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THURS: Feds say cleanup first priority at LANL, APD releases details on two police shootings, + More

FILE - In this April 9, 2019, photo provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory, barrels of radioactive waste are loaded for transport to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, marking the first transuranic waste loading operations in five years at the Radioactive Assay Nondestructive Testing (RANT) facility in Los Alamos, N.M. A report from independent federal investigators Wednesday, July 19, 2023, said the price tag for cleaning up waste at the laboratory is rising and federal officials need to do more to track costs and progress of the $7 billion effort. (Nestor Trujillo/Los Alamos National Laboratory via AP, File)
Nestor Trujillo/AP
Los Alamos National Laboratory
FILE - In this April 9, 2019, photo provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory, barrels of radioactive waste are loaded for transport to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, marking the first transuranic waste loading operations in five years at the Radioactive Assay Nondestructive Testing (RANT) facility in Los Alamos, N.M. A report from independent federal investigators Wednesday, July 19, 2023, said the price tag for cleaning up waste at the laboratory is rising and federal officials need to do more to track costs and progress of the $7 billion effort. (Nestor Trujillo/Los Alamos National Laboratory via AP, File)

In a nod to Oppenheimer's legacy, US officials vow to prioritize cleanup at nuclear lab — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The price tag for cleaning up waste from the once top-secret Manhattan Project and subsequent Cold War-era nuclear research at Los Alamos National Laboratory has more than doubled in the last seven years, and independent federal investigators say federal officials will have to do better to track costs and progress.

The Government Accountability Office in a report issued Wednesday said while some improvements have been made, the U.S. Energy Department hasn't taken a comprehensive approach to prioritizing cleanup activities at the New Mexico lab.

The report came as federal officials hosted a forum Thursday in Los Alamos to talk about cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater and handling hazardous waste generated by decades of research that started with development of the atomic bomb during the 1940s.

Ike White, who heads DOE's Office of Environmental Management, said the release this week of the "Oppenheimer" film makes it a good time to talk about the legacy that came from the dawning of the atomic age. Part of the environmental cleanup mission requires an examination of history, White told those gathered at the historic Fuller Lodge in the heart of Los Alamos.

He characterized the nation's multibillion-dollar cleanup program as the third largest liability on the books for the federal government — behind only Social Security and Medicaid.

"It is a large, it is a complicated, it a technologically challenging program," White said. "It is extremely important to a lot of people who live across the country from coast to coast, and all of us who are part of that program feel an extraordinary responsibility to make that program successful."

Still, the GAO pointed to weaknesses in oversight by the Office of Environmental Management at Los Alamos. They said failure to finalize a performance baseline for the cleanup contractor prevented the office from tracking ongoing costs, the scope of work and progress.

New Mexico environmental regulators said the report validates their longstanding concerns — that cleanup is mired in unnecessary delays that threaten public health and the environment. New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Matthew Maez pointed specifically to the federal government's responsibility to protect drinking water.

"The frequent delays and lack of transparency in cleanup must be remedied," he said. "We hope this report galvanizes DOE-EM to enact change in Los Alamos."

Environmental management officials at Los Alamos said they expect to complete remaining cleanup activities at the lab by 2043 at an estimated cost of about $7 billion.

Michael Mikolanis, who heads DOE's environmental management office at Los Alamos, said Thursday that his team is developing a long-term strategic vision for the remaining cleanup that will be based on priorities identified through numerous meetings with state regulators, the leaders of neighboring Native American communities and others.

While White agrees with the GAO that prioritizing the scope of work is important, he said optimum efficiency is not always the most important factor.

"One of the things that we've arranged with our strategic vision effort and our stakeholder engagement is to try to make sure we're doing that prioritization of the work in a way that is transparent to the community and that doesn't just reflect a sort of bureaucratic set of values," he said.

