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The Daily 202: Biden is sending a direct message to young, potential migrants: Stay home

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with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we look at how President Biden is trying to deter immigration at the source. But don’t miss the latest on the president's burgeoning infrastructure package and the first interview with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Send me links to politics or policy stories you think deserve more attention! And tell your friends to sign up here.

Amid a political controversy over his handling of immigration, President Biden has stepped up efforts to send his message that “the border is closed” directly to potential migrants in their home countries. The campaign relies on radio and digital ads, often featuring testimonials from those whose dangerous attempted journey north ended with a ticket home.

Even as Biden sends senior U.S. officials to countries like Mexico and Guatemala to enlist their governments’ help to stem a surge in attempted crossings, his administration is reaching out directly to convince Latin Americans to stay put.

Since Jan. 21, the United States has placed about 17,118 radio ads in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, in Spanish, Portuguese and six indigenous languages, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday.

The ads ran on 33 radio stations, with a potential audience of 15 million people.

Psaki said the State Department has worked with Facebook and Instagram to reach “millions” of individuals seen as potential migrants from Latin America where, as of 2019, 500 million mobile phone subscriptions were on smartphones

“A total of 589 digital ads and paid search, display in social media, supporting the ongoing migration campaign and Northern Triangle countries have reached more than 26 million people since Inauguration Day,” she said.

The aggressive push by the Biden administration to prevent migrants from trying to come to the United States underscores an increasingly difficult situation at the border, where the number of migrants is rising as the president quickly seeks to reverse Trump-era policies. The number of attempted border crossings rose starting in April 2020, but Biden’s decision not to deport unaccompanied minors on humanitarian grounds has strained federal facilities and Democrats are increasingly vocal about their concerns about conditions there. 

Photos of thousands of unaccompanied minors huddled under foil blankets at a facility in Donna, Tex., are raising eyebrows among immigration activists and providing fodder for the administration’s GOP critics, who generally remained quiet in the face of President Donald Trump’s far more punishing policies.

What’s Biden telling potential immigrants? A three-minute digital video called “La Historia de Marlon” (Marlon’s Story) posted last week by the U.S. embassy in San Salvador offers some clues.

Hashtagged #UnViajeEnVano (a trip made in vain) Marlon’s tale “una historia real” (a true story) features a young Salvadoran who, pushed by joblessness at home, headed north in 2010 at age 19. The animated video shows him packed in a truck with other migrants; crossing the desert; dodging bullets. He crosses into Texas, only to be apprehended and deported.

There’s a happy ending, though, as Marlon joins a training program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development in El Salvador and gets a job as a computer programmer.

“The role of testimonials is important,” a senior State Department official told me in a phone interview.

“We can, as a government, convey very easily U.S. law, the status at the border, we can convey that the border is closed, we can convey that people who attempt to enter the United States illegally will be turned away, will be returned. But it’s also important that voices from those who have attempted this journey, who have perhaps incurred great debt, or run some other kind of risk, their voices should be amplified too.”

So U.S. embassies “are working with partner organizations to learn about stories of people people who have left, people who are staying and who are building brighter futures in their communities,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

Another ad, run in Guatemala, features “Juan,” who says he wants to join a northbound caravan because he has heard it’s easier to cross the U.S. border. His friend “Pedro” tells him this is a myth and warns him not to risk his life for “false hopes.” A narrator ends the ad by saying “Guatemala is your land, your people … don’t abandon what is yours.”

Whether the public relations push is working is hard to quantify.

“It is difficult to note the people who do not come,” Psaki told reporters. “That is never a number we will have a mark on.”

Instead of trying to “prove a negative,” the anonymous State Department official suggested the administration would consider “a variety of longer-term indicators” in potential migrants’ home countries progress on the economy, progress on battling corruption or impunity, for example.

It’s a challenge. In addition to the expectation of more humane treatment under Biden than Trump, migrants are increasingly fleeing Honduras and Guatemala, where the pandemic has crippled the economy. In November, Category 4 Hurricane Eta and Category 5 Hurricane Iota pounded Central America. That’s on top of longstanding gang violence, corruption, and economic difficulties.

The administration is looking for other ways to drive its immigration message home.

Biden is sending White House border coordinator Roberta Jacobson to Mexico “to engage with Mexican government officials to develop an effective and humane plan of action to manage migration” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Monday.

