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Supreme Court leans in favor of Trump over Biden in asylum border dispute

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court justices gave a mostly skeptical hearing Tuesday to the Biden administration’s bid to repeal President Donald Trump’s policy that has required tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard.

Several of the court’s conservatives said they agreed with Texas state lawyers and Trump-appointed judges who ruled that U.S. immigration officials may not allow these migrants to enter this country and go free pending their hearing.

They pointed to a provision in the law that said asylum-seekers “shall be detained” while their claims are heard.

Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, representing the administration, argued there was no way the government could detain so many asylum-seekers for months or years. She cited a report that said there were 220,000 migrants apprehended at or near the border in March but only 32,000 beds in detention facilities.

“No one disputes that the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) does not have sufficient detention capacity” to hold all those migrants, she said.

The government’s only reasonable option, she said, was to release most of them if they are judged likely to return when their asylum claim is due to be heard.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh questioned whether that’s what Congress intended. Is there any hint “that anyone in Congress expected that if there was not sufficient detention capacity that hundreds of thousands of people would be paroled into the United States without being lawfully admitted?” he asked.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. agreed the administration’s position would permit unlimited number of migrants to be admitted and released.

“There aren’t enough beds in detention. So there is no limit, as you read the statute, to the number of people that you can release into the United States, right?” he told the solicitor general.

In 2019, the Trump administration chose a different option and sent many of the Central American migrants back to the Mexican side of the border. Its officials did so believing the move would deter more migrants from traveling north.

Immigrant rights advocates argued that Trump’s policy was cruel and inhumane. They said it forced tens of thousands of people from Central America to live in squalid conditions subject to violence and abuse. Upon taking office, President Joe Biden said he planned to repeal Trump’s policy.

But state lawyers for Texas and Missouri sued and last year won nationwide orders from judges that required the new administration to maintain the prior Trump policy. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order in the Texas case.

In August of last year, the justices by a 6-3 vote refused an emergency appeal seeking to overturn the judge’s orders. And there was no clear sign during Tuesday’s argument the majority will do so now.

Traditionally, the court has given the executive branch broad authority to enforce the immigration laws, including reversing the policies of prior administrations.

Prelogar said it would be a radical departure for the court to say the new administration must maintain the new policies put in place by the prior administration. Prior to 2019, no administration or member of Congress had asserted the immigration law required the government to detain every noncitizen who had a pending asylum claim, she said.

But lurking in the background is the long legal fight over DACA, the Obama-era policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Barack Obama used his authority under the immigration laws to suspend enforcement against young people who were brought illegally to this country when they were children.

Trump moved to repeal that policy, but judges in California and New York put the repeal on hold. Lawyers for Trump argued the new president had ample authority to revoke a discretionary enforcement policy adopted by Obama.

Two years ago, however, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote ruled against Trump and blocked the repeal.

Now in the case of Biden vs. Texas, the justices will rule on whether the new administration is free to repeal Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

A decision can be expected by late June.


Business
Microsoft likely to break ground this year on Malaga project

MALAGA — Microsoft likely will break ground on “cloud infrastructure” in Malaga this year.

Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority commissioners on Tuesday signed off on a purchase and sale agreement with Microsoft for about 102.5 acres. An inspection period is now underway until June 1 on the first of the two-phase deal.

“Today’s approval of the purchase and sale agreement by the Port Authority is an important step in our purchase of the Malaga properties,” a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an email. “We will proceed with the remaining work to finalize the purchase, and we anticipate closing the property purchase this summer.”

“Microsoft wants to expand their cloud infrastructure,” wrote Jim Kuntz, port CEO. “Would assume this means additional data centers.”

Microsoft didn’t respond to inquiries.

Kuntz said Microsoft plans to have a groundbreaking ceremony this year, at which the port wants to present a plaque to port commissioner Rory Turner, whose last port meeting was Tuesday. He announced in March he would resign April 30. The remaining five commissioners are considering two applicants to carry out the remainder of his term, until the November 2023 election, in which the appointee could run.