Don Hancock with the Albuquerque-based nuclear watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center said the DOE in 2010 had issued a roadmap that included a goal of disposing of most of the transuranic waste — that which contains manmade elements heavier than uranium — by the end of 2015.

He asked the DOE officials at the forum about the timeline and how much waste remained.

Mikolanis said his office plans to unveil an interactive map this fall that will include estimates of the waste at Los Alamos that is stored above ground and that which has yet to be unearthed.

White said estimates for the cleanup project nationwide are hard to calculate because the ultimate volume of waste can change depending on the scope of a project.

The GAO report includes several recommendations for the DOE that include implementing a plan to account for cost and schedule increases, building trust with state regulators and including consideration of potential risks when making decisions.

APD releases details of two June incidents where officers shot and killed people —KUNM News,  Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Police Department gave details yesterday/Wednesday of two incidents in June where police officers shot and killed people.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the first happened on June 24th, when police were called about a man outside a tire shop on 98th Street, slumped over the steering wheel, with the engine running and knives visible in his shirt.

APD identified the driver as Mark Peter, who had an arrest warrant. Peter drove over tire deflation devices when he started his car at about 4pm, then ran behind the back of a strip mall.

APD says Peter ran into a crowded El Mezquite market. Security footage shows he pulled a handgun which he fired as he was struck by a Taser. Employees and customers fled. Four police officers opened fire and Peter died at the scene.

The other incident happened on June 20th, when four police officers shot and killed a stabbing suspect named Jeramiah Salyards, and also struck and injured two bystanders.

Police located him around midnight nearLomas and Louisiana Boulevards. After he refused to drop a knife, four officers fired toward him, hitting him and the two bystanders, who have not been identified.

None of the eight officers involved in these shootings has returned to duty and the incidents are being investigated, particularly tactics that saw shots fired in the direction of bystanders and other officers.

Police chief Harold Medina told reporters in his opinion Salyards and Peter should not have been in the community, but should have been receiving help for mental health problems or substance abuse. Online obituaries for both men said they were loved and missed.

New Mexico families often leave home-visiting programs that can improve infant health and safety — Morgan Lee,  Associated Press

Families of infant children in New Mexico are increasingly exiting earlier than expected from home-visiting programs aimed at improving the health, safety and emotional lives of preschool children, state budget and accountability analysts announced Thursday.

Nearly 90% of New Mexico families enrolled in home visiting are not staying the expected length of time, versus a national average of about 50%. And more than half stay enrolled for less than 12 months, the Legislature's budget and accountability office said in a presentation to state legislators in Farmington.

Home-visiting programs provide parenting guidance from pregnancy to rearing toddlers.

"Families are not staying in home visiting the expected length of time, nor are they getting the expected number of visits" each month from child-development professionals, said Sarah Dinces, a program evaluator for the budget and accountability office.

She said the trend makes it less likely that children will receive the expected benefits of home visits, including more mature behavior when children reach kindergarten.

Studies show children in New Mexico are among the most vulnerable in the nation when it comes to malnutrition, access to adequate medical care, and experiencing trauma. The evaluation of New Mexico's home-visiting programs took place as legislators and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ramped up annual spending on home visiting and expanded a suite of early education programs including no-cost preschool.

The study also found that New Mexico could expand home visiting enrollment to 5,400 more families by tapping into unused annual federal Medicaid funds.

About 6,300 families were enrolled in home visiting at last count in 2022 — equal to about 6% of households statewide with children under age 5.

Home visiting is offered by the state through 33 businesses ranging from small, local nonprofits to statewide medical providers, including Presbyterian Medical Services. The providers follow several different models of care.

Elizabeth Groginsky, secretary of the early childhood education agency that oversees the programs, said turnover in the home-visiting workforce is one likely reason that families leave early — and that higher pay may be needed.

"When you think of a family building a relationship, building that rapport with a home visitor ... and then the home visitor says, 'I'm leaving the program.'" Groginsky testified to legislators. "As a family, you may say, 'You know, I've gotten a lot out of this program. ... but I'm really not going to start another relationship.'"

