people. This is a backdoor attempt by Republicans to end asylum as we know it.”

THE PROSPECT SENT QUESTIONS to all 15 Senate Republicans who are co-sponsors of the two bills (one, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, is a co-sponsor of both), asking them what other pandemic restrictions they support, given their explicit concern over the spread of the virus at the border. These questions were also sent to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and all five Senate Democrats—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT)—who joined Republicans on one of the two Title 42 bills.

Of those 21 queries, only two Senate offices responded. Ansley Bradwell, a spokesperson for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who introduced the bill that would extend Title 42 to 2025, simply sent a link to a story from Breitbart, ominously warning of the “biggest migration crisis in U.S. history” if Title 42 expires. When the Prospect explained that Title 42 is a public-health restriction designed to prevent pandemic spread, and reiterated the question of what other pandemic restrictions Sen. Rubio supported, Bradwell did not respond.

Title 42 was rather obviously imposed by the Trump administration and its ringleader on immigration policy, Stephen Miller, to essentially bar immigration at the border.

The other response came from the office of Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), co-author of the bipartisan Title 42 bill. Lankford does not support any pandemic restrictions; he has said that if the administration wants to lift Title 42, “then it must be safe enough to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency on the whole country.” But Lankford has also said that his vote last month to end the national emergency doesn’t change the need for Title 42; he wants a plan from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure the border first.

It is here where Lankford, some Democrats, and even immigration advocates are in a strange form of agreement. In different ways, they’ve all criticized the brief summary DHS has provided on how to deal with an influx of migrants after Title 42 ends as insufficient, both as policy and as politics. Advocates are disappointed in the administration’s relative silence on immigration over the past several months. “They don’t want to talk about it because it brings mainstream media coverage of the right-wing narrative,” said Sharry.

The muddle has left progressive Democrats angry and moderate Democrats exposed, and rebellious against the White House’s lifting of the provision. For their part, conservative state attorneys general are likely to bring Title 42 to a Trump-friendly judge in a bid to get it extended. A similar tactic and a court order led the Biden administration to reimpose the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to stay outside the country in hazardous conditions while their claim is reviewed. The not-so-conspiratorial take expressed by some advocates is that the administration wouldn’t mind having to do the same for Title 42.

In response to questions from the Prospect, a White House official stressed that they introduced an immigration bill in January that addressed border security, and that the CDC is responsible for determining the status of Title 42. “DHS has been very transparent about the planning it’s doing to anticipate what the border/processing could look like” after Title 42 expires, the official added.

TITLE 42 WAS RATHER OBVIOUSLY imposed by the Trump administration and its ringleader on immigration policy, Stephen Miller, to essentially bar immigration at the border. Over 1.7 million migrants have thus been denied entry without a hearing. The subsequent declining immigration rates since the pandemic have contributed to labor shortages in key industries and harmed Americans who rely on those services.

Some of that 1.7 million is based on double-counting migrants who attempt to cross multiple times. That context is left out of the caterwauling from the right about an uptick at the border. Similarly, claims that migrant crossings are responsible for a surge into the country of the deadly drug fentanyl omits the inconvenient fact that almost all of the drugs come in through passenger vehicles and trucks.

The public-health case for Title 42 is similarly wrongheaded; leading epidemiologists cannot confirm whether it prevents COVID spread in any way. Other experts have noted that in expelling asylum seekers, border officials place them in close contact for several days, which could increase infections.

Advocates initially praised Biden for overturning several Trump policies at the border after his election, though not for keeping Title 42. The issue proved contentious and led to infighting among White House policymakers. Most of the aides who were key links to advocacy groups have left the administration in frustration.

Crossings rose after a court decided that unaccompanied minors were not subject to the Title 42 order. The administration tried to manage this, until the spectacle of thousands of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas, being brutally beaten by Border Patrol agents created a media firestorm. In response, the White House “reverted to the typical playbook,” Sharry said, by cracking down on border entries, even from countries like Haiti, whose immigrants have Temporary Protected Status. (Many Haitians are now attempting entry through the Florida Keys.)

The current perceived double standard at the border, where Ukrainian immigrants are allowed in but asylum seekers from other countries are not, has added to dissatisfaction. Cuban refugees, who are arriving at the Mexican border in large numbers, also typically are not expelled under Title 42.

Meanwhile, the conservative noise machine has seized upon statements from federal officials that as many as 18,000 migrants will cross the border per day once Title 42 ends. Lankford upped the numbers, claiming that one million migrants will reach the border in six weeks.
This has put vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in November, who mostly want the bad headlines in their states to stop, in a tough spot. Even Democrats not on the main bill to prohibit the termination of Title 42, like Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), have spoken out against it.

