December 28, 2022

The Morning Meeting with Al Tompkins is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas worth considering and other timely context for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed a temporary victory to border states who want to keep Title 42 in place in order to quickly deport migrants who enter the United States seeking asylum. The Biden administration wants to end the rule and allow migrants to wait in the U.S. for their hearing, which could take two years given the overloaded federal court dockets. 

Border states including Texas and Arizona, claim that if Title 42 expired, there will be a flood of tens of thousands of migrants flowing into the U.S., but the premise of the rule is not the same today as it was when the Trump administration put it in place claiming migrants posed a COVID-19 threat.  

Now the court will hear arguments in February, which could mean it might be late spring or early summer 2023 before the justices rule. 

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Majority:

The States contend that they face an immigration crisis at the border and policymakers have failed to agree on adequate measures to address it. The only means left to mitigate the crisis, the States suggest, is an order from this Court directing the federal government to continue its COVID-era Title 42 policies as long as possible—at the very least during the pendency of our review. Today, the Court supplies just such an order. 

For my part, I do not discount the States’ concerns. Even the federal government acknowledges “that the end of the Title 42 orders will likely have disruptive consequences.” But the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis. And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.

The immigration backlog now exceeds 2 million cases

Keep in mind that the migrants that the Governor of Texas sent by bus to frigid Washington, D.C., were all legally in the U.S. awaiting a hearing on their cases. That is what Title 42 provides.  And now it is clear that rule will stand for months, at least.

If the current system remains unchanged, it will take more than two years for federal courts to deal with the cases of migrants crossing the U.S. border this month. They will join the two million cases already sitting on federal dockets. This is the latest count according to researchers at Syracuse University:

(Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse)

The number of pending immigration cases has doubled in the last five years. Currently, cases take an average of 795 days to be decided in immigration court. That means a person crossing the border today might get a court hearing on their case around the beginning of 2025. 

What happened to the airline passenger Bill of Rights?

Travelers wade through a field of unclaimed luggage by the baggage carousels for Southwest Airlines in Denver International Airport on Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With thousands of flights being canceled day after day, with passengers sleeping on airport floors unable to get their hands on bags, what happened to all of that congressional bloviation in 2021 about a passenger Bill of Rights?  To be clear, the federal Department of Transportation did announce a new passenger Bill of Rights for travelers with disabilities. But when it comes to how an airline must respond when it delays or cancels a flight, that is still a table tilted toward the airlines.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reminds us:

Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call. Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control. Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.

The State of New York tried to increase passenger rights but a federal court overruled the regulation saying only the federal government has the authority to regulate air travel. says:

Unlike the EU and Canada, the USA does not have one regulation that covers all air passenger rights. In fact, much of passenger protection is based on contract law. In plain language that means you’re protected by whatever airline passenger rights the USA airline has written into their Conditions of Carriage or Terms & Conditions. So be sure to read those documents carefully!

Without a base level of protection set by national law, Conditions of Carriage vary from airline to airline, but most do not directly give passengers rights to compensation for issues like long delays or cancellations. Airlines may be persuaded to offer compensation as a gesture of goodwill, but passengers need to make a strong case for it.

Another winter with a snowplow driver shortage

There is, as there has been for a couple of years now, a national shortage of snowplow drivers.

National Coalition for Open Roads (NCFOR) says:

“State transportation officials have repeatedly told us they simply can’t fill many driver positions. In fact, one official recently said he needs 140 new snowplow drivers but due to low wages and other concerns he is having trouble hiring anyone,” said Doug Anderson, the Utah-based incoming chairman of the National Coalition for Open Roads (NCFOR).

The organization was formed two years ago to advocate for cost-effective winter road maintenance practices to ensure roads remain open and safe. According to, the average wage for snowplow drivers is over $25 an hour … .

“That’s simply not competitive, especially when many fast-food places are offering close to similar pay. In one ski resort community, we’ve been told that dishwashers are being paid $26 an hour,” said Roger Knoph, the current chairman of the NCFOR board, who lives in Colorado.

