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Tribe Separated by US Border Fights for Access That Could Help Others

For four hours, Raymond V. Buelna, a cultural leader for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, sat on a metal bench in a concrete holding space at the U.S.-Mexico border, separated from the two people he was taking to an Easter ceremony on tribal land in Arizona and wondering when they might be released.

It was February 2022 and Buelna, a U.S. citizen, was driving the pair — both from the sovereign Native American nation’s related tribal community in northwestern Mexico — from their home to the reservation southwest of Tucson. They’d been authorized by U.S. officials to cross the border. But when Buelna asked an agent why they were detained, he was told to wait for the officer who brought him in.

“They know that we’re coming,” said Buelna, who has made the trip for a variety of ceremonies for 20 years. “We did all this work and then we’re still sitting there.”

Now, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is trying to change this — for themselves and potentially dozens of other tribes in the U.S.

‘Something that will help everybody’

Tribal officials have drafted regulations to formalize the border-crossing process, working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recently formed Tribal Homeland Security Advisory Council, made up of 15 Native officials across the U.S.

Their work could provide a template for dozens of Native American nations whose homelands, like those of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, were sliced in two by modern-day U.S. borders.

If approved, the rules would become the first clearly established U.S. border crossing procedures specific to a Native American tribe that could then be used by other tribes, according to Christina Leza, associate professor of anthropology at Colorado College.

The regulations would last five years, to be renewed and amended as needed, and require training local U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and consular personnel on the tribe’s cultural heritage, language and traditions. It would require a Yaqui interpreter to be available when needed. It also would require close coordination with the tribe, so border crossings are prompt.

“This is just something that will help everybody,” said Fred Urbina, attorney general for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. “It will make things more efficient.”

Regulations would bring ‘peace of mind’

Urbina said the tribe has met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the proposal. DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email on the status of the regulations.

When family members, deer dancers or musicians living in Sonora, Mexico, make the trip into the U.S. for ceremonies, tribal recognition celebrations or family events, they are typically issued an ID card from the tribe and a visitor visa or parole permit from the U.S. government. But they can still face border officials who they say lack the cultural awareness to process them without problems.

In the last two years, Buelna said, he has made the roundtrip about 18 times and was detained on four of them. He said border officials question the people he’s escorting, whose first language is Yaqui, without an interpreter, and cultural objects, such as deer and pig hooves, have been confiscated. Officials have touched ceremonial objects, despite only certain people being permitted by the tribe to do so.

As a sovereignty issue, Native American nations should be able to determine their people’s ability to cross the border to preserve the ceremonial life of their communities, Leza said.

“If the federal government is saying our particular priorities, our interests in terms of securing our borders, trump your interests as a sovereign nation, then that’s not really a recognition of the sovereignty of those tribal nations,” she said.

Tribes along the U.S.-Canada border face similar problems.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is headquartered in Michigan, but 173 of its more than 49,000 enrolled members live in Canada. Kimberly Hampton, the tribe’s officer-secretary and vice chair of the Tribal Homeland Security Advisory Council, said those members cross the border for powwows, fasting and to visit with traditional healers and family, but border officials have rifled through eagle feathers and other cultural objects they are carrying.

Hampton wants an agreement that includes having tribal liaisons at border crossings and training developed by the tribe for border personnel.

Members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, which has about 8,000 members in the U.S. and about 8,000 in Canada, said they have also been asked at the border to prove that they possess at least 50% “blood of the American Indian race.” That stems from a requirement under the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act.

Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Chief Michael L. Conners wants to eliminate the requirement and boost education for border agents on local and national tribal issues. Drafting regulations specific to the tribe, like the ones the Pascua Yaqui are doing, “would bring a lot of peace of mind to our whole community,” he said.

Meanwhile, in that concrete holding space, Buelna was reunited with the two tribal members only after he told a border official that he thought they’d been overlooked following a shift change, he said.

“Why can’t there be a system?” Buelna asked. “Why can’t there be already a line for us where we can present the proper paperwork, everything that we need and go about our way?”

In Debt Ceiling Talks, COVID-Era Spending Surrenders to Focus on Deficit

One outcome is clear as Washington reaches for a budget deal in the debt ceiling standoff: The ambitious COVID-19 era of government spending to cope with the pandemic and rebuild is giving way to a new focus on tailored investments and stemming deficits. 

