December 2, 2021


Through Education Matters

Welcome to El Paso, Madam Vice President

I CAN SEE MEXICO FROM MY HOUSE — Sometimes, after his bath and before bedtime, my almost 2-year old asks to go out on the balcony at the back of the house we rent in El Paso to look at cars. He doesn’t know it, of course, but he’s staring across the border at houses and mountains and cars in Ciudad Juárez. Aside from the dust storms, the desert heat and the abundance of cacti, the thing that has been most striking to me since we moved here last year is our closeness to Mexico.

In cooler months, we picnic at the park in Chamizal National Memorial, which overlooks a border fence with giant steel slats emerging from the ground. When I met with Mexican journalists in Juárez last year, I walked from the park. My neighbor told me that she and her family plan to fly out of the Juárez airport when they go on vacation next month. Many of my kids’ day care teachers have Mexican cell phone numbers that start with a +52 country code.

It’s that connectedness to Mexico — what life is really like in a border community — that local leaders are hoping to impress upon Vice President Kamala Harris Friday when she visits El Paso.

Apprehensions of migrants have surged across the U.S.-Mexico border. Smugglers dropped two toddler sisters from Ecuador over a 14-foot border wall in March near El Paso. The video is shocking. The girls survived and were taken into custody to be reunited with their mom in the U.S.

But the surge in apprehensions isn’t that noticeable to El Paso residents as we go about our daily lives. Most of the activity is localized to a few spots. Once while driving to a farmers market in Sunland Park, N.M., a popular crossing spot, we saw border patrol agents detaining a handful of men. Otherwise the border is a calm and quiet place where we take walks downtown in the evenings past shops selling quinceañera dresses or go trainspotting on the weekends.

Before the pandemic, both Americans and Mexicans regularly crossed one of the several bridges that connect El Paso and Juárez to shop, eat or go to school or work. When I crossed the Bridge of the Americas, which doesn’t have a toll, by foot I paused briefly to flash my passport card and put my purse through a scanner before continuing to meet my sources in the park on the other side. Because of pandemic border restrictions, foot traffic was minimal but big trucks still waited in hours long lines to cross. Some Americans living in Mexico are getting Covid shots in El Paso.

“A lot of people, in their mind, have a different image of what they think a border is like. They think of it as a no man’s land kind of thing, like the Korean demilitarized zone,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, told Nightly shortly after he was informed today that he would be meeting Harris during her visit.

Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who is hosting Harris’ visit here, likes to call El Paso the new Ellis Island. Republicans have criticized Harris’ visit, saying she is going to the wrong place on the border. The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has seen the most crossings in recent months, with more than twice the number of encounters as in El Paso from Oct 2020 through May 2021.

“It’s like visiting San Diego where there is an earthquake in L.A.,” said Victor Manjarrez Jr, a former border patrol officer who is associate director of the University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Law and Human Behavior.

But Escobar said it’s important for Harris to see the large facilities in El Paso where migrants, who cross the border in smaller towns, are sent. This is where Harris can get a crash course in how migrants are apprehended and processed, how local officials are working with federal officials, she said.

“El Paso is the capital of the border,” Escobar said. “It will provide key context as she continues to address root causes.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion Wednesday arguing that the administration isn’t complying with Title 42, which allows the feds to keep migrants from entering the country because of the pandemic. Advocates say that the administration continues to enforce the policy too aggressively. Immigration advocate Ali Noorani said that the administration’s muddled message is a part of its problem. “They’re trying to be everything to everybody and in the end being no one to anybody,” said Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, a nonpartisan group that promotes immigration.

Harris doesn’t seem likely to wade into the details of enforcement policy on Friday. Seitz and Escobar said Harris wants to stay focused on a narrow mission during her visit: addressing root causes of what keeps people coming. She will tour a central processing facility and meet with faith-based leaders and advocates, Harris’ spokesman Symone Sanders said on a call with reporters tonight.

“If you try to address the challenge at the border, it’s too late,” Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso, told Nightly. But that is a long-term project. Migrants will continue to cross in the coming weeks and months.

“I don’t think there is a wrong part of the border for her to go to,” said O’Rourke, who happens to also be a neighbor, addressing Republican criticism. “I hope she will visit other border communities too.”

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas for us at [email protected], or on Twitter at @renurayasam.

RESULTS OF THE GENOCIDE Canada reporter Zi-Ann Lum emails Nightly from the traditional, unceded territories of the Algonquin nation:

Hard truths are on display in Canada after the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in the prairie province of Saskatchewan. The Cowessess First Nation made the announcement today. It follows similar discoveries reported in other provinces in the past month. “We are seeing the results of the genocide that Canada committed — genocide on our treaty land,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nation Chief Bobby Cameron.