The Lankford-Sinema bill prohibits the termination of Title 42 without “a plan to address any possible influx of entries.” The nature of that plan is vague; a Lankford spokesperson would only say that the government would have to secure the border and follow the law. Such parameters mean different things to different members of Congress; the White House could satisfy Democrats on this front and still face a roadblock from Republicans, whose votes would ultimately be needed to pass pandemic funding legislation in the Senate.

So far, Republicans have only demanded an amendment addressing Title 42; if that amendment is brought up for a vote and it loses, it’s not clear whether Republicans will take down a funding deal they negotiated. Democrats will try again in the Senate after a two-week Easter recess. As pandemic funding is vital for preparedness in the event of another variant, the health of millions potentially hangs in the balance of a perennial fight about immigration. The White House official insisted that the need for funding was “urgent” and already truncated by Congress. “If we do not have treatments, vaccines, or tests,” the official said, “Americans will die from COVID whether they support or oppose the administration on immigration.”
David Dayen is the Prospect’s executive editor. His work has appeared in The Intercept, The New Republic, HuffPost, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and more. His most recent book is ‘Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.’

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POLITICS

Governor Newsom and President Biden Visit Communities Impacted

 

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY – Governor Gavin Newsom today welcomed President Joe Biden as he arrived in California to visit communities impacted by recent storms and meet with first responders leading recovery efforts.

“Over the past weeks, Californians have endured some of the deadliest and most destructive storms in recent memory, but our strength, resilience, and instinct to help in times of crisis has never faltered,” said Governor Newsom. “And President Biden and his Administration have been supporting us every step of the way – and I am grateful for the President’s commitment to helping California recover.”

President Biden’s visit began with an aerial tour led by Governor Newsom on Marine One, surveying damage across Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County. Following the tour, they visited businesses in Capitola that were impacted by the recent winter storms and met with first responders at Seacliff State Beach.

 

 

Governor Newsom welcomes President Biden as he arrived in California to visit communities impacted by recent storms and meet with first responders leading recovery efforts.

Yesterday, the Governor announced that the White House added the counties of Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration – with San Joaquin being added today.

FEMA and the President also announced a 100% federal cost share for Categories A (debris removal) and B (emergency protective measures). Last week, President Biden also approved the Governor’s request for a Presidential Emergency Declaration to bolster state, local and tribal government storm response efforts.

Over the past two weeks, Governor Newsom has met with evacuated residents in Merced County, assisted storm preparedness work in Santa Barbara County and surveyed storm damage in Santa Cruz County and Sacramento County with state and local officials. The Governor has proclaimed a state of emergency statewide and issued an executive order to further assist the emergency response and support impacted communities across the state.

 

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At Inauguration, Hochul Vows to Make New York Safer and More Affordable

ALBANY, N.Y. — Kathy Hochul became the first woman to be sworn in to a full term as governor of New York on Sunday, a landmark moment that she said she would seize to lead a state confronting fears over crime and a crisis of affordability.

In her first inaugural address, Ms. Hochul briefly acknowledged other women in New York who had made history before her, name-checking Harriet Tubman and Hillary Clinton, before turning her attention to the “worthy pursuits” and fights she said she would take on in the next four years.

“I didn’t come here to make history,” Ms. Hochul said shortly after being sworn in at a convention center in Albany. “I came here to make a difference.”

Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat from the Buffalo area, took the oath of office two months after emerging victorious in the closest governor’s race that New York has seen in decades. In one of the nation’s most liberal states, Ms. Hochul beat her Republican challenger, Representative Lee Zeldin, by only six percentage points, with the race largely defined by agitation from voters around spikes in crime and the rising cost of living, issues with which Mr. Zeldin hammered the governor.

On Sunday, Ms. Hochul indicated that she would focus her tenure on addressing many of the same concerns — including safety and affordability — that fueled the wave of discontent in November against Democrats, who control all three levers of power in Albany.

At the same time, Ms. Hochul, 64, used her speech to lean into social issues favored by progressives, who took credit for salvaging the governor’s flagging campaign in its closing weeks. And she emphasized the need to safeguard the right to abortion, an issue that helped galvanize many Democrats after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Such sentiments were lauded by a swarm of well-wishers and Albany power brokers who packed the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in downtown Albany, adjacent to the state’s ornate Capitol Building.

The event, the first inaugural planned in Albany since 2011, when Andrew M. Cuomo first became governor, had a festive atmosphere, with attendees snapping 360-degree photographs and selfies in front of the New York State seal and a I N.Y. poster.

Before the ceremony, an overmatched string quartet played against a babble of conversation among New York’s movers and shakers, only a smattering of whom wore masks, a sign of the state’s steady, if slow, recovery from Covid-19.

