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Incarcerated and Infected: How the Virus Tore Through the U.S. Prison System

America’s prisons, jails and detention centers have been among the nation’s most dangerous places when it comes to infections from the coronavirus. Over the past year, more than 1,400 new inmate infections and seven deaths, on average, have been reported inside those facilities each day.

The cramped, often unsanitary settings of correctional institutions have been ideal for incubating and transmitting disease. Social distancing is not an option. Testing was not a priority inside prisons early in the pandemic. With little public pressure, political leaders have been slow to confront the spread.

The virus shot through many institutions, leaving inmates desperate for ways to avoid getting sick. At Pickaway Correctional Institution in Ohio, which housed about 1,900 inmates, they tried to turn bed sheets into tents to separate themselves; four in five inmates were infected anyway.

At an immigration detention center in Farmville, Va., nearly every detainee — 339 in all — was infected. And at the Fresno County Jail in California, where most inmates are held on charges for which they have not yet been convicted, more than 3,800 were sickened.

Starting in March of last year, New York Times reporters tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States, including state and federal prisons, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention facilities, and county and regional jails.

We measured the pandemic’s excruciating impact on prisoners using records requests and interviews with people from all corners of the system. We spoke with incarcerated people and their families, prison wardens, jailers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and civil rights groups.

A year later, one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus, the data shows. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project and the Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The COVID Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has caused misery and loss in many places, but its destructive power has been felt intensely among the incarcerated, who have been infected at rates several times higher than those of their surrounding communities.

Infection rates in state prison systems compared with infection rates in state populations

Number of cases reported per 100 people and the estimated gap between rates in each state.

Case rate in entire state

Case rate in state prisons

Michigan Mich.

8 in 100

76 in 100

9.4x as many cases in prisons

Arkansas Ark.

11

72

6.5x

Kentucky Ky.

10

68

7.0x

Kansas Kan.

11

62

5.9x

South Dakota S.D.

14

61

4.5x

Colorado Colo.

8

58

7.0x

Iowa Iowa

11

58

5.1x

Idaho Idaho

10

57

5.5x

Utah Utah

12

55

4.5x

Wisconsin Wis.

11

54

4.9x

Rhode Island R.I.

13

54

4.1x

New Mexico N.M.

9

52

5.7x

Alaska Alaska

9

47

5.4x

Connecticut Conn.

9

44

4.9x

Delaware Del.

10

44

4.4x

Wyoming Wyo.

10

43

4.4x

Minnesota Minn.

10

43

4.5x

California Calif.

9

42

4.5x

Washington Wash.

5

40

8.1x

Nevada Nev.

10

37

3.7x

Massachusetts Mass.

10

36

3.8x

Oklahoma Okla.

11

36

3.2x

North Dakota N.D.

14

36

2.6x

Hawaii Hawaii

2

35

16.0x

Vermont Vt.

3

33

9.8x

Tennessee Tenn.

12

32

2.7x

North Carolina N.C.

9

31

3.5x

Virginia Va.

7

31

4.2x

New Jersey N.J.

11

31

2.9x

Illinois Ill.

10

30

2.9x

Arizona Ariz.

12

29

2.5x

Montana Mont.

10

29

2.9x

Oregon Ore.

4

25

6.3x

Pennsylvania Pa.

8

24

2.9x

Texas Texas

10

21

Florida Fla.

10

19

South Carolina S.C.

11

19

Maryland Md.

7

19

New Hampshire N.H.

6

18

Ohio Ohio

9

18

Nebraska Neb.

11

18

Missouri Mo.

10

18

West Virginia W.Va.

8

16

New York N.Y.

10

16

Indiana Ind.

10

13

Louisiana La.

10

10

Mississippi Miss.

10

8

Alabama Ala.

11

7

Georgia Ga.

10

7

Maine Maine

4

7

Early in the pandemic, the coronavirus hit the Black population in the U.S. particularly hard, with disproportionate rates of deaths, which health experts attributed in part to disparities in care. While racial data is not available for Covid-19 prison cases, African-Americans are overrepresented in the system, accounting for 33 percent of inmates but making up just 13 percent of the nation’s population. For that reason, public health officials say, they are more likely to be among those infected in prisons.

The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

A month after a parole board approved the commutation request on his life sentence, Bruce Norris, 69, was still in custody, awaiting the Pennsylvania governor’s signature, when he died from the coronavirus. In a crowded Texas federal prison, Andrea Circle Bear, 30, was serving a two-year drug sentence. She died from the virus shortly after giving birth while on a ventilator.

Alan Hurwitz, 79, had lung and throat cancers. He was denied compassionate release several times from the North Carolina federal prison where he was serving for a series of bank robberies. When he was finally freed, he fell ill on the flight home. A medical examiner determined that he died of the coronavirus.

These deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.

Prisons and jails are sometimes so crowded that three inmates sleep in cells designed for one person. Prisons have not adequately quarantined sick inmates, and have often not required testing for correctional officers. Inmates have also been given low priority to receive vaccinations, even as cases have continued to rise.