Several legislators expressed unwavering support for state spending on home visiting, amid questions about how to improve state oversight.

"It seems to be costly, but I think making sure that we spend and invest the types of dollars that it takes to protect our ... youngest and vulnerable is something that we have to do," said state Rep. Derrick Lente.

Fed announces $1M in broadband grants for New Mexico pueblos — KUNM News

Two New Mexican pueblos have a million dollars in grants heading their way to build up and expand crucial broadband internet access for their communities.

The national Telecommunications and Information Administration announced in a news release the Pueblos of Jemez of Nambe were each awarded $500,000 from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

Senator Ben Ray Lujan said the funding is key to “bridge the digital divide” and bring modern telehealth, education, and more to tribal communities.

The funds will go to installing new infrastructure, such as wireless towers and fiberoptic cables, that Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez said will create new possibilities for healthcare, safety, education, and social services.

This round of awards from the program include 8 tribal entities receiving nearly $4 million, but the program overall has issued 191 awards totaling $1.78 billion dollars.

Jemez and Nambe are just the two latest of sixteen total awards from the program here in the land of enchantment totaling more than $232 million according to program’s statistics.

UNM embezzlement case goes to jury KUNM News, Santa Fe New Mexican

The jury in the case against the former athletic director at the University of New Mexico Paul Krebs has begun deliberations.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the closing arguments took place this afternoon/yesterday [THURS] after Krebs was on the stand all morning and into the afternoon. He is facing two counts of felony embezzlement that could result in more than a decade in jail and a hefty fine.

At issue is a 2015 golfing trip to Scotland that was to be a fundraiser for the university’s athletics department but ended up costing UNM about $38,000. Krebs is accused of using taxpayer funds to cover the losses.

State Assistant Attorney General John Duran argued that Krebs participated in covering those losses by anonymously donating his own funds to UNM and then authorized shifting over $13,000 from an athletics department account to the Lobo Club.

Krebs’ attorney Paul Kennedy has argued his client got no financial benefit from the trip and therefore committed no crime.

Lawmakers say students in rural and Native communities may face challenges with longer school year - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 

For a student living in Nageezi, it’s about a 45-minute ride to get to either Farmington or Cuba to attend a larger school in the city.

A new law lengthening the school year in New Mexico means that student will have more days of getting up before sunrise to make it to the bus stop and coming back home shortly before the evening rolls around.

That’s something on the mind of Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo), who spoke up during the Legislative Finance Committee’s Public Education Subcommittee discussion on Wednesday.

Lawmakers gathered in Farmington, N.M. to listen to staff from the Public Education Department and a legislative analyst talk about how schools in the state are rolling out extended learning hours.

Legislators passed House Bill 130 in the 2023 legislative session and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it in March, increasing the instructional time in public schools from at least 990 hours to 1,140 hours.

The legislation came about after the 2019 Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit found that New Mexico has failed to provide quality education to students. Part of the judgment from this landmark decision recommended that an extended school year could help students get a better education.

On Wednesday, in a small room in northwestern New Mexico, Lente asked the presenters if they thought it was fair for a Native American student who lives in a small town to have to take even more hour-long bus rides to school and back.

This is criticism similar to what other lawmakers representing rural areas voiced during the 2023 legislative session with House Bill 130. Lente was excused during the House floor vote.

Since the 2019 Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, New Mexico has added about 7 days to the school year, according to a hearing brief released Wednesday from the Legislative Finance Committee.

And House Bill 130 has pushed about 250 schools to increase days in their 2023-24 school year calendars, said Amanda DeBell, a deputy secretary at New Mexico’s Public Education Department.

Lente asked her if quantity is better than quality for New Mexico’s students.

DeBell responded quality of course comes before quantity, but increasing the length of learning time will help.

“Students need to be able to access learning at their own learning style, pace, speed, et cetera,” she said. “So I think it’s a little of both.”

