News You May Have Missed: August 11, 2019

There are numerous elephants in the room in this past week’s news, and we can’t corral all of them. But we have tried to bring issues to the surface that you might not have read about, and to pull together the complex elements of the stories you’ve skimmed. Consider our action items: even if you feel as if your one letter won’t make a difference, it may make a difference for you.


1. Children left behind struggle to cope

August 7 saw the largest workplace immigration sting in the U.S. in over a decade. The raid involved seven poultry processing plants in Mississippi run by Koch Foods. It resulted in the arrest of 680 allegedly undocumented and mostly Latino workers, but not of any of the Koch executives, Esquire reports. And it occurred during the first week of the 2019-2020 public school year in Mississippi. As a result, the children of those 680 arrestees came home to find one or both parents missing. In many cases, they were locked out of their own homes because their parents held the keys. Schools have been stepping up to assist children whose parents were taken away, MSN reports, as have perfect strangers, and immigrant communities, though terrified, are taking in children whose parents have not been released, the AP reports. Take the time to watch eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio plead for the release of her father.

It seems no coincidence that ICE targed the Koch plants, as workers there had had just won an EEOC case against the company for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, according to Democracy Now. ICE has a history of arresting and detaining activists against immigration policies, even when those activists would not fall into enforcement priorities, Jacobin Magazine reports. RLS/S-HP

If you want to make contributions to assist targeted families or to speak up about the raids, information is here.

2. Where are the children of Homestead?

Remember the Homestead detention center, privately run via a contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? DHS has reported that as of August 3 no one was being housed at Homestead, according to the Miami Herald, but prior to that date Homestead was a particularly large facility for imprisoning unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. to seek asylum. From March 2018 through August 2019, some 14,300 children passed through Homestead. Now that Homestead is closed, questions remain.

  • Where are the children who were formerly detained at Homestead—have they been released to family members or moved to other detention facilities?
  • While DHS says it has emptied Homestead, it plans to refit the facility with 1,200 beds (down from the previous 2,700). So who will be held there in the future and what will conditions be like for them? A youth care worker described the conditions in Homestead to CBS News.

The administration’s continuing lack of transparency and lack of effective organization in caring for detained minor asylum seekers suggest that overall treatment of these children may not have been significantly improved despite the temporary closure of Homestead. S-HP

If you want to raise concerns about the location and well-being of children who had been held at Homestead, here are some addresses of appropriate people to write.

3. Neither secure nor protected

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsay Graham has used a political maneuver to move his “Secure and Protect Act” (S.1494) out of the Judiciary Committee, making it eligible for consideration by the full Senate, Politico reports. This legislation will be the subject of legal wrangling, regardless of any decisions made by the Senate, but it’s worth looking at what effect S.1494 would have if it became law. Its effects would be most severe for children being held in immigration detention facilities, expanding the maximum length of detention for children from twenty days to one hundred, and allowing unaccompanied minors to be given “expedited deportation” within forty-eight hours of their arrival in the U.S.

S.1494 would give the Secretary of Homeland Security sole discretion over standards for child detention—including issues like sanitation and nutrition, as well as immigration/asylum processing. It would make immigration officers’ decisions regarding unaccompanied minor children final and unreviewable. S.1494 also limits asylum seekers to entering the U.S. through one of four official port of entry. It requires many asylum seekers to request asylum from within the countries where they fear for their lives and will require significant payment for the processing of asylum claims. It changes the criterion for asylum from “credible fear” to “reasonable fear,” essentially a change from “possible” to “more likely than not.” S-HP

If you would like to let Senator Graham–and others–know what you think about the Secure and Protect Act, information to do so is here.

4. Background checks, mental health and gun violence

At the moment, Trump and the Republican administration are blaming gun violence on individuals’ mental health issues. We can debate whether this is an appropriate approach—and certainly there are others like white supremacy and toxic masculinity—but let’s assume that it is. (Note that almost all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence, according to Business Insider.) Back in February 2017, one of Trump’s early actions was to nullify Obama-era legislation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns, NBC News reported. So any Republican “concession” or “compromise” on background checks is actually just a return to what currently would be gun policy in the U.S. if not for Trump’s nullification. S-HP

You can propose meaningful action against gun violence here.