“Corrections institutions have continuously failed to take even the most basic life-saving measures to protect incarcerated people from Covid-19,” said Maria Morris, a senior staff attorney for the A.C.L.U.’s National Prison Project.

A year into the pandemic, prison officials around the country have acknowledged that their early approach was muddled and based on trial and error. The novelty of the virus, some said, made early decisive action nearly impossible because so little was known about how it spread. In some states, the disorganized response lasted well into the pandemic.

“It feels like we’re holding this together with bubble gum and packaging tape,” Todd Ishee, the state commissioner of prisons in North Carolina, said in an interview in December.

In addition to inmates, more than 138,000 prison and jail correctional officers were sickened, and 261 died, according to the Times data.

There were many reasons for the rapid spread of the virus in prisons, but several common problems drove outbreaks at every type of facility. The challenges remain steep even now, and infections among the incarcerated continue to climb.

Despite warnings, many prisons were unprepared to handle the virus.

Alvin MurrayAlvin Murray, 71, was relieved when he learned last February that he would be transferred to the Duncan prison, a state facility for older inmates about 100 miles north of Houston. The salt and pepper in the chow hall was a sign that conditions were better there than in his previous prisons. At one facility, Mr. Murray, who was convicted of arson and property theft and was serving a 20-year sentence, had nearly died of pneumonia, his relatives said.

“We were hoping that when he moved to Duncan he would be safe,” said Nelda Cramer, Mr. Murray’s sister.

A map locating Diboll, Texas

Rufus H. Duncan Geriatric Facility prison

Diboll, Texas

Inmate infections
279
Inmate deaths
21

By then, public health officials were warning wardens that prisons needed to take precautionary measures against the virus, especially for older inmates. Health officials said that without basic steps, including social distancing, better sanitation, and less crowding, correctional institutions had the potential to become incubators for the virus.

Few states heeded these early warnings, and many focused their efforts on keeping the virus out of prisons — including prohibiting family visitations — rather than preparing to handle outbreaks once the virus got inside. One Texas prison failed to supply sufficient soap, left sinks in disrepair and banned hand sanitizer, a court found.

In other states, prisons continued transferring inmates from one facility to another, often failing to test them first. Others did not enforce rules requiring guards to wear masks.

But inmates and civil rights groups say the most significant impediment to containing the virus has been the crowding that has become prevalent in U.S. prisons. Since the 1980s, the nation’s prison population has increased by more than 500 percent, and about 1.4 million people — more than half of them Black or Hispanic — are now behind bars.

States have so many inmates that gyms have been converted into housing areas, recreational yards have been shrunk or eliminated to accommodate more beds, and prisons have shifted from cells to dormitory-style housing, with inmates sleeping in double- or triple-tiered bunks that fill nearly every bit of floor space.

The changes have meant that when the virus entered a prison, it spread quickly. At Duncan, it hopped from bed to bed last summer, infecting three-quarters of inmates.

Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the Texas prison system, said the authorities did everything possible to keep the virus at Duncan under control, including intensive cleaning of the facility, extra soap for inmates and extensive testing. He said those actions saved lives.

But in the end, 279 inmates and 66 staff members were infected, and Mr. Murray and 20 other inmates and one staff member died.

Prisons did not move quickly enough to test employees or provide contact tracing.

Prisons and jails have only sporadically traced the contacts of infected prisoners and guards to understand who was at risk of exposure. This has inhibited their ability to prevent the virus from entering facilities and to limit its transmission, public health officials said.

A map locating Oakdale, Louisiana

Oakdale federal prison complex

Oakdale, La.

Inmate infections
620
Inmate deaths
9

Early in the pandemic, one of the hardest-hit places was the Oakdale federal prison, with about 1,900 inmates in rural south Louisiana. An outbreak there infected 689 inmates and guards, and nine inmates died.

At Oakdale, an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that a series of mistakes by prison officials and rules violations by staff members had allowed the virus to proliferate.

The report found the virus appeared to have been introduced by a Bureau of Prisons teacher who visited New York City in March 2020. There was no evidence that the prison had screened the teacher or tested him before he resumed teaching inmates. (The Bureau of Prisons declined comment about the Oakdale outbreak.)

On March 11, the day after the teacher resumed instruction, he reported feeling ill. Still, he kept teaching, and students who were housed in different parts of the sprawling facility mingled in his classroom.

Eight days later, inmates started complaining of symptoms. The prison did not screen inmates consistently for the virus, and staff members did not wear masks or other protective gear while transporting and guarding sick inmates at hospitals.

It was not until March 26 that protective gear was distributed. By then, hundreds were believed to have been infected, though the precise number is not known because the prison did not start testing inmates until mid-April.

A later round of contact tracing identified the prison’s Education Department as the common nexus: The first four inmates to test positive shared a class, and the first inmate to die was an assistant to the teacher who had fallen ill.

Testing was slow for inmates, even for those who showed signs of illness.

A year into the pandemic, a vast majority of states have tested all of their prison inmates for the virus at least once, though more frequent testing would be ideal for people living in such cramped quarters. And, several states, including Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have yet to test everyone.

Note: Infection and testing rates are calculated using the maximum population for each state system since May 2020.

