News Brief: DACA Court Case, Impeachment Probe, ISIS Fighters

Nov 12, 2019
Originally published on November 12, 2019 7:26 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

What is the future for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally by their parents?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That is the question for the Supreme Court today. The case focuses on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA. President Obama first approved this plan. It offers temporary protections to people who are often called DREAMers. President Trump tried to revoke the program, only to have the lower courts temporarily block his action in a case that the highest court now decides.

KING: NPR's John Burnett covers immigration, and he's been watching this case closely. Good morning, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: So give us a little history of DACA, if you would. Remind us what it is exactly.

BURNETT: Sure. It was enacted by Obama in the summer of 2012, and it's called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And it does just that. It protects these people from deportation, and it lets them work and go to school. To qualify, immigrants had to have arrived before they were 16, be a high school graduate or a veteran and have committed no serious crimes.

It applies to more than 700,000 young people. Some have started families. They have jobs. They're nurses and teachers. And many don't remember their birth countries. They consider themselves thoroughly American.

KING: What happened that DACA ended up now in front of the Supreme Court?

BURNETT: So the Trump administration says that Obama never had the executive authority to create DACA in the first place, it's illegal. And immigration hard-liners believe the program is really nothing more than a dressed-up amnesty for people who came to the country unlawfully. And so Trump's Homeland Security secretary rescinded it in 2017. But the DREAMers have lots of defenders, and immigration attorneys pounced.

They sued the administration, saying Trump didn't cancel the program the right way. And three separate federal judges have agreed with them. One said the kill-off of DACA was arbitrary and capricious. The government appealed. And today it's before the high court, where Trump believes conservative justices will see things his way.

KING: So what do we know about what each side is going to argue in front of the court?

BURNETT: Right. Well, the attorney for the DREAMers will say that the government broke administrative rules when it pulled the plug on DACA and it should be reinstated. The government attorney will defend the program's cancellation as lawful and justified. And meanwhile, the future of hundreds of thousands of young people in the U.S. hangs in the balance. One of them is Michele Segura (ph). She's a 25-year-old grad student in business administration, and she works as a college counselor in Los Angeles.

MICHELE SEGURA: You know, there's nine people in the Supreme Court who are deciding the fate of 700,000 people, myself included. I've been living, since 2017 - since the Trump administration rescinded DACA, I've fallen into depression. And everything is just on the line.

BURNETT: And she told me that she's been camping out in the line that's formed outside the Supreme Court in the cold to get a seat in the public gallery to watch these historic oral arguments today.

KING: Temperatures were, like, in the 20s last night. God, I shiver just to think of it. So John, the Supreme Court will issue an opinion next year. If it doesn't rule in favor of the DACA recipients, of the DREAMers, what happens to them?

BURNETT: Well, the Supreme Court could tell the administration - if you want to end DACA, you have to go about it a different way. But it gets into politics because the program is very popular. Amicus briefs in support of DACA have come in from business groups and universities and law enforcement, religious leaders.

And polls show big majorities of Democrats and Republicans sympathetic to these young people, who are mostly from Latin America. An analyst told me what ultimately has to happen if DACA is to be reserved, Congress needs to enact the law.

KING: OK. NPR's John Burnett. John, thanks so much.

BURNETT: Happy to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: The impeachment inquiry will go public tomorrow.

INSKEEP: Of course there have been private interviews before impeachment investigators up to now. And some new testimony from that process is emerging. These are witnesses who appeared before the House Intelligence committee and other committees. Transcripts of their testimony appear to support the case that the Trump administration tied military aid for Ukraine to investigations of President Trump's political rivals.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been working her way through the newest documents. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So more pages of testimony from behind closed doors. Let's talk about who this time, and let's talk about what you found.

GRISALES: Well, yes, the committee's released three additional transcripts for closed-door testimony for two State Department diplomats and a Pentagon official. Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson both work at the State Department. And they corroborated the testimony from their colleagues on several fronts, including that military aid to Ukraine was held up and that Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was running shadow diplomacy operations in Ukraine.

In fact, Anderson said that he was warned by former National Security Adviser John Bolton that Giuliani was a, quote, "key voice" on Ukraine and "could be an obstacle." It was also clear in the testimony that Trump was fixated on the issue of corruption in Ukraine and that he appeared to tie it to a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections.