5. Legislation against gun violence

After yet another weekend of gun madness in the U.S. even Trump has come out in favor of universal background checks and briefly floated the idea of an assault weapons ban (these before castigation from the National Rifle Association), NPR reported. As we ask Congress why they aren’t doing more, we can point out some opportunities they have for action. First off, this year the House has already passed two different pieces of background check legislation, H.R.8 and H.R.1112. Both of these have been sent to the Senate—where Mitch McConnell has not even assigned them to a committee. Then, we have the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, (H.R.1296 in the House and S.66 in the Senate). Panetta is a co-sponsor of H.R.1296. Feinstein introduced S.66; Harris is a co-sponsor. These are with the Judiciary Committees of their respective houses, waiting for action before they can be brought to the full legislative body. S-HP

If you want to urge action on legislation against gun violence, you can do so here.

6. Preserving FOIA

A June Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling significantly broadened the interpretation of the “trade secrets exemption” in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This might seem trivial, but it isn’t. When one files an FOIA request that includes not just the government, but private contractors/companies the government works with, the question of what a “trade secret” is has significant implications. Is a trade secret limited to something like the formula for Coca-Cola? Is it the amount the contractor/company is actually billing the government? Does it involve connections between those working for a government agency and those with the contractor/company? Is it the minimum nutritional standards for a detention center? The SCOTUS ruling could easily lead to an answer of “all of the above” for this set of questions.

In response, a bipartisan group of Senators (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein) has introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019, S.2220, reports the Toledo Chronicle. This legislation would explicitly require a standard of “substantial harm” (as opposed to, say, “possible harm”) before the trade secret exemption could be used, the Muckrock explains. S.2220 offers two more important guideline clarifications for the FOIA. First, S.2220 would specify that Congressional requests for information, unlike those filed by private individuals or organizations, cannot be redacted for trade secret reasons. The second of these prohibits redacting information produced in response to an FOIA request because it is “nonresponsive,” meaning not immediately connected to the central issue of the FOIA request. The more material labeled “nonresponsive,” the more subsequent FOIA requests will be necessary for full understanding of context and implications. S.2220 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee

If you want to speak up about FOIA, you can do so here.

7. Who are the terrorists?

Let’s look at some recent data on extremist violence in the U.S.

  • According to the Anti-Defamation League extremist-related murders rose 37% from 2017 to 2018 and the distribution of white supremacist propaganda saw a 300% increase over the same period;
  • In 2018, every extremist-related murder in the U.S. was carried out by a right-wing extremist, according to Business Insider. A report suppressed by the FBI confirmed this, Salon reports.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center saw a 30% increase in hate groups in 2018, NBC News reports.

Now, with that information in mind, let’s consider the 2018 counter-terrorism focal points identified in a leaked FBI document. The FBI labeled the top threats as Black Identity Extremists (a term that has been highly criticized in public discourse), Animal Rights and Environmental Extremists, and Anti-Authority Extremists. The document also predicted “attrition” within white supremacist and nationalist extremist groups. See the mismatch? S-HP

If you want to speak up about public safety and who the real terrorists are, here are some possibilities.


8. Climate crisis increasingly critical

Just in case you’re tempted to move the climate crisis to the back burner, given everything else, let’s consider this potpourri of data:

  • On a single day at the end of July, more than 12 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland, as we reported last week.
  • 7 million acres of the Arctic, primarily in Siberia, are on fire, devastating wildlife that includes bears, foxes, deer, boars, wolves, elk, lynx, hares, mice, and hedgehogs.
  • The smoke blanket from the Siberian fires is larger than the surface area of the entire European Union.
  • Temperatures in Siberia have been exceeding yearly averages by as much as 10° Celsius (18° Fahrenheit).

On top of all that, a leaked United Nations report warns that global temperatures cannot be kept at safe levels without significant changes to our land use and food consumption, including an end to draining of peat bogs, significantly reduced meat consumption, early warning systems for weather and crop yields, according to the Guardian. The Atlantic also has a useful summary of the issues. This report also points out that extreme weather events exacerbate land degradation, meaning every flood, fire, hurricane, and the like, will make feeding the world on the available land increasingly difficult. S-HP

If you want to urge action on the climate crisis, here are some options for doing so.