Alabama’s prisons have among the lowest testing rates and the second-lowest case rate of all state prison systems — but among the highest coronavirus death rates in the nation, suggesting the virus is going undetected until it is too late. In some instances, even the deaths may be undercounted.

Colony WilsonA coroner determined that Colony Wilson, a 40-year-old inmate at an Alabama women’s prison, died last May from a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lung.

Neither the coroner nor the prison tested Ms. Wilson for the coronavirus, but inmates said Ms. Wilson had symptoms, including trouble breathing. At the time, about 10 virus cases had been reported at the prison.

“They say she had blood clots in her lungs — that didn’t sit well with me,” said Sylvester Wilson, Ms. Wilson’s uncle. “How did she develop that just like that?”

A map locating Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham Women’s Community Based Facility and Community Work Center

Birmingham, Ala.

Inmate infections
17
Inmate deaths
0

On May 10, 2020 — a Sunday — two days after Ms. Wilson first complained of trouble breathing, she was told to fill out a sick slip, other inmates said.

But before her appointment, she passed out twice — each time in front of prison staff members, inmates said.

The second time Ms. Wilson lost consciousness, she died, inmates and her family said. She had been serving a 20-year sentence for aggravated child abuse.

Samantha Rose, a prison system spokeswoman, said Ms. Wilson had not exhibited coronavirus symptoms, and therefore did not meet the prison’s medical rules to be tested. She declined to discuss inmates’ descriptions of Ms. Wilson’s illness, and officials did not respond to assertions about how staff members responded.

Kristi Simpson, deputy to the prison system’s chief of staff, wrote in an email that a departmental investigation had been conducted and that “foul play and suspicious circumstances were both ruled out.” Ms. Simpson added that investigators had taken witness accounts into consideration, but she declined to comment further.

In the Alabama prison system’s official data, there are just 17 infections for inmates and 28 for correctional officers — and no deaths — recorded at Ms. Wilson’s prison. A quarter of inmates have never received a test.

Outbreaks overwhelmed many facilities, infecting nearly every prisoner.

“Man down! Man down!”

Inmates say those panic-filled words rang out of the walkie-talkies of guards several times a day as the coronavirus ripped through California’s San Quentin State Prison in June, eventually killing 28 inmates and infecting more than 2,200 others — about three in every five prisoners.

Some died in their sleep. Some were too ill to stand. Some passed out and never regained consciousness.

Rahsaan Thomas “Fifteen minutes ago, a nurse came through, they had their mask on, all the way on covering their nose and their mouth because she said Covid is everywhere in San Quentin, except north block and west block,” Rahsaan Thomas, an inmate, told reporters in June. “So it’s heavy right now.”

Older prisoners placed handwritten signs outside their cells that read “Immune Compromised” so that guards would wear masks around them. Other inmates refused to leave their cells out of fear of catching the virus.

Mr. Thomas said in June that he was primarily concerned about older inmates, who make up a large percentage of the San Quentin population. But at 49, he admitted he was also worried about himself.

“I don’t want to see them die,” Mr. Thomas said, before adding: “I don’t know if I’m tough enough to survive Covid.”

A map locating San Quentin, California

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, Calif.

Inmate infections
2,243
Inmate deaths
28

The outbreak began after officials transferred more than 100 medically vulnerable inmates to San Quentin from the California Institution for Men, a Southern California prison.

The men who had been transferred used the same showers and ate in the same dining hall as other San Quentin inmates. Ninety-one of them later tested positive for the virus.

Within a few weeks, a vast majority of inmates at San Quentin were infected. Mr. Thomas was one of the few who were not. Hundreds of prison staff members also were infected, and one died.

At least 124 facilities nationwide faced outbreaks that were similar to or more severe than San Quentin’s, with at least 60 percent of inmates infected.

Ralph Diaz, secretary of the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was questioned about the flawed transfer by a State Senate committee in late June.

“Could we have done better in many instances? Of course we can,” Mr. Diaz said. Weeks later, he announced his resignation.

Few governors granted widespread releases of inmates, leaving the most vulnerable in custody.

Clarence Givens For months, Clarence Givens, 70, stayed in his 6 by 8 foot cell at Stanley Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, isolating with his cellmate. He had asthma, relied on a breathing machine for obstructive sleep apnea and was frightened of getting sick.

Mr. Givens, in prison for heroin possession, said that he was hoping to be released early, though he had not filled out paperwork seeking compassionate release. He died from Covid, the authorities said, in December.

Only a handful of states have released more than a few thousand inmates early, despite calls from a variety of groups and some prosecutors to reduce prison populations amid the pandemic.

A map locating Stanley, Wisconsin

Stanley Correctional Institution

Stanley, Wis.

Inmate infections
421
Inmate deaths
3

“We talk among each other,” Mr. Givens wrote to a reporter a few weeks before his death. “And the main thing is we are very worried because we think the guards are going to bring it in and make us sick. Who knows if we survive that?”

Ultimately, 421 inmates and 135 correctional officers at Stanley were infected, and three inmates did not survive.

Once Mr. Givens fell ill in November, other inmates said they aided him as best they could. He continued to stay in his cell.

