With help from Tony Frangie Mawad and Charlie Mahtesian
Hi, hi, Recast fam! Sabrina is back as our guest host filling in for Brakkton today. Vice President Kamala Harris has tested positive for Covid-19, Elon Musk has reached a deal to buy Twitter and the world health community is at odds over how to handle the next phase of the pandemic battle. But today, we’re starting off talking about the courts and immigration.
President Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail that, if elected, he would end the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration announced it was effectively suspending the program, which forced thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico for their asylum cases to be processed.
Then they got sued by Republican-led Texas and Missouri.
Fast forward 15 months, and the “Remain in Mexico” policy — known officially as Migrant Protection Protocols — is still around. Why? The U.S. courts.
The Supreme Court today heard arguments in Biden v. Texas, a case that could determine whether the Biden administration must keep the controversial Trump-era policy in place or can rescind it — as it has already tried to do twice.
The case is part of a larger pattern of Republican-led states looking to the courts — namely in districts with Trump-appointed judges — to shoot down Biden’s immigration policy.
“This has become a way for Republicans to challenge and tear apart any administration policy on immigration that they don’t like, which is most of them,” said David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They’ve been very successful at stalling the president’s agenda on immigration.”
The case before the Supreme Court today has gone back and forth between the courts since U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Texas-based appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled in August that the policy had to be reinstated. In December, the Biden administration announced it would restart the program, which human rights activists and advocates have long argued puts migrants at risk of violence in Mexican border towns.
Immigration lawyers, immigrant advocates and U.S. officials say the stakes go beyond the “Remain in Mexico” policy and could have major ramifications on Biden’s (and future presidents’) ability to undo a former president’s policies and enact new ones.
The judiciary “has become a weapon of Republicans to not only stop policy but in the instance of Biden v. Texas, they’re trying to create the Remain in Mexico policy again via the judiciary and that’s just not their job,” said Alida Garcia, former senior migration adviser in the Biden White House and longtime immigrant advocate.
Garcia explained that the case goes beyond immigration, as it puts into question whether a sitting president has the ability to make foreign policy decisions — or if an appointed federal district court judge can mandate what the U.S. government does in another country, given that restarting MPP required negotiations with the Mexican government.
The practice of GOP-led states looking to the judiciary to block Democrats’ immigration policies is not entirely new, immigration lawyers and advocates say. In 2014, Texas was joined by 25 other states in suing to block the Obama administration from implementing the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, which would have offered legal status to parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. It was ultimately blocked in the courts.
Texas has led the charge against Biden’s immigration policies. Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged the Biden administration’s plans to lift the pandemic restriction on the U.S. southern border, known as Title 42.
Paxton’s office, in a statement, noted the Title 42 lawsuit is “his 10th border crisis lawsuit against the Biden Administration — and the 26th overall against his lawless administration.”
On Monday, in a separate case from Paxton’s latest lawsuit, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays, announced his intent to temporarily block the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, the public health order invoked by Trump in March 2020 that allows border agents to quickly kick out migrants without letting them seek asylum.
For weeks, Republicans and a growing number of Democrats have criticized the Biden administration for its plan to lift Title 42 on May 23. But Garcia and other immigrant advocates say all the talk of Title 42 distracts from a real need for Congress to step up and pass new immigration laws. Congress has failed to pass immigration reform for decades.
“We really need some adults in the room to have an honest conversation and not a political conversation about a very complex policy problem,” Garcia said.
The next court hearing on Title 42 is May 13. And a ruling on the MPP case in the Supreme Court isn’t expected until late spring or early summer. We’ll be keeping an eye on any developments in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned.
All the best,
The Recast Team
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“Democracy is neither inevitable, nor self-executing,” former President Barack Obama warned as he took to a Stanford University lectern last week to lament the state of the online information ecosystem. Arguing that the digital sphere is “turbocharging some of humanity’s worst impulses,” he implored tech companies to act.
WATCH: Obama addresses disinformation in speech at Stanford
Yet, he didn’t mention one of the digital threats gaining most attention this week: the high volume of Spanish-language disinformation percolating online, including that propagated by Russia.
Last Wednesday, 21 members of Congress sent a letter to Facebook parent company Meta, calling on the social media behemoth to ramp up its efforts to combat disinformation on its platforms. “Facebook has continuously failed to show it is adequately addressing this problem for Spanish-speaking communities,” wrote the cadre of Democrats. The state of California also took on Spanish-language Covid-19 disinformation this week, launching a chatbot to disseminate reliable information about the virus, making it the first state to experiment with such a tool.
But these efforts represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing Spanish-language disinformation.
The issue is getting attention for a reason: In the past, disinformation has proved to be a “pot of gold” for domestic and foreign actors to influence elections and disenfranchise communities, according to Evelyn Pérez-Verdía, CSO of We Are Más, a strategic firm focused on countering disinformation.