9. ICE contracts reveals extensive data sharing

A report on every contract awarded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) by investigative website Sludge has found a 3.8 million dollar agreement to streamline criminal coding between ICE and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Agency (NLETS). NLETS is actually not a government agency; it’s a private non-profit run by the states in order to facilitate communication across jurisdictions between local, state and federal authorities. To this end, NLETS provides comprehensive access to state driver’s license information; when you get your license run by the police in a traffic stop, chances are it’s getting information from NLETS. The problem with ICE paying to get better key word searches for driver’s license information is that over a dozen states have laws allowing undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. According to the Oakland Privacy site, the intent of this collaboration is to aid in enforcement. If ICE can index these types of licenses with a criminal code indicating their immigration status, it would provide home address and other information needed for ICE to detain and deport thousands of people. JC

10. Cyanide bombs

M-44s, also known as “cyanide bombs,” are used to kill coyotes, dogs, foxes, and other wildlife perceived to be a threat to livestock. The devices first lure animals to food-baited traps, then release cyanide directly into their mouths as the animals eat. At the end of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened public comments on a proposed reauthorization of cyanide bomb use. The public comments, as the EPA itself admits, were overwhelmingly opposed to continued use of cyanide bombs, citing their cruelty and indiscriminate impact. One study of the comments places the total proportion of opposition comments at 99.9%, CBS News reports. Nonetheless, the EPA has decided to reauthorize the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ use of cyanide bombs in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Texas. The EPA did some “fine-tuning” to directions for the use of cyanide bombs. The devices may not be used within 100 feet of a public road or pathway (increased from the previous 50-foot prohibition), but it has also lowered the previous requirement for warning signs where these devices are used from a 25-foot radius to a 15-foot radius. S-HP

If the continued use of cyanide bombs in the face of public opposition troubles you, you can write to the addresses listed here.

11. Obama did it so it MUST go

The Trump administration quietly shut down an advisory committee set up at the close of the Obama presidency that was formed to help guide regulatory issues surrounding the emerging technology of self-driving cars, according to the driving website Jalopnik. It’s perplexing because the committee was heavily slanted towards industry with representatives from essentially every major player in the autonomous vehicle game, the kind of move Republicans of just a few years ago would have applauded. The stated reason for shutting it down was cost–which is pretty amusing considering its budget of $41,244 (that’s right… thousands, not millions) went mostly towards payroll time for Department of Transportation staff and the sum is less than the amount spent on hotel rooms for security for Trump’s oldest son’s at a recent golf course opening. The move was SO quiet and quick that sitting members of the committee weren’t even made aware it was no longer extant. So like other instances of advisory committees being gutted or shut down in the FDA, EPA and Dept. of Interior, regulators and lawmakers will have less guidance on the industry they are charged to govern. JC


Ngurrara II: A collaborative painting to argue for land rights

This is an amazing story about a critical case in Australian law, which resulted in native land claims being recognized for the first time.  The key to the decision was a collaborative painting depicting water holes. You can watch the painting evolve at this site. MW

Stories of the border: a mural with voices

Artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana created an interactive mural on the border, where the voices of the subjects are heard when a cell phone is pointed at their portrait.  The border continues to be a site of profound art arising out of profound pain. MW

Help transcribe Suffragist papers

The Library of Congress has turned to crowdsourcing to transcribe over 16,000 pages of speeches, diaries, and other written materials.  Anyone with online access can help transcribe these documents. The Smithsonian’s website describes this and other projects. MW

A play in the form of a high school debate

“What the Constitution Means to Me” takes on the form of a high school debate to examine what the playwright describes as a“boiling pot in which we are thrown together in sizzling and steamy conflict to find out what it is we truly believe.” MW


  • Americans with Conscience recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list of actions to take is mostly integrated into the stories above, but the link has the whole list.
  • Martha’s list offers dozens of ways to comment for the public record on issues ranging from environmental policy changes limiting comment and environmental review on national forests logging; a policy change which would not permit California to require a toxic warning on RoundUp; cuts to food stamps; Trump’s Asylum Ban and expedited removal of aliens, the Medicaid work requirement and much more.
  • Rogan’s list suggests offers numerous opportunities for public comment.