News Brief: Asylum Requests, Tariff Delay, Flavored E-Cigarettes

20 hours ago
Originally published on September 12, 2019 9:05 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The southern border is effectively closed to the vast majority of migrants who are seeking asylum in the U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We say that after a ruling by the Supreme Court. The Court temporarily upheld new rules by the Trump administration. They can take effect while a lawsuit plays out. Under these rules, the U.S. can reject asylum-seekers unless they have first applied for asylum in a country they crossed on the way to the United States. That rule affects Central Americans, who commonly do cross Mexico and possibly other nations before reaching the U.S. southern border.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and is in the studio this morning with us. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is going to have an immediate effect on a lot of people who are waiting for asylum right now, isn't it?

ROSE: It will. I mean, tens of thousands of migrants have been coming to the U.S.-Mexico border each month all year long. Most of them, as you say, Steve, from Central America, but also Cuba, Africa, South America. They're fleeing from violence and poverty to seek asylum in the U.S. And this Supreme Court ruling effectively means that those who've arrived since this new policy was announced in July can now be turned back with very few exceptions.

So a migrant from Guatemala, for example, would first have to apply for asylum in Mexico and have their claim denied there before applying for asylum in the U.S. This new policy had been largely held up in court since it was announced. Shortly after the ruling last night, the administration said it plans to begin implementing it as soon as possible.

MARTIN: So why, right? This is a huge departure from how the United States has historically approached asylum cases. Why does the Trump administration say it needs to make this change?

ROSE: Well, the administration has been complaining for years that the asylum system is broken, that migrants know that if they come here and ask for asylum, they'll be able to stay in the U.S. possibly for years while their claims work their way through the courts, even if those cases are unlikely to succeed in the end. And the administration has tried a whole range of tactics to deter migrants from coming. Many of those tactics have been struck down in court, including once by the same judge who initially blocked this policy.

So this is really big. The president and other members of his administration put out tweets and statements last night hailing this as a major win.

MARTIN: I mean, we should just say, the Trump administration already passed a different rule that says people waiting for asylum have to wait in Mexico - right? - not in the U.S. This is on top of that rule, making it even more difficult, if not impossible, for a lot of people to get asylum. The other side? I mean, what are immigration rights advocates telling you?

ROSE: They're pretty deflated. They say this policy turns its back on decades of asylum policy and that U.S. immigration law is pretty clear that it does not matter how you got to the U.S., you can still ask for asylum here. And that's why they challenged this policy in court. At first, it looked like they would win. A judge in California blocked the policy, saying it was, quote, "inconsistent with federal law." He issued a nationwide injunction. But now the Supreme Court has stayed that injunction, so the policy is going to take effect. Here's...

INSKEEP: Well, there's still a final-final decision to come, right?

ROSE: Well, there is. But here's Lee Gelernt from the ACLU, which initially challenged the policy in court.

LEE GELERNT: We are looking at a potentially devastating situation at the southern border. People are fleeing serious danger, and now they will not be allowed to apply for asylum. We are going to continue fighting. This is an unfortunate setback, but we have to keep fighting because the practical impact is enormous.

ROSE: The ACLU says this case isn't over. I mean, as you point out, you know, this still has to play out in the lower courts before it may go back to the Supreme Court. But you know, at the end of the day, immigrant rights advocates have to be worried now that even if they can prevail in those lower courts, they're going to lose at the Supreme Court anyway because we know there are at least five justices who voted to let this policy take effect right now.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose, who covers immigration for us. Joel, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

ROSE: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: President Trump famously once said trade wars are easy to win. At the moment, he is finding it easier to pause.

INSKEEP: The president has repeatedly announced tariffs and repeatedly put them off amid fears of further economic damage. This week, both countries are backing off of a trade war. China waived tariffs on some U.S. goods, and then President Trump delayed tariffs against Chinese goods that were planned for October 1. That date is significant. It is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist People's Republic of China, so the president cast this delay as an act of goodwill.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley is with us this morning. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Why's everyone playing nice all of a sudden?

HORSLEY: It is a little odd to see a U.S. president taking note of the communist anniversary. Maybe more importantly, the next round of U.S.-China trade talks is set to get underway here in Washington in early October. And it would've been a little awkward had the U.S. set the table for those talks by increasing tariffs on some $250 billion worth of Chinese imports just a few days earlier...

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Not the friendliest way to open up negotiations. So what we have now is Trump postponing the effective date of those tariffs until October 15, presumably after the talks. So the tariff threat still hangs out there as kind of a stick to encourage a settlement. And as you and Steve noted, we've seen this before, where the president threatens new or higher tariffs but then blinks as the talks approach.

MARTIN: Right. But China's also easing its grip. What were some of the American goods the Chinese suspended tariffs on?

HORSLEY: The tariff waivers that China announced yesterday were pretty minor. They apply to things like industrial grease - less than $2 billion worth of goods overall - not the marquee U.S. exports like soybeans and pork. Nevertheless, U.S. investors were happy to see any sign of de-escalation in the trade war. And we saw another rally on Wall Street yesterday.

