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News Brief: Trump Rule Attempts To Limit Asylum-Seekers, Thousand Oaks Shooting


The Trump administration says it is changing a U.S. asylum rule. A big question is whether that rule change is within the law.


Here's how it works. The administration is targeting people who crossed the border from Mexico and apply for asylum. In a newly published rule, the administration says it will refuse to let many people apply for asylum if they crossed the border illegally. It's pushing people to apply only at official ports of entry, which sounds simple enough, except immigration experts point out there is a law providing a process for people who ask for asylum. So is it legal to shove that aside and simply turn aside people who say they're seeking shelter from violence in Central America?

MARTIN: Let's ask NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who is with us this morning. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about this rule change? I mean, this is something President Trump had said he was going to do, right?

HORSLEY: The administration says its goal here is to funnel asylum seekers to those official ports of entry, where it says it has the resources to process asylum claims efficiently. But, you know, that funnel has a narrow opening. And so this also has the potential of sort of choking off the number of asylum-seekers in the hopes that many will simply lose patience and stop trying to cross the border. The administration insists many of the asylum seekers are ultimately denied, in any case.

MARTIN: We should just point out the rules right now say wherever you are - you don't have to come through an official port of entry - wherever you are in the United States when you appear, you can file that claim. And this would change that.

HORSLEY: That's right. And so you have sort of competing laws here. On the one hand, federal law gives the president broad power to turn away any migrant or class of migrants he deems detrimental to the United States. But you have this longstanding asylum law which says if you get to U.S. soil, even if you cross the border illegally, you are eligible to apply for asylum. So those competing provisions will probably have to be sorted out by the federal courts.

The administration is relying on the same broad authority the president used when he issued his ban on visitors from a number of largely Muslim countries in the first week of his administration. You'll recall, Rachel, that travel ban was initially blocked by the federal courts, but after a series of revisions, was upheld this past summer by the U.S. Supreme Court.

MARTIN: So they're expecting legal challenges to this law then - or to this rule change.

HORSLEY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Is this going to be temporary? I mean, the president keeps saying he sees it as a crisis at the border. Is this something they want to pass that would address what they view as a temporary crisis or is this a permanent change?

HORSLEY: It's being implemented on an emergency basis, but there's no obvious expiration date to this. Keep in mind, President Trump has been campaigning against illegal immigration since he launched his White House bid more than three years ago. Last year, he tried to end the Obama-era program that gave temporary reprieve from deportation to young migrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. That move was blocked by a federal judge.

And just yesterday, an appeals court in California said the administration has to continue issuing DACA extensions. The president's also been mobilizing the military to back up the Border Patrol. There was the ill-fated family separation policy that was scrapped this summer after a vigorous public backlash. And the administration has also pushed for new limits on legal immigration.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should note that this move against asylum-seekers is very similar to the family separation policy in that there also the administration said, we're going to separate you unless you come to a designated port of entry to apply. There were questions about whether even those people were separated. But that's what the administration said. Here again, with this new rules change, the administration is trying to push people only to those limited locations.

HORSLEY: That's right. The administration insists that a lot of the migrants who are coming from Central America are essentially gaming the asylum system.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley for us this morning. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. Here's the central question that we ask on this day - what really drove a man to open fire in a crowded California bar?

INSKEEP: To some extent, that question is not really answerable, but Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean has to try. It's his job. He presumes that there is some reason the man chose the location in Thousand Oaks where he killed 12 people.


GEOFF DEAN: I don't think it was random. I mean, as you know, he's a resident of this area. And I would have to - common sense would speculate that there's some reason he went here. He probably knew about it. But I don't think it was just something like he was driving down the freeway and decided, I'm going to get off here.

INSKEEP: The sheriff spoke as authorities were identifying victims.

MARTIN: NPR's Nate Rott has been in Thousand Oaks covering this tragedy and joins us this morning. Hey, Nate.


MARTIN: What can you tell us about the victims of the shooting?

ROTT: We know most of their identities at this point, but we're going to hold some of them back until they've been identified by authorities here. But from those that we do know, we know that their ages range from 18 to their 30s for patrons of the bar. It's an 18-and-up bar, so tragically, some of the victims were very young. One young woman had just started her freshman year at college. She was 18. Another was a veteran of the Marine Corps who had served in Afghanistan.

And another was a deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department who we've heard quite a bit about. He ran into the bar shortly after the shooting began to engage the gunman. He died of gunshot wounds that he suffered from that at the hospital shortly after. But he's being recognized as a hero who saved many lives.

MARTIN: I mean, we grieve with the friends and family over each and every life. But there is this added level of - irony is not the right word, but there was a man in that bar who was shot and killed who actually lived through the Las Vegas shooting last year. What can you tell us about him?

