COVID Is No Excuse for Hardline Refugee Policy

The Biden administration is using a Trump-era order to deport Haitian migrants seeking asylum.

In mid-August, a photo emerged of hundreds of Afghan refugees packed into a cargo plane en route to Qatar and eventually the United States. It’s an indelible image, one that fills me with pride knowing that I’ll share this country with families who risked their lives for a better future.

Over the course of 17 days, the military evacuated 122,000 people from Kabul Airport as the capital fell to the Taliban. It was an extraordinary logistical feat, no matter the hasty and painful nature of our exit. We had an obligation to those who had worked with us and our allies during the war, and we marshaled tremendous resources to meet that obligation, as we should have.

Eight thousand miles from Afghanistan, we are shirking our obligation to another group of refugees, this one at our border. Worse yet, the administration is using the pandemic as an excuse to continue to expel people seeking asylum, an order first invoked by President Trump last year.

Despite early steps to unwind the most draconian Trump-era policies, there’s a widening gap between President Biden’s words and deeds on immigration. In February 2020, when asked about the high number of deportations of people without criminal records during President Obama’s time in office, then-candidate Biden conceded, “We took far too long to get it right. I think it was a big mistake.” He sounded like a man who had no intentions of repeating that mistake.

And yet, in the last eight months alone, the United States deported nearly 700,000 people, many of whom were fleeing natural disasters, violence, and political unrest in their home countries. Others, like the thousands of Haitians who crammed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas last month, made the arduous journey north after years of joblessness and poverty living in Chile.

Faced with a clear opportunity to set himself apart from his predecessor, Biden opted to retain the cold fist of deterrence. Title 42, an obscure provision of a 1944 public health law, allows officials to quickly expel migrants in the name of COVID-19 while bypassing a person’s historical right to claim asylum. The policy is an affront to Biden’s stated values and inconsistent with the all-hands-on-deck spirit that marked the Kabul airlift.

We have an obligation to protect persecuted and forcibly displaced people at our door, pandemic or no pandemic. Their suffering amid nightmare conditions isn’t something we can wish away. Declaring “Do not come” doesn’t absolve us of responsibility.

This is not a call for open borders, nor is it a demand to abandon sensible public health precautions. It’s a plea to treat thousands of human beings in need with the dignity and grace we’d expect for ourselves and to abandon a policy that violates international norms. - MS

Photo credit: Shutterstock


Biden's Most Refreshing (and Radical) Decision Yet

There was never going to be a good time to leave Afghanistan.

It’s difficult, at times, to remember how we felt after 9/11. Anger and disbelief, yes, but also a visceral sense of common loss, common grief, and common resolve.

I was 12 years old on that Tuesday in September, sitting in 7th grade English trying to process the news we received in bits and pieces that morning. My dad had left for the airport hours earlier on a business trip and, for what seemed like an eternity, I wasn’t sure if he was in the air.

That night, I dug out my ticket to Top of the World, the observation deck on the 107th floor of the South Tower. I had taken in that wondrous view on a sunny day in June, just three months earlier, an awestruck kid in love with skyscrapers.

The horror of 9/11—the ashen faces, the burning rubble, the lives cut short—was justification for invading Afghanistan, a decision that was right then and is still right now.

But what started as a fairly limited mission to uproot al-Qaeda became much more. We had to prop up and nurture a democratically-elected government. We had to build a country with few schools and even fewer roads. We had to disrupt insurgent supply lines originating in Pakistan. We had to stay to save face, even after killing bin Laden. There was always a reason.

Of course, Afghanistan was just a staging ground. The fateful Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001, signed into law a week after 9/11, became a blank check for three successive presidents to launch military actions in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kenya, the Philippines, Somalia, Uganda, and Yemen.

The WAR ON TERROR banner was the backdrop for every ruinous intervention, policy shift, and shameful display of bravado carried out over 20 years—the invasion of Iraq and resulting quagmire, the overreliance on drone strikes, the CIA black sites, the mounting ranks of refugees, and the continued existence of Guantanamo.

What the Pentagon wanted, the Pentagon usually got. So it was with Bush, so it was with Obama, so it was with Trump. The answer was always more war. Until now. After two decades of playing whack-a-mole in a country that has expelled foreign armies for a thousand years, Biden said “enough.” All remaining U.S. troops will exit Afghanistan by September 11 with no conditions attached.

It’s a refreshing and radical departure from what has been consensus, bipartisanship policy in Washington. - MS

Photo credit: Shutterstock


It Shouldn’t Have Taken a Pandemic to See This Clearly

… a system where working parents do not have reliable, affordable child care is one where they cannot reliably build a career.

>> Policymakers Used to Ignore Child Care. Then Came the Pandemic.