Lente said an extended school year is great for students who live minutes away from their school. That usually isn’t the case for students living in rural areas of New Mexico.

“If I lived in downtown Albuquerque or in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, and this was an extended opportunity for my student to go to school, that’s a great thing,” he said.

Rep. Harry Garcia (D-Grants), who also represents parts of northwestern New Mexico, said students in Lake Valley are leaving for school at 5 a.m. and not getting home until 5 p.m.

“That is not fair to our kids,” said Garcia, who voted for the bill’s passage during the session.

DeBell said New Mexico presents unique situations with the rural communities scattered across the state, and officials need to be “thoughtful about the diversity and the landscape” of the state.

“I don’t know if we can talk about fairness or not between a four- or a five-day week,” she said. “I think we just need to be cognizant of it as we are pushing forward.”

Lente asked why tribes can’t create their own schools or school districts for limited periods of time, so when students are sometimes working on ranches or farms and can’t make the hour-long ride to get to school in the city, they still get educational credit for that work.

“Why are we not compensating these types of initiatives as well, instead of forcing them to sit on a school bus to go another day to school?” he asked.

Sunny Lui is a legislative senior fiscal analyst who prepared Wednesday’s hearing brief. He said studies of New Mexico’s elementary school programs showed that Native American students who participated in extended learning had the largest gains compared to their peers.

Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City) voted for the bill’s passage but said on Wednesday there’s pushback from rural communities on this extended learning period because of the unique challenges they face.

She said Cobra High School in her district in southern New Mexico is “falling into disrepair” and doesn’t have the same resources to pull from that schools in more urban areas might.

She said the condition of a school can affect students’ commitment to school. When a new high school was built in Deming, she said, students were excited to go to school.

Correa Hemphill said the state needs to send a message to its students that officials care enough to at least provide functional desks. The desks at Cobra High School are broken, she said.

“What kind of message does that send to students when the desks that they’re sitting in pinch their skin or grab their hair?” she said.

Lui said there are funds from the 2023 budget that schools will get for general maintenance, and smaller schools could actually get a larger share because of the way the appropriation works.


New Mexico severely lacks teachers, along with workers in other key industries.

Hemphill asked if the extended school year bill has caused any teachers to leave. Not all educators agreed that extending school time would improve academic performance.

DeBell said the teacher vacancy rate is, anecdotally, about where it’s been for the last couple of years. There were nearly 700 teacher vacancies across the state in 2022, according to a report by New Mexico State University.

Gregory Frostad is an assistant secretary with the state’s Public Education Department. He said his agency doesn’t have more specific, up-to-date data on vacancies yet. He said officials will start looking into it in the fall, especially when the next NMSU vacancy report comes out.

“It is just too early for us to know how that change will have affected teacher vacancies,” he said.

Rep. Joy Garrett (D-Albuquerque) said educators and families are exhausted after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we extend the school year … our teachers are undergoing tremendous burdens,” she said.

She said she doesn’t want to see the Legislature add more time to the school year in the 2024 legislative session before knowing if this extended school year really works. That would just hurt the system even further, she said.

Other legislators also said the state needs to stay on top of the academic results of the extended school year to see if this change actually works.

Former UNM President says 2015 Scotland golfing trip was part of bold fundraising plan - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A former University of New Mexico president says a 2015 golfing trip to Scotland was part of a planned scheme to impress high-profile donors of the university’s athletics program.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, former UNM president Bob Frank took the stand yesterday in the third day of Paul Krebs’ embezzlement trial. He served as president from 2012 to 2017.

Frank told the court “We had never done anything like that. It was a step to try to move us to a higher level.”

Prosecutors have charged Krebs with two counts of embezzlement for allegedly using public funds to help pay for the 2015 overseas trip that included family members, former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and three donors.

According to the Journal, prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday and closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday.

