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News Brief: Government Reopens, Deal Goes Through Feb. 8

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After three days, the government shutdown ended. Democrats and Republicans joined hands and made peace. And all was good in the land.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

(Laughter) Promise I'm not laughing at that. That did not happen. All they actually...

MARTIN: It didn't?

GREENE: ...Did was buy - it didn't. But they did buy a little more time. Congress now has just three weeks. That is the window to reach an agreement on government spending and also immigration. So what is the way forward here?

MARTIN: The way forward is to ask NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley what the way forward is.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this whole shutdown revolved around DACA, right? This is - we've said it many times - this is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program protecting young immigrants brought here as children, often illegally. So no agreement was reached on DACA. Has this shutdown changed anything, or are we in the same place that we were?

HORSLEY: Well, the fate of the DACA recipients is still very much up in the air, as it's been since last September. On Friday, the senators who voted to shut down the government were demanding permanent protection for those young DACA recipients. They didn't get that.

What they did get was a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would find a solution during these next three weeks or, failing that, that he would open up the Senate floor for an open, freewheeling discussion where people could offer ideas and amendments. That was, you know, a subtle shift - no guarantee it will pay off for the DACA recipients, certainly no guarantee of what the House might do. But it was enough to flip 30 Senate votes and reopen the government.

MARTIN: So Democrats got a promise from Republicans. That's what they got in exchange for the government shutdown. Is that going to come back to bite them politically in a midterm year?

HORSLEY: The real winners here won't be known, I guess, for three weeks when we see how this process plays out. But the Republicans were the ones who were smiling and doing the victory dance yesterday while progressive Democrats were sending angry emails about capitulation. There was a group in the center, both Republicans and Democrats, who both want to help the DACA recipients and also wanted to keep the government open. They succeeded yesterday in beating back the far left, the group that was demanding a DACA fix above everything else. The question now is whether those centrist senators will succeed in beating back the far right that's demanding much more draconian immigration moves in exchange for a DACA fix.

MARTIN: Where's the White House in all this? Because I've heard tell that the administration was behind some ads that came out saying the Democrats have caved - using that language - it's not exactly, like, a way to bridge the gap right now, in this moment when people need to come together.

HORSLEY: There was some spiking of the football yesterday, and we'll see if that if that backfires. Once it became clear the government would reopen, the president met yesterday with a group of Republican senators, including Tom Cotton and David Perdue. They're some of the immigration hard-liners who want to see big changes in the legal immigration system.

He also met with a couple of Democrats, Joe Manchin and Doug Jones. They would be in that centrist group. They were against shutting down the government all along. The president is still looking for money for border security, including his wall; an end to the visa lottery; changes in the legal immigration system. He was largely invisible over the weekend, which may have been helpful to Republicans. We'll see if he's more visible and more active in this next phase of the process.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: We're going to stick with the issue of immigration because deportations are a huge part of the overall immigration debate, David.

GREENE: Yeah, they certainly are. And it's mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants who are being picked up and sent back to their home countries. What is not well-known, though, is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is also aggressively deporting people from all over the world. And deportations to several countries, including Haiti, rose sharply in 2017.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's John Burnett has been looking at the data. He joins us now.

Hey, Don. Wait - Don...

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel

MARTIN: ...You're not Don. You're John. Hi, John.

BURNETT: I'm always John.

MARTIN: So when we say all over the world, which countries are we talking about exactly?

BURNETT: Well, as David said, in recent years, the same four countries dominate deportations. And that's Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. And those account for 9 out of 10 deportations.

But the interesting news comes from the other 186 countries where the U.S. deports people to. The number of deportees from the other nations rose 24 percent in Trump's first year according to our math. There were big increases in all sorts of foreign nationals who had been living in the U.S. illegally from all over the world. Deportations to Brazil and China jumped. Removals of Somalis nearly doubled. Deportations to Ghana and West Africa are up more than two times.

The biggest increase is Haiti. The number of deported Haitians soared from 300 in 2016 to more than 5,500 last year. And the reason is that thousands of Haitians who had been living in South America rushed to the U.S.-Mexico border and crossed in California and Arizona. They mistakenly thought they could get humanitarian relief, but it wasn't the case. They were detained and deported.

