Lost in the Sauce: Immigration reform begins in earnest, erasing Trump policies
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.
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Biden informed Congress on Thursday that he terminated the national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and removed all funding for the border wall. In his letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden called Trump’s emergency declaration “unwarranted” and promised “no more American taxpayer dollars will be diverted to construct a border wall. In total, Trump’s wall cost taxpayers $15 billion and resulted in only 40 new miles of steel barriers at the border; 412 miles simply replaced pre-existing fencing.
The Biden administration is slowly phasing in a new asylum process, ultimately allowing 25,000 asylum-seekers in the “Remain in Mexico” program to enter the country. Under the Trump-era policy, border officers sent about 70,000 people, including non-Mexican nationals and children, to Mexico to wait while their cases worked their way through U.S. immigration courts. Starting on February 19, three border crossing points will begin processing these asylum-seekers, allowing them to stay in the country as their claims are heard.
Human Rights Watch: “Asylum seekers swept up in the MPP program face kidnapping, sexual assault, exploitation, lack of basic necessities, abuse and other dangers in Mexico, with no meaningful access to due process in the United States.”
Trump-appointed District Judge Drew Tipton, of South Texas, extended by two weeks a pause on Biden’s 100-day deportation freeze. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton brought the lawsuit against Biden’s administration, claiming it violated an agreement former DHS Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli signed in the final days of Trump’s administration. In the agreement, DHS is required to provide signatory states – including Texas – 180 days’ notice before changing deportation policy.
A whistleblower filed an official complaint last week about another of Cuccinelli’s last-minute agreements, accusing him of “gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority”. The agreement in this instance was signed with the pro-Trump union representing ICE agents and officials on Trump’s final day in office. If permitted to take effect, ICE would have unprecedented power in setting administration policy:
One clause in the contract requires homeland security leaders to obtain “prior affirmative consent” in writing from the union on changes to policies and functions affecting agents. It also appears to allow the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes such as Mr. Biden’s recent order to focus on violent criminals and not prioritize other undocumented immigrants.
DHS has 30 days to cancel the agreement, meaning less than a week remaining from the signing date.
Refugee advocate Michelle Brané is expected to be named as the executive director of the task force to reunite migrant families separated by the Trump administration. The task force was created by executive order two weeks ago to try to identify all the children separated from parents under Trump’s policy and to make recommendations on steps to reunite families.
Further reading: “Biden Is Planning To Scrap Trump’s Version Of The Citizenship Test That Critics Said Was More Confusing,” Buzzfeed News, “Biden seeks to restore ‘badly damaged’ refugee resettlement program,” Washington Post.
Quick Biden admin recap
The Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the government does not find the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, switching positions from the Trump era. It is unclear if this will impact the court’s decision as the justices heard arguments last November and likely already determined the outcome.
In a reversal of Trump administration policy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will begin enforcing a ban on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination,” the order says in part. “All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified states last week that it is beginning a process to roll back Medicaid work requirements. Ten states have requested and been granted waivers allowing them to deny benefits to those who don’t meet a certain employment level. Some of these states have since withdrawn the waiver or had the policy set aside by the courts.
Biden instructed to State Department to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council. Trump pulled America out of the council three years ago, claiming the group has unfair criticisms of Israel.
Deputy White House press secretary TJ Ducklo resigned after it was revealed that he made “derogatory and misogynistic comments” towards Politico reporter Tara Palmeri in a phone call. Ducklo threatened to “destroy her” if Palmeri went forward with a story about Ducklo’s romantic relationship with an NBC reporter.
The Biden administration is considering choosing prominent Republicans to fill ambassador positions, reportedly “to highlight the importance of bipartisanship in U.S. foreign policy”. According to Axios, Cindy McCain has been discussed for the U.K. and former Sen. Jeff Flake for South Africa or a European nation.
- Further reading: “Donors Fume: ‘It’s Bullshit’ Biden Hasn’t Called About Ambassadorships,” Daily Beast
The Labor Department reinstated career lawyer Janet Herold, who was reportedly fired by former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia for objecting to his interference in discrimination litigation against tech giant Oracle.
The Justice Department has asked almost all Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to resign by February 28. The DOJ made an exception for prosecutors in Delaware and Connecticut: the former is overseeing a probe of Hunter Biden and the latter, John Durham, is investigating the FBI’s 2016 probe of the Trump campaign.
After ruling 5-4 in 2019 to allow the Alabama execution of a Muslim inmate without his spiritual adviser’s presence, last week the new Supreme Court said the state cannot execute a Christian death row inmate without his pastor in the room. For the first time, Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with liberal colleagues.
The New York Court of Appeals let stand a lower court ruling that Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance cannot prosecute Paul Manafort for crimes similar to those he was already convicted of in federal court. Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said in his 2019 ruling that “the law of double jeopardy in New York State provides a very narrow window for prosecution.”
The business partner of Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas was sentenced to a year in prison for defrauding investors and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. Prosecutors say David Correia and Parnas lured investors by promoting their connection with Giuliani, ultimately using over $2 million in investment capital for personal expenses.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder refused to issue a new arrest warrant for Kyle Rittenhouse and denied the prosecutor’s request for a bail increase. Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger alleged that Rittenhouse violated the terms of his bail by failing to update his address; Rittenhouse’s attorney argued that he is simply in hiding.
“Yesterday’s (Thursday) hearing sent a clear message to violent white supremacists: come to Kenosha to kill protestors, and you’ll be supported by the police and the court system,” said Erica Ness, an organizer with Leaders of Kenosha. “Meanwhile, Black and brown folks are having their doors kicked in and are dragged back to jail for the smallest infractions against their bond. This is a gross display of bias, and we’re calling on Judge Schroeder to resign and for Kyle Rittenhouse to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Further reading: “Fox asks court to drop $2.7 billion Smartmatic defamation suit, citing press protections,” CNBC. “US drops suit against Calif. net neutrality rule, but ISPs are still fighting it,” Arstechnica. “Justice Department drops lawsuit against Melania Trump’s ex-aide for tell-all book,” Washington Post.
Tracking Trump officials
Former Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell is reportedly “laying the groundwork” to run for governor of California, should the bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom move forward.
Former Trump campaign adviser and White House aide Cliff Sims is exploring a run for Alabama’s senate seat, set to open next year with the retirement of Sen. Richard Shelby. Sims apparently has the support of the Trump family despite writing a tell-all book about his time in the White House called “Team of Vipers” and suing the former president over nondisclosure agreements.
Former Health and Human Services chief of staff Brian Harrison is considering running for the U.S. House seat held by now-deceased Rep. Ron Wright in Texas. Wright died last week from Covid-19.
Sen. Lindsey Graham appeared on Fox News Sunday to boost the prospect of Lara Trump, wife of Don Jr., as a candidate for retiring Sen. Richard Burr’s North Carolina senate seat. Watch clip:
”The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump… If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Meanwhile, Graham told reporters he will be meeting with Trump shortly to discuss the future of the Republican party: “I’m going to try and convince him that we can’t get there without you, but you can’t keep the Trump movement going without the GOP united… You got to put your best team on the field. If it’s about revenge and going after people you don’t like, we’re going to have a problem.”