“We need to work in partnership with these countries to address the root causes in their countries to convey clearly and systematically that this is not the time to travel,” Psaki said at her briefing.

Horne said Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, would travel with Jacobson and then head to Guatemala to meet with officials there, as well as representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations. 

Honduran-born diplomat Ricardo Zuniga, just appointed by the State Department as the Northern Triangle special envoy, will travel with them, Horne said.

My colleagues Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report:

The administration is also preparing to roll out additional legal pathways that would not require asylum seekers to physically present themselves at the border, according to an aide with knowledge of the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an initiative that had not been formally announced.

What’s happening now

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers union, "sent a two-page letter to the Biden administration [today] questioning the decision to reduce the recommended social distancing in schools to three feet between students,” CBS News reports. Last week, the CDC “reduced its recommendation for social distancing within schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from six feet to three feet.” The teachers’ union, however, said in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky that “the cited studies do not identify the baseline mitigation strategies needed to support 3 feet of physical distancing.” 

Ten people were killed in Boulder last night after a shooter opened fire at a grocery store. 

  • “Law enforcement officials said the suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was shot in the leg as he carried out the attack with a rifle, and was in the hospital on Tuesday morning, prior to being booked into jail and charged. They offered no details on a suspected motive,” Timothy Bella, Lateshia Beachum and Keith McMillan report.
  • All 10 victims were identified early this morning and that their families have been identified. Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said the victims ages ranged from 20 to 65, Bella reports.
  • Biden will deliver brief remarks on the grocery store attack before departing Washington this afternoon for a previously scheduled trip to Ohio. He also ordered flags at the White House fly at half-staff in honor of the shooting victims, John Wagner reports.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused Democrats of using gun violence to advance their political agenda. “Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Cruz said in an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence this morning, Colby Itkowitz reports. “What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective.”
  • “Cruz said he and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, are reintroducing legislation to make it illegal for criminals and those with serious mental illness to purchase guns," per Itkowitz.
  • The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors this morning renewed its call for Congress to pass “common sense gun safety legislation,” starting with two background-check bills approved by the House this month that are awaiting action in the Senate, Wagner reports.
  • Boulder’s assault weapons ban, established in 2018 as a way to prevent mass killings like the Parkland shooting, was blocked 10 days before last night’s attack, Teo Armus reports.
  • The rampage comes “as the nation is still grappling with a devastating attack in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, less than a week earlier.”

From Vice President Harris:

Officials said at least 10 people were fatally shot at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on March 22. (Video: The Washington Post)

Quote of the day

“The fact that it’s happening all over America,” said a survivor of yesterday’s shooting in Boulder. “Seeing it on the news, like, something I’ve grown up with, like people my age and my generation — we’re used to this, and it’s just never something that I think would happen in my town.”

The pandemic hasn't slowed down shootings. Last year, 41,000 people were killed by gun violence in the United States: 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

Biden’s Cabinet is almost complete.

One of its newest members, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, gave his first interview since his swearing-in to our colleague Amy Goldstein.

  • Becerra told Goldstein “the federal campaign to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus must ‘reach people where they are,’ bringing vaccine-filled syringes into farm fields and onto construction sites to ease profound racial and ethnic disparities in who has been getting the protective shots.” Too often, he said, Black and Latino Americans in low-wage jobs such as house cleaners and bus drivers “think their government thinks they are invisible.”
  • Becerra also said health officials will work more intensely to address behavioral health problems exacerbated by the pandemic. “He said they include addictions, mental illnesses and a spike in suicides — all fostered by the isolation that has been a pandemic side-effect and has, in turn, often lessened treatment for behavioral health issues,” Goldstein writes.
  • On Obamacare, Becerra foreshadowed steps the Biden administration may take to reverse the Trump polices that weakened it.

“The Justice Department is facing mounting pressure to file federal hate crime charges in the Atlanta spa shootings,” David Nakamura reports. This sets up a “test for the Biden administration in managing public expectations in a case that experts said illustrates the difficulty in prosecuting and winning a conviction.”