No drug test for 'Rust' movie armorer in upcoming trial over fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The former weapons supervisor on the set of the movie "Rust" won't have to take a drug test as she confronts felony charges of evidence tampering and involuntary manslaughter in the on-set shooting death of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin.

A New Mexico district court judge on Wednesday dismissed a request from prosecutors to test Hannah Gutierrez-Reed for illegal drugs, calling it "an ambush" against her defense lawyers.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez-Reed passed narcotics to another person to avoid legal consequences in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting in October 2021, while contending in court documents that the armorer was likely hungover on the day a live bullet was placed into the gun Baldwin used.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles said the drug use allegations are unsubstantiated and undocumented.

It's still unclear how several live rounds of ammunition got on set. Prosecutors say they have some evidence to support the theory that Gutierrez-Reed may be responsible for the introduction of the rounds.

Wednesday's hearing, held online, was the first for a recently filed felony charge against Gutierrez-Reed of tampering with evidence in the shooting, which killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

State District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer advised Gutierrez-Reed of her legal rights on the evidence-tampering charge, which carries a possible penalty of up to 18 months in prison. Gutierrez-Reed did not enter a plea.

An involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin was dropped in April. The actor was pointing a gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her. Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to aim it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera.

Evidentiary hearings may take place as soon as August to determine whether the case against Gutierrez-Reed advances toward trial.

Additionally, Gutierrez-Reed still has access to guns as a self-defense measure against threats — something prosecutors raised as a concern during Wednesday's online court hearing.

"We have a person who is a substance user who is in possession of firearms," said special prosecutor Kari Morrissey.

Gutierrez-Reed's lawyers say prosecutors are resorting to "character assassination" to prop up their involuntary manslaughter case.

The filming of "Rust" resumed in April in Montana under an agreement with the cinematographer's widower, Matthew Hutchins, that makes him an executive producer. Souza says he returned to directing "Rust" to honor the legacy of Halyna Hutchins.

New Mexico expands pre-K slots and teacher pay through increased funds Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

New Mexico is boosting pay for prekindergarten teachers and expanding the number of pre-K slots available to families.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement at a White House conference on childcare where she talked about addressing poverty through early childhood education.

The governor said nearly $100 million from the Land Grant Permanent Fund means the state will add 3,000 more pre-K slots in the coming school year through grants to school district programs and community organizations as well as tribal governments.

Voters approved increased annual withdrawals from the fund last year to create more money for early childhood programs. That change is expected to generate $240 million a year for early childhood and K-12 education.

The increased funding also means early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree will make $50,000 a year.

New Mexico continues to rank at or near the bottom on most measures of child well-being.

Witnesses testify Krebs ordered them to move money to cover losses from golf trip - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico

Twelve people took the witness stand on Tuesday, giving jurors insight into the golf trip and the subsequent budget maneuvering to cover losses that led to embezzlement charges for former University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs.

Jurors heard from people who went to Scotland with Krebs in 2015 as part of a fundraiser he hosted with the Lobo Club, the group responsible for taking donations for Lobo athletics, and people responsible for the business accounts that he used to cover his losses.

There wasn’t much surprise from the details of the trip that included world-class hospitality, fine dining and play on prestige golf courses for some of the university’s top donors. However, there were some clear red flags about how Krebs moved money from the athletic department’s budget into the Lobo Club, the women responsible for following the order from Kreb testified.

Because Krebs lost money on the deposit he made to set up the trip, he allegedly moved money from what was described as a “contingency” fund set up under the UNM athletics budget, to the Lobo Club, an entity that can only take private donations, not taxpayers dollars from any university budget, athletics included.

Krebs is facing one count of embezzlement over $25,000 and another count of embezzlement of more than $2,500 but under $25,000, each second degree felonies that could bring jail time and a hefty fine.

Yvonne Otts, UNM athletics department director of business operations, shared a bit of the process that she followed under Krebs direction, to move the money from one account to another. Prosecutors showed her an email from July 2015 where Krebs told Otts, “We need to reimburse the Lobo Club for $13,625 out of the contingency fund.”