ROTT: Yeah. Well, so he was one of apparently many people who had sort of used the Borderline Bar and Grill as a refuge in, you know, the year-plus since the Las Vegas shooting. That shooting in Vegas was it a country music festival. The Borderline is a western-themed bar. A bunch people described to me a big cowboy hat that's lit up above its dance floor. And so apparently a lot of people had gone there and enjoyed it. The man you're referring to, his name was Telemachus Orfanos. We actually heard from his mom, Susan Orfanos. She talked to ABC7. Let's take a listen.


SUSAN ORFANOS: My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends, and he came home. He didn't come home last night. And I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control. And I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.

ROTT: It's really hard to listen to. One of our colleagues actually talked to his father too. He said that his son, that Telemachus was a veteran. He had served in the Navy. He preferred to go by his nickname Tel (ph). And he also said that he loved line dancing, which is why he was at the bar.

MARTIN: That is hard to hear. What else have you been hearing from the community there, Nate? How are they dealing?

ROTT: You know, I think people are still just in shock. There were a number of vigils last night honoring the victims. There was one at a community center, another at a college. And there was a really touching procession for the sheriff's deputy that - when they moved his body from the hospital to a funeral home.

MARTIN: NPR's Nate Rott for us in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Thank you so much, Nate.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you.


MARTIN: All right. There is more counting underway from Tuesday's election, and it could be shifting our understanding of what those elections actually mean.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The seemingly narrow Democratic capture of the House of Representatives is growing larger and larger as more races are called. Republicans celebrated their gains in the Senate. But let's discuss that part next because some of the Republican gains are now in doubt. Counting ballots in Arizona has put the Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema in the lead for now. That would be a gain of a seat for Democrats.

And then there is Florida, where ballots are still being counted, and it's close enough for an eventual mandatory recount. And Republican Rick Scott is not happy about this. He is suing election supervisors as they count ballots. He says he won the Senate race against the incumbent Democrat, Bill Nelson.


RICK SCOTT: The people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency, and the supervisors are failing to give it to us. Every Floridian should be concerned there may be a rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

MARTIN: All right. We've got miles parks for us who covers voting for NPR. Hey, Miles.


MARTIN: Election controversy in Florida, what? That's crazy.

PARKS: I know. Who's really surprised here?

MARTIN: Let's start in Florida.

PARKS: Yeah, absolutely. So the Senate race at this point is within this quarter-point margin that would automatically trigger a manual recount of ballots. Bill Nelson, the Democratic nominee for Senate, says that he thinks Bill Nelson is going to win this election ultimately because a lot of the ballots that still have yet to be counted are in places that Democrats usually turn out well. Rick Scott, on the other hand, the Republican nominee, is not taking this super well.

MARTIN: No, he sued.

PARKS: Exactly. He sued. And he says a lot of these votes are not legitimate without providing any evidence of that claim.

INSKEEP: He's essentially saying, stop counting now because I'm ahead.

MARTIN: Right. And the governor's race there also very close.

PARKS: Yes, it is - not as close as the Senate race, but also in this margin that is going to necessitate a mandatory recount. What's interesting here is that the Democratic nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, has already conceded. He conceded Tuesday night.

MARTIN: Right. Can you do take-backs?

PARKS: Right, exactly. Well, it's legally required that a recount is put into place. These votes have just been counted - drip, drip, drip - all this week, which now has forced this recount in a position when Gillum has already conceded on Tuesday.

MARTIN: Wow. OK. Let's shift over to Georgia because there's a lot of drama there too. The secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who was the Republican nominee for governor, actually resigned his post as the secretary of state assuming that he had won the election and also because he didn't want there to be a perceived conflict of interest because he's the guy who would have to certify the result. But he never cared about the optics before. I mean, this was the whole rub in Georgia.

PARKS: And what's really interesting is Kemp has resigned his post as secretary of state but has taken a very similar approach to this as Rick Scott has in Florida, which is going on the offensive. His communications director yesterday put out a statement saying, again, without evidence, that Stacey Abrams is trying to, quote, "create new votes because they know it's their only remaining hope." The Abrams team, on the other hand, is saying, we just want all of the ballots to be counted before we concede.

MARTIN: And meanwhile, Arizona. What can you tell us there?

PARKS: In Arizona, there does seem to have been a lead change as votes continue to come in where Martha McSally, the Republican, was in the lead, and now it looks to be Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. I want to make it very clear that votes being counted late like this, a lot of people are coming out and saying that this is surprising or wrong. This is not uncommon at all. Millions of votes still have yet to be counted. In California...

MARTIN: Right. It's no recount there. They're just still counting.

PARKS: They're just still counting. And they're still counting in places all over the country.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Miles Parks for us. We appreciate it, Miles. Thank you.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.