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Up First briefing: Top U.S. officials visit Mexico; 'Parasite' actor Lee Sun-kyun dies

Migrants huddling for warmth at an unofficial detention camp in Jacumba, Calif.
Ash Ponders for NPR
Migrants huddling for warmth at an unofficial detention camp in Jacumba, Calif.

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's top stories

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall travel to Mexico today to discuss immigration enforcement with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The meeting comes as an unprecedented number of migrants as an unprecedented number of migrants crosses the countries' border into the United States.

  • "What's unfolding at the border is a humanitarian crisis like I haven't seen in my years of reporting," NPR's Jasmine Garsd says on Up First. Advocates tell her there's a lot of fear that Washington is returning to Trump-era policies with no access to asylum in the U.S. They also point to serious human rights abuses since the U.S. delegated immigration enforcement to Mexico. Garsd adds that there's a sense of urgency to this meeting, as immigration will be a centerpiece of the Republican presidential campaign heading into an election year. 


In addition to immigration, the economy will also be a major deciding factor in next year's presidential election. It's shown some strong signs lately: Inflation is cooling, unemployment is low, job growth is better than expected and Americans spent record amounts this holiday season. Still, President Biden isn't benefiting politically.

  • Americans aren't looking at the economy "in a macroeconomics kind of way," which makes it harder for them to feel these positive trends, NPR's Domenico Montanaro says. As inflation slows, so does the rise in prices. Montanaro adds that Biden has to hope for more economic good news and that the Federal Reserve moves to cut interest rates next year. "It's not an easy political problem for him to solve," he says.


Confrontations between the U.S. and Israel's troops and Iran-backed militias have increased in recent weeks, with attacks in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and the Red Sea. A recent drone attack on a U.S. base in northern Iraq critically wounded a U.S service member. Israel's ongoing war against Hamas triggered the escalating confrontations. More than 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza.

  • Iran backs militia groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen to exert influence in the region, according to NPR's Peter Kenyon. This proxy approach allows Tehran to exert influence without getting directly involved in fighting. But the fighting has yet to escalate further because, Kenyon adds, "all sides have something to lose here, and no one is entirely in control."

Picture show

/ LA Johnson/NPR
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LA Johnson/NPR

Earlier this year, millions of Americans began paying off their student loans after the COVID pandemic pause was lifted. Hundreds of borrowers shared stories of struggle, confusion and relief with NPR. Read about their experiences in a series of illustrated comics by NPR's LA Johnson.

Today's listen

Clockwise from left:<em> Cocaine Bear, </em>Luke Macfarlane in <em><em>Platonic,</em></em> Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino in<em> The Color Purple, </em>Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies<em>, </em>the cover of the book <em>Starter Villain,</em> Jessica Williams in<em> Shrinking.</em>
/ Universal Pictures; Apple TV+; Eli Adé/Warner Bros. Pictures; Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images; Tor Books; Apple TV+
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Universal Pictures; Apple TV+; Eli Adé/Warner Bros. Pictures; Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images; Tor Books; Apple TV+
Clockwise from left: Cocaine Bear, Luke Macfarlane in Platonic, Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino in The Color Purple, Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies, the cover of the book Starter Villain, Jessica Williams in Shrinking.

This month, NPR has brought you end-of-the-year lists aplenty, from the best albums of 2023 to the top animal stories that captivated us. Today, NPR culture correspondent Linda Holmes releases her annual list of 50 wonderful things. Hear about how she began the tradition in 2010 and listen to some of her favorite picks. You can read the full list here.

3 things to know before you go

Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and Celie (Fantasia Barrino) in the 2023 film reincarnation of <em>The Color Purple.</em>
/ Eli Adé/Warner Bros. Pictures
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Eli Adé/Warner Bros. Pictures
Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and Celie (Fantasia Barrino) in the 2023 film reincarnation of The Color Purple.

  1. The Color Purple smashed box office records this weekend. The film earned $18 million in North America on its first day, making it the biggest Christmas Day opening since 2009 and the second biggest Dec. 25 opening ever. 
  2. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene says she was the victim of a swatting attempt on Christmas at her Georgia residence. She posted about the incident on X, saying it was the eighth attempt. 
  3. South Korean actor Lee Sun-kyun, who played a rich entrepreneur in the Oscar-winning film Parasite, has died at 48. Police found Lee unconscious in a parked car and suspect he died by suicide.


If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

This newsletter was edited by Olivia Hampton.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 26, 2023 at 10:00 PM MST
A previous version of this newsletter incorrectly stated that a U.S. service member was killed by a drone strike at a base in northern Iraq. A related audio story incorrectly stated the same and that the U.S. responded with a strike in Syria that killed an Iranian commander. In fact, no U.S. service member was killed in the drone strike in northern Iraq. And it was Israel that Iran claims fired an air strike into Syria, killing an Iranian commander.
Suzanne Nuyen