The Darsch Report: March 8 to 14

San Antonio Restaurant Vandalized

Early Mar. 14,  a San Antonio man’s ramen restaurant was vandalized with anti-Asian slurs and death threats following a CNN interview in which the man spoke out against Gov. Greg Abbott’s rollback of the mask requirement in Texas.

After the interview, Mike Nguyen, owner of Noodle Tree, was prepared for plenty of online hate comments but not for something like this.

“I’m still a little shocked that this would actually happen,” Nguyen said Sunday. “When I got here, that’s when it actually sunk in.”

Nguyen moved to San Antonio 5 years ago and started off with a food truck that eventually turned into a restaurant staple of UTSA Boulevard. He has made headlines before for refusing to open his business despite loosening COVID-19 restrictions because as he says the “money was not worth losing lives over.”

Nguyen, who is currently battling lymphoma, lost his grandmother recently after she contracted COVID-19 and he refuses to put any of his customers or employees at risk.

Nguyen says he believes that the Governor’s decision to repeal the mask mandate hurts business owners who now have to bear the burden of enforcing rules and the backlash that may follow.

“I will say that the governor doesn’t have us Texans’ interest at play at this point. I think it’s more of a personal interest,” Nguyen said Wednesday on CNN. “I think the decision to drop the mask mandate is selfish and cowardly, and there’s no reason to do it.”

Crisis at The Texan Border and FEMA Deployed

According to the Daily Mail, ICE is requesting additional personnel to be deployed to the US-Mexico border as a south Texas migrant complex is seven times overcapacity and reports are surfacing of children being forced to sleep on floors of detention centers. 

More than 3,500 unaccompanied teens and children have been held in Customs Border Patrol (CBP) detention centers with reports that many are spending an average of 108 hours in the facilities when they are only allowed to be there for 72 hours. 

Children at one facility in south Texas were reportedly going hungry and were only able to shower once every seven days as the center was at 729% of its legal capacity.

In response to the crisis, the Biden administration is mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help take some of the pressure off of CBP, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Saturday evening.

The FEMA deployment will support what DHS called a 90-day government-wide effort at the border, where the Biden administration is struggling to care for a record number of minors arriving without their parents.

“The federal government is responding to the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border,” DHS said in a statement.

Soon after taking office, the Biden Administration quickly ended many of the Trump administration’s border policies put in place to deter illegal immigration and has relaunched the Obama-era policy of “Catch and Release.” However, the administration has not responded to questions concerning why they did not anticipate or better prepare for the unprecedented surge that has occurred since then in the Rio Grande Valley.

AstraZeneca Vaccine

As early as this month or early April, AstraZeneca will be filing for U.S. emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine according to sources who informed Reuters on Friday. This vaccine has already been authorized for use in the European Union and many countries but not yet by U.S. regulators.

The British drugmaker completed enrollment in its trial of more than 32,000 volunteers in January and now has data on at least 150 cases of Covid-19, two sources familiar with the trial told Reuters.

“The U.S. Phase III study results are necessary for the FDA’s evaluation of an EUA request for our vaccine,” a company spokeswoman said, without confirming trial details being reported by Reuters. “We expect data from our U.S. Phase III trial to be available soon, in the coming weeks, and we plan to file for emergency use authorization shortly thereafter.”

There are safety concerns, however, regarding reports of serious blood clots in some vaccine recipients that have led several nations to pause administering the vaccine.

AstraZeneca is defending the vaccine, saying in a Sunday statement that more than 17 million doses have been administered in Europe and U.K., with no evidence that the shot increased the risk of blood clots.

The number of blood-clotting events are lower than what would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of that size, AstraZeneca’s Chief Medical Officer Ann Taylor said. In studies, participants getting the vaccine had fewer clots than those given placebo.

The UK Takes a Stand to China?

At the end of February, the Hong Kong government charged 47 democracy activists and protestors under a new national security law that prohibits “conspiracy to commit subversion.” The law criminalizes four types of activity: secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities. In practice, it severely curtails whatever autonomy that Hong Kong had previously enjoyed under Chinese rule.

Many of those arrested were Hong Kong’s most vocal democracy activists and if convicted could face up to life in prison.

In response, the UK government sent out a press release on Mar. 13 stating that China is in “a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

“Beijing’s decision to impose radical changes to restrict participation in Hong Kong’s electoral system constitutes a further clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in the statement.

The statement does not indicate what actions the United Kingdom will take against the People’s Republic but does come a day after a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., and the European Union denouncing the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the Chinese government.

