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News Brief: Border Crisis, Joe Biden, 2020 Census


President Trump means to stop migration from Central America by cutting off funding that was meant to stop that migration.


So that summary of a move by the White House calls for some explanation here. President Obama's administration sharply increased aid to programs in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And the idea behind that was to help those countries fight violence and poverty so that fewer migrants would need to flee north. Now President Trump says he means to cut off that aid.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we're not paying them anymore because they haven't done a thing for us.

INSKEEP: Well, what's that mean for Central America? And what does it mean for the U.S.-Mexico border? NPR's Carrie Kahn is covering this story.

Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What were these aid programs intended to achieve in Central America?

KAHN: Exactly what you all just said - was to go at the main drivers of migration, which is, simply put, poverty and violence. And there's - money went to all sorts of programs - is going to all sorts programs like strengthening police forces, security, border security, really strengthening judicial systems, transparency initiatives. There's a lot of gang-prevention programs and a lot of food security - just a whole gambit of programs.

INSKEEP: Well, then, we have the question of whether they were effective or not. Is there any way to know that given that people did continue migrating north from Central America over the last two years?

KAHN: I think that's the big question, and it's a tough one to evaluate. If you look at the money that the Obama administration - that you were just mentioning - ramped up and sent to Central America, that began after the 2014/2015 crisis. Remember we saw an increase in unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S.?

Well, that money that was allocated then just - it took, like, two years for that to actually hit the ground because a lot of that money has to go through third-party groups. It has to go through nonprofits that have the mechanisms and capacity to track and report the money. And then it works with nonprofits and community-based groups on the ground. And then there - Congress has a lot of oversight. It's just taken a long time for the money to get there, so some people say it's too soon to tell whether those programs are working or not.

INSKEEP: Well, that leads to the flip side question. If President Trump, then, were to cut off that aid - as he has said he's going to do - does that actually make the problems worse that seem to be driving people to flee their countries?

KAHN: That's what we'll have to see. And that's what a lot of people say is it's counterproductive. It just doesn't make any sense. One official in El Salvador, though - I'll just add - on Friday, the vice minister of justice, he said - he claims that the U.S. dollars are actually slowing the flow of migrants from his country. And he said U.S. assistance has had a positive impact in reducing migration from El Salvador. And then he added - but we need more to help continue this fight.

INSKEEP: Although I guess it's hard to prove because there's so many factors when somebody moves. There's another thing I want to raise here, Carrie Kahn. President Trump, in announcing this, laid out a conspiracy theory. He said they set up these caravans. In many ways, they put their worst people in the caravan - the implication being that the countries themselves or the governments or someone in those countries are deliberately sending people north. Is there any evidence of a widespread conspiracy in Central America to send the worst people to the United States?

KAHN: Well, I think that these are countries that are democratic countries, and they cannot force and they cannot control who leaves and enters their countries. These are people with free will that can enter and leave as they want. What does happen, though, that these caravans have recently reached into the thousands of numbers. And so you never know who's on there. And that is part of what he is asking for, that there be more control as they're entering and leaving, especially in Mexico.

And Mexico has stepped up its programs to screen and see who are in these caravans and to demand that they ask for permission to enter the country and get the special permissions that they need to transit through the country and see exactly who are on these caravans.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks for your insights as always.

KAHN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn.


INSKEEP: In 2014, Joe Biden, who was then the vice president of the United States, traveled to Nevada. He was campaigning for Lucy Flores, who was a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

MARTIN: And now Lucy Flores is recounting that something - something that Biden did just as he considers running for president.


LUCY FLORES: I just, all of a sudden, feel him get up really close to me. And then he, like, inhales and proceeds to plant this long kiss on the top of my head. And you know, the entire time I'm just kind of like - what is happening? Why is the vice president of the United States kissing me right now?

MARTIN: That was Lucy Flores speaking with Korva Coleman on All Things Considered over the weekend. In a statement, Joe Biden acknowledged women, quote, "can and should talk about their experiences," though he believes he has never acted inappropriately.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is following this story. She is, by the way, also co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast.

Tam, good morning.


INSKEEP: So when Lucy Flores tells this story, what does she sum up this behavior as? Is she saying - I was assaulted? Is this harassment? Is it something more, something less?

KEITH: She doesn't characterize it. But she does say that it is absolutely inappropriate, that it made her feel uneasy. She says that whether it was an innocent gesture or whether it was a sexual gesture, none of that matters - that it's, in the person - that the person on the receiving end of it, if they believe it's inappropriate - which she does - then that's what matters.

INSKEEP: Does the timing matter here at all? By which I mean - well, it was five years ago, and the attention on this kind of behavior was a little different than it is now.

