News You May Have Missed: November 24, 2019

Many of our action items suggest that you comment for the public record on the many proposals–most deliterious, a few beneficial–made by this administration. As Martha, who sorts through the opportunities to comment and presents the most significant each week, points out, many of the draconian policies carried out by the administration originate in rule changes that tend to fly under the radar. You may think that your comment will have minimal impact or that it will be overrun by bots. But comments are used in court cases when policies are challenged, and they can have significant weight in the decision-making process, depending on how many have been received. The proposal to expand the habitat for endangered orcas, for example, has received only 48 comments so far (see our final story).

Heather Cox Richardson had some excellent advice on Saturday on how to ascertain what is true in the ongoing drama in Washington. Check out her daily column, Letters from an American.

If you would like to thank those who testified under such duress in the impeachment hearings, Sarah-Hope’s list has all the names and addresses (scroll half-way down).

We also recommend Foreign Policy in Focus; put into the search box any region of the world you are interested in and you can get a wealth of current and historical information. This week we suggest you look at Conn Hallinan‘s reflections on the status of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and who really has an unauthorized nuclear program.


1. Asylum-seeker sent to Guatemala

The first deportee under a new program was sent to Guatemala on November 21, according to Reuters. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has initiated a program that will send asylum-seekers who reach the U.S. from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala, which has been named a “safe third country.” Selected asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras will be interviewed by asylum officers who will determine whether they are eligible for deportation to Guatemala. These interviewees are not allowed legal representation. The designation of Guatemala as “safe” seems disingenuous, given “the high murder rates, tiny asylum system and weak rule of law in that nation,” as Reuters put it. U.S. Advocates and asylum officers have told BuzzFeed News that “the unprecedented plan lacks legality, organization, and will lead immigrants to be placed in dangerous circumstances.” S-HP

You can speak up about this new policy to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and your elected representatives: addresses are here.

2. Gag rule for immigration lawyer before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear United States v. Sineneng-Smith, a case with huge implications regarding immigration-related free speech. Under one provision in the vast body of immigration law, encouraging an “alien” to reside in the U.S. without legal status is punishable under law. The case originated with an immigration lawyer who was convicted of fraud—and also convicted under the “encouragement” clause, the New York Times explains. If this law is upheld, the consequences may be enormous. As Manny Vargar, Senior Counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City explained to Slate, “an undocumented person who marries a citizen can adjust her status to lawful, but if she leaves the United States, she won’t be permitted to come back. Advising that client to stay would be an important part of representing her—but also potentially a felony” under the encouragement provision. In its most extreme interpretation the law could also criminalize things like tweets in support of undocumented individuals living in the U.S. S-HP

If you want to suggest to your members of Congress that they get out in front of the Supreme Court on this issue, their addresses are here.

3. Rule change would deprive asylum-seekers of work permits

Most asylum-seekers would be completely unable to receive work permits while in the U.S. awaiting the results of an asylum request, under a new rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS claim is that providing work permits for asylum seekers encourages fraudulent asylum claims from those simply hoping to acquire work permits, but who do not face any threats in their home countries. This proposed rule change, “Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants,” is open for official comments through January 12. Note that the comment page for the change in asylum work permits has had 10,000+ page views, but only 104 comments. S-HP

If you want to post a public comment on asylum-seekers’ access to work permits, here is how to do so.

4. ICE tries end-run around California legislation

This fall the California Legislature passed legislation that will make California the first state in the nation to phase out private immigration detention centers, barring new construction and contracts beginning January 1, 2020, and phasing out all existing facilities by 2028. Governor Gavin Newsom signed this legislation, AB-32, on October 11. The four private immigration detention facilities currently operating in California hold some 49,000 detainees—8% of those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody nation-wide. All four of the detention centers have contracts that expire at the end of 2020, which suggests that California could move out of the private immigration detention business very quickly.

ICE, however, appears to be engineering an end-run deliberately intended to avoid the effects of AB-32, according to the LA Times. Five days after Newsom signed AB-32, ICE solicited bids for four California-based immigration detention facilities. Interestingly, the specifics for these facilities are an almost exact match in terms of size and location with California’s four existing facilities—and the ICE solicitation says it will not consider proposals that would require new construction. ICE has indicated that it intends to sign contracts with at least three companies. The initial contract length is five years, with two optional five-year extensions. If ICE completes these contacts before January 1, that means California could have a significant presence of private immigration detention centers through AB-32’s 2028 moratorium for all such facilities. S-HP

If you don’t think ICE should circumvent California law, you can write to various elected officials and representatives.

