News You May Have Missed: November 3, 2019

Heather Cox Richardson comments on the Mueller investigation documents obtained by way of Buzzfeed‘s Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Hundreds of pages were released last week, and batches will be released every month for the next eight years.  Last week’s documents sketch the origins of Trump’s preoccupation with Ukraine, the Trump campaign’s willingness to seek Russian help,  Kushner’s connection with a Russian billionaire. Richardson pulls all this together and includes a reflective PS on Wikileaks. 

Advocates for the humane treatment of immigrants have won some small (and possibly temporary) victories: Both the “public charge” rule–which would prevent immigrants from obtaining green cards if the immigration officials suspect they might at some point use public benefits–and the rule that required potential immigrants to show that they would have health insurance within 30 days have been blocked by judges. Court battles on both are pending.


1. Children leaving border camps–crossing alone

Some 50,000 asylum-seekers have been processed under the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” (MPP) which require them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being considered. The Intercept has a vivid description of one of the makeshift refugee camps where families are living. Now children and teenagers are leaving their families and crossing the border alone; because they are not covered under MPP, they will not be sent back. Some of their families have given up on seeking asylum and have returned to their home countries, knowing they may never see their children again. As one father told the Intercept, “I feel sad every day without [my daughter]. I feel lonely. But it was much more dangerous for her here than for either of us over there. May God forgive me.” RLS

If you want to call for an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols, you can speak up to your elected officials. Addresses are here.

2. Help for farmworkers impacted by California fires

There are both dangerous and hopeful times for California’s agricultural workers. While fire-fighters race to battle the many fires in the state, farmworkers are outside in the smoke bringing in the grape harvest—or, if the harvest has been cancelled or postponed, trying to figure out how to support families given the loss of wages. As National Public Radio explains, “Outside of the fire itself, the main health concern in wildfire conditions is smoke, which produces particulate matter, a mix of gases and microscopic pieces of solid matter…. increasing the risk of respiratory diseases and asthma, as well as heart problems. These risks lead health authorities to warn people in areas affected by wildfire to stay indoors and limit exertion. Farmworkers, an essential component of the wine country economy, along with construction workers, utility workers and many others who make their livelihood outside, can’t always take such precautions.”

The hope comes in the form of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R.4916, which is cosponsored by 24 Democrats and 21 Republicans. The legislation took nine months to hammer out with participation from both sides of the House, farmers, and farmworkers, Vox reports. At the legislation’s introduction, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) explained, “The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation.” Republican House member Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) noted that H.R.4916 “will provide some much-needed certainty. It does so by modernizing the H-2A program, stabilizing wages, and instituting a merit-based system for agricultural workers to eventually earn legal status – but only after years of proven and consistent employment in the U.S. agriculture industry, vigorous background checks, and state-of-the-art biometric verification. It’s what the people who work to feed our country need.” S-HP

Some 38,000 undocumented people live in Sonoma County, according to Undocufund, which is raising funds to assist them. You can also ask Cal-OSHA to monitor conditions for farmworkers.

3. US abandoning responsibility for refugees

The US took in no refugees in October, abandoning its responsibilities as a world leader in this regard, Politico explains in a detailed article. The administration has set the 2020 refugee cap at 18,000, by far the lowest number since the program was established in 1980 (the previous low was 67,000 in 1986; the high thus far has been the 231,700 admitted in 1980). The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office has no overseas trips for initial interviews of refugees for the remainder of this calendar year.

When in October, the U.S. announced it would not be admitting any refugees for the month, refugees were left in limbo and some 500 flights were cancelled. The administration says the moratorium will continue through November 5. Meanwhile, transportation will need to be cancelled and rebooked at taxpayer expense for the small numbers of refugees on track to be admitted. CNN points out a United Nations Refugee Agency statement that “[t]he latest travel delays come as the humanitarian crisis in Syria worsens. More than 12,000 Syrian refugees have recently fled to shelters in the region.” Refugee admissions this year have fallen well below approved ceilings.

For example, the 2020 U.S. refugee cap allows for 4,000 Iraqi refugees to be admitted, but this past year (the federal fiscal year ends on September 30) delays and heightened vetting meant only 465 Iraqi refugees were actually allowed in. Those Iraqis are people who assisted the US during the war–translators, contractors, workers in all areas–some of whom risked their lives to do so, according to the New York Times. The Pentagon is the only voice within the administration advocating for the admission of refugees, according to NBC. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the refugee cap, some options are here.