The US Economy

Over the course of the past week, the US stock market has been doing very well. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by +976.20 points, +3.07%, and closed at a record high on Friday, March 12th, of 32,778.64. The S&P 500 Index, not wanting to be outdone but just barely falling short, increased by +121.99 points, +3.19%, over the course of the week and closed at a new record high of 3,943.34 on Friday. The NASDAQ, having been on a decline over the past month made, increased to 13,319.86 making a remarkable gain of +710.71 points, +5.64%, but still way below its Feb 12th high of 14,095.47.

Gas prices in the US also continue to see rapid price increases with the current national average according to AAA at $2.859 for a gallon of regular gas. This is a near 10 cents, ~3.2%, increase over last week’s average of $2.768 and a 35 cents, ~14%, increase over the national average from a month ago. This is likely due to a combination of three factors all at once; Saudi Arabia cutting oil production in February, increasing gas and oil demand as more vaccinations are leading to more people traveling, and Biden canceling the Keystone pipeline which would have allowed for more domestic oil refining.

New Covid Relief Bill

On Thurs., Mar. 11, President Joe Biden signed a new covid relief bill totaling $1.9 trillion in spending.

In the plan are some major spending changes, including:

  • Extending a $300 per week jobless aid supplement and programs making millions more people eligible for unemployment insurance until Sept. 6
  • $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans and their dependents with checks starting to phase out at $75,000 in income for individuals and are capped at people who make $80,000. However, these checks are not protected from debt-collection agencies.
  • Expanding the child tax credit for one year and increasing it to $3,600 for children under 6 and to $3,000 for kids between 6 and 17.
  • $350 billion in relief to state, local and tribal governments and more than $120 billion to K-12 schools.

The bill passed the House by a 220-211 margin without a Republican vote and Democrats also approved the plan on their own in the Senate through the special budget reconciliation process.

Biden celebrated the passing of the bill in a Wednesday statement stating “This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance.”

Republicans are arguing though that with this massive increase in spending we may see rising inflation, especially with an economy on the road to recovery with vaccines rolling out and many states now reopening.

“There is a real risk here, of this kind of massive stimulus overheating the economy. … I just think it’s sad because we could’ve done, I think something much more targeted and focused on Covid-19,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told CNBC on Wednesday morning.

Texas Tax-Payer Funded Lobbying

As of Mon., Mar. 15, there are 77 days left in the Texas legislative session, and 10 Texas State Senators, led by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–7), chair of the Local Government Committee, have joint authored Senate Bill 10 to stop Texas cities’ and counties’ use of public funds to lobby the state Legislature.

SB 10 joint authors include State Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-22), Donna Campbell (R-25), Charles Creighton (R-4), Bob Hall (R-2), Kelly Hancock (R-9), Bryan Hughes (R-1), Angela Paxton (R-8), Charles Perry (R-28), and Drew Springer (R-30).

“Taxpayer-funded lobbying diverts funding from local governments’ ability to provide local needs and results in money being used to advocate for policies not always in Texans’ best interest,” said Bettencourt. “The Texas Ethics Commission data showed that an estimated $32 million was spent on lobbyist compensation in 2018, a non-session year. We can’t have tax dollars being used to advocate for greater spending, more taxing authority, and increased regulatory power at the local government level without taxpayers’ consent.”

SB 10 does not prohibit city or county elected officials, officers, or employees from providing information to members of the Legislature, appearing before committee hearings at the request of a member, or advocating on legislation while acting in their official capacities.

The vast majority of Texans support this policy, and it is a legislative priority for Texan Republicans and conservative groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas. Because of staunch support for the policy, it has a high chance of passing the Senate. But it could also end up like similar legislation from the last session that was proposed and passed in the State Senate but was ultimately voted down in the House.

CPS Energy vs San Antonio Family

Following the death of San Antonio resident Esequiel Mendoza during the February winter storm, the man’s family is suing CPS Energy over his death.

The wrongful death suit, filed Mon., Mar. 8, in the 166th District Court, accused the San Antonio utility company of negligence that caused his death.

In the week before his death, Mendoza was not able to receive his usual life-saving dialysis treatment due to controlled outages imposed by CPS Energy at the request of the state grid, which is run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Instead of receiving between four and five hours of treatment, Mendoza only received two, according to the lawsuit.

It is at least the second wrongful death suit filed against CPS Energy related to the winter storm. The first lawsuit was brought by the husband of a woman who is believed to have died of hypothermia.

According to the lawsuit, the family is seeking financial compensation for their loss, and as of Friday morning, attorneys for CPS Energy declined to address the pending litigation.

“Unfortunately, these types of deaths require a thorough investigation into the relevant environmental conditions as well as assessment of the individual’s underlying health conditions, often including additional laboratory testing,” according to a statement from the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office. “Therefore, these deaths take several weeks to adequately investigate and determine. Thus, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office does not currently have an accurate count of these types of deaths and may not for some time.”