… child care workers shoulder all the burdens of the ideal worker myth but get none of the benefits.

>> The problem is work

Survive and Escape

This is an incredibly detailed—and enraging—account of oppression and state surveillance in China’s Xinjiang region, told through one woman’s hellish detention in a sprawling network of internment camps.

>> Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang

What I'm Grateful For

Expressing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do in life

There’s no shortage of things to be grateful for in this world. Of course, the past year has made it difficult at times to acknowledge life’s joys, whether they be simple or profound.

I’ve struggled to maintain a daily practice Lauren and I started several years ago in which we express gratitude for a few things, no matter how small. I have no excuse beyond saying what you may feel to be true, as well: the world has just taken on a darker tint of late.

So, in the spirit of gratitude—and in recognition of the science that shows its ability to boost our happiness and health—I’m giving thanks.

I’m grateful for a stretch of sunny weather here in Seattle that has afforded us more opportunities for long walks.

I’m grateful for my friends, near and far, and for the friendships I’ve rekindled in text or Twitter threads.

I’m grateful for my family’s health, that my parents and sister are vaccinated, and that Lauren will get her first shot this week.

I’m grateful for Lauren’s prenatal care and the wonderful thought of a baby boy joining us this summer.

What are you grateful for? - MS


Frances, Martha, and Harriet

The extraordinary story of Frances A. Seward, Martha Coffin Wright, and Harriet Tubman, friends and partners in the fight for abolition and, later, women’s suffrage.

>> The Pre-Civil War Fight Against White Supremacy

The Price of Innocence

A beautiful and wrenching essay from a DREAMer struggling to reconcile an Amerca that celebrates her innocence while demonizing her parents. This is some of the best writing I’ve seen recently.

>> Waking Up from the American Dream

Build. More. Housing.

“There is a danger … that politics becomes an aesthetic rather than a program. It’s a danger on the right, where Donald Trump modeled a presidency that cared more about retweets than bills. But it’s also a danger on the left, where the symbols of progressivism are often preferred to the sacrifices and risks those ideals demand.”

As I’ve written about before, soaring housing costs in major coastal cities is one of the Democratic Party’s worst policy failures. This is a much-needed critique of what’s gone wrong in California, where “historical preservation” and faux environmentalism gets in the way of making cities more livable for everyone.

>> California Is Making Liberals Squirm

24 Hours That Told America's Story

The attack on the U.S. Capitol was no aberration. White mobs often turned to violence when they didn't like election results in the post-Civil War South.

From time to time, history affords us glaring contrasts that capture the story and tragedy of a nation.

On January 5, a pastor who preaches from the pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the first Black person elected to the Senate from Georgia, the same state that birthed the vice president of the Confederacy.

The same state where the Ku Klux Klan resurfaced a century ago atop Stone Mountain, whose rockface is adorned with a carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, a memorial which opened to the public on April 14, 1965, 100 years to the day after Abraham Lincoln was shot.

The same state that witnessed more lynchings in the decades after the Civil War than any place but Mississippi.

Little more than 12 hours after Rev. Warnock declared victory, a violent mob of Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to disrupt, delay, and overturn the Electoral College vote count in the president’s favor. That very morning, Trump capped off two months of apocalyptic rhetoric by urging followers gathered in Washington to “fight like hell” to “take back our country.” By day’s end, four people were dead.

If the president’s words sound familiar to students of history, it’s because they were the same rallying cries used by those who fought Reconstruction and later built and defended Jim Crow.

For a dozen-odd years after the Civil War, America embarked on an imperfect journey to fulfill its founding ideals. And while the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments live on as indelible triumphs of that era, the spirit of the Confederacy won what its sons could not win on the battlefield: a lasting peace for white rule in the South.


The elements that spurred Reconstruction’s demise sound all too familiar today: white mobs terrorizing legislators, often questioning the legitimacy of elections that installed biracial governments across the Deep South. In Wilmington, North Carolina, white supremacists engineered a successful coup after rampaging through the city.

Until recently, many Americans (North and South) viewed Reconstruction as a haphazard mistake, a social experiment run by corrupt outsiders who were punishing an already vanquished people. The real horrors of that period—the thousands of free Black citizens murdered with no consequence, the refusal to hold Confederate leaders to account, the near-slavery existence of sharecropping—were swept aside, too inconvenient for any tidy narrative of a nation trying to move on.

In truth, Reconstruction’s failure was America’s second great betrayal. It was our second chance to amend our story, to align our words with our deeds. What Grant had won at Appomattox, equality under the law would win in statehouses and courthouses. Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom” made real.

It never came to pass. We lost our will and our courage. It would be nearly 90 years before major civil rights legislation became law again.

