US-Mexican Border: Immigration To Headline Talks Between Biden, Lopez-Obrador

A photo collage of Biden and Lopez Labrador. PHOTO: AFP

 

The flow of migrants and trade, legal and illegal, across the US-Mexican border will be the focus Monday when President Joe Biden meets with counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Labrador in a virtual summit.

Their meeting comes as reports say the United States faces a new surge of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country from its southern neighbor, as Biden eases the tough anti-immigration regime of predecessor Donald Trump.

On Friday White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the meeting would touch on cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in impoverished southern Mexico and Central America, Covid-19 recovery and economic cooperation.

Speaking in the northern state of Zacatecas on Saturday, Lopez Obrador said he will also emphasize how important migrant labor is to the US economy.

READ ALSO: EU Agrees Sanctions On Four Senior Russian Officials

The two countries share a porous, nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border, with billions of dollars’ worth of commerce annually and large numbers of daily legal crossings by individuals.

But it also sees a huge level of illegal migrant crossing, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers trying to enter the United States, and large amounts of illicit drug trafficking from south to north.

Trump used the threat of tariffs on goods from Mexico to force Lopez Obrador to halt the flow of asylum-seeking migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, but with only partial success.

Under pressure, Lopez Obrador agreed to keep migrants in Mexico while their US asylum requests are processed.

Trump also tightened the door to legal workers from Mexico on which both countries depend, the United States for farm labor and Mexico for remittances.

Lopez Obrador estimated Saturday that the US economy would need 600,000 to 800,000 migrant workers a year.

In its opening effort to reform immigration policies, last week the Biden administration proposed that millions of people living in the United States without legal documents, particularly farmworkers largely of Mexican origin, be given “green cards” to be able to stay and work legally in the United States.

Another key issue for the two leaders is cooperating on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mexico has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the coronavirus, but has complained of lack of adequate access to vaccines, while the United States is a major producer of vaccines.

The video meeting will follow Biden’s first such “summit” with the leader of the United States’ northern neighbor Canada, Justin Trudeau.

The three countries’ economies are closely joined by their free trade agreement, originally known as NAFTA but recast as the US—Mexico—Canada Agreement (USMCA) after Trump forced a renegotiation claiming it was unfair to the United States.

AFP

Biden Urges US Senate To Act Quickly On $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation about the new coronavirus relief package from the Rosevelt Room of The White House on February 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation about the new coronavirus relief package from the Rosevelt Room of The White House on February 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed the overnight passage by the US House of Representatives of an enormous, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, saying it moves the country closer to full Covid-19 vaccination and economic recovery. 

The package passed the House just after 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote, with not one Republican vote, and moves next week to the Senate.

“I hope it will receive quick action,” Biden said in a brief address from the White House.

“We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.”

The vote in the House meant that “we’re one step closer to vaccinating the nation, we are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans, we’re one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them.”

READ ALSO: US Lawmakers Pass $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

He said the bill — which would be the second-largest US stimulus ever, after a $2 trillion package approved in March — would also help schools reopen safely and allow local and state governments to avoid “massive layoffs for essential workers.”

The House vote came just days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 in the United States, the world’s worst total.

Democrats have called the aid package a critical step in supporting millions of families and businesses devastated by the pandemic. It extends unemployment benefits, set to expire mid-March, by about six months.

But Republicans say it is too expensive, fails to target aid payments to those most in need, and could spur damaging inflation.

The administration appears poised to use a special approach requiring only 51 votes in the 100-seat Senate — meaning the vote of every Democrat, plus a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, would be required.

But progressives suffered a major setback when a key Senate official ruled Thursday that the final version of the bill in that chamber could not include a minimum wage hike.

Biden campaigned extensively on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, from the $7.25 rate that has stood since 2009. Progressives have been pushing the raise as a Democratic priority.

In his remarks Saturday, the president made no mention of the issue, a source of discord within the party.

Most Republicans, and a few Democrats, opposed the higher wage, so having it stripped from the Senate version of the legislation could actually ease its passage.

AFP

Biden, Trudeau Go Online For US-Canada Bilateral

US President Joe Biden speaks about lives lost to Covid after death toll passed 500,000, in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, February 22, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lay out a “roadmap” for rebuilding US-Canada relations Tuesday during their first bilateral meeting, a senior official said, although the scrapped Keystone pipeline could present a hurdle.