Many transportation departments have begun high school-focused recruiting efforts after states lowered the minimum age to drive a snowplow to 18 years of age. Several state governments have recently begun paying thousands of dollars for the training needed to help the new drivers qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) required to operate a large vehicle and plow roads.

Starting wages for snowplow drivers in western states:

  • California $26.00
  • Colorado $21.24
  • Idaho $18.15
  • Montana $24.00 
  • Nebraska $17.90
  • Nevada $17.50 
  • Oregon $18.80 
  • Utah $17.60
  • Washington $20.52
  • Wyoming $18.14

The days of free online returns are numbered

I rarely, and I mean rarely return stuff that I buy, but my wife is a queen of returns, often buying three sizes or colors of stuff knowing she will return two of them. 

The Washington Post notes that an increasing number of online retailers have stopped including prepaid return labels and others are charging for returns.

Returns are wasteful from both financial and environmental perspectives, and worsen the inventory glut that has been plaguing retailers for months. They’re also pervasive: 78 percent of shoppers have returned at least one online purchase, according to a survey by parcelLab, a global returns management platform.

Meanwhile, the company’s internal data showed that Americans returned 47 percent of their online purchases so far this year. That’s roughly 23.2 million items. Globally, the number of returns is up 13 percent from 2021 levels.

Companies also have more incentive to drop free returns in this era of persistently high inflation and economic uncertainty, which have made shoppers savvier and more selective. The nation’s largest chains have resorted to steep discounts to offload the excess products and apparel piling up in their warehouses. That, along with increasing labor costs and high gas prices, are hollowing out their margins.

But surveys show that free returns are a key element in how people make shopping choices. 

Churches, under financial strain, still are the backbone to many emergencies 

I noticed that when Texas’ governor sent a busload of migrants to Washington, D.C., as a Christmas political stunt, it was charities and churches who, once again, came to the rescue of these desperate people who had nowhere to go, no warm clothing, no place to sleep or eat. 

I write this note having spent the last two nights working at our local cold weather shelter for the homeless population of St. Petersburg. Churches and charities, many of which have lost significant membership and attendance since the pandemic began, still somehow piece together a response when it is needed the most. Last summer, the Biden administration says, faith-based services served 1.2 billion summer meals to school-aged children in the United States. 

Christmas is one of the two times a year when churches see big crowds and Christmas Eve crowds donate substantial amounts of money that churches depend on to make their budgets work. But with so many churches unable to open this year because of the nationwide winter blast, congregations will feel the pinch. Churchgoers tend to give money only when they are in the pews. This I know from having been on church finance and council committees for decades. And Giving USA says most churches receive 25% percent to 33% of their yearly contributions between Thanksgiving and year’s end. 

 A poll by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability said,

More families and individuals are turning to food banks to help offset the cost of groceries, more people need counseling, and the number of homeless people seeking services is increasing. One ministry type seeing a high increase in needs is orphan care (100% reporting an increase in need) and rescue missions and homeless (93% reporting an increase).”

The 2022 survey also found 45% of ECFA members are struggling to find enough volunteers and 53% to find new staff. It also reported that 53% are having difficulty attracting new donors, and 63% are unable to attract major donors capable of giving gifts of $10,000 or more.

Some churches, like this one in Lexington, Kentucky, are getting creative with their unused space to both meet community needs for affordable housing and produce income to keep the church running. 

Severe blood shortage, again

I am a frequent blood platelet donor so One Blood calls me fairly often asking for an open vein. But last week, the caller sounded a little more urgent than usual. Around the holiday season, it is not unusual for people to get busy and not donate as often as usual, then add in the winter storms that make it harder to get around and the shortage grows. 

Blood supplies in New Jersey, for example, are especially low. 

Flu and RSV outbreaks caused problems in some places when blood center workers called in sick and donors canceled appointments.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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