At the Utah State Capitol, a mural of Brigham Young and the first Mormon pioneers brings some color to the building's spartan rotunda. Beneath it is a more modern sculpture — a woman walking forward with her son, who's holding a globe.
Underneath the statue are the words "Immigration and Settlement." The symbolism isn't lost on state House Speaker Becky Lockhart.
"Utah is a place that understands the value of immigration, the value of peoples coming to find a better life," she says, pointing up at the sculpture.
"We've always believed ... 'Come here and live the American dream,' but we want people to do it legally," Lockhart says. "And something's wrong with the legal way; it's not working as it should."
Lockhart, a Republican and LDS church member, was among a group of Utah leaders that sought to break new ground on the immigration debate in 2011. Arizona had passed a law the previous summer requiring police to check immigration status during routine traffic stops.
In Utah, Lockhart and her colleagues watched the boycotts and court battles that followed — and decided to go a different way.
The state passed a law creating a guest worker program. But three years later, that program still hasn't gone into effect — and now an effort is brewing to repeal it.
A 'Uniquely Utah' Approach
In November 2010, business, government and religious leaders had signed the "Utah Compact," which called on federal and state leaders to pass so-called "reasonable immigration reform." Lockhart and other lawmakers, inspired by the compact and the battles in Arizona, then passed a bipartisan set of immigration reform laws.
The main bill set up a guest worker law that would allow immigrants in the U.S. illegally and living in Utah to apply for a two-year work permit if they pay a fine and pass a criminal background check.
For Lockhart, "reasonable immigration reform" was pragmatic. Tens of thousands of immigrants have come to Utah illegally in recent years, lured by plentiful jobs in construction and tourism — the state has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. But Utah's education and health care budgets are strained. So why not bring all the new residents "out of the shadows," she says, and tax them?
"When states get involved in this, it's because states are very frustrated, because we're dealing with the consequences of a failed federal policy," she says.
But three years on, the guest worker law has yet to be formally implemented. It was predicated on the federal government granting Utah a waiver to proceed. Lawmakers have extended the law's effective date twice as they've waited for a response from the Obama administration. (Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security would discuss Utah's waiver request with NPR.)
The impasse has sparked growing calls for lawmakers to just repeal the whole thing when they reconvene next year.
"Nothing will happen with it, and we just keep extending it and it makes us feel good to say ... 'We have the solution for the entire world in the state of Utah,' " says Bob Wren, chairman of Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement.
There's also cynicism among immigrant-rights activists, like Tony Yapias, the director of the group Proyecto Latino de Utah.
"I've been pessimistic from day one. I mean, we are just saying, 'Why are they pushing this law?' — because this is never going to get implemented," Yapias says. Of all states, he asks, why would the Obama administration let Utah, a Republican bastion, launch a pilot program on immigration?
But whether or not the guest worker law is ever implemented, there has been a big shift in Utah. The entire atmosphere toward immigration in the state is a lot less charged than it used to be.
"It's not an issue in Utah anymore," says Sen. Luz Robles, a Democrat who co-sponsored the guest worker bill. "I think that's, like, the first thing that gives us a signal ... that we have succeeded."
It hasn't hurt that police in cities like Salt Lake, for the most part, don't worry about immigration status. Utah also gives in-state tuition and driving privileges to people living in the state without papers.
Jesus Savala, a resident of Salt Lake City since the late 1980s, says laws like those are helping curb discrimination and racism.
On a recent afternoon, Savala and his wife and grandson were shopping in the Latino Mall, a collection of taquerias, clothing stores and banks on the city's heavily Latino west side.
In an interview in Spanish, Savala says he remembers the 2011 guest worker law fondly. Yet, three years on, he has a brother-in-law who's still struggling to find steady work. He's the last in the family without papers.
It's frustrating, he says: His brother-in-law just wants to be able to work here legally.
A Softer Approach, Influenced By Religion
Latinos are Utah's fastest-growing minority, but due to the influence of the Mormon Church, this region has also seen a sharp rise in immigration from Pacific Island nations. A booming tech sector has also attracted Indian and Pakistani immigrants.
From those communities, you hear some of the same things: attitudes toward immigrants — legal or not — have changed considerably in Utah.
"It's been gradually getting better," says Yaser "Sunny" Nisar.
Nisar opened his Curry Fried Chicken restaurant a year ago on this gentrifying block of State Street, south of the downtown Salt Lake City skyline. On a recent night, people filed in to break the Ramadan fast at sundown.
Nisar knows first-hand that things are improving. Two days after Sept. 11, his family's original Halal restaurant in Salt Lake City was set on fire. It was quickly deemed an anti-Muslim hate crime. Nisar says community leaders — and the LDS Church — rallied behind them, and that started something bigger.
"There's a lot of awareness going on, a lot of people are getting to know us better than just going off what they see on TV and what they, maybe, have a misconception in their head," he says.
Nisar doesn't pay very close attention to politics, but he says Utah's religious values are a big reason why the state embraced a softer approach to immigration.
