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It's already a federal crime to enter the United States illegally from Mexico. Soon it's going to be a state crime in Texas under legislation Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed yesterday.


The measure means state and local police will be allowed to arrest people they believe are in the state illegally. Critics of the new law say it is unconstitutional, and they worry it will encourage racial profiling.

MARTÍNEZ: Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom is here to tell us about what this all means. So, Julian, what penalties are baked into this legislation?

JULIAN AGUILAR, BYLINE: So Senate Bill 4 - it makes it a Class B misdemeanor for people who cross the Rio Grande. And that's punishable up to six months in jail. That's a first offense. Any subsequent offense is a second-degree felony, and that jumps up to two to 20 years in prison. And this law is scheduled to take effect in early March.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so what's the argument for also making illegal crossings a state crime?

AGUILAR: So the biggest takeaway is Governor Abbott and his supporters say that they - Texas needs to do this because the federal government, the Biden administration, isn't enforcing the law on the books. You know, watching the governor's press conference when he did the bill signing, it's clear that the new law will empower state and local law enforcement near the border to crack down on unauthorized crossings, according to him. But the way it's written, it's a statewide bill, so this really applies across Texas. And advocates worry this is going to erode people's civil rights and specifically target mixed-status families. That's where at least one member is undocumented and the rest of the family are U.S. citizens.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the pushback that I keep hearing is that this law infringes on the federal government's power to regulate immigration. Is this designed to maybe trigger a lawsuit that would wind up in the Supreme Court?

AGUILAR: Right, correct. So Governor Abbott says President Biden's administration isn't doing enough to enforce existing immigration laws and that Texas has the sovereign right to do this. But it gets to the heart of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling over an Arizona immigration law, in which the court said local police didn't have the authority to arrest people solely based on their immigration status. You know, legal experts I talked to, they say issues like abortion, gun control - these are domestic issues, but immigration is a federal issue because it involves cooperations with other countries.

MARTÍNEZ: So how does all of this fit into Texas Republicans' other efforts to try and take control of immigration powers?

AGUILAR: Sure, it just adds to the list of what the state has done over the last few years, including Operation Lone Star, which is a state-based initiative that sent thousands of law enforcement to the border. You have the governor also ordering concertina wire to be strung up on the northern banks of the Rio Grande. He's deployed the National Guard down to the border. And, you know, he's also installed a floating barrier over a stretch of the Rio Grande. And that's tied up in the appellate court right now after he was sued to remove this barrier. He's also bused thousands of folks to so-called sanctuary cities that are led by Democrats. So this is just one more thing that the governor is doing to sort of challenge the federal government's authority.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Julian, what happens then, if federal officials and state officials both want to make an arrest or prosecute the same person? Who gets priority?

AGUILAR: Sure. That's one of the ambiguities about Senate Bill 4. The state and federal officials work together under Operation Lone Star already, but because this is a new bill, we're going to have to wait and see how it plays out.

MARTÍNEZ: That's reporter Julian Aguilar from the Texas Newsroom. Julian, thanks a lot.

AGUILAR: Thank you for having me on.


MARTÍNEZ: The U.S. Department of Defense is sending a naval task force to the Red Sea to try to prevent attacks on cargo and tanker ships.

MARTIN: Houthi rebels, who control part of Yemen and get weapons and training from Iran, have launched missile and drone attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea in recent weeks.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, for more, I'm joined by Paul McLeary, who covers national security for Politico. Paul, why are Houthi rebels waging these attacks right now?

PAUL MCLEARY: Thanks for having me on. It's - I mean, this stems from the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and the Israeli response. The Houthi rebels have been sponsored economically and militarily by Iran. So they're basically like other militant groups in Syria and in Iraq in recent weeks that have attacked U.S. bases there. They're kind of taking their marching orders from Tehran here. So they said they're going to be attacking all commercial shipping coming in or out of Israel. But what they're really doing is attacking any commercial shipping in the Red Sea. There's been about 12 attacks over the past month or so on commercial shipping. And these are not ships that have been related to Israel really in any way. And it's really disrupted commercial shipping in the entire region.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So the U.S.'s response is this task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian. What's that supposed to do?

MCLEARY: Yeah, it's a 10-nation task force that kind of is falling underneath an existing task force that's already in the Red Sea region led by the United States, based in Bahrain, that has a counterpiracy mission. That has 39 nations that either contribute ships or naval officers to the mission. This task force, the newest one, the Operation Prosperity Guardian is 10 countries - U.K., Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the Seychelles. Not all of those countries are going to contribute ships. The U.S. has several ships in the Red Sea. The U.K. has one. France has one. The Canadian and Norwegian officials told me late Monday that they're sending naval officers to the headquarters there, but it doesn't look like they'll be providing ships.

