News Brief: Gun Control, ICE Raids In Mississippi, New Puerto Rico Governor

Aug 8, 2019
Originally published on August 8, 2019 4:48 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When President Trump landed in Dayton, Ohio, yesterday, he was met by protesters chanting two words.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Do something. Do something. Do something. Do something...

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Do something. Those are the same words Ohio's Republican Governor Mike DeWine heard when he spoke at a vigil earlier this week. And since then, DeWine has proposed new gun control legislation, calling for a so-called red flag law and expanded background checks. Is there any chance we might see something similar to that in Washington?

MARTIN: NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro has been following this and joins us this morning. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So interest in this so-called red flag bill seems to at least be getting some traction in Congress. Can you explain what it would be?

MONTANARO: Well, these are technically called extreme risk laws or extreme risk protection orders. They allow for police to temporarily take guns away from some people when someone close to them reports that they see or hear something that strikes them in an odd way or wrong way.

More than a dozen states have passed these kinds of laws in recent years. They've been shown to be effective, particularly at preventing suicides. It's something that's gotten a lot of attention from Republicans and Democrats of late, spearheaded in the Senate particularly by Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina.

MARTIN: Right, so does Lindsey Graham have enough influence to convince the rest of his Republican colleagues to support it?

MONTANARO: Well, you've heard it from a lot of people, and it's quite possible. We've actually seen movement in a - with a couple Republicans who have now moved on wanting more - even more gun restrictions beyond just these red flag laws in recent days. I'm thinking of Mike Turner of Ohio who represents the Dayton area and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, for example. They've come out and said that they're now in favor of stricter gun restrictions, which is a real big about-face, especially for Turner, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association before his election in 2018.

Of course, a couple of Republican congressmen doesn't make a majority. Universal background check legislation has already passed the Democratic-controlled House, too, so a couple congressmen doesn't make a difference there. The Senate's a different story. That's controlled by Republicans. Republican leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in bringing forward anything on stricter gun restrictions. But you have to wonder if Republicans aren't quite feeling the same kind of pressure they had in recent years given that the National Rifle Association has had so many internal problems we've heard so much about.

MARTIN: What's the Democratic 2020 field saying about this debate in this moment?

MONTANARO: Well, Democrats have been laying blame at the feet of President Trump. They say that his rhetoric is dangerous and inspiring these kinds of acts, especially what we saw in El Paso with the anti-immigrant screed that we saw so much evidence for from the shooter. In fact, here was former Vice President Joe Biden delivering a major speech about exactly that.

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JOE BIDEN: This president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation. His low-energy, vacant-eyed mouthing of the words written for him condemning white supremacists this week I don't believe fooled anyone at home or abroad.

MONTANARO: And plenty of Democratic candidates have gone even further than that and are itching to say so.

MARTIN: NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro, thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: U.S. Immigration and Customs agents carried out the largest statewide workplace enforcement operation in U.S. history yesterday.

GREENE: Yeah, we're talking about a highly coordinated sting here. Hundreds of agents surrounded seven food processing plants across Mississippi. About 680 workers, the majority of them Latino, were arrested and transported to a military hangar. In addition to the arrests, agents also seized business records from the company. At a press conference yesterday, Mike Hurst, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, had this to say about the operation.

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MIKE HURST: But while we do welcome folks from other countries, they have to follow our laws. They have to abide by our rules. They have to come here legally, or they shouldn't come here at all.

MARTIN: Jeff Amy of The Associated Press was the first to break this story and is on the line with us this morning. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF AMY: Good morning.

MARTIN: What other details can you share about how these raids went down?

AMY: Well, ICE and federal prosecutors told us yesterday afternoon that they had been investigating these five companies for more than a year after they got tips that they were employing people who didn't have authorization to work in the United States. The agents fanned out before 8:00 in the morning. They surrounded these plants. They detained people who they thought didn't have authorization. They zip-tied their hands behind their backs and loaded them on buses and took them to the Air National Guard hangar that adjoins the Jackson Airport.

They had a very large operation set up inside the hangar. ICE invited The Associated Press in for a look before folks started arriving. They had seven lines, one for each raid, to process people with fingerprint scanners and printers for documents. They had fans with misters going to try to keep the hangar cool on what had been predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far in Jackson.

MARTIN: You said...

AMY: The hangars...

MARTIN: Yeah...

AMY: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MARTIN: ...I'm sorry to interrupt you. You mentioned that the officials, ICE agents, detained people they believed to be in the country working without proper documentation. I mean, presumably, they would have some kind of evidence to demonstrate that, right? Or is there a chance that they swept up people who do have authorization?