Following the turbulence of Donald Trump’s presidency, Biden would have hoped to use his well-honed skills of personal connection while meeting face-to-face with the leader of the key ally to the north.

However, the meeting will occur virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the neighboring states to build on their common values from afar instead of in person, a senior US administration official told reporters on the eve of Biden’s first bilateral event as president.

“I think the biggest deliverable from the trip, or from the meeting, is going to be essentially… a roadmap to reinvigorate US-Canada collaboration,” the official said Monday.

Announcements on “next steps” will be made in multiple areas such as diplomacy, transportation or infrastructure, and battling Covid-19, the official said.

Biden and Trudeau will address several mutual priorities, including tackling climate change, revving up the North American economy, the Arctic, and threats to democracy in Myanmar and Venezuela.

“By being on the same line on several subjects, like climate change or economic revival, we can do more together,” Trudeau’s office said, offering similar broad brush strokes.

But the sides will also wade into the thorny issue of China’s “unfair economic practices,” its human rights record and Beijing’s continued detention of two Canadian nationals, according to the senior US official.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 in what was seen as likely retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that year on a US warrant.

“Certainly we expect the prime minister to raise it, and the president is ready to discuss it,” the official said.

The official would not be drawn on how US-Canada ties might have been damaged during the four-year Trump administration, opting instead to highlight the various “shared interests” between the two countries.

One sticking point that is likely to come up: Biden’s decision to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa.

Biden rescinded the permit by executive order on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign commitment, and “the decision will not be reconsidered,” the official said.

The summit begins with a 45-minute closed-door bilateral meeting with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, along with their Canadian counterparts.

It will then be expanded to a broader bilateral discussion.

Biden To Visit Pentagon Amid Worries About Racism, Extremism

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Joe Biden will make his first visit as president to the Pentagon Wednesday as the US military seeks to address far-right extremism and racism among its troops.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will cross the Potomac River to the iconic seat of the Department of Defense in the early afternoon where they will be greeted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and top generals and civilian officials, the White House said.

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during her swear-in as the 49th US Vice President by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP)

 

Austin, a retired general and former US Middle East commander, is the first African American to hold the position.

He has set his priorities on combatting Covid-19 in the US forces to preserve readiness, on supporting Biden’s national 100-day plan to get the virus under control, and to root out racism and related extremism in the more than two million uniformed service members.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

Issues of racism and extremism have always challenged the force, but came to the fore after hundreds of extremist supporters of former president Donald Trump, some of them embracing white supremacy ideology, stormed the US Capitol on January 6.

Biden has set a theme for his administration of advancing greater opportunities for minorities across the entire government.

To make the point, Biden will visit a Pentagon exhibit portraying the history of African Americans in the military.

The visit could also set the tone for the US defense stance as Biden reviews Trump’s push to remove nearly all US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war.

On Tuesday Defense Department Spokesman John Kirby said the two aims of Biden’s visit were to talk to senior leaders on foreign and defense policy and then to address the huge Pentagon workforce.

AFP

In Iran Standoff, Biden Says US Won’t Unilaterally Lift Sanctions

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden has made clear he will not unilaterally lift sanctions against Iran, saying it must first adhere to its nuclear deal commitments despite demands on Sunday from the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader.

The exchange underscored the thorny diplomatic challenge ahead as Biden seeks to revive — without showing weakness — a key accord rejected by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Asked in a CBS interview airing Sunday whether he would halt sanctions to convince Iran to return to the bargaining table, Biden offered a clear reply: “No.”

The journalist then asked if the Iranians would first have to stop enriching uranium, which drew an affirmative nod from Biden.

The clip was part of a longer interview to be aired later Sunday on CBS.

The landmark deal was reached in 2015 by the United States and other powers (China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain) following long negotiations with Iran aimed at preventing it from developing nuclear weapons.

The deal has been hanging by a thread since Trump’s decision to withdraw from it in 2018 and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Trump argued that the accord did not sufficiently restrict Iran’s nuclear program and he complained of its “destabilizing” activities in the region.

Trump resumed the US sanctions on Tehran that had been lifted through the accord, and he pressed reluctant allies to do the same.