What’s more, Russia has a long history of election interference outside its borders. While current propaganda in Spanish is mostly Ukraine-focused, a narrative pivot to the type of social-political wedge issues that polarize the U.S. electorate could wind up corrupting the democratic legitimacy of the midterms, Bret Schafer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy told POLITICO.
RT en Español’s Facebook page, the Kremlin’s primary channel for disseminating disinformation in Spanish on the platform, is one of the most prominent Facebook pages in Latin America for news, according to Alliance for Securing Democracy data. U.S. voters with family members in Latin America may be more vulnerable to being exposed to RT en Español’s content because news is often passed cross-border via messaging services. For many in Spanish-speaking communities, “WhatsApp can be a prime source of news” according to the Poynter Institute’s Alex Mahadevan.
The fight against Spanish-language disinformation entails unique challenges. First, the fact that news is often shared via WhatsApp introduces tracking problems. “Behind encryption, researchers can’t see the progression of a false narrative,” said Roberta Braga of Equis Research, a Democratic research and polling firm focused on Latino voters.
Second, Spanish-speaking communities are often viewed as monolithic despite the fact that they “don’t vote as a bloc” and each community approaches information differently, added Braga. A third challenge is that mainstream media has done “a very bad job” of gaining the trust of Spanish-speaking communities, says Mahadevan.
Assigning responsibility for stamping out disinformation in Spanish is complicated. “I do not believe that we should foist the lion’s share of responsibility onto the shoulders of individuals and communities that are disproportionately or unduly affected by this,” said Samuel Woolley, project director for the propaganda research lab at UT Austin’s Center for Media Engagement.
“Social media companies — some of the most powerful corporations in the world — certainly have a role and certainly have blame here, as do governmental actors who have failed to enact policy that actually protects citizens.”
Hence, Obama spoke for many in arguing that tech companies need to step up. But experts agree that no single actor bears the full burden. Woolley maintains there are also routes to helping communities “from within.” Pérez-Verdía agrees: “We have disinformation because there has been a vacuum in helping communities in the United States and in Latin America understand how government works here,” and explanatory journalism targeted at diaspora communities could help close this gap.
Programs such as Poynter’s MediaWise en Español aim to boost the digital literacy skills of Spanish speakers in the U.S., enabling them to identify disinformation more easily. It helps voters “fill the void that’s left when institutions fail when it comes to disinformation,” said Mahadevan, who directs the program.
So how worried should we be about Spanish-language disinformation — particularly material backed by Russia — influencing the midterms? Schafer told POLITICO that while the current narrative pushed by RT is Ukraine-specific, Russia could switch gears to concentrate on issues that tend to inflame and divide the U.S. electorate. “I am concerned that at some point there will be a strategic shift back to what they have been doing for years,” with the understanding that “a more fractured body politic might result in a less cohesive response to what they’re doing in Ukraine.”
Under this analysis, the midterm election impact will depend on how distracted Russia will be by Ukraine come November.
“I think it’s going to be a problem, but I think we’re in a much better position to address that problem this year than in past elections,” says Mahadevan, citing actions by fact-checking organizations to “inoculate” communities against the threat.
For the first time since 2016, the sitting president will attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on April 30, the annual press gala where journalists and administration rub elbows. In recent years, the century-old event — often referred to as “Nerd Prom” — was boycotted by former President Donald Trump, who described the dinner as “so boring and so negative.” In Trump’s case, his opinion was forged by one particularly negative experience with the dinner back in 2011, when he was mostly known as the host of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.”
WATCH: Watch Obama dig into Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
As Trump stewed at his table, former President Barack Obama roasted him for a full five minutes, leaving the audience in stitches. For Obama, it was sweet payback: Trump was one of the leading promoters of “birther” conspiracy theories asserting that Obama was born in Kenya, and had demanded that the president publicly present his birth certificate. In the eyes of many, the birther movement represented a racist reaction to the first Black president of the United States.
“No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald,” said Obama, who had released his long-form birth certificate just days before the dinner that year. “That’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
There’s considerable speculation that the humiliation Trump suffered that evening crystallized his intention to run for president — something he had been talking about since the 1980s. Indeed, Seth Meyers — the host of the 2011 dinner who also savagely mocked Trump — even joked about Trump’s ambition during the event:
More than a decade later, Washington is a different city. In the intervening years, Trump served a term as president, something that would have seemed unimaginable back in 2011. The correspondents’ dinner has been canceled for the past two years because of the pandemic. Trump may not be at the gala Saturday evening, but his presence will be felt. Not only is he now the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, the conspiracy theories he was once mocked for have been mainstreamed. And now, Trump is just one of many voices – in Congress, in governor’s mansions and on talk shows – trafficking in wild, evidence-free claims and lies.
THE RECAST RECOMMENDS
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Viola Davis’ vulnerable new memoir, “Finding Me,” is released today.
Karol G gets us in the mood for summer with her new viral hit PROVENZA.
Colombian singer-songwriter Feid introduces a new instrument for each of the five tracks he plays in this Tiny Desk concert, representing the five regions of his country.
TikTok of the day: It’s a … disappointment.