Attention to elections and voter suppression is essential if 2020 is not to be a rerun of 2016. Metafilter notes a series of troublespots; Sarah-Hope reviews the most pressing issues below. Our colleague Crysostom asks “Will the last one to leave the House of Representatives please turn out the lights?” He sketches the impact of retirements and looks at polling data.
This week we also look at who is being targeted for surveillance, some quieter and more confusing immigration issues, and the impact of Trump’s wall on wildlife refuges, aid to Puerto Rico, and military families. And close to home, have you wondered why you couldn’t get your student loans forgiven, despite being in public service since forever? See story number 5.
1. Delete your old tweets!
A group of Trump supporters has committed to raising $2 million to investigate CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and other news organizations, which it describes as media that “routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in their coverage.” Investigating potential inaccuracies in reporting is nothing new and has been pursued by groups all along the political spectrum.
What sets this project apart from others is its promise to “track the editors and reporters of these organizations” and to slip damaging information about these individuals to “friendly news outlets,” Axios reports. The New York Times reported that four sources close to the organization said that ” it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” S-HP
If you are troubled by this new focus on discrediting individuals, you may want to raise these concerns with your elected officials.
2. Border policy protestors targeted
A document obtained by Yahoo News indicates that the FBI is monitoring groups protesting U.S. immigration policy along the southern border. The document, “an external intelligence note,” was produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office and distributed to other law enforcement agencies. It alleges that these groups are “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals.” (There seems to be less concern about anti-immigrant vigilante groups, such as the Guardian Patriots, which have been for years terrorizing immigrants along the border–with the tacit approval of the Border Patrol, according to the Washington Post.) According to Yahoo News, “The intelligence collected and cited in the FBI document… is worrisome to activists and civil rights advocates who say that the government is classifying legitimate government opposition and legally protected speech as violent extremism or domestic terrorism.” S-HP
If you’d like to see an investigation into the surveillance of activists, write Congress here.
3. Indigenous communities targeted by “virtual wall”
Surveillance towers and methods that are “field-proven,” presumably on Palestinians, are scheduled for construction across the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, a community beseiged by drone surveillance, facial recognition software and security checkpoints, according to the Intercept. The Border Patrol has contracted with the U.S. division of Elbit Systems, a large miliary equipment company in Israel, to further develop a 26 million dollar security system.; Elbit has already built 55 fixed towers in southern Arizona. Younger community members working or studying in the cities are less and less eager to come home, as their movements are incessantly tracked. As the Intercept describes it, ” Vehicle barriers, surveillance cameras, and trucks have appeared near burial grounds and on hilltops amid ancient saguaro forests, which are sacred to people on the reservation.” RLS
4. Cherokee Nation sending representative to Congress
The 1835 Treaty of New Echota resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its tribal land to territories in Oklahoma, an event known as the Trail of Tears. Nearly 4,000 died as a result of that forced march. As part of the 1835 treaty, the US government promised the Cherokee Nation that it could seat a delegate in the US House of Representatives. The Cherokee Nation has now announced its intention to appoint a delegate, Kimberly Teehee, according to CNN. Teehee interned with Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation, and pursued a career in law, on Mankiller’s advice, when she returned to college from that internship. She has worked for the Democratic National Committee and was a policy advisor during the Obama administration. She contributed to the Violence Against Women Act and to the formation of Congress’ Native American Caucus. Congress will have to take action before Teehee can begin serving as the Cherokee Nation’s representative. S-HP
If you would like to congratulate Teehee on her appointment and ask Speaker Pelosi to welcome her, the contact information is here.
5. Review finds public servants still denied student loan relief
A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a revised version of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) called the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) has failed to address profound failures to deliver on its promises to dedicated public servants such as teachers and nurses. The PSLF came under criticism by Congress because the vast majority of applicants were being rejected.
The program promises forgiveness of student loans after ten years of work in certain public service professions. A very small percentage of applicants managed to actually obtain loan forgiveness, the vast majority being rejected for a variety of minor rule requirements or unclear guidelines, according to NPR. To address this issue, Congress created TEPSLF and set aside $700 million in funding for the program, directing the Department of Education to streamline and simplify the process for approval. The GAO has found that to date only $27 million had been distributed, just 661 out of over 54,000 requests: A failure rate of 99%. The majority of rejections were because applicants had not first applied for the PSLF program and been rejected, a requirement which was unclear to say the least. Smaller numbers were rejected for not making the required 10 years of payments and a technicality that requires the payments made be equal to or more than the sum of an income-driven repayment plan. The GAO recommends further streamlining of the process.