Kuntz said the closing dates for Microsoft on June 15 for Phase I and Nov. 18 for Phase II will be moved sooner if Microsoft’s due diligence finishes quicker. There also are contingencies that must be satisfied prior to closing, he said.

One of those is the aforementioned inspection period, in which Microsoft will “approve the physical condition and use of the property, the economic feasibility of ownership of the property and any other matters relating to the property,” “including without limitation, access, utility services, zoning, engineering and soils and environmental conditions,” according to the agreement. “The inspection condition must be satisfied or waived by the end of the inspection period.”

Phase I is the Lojo Property, 72.5 acres at 5375 Malaga Alcoa Highway. Microsoft will pay a $195,000 deposit before the final purchase price of about $6.6 million. The port purchased the Lojo site in September 2020 for $1.37 million.

Phase II is the Curtis and Torres properties. Curtis is 20 acres at 5351 Malaga Alcoa Highway and Torres is 10 acres at 5309 Malaga Alcoa Highway. Microsoft will pay an $80,000 deposit before the final purchase price of about $2.6 million for the pair. The port bought the Curtis Property for $1.5 million on April 11 and the Torres Property for $625,800 on Dec. 29.

“It’s going to make a huge (positive) difference,” Port Commissioner Mark Spurgeon said of the economy once Microsoft moves in.

The port earlier this year began testing the Lojo Property to see whether it would be large enough for “industrial server equipment.”

The agreement Tuesday states Microsoft would use Malaga Water District water.

In port documents, that water would be “for evaporative cooling of industrial server equipment.” The water then would “be recycled through the cooling system multiple times prior to discharging to the disposal facility.”

That disposal facility would indicate Microsoft also has its eyes on a 70-acre property owned by GBI Holding Co., which is under a purchase and sale agreement that includes a six-month feasibility period with the port that began March 8.

As part of the agreement, the port and Microsoft decided to determine whether the GBI site could be used for a clean water disposal system for a “planned industrial facility in the area east of Malaga,” according to port documents.

The port’s negotiated purchase price would be $27,000 an acre, about $1.9 million total. It is not known what Microsoft would pay for the property.

That’s not the only property in Malaga the port wants to turn.

Port commissioners on Tuesday entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Marsha Hays, who owns 23 acres and a mobile home at 5101 Malaga Alcoa Highway, which is diagonally across the street from the GBI property, but not part of the Microsoft deal.

In the Hays agreement, the port will pay $34,000 in earnest money within five days and will buy the property for $685,650. The port has 120 days to determine whether the property is feasible for its uses. Hays and the port also have that same time to replace the existing “life estate” to a lease agreement of two years or less.

“The new Microsoft investment, if it goes through, is a clear indication that large tract, industrially zoned property in Chelan County will attract new private investment and jobs,” Kuntz wrote. “Ports plan well in advance to meet this need. While the Hays property is currently zoned RR5 (rural residential/one dwelling unit per 5 acres) it would be our goal to get it rezoned in the next few years for industrial purposes. Eventually, transition this property into a ready-to-go industrial site.”


Business
Microsoft to power on equipment near Pangborn

EAST WENATCHEE — Microsoft will turn on the switch at its land near Pangborn Memorial Airport next month.

Douglas County PUD will provide “unspecified power” at market prices to Microsoft from May 1 through some part of August, according to a PUD resolution passed by commissioners April 11.

Microsoft wants “a temporary source of power for testing and construction activities,” according to the temporary power agreement. During this time, Microsoft is expected to use up to 10 megawatts of electricity from the PUD through the Veedol Substation, said Meaghan Vibbert, PUD spokesperson.

“We already had a line from this substation passing near that property,” she wrote in an email. “It is currently serving them construction power.”

Microsoft in 2021 proposed a $409 million-plus data center north of Pangborn Memorial Airport that sits along Urban Industrial Way.

Microsoft owns 340.22 acres in the Urban Industrial Way area, according to the Douglas County Assessor’s Office website. The company was granted a utility building permit on March 1 on a 4.91-acre lot, as well as a “fire safety plan” on March 24 on a 100.65-acre lot surrounding a commercial building.