You hear this from business owners, Republicans, Democrats, churchgoers: Utah is a pro-family state, and the tone on immigration is a lot calmer here than along the border.
Just take the views of Becky Lockhart, the state speaker of the House, who says her views on immigration have "evolved" a good deal in recent years.
"Utah is a unique place and we understand the human factor," she says. "It's not a black and white issue; there are people's lives here."
Lockhart, who's not running for re-election and has been named as a possible candidate for governor next year, says she's proud of what Utah did. She's also still holding out hope that the federal government will consider granting that waiver so the guest worker "pilot project" can move ahead.
A temporary peace will begin Friday morning in Gaza, as Israel and Hamas agree to an "unconditional humanitarian ceasefire," according to a statement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The truce is set to begin at 8 a.m. local time Friday and last for 72 hours. U.N. Special Coordinator Robert Serry says he's been assured by officials from both Israel and Hamas that they will abide by the truce. The envoys will also travel to Cairo to negotiate a possible longer peace deal, in talks hosted by Egypt.
As NPR's Emily Harris reported earlier today, Gaza has been hit by water and power shortages.
From the statement from Ban and Kerry:
"This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence. During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies. Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period."
News of the truce comes after the U.S. revealed it had allowed Israel "to dip into a little-known U.S. munitions stockpile" for ammunition, using some of the emergency ammunition to conduct its offensive in Gaza.
In the 24 days of fighting, more than 1,360 people have died in Gaza, Palestinian officials say. In Israel, 59 people have died, according to officials there.
For a while there, China was the American farmer's best friend. The world's most populous nation had so many pigs and chickens to feed, it became one of the top importers of U.S. corn and soybeans almost overnight.
China also developed a big appetite for another corn-derived animal feed called "dried distillers grains with solubles," or DDGS, a byproduct of ethanol production. China's appetites for the stuff drove up global grain prices and filled Midwestern pockets with cash.
This year, though, the lovely relationship has gone sour, all because of biotechnology.
A couple of years ago, American farmers began planting a new type of genetically engineered corn invented by the seed company Syngenta. This GMO contains a new version of a gene that protects the corn plant from certain insects. Problem is, this new gene isn't yet approved in China, and Chinese officials didn't appreciate it when traces of the new, as-yet-unapproved GMOs started showing up in boatloads of American grain.
The crackdown began in November 2013. China began rejecting shiploads of corn when officials detected traces of the new gene. By February of this year, U.S. exports of corn to China had practically ceased.
At the time, some American grain exporters said that there was little to worry about. The Chinese move, they said, probably was intended to slow down imports temporarily in order to make sure that China's farmers got a decent price for their own corn harvest. As evidence, they pointed to the fact that China continued to accept imports of DDGS, which also contain traces of the unapproved gene. The U.S. sent $1.6 billion worth of DDGS to China last year.
Well, last week, China expanded the ban to DDGS, shocking many traders. The price of DDGS plunged.
According to the National Grain and Feed Association, the Chinese ban on corn and corn products may end up costing American farmers, ethanol producers and traders a total of about $3 billion.
Max Fisher, director of Economics for the NGFA, who came up with that estimate, says the ban actually is hurting the Chinese, too. "They replaced [the U.S. corn] with more expensive grains," he says, such as barley from Australia. But one group of American farmers is benefiting: China is importing lots more sorghum.
In an interesting twist, American farm groups seem unsure whom to blame. Some are angry at China. Others point their finger at Syngenta.
A few days ago, the U.S. Grains Council wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging his "immediate, direct, and personal intervention" with Chinese officials "to halt this current regulatory sabotage of the DDGS trade with China."
The NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association, on the other hand, have called on Syngenta to stop selling the offending corn varieties until those varieties can be sold in major export markets.
"They're being a bad actor here," says Max Fisher of NGFA, referring to Syngenta. "They're making $40 million" selling the new corn varieties, "but it's costing U.S. farmers $1 billion."
Syngenta, for its part, rejects any blame for the debacle. "We want to get technology into the hands of farmers as soon as possible," said the company's CEO, David Morgan, in a video released on Syngenta's website. "We can't expect growers to wait indefinitely for access to technologies, based on what foreign governments decide to do." According to Morgan, China has failed to make a timely decision on the new gene, which goes by the name MIR 162.
Even if China approved MIR 162, however, the ban might remain. That's because Syngenta began selling yet another new new type of GMO corn this year, which also is not yet approved in China.
Syngenta has asked farmers to take that corn to specific grain processors, who will keep it from getting into export shipments. But Fisher thinks the new gene is likely to show up in exports. "Farmers are going to be farmers," he says, and sell their grain through the usual channels.
For the second time this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised the travel alert for three West African countries, as the death toll in the Ebola outbreak increased at an alarming rate.
"The bottom line is that the multiple outbreaks in West Africa are worsening right now," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told NPR on Thursday. "This is the biggest, most complex and the most difficult outbreak of Ebola that we've had to deal with."
In only four days, the total number of cases has risen by 122, or about 10 percent. Since March, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,300 cases and 728 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has reported one case in a traveler from Liberia.
