- A gunman killed 10—including a cop—at a supermarket in Boulder, CO. That’s the second mass shooting in the U.S. in a week, after the spa killings in Atlanta, and will probably reignite gun debates.
- Pres. Biden is considering a new $3 trillion spending plan that would include almost $1 trillion for infrastructure improvements, plus more to support free national community college, universal prekindergarten, and tax credits to reduce the cost of child care. It’s not yet clear how the plan would be funded, and Congressional Republicans would probably object to any proposed tax hikes for corporations.
- The Biden administration is finally reacting to criticism of its border policies, which have led to overcrowding and slow / flawed processing of migrant children in border facilities. Senior White House and NSC officials are traveling to Mexico and Guatemala for policy talks. The Economist has some suggestions for a firmer long-run strategy on immigration—see article below.
- The U.S., EU, UK, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which China denies. China quickly responded by sanctioning several EU entities and individuals that “that severely harm China's sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation,” and by barring those individuals and their families from entering China (although, given China’s pattern of politically-motivated arrests, those people would be wise to stay away anyway). Analysts expect China to sanction U.S. entities and people next.
- Amidst this flurry of sanctions, China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in southern China, and they gave a joint press conference urging other countries to “stand together to oppose all forms of unilateral sanctions,” and encourage the U.S. to stop meddling in other countries’ affairs and rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran.
- Foreign Minister Lavrov further poked at the U.S. during his trip to China by donning a mask reading—in vowel-less English—“FCKNG QRNTN.” The Foreign Ministry said the mask “suited [Lavrov] just right,” which I guess means he thinks U.S./EU-style quarantines are for Western sissies.
- Pres. Putin decided to finally get one of Russia’s COVID vaccines today—though it’s not clear which one—after the Kremlin initially said it was smart policy for heads of state to wait until vaccines are proven effective and safe (different rules apply for Putin’s daughters—one of whom got the Sputnik V vaccine before any data had been published from Phase I or II trials, and before Phase III trials had started).
- Saudi proposed a new “peace offering” to end its war in Yemen by lifting its air and sea blockade if the Houthis agree to a ceasefire; however, the Houthis said it’s not enough and criticized it for offering “nothing new.”
- SecState Blinken visited Brussels for meetings that included a discussion on Afghanistan, in which he aimed to share the current U.S. thinking about withdrawing from Afghanistan with NATO. The U.S. has been slow to decide whether or not it will meet the May 1 deadline—perhaps because it fears riling the Taliban with a delay.
- A PDVSA report said a 36” natural gas reinjection pipeline exploded in Monagas, Venezuela over the weekend. Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami blamed the incident on a “terrorist attack,” but analysts point out it’s just as likely due to poor maintenance.
- The Venezuelan Army skirmished with a Colombian armed group in the southwestern municipality of Arauquita. Pres. Maduro blamed the incident on “Colombia’s abandonment of the entire border, which causes armed groups to come here.”
- “Kill the Bill” protests in the UK are echoing the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. Demonstrators oppose the UK’s new policing and crime bill, which would give police more authority to quell nonviolent protests.
- Lebanon’s pound sunk to a new low against the dollar, making food all the more unaffordable.
Biden’s muddle on immigration (Economist)
Joe Biden needs a clearer message and a firmer hand to tackle a mounting border crisis
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive action to halt construction of Donald Trump’s controversial and expensive border wall, but now he has a new wall of worry. A crisis is rapidly building on the southern border with Mexico, as hundreds of thousands of migrants seek entry into the United States, fuelled by the hope that the new president will be more welcoming than his predecessor was. In January and February the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended along the border started to surge above previous peaks. Illegal border crossings in general are soaring, amid predictions that this year they may be the highest for two decades.
For Mr Biden this poses a threat. Immigration, for years the most polarising issue in American politics and one that has become ever harder to solve, could soon dominate the agenda. To the president’s right, Republicans are on the rampage. To his left, meanwhile, progressive Democrats are out of step with wider American opinion, championing impractical demands (such as stopping deportations) while labour unions oppose sensible policies such as issuing more work visas. Mr Biden may want to avoid a confrontation with progressives, whose support he needs for other legislation. Yet he finds himself in a bind that could yet cost his party control of Congress in the mid-term elections next year.
In the short term, Mr Biden cannot change the dire circumstances that are propelling Central Americans, Mexicans and others to try to set foot on American soil, but he can easily alter the signals he sends. His administration has at times sounded like a shy host who is too polite to kick out hungry gate-crashers. “We are not saying ‘Don’t come’. We are saying ‘Don’t come now’,” was the excessively mild recent message to potential migrants from the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas. On March 16th Mr Biden sought to dispel any ambiguity: “I can say quite clearly: don’t come over,” he told abc News. He needs to do more to impose clarity and control.
That means making it plain that tolerance of legal immigration has to go hand in hand with toughness on the illegal sort. This will sometimes feel harsh. Unaccompanied minors who do not have successful asylum claims or family of legal status in America should be sent home. But there is no contradiction in being pro-immigrant yet anti-illegal-immigration. Recent Democratic presidents have taken strong stands on enforcement, including deporting illegal immigrants, bulking up border control and building fencing on the southern border.
Mr Biden should start with manageable tasks, visiting the border to understand the scale and complexity of the challenge confronting him. He should immediately appoint permanent leaders for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their staff are overwhelmed, confused about which policies are in effect and unsure what the administration plans to do next. Simple actions, such as directing more intelligence resources to crack down on cartels and smugglers and getting rid of the invasive brush along the banks of the Rio Grande, could have an outsize impact by making it easier for Border Patrol to do its job.
Beyond such measures Mr Biden needs to overhaul the asylum process. Because of a backlog in immigration-court cases—which today number 1.3m, about two-and-a-half times the total when Mr Trump assumed office—resolution of asylum claims takes years. Many migrants are allowed to stay in America while their cases are pending. Better to let claims be evaluated by asylum officers instead of judges. Those who want to appeal against adverse decisions could still do so in court, but such a change would ensure resolution within months, not years. Although a grand bargain on immigration is probably impossible in today’s polarised environment, more such technocratic compromises may be feasible.
A sustainable immigration policy for the future must involve creating more ways for immigrants to enter America legally. Currently there is no queue to join if you want to come to live and work in America, which is why so many migrants are either rushing the border to claim asylum or entering illegally. The asylum system has become a backdoor substitute for a proper immigration scheme. Mr Biden would also, sensibly, like to extend citizenship to undocumented immigrants who are already living in America and to the “Dreamers” who arrived there as children. Yet hope of such reforms depends on him acting decisively. An uncomfortable showdown with noisy elements within his own party may soon be needed.