Tehran a year later suspended its compliance with most key nuclear commitments.

The Biden administration has expressed willingness to return to the deal, but insisted that Tehran first resume full compliance.

– Little flexibility –
On January 4, Iran announced it has stepped up its uranium enrichment process to 20 percent purity, far above the 3.67 percent level permitted by the deal, but far below the amount required for an atomic bomb.

Biden has promised to return to the agreement — but only on the condition that Iran first renew its original commitments.

Since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, the international community has been eager to learn how he would keep his promise — complicated by Iran’s insistence that the sanctions be lifted first.

The standoff became clearer on Sunday, with Biden digging in his heels and the supreme Iranian leader Ali Khamenei also showing no flexibility.

“If they want Iran to return to its commitments… the United States must entirely lift the sanctions, in practice and not on paper,” the ayatollah said Sunday in a televised speech.

“We will then verify if in fact the sanctions were lifted correctly,” he continued, adding that this was “the definitive policy of the Islamic Republic.”

The Biden administration has remained intentionally vague on how it plans to move ahead — so much so that the president completely ignored the topic Thursday in his first speech on foreign policy since taking office.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Friday with his German, French and British counterparts to present a united front with the three European signatories to the nuclear deal that have denounced Trump’s unilateral withdrawal.

They face a tight deadline: Iran has threatened to bar international inspectors from its nuclear sites on February 21 if the US sanctions have not been lifted.

AFP

Biden Promises Partnership With Africa, Hopes To Attend Next AU Summit

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the national economy and the need for his administration's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the national economy and the need for his administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Joe Biden on Friday promised partnership with Africa and said he hoped to attend the next African Union summit, an about-face in US interest in a continent largely ignored by his predecessor.

In a video message to this weekend’s African Union summit, being held virtually due to Covid, the new US leader promised to work with Africans on his key priorities of fighting the virus and climate change and also to advance diplomacy to end the continent’s conflicts.

“None of this is going to be easy, but the United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect,” Biden said.

READ ALSO: Africa To Receive Nearly 90m COVID-19 Vaccines In February

“I hope I can be with you next time in person.”

In what have become early themes of his presidency, Biden vowed to promote democracy and the rights of sexual minorities — which are frequently under attack in Africa.

Biden said he wanted to work with Africa on “a future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people — women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.”

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump was the first president since Ronald Reagan not to visit Africa during his tenure and rose to prominence by promoting the falsehood that his predecessor Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Trump notoriously was quoted as using an expletive to describe African nations when explaining why he did not want non-white immigrants to the United States.

 

AFP

Biden To Streamline US Immigration, Chip Away At Trump Legacy

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden will sign three more executive orders on immigration Tuesday as part of a drive to erase the hardline legacy of Donald Trump, including an effort to reunite children separated from their parents at the US border with Mexico.

They are a follow-up to executive orders that Biden signed on his first day in office as he reforms the US immigration system after what was widely criticized as abusive anti-foreigner policy under Trump.

The latest measures do not address the status of some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in legal limbo, which hinges on whether Biden can persuade enough congressional Republicans to back a bill offering them a path to citizenship.

The new action by the Democratic president is aimed at streamlining the legal US immigration process, officials said, with Biden to order a review of all legal obstacles to immigration and integration put in place under Trump.

“The review will likely lead to dramatic changes in policies,” according to a senior government official, saying the goal is “to restore faith in our legal immigration system, and promote integration of Americans.”

“President Trump was so focused on the (Mexico border) wall that he did nothing to address the root cause of why people are coming to our southern border,” the official said.

“It was a limited, wasteful and naive strategy, and it failed.”

In line with campaign promises, one of the orders will put in place a working group tasked with reuniting migrant families separated by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy put in place in 2018.

That policy allowed officials to prosecute and deport adults who had entered the US illegally. Their children were then placed into federal custody.

Faced with international outcry, and even criticism from within his own party, the Trump administration was forced to scale down the policy, but hundreds of migrant children have still not been returned to their parents.

The working group will examine ways to reunite the families, officials said, without specifying whether that could allow parents or children who had been deported to return to US soil.

A second executive order echoes a similar policy under the Barack Obama administration, putting in place legal mechanisms for prospective immigrants in their home countries to apply for residency, allowing them to avoid dangerous smuggling routes.

