Morning News Brief Thousands of mostly Honduran migrants trek toward the U.S. Trump says the U.S. will withdraw from a nuclear treaty with Russia. And, why Georgia purges more than half a million voters from its rolls.
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Morning News Brief

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Morning News Brief

Morning News Brief

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A group of migrants has focused fresh attention on the flow of people from Central America.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

They've been labeled a caravan, some 7,000 people, many of them fleeing violence in Honduras. They're moving north, and some mean to reach the United States. Mexican authorities talked of stopping them, but let them pass into southern Mexico. Now, their journey comes amid a U.S. election campaign. And President Trump made a claim about what kind of people the migrants are with no evidence to back it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These are hardened criminals. These are tough, tough people. And I don't want them in our country.

GREENE: We have a reporter on the line, James Fredrick, who has been reporting on this group and joins us now from Mexico. Hi there, James.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So tell us where you are exactly at this moment, and tell us about the condition of the people in this caravan.

FREDRICK: So I am in the central part of Tapachula, Mexico, right now. It's about 20 miles north of the border with Guatemala. People here are sleeping right now. I mean, they are just sleeping on the ground here. The central park is packed. It was a brutal day yesterday. They walked more than 20 miles from the border to get to this town. Temperatures got above 90 degrees. It's really humid, and there are tons and tons of children, some elderly people here.

You know, yesterday was particularly hard for 34-year-old Gizelle Vasquez Cruz (ph), who I spoke to, because she's traveling with her three young children and a sister who has four children of her own.

GIZELLE VASQUEZ CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: So she says, "it's really hard because the kids have to walk. So we brought suitcases so we can store water and food people donate to us for the kids." She also said they actually feel kind of lucky to have these little rolling suitcases because they can get the kids to sit on the suitcases. They can pull them along just to make sure their young kids don't get so tired on these really, really, long, arduous walks.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, we're talking about weather, we're talking about exhaustion, we're talking about getting supplies. And in addition to all of those obstacles, it sounds like many questions about what governments were going to do in terms of letting them pass, right?

FREDRICK: Exactly. And it's been really difficult to figure out so far what exactly the Mexican strategy or plan is here. So I was walking with the caravan yesterday, and then we went ahead a couple of miles because the Mexican police had set up a huge blockade with hundreds of riot police. We were worried there was going to be another clash. And then a couple minutes later, Mexican police lifted that blockade, and the caravan continued marching as normal.

So it's been hard to figure out how Mexico (unintelligible) is going to continue responding to this. They're still in very far southern Mexico. We don't know if Mexico is going to try to use police to stop this caravan.

GREENE: And then of course, we have President Trump saying that they're not going to be allowed to come to the United States. Let me just ask you, James, I mean, migrants from Central America. This is not a new development, but this is a huge group. Does that tell us anything about how this story might be changing?

FREDRICK: Yeah. So you're right. Migrants from Central America, countries like Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador, have been coming to the U.S. for a long time in large numbers. But this thing of a caravan, talking to people here, what they say is that this is an opportunity to feel safer on this migrant route. So they have plenty of reasons for wanting to flee, of violence and poverty and things like that. And when they hear a caravan is happening, they said, this is a really good opportunity for us to not be so exposed on this migrant route that is really dangerous, and we can be in a big group and feel safer.

INSKEEP: Worth underlining the difference between the sound bites and what James Fredrick just reported from there on the ground. The president describes hardened criminals. The reporter, looking at the people, describes a mother with three children, a mother with four children. And the complexity there is a lot - it's just different than the sound bite. Although we should underline also, they do not have permission to enter the United States.

GREENE: Well, indeed. And that on-the-ground reporting came from James Fredrick, who is actually with that caravan in Mexico. James, we appreciate it.

FREDRICK: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: President Trump is saying that the United States is going to withdraw from a nuclear treaty with Russia that has been in place now for decades.

INSKEEP: Yeah. President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed that treaty in 1987. It's called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF treaty, and it banned the two powers from having particular kinds of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. This caused more than 2,500 weapons to be destroyed.

Now, in recent years, the Obama administration, in addition to President Trump's administration, have accused Russia of violating this agreement starting back in 2014. President Obama, though, decided not to withdraw from the treaty then because some European leaders expressed concerns that that could trigger an arms race.

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR's Lucian Kim, NPR's correspondent in Moscow. Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly is President Trump's argument here?

KIM: Well, the Trump administration is saying that Russia has been cheating for years. As Steve already mentioned, Obama already accused President Putin of testing a new cruise missile that violated the treaty, which the Kremlin denied. So these accusations have really been around for some time. And in fact, someone who has criticized them a lot is Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton. And he just arrived in Moscow over the weekend and is expected to deliver this message to Putin.

