07 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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World Politics

United States

Faced with a backlash after his decision to remove protections from 800,000 child migrants, it’s not inconceivable that Trump may reverse position

daca protest

‘If Congress doesn’t act to save Daca, the resulting news footage would be devastating.’ Photograph: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

With his I-lack-a-dream decision to rescind Daca (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which protect young migrants from deportation, Donald Trump once again demonstrated that he has the strategic vision of a four-year-old playing Candy Land. Badly.

Forget all the self-serving leaks about the president’s anguish over the fate of the 800,000 children who were brought to this country as children by parents who crossed the border – or overstayed their visas – without papers. What matters is not Trump’s psyche, but the results of his actions on Tuesday, which are simultaneously mean-spirited and politically maladroit.

Remember that the Dreamers were created as a special class of those in the country without valid papers for a reason: their stories have the emotional wallop of orphans climbing on Santa’s lap in a Christmas fund-raising appeal.

Since they were brought here as children, the Dreamers defuse the right-wing argument that any form of amnesty would be rewarding knowing illegal behavior. Having grown up in America, many of the 800,000 speak English without a hint of the accents of the countries of their birth, which makes them seem less “foreign” to immigration foes. Also, they are all required to be working, in the military or in school under the terms of their two-year residency permits.

As a result, about the only people who want to send the Dreamers back to countries they barely remember are Jeff Sessions and his fellow immigration hardliners. A recent Politico/Morning Consult Poll found that only 15% of registered voters believe that the Dreamers should be deported.

These poll numbers are not an artifact of current media attention: a March USA Today/Suffolk University Poll found that only 22% of voters favored ending legal protections for Dreamers.

Under the Trump order, Dreamers would begin to lose their protected status in March 2018, with the precise date depending on when their residency documents expire.

What this means is that gradually these 800,000 young adults would not only lose all rights to work in this country legally, but they would also be subject to deportation at the whims of immigration officials.

If Congress doesn’t act to save Daca, the resulting news footage would be devastating for all Republicans running in districts where the voters are more diverse than the cast of a 1950s sitcom.

Again and again, Republican incumbents who want to talk about taxes and cutting government regulations would be forced to defend Congress’ inaction in the face of heart-rending deportations. And since Dreamers’ permits are all on different time clocks, the stories would continue until Election Day 2018 and beyond.

But the Republicans would not be off the hook politically even if they approve legislation to codify the protections for the Dreamers and hopefully even offer them a path to citizenship.

The 15-to-20% of the electorate who favor deportation would be enraged if a Republican Congress protected these young adults whom Sessions labeled “illegal aliens.” You can trust Steve Bannon and Breitbart News to ridicule a Republican Congress for voting to legislatively rescue the Dreamers after Barack Obama and the Democrats failed in their efforts.

To the Republican’s nativist base, it would just be another betrayal by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the resulting anger would probably dampen 2018 Republican turnout.

A Trump reversal on Daca is about the best that Republicans justifiably worried about losing the House and two Senate seats in states (Nevada and Arizona) with large Hispanic populations can hope for.

The president – who is either a natural weathervane or a creature who is swayed by the last person he talked to – hinted at such a backflip when he tweeted Tuesday night that if Congress fails to act, “I will revisit this issue!”

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Hillary Clinton explains Trump defeat in new memoir – and takes aim at Bernie Sanders>>

‘It’s outrageous’: 15 states challenge Trump’s Daca decision in court>

Mark Zuckerberg defends Daca in livestreamed interview with Dreamers>>

Silicon Valley vowed to protect Dreamers – but is it willing to defy Trump?>>

Steve Bannon defends Trump and calls Catholic church ‘terrible’ on immigration>>

Trump touts plan for ‘major, major tax cuts’ and praises Democrat in North Dakota>>

Trump misplaces party ID, cuts deal with Dems>>



Interior minister Marco Minniti went to Libya in an attempt to reduce migrant flows, earning praise and condemnation in equal measure for his approach

Marco Minniti

Marco Minniti said Italy has defended his dialogue with tribal leaders to reduce the numbers seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

In his eight months in office, Marco Minniti, the austere Italian interior minister, has overseen a huge reduction in the number of African migrants and refugees reaching Italian shores from Libya.

At the last count in August, the figure was 87% down on the previous year.

A former communist with deep connections with Italian intelligence and the levers of the Italian state, Minniti is one of the most controversial politicians in Europe. His success in reducing migrant flows has won him praise and popularity on the right and notoriety on parts of the left.

There have been rumours of deals struck in the desert to induce tribes and militia to end the business of human trafficking. It is claimed his methods are fragile, and leave unresolved the fate of the tens of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya in inhumane detention camps unable to reach Italy and unwilling to return to their country of origin on the other side of the Sahara desert.

Minniti offered a stout defence of his methods in an interview in Italy this week. His country had faced an unprecedented moment in the history of migration, he said.

In June, on the way to a meeting in the US, he stopped at Shannon airport to find his phone full of warnings that in the space of 24 hours there had been 12,500 arrivals in 25 vessels operating across the Mediterranean. He feared for Italian democracy. “I had a problem. Should I continue my flight to Washington on the basis of showing the show must go on, or should I go back and by doing so dramatise everything?

People take to the streets in support of refugees during a rally staged by the ‘Movements for Home’ in Rome last month.

People take to the streets in support of refugees during a rally staged by the ‘Movements for Home’ in Rome last month. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/AP

“I thought I had to come back to be with operators overseeing the humanitarian rescue. We needed to transmit a message that we as the government had the capacity to react.”