  • "In the decade after Congress expanded protections under hate crime laws in 2009, the number of referrals to federal prosecutors under five federal statutes was significantly lower than it had been over the previous 2 1/2 decades.” Still, experts say the handling of the Atlanta shooting “has demonstrated flaws in how federal and local authorities are managing the investigation into whether the alleged shooter was motivated by race or gender.” 
  • “I think the disconnect is that law enforcement seemed to downplay bias, particularly racial and ethic bias, as a motivation for a crime very quickly,” former FBI agent Michael German told Nakamura.
  • “German said the Justice Department has long followed a policy of deferring to local authorities in handling potential hate crime cases, but that many states have an assortment of inconsistent and weak laws which local prosecutors often chose not to pursue because they fear doing so could complicate efforts to win a conviction.” 

… and beyond

  • Republican Party officials made a mysterious $36,000 payment in February to private investigators who advertise their use of surveillance drones and hidden cameras,” by Insider’s Robin Bravender, Dave Levinthal and Tom LoBianco: “The GOP’s campaign arm paid Cross Xamine Investigations Inc. for ‘legal and compliance services’ on February 10, the records showed. … It’s unusual for a party committee to hire private investigators.”
  • Islands in the Stream,” by the American Prospect’s David Dayen: “For the main streaming companies — YouTube and Spotify — music is really a loss leader, incidental to data collection, the advertising that can be sold off that data, and the promise of audience growth to investors. ‘Spotify is benefiting from every single artist on the platform driving fans to them,’ said Chris Castle, an entertainment attorney who used to work at A&M Records. ‘The labels say they give you exposure. The line is that you can die of exposure.’”

The first 100 days

White House officials are eyeing tax increases on businesses, investors and wealthy Americans to fund the president’s jobs and infrastructure package. 
  • The key measures under discussion include: “Raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent; increasing the global minimum tax paid from about 13 percent to 21 percent; ending federal subsidies for fossil fuel companies; and forcing multinational corporations to pay the U.S. tax rate rather than the lower rates paid by their foreign subsidiaries,” Jeff Stein and Tony Romm report.
  • Biden’s next big legislative effort “is expected to be broken up into two main components — one focused primarily on infrastructure and clean energy investments, and a second focused on domestic priorities including child care and prekindergarten that the administration has labeled part of the ‘caring economy,’ ” Stein and Romm write. “The tax increases in the plan are similarly divided between those two parts. The infrastructure section of the legislation is expected to be funded primarily by taxes on businesses. … The part of the legislation focused on other domestic priorities, by contrast, is expected to be funded by taxes on rich people and investors.”
  • “Those measures, according to officials, include increasing the highest income tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent; dramatically increasing taxes on wealthy investors; and limiting deductions that rich taxpayers can claim annually, among other measures, the officials said.”
  • Biden’s economic advisers are expected to present the sweeping $3 trillion package to the president and congressional leaders this week, the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley reports. They’re also expected to begin outreach to industry and labor groups. Already, Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser, “discussed his infrastructure plans — and their role in combating climate change — in a meeting with oil and gas industry executives.”
  • “Administration officials caution that details remain in flux,” Tankersley notes. Whether the package “can muster Republican support will depend in large part on how the bill is paid for.”
Biden told Senate Democrats it will be hard to address voting rights without changing the filibuster. 
  • “Appearing virtually with Senate Democrats during their annual retreat, Biden spoke in response to a point Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) raised on voting rights,” Sean Sullivan reports. “Biden said expanding voting rights is critical and Democrats need to keep up the pressure to accomplish that, but he acknowledged it would be challenging to overcome GOP resistance and Democrats probably didn’t have the votes to do so unless they changed the filibuster.” 
Now that most of Biden’s Cabinet heads have been confirmed, Washington is moving on to other nominees. 
  • Shalanda Young is set to be confirmed as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget today at 2:15 p.m. The White House has said Young could lead the agency as acting director while it decides on a replacement for Neera Tanden as nominee for OMB director.
  • “The only other cabinet-level role yet to be filled in the Biden administration is that of the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” the Times notes. “Biden has nominated Eric S. Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, to serve in that role, and also intends to appoint him to serve as presidential science adviser. It is the first time that the position will be elevated to the cabinet level.”
  • The Senate is expected to vote this evening on Vivek Murthy’s nomination as surgeon general.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing this morning on Samantha Power’s nomination to lead USAID.
  • Biden will nominate tech antitrust pioneer Lina Khan as a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, the Verge reports. “The pick signals that the Biden administration is preparing to take on some of the tech industry’s most powerful and influential companies.”
  • The White House withdrew its nomination of Elizabeth Klein "to become the Interior Department’s deputy secretary, as the Biden administration faced push back from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski,” Politico reports. “Tommy Beaudreau, a former Interior official under the Obama administration and Alaskan native, is being vetted for a possible nomination as deputy secretary. … Murkowski floated Beaudreau’s name as a possible replacement for Klein.”
  • And while Biden’s Cabinet is complete, “hundreds of jobs are still open,” the AP’s Alexandra Jaffe reports. “Biden has about 1,250 federal positions that require Senate confirmation, ranging from the head of the obscure Railroad Retirement Board to more urgent department positions such as assistant and deputy secretaries.”

