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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is set to announce a plan to protect hundreds of thousands of people who are living in the U.S. without authorization from deportation.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, the plan will apply to the spouses of American citizens and will offer a pathway to legal residency. And it comes just a couple of weeks after the Biden administration issued a directive to restrict asylum claims at the southern border.

FADEL: NPR's immigration correspondent, Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, joins us with more. Good morning.

SERGIO MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

FADEL: So, what is this new plan exactly?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Yeah, so it is centered around a program called Parole in Place. That's the mechanism the Biden administration is using to provide relief to about 500,000 migrants already in the country without authorization, but who have been married to a U.S. citizen. The Parole in Place would prevent them from being deported. They'd also get a work permit and three years to apply for permanent residency. They could also potentially become citizens.

FADEL: So what does this mean for people who would benefit from this new plan?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: I mean, I think about people like Alejandro Paz Medrano, who lives in Pennsylvania. He's originally from Mexico and has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, eight of those while married to his wife, Erin, a U.S. citizen.

ALEJANDRO PAZ MEDRANO: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Medrano says every day he kisses Erin before going to work. He never knows if that would be their last kiss. Again, he's been in the country without authorization all this time, and he says that's influenced all aspects of his married life. For instance, the couple decided to not have children because of the fear of Medrano getting deported. But getting Parole in Place could change his life. He would be able to drive without fear of getting pulled over and get a stable job.

FADEL: Wow. What other criteria do people need to meet in order to qualify?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: So they must have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years. The other main criteria is that they had to be married to a U.S. citizen as of yesterday. So no, mixed-status couples cannot run to the courthouse now and get married to qualify for this program. Also, this Parole in Place will be granted on a case-by-case basis, meaning many people might not qualify, says Erica Schommer. She teaches law at the St. Mary's University's Immigration and Human Rights Clinic in San Antonio, Texas.

ERICA SCHOMMER: This is not some sort of blanket amnesty that's just going to automatically overnight convert a whole bunch of people into residents or citizens.

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: And to her point, according to the plan, people who have been deported and are back in the U.S. will not qualify for a Parole in Place.

FADEL: And when will this plan be implemented?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: So the Biden administration, Leila, says they hope to have the program in place by the end of the summer.

FADEL: Where does this new plan fit into President Biden's broader approach to immigration during the election, which so far has seemed to go the opposite direction of this plan - much more restrictive?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Right. I mean, today's policy is the latest in a string of recent announcements related to rules or policies aiming to curb the high number of unauthorized crossings at the southern border. He's severely restricted asylum. He's expedited the removal of migrants who are in the country illegally, and that has prompted backlash from immigrant rights groups, who in the past, have supported him. So this policy protecting some migrants seems to have pleased some of these groups, at least for now, but like other immigration-related programs, it is expected to be challenged in court.

FADEL: NPR's Sergio Martínez-Beltrán - thank you so much for your reporting.

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Millions of people in the Midwest and the Northeast are bracing for the first big heat wave of the summer.

MARTÍNEZ: And as they do, a coalition of environmental, labor, and health professionals are petitioning the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to treat extreme heat as a major disaster, a designation that would help states and communities access funding and support.

FADEL: Alejandra Borunda from NPR's climate desk is here to talk about it all. Alejandra, good morning.

ALEJANDRA BORUNDA, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, why doesn't FEMA consider heat a disaster already?

BORUNDA: So to get FEMA's help, a state needs to ask for a presidentially declared disaster and not all disasters qualify. There's a law called the Stafford Act that authorizes FEMA's activities, and it has an example list. Earthquakes and hurricanes are on it. Heat is not. But it's also not explicitly excluded. The act is actually written very flexibly. So COVID-19 counted, for example, even though pandemic wasn't on the list. Theoretically, extreme heat could also be considered. But it's just never happened.

FADEL: And why hasn't it ever happened?

BORUNDA: Well, so only a few states have ever asked for that disaster declaration for heat. Illinois did, for example, after the 1995 heat wave that killed hundreds of people in Chicago. But so far, states have all been told, no. That's because FEMA thought the destruction wasn't so overwhelming that the states couldn't handle it themselves. Juanita Constible puts it this way. She's an environmental policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

JUANITA CONSTIBLE: After a hurricane, after a big storm, there's devastation galore, there's power lines down and buildings destroyed, and entire businesses just blown away.

BORUNDA: With heat, on the other hand...

CONSTIBLE: Most of the people that are hurt are essentially invisible to decision-makers. They die alone in their homes. They are unhoused and start dying on the street.

BORUNDA: We actually know that heat is killing many more people than disasters like hurricanes. It just hasn't inspired the same urgent response.

FADEL: I mean, that's so sad. They're just forgotten, it sounds like, from what she was saying. What is this coalition asking FEMA to do?

