Briefs: Judge orders Trump administration to rework 'Dreamers' program
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The Trump administration must accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects some young immigrants from deportation, a federal judge ruled Friday, in vacating a memo from the acting Homeland Security secretary that had suspended it.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the government had to post a public notice within three days — including on its website and the websites of all other relevant government agencies — that new DACA applications were being accepted.
The ruling follows one from November where Garaufis said Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully in his position.
On Friday, the judge said that invalidated the memo Wolf had issued in July suspending DACA for new applications and reducing how long renewals were valid from two years down to one year.
Wolf had issued his memo after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June that President Donald Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the program.
Garaufis also ordered the government to put together a status report on the DACA program by Jan. 4.
"Every time the outgoing administration tried to use young immigrants as political scapegoats, they defiled the values of our nation. The court's order makes clear that fairness, inclusion, and compassion matter," said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who led a number of state attorneys general in one of the lawsuits against the administration.
DACA, which was started in 2012 during the Obama administration, allows certain young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally work and shields them from deportation. Those who are approved for it must first go through background checks and regularly renew.
The Trump administration had announced the end of the program in 2017, leading to the legal challenges that wound up in front of the Supreme Court.
In making its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld DACA, saying that the particular way the administration had gone about shutting it down was improper, but that the president did have the authority to do so.
About 650,000 people are currently enrolled in the program.
Trump cementing death penalty legacy up to Biden inaugural
CHICAGO — As Donald Trump's presidency winds down, his administration is ratcheting up the pace of federal executions despite a surge of coronavirus cases in prisons, announcing plans for five starting Thursday and concluding just days before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
If the five go off as planned, it will make 13 executions since July when the Republican administration resumed putting inmates to death after a 17-year hiatus and will cement Trump's legacy as the most prolific execution president in over 130 years. He'll leave office having executed about a quarter of all federal death-row prisoners, despite waning support for capital punishment among both Democrats and Republicans.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Attorney General William Barr defended the extension of executions into the post-election period, saying he'll likely schedule more before he departs the Justice Department. A Biden administration, he said, should keep it up.
"I think the way to stop the death penalty is to repeal the death penalty," Barr said. "But if you ask juries to impose and juries impose it, then it should be carried out."
The plan breaks a tradition of lame-duck presidents deferring to incoming presidents on policy about which they differ so starkly, said Robert Durham, director of the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center. Biden, a Democrat, is a death penalty foe, and his spokesman told the AP that he'd work to end the death penalty when he is in office.
Health officials warn Americans not to let their guard down
With a COVID-19 vaccine perhaps just days away in the U.S., most of California headed into another lockdown Sunday because of the surging outbreak and top health officials warned Americans that this is no time to let their guard down.
"The vaccine's critical," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But it's not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge."
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to take up a request Thursday to authorize emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine. Vaccinations could begin just days later, though initial supplies will be rationed, and shots are not expected to become widely available until the spring.
With the U.S. facing what could be a catastrophic winter, top government officials warned Americans anew to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures — precautions that President Donald Trump and other members of the administration have often disdained.
"I hear community members parroting back those situations — parroting back that masks don't work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don't result in super-spreading events," Birx said. "And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong and you can see the evidence base."
Biden picks Calif. AG Becerra to lead HHS, pandemic response
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be his health secretary, putting a defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leading role to oversee his administration's coronavirus response.
Separately, Biden picked a Harvard infectious disease expert, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.
Biden's selection of Becerra was confirmed Sunday by two people familiar with the decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement anticipated Tuesday.
Two people also anonymously confirmed the choice of Walensky. The post of CDC director does not require Senate confirmation.
Trump lawyer Giuliani in hospital after positive COVID test
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has tested positive for the coronavirus, making him the latest in Trump's inner circle to contract the disease that is now surging across the U.S.
Giuliani was exhibiting some symptoms and was admitted Sunday to Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The 76-year-old former New York mayor has traveled extensively to battleground states in an effort to help Trump subvert his election loss. On numerous occasions he has met with officials for hours at a time without wearing a mask.
Trump, who announced Giuliani's positive test in a Sunday afternoon tweet, wished him a speedy recovery.
"Get better soon Rudy, we will carry on!!!" Trump wrote.
Venezuela's Maduro claims sweep of boycotted election
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's political alliance claimed a sweeping victory Monday in congressional elections boycotted by the most influential opposition politicians and widely criticized internationally as being fraudulent.
The win gives Maduro control of the last major branch of government outside his grasp. It plays out in the waning days of the Trump administration, which leaves office with Maduro firmly entrenched despite its efforts to bring about his departure through diplomacy and sanctions.
