What We're Watching: Biden's immigration dilemma, "illiberals" sue EU, China tramples on HK democracy, Lego sales soar

Migrant families with children walk along a dirt road after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in Penitas, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2021.

Immigrants flock to the US-Mexico border: President Biden has already undone many of the Trump administration's harsh immigration programs, saying that he is ushering in more "humane" policies. Since then, an influx of migrants mainly from Central America has flocked to the US-Mexico border in the hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. The number of children and families reaching the border increased by more than 100 percent between January and February 2021, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Importantly, the number of children arriving on their own has also surged 60 percent in that time, presenting a particular challenge for the US president, who campaigned heavily against Trump's policy of detaining unaccompanied minors. The Biden administration says that the recent surge is linked to a renewed sense of "hope" after Trump's hardline immigration stance, but this development puts Biden in a massive bind: he wants to stay true to his image as a humane and compassionate leader, while also not opening the floodgates on immigration — still a hot button issue in the United States. Indeed, this problem is only going to get worse in the months ahead.


"Illiberals" vs EU: EU member states Hungary and Poland have filed a petition with the European Court of Justice over the bloc's budget provision that conditions disbursement of funds on respect for the "rule of law" within member states. The provision, which is baked into the EU's 2021-2027 budget as well as the 750 billion euro pandemic relief package passed last summer, has irked Budapest and Warsaw, who argue that doling out the cash should be linked solely to meeting key economic objectives and fiscal rules. For years, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who often boasts of his country's "illiberal democracy," has been at loggerheads with the EU over his attacks on the independent judiciary and stifling of the media. Meanwhile, Polish President Andrzej Duda and his ruling Law and Justice Party have also clashed with Brussels over the conservative Polish government's erosion of democratic principles and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The complaint now makes its way through the courts, a process that could take up to two years — delaying the disbursement of some funds that desperate Europeans need as the continent continues to grapple with a rising caseload and a sluggish vaccine drive.

China "fixes" Hong Kong elections: China's rubber-stamp parliament approved on Thursday the ruling Communist Party's plan to reduce the number of Hong Kong lawmakers elected by the public and replace them with appointees picked by a pro-Beijing committee. This means that more members of the city's legislature will now be chosen by the Chinese politburo than by Hong Kong voters. China's National People's Congress also consented to a rule requiring all aspiring lawmakers to pledge their loyalty to China in order to qualify as candidates under Beijing's draconian national security law. We've said this before, but Hong Kong democracy is effectively over since it'll be impossible for the pro-democracy bloc to ever win control of the territory's legislative council. Interestingly, the two proposals were backed by 2,985 members of the National People's Congress with zero votes against... and one (gasp!) abstention. We now expect to see the usual strong-worded condemnations from democratic governments around the world, which are likely to be met with the usual eye-rolls in China.

Soaring plastic bricks: Sales of Lego's colorful plastic bricks jumped nearly 20 percent in 2020. Kids trapped at home by the pandemic need something to do, and many parents want their diversions to be less digital and more imaginative. Fun bonus fact: many adults play with Lego sets too. #ThankYouDenmark.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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