Jul 26, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎸Happy Friday! Thank you to my Axios colleague, Shane Savitsky, who edits AM each morning and took the wheel solo today.

  • That let me enjoy country singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton last night in a gravel-floored outdoor pavilion in Bangor, Maine — a night of "Tennessee Whiskey" and Tennessee whiskey.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 797 words ... < 5 minutes.

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1 big thing: Trump turning away victims of violence and trafficking
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Data: USCIS, DOJ, RPC; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

In the name of getting tough on fraud, the Trump administration is making it harder for immigrants fleeing violence, persecution and trafficking to stay in the U.S., writes Axios' Stef Kight.

  • Since President Trump took office, denial rates for asylum seekers and T visas, which are for victims of human trafficking, have skyrocketed while the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has plummeted.

The big picture: Claims of domestic abuse or gang violence no longer qualify for asylum claims after a decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year — one of the biggest factors in the increased denial rates, former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Leon Rodriguez told Axios.

  • Requests for more evidence of sex or labor trafficking have increased for T visa applications, said Evangeline Chan, an immigration attorney who works with Safe Horizon, a nonprofit that cares for victims of crime and abuse.
  • There have also been more wrongful denials of asylum and T visas, which Chan attributes to overburdened courts and pressure from the administration for judges to meet quotas. "There are a lot of decisions being rushed," she said.

The other side: Advocates for cutting immigration, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, argue that the higher denial rates are due, at least in part, to a rise in asylum-seekers who do not qualify.

  • "The reality is that our asylum system is being abused by those seeking economic opportunity, not those fleeing persecution, exacerbating crisis after crisis at our Southern border and keeping those who truly need asylum at the back of the line," USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins told Axios.

The bottom line: "You can always reverse engineer intellectual justifications for what you're doing," Rodriguez said. "But I think it's really that political motivation that's behind all of this."

2. So long, sequester

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

In one of its last acts before August recess, the House passed a sweeping budget compromise hammered out between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, per the N.Y. Times.

  • The bill, which is expected to be passed by the Senate next week, raises "spending by hundreds of billions of dollars over existing caps and [allows] the government to keep borrowing to cover its debts" through July 2021.
  • "The success of the bill signals the sunset of the austere spending caps enforced by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a deal forged during Barack Obama’s presidency after a group of rebellious House Republicans demanded deep spending cuts in return for an extension of the debt ceiling."

Between the lines, via AP: "It amounts to a cease-fire to allow lawmakers to navigate through a series of tricky fiscal deadlines without politically exhausting battles."

3. Recess dulls impeachment drumbeat

Speaking of August recess, the House's upcoming 46-day summer break is historically long, and could seriously decrease the chance Dems eventually move to impeach President Trump, writes the WashPost's Paul Kane.

  • "Filling that void became more important after Wednesday’s testimony from Robert S. Mueller III landed without much drama."
  • "Even Democrats who viewed Mueller’s appearances positively now think that they have to work extra hard to build public support for beginning impeachment."

Why it matters: "Some Democrats had hoped that Mueller’s testimony would have been compelling enough to create a liberal echo to the 2009 August recess, when conservative activists flooded town halls to oppose the emerging Affordable Care Act and other large-spending items from the early days of the Obama administration."

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Parisians cool off under water jets in the Fontaine du Trocadéro yesterday as temperatures hit a new all-time high of 108.7°F in the French capital. (AP)

5. Shipping weighs on Amazon

Amazon ended its streak of posting record quarterly profits, missing analysts' expectations for Q2, reports The Wall Street Journal's Dana Mattioli (subscription):

  • Amazon's "profitability was hit in particular by surging shipping costs. The company spent heavily on making one-day shipping the standard for its Prime members."

P.S. ... SoftBank Group announced last night that it secured $108 billion for its second Vision Fund, a late-stage venture capital vehicle whose original $100 billion edition turned Silicon Valley upside down with investments in giants like Uber, DoorDash, GM Cruise and WeWork, writes Axios' Dan Primack.

  • SoftBank listed around a dozen groups that had signed memoranda of understanding to invest, including Apple and Microsoft.
  • There was no mention of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, which was the largest Fund 1 contributor.
6. 1 🐎 thing

Lil Nas X. Photo: HGL/Getty Images

Lil Nas X released his fourth (!) remix of smash hit "Old Town Road" yesterday, enlisting RM of South Korean pop supergroup BTS for the delightfully-named "Seoul Town Road."

  • Why it matters: The earworm has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-tying 16 weeks. The rapper's strategy of releasing regular remixes featuring huge names is a way to keep fans engaged — and streaming the song — as he eyes a record 17th week at #1.

Listen here.

Mike Allen

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