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Surge in border crossings spells early test for Biden’s immigration plans

70,000 migrants were caught crossing the Southwest border of the U.S. last month — a 64% increase compared to last November that came in spite of the pandemic and strict immigration enforcement policies, border officials told reporters Monday.

Driving the news: Acting Customsand Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan — a Trump appointee with hardline immigration views — sought to blame the increase in the waning days of the administration on the courts and President-elect Joe Biden's stated immigration platform.

By the numbers: In addition to the overall surge, there have also been more migrants and minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, countries that have suffered from recent hurricanes.

  • The number of unaccompanied children encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border rose from 712 in April to roughly 4,700 in October and 4,500 in November, Morgan said.

Between the lines: Unlike past surges, smugglers have been trying to sneak minors further into the U.S. through remote areas, notes Axios' Russell Contreras.

  • Because the 2019 crisis was fueled by large numbers of migrant families and children from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — border officials pay close attention to those trends.

What they're saying: Morgan blamed rising numbers on court rulings, including one in November that prevented border officials from quickly expelling minors who cross the border alone. However, the number of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border decreased slightly between October and November.

  • Morgan suggested Biden had also contributed to the trends at the border, saying "cartels and human smugglers are fueling perceptions that our borders will once again be wide open, and that we will be reinstating the loopholes that have been closed."
  • "If your policy consists of stopping deportation for almost four months, discontinuing or not supporting title 42, revoking the migrant protection protocols," Morgan said, listing off other elements of Biden's immigration platform, "the message you're sending is clear and simple: We have open borders."
  • He added that he would love to speak to the Biden transition team about his concerns, but had not yet.

Reality check: Immigration flows are complex. While American politics can play a role, the pandemic, economic instability and hurricanes have also pushed Central Americans to flee their home countries.

What to watch: If border crossings continue to rise, the Biden administration may need to be even more cautious and methodical in deciding how and whether to change Trump's border policies, Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who worked at the Justice Department under President Obama, told Axios.

  • Morgan also told reporters that the administration is on track to complete its goal of building 450 miles of border wall by the end of the year.

UN human rights chief: At least 54 killed, over 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

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The U.S. may be setting itself up for a fourth coronavirus wave

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.

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Sidewalk robots get legal rights as "pedestrians"

As small robots proliferate on sidewalks and city streets, so does legislation that grants them generous access rights and even classifies them, in the case of Pennsylvania, as "pedestrians."

Why it matters: Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.

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The biggest obstacle to a wealth tax

Taxing the rich is an idea that's back. An "ultra-millionaire tax" introduced by Elizabeth Warren and other left-wing Democrats this week would raise more than $3 trillion over 10 years, they say, while making the tax system as a whole more fair.

Why it matters: New taxes would be a necessary part of any Democratic plan to redistribute wealth and reduce inequality. But President Biden has more urgent priorities — and Warren's wealth tax in particular faces constitutional obstacles that make it a hard sell.

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House passes For the People Act to expand voting rights

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

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House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

The House voted 220-212onWednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

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Republicans are demanding a full 600-page reading of Biden’s COVID relief bill

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

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Here’s how a single resignation, retirement or death could flip control of the 50-50 Senate

Note: Bernie Sanders is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Data: Axios Research/ProPublica/NCSL; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Nineteen seats in the U.S. Senate could potentially flip parties if there's an unexpected vacancy, according to Axios' analysis of state vacancy rules, which most often allow the governor to appoint a replacement.

Why it matters: Depending on the senator, a single resignation, retirement or death — by accident or old age — could flip control of the 50-50 Senate, or give Democrats a two-vote cushion.

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