ICE Needs Reform, Not Abolition: a Libertarian Perspective

Crying children. Illegal immigrants locked away in cages. Children forced to appear alone in court. Nothing galvanized the nation over the Trump administration’s immigration policies than the debacle of this past summer, which has even drawn comparisons to the Nazi concentration camps.

By “debacle,” I’m referring to the Trump administration’s announcement of its “zero-tolerance” policy along the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy stipulated that illegal migrants crossing the border with children were to be arrested and detained separately. The administration argued that the policy was geared toward deterring migrants from crossing the border with children and fighting sex trafficking across the border. But the policy had unintended side effects.

It turned out that the policy achieved neither goal. In fact, it ended up separating families with legitimate asylum claims, causing mayhem at the border and across the country. Even though the Trump administration ended the policy of separating families, hundreds of children remain separated from their parents (despite a court order mandating the reunification of families), down from a peak of 3,000 children at the time the administration ended the policy.

But the political fallout has yet to fade away. Multiple prominent Democrats have called into question the legitimacy of the agencies responsible for carrying out the zero-tolerance policy, singling out Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in particular. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic Socialist who was recently elected to represent New York’s 14th congressional district, has called for the outright abolition of the agency, joining a growing chorus of Democrats that want to shutter the agency.

There is just one problem: ICE actually performs some useful functions. A quick trip to the ICE website shows what ICE has been up to with regards to deporting criminals, usually posted on the top of the front page of the website. These are good things, as criminals who do not have a legitimate claim to be here should be fast-tracked for deportation. Simply calling to abolish ICE ignores these legitimate functions that the agency is tasked with carrying out. It’s foolhardy and ignorant at best because it dashes any hopes of thinking about practical policy proposals and engaging in thoughtful and rational discussion.

First, we need to separate fact from fiction. Let us start with some history. ICE is only fifteen years old, one of many agencies formed in the post-9/11 frenzy and consolidated into the newly born Department of Homeland Security. ICE’s predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), was abolished when ICE and a few other agencies took its place. Creating the agency and placing it under DHS was an attempt to quell fears that the government would not do enough in the wake of the worst terrorist attack in American history.

Since its inception, ICE’s responsibilities have included both preventing another terrorist attack from happening through our immigration system and enforcing immigration laws domestically. Left-wing commentators are right in asserting that ICE historically has had little regard for due process in rounding up illegal immigrants off the street and deporting them. They also have a point that the agency is overly concerned with deportations and does not take a humanitarian approach to immigration, which stems from its dual responsibilities of regulating immigration and combating transnational criminals, forcing ICE to take a one-size-fits-all approach where their tasks have zero flexibility and does not tolerate a discretionary decision-making process.

But progressives, who have coalesced with other activists and politicians into the “Abolish ICE” movement, either lack a clear vision for what a realistic immigration system will look like or are trying to push the debate in a direction where a reasonable compromise is not possible. After all, most voters oppose scrapping ICE altogether. Even if voters did support shuttering the agency, without a comprehensive plan to get rid of the bad parts of ICE, the agency’s powers would simply shift elsewhere into another agency, which doesn’t accomplish anything.

Now, in an ideal world, ICE would not exist. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, have far fewer incarceration rates than native-born citizens and are far less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Even when immigrants do commit crimes, it would be better to let local police departments handle it instead of federalizing the issue, as one libertarian commentator proposes. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so we should try to prioritize small government and the right to free movement as best we can. To start, we need to recognize that when families were separated, that was Customs and Border Protection (CBP), not ICE. ICE is responsible for domestic enforcement of immigration laws; CBP is in charge of maintaining security at the border (while I’m on the topic, there are important distinctions between the two agencies, which usually intertwine, complicating efforts to reform them). But for now, my proposal will deal solely with ICE and no other agency.

First, to address the heart of the problem, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) needs to go. This is the part of the agency that is responsible for mass deportations, which was kicked into high gear under President Obama and continued under President Trump. This should give civil libertarians pause since ERO has broad police powers in arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. Additionally, budget hawks should note that if the U.S. government were to undertake the enormous task of deporting all illegal immigrants from the country, it would carry a price tag of anywhere between $400-600 billion, even when illegal immigration has a positive impact on the U.S. economy. The only part of the agency that should be salvaged is its removal authority, which should be transferred to the other division of ICE, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which is concerned with targeting transnational criminals. This will alleviate ICE of any responsibility to deport non-criminal aliens and refocus its efforts on deporting actual criminals, like gangs, sex traffickers, and terrorists.

Second, ICE should discontinue its Secure Communities program, which was shuttered by the Obama administration after it was revealed that it was profiling, but was revived under President Trump. Additionally, ICE should also shutter its 287(g) program, which allows for local law enforcement officers to enter into partnerships with ICE to help the agency identify and deport illegal immigrants, effectively extending the agency’s authorities into local police departments and turning police officers into ICE agents. Both programs have been weaponized by President Trump against cities who refuse to sign onto or comply with these two programs, with the president calling them “sanctuary cities” and threatening to cut off their federal funding.

Third, ICE should close its “stipulated removal” program, which allows for illegal immigrants to waive their right to go to court and instead be fast-tracked for deportation. This program is inherently rife with due process violations; many undocumented aliens do not understand the deportation process and many sign their rights away without knowing exactly what they are doing. Fourth, the number of beds in DHS detention facilities should be reduced (below 30,000 would be a start), so the department has less of an incentive to keep the beds full with immigrants and therefore, less of an incentive to round up immigrants. Lastly, we should shift illegal border crossings from criminal to civil offenses, which removes the mentality that illegal immigrants should be treated as security threats. This would also take off the burden on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services), which is currently swamped with cases of children needing to be resettled in the country and forcing unaccompanied children to remain in CBP and ICE custody.

I understand that I’m dealing with old news, but our immigration system has yet to face comprehensive reform that both reflects our nation’s values and keeps our nation safe. Even when the news media, political commentators, and social media shift away from talking about immigration, the effects on those impacted are still there. It’s past time that we seriously consider proposals and start thinking about reforming–and shrinking–the agencies and departments that deal with immigration. This includes recognizing that comprehensive reform does not stem from two-word slogans chanted in the streets aimed at policies that rip apart families, but realizing that our immigration system is much more complex and that serious reform tackles all the parts of the larger immigration machine. Ultimately, I want the country to consider the long-term psychologicaleconomic, and international effects of maintaining a hardline immigration policy, which is not good for anyone concerned with pursuing a freer society where freedom of movement is cherished, not belittled.

The Trump Citizenship Clause

On Tuesday, 30 October, in an exclusive interview with “Axios on HBO,” Trump stated that in the foreseeable future he will be ending birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants through executive order. He said that the idea that a person can illegally come into the United States, have a baby and “the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits… It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.” This isn’t the first time that Trump has expressed opposition to this policy, making similar headlines in August 2015 when he was still a candidate in the Republican primary. But can Trump really carry out this action through executive order, and is he right to scrutinize the current understanding of the 14th amendment?

Trump thinking that he can change the constitution or its interpretation through executive order is almost certainly presidential overreach. It is up to Congress and the 50 states of the Union to decide whether or not the Constitution is amended and it is up to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution to determine if a law or executive order is unconstitutional or not. If this does indeed go to the Supreme Court then President Trump will be immediately shut down for trying to change constitutional law and interpretation. However, then comes the issue of whether Trump right to say that the children of illegal immigrants are not automatically citizens of the US.

For this, we will have to go back to the late 1800s and look to the men who wrote the 14th amendment and the Supreme Court cases that determined its precedent. First, what does the 14th say? Section 1 reads,

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The 14th amendment was written in 1868 as a way for the federal government to grant citizenship to all former slaves and to reaffirm the Civil Rights Act of 1866 due to fear that many states in the Union would not allow former slaves to be citizens and enjoy the rights and privileges provided. Most of the current debate revolves around the key phrasing of “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” and its relation to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which granted citizenship to “All persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

The purpose of this wording can be found by looking to key figures on the drafting and ratification of the 14th amendment. Senator Jacob Howard (R-MI), a sponsor of the citizenship clause, stated it “is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already,” further explaining with “This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” When asked what the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” meant Senator Lyman Trumbull (D-IL), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, stated “That means ‘subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof.’ What do we mean by ‘complete jurisdiction thereof’? Not owing allegiance to anyone else. That is what it means.” Senator Howard would actually respond to this stating “I concur entirely with the honorable Senator from Illinois [Trumbull], in holding that the word ‘jurisdiction,’ as here employed, ought to be construed so as to imply a full and complete jurisdiction on the part of the United States… that is to say, the same jurisdiction in extent and quality as applies to every citizen of the United States now.” Now since only US citizens can own complete allegiance and are subject to the “complete jurisdiction thereof” to the United States this exchange would suggest that only the children of American citizens can automatically become citizens. It also works in Trump’s favor that the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the children of illegal immigrants automatically become citizens of the US since they were born the US. The closest case that has been ruled on was from the 1898 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. In the case, it was ruled that the children of a Chinese immigrant couple who immigrated to and resided in the US legally were deemed US citizens. Another case often cited is the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe where the ruling was a 5-4 vote but which contains a dictum, meaning that the ruling was based on opinion and is not binding.

However, until Trump actually issues the executive order we can not know for certain what the reaction from Congress and the Supreme Court will be. Until this action becomes reality all we can do is speculate as to whether or not this action is unconstitutional and whether or not Trump would be right.