In December 2021, Microsoft received a “commercial miscellaneous” building permit on a 20-acre lot across the street from Ant Creek LLC on Urban Industrial Way. The permit was to construct a more than 244,000-square-foot building valued by the company at $409 million, according to the building permit application. Two other similar buildings also are expected to take shape.

Microsoft is expected to have a power supply agreement with a “third-party” in August, and the PUD will just supply transmission services then.

Microsoft didn’t respond to inquiries Tuesday for further information on who the party was or what it would be testing.

A substation for Microsoft’s data center is being built by Douglas County PUD. Construction for the Urban Industrial Substation began in mid-2021 and should be completed by June, with equipment testing prior. Construction crews have run across more rock while drilling than anticipated, according to Vibbert, which will “increase the contract amount (for the construction company) for pier drillings based on the per lineal foot price listed in the contract.” The substation’s trenches also need thermal backfill to help disperse heat generated by the “capacity of wire used,” she wrote in an email.

In March 2021, Vibbert told The Wenatchee World the substation, transmission line and other improvements would be built for $24.9 million and paid for by Microsoft. The substation will have the capacity to provide up to 180 megawatts, PUD General Manager Gary Ivory said last year.


Crime
Murder charges filed against men suspected in Methow Street shooting

This story was updated Wednesday afternoon following a news release from the Wenatchee Police Department that identified Andrew Francis Morrow as the suspected shooter, and to clarify that an ex-girlfriend of the victim did not tell Morrow she was allegedly threatened by the victim.

WENATCHEE — Two Wenatchee men face murder charges in the fatal shooting of 21-year-old David Lomeli Vasquez.

Lomeli was shot in the head about 2:58 p.m. April 18 while driving his 1995 Honda on the 800 block of Methow Street, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Chelan County Superior Court.

Andrew Francis Morrow, 25, and Benito Eduardo Licea, 23, were each charged Tuesday in Superior Court with second-degree murder — a Class A felony punishable by up to life in prison — and drive-by shooting. Morrow is also charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

Washington Department of Corrections 

Andrew Francis Morrow

Wenatchee police detectives believe a white Mercury Grand Marquis driven by Morrow and occupied by Licea pulled alongside the Honda and then Morrow fired at Lomeli.

Lomeli, a Wenatchee resident, was legally declared brain dead April 19, according to Chelan County Coroner Wayne Harris. Brain death is the irreversible loss of all brain functions. A brain dead patient may be kept alive through life support, but cannot recover brain functions.

Lomeli was initially kept alive, but taken off life support Sunday, according to Capt. Edgar Reinfeld. 

Security footage prior to the shooting appears to show the Mercury park along the driver’s side of Lomeli’s vehicle on the 600 block of Okanogan Avenue and then there was an apparent confrontation, the affidavit said.

The Mercury next parked in front of Lomeli’s car. Footage then appears to show Lomeli driving away, only to be followed by the Mercury at 2:56 p.m. — two minutes before the shooting, the affidavit said. A subsequent video appears to show the Mercury pulling alongside the Honda on the 800 block of Methow Street immediately before the shooting.

Both vehicles were out of video frame when the shooting occurred, according to Reinfeld.

Washington Department of Corrections 

Benito Eduardo Licea

Morrow and Licea were arrested shortly after the shooting when the Mercury crashed in East Wenatchee, the affidavit said. Morrow was arrested after entering the Columbia River and Licea was arrested after he allegedly broke into a home and stole a bicycle.

For alleged crimes committed after the shooting, Morrow is charged in Douglas County Superior Court with attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and Licea is charged with residential burglary and third-degree theft.

Police later found a .22LR handgun on the floor of the driver’s side of the Mercury. A bullet fragment retrieved from Lomeli appeared to be from a small caliber gun, “such as a .22LR,” the affidavit said.

Detectives believe that before the shooting Lomeli threatened his ex-girlfriend — Morrow’s current girlfriend — with a gun and sent inappropriate messages about her to Morrow and another man, the affidavit said.