Confirmed cabinet secretaries, visualized

Biden is the first president in decades to secure Cabinet secretaries picks without a failed nominee, despite an evenly divided Senate. The Post is tracking Biden’s appointees that required Senate confirmation:

The new world order

  • Israelis headed to the polls again. “For the fourth time in 23 months, beleaguered Israeli voters trooped to the polls Tuesday morning, hoping against recent experience they will finally end the stalemate that has left Israel without a normally functioning government during a time of global pandemic, economic collapse and regional instability,” Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin report. “Final surveys suggest not much has changed in the toss-up dynamic of the last three elections, which have largely been referendums on the 12-year-long rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Once again, a bit less than half the country appears poised to elect parties backing Netanyahu.”
  • To mark 10 years since the uprising in Syria, here’s a podcast featuring the voices of five Syrians describing how a decade of violence has upended their lives. It’s from Jon Alterman, who directs the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Jon is also Brzesinski chair in Global Security and Geostrategy at CSIS. 
  • The Hudson Institute sat down with Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, for a recorded interview that goes live at noon here. Asked whether Afghan National Defense and Security Forces can keep the Taliban at bay even if there is no peace agreement and U.S. forces withdraw, Mohib says: “I am confident that the Afghan security forces can hold on their own. I have said this before, that our problem is not incapability anymore, and it is not a kinetic problem, it is a financial problem." “We will require some technical help and we will require some financial support for some time to see,” he added. “And that is what we are proposing to the new administration, to support the Afghan security forces, to find a way to support the Afghan security forces for a longer period financially.”

Hot on the left

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and advocates made the case for statehood during a House Oversight and Reform meeting. Bowser “sought to counter House Republicans’ argument that statehood was a Democratic ‘power grab’ intended to cement the party’s control of Congress. More than 700,000 people live in the District — a population greater than Wyoming and Vermont,” Meagan Flynn reports. Some Republican arguments against statehood went viral online, along with counters on why they don’t hold: 

Hot on the right

Several moderate House Democrats expressed opposition to or discomfort with Congress taking any action on the results of an Iowa congressional race won narrowly by a Republican, Marianna Sotomayor reports. Both the moderate Democrats and Republicans who signed onto a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “argued that taking action on the Iowa race would only further contribute to the voter cynicism stoked by Trump’s false accusations about the sanctity of the vote.”

Today in Washington

Biden will travel to Columbus, Ohio, today to mark the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. He’s scheduled to deliver remarks at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute after touring the facility at 4:10 p.m. as part of his “Help is Here” tour.

Harris will swear in Marty Walsh (D) as secretary of labor at 5:25 p.m. She swore in Ambassador William Burns as director of the CIA earlier this morning. 

In closing

Thanks to last year’s $2.3 trillion relief bill, a UFO report may soon be made public and it’ll be big, former intelligence director John Ratcliffe said:

Video released in 2017 shows an encounter between U.S. fighter jets and “anomalous aerial vehicles.” (Video: To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science)

The legislation carried an unusual provision in its “committee comment” section, beneath the understated heading “Advanced Aerial Threats," Reis Thebault reports. “The stipulation mandates that the director of national intelligence work with the secretary of defense on a report detailing everything the government knows about unidentified flying objects — known in agency lingo as 'unidentified aerial phenomena' or “anomalous aerial vehicles.'” 

And Stephen Colbert asked folks to stay home. There will be more spring breaks in the future: