Morning Briefing: December 13, 2011

Arrests of people crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. plunged to a four-decade low in the last fiscal year, suggesting that “illegal immigration is on the retreat” even as it remains a hot topic for states and the federal government. Increased border patrol, Mexico’s declining birthrate, and the poor U.S. economy are among the factors in the decline.

A federal judge in Alabama has temporarily halted a provision of the state’s draconian immigration law that prevented state and local agencies from engaging in “business transactions” with undocumented immigrants — the provision made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to even have water in their own homes — and wrote that the “statute was discriminatorily based.”

Iowa evangelicals are split over which GOP candidate to support in the upcoming caucus. All the candidates are aggressively courting Iowa’s evangelical voters, but when it comes to the two front runners, evangelicals are torn between their aversion to Mitt Romney and their concern about Newt Gingrich’s considerable personal baggage.

Over 1,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked off three West Coast ports in California, Portland, and Washington to halt their operations yesterday. Called the “Shutdown Wall Street on the Waterfront” protests, demonstrators hoped to “cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks and send a message that their movement was not over.”

Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto protocol climate change treaty, it announced Monday, making it the first country to remove itself from the agreement. Canada was a participant in the Durban climate talks last week, where countries agreed to extend the treaty for five years, but the Conservative government denounced the extension as too costly for the country.

The House is expected to vote today on an extension of the payroll tax holiday — a bill which has also been linked to other Republican priorities like construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Senate Democrats have rejected the add-ons, but GOP leaders think connecting the tax holiday to the other issues is the only way to get House Republicans to approve the measure.

A poll finds that Americans’ fear of big government is at a near record high, with 64 percent saying that “big government” is a bigger threat to the country than “big business” or “big labor.” The all-time high of 65 percent was reached in 1999 and 2000.

Later this week, the Environmental Protection Agency will announce new rules limiting mercury and other harmful pollution from power plants. For the past 20 years, the biggest polluters, coal and oil-burning power plants, have avoided EPA regulation even as the agency cracked down on toxic air pollution from other industries.

And finally: She was already an accomplished lawyer and First Lady, but now Michelle Obama holds an even more prestigious accolade: Jumping jacker in chief. As part of her “Let’s Move!” initiative, Obama led over 300,000 young people in jumping jacks in October, and yesterday it was announced they officially shattered the record for most people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period.

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