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Texas, Immigration, Mars: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. The mess in Texas.

A water crisis is the state’s latest disaster from the huge winter storm that engulfed much of the U.S. Officials are urging millions of affected residents to boil water as utilities suffer from frozen wells and treatment plants run on backup power, and hospitals are hauling in water to flush toilets and using bottled water for much of everything else.

“Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,” said officials of Kyle, Texas, in an advisory.

And while the power is back on to all but about half a million customers in Texas, supplies at desperately needed food banks are dropping sharply. President Biden has now declared emergencies in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

2. A plan for undocumented immigrants.

Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would fulfill one of President Biden’s campaign promises: to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Under the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, immigrants could live and work in the country for five years after passing background checks and paying taxes and then apply for green cards. They could apply for citizenship after three more years.

It’s an almost complete reversal of the immigration policy pushed by the previous administration.

Separately, Native Americans are also pressing Mr. Biden to adopt a far-reaching agenda to address endemic poverty in their communities.

“Our roads, our bridges, our water lines, our electricity lines: Here on the Navajo Nation, 30 to 40 percent of our people don’t have running water, 30 to 40 percent of our people don’t have electricity,” said Jonathan Nez, the Nation’s president, above.

3. U.S. life expectancy has decreased the most since World War II, and the decline was steepest for the Black population.

Over all in the pandemic-stricken first six months of 2020, a federal government report said, life expectancy fell by a year to 77.8.

For Black Americans, the decline was 2.7 years, a number that sliced away 20 years of gains. The once-narrowing gap between the life expectancies of Black and white Americans is now at six years, its widest since 1998.

“I knew it was going to be large, but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” said the federal researcher who produced the report.

4. Roaring Kitty went to Washington.

The registered securities broker who helped drive up GameStop’s stock price in a two-week trading frenzy testified before the House Financial Services Committee. Known outside Reddit as Keith Gill, he said he was a true believer in the video game retailer’s fortunes and had never charged for his advice to buy its stocks. [Watch.]

Other key players testified, too. Facing the most questions was Vlad Tenev, the chief executive of the online brokerage firm Robinhood, which enables users to invest even small amounts of money in stock. He apologized for stopping certain customer trading during the peak of the frenzy, and insisted that Robinhood did not privilege the powerful business partners who had been betting against the stock.

“We don’t answer to hedge funds,” Mr. Tenev said in his defense. “We serve the millions of small investors who use our platform every day to invest.”

5. The many facets of joblessness.

“It’s hard to get away from the fact that week after week we keep hoping for better and this is like a sucker punch,” said one economist after today’s report of jobless claims failed to improve over the previous week’s.

Vice President Kamala Harris, above, raised the alarm about “a national emergency”: About 2.5 million women have lost their jobs or dropped out of the labor market during the pandemic. [Watch.]

Some policymakers are reconsidering an approach used in the Great Depression: Have the federal government provide jobs to anyone who wants one. Polls say both Democratic and Republican voters are open to the idea.

Meanwhile, Walmart is raising wages for 425,000 of its 1.5 million U.S. employees, framing the move as an investment in online grocery pickup and delivery, the fastest-growing parts of its business. However, the company’s minimum wage will remain below $15 an hour.

6. NASA landed a new rover on Mars.

Cheers erupted in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, Calif., as Perseverance touched down safely on the red planet seven anxiety-drenched minutes after entering the planet’s thin atmosphere. Above, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, watched NASA’s computer simulation from Paris.

Perseverance is carrying a four-pound helicopter called Ingenuity that will attempt something unprecedented: controlled flight on another world.

The two will search for fossil chemical signatures of ancient microbes. While largely the same design as the Curiosity rover, Perseverance carries a more advanced set of instruments, including sophisticated cameras, lasers that can analyze the chemical makeup of rocks and ground-penetrating radar.

7. The French government announced that it would investigate academia, hunting for “Islamo-leftist” ideas that “corrupt society.’’

That reflects some government ministers’ accusations that some left-leaning intellectuals justify Islamism and even terrorism. The country’s Conference of University Presidents dismisses “Islamo-leftism’’ as a “pseudo notion” popularized by the far right, and this week chided the government for “talking rubbish.’’

Above, a protest in Paris last Sunday demanding that the government abandon a bill aimed at rooting out Islamist extremism.

8. A gut check for opportunity’s gatekeepers.

When more than 300 students from high-poverty high schools were enrolled in a Harvard poetry course, and graded by the same standards as admitted freshmen, 89 percent passed — 63 percent with As and Bs.

One was Di’Zhon Chase, above, of Gallup, N.M., who had been planning to go to a state college, but instead got into Columbia University.

The program that brings underserved high school students into Ivy League classrooms is run by a New York-based nonprofit, the National Education Equity Lab, and the results challenge the long-held position of the higher-education elite: that such students are underrepresented at top-level universities because they aren’t prepared.

“Our nation’s talent is evenly distributed; opportunity is not,” said Leslie Cornfeld, Equity Lab’s founder and chief executive.

9. Can cloning save endangered species?

The existence of the creature above suggests that the answer could be yes. Dubbed Elizabeth Ann, she’s a clone of a rare wild black-footed ferret whose cells were banked in 1988.

The species once burrowed throughout the American West, but its numbers dwindled over the 20th century as a primary food source, prairie dogs, was decimated by poisoning, plague and habitat loss.

The Fish and Wildlife Service captured a few ferrets from a holdout population found in 1981, and all black-footed ferrets alive today are from that line — except for Elizabeth Ann. She and her coming cloned siblings offer their uncloned peers the prospect of offspring with greater genetic diversity, which confers resilience and protection from inbreeding disorders.

10. And finally, stories to pass on.

Toni Morrison, who died in 2019, would have turned 90 today. As a writer, she bent language to her will, folding in elements of mythology, folklore and music to explore a deeply American desire for freedom and adventure. To celebrate her life, the writer Veronica Chambers, who is also the editor of Narrative Projects at The Times, created a guide to help introduce you to her work — or remind you of its power if you read her long ago.

“One of the greatest joys of Toni Morrison’s work is knowing that you will never get it all on the first read,” Veronica writes. But, she adds, “What joy there is in trying!”

Have a revelatory evening.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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