NYMHM for 7 April

Watching the news can make you wall-eyed, as you try to track the many on-going stories that flash on and off the front page while at the same time taking note of new developments in politics and science. Did you know that there is a crisis involving a medication-resistant fungus and that outbreaks are kept secret? Neither did we–but now we do and so do you. As the humanitarian crisis that our grandchildren will study in astonishment, migration and separated families are among the issues that we try to to track regularly. If you want to speak up about any of these asylum and family separation issues, see Sarah-Hope’s list in the Resources section, below and on the Resources page.


Asylum and immigration round-up

1. Trump would get rid of the asylum system and immigration judges

Last week, around a visit to the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Calexico, California, President Trump stated that he’d like Congress to eliminate the asylum process, as well as immigration judges, according to the Washington Post. His administration has already made a number of moves that have attempted to limit the number of asylum seekers admitted to the United States and this next move would be in conflict with U.S. and international norms of due process. California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to Trump’s statements about asylum seekers and potential changes to the system, saying “Since our founding, this country has been a place of refuge – a safe haven for people fleeing tyranny, oppression and violence. His words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system, and what it means to be an American.”

2. Tracking the periods of teen girls in ICE custody

According to Harper’s Bazaar, The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for migrant children traveling alone or separated from their families, tracked the periods, pregnancies, and causes of pregnancy (if it resulted from rape or not) of teen girls — some as young as 12– in their care. This was done with the intent to prevent the girls from obtaining abortion care, something that the former head of the ORR Scott Lloyd has admitted. Rachel Maddow discusses the issue on MSNBC.

3. Two years to reunite families

In an update on the nearly 1500 children separated from their families at the border under the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy (245 of whom were removed from their families after a court ordered the separations to stop), in a recent court filing the administration has said that it may take up to two additional years to identify families that may have been separated at the southern border. All of the children in question have been released from government custody and the administration claims it needs this time to use data analysis techniques to identify and locate the children, according to CNN.

4. Climate change fueling migration

Among the reasons Guatemalans are leaving the country are that farmers’ crops are failing, weather is extreme and unpredictable, and they are besieged by pests. Guatemala is one of the three countries to which Trump is refusing to send aid because they “haven’t done a thing for us.” In 2014, a group of scientists associated with the Rainforest Alliance’s initiative, “Climate, Nature, and Communities of Guatemala,” which was funded by US AID, said that the highlands area of Guatemala was particularly susceptible to climate change. “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave,” Edwin Castellanos, a climate scientist at the Universidad del Valle, told the New Yorker, which is running a series on emigration from Guatemala. “But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors,” he said.

5. Where do laws come from?

We should not be surprised that conservative forces develop model legislation which they then spread around the nation. Various publications have reported on ALEC–American Legislative Exchange Council—which for years has drafted and disseminated bills. But what is surprising is the scope of this enterprise. According to a two-year study by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, which looked at a million pieces of legislation across every state and in Congress, ten thousand bills were based on model legislation and 2100 became law. These are not produced only by ALEC but by industry groups and other special interests, include the liberal counterpart to ALEC, ALICE. According to the Arizona Republic, many legislators who sponsored these bills did not understand their implications or where they had originated.


6. Airstrikes intensifying humanitarian crisis in Somalia

The Pentagon claims no civilians have died in American airstrikes against suspected Shabab fighters. 13 NGOs (including Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the ACLU) have criticized the lack of transparency on the use of lethal force in Somalia. The death toll for Shabab militants has probably reached a record high for the third time in three years. The increasing airstrikes are driving civilians from their homes and worsening a humanitarian crisis in the country.

7. Flooding overwhelms Iran

“Iran is under water,” Sayed Hashem, regional director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, told the New York Times. Over 70 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced by floods due to endless rain. People are living on the rooftops of their submerged homes, waiting for rescue. Iranian officials have blamed American economic sanctions, reimposed by the Trump administration, for delayed recovery efforts, according to the Times.

8. Russia grooming African countries.

Russia is rekindling relationships with Soviet-era allies like Angola and Mozambique. Russian mercenaries helped Sudan’s president put down nationwide protests. A Russian is now the Central African Republic’s president’s national security adviser, and the country is trading mining rights for arms from Russia. While investigating a Putin-linked private military force training Central African Republic troops, three Russian journalists were murdered. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger asked Russia for help fighting Al Qaeda and IS. The Pentagon’s Africa Command says Russia “has taken a more militaristic approach in Africa” (pdf). Putin plans a summit meeting between Russia and African countries.

9. And right-wing European politicians.

Putin wants Russia-friendly foreign leaders, and politicians want money. So, Putin is allegedly providing $3 million in Russian money to Italy’s far-right Matteo Salvini. According to the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso, there was an elaborate deal involving
3 million tons of diesel fuel that Russia is selling to Italy, the profits from which will fund Salvini’s re-election campaign. 

Science and Technology

10. Scientists use lasers to observe molecular vibration 

A team at the University of California, Irvine published a study in the journal Nature wherein they describe their method of imaging the real-time movement, or vibration, of molecules down to the atomic level. All chemical processes of life depend on these minute changes in molecular structure. While we have been using electron spectroscopy to measure precise frequency changes, until now we have not been able to determine which atomic bonds vary in a molecule depending on current and charge. To achieve this feat the scientists set up a low temperature, high vacuum chamber and focused a titanium sapphire laser mere ångströms (a hundred millionth of a centimeter) away. As Science Daily describes it, the old models of molecules set up like tinker toy globs of spheres and sticks will soon give way to actual images of molecules themselves. 

11. Poverty leaves its mark, even genetically 

A study by Northwestern University suggests that the effects of low socio-economic status can be found even in our DNA, undermining the long-standing notion that genes are immutable from birth. Published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study found that DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that influences how genes are expressed, was increased in individuals living in low socio-economic conditions across 2500 sites in the genome, spreading across 1500 genes. It has been known for some time that poverty is a key factor in determining health but this study suggests that the effects may very well be inheritable with far-reaching implications.   

12. It sounds like science fiction: Treatment-resistant fungus emerges

A devastating fungus, Candida auris, has emerged world-wide, according to the New York Times. Like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is resistant to most anti-fungal medications. Also like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is a consequence in part of overuse in agriculture, in particular the use of fungicides on crops. C. auris is not the only fungus to have developed resistance; in 2013 the CDC published a report identifying 18 bacteria and fungi that are treatment resistant; a new report is expected in the fall of 2019. Complicating the problem is that the CDC is not allowed to make public the location of outbreaks, even though the C. auris is easily spread and deadly: 50% of patients who are diagnosed with it are dead within three months.


If you think that the Trump administration’s plan to cut aid to Latin American countries (thus intensifying the hardship that leads to conditions that drive people to leave) is a bad idea, Sarah-Hope can tell you whom to write. She also thinks you might want to comment on the Privacy for All act, the refusal of the Education Department to support student loan relief, the withholding and redacting of the Mueller report—and more! Her list is on this google doc.

Martha notes this week that the SNAP work requirement comment deadline was extended to April 10. Glyphosate, the ingredient for Roundup, is now open for comment on inclusion in toxics registry.  She suggests that you look closely at the ICE Tip form – it’s really asking neighbors to inform on neighbors, she says. And look carefully at the Waters of the United States proposal, which seeks to redefine all inland waters. Her list has various options for responding on the record.