MARTIN: Let's just take a second and step back because this whole thing - you can get lost in the politics and the rhetoric and the back-and-forth, but it's taken a real toll on both economies.

HORSLEY: It is. President Trump has been tweeting about how much this is costing China's economy, but it's costing the U.S., too. Exports from the United States have been lower than last year every month since March. And manufacturing, in particular, has seen a lot of fallout from this trade war. Manufacturing is still a pretty small part of the overall U.S. economy, but it is concentrated in the kinds of areas that are politically important to President Trump.

When you couple that with the damage that's been done in farm country by this trade war - another important political constituency for the president - you can see why it might be in the president's political interests to pause here.

MARTIN: So do you have high hopes, Scott Horsley, for the trade talks that are coming up?

HORSLEY: Well, remember, Rachel, the U.S. launched this trade war calling for big changes in China in things like intellectual property protection and an end to the forced transfer of U.S. technological know-how. But economist David Dollar, who's a former Treasury and World Bank expert on China, says at this point, that kind of grand agreement is not likely.

DAVID DOLLAR: I think the best we can hope for at this point is a mini-deal. But the real ultimate deal that both sides are looking for, it seems the two sides are far apart from that kind of comprehensive agreement.

HORSLEY: Maybe some relaxation of tariffs, maybe some additional purchase of farm goods by China - but no real progress on what started this trade war in the first place.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley. We appreciate it, Scott. Thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Here's a question - who is really supposed to be using e-cigarettes? The companies that make e-cigarettes say that they are intended for adults - a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes.

INSKEEP: Yet e-cigarettes have attracted non-adults - a new generation of nicotine addicts. Here's Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary.

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ALEX AZAR: We are seeing a continued surging of middle school and high school children using e-cigarettes, increasing frequency of their use and children being drawn in by flavored e-cigarette products.

INSKEEP: So many reasons this is troublesome - and one of them is that many people who vape have reported mysterious respiratory illnesses. Now the Trump administration is planning on banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes in an effort to fight teen addiction.

MARTIN: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris is with us. Hi, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the big company in this industry is Juul. I am on their website right now looking at the flavors. We got mango. We got mint. We got fruit. We got cream. Now, you can argue as to whether or not adults or kids want those things. But under the new ban, regardless, these would be out, right?

HARRIS: They would be out. And actually, they do primarily appeal to kids. Kids go for those flavors above all others. And that's a real problem because kids are smoking these vaping products more and more. The latest preliminary study suggests that they're - like, a quarter of high schoolers are now vaping. And of course...

MARTIN: Wow, 25% of high schoolers?

HARRIS: That's right...

MARTIN: Wow.

HARRIS: And of course, it's not just flavors in those things, but it contains addictive nicotine. So going forward, the FDA has announced that it will only allow the tobacco-flavored products to go forward. Those are the most popular among the 8 million adults. And you know, that - so we'll see how that plays out...

MARTIN: Yeah.

HARRIS: ...Whether the kids will decide, oh, if that's the only thing that's available to me, I'll go for the tobacco flavor, as well.

MARTIN: I mean, does the FDA regulate e-cigarettes the same way they do other tobacco products?

HARRIS: Well, the Obama administration said that the FDA should do so. And as a result, it is falling under some FDA regulation. And since these are not approved products, technically it's illegal right now to market these products. But the FDA has not really cracked down entirely on it. They've let things go forward, thinking about the adults who are still smoking these products.

But the agency's now saying, but we can step in since it's not legal to market any of these things. We're going to take the first step and get rid of the flavors and make the people who are manufacturing the tobacco-flavored one come up with proposals by May to say why they deserve to stay in the market, as well.

MARTIN: I mean, this is something - I remember talking - interviewing the former head of the FDA Scott Gottlieb. He was all about cracking down on vaping and e-cigarettes. It was like this personal plight for him. But why is this more aggressive move happening only now?

HARRIS: Well, I think these numbers are kind of scary about how many kids are smoking. There was a lawsuit that was pushing the FDA to do more. And also, there's this concern about the - these weird, mysterious diseases among a small number of people that are smoking - several hundred right now. We don't know how big it's going to be. It's not clear that that's linked in any way to the flavored products, but we don't actually understand exactly what it's linked to. So I think that has certainly raised this issue in the public eye, for sure.

MARTIN: Right. And now President Trump has latched onto this as something he's pushing. When does the ban kick in, Richard?

HARRIS: Well, the FDA says it hopes to finalize a policy in the coming weeks. And after that, we'll see where it goes.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Richard Harris, science correspondent, talking to us about this proposal out of the White House. President Trump says it is time to ban e-cigarettes - the flavored kind. Richard, we appreciate it. Thanks.

HARRIS: Sure. Happy to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "SNAPBACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.