– End to ‘wealth test’ –
The third decree will promote the integration of some nine million migrants legally settled in the United States and make naturalization “more accessible to the more than nine million immigrants who are currently eligible to apply” for citizenship.

There will be a review of the so-called “public charge rule” introduced in August 2019 that allowed officials to refuse citizenship or green card applications to migrants receiving social assistance, such as subsidized care or housing allowances.

The public charge rule “basically created or established a wealth test for immigrants,” one senior Biden official said.

Most of the reforms will be led by the secretary of Homeland Security.

Biden has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas to the position, and the Senate will vote on his appointment midday Tuesday.

If confirmed, Mayorkas — who arrived in the United States as an infant as the son of Cuban refugees — will be the first Hispanic person to lead the Department of Homeland Security, a sprawling agency that oversees immigration issues, border police and emergency responses.

– Uncertainty for undocumented migrants –
The Biden administration’s efforts to overturn Trump-era immigration policies will likely be welcomed by the left wing of his Democratic Party.

Since coming into office he has canceled two of his predecessor’s landmark measures, suspending construction of the wall along the border with Mexico and lifting a ban on US entry for residents of a number of countries with majority Muslim populations.

On his first day in office, Biden sent a bill to Congress that could offer a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants — including so-called Dreamers, or people who were brought to the US illegally as children and grew up there.

The legislation’s adoption, however, will require the support of several Republican lawmakers — which is far from assured.

Biden Talks The Talk In First 10 Days — But Can He Deliver?

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Normal is the new extraordinary under President Joe Biden.

“It’s been a busy week,” he said in the Oval Office on Thursday.

Biden was referring to the cascade of executive orders he has signed since taking power on January 20, overturning rules enacted by Donald Trump on everything from immigration to health care.

But Biden’s most dramatic achievement in 10 days has simply been to remind Americans of a White House where nothing unexpected happens.

— No Twitter rages. No branding journalists enemies of the people. No demonizing the opposition party.

— Daily, detailed, fact-filled, even dull briefings by experts on Covid-19, the economy and more.

— A president appealing for unity and appearing often in public — but always carefully stage managed and never for too long.

— A secretary of state, Antony Blinken, reassuring the world’s diplomats that the United States they thought was gone is back.

It adds up to major change. Yet none of it is remarkable.

As late night show host Stephen Colbert quipped about the main difference between Biden’s coronavirus plan and Trump’s version: “There is one.”

– It’s the virus, stupid –
What will happen when Biden’s slickly run messaging operation hits harsh reality?

To misquote a famous line about the economy from Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, everything now boils down to “the virus, stupid.”

Covid-19 is on track to kill half a million Americans.

And data Thursday showing the sharpest economic contraction since 1946, with GDP shrinking 3.5 percent in 2020, illustrated the financial impact of all those shuttered restaurants, empty airliners and laid-off workers.

So Biden’s presidency could hinge on what happens next.

Get Americans vaccinated, then ride the economic revival and Biden could turn disaster into triumph. Fail and he may carry that to the end of his term.

“The success of everything else really hinges on that,” said Mark Carl Rom, who teaches politics at Georgetown University.

With Biden predicting mass vaccinations by summer, Rom says the president will soon face a simple, visible test.

Can ordinary people “go to the beach and not worry about getting sick and dying?” Rom asked.

“That would be an enormous step.”

– Desperately seeking unity –
Biden’s other mega challenge is to restore unity in a country that Trump’s presidency split down the middle.

The Democrat has spoken almost daily about this mission, often movingly. And he has taken steps to cool the temperature after an election season that ended with Trump’s supporters storming Congress.

For example, when asked repeatedly for an opinion on the coming Trump impeachment trial, Biden and his press secretary Jen Psaki refuse to take the bait, saying the matter is for lawmakers to decide.

Biden also declined to get involved in an ugly fight in the Senate when some Democrats tried to get rid of the filibuster — a rule effectively forcing Democrats and Republicans to work together to pass bills. The rule remained in place.

But America remains in turmoil, not least because of hyper-partisan media outlets and disinformation-filled social media.

Biden did not appoint any high profile Republican in his cabinet, as some had predicted he would.