5. No flu vaccine for detainees

Concerned about a potential flu epidemic among migrants in immigration detention centers which could spread nationally, a group of physicians offered to provide free flu shots to detainees in the San Isidro processing and detention facility. According to NBC News, the doctors also said that they could call on a network of physicians nationwide who would make sure that those held in CBP custody are vaccinated. CBP has rejected their offer, despite the fact that during the 2018 flu season, three children–well over the death rate in ordinary circumstances–in its custody died of what were most likely flu-related complications. As the group of doctors wrote, “In our professional medical opinion, this alarming mortality rate constitutes an emergency which threatens the safety of human lives, particularly children.”  S-HP

You can advocate that detainees be given flu vaccines; here is whom to write.

6. Senate stalling Violence Against Women Act reauthorization due to provision on guns

It appears that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may be the next victim of gun violence. The House approved a reauthorization of VAWA, H.R.1585, in April, but the bill is now stalled in the Senate. Why? Because Senate Republicans are unwilling to accept a provision that would preclude individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking and/or domestic abuse crimes from purchasing guns, according to The Hill. This intransigence fails to acknowledge the fact that according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “an abuser’s access to firearms increases the risk of femicide by at least 400%.”

The Senate version would also weaken the rights of tribal courts to prosecute non-Indigenous offenders who have assaulted Indigenous women, according to the Portland Press Democrat, which noted that “National surveys have shown that Native American women are twice as likely to have been victims of rape or sexual assault than other Americans, and that roughly two-thirds of the perpetrators of these crimes were not Native Americans.”

And–as we pointed out in September–among the crucial issues stalled by the delay in reauthorizing VAWA are the several hundred thousand backlogged rape kits that need funding to be analyzed. The kits are essential in prosecuting rapists and identifying serial rapists. S-HP, RLS

If you want to argue that guns should be kept out of the hands of domestic abusers and that the Violence Against Women act should be reauthorized, write your senators.

7. Trump pardons war criminals

In what some may take as additional proof that we’re living in dystopian times, Donald Trump has begun issuing pardons to and rescinding disciplinary measures against war criminals and those accused of war crimes, despite objections from military leaders. According to the Washington Post, “officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said some commanders have raised concerns that Trump’s move will undermine the military justice system.” And who were those receiving pardons? Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance was given a 19-year sentence in 2013 for the 2nd degree murder of three men in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times. Army Major Mathew L. Golsteyn was scheduled to be tried for the murder of an Afghan civilian. Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was demoted for posing in a photo of an Islamic State fighter’s corpse, but will now be restored to his previous rank before he retires. Now former Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer has been fired because of his objections to Gallagher’s reinstatement, NBC News reported on Sunday. S-HP


8. Hong Kong bill stalled in the Senate

Pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong continue to face the daily possibility of death as they work to retain Hong Kong’s autonomous status. By Tuesday, most of the protestors had left Hong Kong Polytechnic University, according to the Guardian, but there are mixed reports of how they left. Six hundred protestors surrendered on Monday; three hundred were children and so it is not clear what consequences they will face. Another three hundred were in the hospital. Some had tried to escape through sewers and others off a footbridge. A video surfaced on IMGUR purporting to be of protestors being loaded onto trains headed for mainland China; though it has been picked up by other sources such as the Taiwan News, we have been unable to verify it.

Pro-democracy candidates in the Hong Kong Council elections appear to be headed for a “stunning victory” as of Sunday night; that and high turnout suggest widespread sympathy for the protestors, according to the New York Times.

In the U.S., the House has passed the Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act, H.R.3289, which is intended to strengthen Hong Kong’s democratic structures and to protect U.S. interests in Hong Kong. By way of background, the British ended Hong Kong’s colonial status in 1997, and Hong Kong has since been a Special Administrative Region of China where democratic norms established during the colonial period must be allowed to remain in place through 2047. The current unrest in Hong Kong was triggered by a move by Chinese authorities to allow the extradition of residents of Hong Kong for trial in China, rather than letting Hong Kong conduct trials independently. It is now the Senate’s turn to consider H.R.3289, which would impose sanctions for any violations of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the Chinese. Mitch McConnell has not assigned H.R.3289 to a Senate committee, leaving it in limbo, with no clear path to a vote by the full Senate. Donald Trump has said he will veto H.R.3289 if he feels it interferes with his ability to conduct trade negotiations with China. S-HP, RLS

You might want to urge the Senate to speak up for Hong Kong. Write your senators.