6. “Expedited removal” procedures would allow immigrants to be removed without a hearing–and without the right to appeal
Currently, Department of Homeland Security rules allow for expedited removal of any undocumented immigrant arrested within 100 miles of a land border—and the definition of “undocumented” being used is questionable, with several recent cases of U.S.-born citizens being taken into immigration detention under this rule, Think Progress reports. Eighteen-year-old Francisco Galicia, for example, was arrested while traveling with friends to a soccer event. He provided Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with his Texas state ID, which he had obtained by providing his social security card. His mother provided CBP with his original birth certificate, showing he was born in the U.S., as well as his health insurance card and has school ID. Despite this, Galicia continued to be held by CBP for three weeks and was refused the right to make phone calls for that entire period—regardless of the fact that such immigration holds are legally limited to seventy-two hours. After those three weeks, Galicia was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was released within a few days.
The fact that such illegal detentions of U.S. citizens are happening now under the more limited rule suggests that illegal detentions of citizens will increase when the rule is broadened—by 20,000 additional incidents per year, NPR speculates, also pointing out that expedited removal regulations permit people to be deported without a hearing and do not allow for appeals. However, in a hearing September 6, the ACLU asked a federal judge for an injunction, as expedited removals were expected to begin early in September, Courthouse News reports. S-HP.
This rule is currently open for public comments. Information on how to comment is here.
7. Judges losing authority over immigration–comment now.
The Republican administration appears to be attempting to circumvent the nation’s system of immigration courts. The Department of Justice (DoJ) is attempting to have the union representing immigration judges decertified, claiming that the judges are management and therefore do not qualify for union representation. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, objects to this claim, telling NPR that “[Immigration judges] do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.” The Federal Labor Relations Agency previously rejected a similar effort during the Clinton administration, but the make-up of the Agency has seen such significant changes in subsequent years that there is no assurance it will rule similarly this time around. Judges are pressured to hear 700 cases per year and cope with ever-changing rules without sufficient administrative report, as Ilyce Shugall, director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco, explains.
In addition, the Department of Justice has announced a new interim rule that gives the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR—the office within the DoJ that oversees immigration courts) the power to issue decisions in immigration cases not decided within a certain timeframe. Given that the nation current has only 440 immigration judges who are facing 900,000 pending immigration cases, this suggests that a significant portion of future immigration decisions may not be made by immigration judges. S-HP
This rule change has been put into place but can still be officially commented on. See the link and this document for information.
8. Voter suppression looms
Let’s connect some dots about voting in the U.S:
*For years under the Voting Rights Act, states with counties that had histories of racially based voter discrimination required federal “pre-clearance” (permission) before changing their voting laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling threw out that requirement. Since then, states that previously needed pre-clearance to change voting laws—particularly Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona—have had 40% higher rates of voter purging than states that had no history of discrimination necessitating pre-clearance.
*Between 2014 and 2016 (after pre-clearance was no longer required), some 16 million voters were purged from state voter rolls. Between 2016 and 2018 17 million voters were purged.
*According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2018, 10 states had “strict” voter ID laws that require voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot and to provide additional identifying information after the election before their votes will be counted. Another 25 states had “non-strict” voter ID laws, that allow at least some (though often very few) voters without ID to have their votes counted without providing additional identifying information after the election. Two more states had voter identification laws that were not enforced at that time because they were stuck down by courts.
*An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has found serious voting irregularities in Georgia elections, according to Salon, with the rates of irregularities highest in primarily African American voting districts.
*Reporting by Bloomberg Businessweek has revealed probable collaboration between the 2016 Trump campaign and an organization called Trump for Urban Communities that was dedicated to sending Black voters the message, “If you can’t stomach Trump, just don’t vote for other people and don’t vote at all.” The campaign was most active in urban centers that ultimately had lower-than-expected Black voter turnout.
*Twelve states still use paperless electronic voting machines in some areas. Four states use them statewide. Given all this, it would be unreasonable not to draw the conclusion that the right to vote, particularly for voters of color, is at risk in many parts of the U.S. While the House has passed several pieces of voting rights/vote protection legislation, Mitch McConnell has not allowed any of that legislation to be voted on in the Senate. S-HP
If you want to speak up about the right to vote, your legislators’ contact information can be found here.