“He wasn’t eating too much for days but I did force him to drink our juices they gave us, to eat some fruits, water and I finally got him to eat some some soup and some cereal, the whole pod donated vitamins, some Emergen-C vitamin C, teas, vitamin D, and other vitamins from canteen and I just kept having him take them and drink plenty of fluid,” an inmate wrote to Mr. Givens’s wife. “I had to assist him in it all cause he couldn’t barely sit up or even dress.”

John Beard, a prison system spokesman, cited health care privacy laws in declining to answer questions about Mr. Givens.

Tens of thousands of people awaiting trial were held in local jails where the virus was surging.

Local jails are transitory places. Most people in a typical jail will eventually be released, usually within a few days. They post bond for charges like shoplifting or public drunkenness or reckless driving and return home, waiting for their court date.

The churn of people has meant that some of the nation’s largest virus outbreaks have occurred in county jails.

Last spring, courts around the nation canceled trials and hearings to try to stop the virus’s spread. But that pause in the courts left many inmates who could not post bail languishing in jails with a heightened risk of exposure.

Nickolas Lee On Feb. 4, 2020, Nickolas Lee, 42, was transferred to the Cook County Jail in Chicago, accused of violating his parole on an armed robbery conviction. He was initially scheduled to appear in court two weeks later. Then, court dates were canceled and then suspended indefinitely.

When the virus started spreading there in late March, the jail had yet to distribute face masks to inmates. Instead, he wrapped a T-shirt over his nose and mouth, said his wife, Cassandra Greer-Lee.

A map locating Chicago, Illinois

Cook County Jail

Chicago

Inmate infections
1,491
Inmate deaths
10

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office said that it had initially not distributed face masks to inmates because the C.D.C. said at the time that hospitals were most in need of existing supplies. The jail began providing masks to inmates in April 2020. More than 2,600 inmates and guards at the jail have been infected and 14 have died.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office has followed and consistently exceeded the guidance of public health experts, including the C.D.C., with regard to Covid-19 interventions,” Matthew Walberg, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said.

Nearly 60 days after his arrest, Mr. Lee was rushed to the hospital, where he tested positive for Covid-19. He died six days later. Barred from visiting him, Ms. Greer-Lee said she was on the phone with her husband not long before he passed away.

“I will replay hearing him gasp for air the last day I talked to him — I will remember that for the remainder of my life,” she said.

Slow vaccinations and the threat of variants leave an uncertain landscape.

Prisons’ pandemic response has improved by some measures in the past year — testing, especially at intake, and mask-wearing are more widespread. But prisons were built with security in mind and not to act as hospitals or hospices. Given the age and poor health of many inmates, they remain especially vulnerable to infection and illness.

In recent weeks, more contagious variants of the virus have appeared in prisons in Colorado, Michigan and elsewhere. Public health officials say the presence of variants in prisons is likely to be more widespread than known because most facilities do not regularly screen for them.

Early in the nation’s vaccination program, incarcerated people in most states were not given priority to be innoculated, though they have an elevated risk of infection and death. By April, most states had announced plans to vaccinate prisoners in subsequent months.

Still, many inmates and correctional officers have been reluctant to get the shots, according to state prison systems and jails. All of it has left the likelihood of eliminating future outbreaks uncertain, public health experts say, even after much of the nation is vaccinated.

“It’s inevitable once that new strain gets here, it’s going to spread like wildfire,” James Moore, an inmate at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Michigan, wrote in an email last month. “It’s inevitable. So we’re basically just sitting back and biding our time until we get sick.”

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Woman Who Coughed on Pier 1 Shopper Is Sentenced to 30 Days

A Florida woman who was seen in a widely watched video intentionally coughing on a shopper at a Pier 1 home-goods store last summer, as fears about the pandemic raged, was sentenced on Thursday to 30 days in jail, court records show.

The woman, Debra Hunter, 53, had been charged with misdemeanor assault in June after she walked up and coughed on the shopper, Heather Sprague, who had been recording video of Ms. Hunter’s dispute with employees at the store, in Jacksonville.

Ms. Sprague said in court that she had started recording Ms. Hunter after watching her berate store employees for 15 minutes in an argument over an item that Ms. Hunter wanted to return.

Ms. Sprague said she had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor 10 months earlier and was still undergoing treatment when Ms. Hunter saw that she was recording and made an obscene gesture.

First Coast News. “I was stunned in the moment and increasingly fearful in the aftermath.”

After the encounter, Ms. Sprague said, she struggled to find a Covid test, as diagnostics were not widely available at the time, and ultimately tested negative.

The episode came during a period in the pandemic when the authorities were responding to heated confrontations across the country over masks and other precautions, with some of those disputes leading to criminal charges for people who spat or coughed on ride-share drivers, store employees and police officers. Retail workers also reported being subjected to verbal abuse — and even threats involving guns — for enforcing mask rules.

Ms. Hunter said she felt remorse and guilt from “one very poor decision” that had cost her three children nearly all of their friends and had made her feel like a pariah in her community. She said her children had been greatly affected by the hundreds of text messages, emails, phone calls, social media threats and even hand-delivered letters she had received after the video of her coughing on Ms. Sprague gained widespread attention.