The deeper worry for Minitti was that he had already set in train the reforms designed to stem the flow, but at that stage the fruits of his effort were invisible. It was only in July and August that the picture transformed.

“The crucial point for me had been to go to Libya to find a solution. In Turkey with its migrant crisis there was a strong leader with which to work – perhaps too strong. In Libya it was the opposite.” In many ways Minitti, faced by a fatally divided national state, was trying to create an alternative set of state institutions.

In February he signed a memorandum with the leader of the UN-recognised government, Fayez al-Serraj, introducing a new level of cooperation between the coastguard and the Italians, including the provision of four patrol vessels. “If we look at results the Libyan coastguard has saved more than 13,000 people – figures that were absolutely unthinkable at the start of the year.

“But my conviction was the southern border of Libya is crucial for the southern border of Europe as a whole. So we have built a relationship with the tribes of southern Sahara. They are fundamental to the south, the guardians of the southern border, but they had been fighting one another and that meant the southern border was not controlled.

“On 31 March the tribes came to my office here in Rome. It was a very difficult discussion; 72 hours were needed to to try to find a solution and to build a peace that respected their independence. All this was very complicated, more complicated than you can imagine, but they were looking for a solution. My conviction is that at a certain point [when] these conflicts become unsustainable the important thing is to be ready when someone is looking for a solution.”

The deal with the southern tribesmen has made it easier to stem the flow of migrants from Chad, Mali and Niger.

On 13 July, Minniti went a stage further, going to Libya to meet the mayors of the most important 14 cities that were interested. “We discussed a pact. It was quite simple: engage yourself against the trafficking of human beings and we will help you to build an alternative economy. The problems at the moment is trafficking has been the only industry in Libya capable of producing an income revenue.”

He denied this process involved bribing militia. “We have been quite transparent. We needed to help the communities to free themselves from the traffickers and to produce an alternative income. There is sustained help for the migrants in that city as well as hospitals and parks for children. The idea is to put resources on the table so that a good currency can defeat a bad currency You needed to build a conversation with the whole society. When I met a sultan of the tribes he said: ‘You have to help me so that my children so that can lead a different life from trafficking.’ We have taken these projects to the European commission. These people want to change and it is the duty of the international community to help in this reconversion.”

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It came without warning, and without equivalent. Now a flash drought is fueling fires and hurting the lives of those who work the land

in Fort Peck, Montana


A wildfire burns in the Lolo national forest in Montana in August. The severe drought has served as ideal conditions for continued fires. Photograph: Rion Sanders/AP

When Rick Kirn planted his 1,000 acres of spring wheat in May, there were no signs of a weather calamity on the horizon. Three months later, when he should have been harvesting and getting ready to sell his wheat, Kirn was staring out across vast cracked, gray, empty fields dotted with weeds and little patches of stunted wheat.

“It’s a total loss for me,” said Kirn, who operates a small family wheat farm on the Fort Peck Reservation, an area of north-eastern Montana that lies right in the heart of the extreme climatic episode. “There’s nothing to harvest.”

Kirn’s story is typical across the high plains in Montana and the Dakotas this summer, where one of the country’s most important wheat growing regions is in the grips of a crippling drought that came on with hardly any warning and, experts say, is without precedent.

While much of the country’s attention in recent weeks has been on the hurricanes striking southern Texas and the Caribbean, a so-called “flash drought”, an unpredictable, sudden event brought on by sustained high temperatures and little rain, has seized a swathe of the country and left farmers with little remedy. Across Montana’s northern border and east into North Dakota, farms are turning out less wheat than last year, much of it poorer quality than normal.

This is as dry as it’s been in history. A lot of people try to compare this to previous years, but you just can’t

Tanja Fransen, National Weather Service

Most farmers in and around the Fort Peck Reservation agree that climate change is to blame for the sudden drought and ruined crops, but that doesn’t change the fact that farmers and others who make their living off of agriculture are now subject to shifting political winds and strained debate around the issue.

“This is unprecedented,” says Tanja Fransen of the National Weather Service in Glasgow, a larger city just up the road from Fort Peck. “This is as dry as it’s been in recorded history and some of our recording stations have 100 years of data. A lot of people try to compare this to previous years, but really, you just can’t.”

Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist for North Dakota describes the unusual draught in terms that are reminiscent of descriptions of deluge brought on by Hurricane Harvey. “It is safe to say, we got into it very fast, which caught us off guard and we didn’t know it was going to continue,” he says.

Akyuz said that March through July was the third-driest five-months on record in North Dakota since 1895, a dire situation impossible to predict given traditional methods of weighing snowpack with average seasonal temperatures to monitor for potential drought. But in the future, unpredictable may be the best prediction.

“We should expect these swings and incorporate these swings into our management plans,” said Akyuz.

As of late August, the US Drought Monitor classified all of Montana in some stage of drought, with 65% of the state’s vast lands in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

“The new normal is that now we have a warmer world, in times when you’re not getting your normal load of rain, things can go bad very quickly,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Partly as a result of the drought, Montana is also dealing with one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. As of early September, wildfires have burned more than 1m acres – among the state’s top five most devastating fire seasons in terms of acres burned – and forecasts suggest the destruction will continue for weeks.

In southeastern Montana, cattle rancher Lillian Ostendorf explains taking turns on fire lookout duty, which entails sitting on top of a hill scanning the horizon, watching for smoke to flare up on the wide-open prairie. Fires come up quickly and move fast. Just last week, a fire that sparked on her family’s ranch spread several miles before it was put out. The situation requires constant, exhausting vigilance.

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