Officers responding to the shooting found Lomeli had a gun in his hand that matched the description the ex-girlfriend gave police, the affidavit said. She told police she did not tell Morrow or Licea that she was threatened by Lomeli.

Morrow and Licea are being held at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center. They’re scheduled to make a preliminary appearance Wednesday in Superior Court.

Two arrested after man shot in head in Wenatchee

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

A member of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office radios the location of a male authorities are pursuing on the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail about 4 p.m. Monday.

Douglas County charges filed in connection to Wenatchee shooting

seabrook / World file photo/Don Seabrook 

Officers walk Andrew Francis Morrow to a Douglas County Sheriff's truck along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail north of the 19th Street trailhead on April 18. They chased him into the Columbia River where he was captured.


Education
Wenatchee moves forward with NCESD contract negotiations for interim superintendent

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee School Board has decided to contract with the North Central Educational Service District for superintendent services while the district searches for a permanent hire.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday for the committee to negotiate a contract to be “presented to the Board for review and approval, ideally during the week ending May 6,” according to a recommendation summary.

The move came after current Superintendent Paul Gordon announced his planned resignation on April 14. Gordon’s last day is June 30.

Several educators said before the vote that the board rushed the decision.

“I understand the board would like to move quickly with this process, as was stated during the special meeting on April 14. However, the speed in which the decision was made feels like an unnecessarily rushed decision and something that can be slowed down a bit and thought through,” said Monika Christensen, president of the Wenatchee Education Association.

Christensen said the district needs consistency and advocated for an internal candidate “who truly knows WSD, knows our programing, knows our diverse populations, knows our struggles and knows where we are headed.”

Seven educators from across the district critiqued a lack of involvement in the process in the nearly two weeks since Gordon’s announcement.

The search criteria for an interim superintendent, developed by the board’s executive committee, includes an understanding of “the diversity of our community” and an “enthusiasm and sensitivity, caring and compassion in community communication and interaction.”

Board members said that while they understood staff concerns, the move was necessary under the timeline. They also offered assurances of increased involvement in future decisions.

“I appreciate the staff coming forward and talking about consistency and being involved in the process. And, to be truthful, I feel a little bad about that,” Board member Laura Jaecks said. Jaecks and Board President Martin Barron sit on an executive committee which spent two weeks gathering information on potential options.

“However, given the circumstances under which we find ourselves, which are time constraints not of our own choosing, it sort of puts the pressure on us as a board to make a really good decision quickly and move forward to a much more thorough process in selecting the superintendent,” she said.

Jaecks said she hopes staff members “will realize this person will have the best interest of the district in mind and will commit to moving forward with our organizational momentum and strategic plan.”

Jaecks said not only has the interim candidate already been vetted by the ESD, the move offers stability.

“In the event that anything happens to this individual while they are in place, the ESD is providing us with backup without having to go through any additional process,” Jaecks said. “We hope to get through the full 12-month period without any interruption, but in the event we do not, the ESD is going to provide us back up, which is a great advantage to us.”

Jaecks said she wants to ensure community and staff input feels “meaningful” during the search, something she said she feels “the board failed last time we went through that full search process.”

Board member Julie Norton said while she initially leaned toward appointing an internal candidate to serve as interim, experience and the potential for increased disruption became a concern.

Member Maria Iñiguez voiced the same concern and said selecting an internal candidate could have created a “domino effect” and taken an administrator away from their current work.

Barron said while there were no perfect options, the NCESD decision is the “one that’s closest to what we want.”

“And if we think that’s correct, then let’s give it the best chance of being successful,” Barron said.

Board member Katherine Thomas said the board and district would “have a lot of input on what they’re doing and what they do during this interim year.”

Following the first vote, the board also unanimously voted to send out a request for proposal to search firms to conduct a full search for a permanent superintendent with a target start date of July 1, 2023.

During a special board meeting Thursday, Suzanne Reister, human resources director for the NCESD, presented the board with four options, including the NCESD providing superintendent services.

In a timeline presented by Reister, the NCESD’s recommended path for finding a full-time candidate is a nine-month process. It includes surveys in the fall, a job posting in winter, interviews in March and a decision soon after.


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