First Coast News. “I deserve it. My children do not.”

Ms. Hunter told the judge that the video showed her in the “worst possible light on my worst possible day” and said she had felt at the time like a balloon that was going to pop. Her husband, Doug Hunter, told the court that a fire had forced the family from their house, among other hardships they had endured.

“Everything kept piling on and piling on and piling on, and I just kept trying to push it down,” Ms. Hunter said. “That day, the pin just stuck in the balloon, and unfortunately for Ms. Sprague, you know, she was the recipient of that, and for that I apologize.”

Judge Ruth took issue with Ms. Hunter’s testimony, saying she had expressed more concern for her family than for Ms. Sprague.

“She talked about how it changed her world and, you know, she’s getting the nastygrams on Facebook and things of that nature, and they can’t go to the country club or wherever, and can’t play soccer,” he said. “I get that. But I’ve yet to see any expression — or a significant expression — on her regret about the impact it had on the victim in this case.”

In addition to 30 days in jail, Ms. Hunter was sentenced to six months of probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Judge Ruth also ordered her to take an anger-management class and to undergo a mental-health evaluation and participate in follow-up treatment, if appropriate.

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White House Border Coordinator to Step Down

WASHINGTON — Roberta S. Jacobson, the former ambassador to Mexico whom President Biden chose as his “border czar” on the National Security Council, will step down at the end of the month, she said on Friday, even as the administration struggles to confront a surge of migrants at the nation’s southwestern border.

Ms. Jacobson, who had been described as one of the Biden administration’s key players in dealing with the governments in the Northern Triangle area of Central America, praised Mr. Biden’s efforts to repair and recast the nation’s immigration system after four years under President Donald J. Trump.

“They continue to drive toward the architecture that the president has laid out: an immigration system that is humane, orderly and safe,” she said in a brief interview. “I leave optimistically. The policy direction is so clearly right for our country.”

Ms. Jacobson said that her appointment as a special assistant to the president and as the border coordinator in the White House was always intended to last for only about 100 days — a period that will expire at the end of April, when she intends to leave government.

Vice President Kamala Harris would lead the government’s diplomatic efforts with that region.

In the interview, Ms. Jacobson said the president’s move to put Ms. Harris in charge of the effort to stem migration from Central America was not a factor in her decision to leave or her timing.

“I briefed and worked in support of the vice president’s leadership on this issue,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Nobody could be more delighted to see the vice president take on that role. It didn’t have anything to do with my decision.”

Two weeks ago, in a separate interview with The New York Times, Ms. Jacobson talked expansively about her plans to travel to Central America, where she said she expected to work with government officials on reducing the flow of migrants north toward the United States.

Last month, she traveled to Mexico to discuss with leaders there ways to combat illegal immigration and bolster shelter capacity for migrants. Ms. Jacobson said in the interview that the trip was also an attempt to find ways to collaborate with Central American countries, as well as potentially Canada, to reduce pressure on the United States border.

“I would say that we’re — we’re having the beginnings of those conversations,” she said. “But right now, we’re focused more on how we can work with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries.”

In early March, Ms. Jacobson faced questions from reporters at the White House and sought to discourage migrants from journeying to the United States. She echoed the administration’s message that the border with Mexico remained closed.

But when she tried to translate that blunt message into Spanish, she accidentally reversed its meaning, saying, “La frontera no esta cerrada,” which in English is “the border is not closed.” Later in the briefing, she corrected herself, translating the message correctly.

Mr. Biden’s decision to put Ms. Harris in charge of Central American diplomacy was seen at the time as an effort by the White House to send a message that the administration was taking the border issue seriously.

It also served as the first substantive policy directive for the vice president, who has been at Mr. Biden’s side since they took office but had not been given oversight of any particular part of the Biden agenda.

Ms. Jacobson said that she remained confident that the administration would continue to make progress in persuading the leaders of Mexico and the Central American countries to work with the United States to slow the pace of migration.

“They know it is something that can’t happen overnight,” she said of her colleagues in the Biden administration. But she added that officials in the other countries were motivated to find solutions, as well.

“Diplomacy is a conversation,” she said. “It’s not a monologue.”

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Jill Biden Details Stimulus Funding to Fight Child Poverty

BIRMINGHAM, Al. — When a group of senior West Wing officials recently met to discuss how to communicate the particulars of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package to the public, it did not take them long to decide that Jill Biden, the first lady, should travel the country to promote one of its most ambitious provisions: a generous tax credit that could, at least temporarily, lift millions of children out of poverty.

“Her nickname on the campaign trail was ‘The Closer,’” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser for President Biden who was part of the planning.

On Friday, Dr. Biden traveled to Birmingham, Ala., for her first trip highlighting the provision, telling a crowd at the Y.W.C.A., “This administration is going to make sure you have what you need to get through the storm.”

“In the past, you used to get $2,000 for a tax credit for children,” Dr. Biden said. “This year, if you have kids under 6 years old, you’ll get $3,600. For older kids it will be $3,000.”

fact sheet released by Columbia University, the relief plan could reduce child poverty in the United States by as much as half. Among its provisions, the stimulus package includes a child tax credit to supplement income for low-income families.

