President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to immediately ask Congress to offer legal status to an estimated 11 million people in the country has surprised advocates given how the issue has long divided Democrats and Republicans, even within their own parties.
Biden will announce legislation his first day in office to provide a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States illegally, according to four people briefed on his plans.
The president-elect campaigned on a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, but it was unclear how quickly he would move while wrestling with the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and other priorities. For advocates, memories were fresh of presidential candidate Barack Obama pledging an immigration bill his first year in office, in 2009, but not tackling the issue until his second term.
Biden’s plan is the polar opposite of Donald Trump, whose successful 2016 presidential campaign rested in part on curbing or stopping illegal immigration.
“This really does represent a historic shift from Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that recognizes that all of the undocumented immigrants that are currently in the United States should be placed on a path to citizenship,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who was briefed on the bill.
If successful, the legislation would be the biggest move toward granting status to people in the country illegally since President Ronald Reagan bestowed amnesty on nearly 3 million people in 1986. Legislative efforts to overhaul immigration policy failed in 2007 and 2013.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Saturday that Biden will send an immigration bill to Congress “on his first day in office.” He didn’t elaborate and Biden’s office declined to comment on specifics.
Advocates were briefed in recent days on the bill’s broad outlines by Esther Olivarria, deputy director for immigration on the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Domingo Garcia, former president of the League of Latin American Citizens, said Biden told advocates on a call Thursday that Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate may delay consideration of the bill and that they shouldn’t count on passage within 100 days.
“I was pleasantly surprised that they were going to take quick action because we got the same promises from Obama, who got elected in ’08, and he totally failed,” Garcia said.
Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum and among those briefed Thursday night, said immigrants would be put on an eight-year path to citizenship. There would be a faster track for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields people from deportation who came to the country as young children, and Temporary Protected Status, which gives temporary status to hundreds of thousands of people from strife-torn countries, many from El Salvador.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris offered similar remarks in an interview with Univision that aired Tuesday, saying DACA and TPS recipients will “automatically get green cards” while others would be on an eight-year path to citizenship.
More favorable attitudes toward immigration — especially among Democrats — may weigh in Biden’s favor this time. A Gallup survey last year found that 34% of those polled favored more immigration, up from 21% in 2016 and higher than any time since it began asking the question in 1965. The survey found 77% felt immigration was good for the country on the whole, up slightly from 72% in 2016.
Noorani said the separation of more than 5,000 children from the parents at the border, which peaked in 2018, alienated voters from Trump’s policies, particularly conservatives and evangelicals. He believes a constantly shifting outlook for DACA recipients also hurt Trump among people who felt he was using them as “political pawns.”
“What was seared in their mind was family separation. They took it out on the Republican Party in 2018 and they took it out on Trump in 2020,” Noorani said. “To put a really fine point on it, they want to end the cruelty of the Trump administration.”
It is impossible to know precisely how many people are in the country illegally. Pew Research Center estimates there were 10.5 million in 2017, down from an all-time high of 12.2 million in 2007.
The Homeland Security Department estimates there were 12 million people in the country illegally in 2015, nearly 80% of them for more than 10 years. More than half were Mexican.
War-like imagery has begun spreading in Republican circles after the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters, with some elected officials and party leaders rejecting pleas to tone down rhetoric calling for a second civil war.
In northwestern Wisconsin, the chairman of the St. Croix County Republican Party was forced to resign Friday after refusing for a week after the siege to remove an online post urging followers to “prepare for war.” The incoming chairwoman of the Michigan GOP and her husband, a state lawmaker, have joined a conservative social media site created after the Capitol riot where the possibility of civil war is a topic.
Phil Reynolds, a member of the GOP central committee in California’s Santa Clara County, appeared to urge on insurrectionists on social media during the Jan. 6 attack, declaring on Facebook: “The war has begun. Citizens take arms! Drumroll please….. Civil War or No Civil War?”
The heightened rhetoric mimics language far-right extremists and white supremacists have used for years, and it follows a year of civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer and its links to systemic racism. Some leftists have used similar language, which Republicans have likened to advocating a new civil war.