KEITH: Absolutely. The #MeToo movement has since happened, and that is absolutely a big change. And also, though, there's other timing. Joe Biden is in the process of deciding whether he will run for president. He is very far along in the process of deciding whether to announce he'll run for president.

Flores says that she's bringing this forward now because, you know, there have been Joe-being-Joe accusations in the past. And she feels that it needs to be taken seriously, and she doesn't think that he should run for president. Biden, in his defense, says - let me read part of his statement - more of his statement.

He says, (reading) in my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort and not once did I ever believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully because it was never my intention.

INSKEEP: It's noteworthy that Lucy Flores would say it's time to take this kind of behavior seriously because I suppose we should - I mean, Joe Biden's behavior has been known and noted and talked about and, in a literal way, not taken seriously because it's - you see - you would see clips of him embracing people on comedy shows. It was something that was played for laughs.

KEITH: Right. And one interesting thing that's come out of this - one of those clips or one of those still frames was of the vice president rubbing the shoulders of the wife of the defense secretary Ash Carter. Stephanie Carter is her name, and she posted something on Medium yesterday talking about that moment and saying that it was not an uncomfortable moment for her and she's tired of these pictures popping up - that for her, it was just a good friend giving her comfort on a difficult day.

INSKEEP: There's this one still photo where she looks like she's uncomfortable, and she says she wasn't uncomfortable at all. Very briefly - how uncomfortable are the various presidential campaigns in dealing with this kind of issue?

KEITH: Oh, almost every single campaign has something. Bernie Sanders had issues on his 2016 campaign. Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have aides that have been accused of sexual harassment. This is a conversation that is happening in this campaign in a way that it hasn't happened in the past.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: OK. On this day, we are one year away from the start of the United States Census.

MARTIN: Census day - it happens every 10 years, and it is a really big deal. The census helps guide how the federal government spends more than $800 billion every year. The data also affects redistricting and therefore shapes the sway of political power in this country. There are, though, plenty of challenges to an accurate count this time around, including a Supreme Court battle.

INSKEEP: Hansi Lo Wang covers the census for NPR News, and he's in our studios.

Good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: This is going to be a different census than in the past in what way?

WANG: This is going to be the first time all U.S. households can either respond online, return a paper form or call a 1-800 number. The Census Bureau's more than doubling the number of languages you can respond to compared to 2010 - total of 13 languages - adding for the first time Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.

And there's an interesting change to the race question. If you identify as white, you'll be asked to write in your non-Hispanic origins, like German or Irish. Or if you identify as Black, you can also check off Black. If you identify as white, you have to ask your - write in your origin, such as Jamaican or Nigerian.

INSKEEP: Two things I want to follow up on - first, I remember many, many years ago being hired as a census worker. And I went door-to-door and had to knock on people's doors. You're telling me that that doesn't have to happen in every case anymore? People can file their own information.

WANG: People can file their own information. But if you do not respond, yourselves, online by phone or by paper, someone will be knocking on your door to try to collect your information.

INSKEEP: And the other thing you mentioned - when you talk about changing the race question, that ends up changing the demographics of the country as we understand them, which influences our politics - the way people's frame of mind might be about this country in lots of ways.

WANG: That's possible. This is a change from the Census Bureau trying to better reflect how people identify and see themselves in terms of race, in terms of ethnicity.

INSKEEP: Now, there are these legal fights. We mentioned the Supreme Court challenge. What is still unsettled as we get one year away from the census now?

WANG: One looming question is whether or not this census will include a citizenship question that the Trump administration wants to add. This is a question that asks - is this person a citizen of the United States? Two federal judges so far have ruled to block plans to add this question. And the Supreme Court has stepped in, and they're going to hear oral arguments about this on April 23. The issue that the judges have brought up is they think this is the decision that violates administrative law and also is unconstitutional because it harms the government's ability to count every person living in the country.

INSKEEP: Is there some kind of desperate deadline to get that decided so that census forms can be printed, so that websites can be ready, so the census is able to do this in an orderly fashion?

WANG: The most urgent deadline is June. That is when the Census Bureau says they has to have - it has to have a decision, has to finalize this census form. We have Census Bureau official Al Fontenot, he recently emphasized that a printing company is preparing two versions of the census form - one with the citizenship question, one without. Let's listen to what he said recently.


ALBERT FONTENOT: The printer knows that when the Supreme Court decision is made, we give them the go to start the process with the set of plates they're ready to use.


WANG: Bureau says printing has to start by July.

INSKEEP: OK. Hansi, thanks for the update - really appreciate it.

WANG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang who covers the 2020 census.


Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.