President Joe Biden has said recouping unspent coronavirus money is “on the table” in budget talks with Congress. While the White House has threatened to veto Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling bill with its “devastating cuts” to federal programs, the administration has signaled a willingness to consider other budget caps. 

The end result is a turnaround from just a few years ago, when Congress passed and then-president Donald Trump signed the historic $2.2 trillion CARES Act at the start of the public health crisis in 2020. It’s a dramatic realignment even as Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act are now investing billions of dollars into paving streets, shoring up the federal safety net and restructuring the U.S. economy. 

“The appetite to throw a lot more money at major problems right now is significantly diminished, given what we’ve seen over the past several years,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonpartisan organization in Washington. 

The Treasury Department has warned it will begin running out of money to pay the nation’s bills as soon as June 1, though an estimate Friday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget office put the deadline at the first two weeks of June, potentially buying the negotiators time. 

“We’ve not reached the crunch point yet,” Biden told reporters Saturday before flying to Delaware for the weekend. “There’s real discussion about some changes we all could make. We’re not there yet.” 

The contours of an agreement between the White House and Congress are within reach even if the political will to end the standoff is uncertain. Negotiators are considering clawing back some $30 billion in unused COVID-19 funds, imposing spending caps over the next several years and approving permitting reforms to ease construction of energy projects and other developments, according to those familiar with the closed-door staff discussions. They were not authorized to discuss the private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The White House has been hesitant to engage in talks, insisting it is only willing to negotiate over the annual budget, not the debt ceiling, and Biden’s team is skeptical that McCarthy can cut any deal with his far-right House majority. 

“There’s no deal to be had on the debt ceiling. There’s no negotiation to be had on the debt ceiling,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

McCarthy’s allies say the White House has fundamentally underestimated what the new Republican leader has been able to accomplish — first in the grueling fight to become House speaker and now in having passed the House bill with $4.5 trillion in savings as an opening offer in negotiations. Both have emboldened McCarthy to push hard for a deal. 

“The White House has been wrong every single time with understanding where we are with the House,” said Russ Vought, president of Center for American Renewal and Trump’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget. “They’re dealing with a new animal.” 

The nation’s debt load has ballooned in recent years to $31 trillion. That’s virtually double what it was during the last major debt ceiling showdown a decade ago, when Biden, as vice president to President Barack Obama, faced the new class of tea party Republicans demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit. 

Much of the COVID-19 spending approved at the start of the pandemic has run its course and government spending is back to its typical levels, experts said. That includes the free vaccines, small business payroll funds, emergency payments to individuals, monthly child tax credits and supplemental food aid that protected Americans and the economy. 

“Most of the big things we did are done — and they did an enormous amount of good,” said Sharon Parrott, president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. 

Last year, Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law over Republican opposition, was largely paid for with savings and new revenues elsewhere. 

The popularity of some spending, particularly the child tax credits in the COVID-19 relief and the Inflation Reduction Act’s efforts to tackle climate change, shows the political hunger in the country for the kinds of investments that some Americans believe will help push the U.S. fully into a 21st century economy. 

As McCarthy’s House Republicans now demand budget reductions in exchange for raising the debt limit, they have a harder time saying what government programs and services, in fact, they plan to cut. 

House Republicans pushed back strenuously against Biden’s claims their bill would slash veterans and other services. 

McCarthy, in his meeting with the president, went so far as to tell Biden that’s “a lie.” 

The Republicans promise they will exempt the Defense Department and veterans’ health care once they draft the actual spending bills to match up with the House debt ceiling proposal, but there are no written guarantees those programs would not face cuts. 

In fact, Democrats say if Republicans spare defense and veterans from reductions, the cuts on the other departments would be as high as 22%. 

Budget watchers often reiterate that the debt problem is not necessarily the amount of the debt load, approaching 100% of the nation’s gross domestic product, but whether the federal government can continue making the payments on the debt, especially as interest rates rise. 

US-Mexico Border Sees Orderly Crossings as New Migration Rules Take Effect

The U.S.-Mexico border was relatively calm as the United States ended its pandemic-era immigration restrictions and migrants adapted to new asylum rules and legal pathways meant to discourage illegal crossings.

A full day after the rules known as Title 42 were lifted, migrants and government officials on Friday were still assessing the effects of new regulations adopted by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in hope of stabilizing the Southwest border region and undercutting smugglers who charge migrants to get there.