9. Military families sacrifice daycare & schools to build Trump’s wall; Puerto Rico loses $400 million for hurricane reconstruction
Not only will nine schools and a daycare center on military bases not be built if Trump succeeds in diverting $3.6 billion from the military budget to his border wall, but critical rebuilding funds will not be sent to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. MSNBC notes that Puerto Rico will lose the most, 400m. Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to justify diverting $8 billion from other federal budgets for the wall, and already diverted $2.5 billion from the military budget, according to Politico. PBS News Hour has an explainer on the issue, pointing out that whether Congress will backfill the Pentagon budget that Trump has raided will only become clear next month when legislators come back from recess. A group of Democratic senators wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, saying that “We also expect a full justification of how the decision to cancel was made for each project selected and why a border wall is more important to our national security and the well-being of our service members and their families than these projects.”
Trump has become increasingly frantic to get the wall built before the 2020 election, the Washington Post reports, so much so that he told aides he would pardon them if they violated any laws getting it done (later claiming it was a joke). He also is determined that it should be painted black. RLS
If you have views about this redirection of funds, you can write the Acting Secretary of Defense and your elected officials here.
10. Complicity in war crimes in Yemen
The United Nations-commissioned Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEEY) said during a press conference that the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Iran may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen because they have supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, a practice which “perpetuates the conflict” and has prolonged the suffering of the Yemeni people, CNN reports. GEEY also said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the internationally recognized Yemeni government, and Iranian-backed rebels fighting the government have all enjoyed a “pervasive lack of accountability” for their actions in the conflict, which include torture, sexual violence, and the deliberate use of starvation as a tool of war. The GEEY “has recommended that their states prohibit authorization of arms transfers and refrain from providing arms to parties in the conflict…. Because of the prevailing risk that such arms will be used by parties to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
If you think the US should stop sending weapons to Yemen, write your elected officials.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
11. Suicide rates climbing, especially in rural areas.
A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open provides evidence that suicide rates in the United States are rising, particularly in rural areas of the nation. Researchers at Ohio State University took data spanning from 1999 to 2016 and did a county-by-county breakdown, finding that suicide rates had increased in that time by a sobering 41%. 1999 saw 15 suicides per 100,000 people per county and 2016 had 21 deaths per 100,000. Rural areas saw the largest increase by far, with a shocking 22 deaths per 100,000 on average, with large urban areas showing 17 per 100k. Interesting, there appeared to be a relation between the number of gun stores and the suicide rate, linking easier availability to firearms with higher rates of suicide. Rural areas suffer from a lack of resources and education regarding suicide prevention.
12. Maps that actually matter
If Trump’s 17 environmental waivers go through, the Border Wall will cut through six tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as through the towns of Mission and La Grulla and along the edge of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, according to the Monitor. These were areas excluded from the Congressional budget agreement earlier this year after considerable outcry. The waivers were executed by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and effectively bypass Congress, while waiving the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Farmland Protection Policy Act, according to the Valley Greenspace Blog, which speaks to issues in the Rio Grande Valley. A map is available on their site.
The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to endangered species, such as the ocelot, as well as four hundred species of birds, some of them rare, according to the Texas Monthly. Border construction is also beginning this week in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a national park in Arizona, construction which will tear out ancient Saguaro cactus as well as creosote. Members of the Tohono O’odam Nation “harvest saguaro fruit and perform their sacred salt ceremony in and around Organ Pipe,” according to High Country News. By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds.
By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds. RLS
If you want to speak up about the destruction of wildlife refuges, information to do so is here.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist is still on summer break, but you can sign up for their checklist now.
- In addition to proposing various action items, Sarah-Hope recommends that we send well-wishes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See Sarah-Hope’s list here.
- Most important on Martha’s list are the USCIS tip form and cuts to food stamps (SNAP). She also identifies opportunities for public comment on proposed changes Medicare Part B, impending exploitation Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the Medicaid work requirement, Drinking water, Nuclear weapons, allowable residues of pesticides residuesm the right of federal employees to unionize, and more.
- If you want to help victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, plant trees to address the climate crisis, work against the deportation of immigrants in medical need, or engage in some other way, see Rogan’s List, now with new items.