And he is taking flack for all those executive orders, which bypass Congress altogether and critics see as overreach. Even The New York Times editorial board chided him Thursday, saying “this is no way to make law.”

Pressured by the left to push hot-button issues — like the federal funding for abortion counseling that he authorized Thursday — and by the right to remember that Trump won 74 million votes, Biden is in a tough spot.

His biggest next test will be getting bipartisan Senate support for his signature opening bill — a gigantic, $1.9 trillion Covid economic relief package. So far the signs are not good.

But the White House insists that Biden, a longtime former senator, is uniquely placed to get the two sides talking.

“Unifying the country is addressing the problems that the American people are facing, and working to reach out to Democrats and Republicans to do exactly that,” Psaki said Thursday.

And for now, Biden has the wind in his sails.

Fifty four percent approval in a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday might not sound like much, but anything north of 50 is not to be sniffed at these days.

Trump’s final Gallup poll on leaving office? Just 34 percent.

US COVID-19 Cases Exceed 25 Million

A coronavirus test site worker on site to answer questions from people arriving at a testing center in Los Angeles, California on December 16, 2020. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

 

More than 25 million Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the United States since the pandemic began, Johns Hopkins University said Sunday, just days after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The milestone was reached only five days after the US, the world’s wealthiest and hardest-hit nation, recorded 400,000 deaths from the disease.

Biden has made fighting the coronavirus a priority and is pushing for Congress to approve a $1.9-trillion relief package that would include billions of dollars to boost vaccination rates.

Biden has said he wants 100 million people vaccinated within his first 100 days in office, and he has called for Americans to wear masks for 100 days.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 120,000 As NCDC Confirms 1,633 New Infections

Countries around the world are in a race against time to get their populations inoculated before the coronavirus mutates into a strain that could resist newly approved vaccinations.

Vivek Murthy, Biden’s nominee for surgeon-general, told ABC News on Sunday that 100 million doses in 100 days was “a floor, not a ceiling” and cautioned about new strains.

“The variants are very concerning,” Murthy told the network.

“It’s up to us to adapt and stay ahead,” he added.

The US caseload remains by far the highest in absolute terms.

India, where the population is about four times larger than in the US, has the second-highest caseload with about 10.6 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins.

After the first Covid-19 case was reported in the US in January 2020 it took until late April for the figure to pass one million. The overall number of cases has followed an almost exponential curve upwards since then.

Last week, Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins announced more than 400,000 people in the US had died from Covid-19, a grim marker that came one day before Biden’s inauguration.

AFP

Biden Undoes Trump Migration Orders, Pushes For Major Reform

File photo: Then President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre on November 25, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.  Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

 

Within hours of taking office, President Joe Biden undid some of Donald Trump’s most controversial immigration policies and sparked cautious hope that millions living in the shadows could one day get legal status in the US.

Scribbled signatures from his pen on Wednesday lifted an entry ban for people from many majority Muslim nations and halted construction of Trump’s border wall with Mexico, heartening immigration defenders left reeling by four years of “America First” nationalism.

Yet advocates see new battles ahead, including whether lawmakers can finally overhaul the nation’s immigration system which has been branded as “broken” with some 11 million undocumented people living in limbo.

These discussions, however, have only begun as the Trump administration has just left the White House.

His so-called “Muslim ban,” which in 2017 targeted citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, ignited international outrage and lead to domestic court rulings against it.

Iraq and Sudan were dropped from the list, but in 2018 the Supreme Court upheld a later version of the ban for the other nations — as well as North Korea and Venezuela.

As part of his first acts, Biden signed new protections for so-called “Dreamers” — immigrants who arrived illegally as children and had been temporarily shielded from deportation by a program Trump tried to dismantle.

In addition, the new president overturned one of his predecessor’s orders pushing aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants, and imposed a 100-day suspension on most deportations.

Immigration advocates erupted in support for Biden’s first orders.

“There is that dark cloud that used to hang over our heads, which is gone,” said Camille Mackler, the executive director of a pro-migrant lawyers group founded against the ban targeting Muslim nations.

– Republican pushback –
“After four years of what was a war on immigration and immigrants, this feels like the dawn of a new day,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“I think (this) is pretty significant action for, you know, a president unilaterally on day one,” she added.

Aura Hernandez, a 39-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who doesn’t have papers, heaved a sigh of relief.