Cultural genocide is how Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the outcome of a systematic effort that aimed to “take the Indian out of the child” for more than a century. The Canadian government designed the system, and most of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

After the discovery of the remains of 215 children found buried at a former residential school in British Columbia last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged what Indigenous people have experienced in this country amounts to genocide. Today, he opted for more muted language, calling the unmarked graves a “shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced — and continue to face — in this country.”

The controversy has also found its way into foreign policy. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said earlier this week that she was “deeply impacted” by the discovery of unmarked graves in Canada. She announced the U.S. federal government will launch a review of American boarding schools that, like Canada’s residential school system, attempted to force cultural assimilation onto Native Americans. And China, a country facing its own allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity, has gotten involved, making fodder from trauma to take swipes against critics.

Trudeau’s Liberals swept into power in 2015 promising reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Now, with murmurs of a potential election on the horizon, the federal government is playing defense against criticism from opposition parties for falling short of their promises, failing to live up to the obligations outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On Cowessess First Nation, 751 small flags wave in the wind and dot the grass-covered field where the church built a cemetery on the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Where headstones are missing, flags mark the spot where the remains of a body have been detected in the ground below. The school’s physical structure has been gone more than 20 years ago — demolished in 1999.

Cadmus Delorme, the community’s chief, said according to oral history, headstones were removed by representatives of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. “We didn’t remove these headstones,” he said, adding removing headstones is a crime. “And we are treating this like a crime scene at the moment.”

The new discovery further corroborates the testimonies recorded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about burial sites related to residential schools. For locals, Delorme said, new technology has confirmed what was always known. “When you’re from Cowessess First Nation, or you have attended the Marieval residential school. … We always knew that there were graves here,” he said.

— Pelosi announces select committee will investigate Jan. 6 attack: Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today she would create a new committee to investigate what she said are “many questions” about the events leading up to the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the federal response to that day. “This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I’m announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Pelosi said, adding that the committee will look into both the “root causes” of the storming of the Capitol, as well as broader security concerns for the complex.

— DHS is concerned about Trump reinstatement conspiracy theory: The conspiracy theory that Donald Trump will be reinstated as president in August has sparked concerns at the Department of Homeland Security, a top official there told members of Congress on Wednesday. The exchange came in a members-only briefing that John Cohen, the department’s top counterterrorism official, gave to the House Committee on Homeland Security.

— Florida responds to condo collapse where dozens remain missing: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis deployed a wide range of state resources to respond to the Wednesday night collapse of a condo in Miami-Dade County that left at least one person dead and dozens missing. DeSantis said officials are “bracing” for more deaths as workers dig through the rubble of Champlain Towers in Surfside, a tiny beach town just north of Miami Beach. Of the building’s 135 units, more than 50 collapsed during the overnight implosion, officials said.

— Giuliani suspended from New York bar: A New York court has suspended Trump’s most prominent attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, from the practice of law in that state over Giuliani’s claims of rampant fraud during the 2020 presidential election. “We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that respondent communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” a five-judge New York Supreme Court appellate panel concluded in a per curiam opinion issued today.

— Biden extends eviction, foreclosure bans by one month: The Biden administration unveiled a raft of measures to prevent people who lost income during the pandemic from losing their homes today, including by extending nationwide eviction and foreclosure bans until July 31. The Treasury Department released new guidance for state and local officials responsible for channeling $46 billion in emergency rental assistance into the hands of struggling tenants, after much of the federal aid had failed to be distributed.

— U.S. planning to evacuate thousands of interpreters from Afghanistan: The White House and Pentagon intend to evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families to a third country as they await U.S. visa processing, two officials have confirmed. The issue of Afghan interpreters and translators has become a major sticking point in the rush to move thousands of American troops and tons of equipment out of the country by September.

— Senate committee approves legislation to put Supreme Court hearings on camera: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a pair of bills today that would dramatically expand video coverage of federal court trials and other proceedings while putting Supreme Court arguments on camera for the first time. Both bills have bipartisan support, including the endorsement of the panel’s chair, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and the longstanding backing of the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

‘NEITHER SIDE GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED’ Biden celebrated his successful brokering of a framework for a bipartisan infrastructure package today, but warned he would not sign the legislation he had just agreed to unless it was delivered alongside a potentially party-line bill that included his social welfare and family assistance priorities.

The president’s declaration, made less than two hours after he and a group of 10 senators appeared outside the White House to announce their agreement on a $579 billion proposal, comes at a particularly perilous moment for both measures.

The bipartisan package must now win the support of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans, while the broader “human infrastructure” bill — likely to be routed through the legislative reconciliation process — must attract support from all 50 Senate Democrats to win passage.

Biden seemed confident about the fate of the two proposals this afternoon, appearing vindicated that his sometimes-derided approach to bipartisan dealmaking had yielded results. “Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal,” he told reporters. “That’s what it means to compromise.”

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