9. “Where is my family?” Students in China cope with family members’ detention

Four hundred pages of documents detailing the plans to detain the minority Muslim population in the Chinese province of Xinjiang have been obtained by the New York Times. In particular, the documents instruct officials how to handle the questions of university students who came home for vacation in 2017 and found their families missing. Students were told that their families were in training camps, where they were sent “to study because they have come under a degree of harmful influence in religious extremism and violent terrorist thoughts.” They were instructed that their own behavior could be used against the family member. (The Times provides a translation of the entire guide for how the students were to be handled.) RLS


10. Microsoft develops ultra-long data storage medium

The archival of long-term data is expensive, in part because existing methods use storage mediums that degrade over relatively short spans of time requiring that the entire catalog be recopied periodically–a painstaking proposition. Microsoft may have solved this issue using one of the oldest materials around: glass. Using femtosecond lasers (which can write extremely small optical pixels) researchers in the U.K. etched data into glass in 3-D layers; a 2 mm thick sheet of glass can have 100 layers or more. This allows for gigabytes of data to be stored on a square of glass a few inches wide, as Ars Technica described it. Glass is extremely stable and durable; optical pixels do not degrade like magnetic storage. Addressing the read portion of the archival process, each record contains a sort of primer at the very beginning to instruct readers how to decode the rest of the data. This primer can be read using no more than a microscope and polarized light source if necessary. JC

11. Music is a universal language

Researchers at Harvard University were curious about what, if any, commonalities exist in music across cultural backgrounds. It was long thought that due to the incredible variety of musical styles and methods of making music, it would be impossible to compare musical structure in dissimilar cultures. To find out, they created two databases, one with detailed descriptions of 5000 songs across 60 different cultures and another with vocal recordings (because the human voice is the only truly shared instrutment) of four different categories of songs: lullabies, dance, love and healing. What they found is that there may be a universal musical “grammar” that all peoples build from when creating music, according to New Scientist. For example, the team found that all cultures had melodies that were structured around a base tone, a tone the song keeps returning to as a “home.” They also found that healing songs were more repetitive, while dance songs were quicker and more rhythmic than lullabies. It seems that evidence is pointing that music, like all language, is built into the human brain.  JC

12. Communities could replace fewer lead pipes under new rules

Lead can cause “profound and permanent adverse health effects” in young children, according to the World Health Organization, especially on the development of the brain and nervous system. Adults can suffer high blood pressure and kidney damage from ingesting lead, which also can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth. A recent New York Times article notes that of the 30,000 children exposed to high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan, some 28 per cent of them need accommodations at school.

The Environmental Protection Agency has posted a proposed rule change, “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Lead and Copper Rule Revisions,” which is open for public comments through January 13, 2020. While the proposed rule change tightens rules for acceptable levels of lead leaching from pipes and requires better monitoring, it also reduces the required annual replacement rate communities with lead pipes must comply with, according to the Environment and Energy (E2) Law Blog. S-HP, RLS

You can post a public comment on lead pipe replacement; follow the instructions here. Note that there are only 31 comments so far! Yours will count.

13. Comment now to protect orcas

Last year the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration for failing to protect orcas along the West Coast. This has led to a proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to add protections for an additional 18,000 square miles of marine habitat, including foraging areas, river mouths, and migratory pathways. The proposal is open for public comments through December 18—but only 48 comments have been received thus far. Most of these comments support the proposal; objections come primarily from the commercial fishing industry. S-HP

If you want to comment for the public record on orca habitate, here is the information on how to do so.


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist always has clear, pointed suggestions for action.
  • Chrysostom posts election updates and analyses at this site.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whole list is here, including those you could consider thanking for testifying.
  • Martha’s list has numerous opportunities to comment–including on regulations involving the “migrant protection protocols” — of which “remain in Mexico” is one part. The anti-LGBT adoption/foster care proposal was published, along with a proposal to relax standards on coal ash in streams and rivers.
  • In addition to opportunities to comment (some of which we include above), Rogan’s list updates us on upcoming climate strikes, including one November 29. See the Fridays for Future map for Canadian events.