BORUNDA: They want FEMA to include extreme heat and wildfire smoke in the Stafford Act. That would help the agency use its considerable powers and money with these disasters. FEMA has actually indicated that they're interested in responding to heat, and they don't even technically need to update the language. Under the right circumstances, a state asks for help, the president declares an emergency, FEMA sees a big enough need - they could actually step in now.

FADEL: And what support could FEMA provide in an extreme heat disaster?

BORUNDA: Well, FEMA could set up cooling centers or water stations or send in extra medical personnel. They also fund long-term resilience and recovery efforts. That could mean setting up permanent resilience hubs or developing other infrastructure to make cities cooler. FEMA also directs money toward people hurt by disasters. Here's a big issue Nurse Adelita Cantu from San Antonio sees all the time for her lower income patients.

ADELITA CANTU: They're not turning on their air conditioning because they're afraid of the electricity bill.

BORUNDA: That decision to not turn on the AC can be deadly. So some suggest FEMA could maybe pay people's electricity bills after a heat disaster.

FADEL: And what has FEMA said about the role it could play when it comes to extreme heat?

BORUNDA: FEMA administrators have said recently that they know they have a role in extreme heat response, and they're open to the idea, but it's really new ground for them, so everyone is figuring it out on the fly.

FADEL: NPR's Alejandra Borunda. Thank you so much.

BORUNDA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a rare trip to North Korea today for a two-day state visit.

MARTÍNEZ: And he's expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid growing international concern over their military cooperation.

FADEL: Joining us to talk about all this, we've got NPR's Charles Maynes from Moscow. Good morning.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, set this trip up for us. What can we expect?

MAYNES: Well, you know, this isn't Putin's first trip to North Korea, but it certainly has been a while - 24 years, in fact - since he last stepped foot in Pyongyang. And that was with the previous generation of North Korean leadership, Kim Jong Il. Nearly a quarter century later, Putin will meet with Kim's son, Kim Jong Un, as you mentioned. Putin arrives in North Korea this evening, but the bulk of the talks actually happen Wednesday. Putin's accompanied by top Kremlin officials, including members of his defense and economic teams. Kremlin advisors say there will be some signing ceremonies, focus not only on humanitarian needs, but trade and security issues. Now, keep in mind, this trip was announced last minute, but it didn't come out of nowhere. It's been anticipated for some time. Putin hosted Kim in Russia's Far East last September when Kim then extended an invitation for Putin to come to Pyongyang. This is the return favor, so to speak.

FADEL: Mmm-hmmm. Why are we seeing this growing alliance now? I mean, what do they have to offer to each other?

MAYNES: Well, as to why now, the short answer is Ukraine. Russia's invasion of its neighbor really changed the dynamics of the relationship with North Korea. They now have a shared struggle against the U.S. in particular. Kim has wholly endorsed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, calling it a sacred struggle against Western imperialism. And this morning, Putin published an essay in North Korea's main newspaper in which he thanked Kim for unwavering support over the Ukraine issue and pledge much the same for North Korea against the U.S. But the suspicion by the U.S. and its allies in Europe and Asia is that there's more going on here. They accuse North Korea of providing Russia munitions for the war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian technologies that can aid North Korea's nuclear and missile weapons programs. Moscow and Pyongyang deny that charge, even as they seem to enjoy making their critics in the U.S., Europe, and Asia all very nervous with the prospect. So, you know, for example, last September, when Putin gave Kim a tour of Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome, and he promised to help North Korea launch a satellite. Well, the potential military uses weren't hard to imagine.

FADEL: So how nervous are Western nations seeing this closer relationship?

MAYNES: Well, they're nervous. I mean, there's no question, for example, that North Korea's mass stores of munitions could really influence Russia's war effort in Ukraine. So that's a concern. But it's one that's also exposes an interesting new dynamic here, that Russia needs North Korea to a degree politically, but more importantly militarily. And that's put North Korea in a unique position for a pariah state. It's been courted by a more powerful ally, of course, with North Korea presenting a wishlist of its own. And the good news here is there may be limits to just how much Moscow is willing to offer in terms of cutting edge technologies. And that's for a couple of reasons. One, Russia doesn't have a long-term interest in seeing North Korea's nuclear program grow, if only because it doesn't want to see the Korean Peninsula, which borders Russia, turned into a nuclear battleground.

But the other issue is China. It doesn't want to see this happen. It's a bigger partner for both of these countries. You have to assume that any agreements from Putin's visit with Kim would come with some kind of input from Beijing, which often takes a more conservative approach in its support to Russia and North Korea, and at the very least, it wants to avoid the kind of Western sanctions that Pyongyang and Moscow currently face.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you, Charles.

MAYNES: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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