Migrants are now essentially barred from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they did not first apply online or seek protection in the countries they traveled through. Families allowed in as their immigration cases progress will face curfews and GPS monitoring. Those expelled can now be barred from reentry for five years and face possible criminal prosecution.

Across the river from El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, many migrants watched their cellphones in hopes of getting a coveted appointment to seek entry. The official app to register to enter the U.S. underwent changes this week, as it offers appointments for migrants to enter through land crossings.

Many migrants in northern Mexico resigned themselves to waiting for an appointment rather than approaching the border without authorization.

“I hope it’s a little better and that the appointments are streamlined a little more,” said Yeremy Depablos, 21, a Venezuelan traveling with seven cousins who has been waiting in Ciudad Juarez for a month. Fearing deportation, Depablos did not want to cross illegally. “We have to do it the legal way.”

The U.S. Homeland Security Department said it has not witnessed any substantial increase in immigration.

Migrants still coming via south

But in southern Mexico, migrants including children still flocked to railways at Huehuetoca on Friday, desperate to clamor aboard freight trains heading north toward the U.S.

The legal pathways touted by the Biden administration consist of a program that permits up to 30,000 people a month from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter if they apply online with a financial sponsor and enter through an airport.

About 100 processing centers are opening in Guatemala, Colombia and elsewhere for migrants to apply to go to the U.S., Spain or Canada. Up to 1,000 can enter daily through land crossings with Mexico if they secure an appointment on the app.

If it works, the system could fundamentally alter how migrants come to the southern border. But Biden, who is running for reelection, faces withering criticism from migrant advocates, who say he’s abandoning more humanitarian methods, and from Republicans, who claim he’s soft on border security. Two legal challenges already loom over the new asylum restrictions.

Title 42 was initiated in March 2020 and allowed border officials to quickly deport asylum seekers on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. But with the national emergency officially over, the restrictions have ended.

Fears of deportation

While Title 42 prevented many from seeking asylum, it carried no legal consequences for expulsion like those under the new rules.

In El Paso on Friday, a few dozen migrants lingered outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church and shelter, on streets where nearly 2,000 migrants were camped as recently as Tuesday.

The Rev. Daniel Mora said most of the migrants took heed of flyers distributed by U.S. immigration authorities offering a “last chance” to submit to processing and left. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said that 1,800 migrants turned themselves over to Customs and Border Protection on Thursday.

Melissa Lopez, executive director for Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services at El Paso, said many migrants have been willing to follow the legal pathway created by the federal government, but there are fears about deportation and possible criminal penalties for crossing the border illegally.

Border holding facilities in the U.S. were already far beyond capacity in the run-up to Title 42’s expiration.

In Florida, a federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump has temporarily halted the administration’s plans to release people into the U.S.

Customs and Border Protection said it would comply but called it a “harmful ruling that will result in unsafe overcrowding” at migrant processing and detention facilities.

A court date has been scheduled on whether to extend the ruling.

Migrant-rights groups also sued the Biden administration on allegations that its new policy is no different than one adopted by Trump — and rejected by the same court.

The Biden administration says its policy is different, arguing that it’s not an outright ban but imposes a higher burden of proof to get asylum and that it pairs restrictions with newly opened legal pathways.

At the Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana on Friday, a few migrants approached U.S. authorities after not being able to access the appointment app. One of them, a Salvadoran man named Jairo, said he was fleeing death threats back home.

“We are truly afraid,” said Jairo who was traveling with his partner and their 3-year-old son and declined to share his last name. “We can’t remain any longer in Mexico and we can’t go back to Guatemala or El Salvador. If the U.S. can’t take us, we hope they can direct us to another country that can.”

Too tired to cook. Too easy to open a packet. It’s not our fault we eat junk | Rebecca Seal

We’re shamed if we make ‘bad’ choices on diet, but Big Food and an overwork culture are the real culprits

We live in a toxic food environment, and Big Food has extremely clever marketers and food scientists. That all of us eat a lot of Big Food’s produce means those people are very good at their jobs. It doesn’t mean we have failed if we eat what the industry makes.

In the UK, about 50% of the average adult’s diet, and 65% of a child’s, is ultra-processed. As Dr Chris Van Tulleken’s latest book, Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food… and Why Can’t We Stop?, points out, that means much of what we eat includes newly invented substances that humans haven’t eaten before and we know very little about how they interact with us, or each other.

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