In response, the CDC is sending at least 50 more doctors and scientists to the region to help get the outbreak under control and stop its spread, Frieden says. The agency already has 12 people on the ground there now.
The CDC also elevated the travel alert to "Level 3" — the most serious level — for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. It now advises against any nonessential travel to the three countries because of the "high risk."
This advisory level is reserved for grave situations, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
The measure reduces the risk of Americans catching Ebola, Frieden says. And it also helps to prevent overcrowding of clinics and hospitals with emergencies not related to Ebola.
"Even before Ebola, they [these countries] had relatively weak health care systems that ... weren't always as highly functional as the government wished they would be," Frieden says.
The West African countries have also intensified their response to the outbreak. On Wednesday, Liberia closed all schools, and Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency. The country started quarantining Ebola-stricken communities and put nonessential government workers on leave. President Ernest Bai Koroma called the measures "extraordinary."
One of the big concerns this week has been the large number of health care workers getting sick.
"It's a terrible infection, and it's taken a terrible toll on the health care system," Frieden says. More than 100 doctors and nurses in the region have gotten infected, and about 70 of them have died.
Two leading doctors in Liberia and Sierra Leone died this week, and two American aid workers are in serious condition at a clinic in Monrovia.
Dr. Kent Brantly, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Nancy Writebol, of Charlotte, N.C., were working with the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse when they caught the virus. They are both in "grave condition," the group said on its website.
The Peace Corps is evacuating 340 volunteers from the region. Two of them were under observation after potential exposure to Ebola.
Despite all of this, Frieden says he's confident that the outbreak can be contained — as long as health care workers are able to "meticulously" track down cases and isolate them before they spread the virus.
But it won't be quick or easy, he says. In fact, in the best-case scenario, it will take at least three to six months to stop the outbreak. And "we are not in the best of circumstances," he says.
There's little worry that Ebola will spread to the U.S., Frieden says. One reason is that the disease isn't transmitted through the air but rather through close contact of bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat and saliva.
"The good news — if there is any good news about Ebola — is that you don't spread it when you don't have symptoms," Frieden says. "So you can't get it from someone who's healthy."
This post is part of our Weekly Innovation series, in which we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.
If Mary Huang could have it her way, she would digitize her world and make everything around her using a 3-D printer. But for right now, she's sticking to shoes.
And she's doing it with a Brooklyn-based "part design label, part lab" company called Continuum that says: "fashion should express how we live our digital lives." Huang designs the look of the shoe and the software that creates it to make it all possible.
She says a pair of shoes takes anywhere from 16 to 20 hours to print — that's eight to 10 hours per shoe. The shoes are made mostly from plastic, and thermoplastic polyurethane, a rubber-like material. They cost anywhere from $250 to $395 per pair.
But how practical are 3-D-printed shoes, in general? Are they comfortable? Durable? Safe?
Some are. But Huang also features a shoe that's just for show. The website describes her Daphne Shoe this way:
"This design is more of an art piece. While it is wearable with ribbons tied around the ankles, it is not suitable for day to day wear ... . This design is meant mainly as an exhibition or collector's piece, or for special events ... .This can also be purchased as a single shoe, for half the price."
Dr. Marlene Reid thinks 3-D-printed shoes have a future.
"I think that's a really cool future for us," says Reid, a podiatrist and owner of Family Podiatry Center in Naperville, Ill. "The real potential is in creating custom shoes."
However, Reid is concerned about the materials that they are made out of, and that the shoes wouldn't be up to par with footwear standards.
What Reid says she's afraid of is "in its infancy, that the tendency would be to make a shoe of one material or limited material.
"Footwear has come such a long way in the development of materials and what they can provide for comfort and support," she says. "I think the technology has a lot of promise."
Huang thinks of her new-age, shoe-making process in the larger sense — how does (or can) it affect manufacturing?
"It's not going to replace how we traditionally manufacture things, but it gives you another option," she says.
Huang sees digital manufacturing as a potential way of changing how global supply chain works.
"The availability of cheap labor in the world is going to get more scarce," she says. "It's not that this would be a good process for everything we would want to design. It's a new process that has new benefits."
Huang says 3-D printing is a long-term technology: the goal is to learn and grow with it.
And now is only the beginning.
Allie Caren is a digital news intern at NPR, where she writes about tech-related news and innovations. She has "sort of, kind of" flat feet, and trips all the time. Follow Allie on Twitter at @alLISTENc.
Tips For Wearing High HeelsDr. Marlene Reid, a podiatrist, says our bodies are not meant to walk with our heels elevated three inches above the ground, or higher. It changes our biometrics, and our gait — we're "no longer walking normally," she says. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't wear them; Reid says we just need to "wear them smartly." So, according to Dr. Reid, remember:
- Don't wear the same heel height every day: Your Achilles tendon and the muscles will become contracted and shortened.
- Stretch out your Achilles tendon after you wear high heels.
- Platforms can negate some of the heel height.
- Know your foot type, and what components of the heel or shoe are important for your foot.