MARTÍNEZ: I spoke to someone yesterday who mentioned how some of the things that are being shipped in these corridors are things that people use every single day. So a disruption could be pretty major. How are the attacks affecting trade?

MCLEARY: Already BP, the oil giant, has said that they're going to curtail their shipping in the region. Maersk has done the same. The Norwegian shipbuilders union and a German firm have also either said that they will try to go around the Red Sea or curtail shipping. So it's - we haven't seen the effects yet, but it'll be pretty quickly, I think, that - over the next week or two or several weeks, that we'll really start seeing some disruptions in supply chains and things like that, moving from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean.

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing, Paul, really quick before we let you go. I notice that the U.S. - OK? - is addressing all this with a multinational task force instead of, say, maybe attacking Houthi-controlled sites in Yemen. Is the idea there maybe to prevent this from becoming a larger, bigger conflict?

MCLEARY: Yes, the United States is loath to attack inside Yemen. I mean, there's been peace talks between Saudi and the Houthis in Yemen that we don't want to see disrupted. But we just moved the Eisenhower aircraft carrier off the coast of Yemen, so attacks might be forthcoming. I mean, the U.S. is definitely positioned to act militarily.

MARTÍNEZ: Paul McLeary covers national security for Politico. Paul, thank you.

MCLEARY: Thank you.


MARTÍNEZ: All right. The Vatican, with approval from Pope Francis, has issued a declaration allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples.

MARTIN: The new ruling marks a change in the church's position on same-sex relationships, but the declaration makes clear that a blessing does not mean approval of same-sex marriage, and it doesn't permit priests to officiate at them. So what does it mean?

MARTÍNEZ: For answers, we're joined by Deena Prichep, who covers religion for NPR. And it was just - what? - 2 1/2 years ago that the Catholic Church said it could not bless same-sex unions because, quote, "God does not bless sin." Deena, did God have a change of heart?

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Well, there have been rumblings of a statement coming down that would reverse that ruling you mentioned. In October, the Vatican published a letter that Pope Francis wrote earlier this year saying blessings could be studied if they were distinct from the sacrament of marriage, and bishop conferences, primarily in Europe, have been working on these sorts of blessings.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, pretty limited declaration. How much does it actually change?

PRICHEP: The new document is very clear to say this is not recognizing or even blessing same-sex marriages. It's a blessing for the couple, not the union. It's not a liturgical ceremony. It can't be part of a church service. But it is a blessing. And the document itself says a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God's will and that blessing of same-sex couples should not be a subject - should not be subject to an exhaustive moral analysis.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, got a lot of family members who are Catholics, and we had a lot of conversations about this. So what's the reaction been from Catholics worldwide?

PRICHEP: I don't know about your family, but it's been very mixed. There are those who say it's not that big a deal. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a statement saying the church's teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that. But I also talked to Marianne Duddy-Burke, who heads DignityUSA, which is a Catholic LGBTQ rights organization. And she says even though it's not a full recognition of marriage, she says it does recognize a sacredness in relationships between people of the same gender.

MARIANNE DUDDY-BURKE: This is a step and, I would say, a significant milestone in what we all know is a long journey to full equality, full inclusion, full access to all of the church's sacraments.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what's the pushback to the change?

PRICHEP: Well, there is pushback. I talked with Father Gerald Murray, the pastor of Church of the Holy Family in New York City.

GERALD MURRAY: It's a disaster because the church is changing the way it approaches mortal sin. In other words, the church teaches that the law of God has been laid down by Christ, and that does not include the approval of homosexual activity.

MARTÍNEZ: So then is this creating or at least highlighting maybe a divide within the church?

PRICHEP: Well, Father Murray at Church of the Holy Family would say yes.

MURRAY: Because the pope is supposed to lead us in the faith, not change the faith.

PRICHEP: I should note, this document does not require priests to do any sort of blessing. It just offers the option. But there are people like Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, who says the church has been divided for a while, and this is the right path to take.

DUDDY-BURKE: I have seen many, many people leave the Catholic Church because of the exclusionary practices and teachings. I look at every one of those departures as an amputation in the body of Christ.

PRICHEP: And what may be extraordinary is just how quickly this change happened. I mean, this overturns a very direct statement of just 2 1/2 years ago, which apparently in Vatican time is the blink of an eye.

MARTÍNEZ: Deena Prichep contributes to NPR's coverage of religion. Deena, thank you very much for your reporting on this.

PRICHEP: You're welcome.

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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.
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.