Laura Cooper is a Pentagon employee. She testified that military aid to Ukraine was held up for weeks and Pentagon officials were kept in the dark as to why. She told Congress that the order to withhold the funds came from the Office of Management and Budget. And Mick Mulvaney, who is the acting chief of staff at the White House, has been running that division.

KING: OK. So a lot of what you have read in these newest documents has corroborated what we've heard before. Let's move forward to tomorrow, a big day...

GRISALES: Right.

KING: ...On Capitol Hill as this all goes public and televised.

GRISALES: Yes.

KING: What are we expecting?

GRISALES: Yes. So as we get closer to tomorrow's hearing, lawmakers have been filling in more of the blanks of what's to come - kind of pulling back the curtain, if you will, on this weeks-long process behind closed door and these depositions. And three witnesses will testify this week. It's all expected to kick off tomorrow at 10 a.m. And the witnesses are now household names - acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent as well as the former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

We also have more clues on the structure of the questioning. Each side will get 45 minutes to ask questions. And - but even with all of this parameter in place, the questioning could go on all day. And of course we know that Adam Schiff will chair these proceedings of the panel. And a key Trump ally, Jim Jordan of Ohio, has been added to the panel, and he'll be asking questions as well.

KING: And Claudia, we should note before we let you go that Republicans have a list of witnesses that they want to call. On that list, Joe Biden's son Hunter and the whistleblower. So we shall see how things go from there.

NPR's Claudia Grisales, thank you so much for your time.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. Now here's something that's become a big geopolitical question or quandary. Who is responsible for foreign fighters who went to Syria to fight for ISIS and then were captured in combat?

INSKEEP: By who is responsible, of course we mean, who has to take them and hold them? Well, whoever may be responsible, Turkey says, it isn't us. The country has begun proceedings to return hundreds of fighters from Turkey's prisons to their countries of origin. Some are known to be European. Turkey's Interior Ministry says one is American. And Turkey is trying to send them back just as Turkey's president arrives in Washington this week, where he meets President Trump.

KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following all of this from Istanbul. Good morning, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So some of these guys have been in Turkish prisons for a very long time. Why is the Turkish government pushing so hard now to try to send them home?

KENYON: Well, Turkey's been saying for some time now - other countries have got to take these people back; they're your citizens. They went to join these terrorists. Inside Syria, the so-called ISIS caliphate is no more. The U.S. has partially withdrawn forces; some are still there. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is trying to move, take control of more parts of the country with Russia's help - very complicated situation.

And Turkey's interior minister is saying, look, we are not a hotel for ISIS terrorists. And now it looks like Ankara is trying to force the issue, start removing some of those fighters and family members, raising that question you just mentioned. Where will they wind up?

KING: OK. So I wonder what we know about these fighters. Steve mentioned one American, some European. Broadly, do we know where they come from?

KENYON: Well, the Interior Ministry says seven Germans are scheduled to be, quote, "repatriated" on Thursday. Also, proceedings are aimed at deporting 11 French citizens captured in northern Syria. Other deportations planned for foreign fighters from Ireland, Germany, Denmark. Some European countries now, we have to note, are stripping some of these people of their citizenship. That doesn't make things any easier. But President Erdogan says that doesn't matter; they're going back anyway.

And as you mentioned, there's an American in the mix - one foreign fighter described as a U.S. citizen. The latest video has shown him not sent home but in this buffer zone - a no man's land between Turkey and Greece on the land border. There was video showing him hands raised, as if to say - where do I go now? Greek police say they denied him entry twice. President Erdogan said he's not our problem. He did repeat his threat - President Erdogan did - to open the gates and send large numbers of refugees, including ISIS prisoners, towards Europe again.

KING: OK. So he is using that as leverage. I want to ask you, lastly, about this American fighter and what we know about him and also about the sort of diplomatic aspect of this because President Erdogan, as Steve said, will be at the White House tomorrow. Is this going to come up between him and President Trump?

KENYON: Well, it's likely to come up. But top of the agenda? - hard to say. It'll be competing with a lot of other stuff. Turkey's acquisition of Russian missiles - that's got people saying Turkey doesn't belong in NATO anymore. Turkey's very unhappy with U.S. support for these Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara sees as terrorists. There was a deal to move them, and now Turkey's saying that hasn't been fulfilled. But it wasn't the U.S., it was Russia that made that promise and said the Kurdish fighters had been cleared away. So how much can be gained by dealing with the White House on this is open to question.

KING: OK. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much for your reporting.

KENYON: Thanks, Noel.

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