“These past four years have been the worst of my life,” said the mother of five, who took refuge for several months in a Manhattan church in 2018 to avoid deportation.

But like millions of others in her position, Hernandez has to keep her hope in check because Biden’s executive orders do not change the fundamentals of the nation’s immigration system.

The president’s nominee to lead the nation’s Homeland Security department, Alejandro Mayorkas, said this week that Biden has “committed to presenting Congress, on day one, with an immigration reform bill that, once and for all, fixes I think what we all can agree is a broken immigration system.”

Previous efforts to pass a major reform of the system have come tantalizingly close but failed in the end, leaving powerful Democratic Senator Bob Menendez to describe what he expects will be a “Herculean” effort in Congress this time around.

A proposed bill would allow immigrants without documents, but who pay taxes and have no criminal record or national security issues, to work legally for six years and then get on a possible track to permanent legal status.

Menendez noted that 60 of 100 votes would be needed for passage in the Senate, which means Democrats would have to have bipartisan support.

Immigration reform is a particularly delicate issue for Republicans, who have been skeptical of regularization measures and some of whom will be up for re-election in 2022.

Menendez called on the business community, especially in the migrant-heavy agricultural and tech sectors, to push Republicans for action.

Apple boss Tim Cook said on Wednesday he was ready to work with the Biden administration and Congress for “comprehensive solutions to fix our broken immigration system.”

Yet any reform proposal will likely require negotiation and thus compromise, Menendez noted.

The legal status of millions of undocumented people “is a major immigration issue that hasn’t been resolved for decades,” said Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Rutgers University.

“Each time a Democratic president tries to find a path to citizenship, Republicans push back.”

Biden Warns US COVID-19 Toll Expected To Surpass 600,000

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Joe Biden warned on Friday that the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States was expected to surpass 600,000 and urged Congress to move fast on his $1.9 trillion plan to battle Covid-19 and provide economic relief to struggling Americans.

While Biden called for urgent passage of his “American Rescue Plan,” his efforts to get Congress to cooperate on his fast-paced agenda could be complicated by Donald Trump’s looming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Top Democratic lawmakers said Friday that they planned to send the article of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives to the Senate on Monday, triggering Trump’s trial in the body.

“The virus is surging,” Biden told reporters at the White House before signing executive orders boosting food aid and speeding up stimulus payments to Americans.

READ ALSO: WHO, Pfizer Reach COVAX Deal For 40m COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

“We’re at 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again. We need to act now… We need to move fast.”

Biden added that he was looking forward to working with both parties in Congress to “move quickly” on getting people help through his rescue plan.

“The bottom line is this: We’re in a national emergency. We’ve got to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said.

Biden is having to push Congress for funding while simultaneously getting his government confirmed — Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin won Senate approval Friday — and bracing for turmoil from the impeachment trial.

Trump was impeached by the House on January 13 for inciting supporters to storm Congress a week earlier.

“A trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote whether to convict the president,” Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said.

Barrage of executive orders

Although Biden’s latest executive orders on food aid and stimulus payments were modest in scale, they reinforced the message that Washington needs to step in decisively against the pandemic and related economic fallout.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides more than $400 billion to tackle the pandemic along with additional funding for small businesses and direct relief payments to Americans.

But Congress, having already passed two huge economic relief bills, is reluctant. The president’s Democratic Party has only a small majority in the House and a razor-thin advantage in the Senate.

Biden is also relying on the Senate to hurry up and approve his cabinet nominations.

Brian Deese, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said Republicans and Democrats in Congress must find ways to manage the clashing issues.

“We are facing right now a period of multiple crises and what we need right now is to be able to act on multiple fronts,” he said.

The new administration has brought a calmer style after the stormy Trump era, but Biden’s cascade of executive orders since the moment he entered the White House on Wednesday is making plenty of noise of its own.

On Inauguration Day, the 78-year-old Democrat signed 17 actions. He signed 10 on Thursday and another two on Friday.

The slew of orders has covered top campaign agenda items, including the political hot potato of immigration reform.

Biden extended protections from deportation for so-called “Dreamers” — children of illegal immigrants who have grown up in the country.

But the offensive is overwhelmingly targeted against what Biden described on Friday as a “once in a century public health crisis” and the worst “job and economic crisis in modern history.”

