The Early Edition: August 13, 2019

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IMMIGRATION

The Trump administration unveiled a sweeping rule yesterday targeting hundreds of thousands of low-income immigrants whose lack of financial resources are deemed likely to make them a burden on taxpayers. The long-anticipated, 837-page “public charge” regulation, pushed by President Trump’s leading aide on immigration White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, takes effect Oct. 15 and would reject applicants for temporary or permanent visas if they fail to meet high enough income standards or if they receive public assistance such as welfare, food stamps, public housing or Medicaid, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan report at the New York Times.

The regulation is expected to dramatically reshape the U.S. immigration system, according to experts who say the rule could cut legal immigration in half. Officials have said the program – which is the latest part of Trump’s efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration – would not apply to people who already have green cards, to certain members of the military, to refugees and asylum-seekers, or to pregnant women and children, Abigail Hauslohner, Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti and Tracy Jan report at the Washington Post.

Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli claimed the new regulation would encourage “self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to or stay in the United States.” In response to questions in the White House briefing room over whether the rule is unfairly targeting low-income immigrants, Cuccinelli said: “we certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet, so if people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident;” New York Attorney General Letitia James yesterday evening announced her plans to sue to block the rule, Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands and Tami Luhby report at CNN.

The Trump administration is relying on Guatemala to curb migration – but the country’s new President Alejandro Giammattei will not stop citizens leaving, Anna-Catherine Brigida argues at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Democrats yesterday requested that the same judge decide whether lawmakers can acquire materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury and testimony from ex-White House counsel Don McGahn – alleging both cases seek evidence related to possible impeachment of President Trump. In a nine-page filing submitted yesterday, Democrats explained why the two cases should be deemed related, saying “the same underlying Committee investigation of the same Presidential misconduct is at the heart of both matters before this Court;” the legal brief further argued that it would be in the interests of “judicial economy” to have the same judge rule on both cases, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Democratic lawmakers criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for blocking Congress’s attempts to pass legislation to mandate better U.S. election security after attending the world’s largest hacker conference with cyber experts last weekend. “Why hasn’t Congress fixed the problem? two words: Mitch McConnell,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said during a Friday keynote address; Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told POLITICO it is “stupid to have the view that states have the right to have poor election security,” adding: “the federal government certainly has [a] responsibility to make sure that we have strong election security all over America … no state has a right to have voting machines that can be easily hacked,” Eric Geller reports at POLITICO.

A detailed look at the status of the impeachment process and where it is likely headed is provided by Fred Wertheimer at Just Security.

RUSSIA

U.S. President Trump yesterday declared his administration is “learning much” from a mysterious blast in northern Russia last Thursday that reportedly occurred during the test of a nuclear missile. “The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia … we have similar, though more advanced, technology,” Trump stated in a message sent on Twitter, adding: “the Russian ‘Skyfall’ explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond … not good!” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Questions remain about the severity of the explosion; a U.S. official told C.N.N. that the blast was “likely” to have involved a prototype of the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, a cruise missile powered by a small nuclear reactor that allows it to travel long distances, Nathan Hodge reports at CNN.

“The Kremlin should have understood with brutal clarity after Chernobyl that there can be no secrecy surrounding a nuclear accident … no matter how great or small … no matter how clandestine its source,” the New York Times editorial board argues, calling on Russian authorities to provide more information on last week’s explosion at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site in northern Russia.

“Russia’s catastrophic test of a nuclear-powered missile proves that a new global arms race will mean new nuclear accidents,” Jeffrey Lewis comments at Foreign Policy, warning “there are human beings out in the real world who will bear the costs of [testing new technologies].”

SYRIA

A U.S. delegation travelled to Turkey yesterday to begin creating an operations center to coordinate a planned safe zone in Syria, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced yesterday. The six-person delegation arrived in the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, where “work is underway to establish a Joint Action Center for the Safe Zone, which is planned to be coordinated with the US in the north of Syria,” according to a message sent on Twitter by Ankara’s Ministry of National Defense; in a separate message, Turkey described the work as “preliminary preparation,” predicting that an operation center will be running “in the coming days,” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

So long as the U.S. remains in control of the al-Tanf region in Syria – it has legal and moral responsibility to protect civilians stranded at the Rukban camp located there, Ambassador Robert Ford and Carolyn O’Connor argue at Just Security.

AFGHANISTAN

As the U.S. tries to broker a deal with the Taliban on pulling its troops from Afghanistan – “the country’s security forces are in their worst state in years,” Rod Nordland and David Zucchino write at the New York Times, commenting on reports from local military commanders and civilian officials which suggest Afghan forces are “almost completely on the defensive in much of the country.”

A full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan raises serious concerns about Islamist terror groups and insurgencies, Stephanie Findlay, Farhan Bokhari and Aime Williams write at the Financial Times, noting that “if, and when, these forces fly home, the task of confronting [Afghanistan’s] resurgent Taliban would be left to the government in Kabul.”

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) yesterday called on U.A.E.-backed Yemeni southern separatists that took control of the southern port city of Aden to engage in dialogue to defuse the crisis. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan also said in a statement after meeting Saudi Arabia’s crown prince King Salman bin Abdulaziz in the kingdom that the two Gulf Arab allies would “adamantly confront any and all powers that threaten the safety and security of the region,” Al Jazeera reports.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels today launched drone attacks on the airport of Abha in southwest Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, according to reports by the Houthis’ al-Masirah T.V., Reuters reports.

“Clear divisions [amongst U.S. President Trump’s Arab allies] are getting harder to ignore,” Ishaan Tharoor writes in an analysis at the Washington Post, noting “it seems that Emirati support — in particular, military training — has bolstered the cause of the separatists, who have long wanted to split from the country’s more populous north.”

Key questions and answers about the different groups clashing in Aden and the impact the recent developments will have on Yemen’s peace prospects are fielded by Al Jazeera.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

China yesterday condemned the violent weekend demonstrations in Hong Kong and for the first time likened the protests to terrorism. “The radical demonstrators in Hong Kong have repeatedly attacked police with extremely dangerous tools in recent days, which constitutes a serious violent crime, and now they are descending into terrorism,” spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office in Beijing Yang Guang said, Timothy McLaughlin and Anna Kam report at the Washington Post.

The protests are leading Hong Kong down a “path of no return,” the city’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam cautioned today, as Hong Kong International Airport — one of the world’s busiest airports — struggled to recover from an unprecedented shutdown yesterday caused by a rally of thousands of protesters, AFP reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday issued a warning to the Chinese government against “any violent crackdown,” following reports that authorities in Hong Kong fired tear gas at protesters inside a subway station and charged demonstrators Sunday. “The people of Hong Kong are bravely standing up to the Chinese Communist Party as Beijing tries to encroach on their autonomy and freedom,” McConnell stated in a message sent on Twitter, adding “any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable … as I have said on the Senate floor: the world is watching,” Marina Pitofsky reports at the Hill.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet called on Hong Kong authorities today to “exercise restraint” and investigate evidence of its police firing tear gas at demonstrators in ways prohibited by international law. “Officials can be seen firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Bachelet said in a statement, adding that her office “urges the Hong Kong authorities to act with restraint, to ensure that the rights of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected, while ensuring that the response by law enforcement officials to any violence that may take place is proportionate,” Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Top Indian and Chinese diplomats met in Beijing today amid heightened tensions over New Delhi’s move to change the legal status of the Indian-administered portion of the disputed Kashmir region. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly told Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Beijing yesterday that China hopes India will “play a constructive role in regional peace and stability,” according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. The AP reports.

U.N. experts have launched an investigation into at least 35 instances in 17 countries of North Koreans using cyberattacks to illegally raise income for weapons of mass destruction programs — and are calling for sanctions to be issued against ships transporting gasoline and diesel to the nation, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Iran today announced that Britain might release its oil tanker Grace 1 soon, following the exchange of documents that would assist with the captured ship’s release, Reuters reports.

Washington is consulting with its allies over plans to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty, according to a senior U.S. diplomat – a move China vowed it would respond to with countermeasures, the AP reports.

Venezuela’s pro-government legislature yesterday agreed to form a commission to weigh holding 2020 legislative elections early, a move that would provide an opportunity for the government to regain control of the opposition-dominated congress, Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas report at Reuters.

A detailed analysis of the new U.N. Security Council resolution on counter-terrorism and organized crime is provided by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin at Just Security, who warns that the resolution may make solving complex legal and political challenges using the law much more difficult. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).