The post-Floyd demonstrations prompted governments and corporations alike to reevaluate, leading to the removal of Confederate symbols across the South and the retirement of racially insensitive brands.
Then on Jan. 6, demonstrators stoked by Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election brought symbols of the Old South to the siege of the Capitol, carrying Confederate flags inside and even erecting a wooden gallows with a noose outside the building.
Democrats say the uptick in war talk isn’t accidental. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Trump began putting his supporters in the frame of mind to make the opening charge years ago and is “capable of starting a civil war.”
“Since his first day in office, this president has spent four years abusing his power, lying, embracing authoritarianism (and) radicalizing his supporters against democracy,” she said in arguing for impeachment. “This corruption poisoned the minds of his supporters, inciting them to willingly join with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and paramilitary extremists in a siege of the United State Capitol building, the very seat of American democracy.”
There are parallels between now and the run-up to the Civil War, including a fractious national election that ended with presidents — Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Joe Biden in 2020 — who millions rejected as illegitimate victors, said Nina Silber, co-president of the Society of Civil War Historians.
Lincoln won the Electoral College but came away with only a plurality of the popular vote in a four-way race. Biden won the popular vote by 7 million over Trump and defeated him decisively in the Electoral College, 306 to 232. Dozens of lawsuits by Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the results failed, some of them turned away by federal judges Trump himself nominated. Then-Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department could find no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election’s outcome.
While the same geographic split doesn’t exist today as when the Civil War started in 1861 and there is no mass preparation for all-out conflict, Silber said white anger and resentment fueled both eras.
“At the time of the Civil War, this took the form of Southern white men angry at the idea that the federal government would interfere with their right to own Black slaves. Today, I think this takes the form of white people who believe that Black and brown people are making gains, or getting special treatment, at their expense,” Silber, who teaches at Boston University, said in an email interview.
Just as happened generations ago, partisans are using strident words and images to define the other side — not just for policies with which they disagree but as evil, said George Rable, a retired historian at the University of Alabama.
“I think both then and now, we need to worry about the unanticipated consequences of overheated rhetoric and emotions,” he said. “Secessionists then hardly anticipated such a bloody civil war, and their opponents often underestimated the depth of secessionist sentiment in a number of states.”
State Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican who represents the same area as Lincoln did in the state legislature, condemned the attack on the Capitol during a speech on the Illinois House floor and urged more Republicans to speak up.
“If you’re not stepping up and denouncing this, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I don’t have a place for you ...,” Butler said. “The favorite son of this city was murdered because of a civil war as he was president. I’m not going to see a civil war on my watch, I can tell you that.”
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The question is whether those stoking the war talk can be controlled by the more moderate elements within the party, or whether they will become the dominant voice.
Randy Voepel, a state Assemblyman in California, backtracked after referencing an earlier war — the American Revolution — in a Jan. 9 San Diego Union-Tribune article: “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.”
More than three dozen veterans and officials have called for Voepel to be expelled from office. He has since revised his war-like rhetoric with a condemnation of the “violence and lawlessness” at the Capitol and a call for healing.
The other California Republican, Reynolds, said he has no plans to step down from his local party position. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wasn’t trying to incite violence with his “war has begun” rhetoric, but simply reporting what he saw on television: “My statement was that this can’t happen. I was condemning it with my words. It was taken out of context,” he said.
Democratic state Assemblyman Evan Low isn’t buying it. He called for Reynolds’ resignation, telling the Chronicle that the man he has known for two decades was “a genuine and warm human being” but was radicalized by Trump’s “poison and lies.”
In Missouri, state GOP Chairwoman Jean Evans had enough of the war talk. She resigned after she was barraged by calls from Trump supporters, some of whom demanded a military coup to keep Trump in office “no matter what it takes.”
“There’s a lot of good Republicans right now who totally disagree with what’s going on,” she told KMOX. “It’s been very scary and frightening and un-American from my perspective, and definitely not part of the conservative party I embrace.”
