News You May Have Missed: September 22, 2019

It seems to be the week of the whistleblower. You’ve likely not missed the news that Trump apparently asked the president of Ukraine–eight times in one phone call–to investigate Joe Biden’s son, and that the Justice Department is refusing to forward the whistleblower’s complaint about it to Congress.  You probably saw the articles on the FBI’s refusal to interview witnesses before Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, a refusal that has just now come to light.

But you might have missed the piece in the Guardian about the climate whistleblowers whose research was suppressed by the Trump administration, or CBS’s piece on the intelligence analyst who resigned because the Trump administration tried to delete five pages of “basic science” from its climate report. 

It’s incredible that this news would come out on the heels of the climate strike, in which millions of people all over the globe demanded climate action.  Canadians: you can march September 27. Torontonians: here’s a list of all the climate actions this week.

Americans: See Sarah-Hope’s list for ways to address the Justice Department’s refusal to follow whistleblower procedures, along with various other actions you can take to preserve human rights, object the suppression of climate science, and stop the impeding war against Iran. And see our colleague Crysostom’s election roundup; his September 19 post focuses on primary challengers and his September 17 post passes on the gossip about the North Caroline GOP. (Link in the Resources list, below.)


1. Asylum-seekers to be sent to El Salvador

Asylum-seekers who pass through El Salvador on the way to seek asylum in the U.S. must now seek asylum there first under a new agreement the Trump administration has struck with El Salvador, the New York Times reports. Not only will asylum-seekers be required to apply in El Salvador if they pass through the country., but they will actually be sent there from the U.S. border, according to the Washington Post.

El Salvador has a high rate of internal displacement and is riddled with gang violence, a New York Times story explained in detail last December. The Times says that tens of thousands of Salvadorans have had to leave their homes and in 2018, 46,800 Salvadorans sought asylum around the world. The murder rate may be falling, but in general Salvadorans do not go to the police when a family member is attacked, in fear of retaliation. Some Salvadorans in the US have Temporary Protected Status, which Trump has sought to end; a lawsuit halted the end of TPS only until January. Those without TPS who are deported face the same violent conditions they fled, along with the stigma of being a “returnee,” Foreign Policy in Focus explains.

In the 1980s, El Salvador endured a protracted civil war marked by atrocities; 70,000 people died. The United States supported the government that was widely understood to be responsible for the majority of human rights violations, pouring 1.5 million dollars a day into the conflict, according to some estimates. It is not clear what the U.S. has promised El Salvador in return for considering the asylum claims of people passing through the country; it is already contributing heavily to law enforcement there. According to the Times, a similar deal struck with Guatemala is on hold while lawsuits proceed. RLS

If you are concerned about U.S. abandonment of our responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees via agreement with Central American countries that face the same levels of violence the asylum-seekers and refugees are fleeing, you can write the people listed here.

2. “Factory justice” at the border

Asylum-seekers in Laredo, Texas, are having their cases heard in new courtrooms housed in tents, places where legal advocates are forbidden to make “Know Your Rights” presentations and the public and press are excluded. Judges are often not present but appeal virtually. “It’s like factory justice,” the LA Times quoted Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas’ advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, as saying. “They’re just trying to get as many people through with the least friction as possible. They know people having counsel will cause friction in their system — people will express fear and potentially win their cases.”

In Brownsville, Texas, families who have been required to stay in Mexico awaiting their court hearings have been required to show up to tent courts at 4 AM, navigating the dangerous city of Matamoros with their children at night, the Washington Post reported. These asylum seekers are homeless or in tent shelters in an area of Mexico that has a level-four State Department warning; that is, tourists are warned against visiting because of the risks of violence. RLS

If you have views on the need for transparency in the tent courts and for the safety of immigrants waiting in Mexico, those on this list should perhaps hear from you.

