White House mulls overhaul of asylum system – National & International News – THU 1Apr2021

White House mulls overhaul of asylum system. NY legalizes recreational cannabis. EU considers Russian vaccines. Hong Kong convicts activists.


White House mulls overhaul of asylum system

The Biden administration is considering measures that would help streamline asylum proceedings for migrants. Currently the Department of Justice presides over asylum hearings. The DOJ has 530 judges reviewing asylum cases, with a current backlog of over 1.2 million cases. The White House’s plan would shift some of the caseload to asylum officers in the Department of Homeland Security. DHS has 860 case offices with a pending caseload of 350,000. DHS head Alejandro Mayorkas claims the move would shorten asylum processes “from years to months”.

Proponents of the plan say that cutting wait times will discourage less deserving applicants from pursuing the process. Any migrant citing some fear of persecution at home can gain temporary residence and potentially a work permit as they wait, sometimes years for their court dates. As one source put it, “The big flaw in the system right now is your family comes in, they’re going to process you, you may end up with an ankle bracelet and an asylum hearing in three years”. This leaves a well-meaning system open to abuse, and makes it “really hard to explain to the country that it’s not just an open door”.

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New York latest state to legalize recreational marijuana

New York has joined 15 other US states in legalizing recreational marijuana. New Yorkers can now possess and use up to 3 ounces of cannabis without fear of prosecution. The state will also start expunging the criminal records of individuals with certain past marijuana convictions. 

Sales of recreational marijuana will come once the state has drawn up regulations. The trade publication Marijuana Business Daily estimates that recreational marijuana sales in the state could generate $2.3 billion in annual sales by its fourth year. State Senator Liz Krueger believes that marijuana sales will have an effective tax rate of 20 or 21%. This will include 9% state sales tax, plus an additional 4% county and local tax and another tax based on the THC content

The tax revenues from cannabis sales would cover the state’s cost of enforcing related regulations. The remainder will then go to fund schools, drug treatment centers, mental health, and adult education and job skills training for communities that have long born the brunt of enforcement in the failed war on drugs.

The state will also provide loans, grants to encourage minority communities, small farmers, women and disabled veterans to participate in the cannabis growing and sales industry.

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France, Germany consider Russian vaccines

The chief of the WHO’s Europe division has described the continent’s vaccine rollout as “unacceptably slow”. As the US and UK have surged ahead in the vaccine race, only 10% of Europeans have received a single dose and only 4% are fully vaccinated. Several continental powers, including France and Germany, are headed towards their 3rd or 4th general lockdown in the last year.

EU leadership has blames manufacturers for the continent’s shortfall. But in reality, EU leaders sat on the fence for months last year, waiting to see which vaccines were the most promising. Meanwhile, the UK and US were investing widely and placing orders for vaccines still in development. The EU gambled that its production prowess would more than make up for their delay in picking which horses to back, but this has not proven to be the case. 

In a recent call with Russian President Putin, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron discussed the possibility of adding Russia’s Sputnik V jab to their vaccine arsenals. Merkel said Germany would order Sputnik V jabs if and when the European Medicines Agency approved them. France has been more hesitant, and their Foreign Minster Jean-Yves Le Drian has accused both Russia and China of using their vaccines to gain influence abroad.

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Hong Kong convicts 7 for 2019 pro-democracy rallies

A Hong Kong court has convicted 7 pro-democracy activists, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and politician Martin Lee for “unlawful assembly” in connection with a 2019 demonstration. Since the passage of a controversial security law last year, several activists have been retroactively prosecuted for their participation in massive 2019 demonstrations. Two other activists prosecuted under the law recently plead guilty and were sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. Lai and the others have not yet been sentenced.

Defense teams for the activists argued that Hong Kong’s constitution protects the right to assembly. Prosecutors countered that this right was “not absolute”.

Hong Kong’s political landscape has become increasingly hostile to any pro-democracy voices. The island’s pro-Beijing government recently passed a law that would prevent lawmakers in the city’s legislative council (LegCo) from being seated without swearing loyalty to Beijing. the Mainland Assembly also recently restricted the number of directly elected representatives in Hong Kong’s LegCo.

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