"We have recovered the National Assembly with the majority vote of the Venezuelan people," Maduro said in a televised address. "It's a great victory without a doubt for democracy."
Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela and allied parties captured 67% of seats in the National Assembly in Sunday's election, said Indira Alfonzo, president of Venezuela's National Electoral Council. Just 31% of the 20 million registered voters participated in the election, she said.
The National Assembly has been led by U.S.-backed politician Juan Guaidó, who has pressed to oust Maduro for nearly two years and end Venezuela's deepening crisis. He's backed by Washington and dozens of nations that consider Maduro's presidency illegitimate.
New roads pave way for massive growth of Israeli settlements
JERUSALEM — In the coming years, Israelis will be able to commute into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from settlements deep inside the West Bank via highways, tunnels and overpasses that cut a wide berth around Palestinian towns.
Rights groups say the new roads will set the stage for explosive settlement growth, even if the incoming U.S. administration somehow convinces Israel to curb housing construction. The costly infrastructure projects signal that Israel intends to keep large swaths of the occupied territory in any peace deal and would make it even harder to establish a viable Palestinian state.
"This is not another hundred housing units there or here," said Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli activist who has spent months researching and mapping out the new projects. "This is de facto annexation on steroids."
Construction already is underway on a huge tunnel that Shaul says will one day allow settlers from Maale Adumim, a sprawling settlement east of Jerusalem, to drive into the city and onward to Tel Aviv without passing through a military checkpoint or even hitting a traffic light.
South of Jerusalem, work is underway to expand the main highway leading to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and settlements farther south, with tunnels and overpasses designed to bypass Palestinian villages and refugee camps.
No visible progress yet on key day for final Brexit deal
BRUSSELS — One of the most intense days in the long-running Brexit trade negotiations started off with little good news about any progress Monday, with the United Kingdom and the European Union seemingly still stuck on the same issues that have dogged the standoff for months.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier held a pre-dawn briefing with ambassadors of the 27 member states to see if a deal is still possible with London ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline, but had no news of a breakthrough.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Barnier's message was "very downbeat."
"I would say he is very gloomy, and obviously very cautious about the ability to make progress today," Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTE.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen are due to speak by phone Monday evening for the second time in barely 48 hours, to decide whether to pull the plug on talks — a decision that could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides and disrupt cross-Channel trade for years to come.
As virus slams rural California, many still pan restrictions
REDDING, Calif. — Brenda Luntey is openly violating California's order to close her restaurant to indoor dining. But she wants her customers and critics to know she isn't typically a rule-breaker. It's a matter of survival.
"This is my first episode of civil disobedience in my entire life. My whole family is in law enforcement. I'm a follow-the-rules kind of person," said Luntey, owner of San Francisco Deli, a popular sandwich shop in Redding, more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of the restaurant's namesake city.
It's in northern Shasta County, one of several rural California counties that appeared to dodge the virus in the spring but are now seeing some of the most alarming spikes in COVID-19 infections statewide. In an effort to avoid overwhelming hospitals, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a strict new shutdown order that has taken effect in many other parts of California and will likely soon affect Shasta County.
But outside California's big cities, especially in conservative areas, the backlash against tough new restrictions is growing, and some sheriffs say they won't enforce health orders.
Luntey is not a virus skeptic. She washes her hands so much they're raw. But she shrugs off the idea of a stay-at-home order that shutters businesses. She watched other restaurants collapse, and she and her husband, both in their 70s, cannot afford that.
The Sundance Film Festival goes largely virtual for 2021
Leave the snow boots, parkas and glove warmers in the closet, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is coming down from the mountain and straight to your living room.
Organizers on Wednesday said that this year they will premiere over 70 films on a custom online platform during the seven day event. There will also be some socially distanced screening opportunities around the country. The festival, which is normally held in Park City, Utah, has been preparing for various scenarios for months as the pandemic has raged on.
Festival director Tabitha Jackson said that this model, "Gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are."
Over the course of the festival, feature films will premiere throughout the day at a dedicated time followed by a live Q&A. Ticketholders will have a three-hour window to watch. Second screenings will be available for 24 hours two days later. The rollout, organizers said, is designed to "preserve the energy of a Festival."
There will also be limited screenings at venues across the county, including Birmingham, Alabama's Sidewalk Drive-In, Pasadena, California's Rose Bowl, Denver's Sie Film Center and Columbus, Ohio's Gateway Film Center.
"At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together, and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique -- a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed," Jackson said.
The 2021 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 28 through February 3, and tickets will be available for purchase for the general public beginning Jan. 7. The 2021 slate will be revealed in the coming weeks.