It also expands benefits on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $3.5 billion, or about $28 more per person, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Biden appeared with Representative Terri Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, who told the crowd that she was proud to be the only member of Congress in Alabama to vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan.

“They wanted direct resources,” Ms. Sewell said of families around the state, referencing the direct payments the stimulus plan has provided.

Earlier on Friday, the first lady visited an early childhood development center and met with prekindergarten students who will benefit from a $1 billion expansion of funding for Head Start programs, the White House said. The programs provide early intervention education and support for students, many of whom are low-income.

$1.52 trillion budget plan released by the Biden administration on Friday called Head Start a chronically underfunded program, and asked for an additional $1.2 billion in funding for it, bring the total to $11.9 billion.

Some 45 million people in Alabama rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and about 392,000 of them are children living in Alabama, according to data compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a foundation that promotes the well-being of children. And according to Alabama Possible, a nonprofit that tracks poverty rates, approximately 256,000 children live below the federal poverty threshold.

“It’s important to her that people who may have felt unseen in the past or disconnected from government, are welcomed, included and embraced by this administration,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director.

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Ghost Guns: What They Are, and Why They Are an Issue Now

WASHINGTON — Facing Republican opposition to the passage of gun control legislation, President Biden on Thursday announced a set of initial steps he could take on his own to address the epidemic of gun violence.

The most significant proposal was a crackdown on the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, or firearms that are assembled from kits and do not carry serial numbers.

“I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act,” Mr. Biden said.

Here’s what you need to know about the weapons the Biden administration is targeting and why.

Traditional firearms are made by licensed companies and then bought from licensed gun dealers. All guns manufactured in the United States, as well as those imported from abroad, are legally required to have serial numbers that are typically displayed on the back of the frame.

10,000 ghost guns in 2019. In cities, those numbers are rising at what the authorities say is an alarming rate every year. Proponents of stricter gun laws have been pushing for action on ghost guns to address the growing problem before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe.

In Philadelphia, for instance, 250 ghost guns were recovered in 2020, up from 99 in 2019. In Baltimore, 126 ghost guns were recovered last year, up from 29 in 2019.

“Forty-one percent, so almost half our cases we’re coming across, are these ‘ghost guns,’” Carlos A. Canino, the special agent in charge of the A.T.F. Los Angeles field division, told ABC News last year.

Some mass shootings have been linked to ghost guns, like the 2019 shooting at a high school in California, where a 16-year-old killed two students. A ghost gun was also linked to a 2017 rampage in which a gunman killed his wife and four others in Northern California.

But analysts said that ghost guns were not disproportionately linked to mass shootings. The bigger issue is that they are disproportionately affecting day-to-day gun violence in communities of color across the country, gun safety groups said.

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Republicans Take Up Trump’s Fight, Leaving Policymaking Behind

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are passing voting restrictions to pacify right-wing activists still gripped by former President Donald J. Trump’s lie that a largely favorable election was rigged against them. G.O.P. leaders are lashing out in Trumpian fashion at businesses, baseball and the news media to appeal to many of the same conservatives and voters. And debates over the size and scope of government have been overshadowed by the sort of culture war clashes that the tabloid king relished.

This is the party Mr. Trump has remade.

As G.O.P. leaders and donors gather for a party retreat in Palm Beach this weekend, with a side trip to Mar-a-Lago for a reception with Mr. Trump on Saturday night, the former president’s pervasive influence in Republican circles has revealed a party thoroughly animated by a defeated incumbent — a bizarre turn of events in American politics.

Barred from Twitter, quietly disdained by many Republican officials and reduced to receiving supplicants in his tropical exile in Florida, Mr. Trump has found ways to exert an almost gravitational hold on a leaderless party just three months after the assault on the Capitol that his critics hoped would marginalize the man and taint his legacy.

His preference for engaging in red-meat political fights rather than governing and policymaking have left party leaders in a state of confusion over what they stand for, even when it comes to business, which was once the business of Republicanism. Yet his single term has made it vividly clear what the far right stands against — and how it intends to go about waging its fights.

quite literally, abandoned their traditional party platform last year to accommodate Mr. Trump, Republicans have organized themselves around opposition to the perceived excesses of the left and borrowed his scorched-earth tactics as they do battle. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, excoriated businesses this week for siding with Democrats on G.O.P.-backed voting restrictions, only to backpedal after seeming to suggest he wanted corporations out of politics entirely.

essay. “Therefore, we must aggressively move the conversation back to the economic issues that unite our party and divide theirs.”

Longtime Republicans don’t much deny that. “Democrats have done the one thing I never thought could happen this quickly — they’ve caused Republicans to take their eyes off what divides us and made us set our eyes on the true opposition,” crowed Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist.

That may be on overly rosy assessment given that Mr. Trump is still hungry for payback against his intraparty critics, with a series of contentious primaries on deck and Democrats poised to reap the benefits of an economic recovery.

But there is no doubt that Republicans are rallying around a style of post-Trump politics that makes that prefix superfluous.

interview with Ezra Klein.

