Week In Politics: U.S. Asylum System

Nov 25, 2018
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President Trump has threatened again to close the southern border to migrants traveling through Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. His latest threat came last night on Twitter. He also tweeted, all will stay in Mexico until their claims are individually approved in court. His comments come on the heels of a Washington Post story about a White House effort to overhaul longstanding asylum rules. To talk about this and other political news is NPR's Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


PFEIFFER: Mara, the Post report said that the Trump administration had reached a deal with Mexico's incoming government that asylum-seekers would potentially wait in Mexico while their claims are being considered. Now, that information was attributed to senior members of the transition team for Mexico's president-elect. But after the story came out, Mexico's incoming government denied there was agreement and said talks are ongoing. So what do we know? And if this does happen, how big a deal would it be?

LIASSON: I think it would be a big deal for Donald Trump because it would change the asylum rules at least in the short term. Right now, as you said, asylum-seekers can wait in the U.S. for their cases to be heard. But if this plan succeeds, Donald Trump can say he ended the system that he calls catch and release because they'd have to remain in Mexico. That's actually the name of this plan - remain in Mexico. What this would not do is address the reasons - violence, crime, poverty - that the migrants flee their Central American countries in the first place.

PFEIFFER: Another effort by the White House to change asylum rules was blocked by a federal judge early last week, and that led to, let's call it, some testy back-and-forth between President Trump and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts over the independence of the judiciary.

LIASSON: Yes, it did. Now, this is not the first time that Donald Trump has attacked a judge - an individual judge or an entire circuit. This time, he called that judge, who ruled against him, a quote, "Obama judge." But for the first time, Chief Justice Roberts pushed back. He issued a statement to The Associated Press. He said there are no Obama judges. The judiciary is independent. Trump tweeted back sorry, Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do have Obama judges.

Roberts doesn't want the Supreme Court to become another partisan institution where people see justices as just another group that vote with their tribe, you know, without legal logic or reasoning. That might be a losing battle because President Trump and, certainly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell don't view the judiciary that way. But if Donald Trump is a kind of stress test on democratic institutions, sometimes, they submit, like the Republican majority in Congress. But, sometimes, they push back and are resilient. And that's what I think you saw with Justice Roberts last week.

PFEIFFER: And finally, Mara, Trump is scheduled to be in Mississippi tomorrow to campaign in that - in the still-unresolved Senate race of 2018. He'll be there for Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. She's in a runoff election with Democrat Mike Espy. Hyde-Smith, as we have reported, got a lot of negative press for publicly joking that if she were invited by one of her supporters to a public hanging, she would, in her words, be in the front row.

LIASSON: That's right. And many people thought that was racially charged language. Mississippi had a record number of lynchings. She also made some other jokes that people thought had racial overtones. This is the last act of the midterm. It does not affect the balance of power in the Senate. The Republicans will either have 52 or 53 seats. But Mississippi is an extremely red state. And it's going to be hard but not impossible for Mike Espy to win. He's African-American. He'd need huge turnout among African-American voters and a pretty decent chunk of the white vote to win.

And just one other thing I want to point out - there's another race we're watching - on December 4, a runoff in Georgia for the secretary of state's race to replace Brian Kemp, who's now the governor-elect. This is a big race for voting rights because the secretary of state oversees the state's ballot process.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.