Andrew Hitt, the Republican chairman in Wisconsin, faced off against the St. Croix County party without initial success, describing the call to war as an “ill chosen phrase” and urging its removal.
Despite his plea and those of Democrats and a Republican sheriff, the post remained defiantly in place until a week after the Capitol attack. The website went dark Wednesday without explanation, and the county GOP chairman, John Kraft, resigned on Friday. He did not return a call seeking comment.
Silber, the Civil War historian, said she is worried the attack on the Capitol wasn’t the last stand for enraged Trump supporters.
“I think we can see how well-organized right-wing militia groups have become and how well armed they are, and that makes for an extremely explosive situation,” she said. “I don’t know if that would be ‘war’ in the technical sense, but there could be an extended period of violent attacks.”
The Trump administration early Saturday carried out its 13th federal execution since July, an unprecedented run that concluded just five days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal death penalty.
Dustin Higgs, convicted of ordering the killings of three women in a Maryland wildlife refuge in 1996, was the third to receive a lethal injection this week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
President Donald Trump’s Justice Department resumed federal executions last year following a 17-year hiatus. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions.
Higgs, 48, was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m. Asked if he had any last words, Higgs was calm but defiant, naming each of the women prosecutors said he ordered killed.
“I’d like to say I am an innocent man. ... I am not responsible for the deaths,” he said softly. “I did not order the murders.”
He did not apologize for anything he did on the night 25 years ago when the women were shot by another man, who received a life sentence.
As the lethal injection of pentobarbital began to flow into his veins, Higgs looked toward a room reserved for his relatives and lawyers. He waved with his fingers and said, “I love you.”
Louds sobs of a woman crying inconsolably began to echo from the witness room reserved for Higgs’ family as his eyes rolled back in his head, showing the whites of his eyes. He quickly became still, his pupils visible with his eyelids left partially open.
A sister of Tanji Jackson — one of the murdered women who was 21 when she died — addressed a written statement to Higgs after his execution and mentioning his family.
“They are now going to go through the pain we experienced,” she said. “When the day is over, your death will not bring my sister and the other victims back. This is not closure.” The statement didn’t include the sister’s name.
The number of federal death sentences carried out under Trump since 2020 is more than in the previous 56 years combined, reducing the number of prisoners on federal death row by nearly a quarter. It’s likely none of the around 50 remaining men will be executed anytime soon, if ever, with Biden signaling he’ll end federal executions.
The only woman on death row, Lisa Montgomery, was executed Wednesday for killing a pregnant woman, then cutting the baby out of her womb. She was the first woman executed in nearly 70 years.
Federal executions began as the coronavirus pandemic raged through prisons nationwide. Among those prisoners who got COVID-19 last month were Higgs and former drug trafficker Corey Johnson, who was executed Thursday.
In the early Saturday execution of Higgs, officials inside the execution chamber were more diligent about their keeping masks on after a federal judge expressed concern that officials at Johnson’s execution were lax about coronavirus precautions. When a marshal called from a death-chamber phone to ask if there were any impediments to proceeding with Higgs’ execution, he kept his mask on and shoved the receiver under it.
Not since the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 1800s has the U.S. government executed federal inmates during a presidential transition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland’s was also the last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in one year, 1896.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post earlier this week, Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, noted that Higgs, a Black man, was scheduled to die Friday — his father’s birthday. With last-minute appeals, it was delayed into early Saturday.
“The federal government should not be needlessly taking more Black lives, and to do so on my father’s birthday would be shameful,” he wrote.
Pressure is already building on Biden to follow through on pledges to end the federal death penalty. The ACLU released a statement after Higgs’ execution urging Biden to invoke his presidential powers after he is sworn in.
“He must commute the sentences of people on the federal death row to life without parole, and he must drop death from all pending trials,” the ACLU said.
In 2000, a federal jury in Maryland convicted Higgs of murder and kidnapping in the killings of Tamika Black, 19; Mishann Chinn, 23; and Tanji Jackson.