“It was business as usual,” she told the jury.

Otts said athletics has more than 150 different accounts to cover costs for things such as student athlete expenses, utilities fees and events.

She said each year UNM athletics sets aside $100,000 for this contingency fund to cover “unanticipated expenses.”

Prosecutors asked her if this amount of money was unusually high. “If it happened it was not to this amount of money,” she said.

From there the jury heard from the next in line responsible for transferring the funds under Krebs direction: former Lobo Club financial coordinator Valerie Arbogast.

Arbogast worked in that position with the Lobo Club from July 2010 to April 2018 and said she was the sole person to make sure donations were accounted for and ensure financial books were within the Lobo Club budget.

While she did report directly to the club’s executive director, she said the athletic department did have a large influence on projects and fundraisers.

After Otts got the directive from Krebs, she then emailed Arbogast asking her to process the request to move the money from the athletic department to the Lobo Club. This was a red flag for Arbogast, she testified.

“I wondered why (Otts) didn’t do it,” she told the jury. “I thought it was strange she didn’t make the transfer.”

Prosecutors are trying to set up the argument that Krebs had intent to break university policy in his alleged embezzlement scheme.

They attempted to establish this further through testimony from Sidney Mason-Coon, a policy officer at the University of New Mexico.

However, before prosecutors could make their point, Kreb’s attorneys objected to her testimony. Judge Cindy Leos ordered the jury to leave the room to allow the attorney’s to make their arguments.

They argued that establishing Kreb’s intent to break the law by violating university policies, would muddle the opinion of the jury since it does not fit within their definition of embezzlement, meaning taking something for personal gain.

Judge Leos then sent the jury home and gave both sides until tomorrow morning to present arguments for whether or not Mason-Coon should remain on the witness stand.

The trial, expected to last through Friday, will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the Second Judicial District Court in downtown Albuquerque.

Television cameras from local news stations will likely not be present tomorrow morning. Before court resumed after lunch, Judge Leos made the pool photographer from KOAT pack up his equipment, banning local TV news from filming the proceedings.

Leos said the photographer violated the rules of decorum by filming footage during breaks in the trial, and getting close up images of documents on the table where defense attorneys are sitting.

Only one video camera is typically allowed in courtrooms, so the three local TV stations set up a pool situation to record what is being filmed inside. Leos said KRQE and KOB also violated the rules by live streaming the proceedings on their websites without permission.

Leos allowed reporters from the television stations to remain in the courtroom, along with reporters from Source New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal and The Santa Fe New Mexican. Still photography is also still permitted.

US Interior Department chooses new water and science deputy to focus on drought resilience - Associated Press

The U.S. Interior Department has tapped an official with the federal government's water management bureau to serve as a deputy assistant secretary for water and science.

The Department announced the appointment of Michael Brain on Wednesday. He replaces Tanya Trujillo, who recently resigned after playing a key role in negotiations over the shrinking Colorado River.

The leadership change comes as the states, cities and farmers that rely on the Colorado River struggle to decide how to reduce their use. In August, the Interior Department will offer its annual analysis on the health of the river and announce if there will be additional cuts in the coming year.

In recent years the federal government has lowered some states' water allocations and offered billions of dollars to farmers, cities and others to cut back. But key water officials — including Trujillo — didn't see those efforts as enough to prevent the system from collapsing.

In his new role, Brain will help the Interior Department as it addresses drought resilience and funnels more money toward infrastructure projects.

Brain had served as deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation since March 2022, overseeing media and congressional relations. He previously worked as a congressional staffer focusing on water and environmental issues and helping to develop funding bills related to water policy.

Brain has a law degree in urban planning, land use and environmental law from Saint Louis University and a bachelor's in political science and government from Boston College.

