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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Migrants in Texas are waking up this morning to a new day of anxiety after a whirlwind of court orders yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, this is all part of a legal battle over an immigration enforcement law that the state of Texas passed last year. So this is the state weighing in on immigration. The law empowers police in Texas to arrest people that they suspect are living in the United States illegally and then allows local judges to order that migrants be deported to Mexico, regardless of what country they may be originally from. For several hours yesterday, the United States Supreme Court allowed this law to be enforced, and then a lower court hit the pause button again.

MARTIN: Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom is here with us with the latest. Good morning, Julian.

JULIAN AGUILAR, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So would you just start by walking us through all the legal developments yesterday and the arguments from both sides?

AGUILAR: Sure. So the law, known as SB4, was originally scheduled to take effect earlier this month, but the Biden administration and immigrant rights groups sued to block it. They argue that the measure is discriminatory and usurps the federal government's responsibility to enforce immigration law. Texas leaders, including Governor Greg Abbott, say the law is necessary because of President Biden's open border policies. They point to a record number of asylum-seekers entering the U.S. through Texas. The legal battle swiftly rose to the U.S. Supreme Court, and yesterday the High Court allowed the law to take effect. The justices didn't take a position on the merits of the case, but instead deferred to an original decision by a three-judge federal panel of the appeals court. Then, late last night, a different set of judges on the same appeals court voted 2 to 1 to keep that law blocked. And those judges will hear arguments today on whether it should be kept on hold as the case plays out.

MARTIN: So at any moment, perhaps as soon as today, the appeals court could allow the law to be implemented. And if that happens, what do we know about how local police might enforce it?

AGUILAR: So local law enforcement officers say they will comply, but they have concerns about how the law will affect their day-to-day operations. Sheriff Oscar Carrillo from Culberson County along the West Texas border says he supports the law, but he's also concerned about how much it could cost his rural border county and others like it.

OSCAR CARRILLO: I think we're going to be very selective about the cases we pick up. Our jail is at capacity as we speak today, and to start incarcerating undocumented people and charging them with misdemeanor crime is a discussion I'll have to have with my county attorney.

AGUILAR: That's a common sentiment. As officials have said, they don't have a lot of guidance on how to implement the law.

MARTIN: So let's say for the sake of argument that the law does take effect. If that happens, talk about some of the legal issues that people living in Texas might face.

AGUILAR: Sure. So civil and immigrant rights organizations, they have a lot of concerns. The chief among them is that police will have blanket authority to question somebody about their immigration status because of the way they look. Alan Lizarraga with the Border Network for Human Rights says he's concerned about the law's impact on people of color and mixed-status families in Texas.

ALAN LIZARRAGA: We know that this law is going to increase racial profiling. We know that this law is going to strip people of their constitutional rights. We know that this law is also going to lead to the mass criminalization of our communities.

AGUILAR: It's also been argued by opponents of the bill that a migrant with a legitimate claim to asylum could have their case put in jeopardy because of this law, as they could face state criminal charges.

MARTIN: And what are officials in Mexico saying about all this?

AGUILAR: Yeah, there was a strong response from the Mexican government in the short time the law was in effect. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it won't accept migrants that have been deported under the Texas law. It also said it will file a brief in opposition to SB4 that highlights the challenges the law presents to the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

MARTIN: That's Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom. Julian, thank you.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Six former Mississippi police officers who pleaded guilty to torturing two Black men are being sentenced this week in federal court.

INSKEEP: This story, which lasts about four minutes, includes details of violence. The officers raided a home early last year. Officers shot one of the men inside, then planted drugs and a gun at the scene to cover it up.

MARTIN: With us now is Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Michael McEwen. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL MCEWEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So you were in the courtroom yesterday in Jackson for the sentencing hearing. Tell us what happened.

MCEWEN: Yeah. So two of the six former Rankin County police officers began their sentencing yesterday. They were part of a group self-styled as the Goon Squad. And in January of 2023, they broke into a home where two Black men lived, brutalized them for more than two hours, tortured them, sexually assaulted them and then tried to cover it up. Hunter Elward, who was a deputy at the time of the raid, was sentenced to 20 years yesterday. He faced the most time under sentencing guidelines, mostly because he shot Michael Corey Jenkins in the mouth in a mock execution that went awry. He was visibly shaking and crying in court and apologized directly to both of his victims. Lieutenant Jeffrey Middleton's hearing went much differently. His attorney really pushed the judge to sentence him differently from Elward. He argued his client played less of a role in the raid itself and that he didn't shoot a gun. But Judge Tom Lee gave Middleton 17 1/2 years, which was the highest allowed under his guidelines, because he said as a lieutenant, Middleton could have stopped the raid but instead participated.

MARTIN: I understand that new details in the case came out during this hearing.

MCEWEN: Yeah. Most interestingly, the power structure of the so-called Goon Squad really came to light. Federal prosecutors said it was Lieutenant Middleton who actually devised the plan to cover up the raid and the accidental shooting. He told his fellow officers that if they told anyone what happened, he'd have them killed. And he also planted a gun and meth on the scene to justify it. There was also testimony that pointed to current Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, and it alleged that he knew about the Goon Squad and tolerated it for years. It's also worth noting here that Eddie Parker and Michael Corey Jenkins are Black men, and not only were they brutalized, tortured and sexually assaulted, but were also called several racial slurs and were told by the all-white officers to go, quote, "back to their side of the river" in Jackson. And Rankin County, most notably, is a white suburban enclave just east of Jackson.

MARTIN: I understand that the two victims were in court for all this. How did they react to all this?

MCEWEN: So Eddie Parker says he still really struggles as a result of that night. He was sexually assaulted, and he had his life threatened if he reported the attack to any authorities. And he says that he's still afraid to fall asleep or even go into public. But he did stand up in the courtroom and say that he forgave Hunter Elward. Here he is speaking again after the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDDIE PARKER: What he's done - I forgive that boy, but other than that, he still did - you know what I'm saying? - what he did, and he got - he has to be punished for it.

MCEWEN: Michael Corey Jenkins, who was shot in the mouth and nearly killed, told me that he felt justice was beginning to be served, but that he didn't forgive Elward because he wasn't sorry, but is only sorry that he got caught.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, what's next?

MCEWEN: So the other four officers, including the sheriff department's lead investigator, will be sentenced two per day through tomorrow. And just from what I heard in court yesterday, I expect more details about how the Goon Squad operated to come out.

MARTIN: That is Michael McEwen with Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Michael, thank you.

MCEWEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Democrats face a narrow path to holding their Senate majority this November, and it runs through Ohio, a state Donald Trump has won twice.

INSKEEP: Senator Sherrod Brown is one of the few Democrats who have held Senate seats in red states, and now he knows his opponent for this fall. In a primary, Republicans endorsed Donald Trump's chosen candidate, Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno.

MARTIN: Karen Kasler is Statehouse News Bureau chief for Ohio's public radio and TV stations, and she's with us now. Good morning.

KAREN KASLER: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: You know, from here at least, this Senate primary race had seemed close in the polls. What gave Moreno the edge?

KASLER: Simply put, it was Donald Trump. His airport rally on Saturday in Dayton for Moreno was a big factor. A political action committee aligned with U.S. Senate Democrats had bought $2.7 million in ads in the final week, saying Moreno is too conservative for Ohio. His rivals accused Democrats of meddling in the primary because they viewed Moreno as the weakest candidate in the field. But those ads may actually have helped Moreno, who says he wears the Trump endorsement as a badge of honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE MORENO: I wonder whether Sherrod Brown is going to wear with honor his 99% voting record with Joe Biden, whether Joe Biden is the kind of person that he likes to associate with, because I would predict this. If Joe Biden enters Ohio, Sherrod Brown is going to fly out of here like a scared cat.

KASLER: Now, Brown has talked about positions where he has split from Biden, such as on immigration. But Brown comes into the race as a popular candidate who won Ohio after Trump did, and Brown has more money than all three of the Republicans who were running for the nomination had in total.

MARTIN: So could you just say more about how Trump's support influenced this race?

KASLER: Well, Moreno was the Trump-endorsed candidate. State Senator Matt Dolan had made it clear that he supported Trump's policies. He was not endorsed by Trump. He was the Ohio GOP establishment candidate, backed by Governor Mike DeWine and former Senator Rob Portman. They had not been enthusiastic about Trump, but had endorsed Trump in 2020. The third candidate in this race, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, had also worked really hard to get Trump's endorsement, but had fallen way behind in money to Moreno and Dolan, who were both wealthy.

MARTIN: So now that the GOP candidate has been decided - well, the Democratic candidate too - but what can we expect next?

KASLER: We can expect the most expensive U.S. Senate race in Ohio history. Democrats started attacking Moreno almost immediately after the race was called, by about 8:35 last night. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out a digital ad that featured criticisms of Moreno by Dolan and LaRose, his opponents. The Ohio Democratic Party has been pushing a narrative that whoever emerged from this brutal campaign would do so with a lot of baggage, and they've attempt to draw attention to Moreno's positions on immigration and on abortion. Meanwhile, Brown has a liberal voting record in the Senate but has appealed to blue-collar voters. He has strong support from unions. Democrats see him as a candidate who can appeal to moderate Ohioans and those frustrated with Trump. But Republicans say Moreno is uniting their base and that Ohio is firmly behind the former president.

MARTIN: That is Statehouse News Bureau chief Karen Kasler. Karen, thank you.

KASLER: Great to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.