Indeed, Ms. Hochul made reference to “the lingering effects” of the pandemic, suggesting it was partly to blame for educational and economic disruptions in the state, including “mental health challenges and increases in crime.”
The governor, who is expected to unveil a plan later this year to build 800,000 units of new housing over the next decade, said that high housing and energy costs were “making life just too damn hard for New Yorkers.” She pledged to address the state’s years of population loss by creating jobs and in-state economic opportunities.

“New Yorkers are just struggling to pay rent, food and gas to get to their jobs,” she said. “They’re hurting.”
Without offering specifics, she broadly vowed to crack down on hate crimes and tackle gun violence so that “New Yorkers can walk our streets, ride our subways and our kids can go to school, free from fear.”

Ms. Hochul is expected to unveil her policy vision in greater detail during her State of the State address later this month, as well as in her proposal for the state’s budget, which typically serves as a vehicle to pass a host of nonfiscal policy priorities in Albany.

But passing her agenda will mean working in tandem with Democrats in the State Legislature who hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers and have influential blocs of members who are to the left of Ms. Hochul on an array of policy issues.

It is unclear, for example, if Ms. Hochul will seek additional changes to the state’s contentious bail laws this year, as Mayor Eric Adams of New York City has called for — a move that would create another clash with Democratic lawmakers. Mr. Adams attended the ceremony on Sunday, as did Senator Chuck Schumer, who administered the oath of office for the state attorney general, Letitia James, who was also sworn in, as were the state comptroller, Thomas B. DiNapoli, and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado. All of them are Democrats.

Ms. Hochul will begin the legislative year already at odds with left-leaning Democrats in the State Senate over her nominee for the state’s chief judge. At least a dozen state senators, including Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the upper chamber, have announced in recent days that they would vote against confirming her choice, Hector LaSalle.

The intense opposition has placed Ms. Hochul’s nominee in serious jeopardy, raising the possibility that Ms. Hochul, who has so far stood by her decision, might have to withdraw the nomination and suffer an embarrassing political defeat at the onset of her first full term.

Ms. Hochul’s first inauguration capped her whirlwind ascent to the state’s highest office: In August 2021, she unexpectedly replaced Mr. Cuomo after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, thrusting Ms. Hochul, then his mostly obscure lieutenant governor, into the limelight.

A former congresswoman, Ms. Hochul made history as the first female governor in the state and first governor from western New York in over a century, and she quickly moved to build her stature in Albany.

She secured a suite of policy priorities in her 500 days in office, including the passage of a $220 billion state budget, as well as changes to the state’s bail and gun laws, and moved to develop a more cordial relationship with fellow Democrats who control the State Legislature.

Casting herself as an above-the-fray executive and a calming presence after Mr. Cuomo’s combative leadership and sudden downfall, Ms. Hochul immediately announced her bid for a full term and quickly established herself as the de facto leader of the state Democratic Party. She raised record-smashing amounts of campaign contributions and went on to win resoundingly in a three-way primary last summer.

Armed with an overwhelming fund-raising edge in a state where Democratic voters vastly outnumber Republicans, Ms. Hochul appeared poised to easily prevail in the general election. But Mr. Zeldin tapped into fears over crime and mounted a vigorous challenge, fueled by support from independent and suburban voters, and even a sizable chunk of Democrats in New York City, who appeared to be upset over public safety.

Ms. Hochul nonetheless emerged victorious and became the first woman elected governor after scrambling to turn out Democratic voters, and focusing on public safety in the final days of the campaign.

The historic nature of her victory, and her Buffalo-area background, was never far from the forefront on Sunday, with the governor joking at one point that she made “really good chicken wings.”

A brief video early in the ceremony showed girls and young women praising her for breaking a centuries-old glass ceiling. And like other speakers on Sunday, Ms. Hochul offered sympathy to the families of more than three dozen people who died in a blizzard in Buffalo last month, as well as for victims of a racist massacre there in May.

Ms. Hochul sought to use her inauguration to begin mending divides that emerged during the election, pleading for unity by appealing to a common sense of purpose among working-class New Yorkers, from nurses and police officers to teachers and hotel workers, saying “this day doesn’t belong to me.”

“As I approach the next four years with the energy and sense of purpose and optimism, I know I am not alone, for I am joined in that arena with others who will fight the good fights and the worthy pursuits that Roosevelt spoke of,” Ms. Hochul said, referring to Theodore Roosevelt, a former New York governor — and a Republican — whom she often quotes. “Let’s use these coming years to truly make a difference for each other, and make this state stronger than it’s ever been.”

 

 

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The MAGA Transformation of Elise Stefanik

“‘I Am Ultra-MAGA’: Invention of Elise Stefanik” (front page, Jan. 1) traces the evolution of an emerging congressional leader driven by a restless political ambition and a quest for power and influence.