4. Work permits extended for Salvadorans: Another quid pro quo?

The Los Angeles Times headline read “Trump administration extends protections for Salvadorans, allowing thousands to stay in the U.S.” The reality was more stark. Salvadorans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have been granted a one-year extension of their work permits, but no extension of their TPS status, which is the subject of litigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, in Washington to sign the agreements, said Salvadorans are being given ‘breathing room’ to find a permanent solution that will eventually earn them residency or citizenship.”

Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, on the other hand, said that TPS was not being extended at all. There’s also a layer of contradiction underlying the U.S. move. While the U.S. is allowing Salvadorans with TOPS to remain in the country an additional year, suggesting that conditions in El Salvador are not safe for return, it has also signed an agreement with El Salvador committing it to preventing refugees from other Central American Nations from continuing their journey to the U.S., suggesting that El Salvador is a “safe” destination for asylum-seekers. S-HP

If you want to advocate for Salvadorans to have their Temporary Protected Status preserved, write your members of Congresses–addresses here.

5. One private detention center closing, eight more opening

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been paying Calliburn $720,000 per day to maintain the Homestead Detention Center in Florida, which had held asylum-seekers, but which in fact has had its bed capacity reduced to zero, meaning it is housing no asylum seekers whatsoever. That contact will not be renewed on November 30th, which means that taxpayers will only continue paying nearly three-quarters of a million dollars a day for absolutely nothing for an additional month.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been building a closer relationship with Louisana-based LaSalle Corrections. ICE has paid to have eight additional immigration detention centers built in Louisiana, six of them operated by LaSalle. Vice reports on years of documented and alleged abuse at LaSalle facilities, including verbal abuse, moldy food, and indifference to inmate health. One detainee at a LaSalle facility committed suicide in October after being placed in solitary confinement. Because private detention centers are operated for profit, contactors are strongly motivated to provide only minimal—even insufficient—services to keep profits high. S-HP

If you want to speak up about private detention centers, here are some possibilities.

6. Cuts to food assistance

Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps and in California known as CalFresh, would be cut under a Trump Administration proposal. The new proposal would change the benefits for many SNAP and CalFresh recipients based on a new calculation for household utilities. According to Forbes, “The new rules would prohibit states from expanding who is eligible for the program beyond the so-called federal baseline, which is $33,475 for a family of four—or 130% of the federal poverty level.” Through this action, the administration could force some low-income families–including veterans, according to Stripes–to choose between putting food on their table and keeping the heat on in their homes, particularly in states with high costs of living. The official comment period for this proposal is open through December 2. S-HP

To send an official comment objecting to cuts in food assistance, follow the instructions here.

7. Disabled people abandoned in power outage

Twenty disabled seniors, dependent on wheelchairs and walkers, were left in the dark in their low-income Nothern California apartment building when PG&E, the troubled California utility, shut off power to two million customers. The elevators did not work and the hallways and stairwells were completely dark, leading to falls and disorientation. The management of the building did not check on residents. The incident was covered by the AP, but only a few American news sites picked it up; the Toronto Star ran the story.

Many other people with disabilities were at risk during the outages. People with lung disease need equipment to ease their breathing; people who use insulin must keep it refrigerated. Even the call buttons some wear depend on electricity. PG&E provided tents where people could use their medical equipment and recharge their devices, reported National Public Radio, but people without transportation could not get to them. And when the power is out, even people with cars cannot get their garage doors open, the Los Angeles Times notes.

You can let California’s Governor Gavin Newsom know that seniors and disabled people need to be safe in power outages: 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841.

8. Climate left out of fire coverage

The fires in California and weather disasters in other states aren’t happening in a vacuum; climate changes are directly implicated, in part because hotter, drier weather makes trees more vulnerable to pests that kill them–and become fuel for any spark, CNN reports. The Trump administration is blocking California’s efforts to deal with the climate crisis and criticizing its firefighting. Former Governor Jerry Brown explained the problem this way, the New York Times reported: “The seas are rising, diseases are spreading, fires are burning, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homes. California is burning while the deniers fight the standards that can help us all. This is life-and-death stuff.”

Too often, however, reporting on fires leaves out climate, as the Columbia Journalism Review points out. As long as these are treated as isolated events, there is little impetus for systematic change to address the climate crisis.

You can let media outlets know that they need to be clear how the fires and other weather disasters are part of the climate emergency.


9. Bipartisan efforts to address persecution of Muslims in China

As we noted October 14, reports from China describe the detention and mistreatment of Uighur Muslims—and other Muslim groups—in China, including allegations of the internment of nearly one million Chinese Muslims, torture, systematic sexual abuse, forced abortions, and cultural reprogramming. The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2016 has been passed by the Senate and is now awaiting consideration in the House.