3. Documenting credible fear

Families seeking asylum in the U.S. must have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, as determined by an asylum officer. The process is grueling, requiring an hour-long interview, with an explanation of the process only available in a complicated document written in legalese, Sojourners explains. Unless a volunteer legal agency, such as the Dilley Pro Bono Project, is on hand, asylum seekers must go through these interviews without legal assistance. Now, the process is likely to become even more difficult, as the Trump administration plans to have Border Patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, conduct the “credible fear” interviews, SF Gate reports. The administration expects that Border Patrol agents will confirm fewer applicants as having credible fear. RLS

If you have concerns about the suitability of BP agents to ascertain credible fear, you can write the people listed here.

4. Girls in ICE custody deprived of menstrual supplies

A lawsuit filed by 19 states accuses the Trump administration of not providing adequate sanitary products to girls in ICE custody, leaving them to bleed through their clothes and unable to clean themselves. According to the Independent, “[t]he lawsuit includes testimony by Alma Poletti, an investigator,… who said one young woman who was having her period was only permitted to take a shower after 10 days. ‘[This young woman] recalls there was another girl at the facility who was also on her period. They were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards knew they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of clothes, even when the other girl visibly bled through her pants.’” S-HP

You can write your congresspeople to urge that girls in ICE custody be provided with adequate sanitary supplies and opportunities to wash.

5. An “epidemic” of violence against trans women

The “life expectancy of trans women in the Americas is between 30 and 35 years of age,” reported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014. Bee Love Slater was the 18th transgender person killed this year in the U.S.—that is, the 18th murder that was reported and identified as such. Her body was found in a burned-out car near West Palm Beach, Florida. 17 year old Bailey Reeves was the 17th trans person killed; she was shot in Baltimore over Labor Day. The American Medical Association has described an “epidemic” of violence against trans people, especially African-Americans. However, transgender people are not protected by federal legislation and indeed, in August the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to permit discrimination on the basis of trans status, Time magazine reported. Florida’s hate-crime law excludes trans people, according to the Guardian. Note that at a September 20 Presidential candidate forum on LGBTQ issues, Elizabeth Warren specifically named each of the eighteen transgendered women who have been killed this year. RLS, S-HP

If you want to thank Elizabeth Warren for acknowledging these tragic deaths and to advocate that your member of Congress address hate crimes against trans people, the addresses are here.

6. EPA tries to open aquifers on Indigenous land to uranium mining

Uranium could be mined and contaminated water disposed of in the underground water tables in the Southern Black Hills of North Dakota  if Hong Kong-based Arzaga Uranium succeeds in obtaining permits. The EPA had already issued drafted permits, which were resoundingly rejected by members of the public and Native American communities; now it is proposing to re-issue permits and has opened a public comment period. Arzaga and its local subsidiary PowerTech would drill “4,000 new injection well holes in the Inyan Kara and Minnelusa aquifers at the 10,000-acre Dewey Burdock site located on the headwaters of the Cheyenne River, 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Indianz reports. The EPA’s own guidelines require it to consult “on a government-to-government basis…when EPA actions and decisions may affect tribal interests.” However, no such consultation has taken place, according to tribal members. RLS

To speak up about water safety and to advocate for government-government consultation with Indigenous nations, comment for the public record. Here’s how.

7. Narrowing the options for challenging discrimination in housing

The Trump administration has introduced a new rule that may make it harder for people to bring forward discrimination complaints under the Fair Housing Act, City Lab explains. Currently, a philosophy of “disparate impact” has been to determine when housing practices are discriminatory. Under a Supreme Court ruling on the issue of “disparate impact” practices that adversely affect minorities, even practices that do not explicitly discriminate against them, can be considered violations of fair housing law. The proposed rule change would eliminate the use of the “disparate impact” standard in demonstrating discriminatory housing practices. The rule change would also indemnify lenders, landlords, and others, if they use third-party algorithms that are subsequently demonstrated to have a discriminatory effect in decisions about credit risks, interest rates, and more. S-HP

You can speak up for the public record about discrimination in housing . Here’s how.