Now we’re at another inflection point, another chance to exorcise the demons that have haunted us since delegates put pen to parchment in Philadelphia 245 years ago, another chance to reject the forces trying to kill multiracial democracy in America.

You will hear more calls for unity this week, just as there were when Reconstruction began to crumble. You will hear that what happened at the Capitol isn’t who we are, that extremists on the margins can’t hold us back. But this is who we are. This is the legacy we can’t deny.

It’s up to us to insist that we can govern and punish those who threaten the work of democracy. That we can address the crises confronting us right now and the defining crisis we’ve been running from for far too long. - MS

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Whose Vote Counts?

The Republican assault on voting rights, years in the making, is now out in the open

John Roberts was right. Seven years ago, before Mitch McConnell became Senate majority leader, before Donald Trump came down that elevator, before Merrick Garland and Amy Coney Barrett and a dominant conservative majority on the highest court, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder. And his logic, on its face, seemed reasonable.

For decades, bipartisan coalitions in Congress had reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to root out entrenched racial discrimination in voting. To enforce its objective, the law included a preclearance requirement forcing certain states and local governments to obtain permission from the federal government before changing any voting rules or regulations. An accompanying provision detailed the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions subject to the preclearance requirement.

After nearly a century of state-sponsored voter intimidation and suppression concentrated—but not limited to—the former Confederacy, the federal government finally had teeth to uphold the rights enshrined in the 14th and 15th Amendments, amendments whose passage was paid for in the blood of Union soldiers—Black and white.

“Nearly 50 years later,” Roberts wrote in 2013, “things have changed dramatically.” Didn’t he have a point? Flagrant and pervasive violations of voting rights like literacy tests and poll taxes were things of the past. Both Black voting turnout and the number of minority officeholders had increased in the late 20th century. To Roberts, efforts to right past discrimination were a clear and present danger to the “equal sovereignty of the states.” In striking down the coverage formula and siding with Shelby County, Alabama, the Court effectively gutted the power of the preclearance requirement itself.

Tragically, the years since the Shelby ruling have proven a warning from Ruth Bader Ginsburg all too prophetic. In her dissent, the late justice wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Left to their own devices, states once covered by the preclearance enacted laws to curtail or remove online voting registration, limit early voting, and implement draconian voter ID requirements. Of course, these measures were written and carried out in race-neutral language to obfuscate their true targets. Proponents claimed they were simply guarding against the specter of voter fraud. Who could argue with that, they reasoned.

The assault on voting rights had begun and was only to intensify.


All of this brings us to the present. As I write these words, more than 93 million Americans have voted in the general election. Millions more will show up to cast a ballot on Tuesday. Yet a surge in turnout this year—and the new voting options granted to individuals due to the pandemic—shouldn’t obscure a damning truth: at all levels, Republicans are working to make sure that fewer votes count. From the president to state legislatures to GOP election lawyers, the entire party is invested in solidifying a smaller electorate that more closely aligns with their core constituencies.

And this strategy goes well beyond any previous concern about (nearly non-existent) voter fraud. There’s no other way to explain demands to throw out thousands of votes in urban areas or regulations that make it easier to vote with a gun permit than a student ID or support for monitoring “suspicious activity” in minority neighborhoods. Modern voter suppression rarely rises to the level of the violence and overt barriers that marked the past, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Suppression today means fostering an environment of cynicism and exhaustion—it’s about erecting every impediment to voting short of violence.

In 1965, for the first time in its history, America formally rejected the monopoly white supremacists—most of them segregationist Democrats—had on voting rights in this country. We finally made good on the promise of the Constitution, both as it was written in 1787 and as it was amended after the Civil War. Today, however, Republicans are all but telling us that their survival depends on their ability to limit the pool of people who can cast ballots. There’s no hiding it anymore. Trump himself acknowledged that a friendly Supreme Court might be his only path to victory.

What does this say about our democracy? What does it say about our chances to resolve disputes and address real problems in the years ahead? Can we avoid violence and unrest if a growing majority believes its voice is silenced by a minority with structural advantages in the Senate and Electoral College and the judiciary at its back?

The Shelby decision looms large in my mind today. Turning back the tide of voting restrictions that followed the ruling starts this week. - MS

Photo credit: Jim Bourg, Reuters

Election Links

Early vote tracker | We’ll likely reach 100 million votes by Election Day, and could finish north of 150 million votes in all.

When to expect election results | A great state-by-state breakdown.

Who will control state governments? | Democrats have an opportunity to gain ground in an area long dominated by Republicans.

Non-Election Links

If you want a break from election content, here are a few other items worth your time:

Mapping the Disparities That Bred an Unequal Pandemic

The Students Left Behind by Remote Learning

Audrey Tang on the Technology of Democracy (Tyler Cowen’s podcast)

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