Republicans have sought to stoke those fears, wielding liberal positions on issues like policing or transgender rights as culture war bludgeons, even if it means dispensing with some conservative values. In Arkansas this week, a drive by conservative legislators to make it illegal for transgender children to receive gender-affirming medication or surgery drew a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. He argued that the bill would “set new standard of legislative interference with physicians and parents” and that it failed to make exceptions for children who had already begun hormone treatments. Still, he was overridden by his party’s lawmakers, and Mr. Trump assailed him as a “lightweight RINO.’’

Yet it’s the willingness to engage in brass-knuckle political combat that’s most important in the party right now.

“It has become the overarching virtue Republicans look for in their leaders,” said Mr. Reed, the G.O.P. strategist. He said that in an earlier, less tribal era, the party would have backed off the divisive Georgia bill limiting voting access. “After business and the media circled the wagons, we would have called the legislature back in, done some fixes and moved on,” he said. “Now we just dig in.”

The shifting culture of the G.O.P. is on clear display in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is emerging as presidential timber, almost entirely because he has weaponized news coverage critical of his handling of the coronavirus.

Mr. DeSantis’s actual response to the crisis is not what delights conservatives; rather, it’s how he bristles at skeptical coverage, just as Mr. Trump did when he was excoriating the “fake news.” The most recent example came this week when “60 Minutes” aired a segment that suggested Mr. DeSantis had improperly made Publix grocery stores, which are ubiquitous in Florida, distributors of the coronavirus vaccine after the company contributed $100,000 to him.

Mr. DeSantis did not cooperate with CBS for the piece. But with the sympathy of other Republicans, he cried foul about the segment after it ran and was rewarded with a coveted prime-time interview on Fox News to expound on his grievance.

“This is the beating heart of the Republican Party right now — the media has replaced Democrats as the opposition,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist in Kentucky. “The platform is whatever the media is against today, I’m for, and whatever they’re for, I’m against.”

That has made for an odd alchemy in the capital, where a number of business-oriented Republicans increasingly find themselves politically homeless. Notable among them is the Chamber of Commerce, which angered G.O.P. lawmakers by cozying up to Democrats but is now aghast at Mr. Biden’s proposed corporate tax hike.

“It’s a weird time,” said Tony Fratto, a former Bush administration official who supported Mr. Biden but represents business clients who are uneasy with a tax increase. “I don’t know where to go, but a lot of people don’t feel comfortable with where the parties are right now.”

Except, perhaps, for one recently retired Florida man.

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‘I Have No Idea Where My Daughter Is’: Migrant Parents Are Desperate for News

Many parents already had undergone weeks of anxiety as their children undertook the dangerous journey through Mexico, often in the hands of smugglers. Customs and Border Protection officials this week released a video of a sobbing 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy who had been found wandering in a remote area of Texas after he was abandoned by the group he was traveling with.

“The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible,” the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, said in a statement in March. “Just this month, a young girl died by drowning, a 6-month-old was thrown into the river, and two young children were dropped from a wall and left in the desert alone.”

Since arriving in the United States a decade ago, Ms. Mendez, 42, has juggled jobs as a housekeeper, a packer at a seafood processing plant and a chef’s assistant at a diner, sending $200 to $300 every two weeks back to her family.

Last year, Ms. Mendez watched her daughter graduate from high school by video. Cindy wanted to fulfill her dream of becoming a computer programmer, and the time to do that was now, she said.

As she headed north toward the border, Cindy checked in with her mother every few days.

To prepare for her arrival, Ms. Mendez painted her room pink, furnishing it with a new bed and a colorful princess spread. She hung helium balloons to make it festive.

Cindy reached Texas in early March and was intercepted by the Border Patrol, which took her to a processing center.

After an initial phone call from her daughter, Ms. Mendez waited anxiously for more news.

But weeks went by, and every time Ms. Mendez phoned a call center at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for sheltering migrant children, she heard that her daughter’s case was “pending.”

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When Boston Ruled the Music World

When I moved to Massachusetts in the mid-1970s to start a doctorate at Boston University, there was a specific professor I wanted to study with: the formidable pianist Leonard Shure.

But Shure was hardly the only renowned pedagogue in Boston. The city had at that point long been a hub of academic music, with distinguished programs at Harvard, Brandeis and Boston universities, the New England Conservatory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Until I arrived, though, I didn’t realize what a center the Boston area was for contemporary music; from afar, the city had seemed to me too staid and traditional for that. But in its own buttoned-up New England way, it was a modernist hotbed. Each of those institutions was like a little fief, with eminent composers on the faculty. Each maintained active student ensembles, including many devoted exclusively to new music.

