News You May Have Missed: September 1, 2019

Maybe you intuited–but thought it might be too far-fetched–that fires in the Amazon might be Trump’s fault. You were close: it’s the fault of one of his American donors. Read our second story: you won’t believe it. No–sadly–you will.

Have you been wanting to help address treatment of asylum seekers at the border? The Center for Public Integrity is asking for help sorting through complaint documents released by Homeland Security and logging specific details. The material is online. You can do this for as brief or extended a period as you want.

Our colleague Crysostom suggests that you find out what happens when people stop being polite and start resigning from Congress in August 27’s ELECTIONS NEWS. The August 29 issue has interesting news about retirements as well.


1. Deportation = death sentence.

A key immigration rule once allowed deferred deportation for families who have a member receiving life-saving medical treatment in the U.S. The Republican administration has begun unilaterally refusing to consider these claims, except for members of the military. In many instances, the countries these people will be deported are not able to provide the needed medical care, essentially sentencing such individuals to death. Though according to WBUR, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says only a limited number of people will be affected, “That ‘limited number of people’ is mostly terminally ill kids. They’re kids with cancer and HIV and horrific terminal illnesses,” Anthony Marino, legal director at the Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center explained.

Earlier this month, a diabetic man deported to Iraq died because of the lack of insulin availability in that country. While his deportation happened before this change in policy, we can anticipate many more such tragedies if the refusal to consider medical necessity deportation deferrals continues. The families affected have been given 33 days to leave the country retroactive to any requests filed on or before Aug. 7th. A bicameral group of over 100 Congressmembers sent a letter to the administration on August 30 objecting to this policy change and announcing an investigation of the change by the House Oversight and Government and Affairs Committee subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. S-HP

If you want to speak up about deporting people undergoing medical treatment, here is how.

2. Amazon fires linked to Trump and McConnell donors

Let’s play a round of Follow the Money, courtesy of reporting by The Intercept. Much of the Brazilian Amazon region is on fire, with many fires set in order to seize land for agriculture and to drive out indigenous peoples (in order to seize land for agriculture). One relatively new roadway beginning deep in the Amazon, B.R. 163, has become a prime site for deforestation because it provides a shipping pathway for agricultural products from the deforested land. That shipping pathway begins with a deep-Amazon terminal in Miritituba, run by Hidrovias do Brasil. Hidrovias do Brazil’s majority owner is Pátria Investimientos.

Pátria is owned by the U.S. investment firm Blackstone, which also separately holds an additional ten percent stake in Hidrovias. The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blackstone is Stephen Schwarzman, a major Trump and McConnell donor, who has given those politicians millions in recent years. So in simplified terms, we have a chain linking the Amazon fires to Hidrovias to Pátria to Blackwell to Schwarzman to Trump/McConnell. According to the company itself “Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship. This focus and dedication is [sic] embedded in every investment decision we make and guides how we conduct ourselves as operators.” Blackstone argues that by providing a shipping pathway that begins deep in the Amazon, goods can be sent to markets with less overall pollution than that which would be created by individual deep-Amazon growers shipping their goods separately by longer, more difficult routes.

However, this logic does nothing to acknowledge the fact that since the shipping terminal in Miritituba has been built, deforestation has been centered on that area of the Amazon and has consistently increased in that area, even when deforestation in other areas of the Amazon was being reduced. In other words, the level of potential pollution that Blackstone uses to justify its shipping terminal would not exist if that terminal had not been built. S-HP

If you want to speak about the responsibility American corporations have for fires in the Amazon, you may do so here.

3. California and Massachusetts take the lead on lawsuit against Trump

California and Massachusetts have announced a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s planned termination of Flores Agreement protections for children being imprisoned in immigration detention. Seventeen additional states have signed on to the lawsuit, according to the L.A. Times. The Flores Agreement requires that children in immigration detention be released within twenty days; the Trump plan will allow for indefinite detention of children and families. The key argument underlying the lawsuit is that, because federal detention centers are not required to meet state licensing requirements, the new practices will interfere with states’ obligation to ensure the health and safety of children. This is the fifty-seventh lawsuit California has filed against the Trump administration and the thirteenth to deal with immigration issues . S-HP

If you wish to thank the Attorneys General of California and Massachusetts for their leadership on this issue: Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 1300 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 952-5225• Attorney General Maura Healey, 1 Ashburn Place, Boston, MA 02108-1698, (617) 727-7200

4. Gun bills not reaching committee–mass shootings becoming deadlier

After yet another mass shooting, it’s worth counting up the number of gun bills before Congress: 110. Congress is now on recess, Among the bills they might have considered are one requiring background checks (including at gun shows), another prohibiting high-capacity magazines, another preventing perpetrators of intimate partner violence from owning guns, still another advocating red flag laws, Most of them have been written by Democrats, according to PBS. Only five have advanced to committee. 113,108 people are shot every year, the Brady Foundation reports, and 36,383 are killed.