“And the crisis is only deepening,” he said. “It’s not getting better. It’s deepening.”

‘Walk and chew gum’

On the appointments front, a first key security figure was confirmed on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. The Senate’s confirmation of Austin on Friday makes him the first African American to lead the Pentagon.

Tony Blinken for secretary of state and Janet Yellen for treasury secretary appeared to be headed for confirmation either Friday or next week.

That already clogged schedule in the legislature will now have to cope with the impeachment drama.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden, who was a senator for decades, remains confident.

“The Senate, members of both parties, can walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people,” she said.

AFP

Biden Orders New US COVID-19 Measures As EU Discourages Travel

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the State Dining Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the State Dining Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

 

In his first full day as US president, Joe Biden tackled his country’s staggering coronavirus caseload with a spate of new measures, including mask-wearing and quarantining requirements, as EU leaders “strongly discouraged” their constituents from non-essential travel.

Before signing 10 executive orders to strengthen the US fight against Covid, Biden confirmed earlier in the day that he had reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to quit the World Health Organization (WHO).

Under the new measures, travelers to the US, in addition to needing a negative Covid test result before flying, will now need to quarantine upon arrival, Biden said. This toughened existing regulations under Trump.

READ ALSO: Fire Erupts At World’s Biggest Vaccine Maker In India

Biden’s other orders included reenergizing a so-far-stumbling vaccination program and expanding requirements to wear masks on public transport.

The longtime politician was a fierce critic of Trump’s approach to handling the virus in the US, which with more than 400,000 people dead is the world’s worst-hit nation.

The new president is seeking to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, increase the use of masks and testing, expand the public health workforce and offer more emergency relief to those struggling with the restrictions.

On Thursday alone the US registered 4,045 new deaths and more than 192,000 new cases over the past 24 hours.

With infection rates spiraling and vaccine campaigns still in their infancy — and with the global death toll now past two million —  countries from Lebanon to Sierra Leone are tightening restrictions.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Council president Charles Michel encouraged Europeans to refrain from non-essential travel Thursday while warning that tougher restrictions on movement could come within days if efforts to curb the coronavirus fall short.

After a four-hour summit by video link with the heads of government of the 27-nation bloc, the pair emphasized the EU wanted to avoid a repeat of the height of the region’s first wave, in March last year.

“All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged both within the country and of course across borders,” von der Leyen told a media conference.

Gasping for breath

Brazil announced that it would finally receive two million doses on Friday of the British AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine that were made in India. The jabs, which were originally due to arrive last week, will allow the second worst-hit country in terms of deaths to ramp up its Covid-fighting campaign.

In northwest Brazil hospitals are battling drastic shortages of oxygen and hospital beds, with health workers describing harrowing scenes with dying patients gasping for breath due to the lack of available oxygen.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Colombia surpassed 50,000 Covid-19 deaths Thursday, while Mexico notched two new records with 1,803 deaths and 22,339 new infections over the past 24 hours.

More contagious coronavirus variants have traveled quickly around the globe — including from Brazil — tempering optimism that mass vaccination campaigns would bring a swift end to the worst phase of the pandemic.

Meanwhile the WHO has repeatedly warned that richer countries are hogging the vaccine — and they are paying less for their doses, after negotiating favorable deals with manufacturers.

South Africa, for example, will pay 2.5 times more than most European countries for each Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, the South African health ministry has confirmed.

The US provided a boost to efforts to share out vaccines across the world, however, by announcing it intends to join the Covax initiative, a pool of doses supplied by countries and companies.

Glastonbury cancelled again

In Japan, questions are intensifying about the viability of hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games in six months’ time — an event which would require thousands of athletes to fly in from around the world.

Olympic chief Thomas Bach said there was “no reason whatsoever” to believe the games would not go ahead.

But many organizers of large-scale events are already grappling with the reality that the return to pre-pandemic normality may come later than previously hoped.

The Swiss edition of international art fair Art Basel has been postponed from June until September, while in Britain, which is facing record daily death tolls, the storied Glastonbury music festival was axed for another year.

But the same urgency is not being felt everywhere.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan plans to vaccinate its entire population, but not until after March 13 because the period before has been deemed “inauspicious.”

 

AFP