AMY: That's unclear to me, honestly. We're hoping that some of this is going to become a little clearer today. Supposedly we're going to get some figures on who was arrested and who might have been let go.

Their position was that they brought in what they called foreign nationals subject to arrest. And they said that they questioned people out of the plants and that they only brought in people who admitted that they were not from the United States and that they believed were in the country illegally.

MARTIN: What does this mean for the companies? This has affected four different food processing plants, chicken processing facilities. Is that right?

AMY: Five...

MARTIN: Five.

AMY: ...Companies operating a total of seven facilities.

MARTIN: So do they stay open?

AMY: Presumably, they're going to stay open. The one that - the company that had the most facilities raided, a company called Peco, which is based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said that it was facing a potential production disruption, but it was unclear what they really meant by that, whether that was a day or a week or something longer than that.

MARTIN: Or, I mean, the other question, do they get fined, I mean, for employing people who aren't legal to work in the country?

AMY: Federal prosecutors and ICE said that they were investigating the companies for potential criminal violations. They wouldn't go any farther than that.

MARTIN: OK.

AMY: And - so that's yet to be seen.

MARTIN: OK. Meanwhile, all these people are waiting in this military hangar to find out what their fate is. Jeff Amy with The Associated Press, we appreciate you sharing your reporting.

AMY: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Puerto Rico has sworn in its third governor in the span of just a week.

GREENE: Yeah, it's amazing. Wanda Vazquez, who was previously the island's secretary of justice, was sworn into office last night despite the fact that she said she had no interest in this role just a week ago. So her appointment comes after Puerto Rico's Supreme Court ruled that her predecessor, Pedro Pierluisi, was unconstitutionally sworn in as governor last week. And this political crisis in Puerto Rico, we should remember, comes after weeks of demonstrations that forced Governor Ricardo Rossello to resign.

MARTIN: OK, we've got NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan to explain what exactly is going on. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Wanda Vazquez, she is now the governor of Puerto Rico. But as David noted, initially, when it was clear that Ricardo Rossello was going to have to leave, she had said she didn't want this job. So why did she change her mind?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, Puerto Rico's Constitution says that the person who replaces a resigning governor is the secretary of state. But that post was vacant last week, and so the next in line is the justice secretary. That would be Wanda Vazquez. And like you said, she didn't want the job, so she asked Governor Rossello to appoint a secretary of state so that that person could take over when he stepped down. Rossello did that. He appointed a veteran politician Pedro Pierluisi. And when he stepped down last Friday, Pierluisi took the oath of office.

But yesterday, the Supreme Court said wait a minute, you were never confirmed as secretary of state by the legislature as the Constitution requires, so you can't be governor. And so he had to step down, and Wanda Vazquez became governor yesterday.

MARTIN: So, I mean, what are Puerto Ricans making of all this?

FLORIDO: I mean, it's been a big - it's been quite a couple of weeks here. We have people who are - heads just spinning at all of the sort of twists and turns that all this has taken.

You know, it all started a few weeks ago with these massive protests that you mentioned against Governor Ricardo Rossello that were at first about these offensive text messages that he sent but eventually sort of evolved into protests against what a lot of Puerto Ricans view as a corrupt political establishment. And they view Rossello as part of that establishment, his successor, Pedro Pierluisi, as part of that establishment. And now, you know, Governor Wanda Vazquez, they also view as part of that establishment.

So yesterday, I spoke with a protester who went to the governor's mansion to demand that Wanda Vazquez resign. Listen to what Yanita Alia (ph) said.

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YANITA ALIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: What's she saying?

FLORIDO: She's saying people are tired of leaders who haven't been able to address problems like Puerto Rico's economic crisis that's forced so many people to leave the island, it's high rates of poverty, it's debt crisis. And so they look at people like Wanda Vazquez, who has close ties to Rosello, and they aren't happy, and they want something new.

MARTIN: So she's - based on what you're saying, it doesn't sound like Wanda Vazquez is going to be long for this job.

FLORIDO: Well, you know, there are questions about whether she might assume the office and then appoint a secretary of state and resign. But she went on public television late last night to give her first address as governor and didn't give any indication that she would be resigning. It sounded like she's expected to fulfill the rest of the term. There is a possibility that something might happen because we - it's been impossible to predict anything in the last few weeks. So I'll keep an eye on it.

MARTIN: Who knows? NPR's Adrian Florido is covering all the twists and turns in Puerto Rico. We appreciate it, Adrian.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHINESE MAN'S "INDEPENDENT MUSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.