Meanwhile, a statistical analysis by the Violence Project and reported by the LA Times has revealed that mass shootings are becoming more lethal. “During the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of 5.7 lives per year. In the 1980s, the average rose to 14. In the 1990s it reached 21; in the 2000s, 23.5. This decade has seen a far sharper rise. Today, the average is 51 deaths per year,” the researchers write. The Violence Project, which has studied every mass shooting since 1966, has an analysis of what mass shooters have in common: early childhood trauma, a crisis that lead to suicidal thinking, a craving for media attention–and the means to carry out mass violence. RLS

5. Only believers in a particular god may offer invocations

The federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision and reinstated the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy of only allowing House members with a belief in God to deliver the invocations to open legislative sessions. The appeals court ruled that the policy fell within the “historical tradition of legislative prayer” and counts as government speech that is protected from a free speech or equal protection challenge. While the decision does acknowledge that no particular theistic religion can be held above others, Americans United for Separation of Church and State observes that it legitimizes discrimination against non-theists. JM-L

6. Canadian Muslims, Chinese students turned away at the border

Six Canadian Muslim men–not traveling together–were denied entrance to the U.S. in recent weeks, according to the CBC. Several originally come from countries not covered by the “Muslim ban.” Several are significant community leaders. Two of them had special-needs children with them. No reason was offered for the refusal. As one of the lawyers representing the group told the CBC, “Having worked as an immigration lawyer for over 40 years, nothing surprises me anymore but, in all my years, I have never seen such a Kafkaesque scenario.”

And nine Arizona State students from China, returning for their fall term, were refused admission at the border by Customs and Border Protection and sent back to China. ASU says it has not been able to get an answer about why they were denied admission, according to USA Today. Several are due to graduate this semester; they are continuing to take courses through Arizona State’s on-line program.

Just FYI, even if you are a citizen, border officials have the right to look through your devices–because lawsuits challenging the practice are still wending their way through the courts. If you don’t want them to do so, you can request a lawyer–though you will have to pay them, according to Business Insider.. RLS

7. No election oversight?

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is charged with investigating violations of election law, particularly campaign finance rules. The FEC is supposed to have six members and requires a quorum of four to meet. Four votes are also needed to initiate any investigation or action. The FEC has been limping along with four members for quite some time, meaning little has been done because, with reduced membership, all votes had to be unanimous. Now, one of the FEC’s Republican members (there are rules about party balance among Commissioners) has resigned, leaving membership at three and making all meetings and actions impossible. S-HP

If the lack of election oversight concerns you, you can write to these people.

8. Coal miners still blocking coal train–4 weeks later

On this Labor Day, remember that Harlan County coal miners are still camped on railroad tracks, blocking the coal they mined from leaving; they have been there for four weeks.  Blackjewel, the bankrupt company they worked for, either didn’t pay them or withdrew their paychecks out of their bank accounts. 1800 workers around the company were affected. The Labor Department has asked for an injunction to keep the company from moving the coal–about a million dollar’s worth–and a group of lawyers is trying to secure the workers’ compensation in bankruptcy proceedings, according to the Washington Post.  RLS


9. Climate change-driven hurricane demolishes the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian, whose pathway has strewn such confusion, is the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Winds have reached 185 MPH and some 30 inches of rain has fallen, according to the Washington Post. “You cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the Guardian.

Category 5 hurricanes have become more common over the last forty years due to the climate crisis. Warming oceans lead to rising oceans, due to expansion, giving hurricanes a higher starting point; warm, humid air fuels hurricanes as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a very clear explanation of this phenomenon. RLS


10. Fake social media accounts to be set up by USCIS

Fake social media accounts will be set up by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so they can spy on people seeking “visas, green cards and citizenship,” according to PBS. Even though both Twitter and Facebook forbid impersonation and even though agents are prohbited from “friending” those on Facebook, they can access users’ public posts (and presumably, public groups). The Center for Democracy & Technology has submitted a FOIA request to learn how USCIS uses social medis data. Dave Maass, senior investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that this practice “undermines our trust in social media companies and our ability to communicate and organize and stay in touch with people.”

The EFF also points out that the partnership between Ring, the Amazon company that provides front-door cameras and 400 police departments has significant privacy implications. Some cities offer discounts; Ring representatives coach police departments on how to coax residents to relinquish their footage without a warrant. RLS


  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for lists of issues and easy actions you can take.
  • Many items on Sarah-Hope’s list follow the stories above, but if you want to see other items, the entire list is here.
  • Martha’s list, which addresses ways to respond for the public record, includes information on plans to restructure immigration courts, a proposed USCIS tip line on immigrants suspected of using public benefits, a rule which would prevent the FDA from labeling Round-Up as a carcinogen, a proposal to open Alaska national forests to roads.
  • Rogan’s list is taking a break till after Labor Day, but it still has many timely items on it.