8. Books banned in prisons

Multiple states as well as the federal prison system ban particular books or try to restrict book deliveries. Texas has banned “over 10,000 books from prisons, including books by Alice Walker, John Grisham, Jenna Bush Hager, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Bob Dole,” while allowing books from Adolf Hitler and David Duke, according to the Action Network. Oregon prisons are banning books that teach coding, Vice reports. Salon points out that various kinds of books that advise prisoners’ families how to cope, prisoners how to navigate the prison system, and various self-help books are banned; because the guidelines are so vague, it is difficult to appeal. RLS

You can ask the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to hold hearings on book restriction practices in prisons.


9. War with Iran?

The Trump government very nearly attacked Iran in June, in retaliation for Iran’s downing of a surveillance drone; Trump bragged that he stopped the attack with 10 minutes to go because he was concerned about civilian deaths, the New York Times reports. Instead, he directed a cyber attack against an Iranian intelligence group, according to the Times. Now, Trump has sent troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in response to attacks on Saudi oil tankers which he blames on Iran.

Iran has sharply denied the attack and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for it, which they say are in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s merciless bombings of territory they hold. The Trump administration has also intensified economic sanctions on Iran and denied visas to many Iranian students poised to study at campuses in the University of California system; those coming to graduate programs had already left jobs in Iran and turned down offers from other universities, the New York Times reports. Code Pink, Win Without War, and other organizations foresee war with Iran and are urging action against it. If you’re worried about the looming threat of war with Iran, H.R.2354 and S.1039, both titled the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, would explicitly deny Trump the authority he needs to go to war with Iran. H.R.2354 is with the House Foreign Affairs committee.

You can urge Congress to act to prevent war on Iran.


10. North America has lost 3 billion birds

Research by American and Canadian scientists published in the journal Science details how over the last fifty years, bird species have declined in huge numbers across the board, with only a few exceptions. The research drew upon annual surveys conducted by volunteers across Canada and the United States encompassing 90% of species; they found that populations, even “common” suburban species, are in steep decline. Grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bobwhites have been particularly impacted, with declines of over fifty percent seen. The only species bucking this downward trend are waterfowl in wetlands such as ducks and geese and raptor species. It is no coincidence that the duck and goose habitats are jealously protected and nurtured by sportsmen while raptors have some of the strongest regulatory protections. The causes for the declines are familiar: loss of habitat, pesticides and feral cats. JC

Things you can do to preserve birds: •  Grow native plants
•  Ban neonicotinoids
•  Prevent window strikes
•  Keep cats indoors and spay or neuter 

11. Climate studies suppressed

The day before the worldwide Climate Strike, Democrats released a list of 1,400 climate-related studies produced by Department of Agriculture researchers, studies addressing such issues as the decline in the nutritional values of food and the projected drop in crop yields–all critical information for farmers and ranchers, along with the rest of us. None of these were made available to farmers who depend on Department of Agriculture information, according to Politico. Climate-related issues across a number of other departments were also silenced. The effect of the climate crisis on food supplies worldwide was the subject of a United Nations report in August, as we reported then; problems such as desertification, water scarcity, fire, drought, and other kinds of land degradation are becoming more acute, putting food security at risk. RLS

If you would like to address the suppression of climate research, write to your representatives. Here’s how.


  • Chrysostom’s comprehensive election roundup.
  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers some clear-cut actions you can take to support voter turnout.
  • Some of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above; see others on her list.
  • Rogan’s list suggests actions you can take on impeachment, human rights, gun reform, border wall construction, fees charged to immigrants, and much more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on a myriad of topics: cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to the USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, exploitation of the Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the California auto-emission waiver, immigration court changes, Medicaid work requirement, safe drinking water, nuclear weapons, pesticide residues allowed, the right of federal employees to unionize, miners exposed to diesel exhaust, and the ACA.