Ms. Stefanik herself defends her shift from a moderate brand of Republicanism to a full-throated embrace of MAGA doctrine as simply reflecting the views among her constituents.

But surely we must demand more of our leaders than that they be mere conduits for expressing what they perceive to be the will of those they represent. True leadership does indeed involve taking into account the views of various constituents in shaping one’s words and actions, but ultimately grounding them in a set of principles that makes morality — the desire to do that which is right, fair and just — the force that most animates our exercise of leadership.

In his recent book about Abraham Lincoln, “And There Was Light,” Jon Meacham writes that “politics divorced from conscience is fatal to the American experiment in liberty under law.”

Representative Stefanik, along with anyone who aspires to a position of leadership, would do well to heed those words.

Elise Stefanik’s Gumby-like transformation from moderate Republican to ultra-MAGA Trumpster is emblematic of today’s G.O.P., which has now given us George Santos. Malleability and dissembling have replaced honesty and conviction.

Groucho Marx famously said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”

Re “Don’t Expand the Child Tax Credit,” by Scott Winship (Opinion guest essay, Dec. 21):

Dr. Winship writes that while a short-term bump in the child tax credit has been shown to reduce child poverty, the long-term consequences are likely to be a disincentive for parents to work. This trope has been a conservative talking point going back to the Reagan administration.

The glaring omission in Mr. Winship’s analysis is the cost and unavailability of reliable, quality day care for low-income and single parents.

The Times recently published a hand-wringing article about the cost of day care, which can reach heights beyond that of college tuition. A Nov. 17 article in Fortune magazine bemoaned the frequency with which parents miss work for lack of child care, especially during winter flu and cold seasons.

When are conservatives going to see the elephant in the room? The problem is the cost and availability of child care, not parents’ inherent unwillingness to work if they receive a benefit in the form of a child tax credit from the government.

If the money from the tax credit enables a working-class parent to quit or reduce the hours of a undervalued, low-paying job and stay home to nurture and raise their children, to avoid the stress and anxiety of dealing with unreliable child care and transportation, what’s so wrong with that? Let them enjoy the same options more financially secure parents enjoy.

As Scott Winship explains in his essay, the expanded Child Tax Credit dramatically reduced child poverty in 2021. The monthly payments also reduced food insecurity and lessened parent financial stress.

But I disagree with Mr. Winship on one key point — the expanded Child Tax Credit wouldn’t dramatically change parents’ work behavior. Findings from the 2021 University of Chicago study he mentions have been rebutted by the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center and other researchers. Evidence from the similar tax benefits in Canada also found no negative employment effects among parents.

If anything, a permanently expanded Child Tax Credit would, in the long run, support employment outcomes for parents and children. Providing additional cash to families improves outcomes in school, health and even future earnings.

In fact, the tax credit helped some parents work more hours. The payments allow parents to afford the transportation and child care needed to work.

The expanded Child Tax Credit supports children, families and our economies — in both the short and long term.

The writer is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Re “Hasidic Schools Seize on Special Ed Windfall” (front page, Dec. 29):
A few months ago, The Times published an article about how the Hasidim in New York City were failing to provide basic instruction in the state’s elementary and high school curriculums.

We now learn that they are labeling so many of their children disabled in a bid to obtain state and federal special education funds to augment their inferior schools and unjustly enrich their community. This fraudulent conduct takes scarce resources from the truly needy disabled children in other schools.

As a retired special education attorney, I was appalled that the school administration in New York has apparently shirked its responsibility to students and to the taxpayers by allowing this fraud to continue. At a minimum, it should have trained staff, if not a practicing attorney, at each hearing, forcing the students and parents to prove the disability and to prove what services are necessary.

It should also be conducting annual evaluations to determine the student’s progress and if special education and related services continue to be necessary. The burden of proof in these cases lies with the student and the parent.
The flood of cases will quickly wane when the parents realize that they will be on the hook for attorneys’ fees for both sides if they pursue untenable claims of disability. This can happen only if the public school administration does its job.

Re “Chief Justice Roberts Addresses Threats to Judges’ Safety in His Year-End Report” (news article, Jan. 1):
Chief Justice John Roberts is right to address threats to judges’ safety in his year-end report. I only wish he recognized the threat to women’s safety posed by the court’s Dobbs decision and the threat to the safety of us all posed by the court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.

 

Re “The Disappearing Act of a Magical Baby Toy” (Sunday Business, Dec. 25):
Whatever happened to picking up your crying baby so she can smell and feel the parent’s warm body and hear the parent’s soothing voice? Sure, clicking a switch on an electronic toy will stop a baby from crying, but that is not being a responsible parent.

 

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