MARTIN: And we should point out that these countries - so separate from Mexican and Central American immigrants, these countries represent a relatively small percentage of total deportations.

BURNETT: Ten percent. Right.

MARTIN: Yeah. But still, it is notable. Do we just presume that this has to do with the Trump administration's generally harder line on all kinds of immigration?

BURNETT: Yeah, that's definitely one of the explanations. I think there are two factors. And the first is the so-called recalcitrant countries that used to refuse to accept deportees from the U.S. are now repatriating them. The Trump administration is very proud that it was able to broker these agreements with these countries, and they consider it an untold story. So you do see big increases in deportees to places like Somalia, Guinea, Cuba, Bangladesh, Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, for instance, with Iraq, the administration took it off the travel ban list in return for the country agreeing to repatriate its deportees. And then second, as you said, ICE agents are just more aggressive in the interior. They used to make more arrests on the southwest border. Now they're nabbing people inside the country and a lot of visa overstayers.

MARTIN: Visa overstayers, yeah. So we should also note, though - the Trump administration is still deporting fewer overall people than the Obama administration did. Correct?

BURNETT: That's right because there are fewer people trying to cross at the southwest border.

MARTIN: So people are being deterred there. And you say that ICE is just being more aggressive. I mean, how are they finding all these undocumented people from all over the world?

BURNETT: Well, you know, a lot of these are visa overstays. And so they may start with information on a visa application. But a lot of these overstayers have been here for years and have likely changed addresses. So ICE really finds them the way they do everybody else. They depend on information from neighbors who turn them in or friendly jailers or tips from the courthouse.

And ICE operates under these tough new rules. They'll arrest anybody in the country illegally, whether they've committed a serious crime or not. And so they're really starting to round up more of these folks from all these different countries in the interior.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's John Burnett. Thanks so much, John.

BURNETT: Sure, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, now we're going to get a rare look inside the Syrian city of Raqqa.

GREENE: Yeah. So this city was once - and actually not so long ago - a stronghold of ISIS. But Syrian rebels backed by a U.S. air campaign pushed ISIS out of Raqqa last year. And now really comes the hard part - rebuilding. The United States has promised to be a big part of that for the long haul.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now from Kuwait City. She just went to Raqqa with the Trump administration's top foreign aid official.

Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: What does Raqqa look like?

KELEMEN: Completely devastated. I mean, we took a drive right through the center of the city - at least the streets that were cleared of rubble. And we also got to walk around that soccer stadium where ISIS reportedly held and tortured prisoners. I was with Mark Green, the USAID administrator, and he says, you know, going to that place was a real reminder of the depth of the evil of, you know, the ISIS caliphate, as they called it. But he also said that he saw signs - and these are his words - of the human spirit. You saw some shops that are open amidst the rubble, some workers trying to rebuild and, surprisingly, a lot of kids on the street.

MARTIN: So are people going back there? I mean, are Syrians returning to try to start over?

KELEMEN: A few have. And, you know, and certainly what Green was hearing is that more want to go. We drove up to a camp north of Raqqa a couple of hours, where about 16,000 Syrians are living. He met with a couple of people who had fled Raqqa. And they told him directly that they want to return. The problem is there's still no electricity or running water, so that's one of the big priorities now.

MARTIN: Can you help us understand, at this point, what the U.S. is doing there?

KELEMEN: I mean, broadly, the mission is to make sure ISIS doesn't re-emerge and to help those Syrians who fought to liberate the city after months of U.S. airstrikes - that they're able now to stabilize the place. There are a couple...

MARTIN: But that - Michele, we've heard that. I mean, that's what we've heard in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We've got to stay there as long as it takes to keep the bad guys away. That could be interminable.

KELEMEN: Well, that's right. And then you look at the amount of devastation here and think about how you fix all of that. You know, they say that this is not a nation-building project - that this is really just stabilization. But I can tell you, it's going to be a huge task, given just how much rubble there is on the streets, to get any semblance of normal life back to Raqqa.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Michele Kelemen - she got a rare look inside the Syrian city of Raqqa. It was once, not long ago, a stronghold, the center of the ISIS caliphate. ISIS has been pushed out. The U.S. and its partners are trying now to rebuild.

Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALI FARKA TOURE AND TOUMANI DIABATE'S "RUBY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.