GREENE: That's interesting timing. So we might hear more about how the two countries are going to talk about this. Well, have the Russians said anything yet to this point after Trump made this announcement?

KIM: Well, the reaction we've been hearing over the weekend has been quite predictable. We're hearing officials calling it very dangerous, continuing blackmail. And one of the signatories of that agreement, Mikhail Gorbachev, said the withdrawal is not the work of a great mind and that it's a mistake.

But in fact, you know, this is not really a huge surprise. The recriminations are mutual. Russia has been saying that elements of the American anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe is in violation of the INF treaty. And some analysts here in Moscow say that Putin has actually wanted to end this treaty for a long time, but he wanted the U.S. to be the one to rip it up because there are a lot of other countries - first and foremost, China - that are developing these medium-range missiles, and Russia doesn't want to have its hands tied in countering those threats.

GREENE: That's interesting. So if Putin wanted this anyway, is this that big a deal? I mean, is this going to have ripple effects or not?

KIM: Well, it definitely has ripple effects. I mean, it feeds into this Russian argument that the U.S. is always taking unilateral action without consulting anyone else. There's really a widespread feeling in Russia that after the Cold War, the West, and especially the United States, didn't do enough to integrate Russia into some kind of new, overarching security agreement. So, you know, in 2002, the Bush administration left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Now we have Trump leaving the INF treaty. And this could endanger the so-called New START treaty negotiated by Obama, which is up for renewal.

GREENE: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Lucian, thanks, as always.

KIM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So in a single day in July of 2017, the state of Georgia purged more than half a million voters from its voter rolls. That's 8 percent of registered voters in the state.

INSKEEP: Wow. More than 100,000 of those voters were removed from the rolls because of a so-called use it or lose it policy. That is a policy in Georgia and at least nine other states that eliminates voters for deciding not to vote in some prior elections.

GREENE: And one reason we're talking about this this morning is because Georgia's secretary of state, who oversees voting and oversees the voter rolls, is Brian Kemp. And he happens to be the Republican candidate for governor. WABE's Johnny Kauffman is here to talk about this. He reported this story along with Reveal and APM Reports. Hey there, Johnny.

JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: Hey there.

GREENE: So tell us why this is significant.

KAUFFMAN: Well, this is a really close historic race for governor here right now. There's lots of national attention on it, and it's kind of seen as this sort of test for the 2020 presidential contest. And Brian Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black female governor in the country. And her strategy is all about boosting turnout among people of color, right? Democrats and civil rights groups say that these voters, they don't show up at the polls as regularly as Republicans. And so they say the use it or lose it purges disproportionately affect those voters and that really this is a new voter suppression tactic that Republicans are using to help them win.

GREENE: Is this an issue that seems to be capturing the attention of voters as this election gets closer?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah. This has become a big campaign issue. And we went to a small town in southwest Georgia called Moultrie. Most people there in the town are black or Latino, and turnout is really low. And we spoke to this man, named Reverend Cornelius Ponder, who's on the city council there. And he says part of that low turnout is because of all these obstacles to voting, including the purges. So here's a clip of ponder from our story that aired on the podcast Reveal.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "REVEAL")

CORNELIUS PONDER: It almost give people the mindset that this is a privilege, not a right. And so now anything that is a privilege has to get permission. And so if you don't do our way, we won't give you the permission to use this privilege.

KAUFFMAN: And so when it comes to the purges, Ponder's aunt, actually, was someone who was removed for not voting. She didn't know it. Her nephew didn't know it. And her story is kind of that she voted for Obama in 2008. She hasn't voted since then and she's thinking about voting for Abrams, but unless she registered before the deadline earlier this month, she may go to the polls and won't be able to vote. And Georgia doesn't have same-day voter registration, unlike some other states.

GREENE: Now, you actually spoke to Secretary Kemp, the Republican candidate who actually carried out this policy, right? I mean, what's his argument here?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah. Kemp says he's just following the law. And this is legal. The Supreme Court actually approved policies like this earlier this year. He says the state sends out multiple notifications before it removes people, and that this is in part a way of combating voter fraud. And Kemp says he has not been more aggressive in purging voters than previous secretaries of state. But the numbers show a big jump in people removed. We found 1.6 million have been removed since he took over.

GREENE: OK. WABE's Johnny Kauffman, along with Reveal and APM Reports, dug into a purge of more than 100,000 voters in Georgia, and that has become an issue in this coming election. Johnny, thanks a lot for all that reporting.

KAUFFMAN: You're welcome.

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