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Higgs’ lawyers argued it was “arbitrary and inequitable” to execute Higgs while Willis Haynes, the man who fired the shots that killed the women, was spared a death sentence.
In a statement after the execution, Higgs’ attorney, Shawn Nolan, said his client had spent decades on death row helping other inmates.
“There was no reason to kill him, particularly during the pandemic and when he, himself, was sick with Covid that he contracted because of these irresponsible, super-spreader executions,” Nolan said.
Higgs had a traumatic childhood and lost his mother to cancer when he was 10, Higgs’ Dec. 19 petition for clemency petition said.
Higgs was 23 on the evening of Jan. 26, 1996, when he, Haynes and a third man, Victor Gloria, picked up the three women in Washington, D.C., and drove them to Higgs’ apartment in Laurel, Maryland, to drink alcohol and listen to music. Before dawn, an argument between Higgs and Jackson prompted her to grab a knife in the kitchen before Haynes persuaded her to drop it.
Gloria said Jackson made threats as she left the apartment with the other women and appeared to write down the license plate number of Higgs’ van, angering him. The three men chased after the women in Higgs’ van. Haynes persuaded them to get into the vehicle.
Instead of taking them home, Higgs drove them to a secluded spot in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, federal land in Laurel.
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“Aware at that point that something was amiss, one of the women asked if they were going to have to ‘walk from here’ and Higgs responded ‘something like that,’” according to court documents.
Higgs handed his pistol to Haynes, who shot all three women outside the van, Gloria testified.
“Gloria turned to ask Higgs what he was doing, but saw Higgs holding the steering wheel and watching the shootings from the rearview mirror,” said the 2013 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chinn worked with the children’s choir at a church, Jackson worked in the office at a high school and Black was a teacher’s aide at National Presbyterian School in Washington, according to The Washington Post.
A United Nations peacekeeper from Egypt was killed in Mali’s northern Kidal region on Friday, and another was seriously injured, after their vehicle hit an explosive device during a logistics convoy, the U.N. said.
It brought the toll to five U.N. peacekeepers killed in northern Mali in just a week.
Another explosive device was found at the scene in Tessalit and disabled, the U.N. mission in Mali said late Friday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday strongly condemned the attack and said attacks against peacekeepers may constitute war crimes, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Four peacekeepers from Ivory Coast died from an improvised explosive device and an attack Wednesday by unidentified gunmen in the Timbuktu region. The U.N. said six were wounded.
The peacekeeping mission has been in Mali since 2013, after Islamic extremists took control of major towns in the north. A French-led military operation dislodged them, but the jihadists have since regrouped in rural areas and expanded their reach.
The U.N. says more than 231 peacekeepers in Mali have been killed due to hostile incidents, in what has become known as its most dangerous mission.
The United States called Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates “major security partners” early Saturday, a previously unheard of designation for the two countries home to major American military operations.
A White House statement tied the designation to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalizing ties to Israel, saying it “reflects their extraordinary courage, determination and leadership.” It also noted the two countries long have taken part in U.S. military exercises.
It’s unclear what the designation means for Bahrain, an island kingdom off Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, and the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, while the UAE’s Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the U.S. Bahrain hosts some 5,000 American troops, while the UAE hosts 3,500, many at Al-Dhafra Air Base.
Already, the U.S. uses the designation of “major non-NATO ally” to describe its relationship with Kuwait, which hosts the forward command of U.S. Army Central. That designation grants a country special financial and military considerations for nations not part of NATO. Bahrain also is a non-NATO ally.
The U.S. military’s Central Command and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 5th Fleet referred queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House designation comes in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump forged close ties to Gulf Arab countries during his time in office in part over his hard-line stance on Iran. That’s sparked a series of escalating incidents between the countries after Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
It also comes after Bahrain and the UAE joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in beginning to resolve a yearslong boycott of Qatar, another Gulf Arab nation home to Al-Udeid Air Base that hosts Central Command’s forward operating base. That boycott began in the early days of Trump’s time in office after he visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip.