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News brief: China protests, Supreme Court immigration case, U.S.-Iran soccer match

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

China is cracking down on mass protests that broke out over the weekend.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The protests drew on deep public dissatisfaction with the country's strict COVID controls. A Chinese government official blamed the unrest on, quote, "forces with ulterior motives."

MARTIN: We've got NPR's China correspondent Emily Feng with us. She joins us from Taiwan. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the police are getting involved. What does that response look like?

FENG: Right. They're doing a quiet clean-up of all the demonstrators. Basically, there's been an intense police presence on the ground, and then protesters tell me they're getting phone calls on their private mobile phones from police, asking them where they were the last couple of nights and whether they continue to plan to go to, quote, "illegal protests." And there have been spot arrests over the last day. If you go to sites where there had been previously demonstrations, they're now completely fenced off - in Beijing, Shanghai, elsewhere. If you want to go for a walk there at night, you're definitely going to be asked for your ID several times. And people, at least in Beijing, where I used to live, they're stopping random people and checking their phones for apps like Telegram and Instagram because video and information about the protests had been shared there over the last couple of days.

MARTIN: Wow. So they're clearly feeling the pressure from these demonstrations. Does that mean they are signaling in some way that they might ease up on some of these strict COVID rules?

FENG: They've modified them slightly. So the southern city of Guangzhou said it would reduce some mass testing to conserve resources. They did not mention the demonstrations at all as a reason. The region of Xinjiang, where the protests began last week, said it was going to lift parts of its lockdown because it just didn't have COVID cases. And Beijing said it would no longer barricade buildings where they did discover cases, and they would improve management of testing, but they didn't really offer many other specifics.

In general, the overall direction of China's zero-COVID policies has not changed at all, and there's been no official acknowledgement that these demonstrations even happened over the weekend. All mentions of them are being deleted online, and when officials do mention them, they've been trying to discredit the protesters by claiming they were paid off by hostile countries like the U.S. This is a conspiracy theory with no evidence, but it's frequently trotted out in China whenever there are problems. And over the weekend, some protesters addressed this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Here's one protester shouting, "How can we be a foreign force? We can't even access the foreign internet. How can foreign forces communicate with us? It's only domestic forces that are forbidding us from gathering and demonstrating."

MARTIN: Which is a brave thing to say out loud, frankly. So what does this mean? With all this government intervention in these protests, are they going to subside? Are they going to stop now?

FENG: That's what it looks like. It certainly looks like the heavy, heavy policing today is having an effect. There were some brave souls who tried to go out and protest late last night in the southern city of Hangzhou, but within minutes, there were literally more police than protesters, and they started dragging individual demonstrators away. Instead, these protests are actually going international. I've noticed that there are dozens of protests already in American and European cities, often outside Chinese embassies or on college campuses, where Chinese students and people are gathering in sympathy with the protests in China. And it's the force - it's these protests outside of China right now that are gaining force because people inside China can't get together.

MARTIN: NPR's China correspondent Emily Feng. Emily, thank you.

FENG: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a long-running dispute over how to enforce immigration laws.

MARTÍNEZ: The Biden administration wants to set guidelines for who can be arrested and deported, but a group of states, including Texas, argue that such guidelines prevent immigration authorities from doing their jobs.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose has been covering the case and joins us this morning. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Explain what this case is all about.

ROSE: Yeah. For years now, the guidance about immigration enforcement has swung sharply from one administration to the next. Under former President Trump, immigration authorities were empowered to arrest and deport anyone who was living in the U.S. without legal authorization. Here's then-acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, testifying before Congress in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS HOMAN: If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.

ROSE: When the Biden administration took office, it put on the brakes. Instead of arresting and deporting anyone they encountered, immigration authorities were given a new set of priorities.

MARTIN: And what were those priorities?

ROSE: The Biden administration created a much narrower set of enforcement priorities. Here's how Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained them in an interview last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: We have guided our workforce to exercise its discretion to focus on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.

ROSE: Mayorkas framed this approach as an example of prosecutorial discretion. It is widely agreed that ICE doesn't have the resources to arrest or deport all 11 million people, roughly, living in the country without authorization, so Mayorkas and others argue that ICE officers should use their discretion to focus on the biggest threats to the public. And there had been official immigration priorities at DHS before, including under former President Obama, but a number of Republican attorneys general decided to push back, and they went to court to try to block these priorities.

MARTIN: So why? Like, why do Republican attorneys general have an issue with prioritizing people who would be a risk to national security?

ROSE: Well, they argue that the Biden administration had overstepped its legal authority here and that these new priorities were actually preventing ICE officers and agents from doing their jobs, from enforcing the nation's immigration laws. Under the Biden administration's priorities, simply being in the country without legal authorization is generally not by itself enough justification to arrest or deport someone. But immigration hard-liners say that is a change that only Congress could make. That's one of the arguments the states of Texas and Louisiana made in court earlier this year. And a federal judge in Texas agreed. He threw out the administration's priorities in June. The Biden administration appealed. And the case has quickly made its way up to the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: And as is the case with cases that go all the way up to the Supreme Court, there are often larger implications, right?

ROSE: Definitely. I mean, this case has big implications for immigration policy. If the lower court ruling is upheld, advocates fear it will pave the way for immigration authorities to arrest and detain more immigrants, even those without criminal records. But it could also have implications for this idea of prosecutorial discretion itself. I talked to one former Homeland Security official who was the head of ICE during the George W. Bush administration. She says every law enforcement agency needs to exercise discretion about how to use its limited resources. And while she might not agree with Secretary Mayorkas about what the priorities should be, it is clearly his call to make.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thanks.

ROSE: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Big soccer game today. It's a match between the U.S. and Iran at the World Cup in Qatar.

MARTÍNEZ: I was about to correct you, Rachel. It is a match.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: And this highly anticipated showdown will determine which of the two teams advances to the next round. There's also concern about the growing political tension surrounding the match, involving disputes between Iranian fans and the soccer federations representing the two countries.

MARTIN: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is in Doha, Qatar, and joins us now. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: It's pretty much make it or break it at this point for the U.S., right?

GOLDMAN: Pretty much.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: You know, this is such a biggie. It will determine which team moves into prized territory, the knockout round, the final 16 teams, where every match is a win-or-you're-out contest. And for most teams, it's a measure of success to get to the knockout stage. Now, the U.S. has to win to advance. Iran's situation a bit easier - it can draw and still move on. Then there's the big picture for the U.S. - advancing would be validation of the last four years under coach Gregg Berhalter, basically showing that the U.S. is on the right path after the disaster of failing to qualify for the last World Cup in 2018. Berhalter acknowledged yesterday it's probably unfair to have four years come down to one match, but it's the reality, and he said, we'll deal with it.

MARTIN: So what should we look for?

GOLDMAN: Well, Iran showed it's capable of sustained, aggressive play in its impressive win over Wales. It won that match 2-0.

MARTIN: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: U.S. captain - team captain Tyler Adams said he expects more of that attack mentality today from the Iranians, although there's some thinking that since Iran could advance with a draw, it may play a bit more conservatively, kind of hang back and then strike with counterattacks, knowing that the U.S. is going to be aggressively looking to score throughout the match.

MARTIN: What about the U.S.? I mean, at this point, they actually need to win a soccer game, not just tie them.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. They have played very good defense in this World Cup. Berhalter says that's kept them in the two matches up to now that they've played. But he acknowledges what many say - the U.S. has to find ways to score. The team has only scored one goal in the first match against Wales. And the problem seems to be twofold - players not delivering quality final passes that can be knocked in for goals, and also, when those passes are there, players aren't finishing the job and scoring. As you say, that has to change because the U.S. can't win this thing without a goal or two or more.

MARTIN: Yeah, let's go for more. So that's the actual game. Let's talk about the political backdrop because we have seen protests against the Iranian government throughout the World Cup. Are more likely today?

GOLDMAN: Well, we're expecting an increase in security after the clashes between Iranian fans here, fans who support and oppose the Iranian government for its crackdown on protests in Iran following the death in September of a young Iranian woman in police custody. Then you have the flag flap after the U.S. Soccer Federation doctored depictions of the Iranian flag on social media, an action that prompted the Iranian federation to say the U.S. should be kicked out of the World Cup. And now it's being reported families of the Iranian players are being threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players join in any way the protests against the Iranian government.

You remember the players refused to sing during their anthem before the first match against England. They sang before the Wales match after that, reportedly after being visited and warned by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. So, Rachel, there you go - a soccer match fraught with meaning and possible risk and, from a strictly football standpoint, one that promises great excitement.

MARTIN: Indeed. NPR's Tom Goldman at the World Cup. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.