Biden administration tells judge that its new asylum rule is not a reboot of Trump's efforts - By Rebecca Santana Associated Press

The Biden administration argued Wednesday that its new asylum rule is different from versions put forward under President Donald Trump in a court hearing before a judge who threw out Trump's attempts to limit asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border.

"2023 is not 2019," said Erez Reuveni, the Department of Justice lawyer who argued the case.

The rule makes it extremely difficult for migrants who come directly to the southern border to get asylum unless they use a government app to make an appointment or they have already tried to seek protection in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S.

Opponents say it's essentially a rehash of Trump efforts — a question that gave the online hearing Wednesday a sense of deja vu. The San Francisco-based federal judge who will decide the case, Jon S. Tigar, ruled against the Trump administration's two attempts to limit asylum.

President Joe Biden's administration instituted its rule on May 11 with the expiration of a COVID-19 restriction known as Title 42 that had limited asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. The lawsuit challenging the new rule is being heard as congressional Republicans are attacking the administration for what they say is a failure to control the roughly 2,000-mile (3,220-kilometer) border with Mexico.

The administration argues that its rule encourages migrants to use lawful pathways into the U.S. and prevents chaos at the border. But immigration rights groups suing to get rid of it say it endangers migrants and is illegal.

At the outset of Wednesday's hearing, Tigar said he would have more questions for the government than the groups trying to stop the asylum rule. He also referenced his history with Trump's attempts to limit asylum.

"I read somewhere that 2023 would be a good year for sequels," Tigar told Reuveni as the lawyer prepared to begin his arguments.

Reuveni argued that the Biden rule is different from Trump's attempts to limit asylum, noting that exceptions are being granted at a rate of 9%.

"This is not a toothless exception," he said.

Katrina Eiland, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the immigrant rights organizations who sued over the Biden rule, argued Wednesday that it violates immigration law that allows people to seek asylum wherever they arrive on the border.

"Thousands of people with valid claims ... have been ordered removed and in many cases removed to likely persecution. This rule has consequences," Eiland said.

Tigar was appointed by President Barack Obama. Trump derided him an "Obama judge" after Tigar rejected a policy barring people from applying for asylum except at an official border entry point. Trump's remark prompted U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to weigh in to defend the impartiality of judges.

Tigar also ruled against the Trump administration's efforts to limit asylum to people who don't apply for protection in a country they travel through before coming to the U.S. The measure would have applied to children traveling alone, while the Biden rule does not.

The Supreme Court eventually allowed that Trump rule to go into effect. But the one barring people from applying for asylum except at an official border entry point was caught up in litigation and never took effect.

Immigrant rights group say the Biden rule forces migrants to seek protection in countries that don't have the same robust asylum system and human rights protections as the United States and leaves them in a dangerous limbo. They also argue that the CBP One app that the government wants migrants to use doesn't have enough appointments and isn't available in enough languages.

But Reuveni argued that there has been real progress in other countries such as Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica so that migrants can seek protection there.

He also took exception to the criticism of the app and other ways that the administration has used to provide legal pathways to migrants coming into the country. Just recently the government increased daily appointments via the app to 1,450, which is more than 500,000 people a year.

Reuveni noted that a program the government started in January grants parole to as much as 360,000 people a year from four specific countries. Republican-aligned states have their own lawsuit over that program.

All of those measures, Reuveni said, means it's "really unfair to suggest that there's no way to get your foot in the door."

Reuveni noted that encounters at the southern border have dropped significantly since Title 42 went away and the rule as well as other measures went into place. He emphasized that while this rule isn't the only reason for the drop, the government does consider it to be a "strong contributing factor."

Whatever Tigar decides, the case will certainly be appealed.

Reuveni at one point told Tigar that the administration was arguing on the "assumption you're going to rule against us totally."

The administration won't have to wait long to find out.

Tigar estimated he would take a week or less to issue a ruling. He said if he rules against the government, he will honor the administration's request that such a decision not take effect for 14 days to give it time to appeal.