If you wanted to be on the front lines of the battle between severe “uptown” music and rebellious “downtown” postmodernism, you headed to New York. If you were drawn to mavericks and intrigued by non-Western cultures, especially Asian music, you probably found your way to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Boston Modern Orchestra Project, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its record label BMOP/sound. The ensemble champions modern and new music from all over. But according to its founder and artistic director, Gil Rose, 40 or 45 percent of its recordings have been of works by Boston-area composers.

died in 2015 at 89, once described himself as a “high school dropout without a single earned degree.” Technically that was true. But he was a protean musician who in his late teens won the principal horn position at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and then, two years later, moved on to the Metropolitan Opera, where he held the same post until 1959. Yet, he also played and recorded in jazz groups with the likes of Miles Davis.

semi-staged concert performance. The commanding mezzo-soprano Sondra Kelly as the wife, the plaintive tenor Steven Goldstein as the fisherman and the sturdy baritone David Kravitz as the magic fish are excellent — and Rose draws glittering, swirling, mysterious playing from the orchestra. I could be wrong, but with a vivid staging, I think an audience of children would respond well to it.

Schuller, an accomplished, exacting conductor, wrote a comprehensive book about conducting. Across the river in Cambridge, the respected composer and Harvard professor Leon Kirchner also had a following as a conductor back then, though he was not the most efficient technician. He was, however, a skilled pianist and a probing musician who understood how pieces were supposed to go.

a Verdant World Records release, and it’s just as exhilarating and profound as I remembered.

As a composer, Kirchner was powerfully influenced by his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. Like Schuller and others of their generation, Kirchner adopted the aesthetic and approach of 12-tone music but with freedom and flair, unbound by strict rules. I do remember him being narrow-minded about composers who stuck essentially to tonal harmonic languages — let alone to Minimalism, which he could not abide.

the 11-minute “Music for Orchestra,” from 1969. It’s a transfixing score that feels subdued in a lying-in-wait way, as if at any moment pensive stretches of lyricism could break out. And sometimes do, through cascades of skittish riffs and teeming bursts.

Harold Shapero, born in Lynn, Mass., in 1920, may have been the most precociously gifted American composer of his generation, which included his friend Leonard Bernstein. As a student at Tanglewood, Shapero deeply impressed Aaron Copland. He earned the attention of his idol, Stravinsky, when that composer came as a guest to Harvard, where Shapero was a student.

Symphony for Classical Orchestra, composed in 1947. Bernstein adored the piece and led the premiere in 1948 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He recorded it in 1953 on a single hectic day with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Then the work disappeared until André Previn discovered it and led a triumphant performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1986, and later recorded it. You could make a case for the piece as one of the great American symphonies.

died in 2013, explored the technique but never went along. He composed less and less, until he had a renewed burst of creativity running Brandeis’s electronic music studio.

But he was a great mentor to countless student composers. And his life offered a lesson, a kind of warning: Stick to your guns; don’t be intimidated; write the music you want to write. They were lessons eagerly learned in the explosion of creativity happening in Boston.

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In New Book, Boehner Says He Regrets Clinton Impeachment

WASHINGTON — Former Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, says in a new memoir that he regrets supporting the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, calling it a partisan attack that he now wishes he had repudiated.

In his book “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Boehner blames Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, then the No. 2 Republican, for leading a politically motivated campaign against Mr. Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

The Republican-led House voted to impeach Mr. Clinton on two counts in 1998. He was acquitted by the Senate.

“In my view, Republicans impeached him for one reason and one reason only — because it was strenuously recommended to us by one Tom DeLay,” Mr. Boehner writes. “Tom believed that impeaching Clinton would win us all these House seats, would be a big win politically, and he convinced enough of the membership and the G.O.P. base that this was true.

stinging denunciation of Donald J. Trump, saying that the now former president “incited that bloody insurrection” by his supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that the Republican Party has been taken over by “whack jobs.”

Mr. Trump’s “refusal to accept the result of the election not only cost Republicans the Senate but led to mob violence,” Mr. Boehner writes.

Mr. Boehner also details on the record some of Capitol Hill’s most talked-about exchanges, including the time that Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, pulled a knife on Mr. Boehner on the House floor after a critical speech about sweetheart projects going to Alaska.

“Sometimes I can still feel that thing against my throat,” Mr. Boehner writes. (The two would later patch things up, and Mr. Boehner would serve as the best man in Mr. Young’s wedding.)

Mr. Boehner also relays an encounter in his office in which Mark Meadows, then a Republican representative from North Carolina and a leader of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, dropped to his knees to beg for forgiveness after a political coup attempt against Mr. Boehner failed.

“Not long after the vote — a vote that like many of the Freedom Caucus’s efforts ended in abject failure — I was told that Meadows wanted to meet with me one-on-one,” Mr. Boehner recalled. “Before I knew it, he had dropped off the couch and was on his knees. Right there on my rug. That was a first. His hands came together in front of him as if he were about to pray. ‘Mr. Speaker, please forgive me,’ he said, or words to that effect.”

Mr. Boehner says he wondered, in the moment, what Mr. Meadows’s “elite and uncompromising band of Freedom Caucus warriors would have made of their star organizer on the verge of tears, but that wasn’t my problem.”

Mr. Boehner looks down at the man who would later become Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff.

“I took a long, slow drag of my Camel cigarette,” he writes. “Let the tension hang there a little, you know? I looked at my pack of Camels on the desk next to me, then I looked down at him, and asked (as if I didn’t know): ‘For what?’”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York.

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