According to the official House summary, “[t]his bill directs various U.S. government bodies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence shall report to Congress on issues including the security threats caused by the Chinese government’s reported crackdown on the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province, the frequency with which other governments are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and asylum seekers to China, and the development or transfer of technology that facilitates mass internment and surveillance…. The Department of State shall report on the scope of the reported crackdown in Xinjiang, including the number of detained individuals, the use of forced labor in the region, an assessment of government surveillance in the province, and U.S. diplomatic efforts to address the crackdown.” The House legislation, H.R.649, is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and two of Judiciary’s subcommittees: Immigration and Citizenship and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. S-HP

To address the situation of Uighurs and other Muslim groups, you can urge the relevant committees to act quickly on HR 649.


10. Measles destroys the immune system’s “memory”

With measles epidemics making a global comeback due to poor rates of immunization, scientists have been studying the disease anew and have found some disturbing new facets to the illness. In two studies conducted by Cambridge University and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, researchers sampled blood from a community of Orthodox Protestant children in the Netherlands, comparing those exposed to measles to those who had not contracted the illness. They found that the measles virus wreaks havoc on the immune system of children long after they recover from measles itself, most importantly “resetting” the acquired immunities the children had collected prior to the illness and returning their immune systems to that of babies. Alarmingly, they found that the natural antibodies that the children depend on to protect them from other illnesses plummeted, decreasing from 11 percent to as much as 73 percent after measles, Science reported. Thus, the return of the measles is a double risk, first from the initial infection and then from subsequent follow-on infections, making immunization all the more important.  JC

11. Trump administration prevents scientist from revealing dangers of PFAS

As the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology program, Dr. Linda Birnbaum has made a career out of protecting the public from the dangers posed by industrial chemical exposure. After recently retiring, she has revealed that she was restricted in what she was allowed to publish by Trump administration officials, who insisted she water down her language regarding the dangers posed by a group of widely used chemicals called PFAS. PFAS compounds are in many products, including fire-fighting foam, stain-resistant coatings and non-stick surfaces such as cookware, microwave popcorn bags, and fast-food wrappers. According to Birnbaum’s findings, they are associated with kidney cancer, reproductive problems, immune system issues in children, and other issues.

While opposition to her research findings is nothing new (she was at the forefront of warning the public against the dangers posed by glyphosates in pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup), the official pressure to moderate her language was unprecedented. In particular she was restricted from using the word “cause” in reference to PFAS, despite ample research to meet the bar for concluding causality, the Intercept reported. Instead, she was told to use “associated,” a far less alarming term in the field. Should PFAS be found in courts to have caused illnesses such as cancer, the government and industry would be exposed to billions of dollars in liabilities JC

12. Program to identify animal-to-human disease to be shuttered

Some of the most dangerous diseases we face are zoonoses, diseases that originate in animals but migrate to humans. As the New York Times explains, “The United Nations Environment Program estimates that a new animal disease that can also infect humans is discovered every four months.” These include diseases like Ebola, Influenza, and Anthrax. Disease vectors include everything from bat-filled trees to gorilla carcasses to camel barns. With airline travel, diseases like these can also move across our planet in a matter of days. For the last ten years, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Predict project to track just such diseases. Predict has identified more than 1,000 new viruses and trained some 5,000 people in Asia and Africa to conduct testing to identify viruses. Now, the federal government is shutting down Predict, one of our best hopes for early identification of emerging diseases. S-HP

You can write the head of USAID and your members of Congress about the Predict program. Addresses are here.

13. DNA to be collected from asylum-seekers, other immigrants

The administration continues to rally support (and hate) by reinforcing the “bad hombre” stereotype that Trump made famous during the 2016 debates . In fact, the crime rate for both documented and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is much lower than it is for citizens, the New York Times reported in May. Now the administration is proposing a rule that will allow it to collect DNA from almost any asylum-seeker crossing the border at official entry points, Gizmodo reports. This new policy would supersede earlier rules that allowed DNA collection only from migrants being prosecuted for criminal offenses, according to NPR. S-HP

If you want to submit an official comment on the proposal to collect DNA from immigrants, follow the instructions here.


  • Sarah-Hope’s list has the action items above along with others, including ways to address the issue we covered last week on the racism inherent in health-care algorithms.
  • Martha’s list provides opportunities to comment for the public record; the policy changes pending would undo agricultural worker, food and environmental protections, implement anti-LGBTQ foster care and adoption measures, permit border officials to delay action on asylum-seekers–and much more.
  • Rogan’s list has resources on Indigenous issues, uninsured children, voter purges and much more.
  • See Chrysostom’s comprehensive election round-up here.