News You May Have Missed: December 22, 2019

Note that Unholy Escort, Katie Jo Suddaby’s apt and chilling painting, is available in various forms (cards, prints) through Fine Art America, a quite responsible site in our experience. 

News You May Have Missed is taking a holiday break on December 29, 2019. We will be back with renewed vigilance January 5.

Meanwhile, we know you will be thinking of those for whom the return of the light seems a long way away– people separated by borders, people in refugee camps, and political prisoners in the US and around the world. Among these are Reality Winner, who is serving a five-year and three-month sentence for leaking the information about Russian interference. You can write her at: #22056-021, FMC Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.

Since the administration is likely to take advantage of holiday distraction by dumping bad news, you might want to keep reading Heather Cox Richardson’s incisive commentaries.

And if you follow Rebecca Solnit on Facebook or Twitter, don’t miss her commentary on why it is so difficult and confusing to stay focused on events in Washington. Here it is in case you avoid Facebook.


1. All DACA cases to be reopened

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has confirmed to CNN that it is in the process of reopening all DACA (Dream Act for Childhood Arrivals) cases. This includes cases of individuals who have no criminal record and have complied with all DACA requirements in a timely manner. In the past, these cases were “administratively closed,” meaning that an immigration judge approved ongoing suspension of these cases in order to allow those affected to remain in the U.S. Now ICE is “re-calendaring” these cases, making them active once more and setting court dates. Late last summer, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the legality of ending the DACA program, which the Trump administration wants to do. A ruling on this case is expected in June, and many immigration advocates see these moves by ICE as preparation for beginning large scale deportations should the court rule in the administration’s favor. S-HP

If you have something to say about this challenge to DACA, addresses are here.

2. People granted asylum given fake court dates, deported

At least four asylum-seekers, including one Cuban dissident, received fake court dates and were returned to Mexico. One of them, the Cuban, had been one of the thousands required to wait in Mexico and then to travel to a hearing in Laredo, Texas, where the judge appeared by video-conference. His asylum was granted, but when he presented his papers to an official point of entry, border officials told him he had to wait in Mexico for another 30 days while the government decided whether to appeal his asylum, Buzzfeed reported. He was given a court date and a notice for a hearing–which was non-existent, his attorneys ascertained.

If the government decides to appeal his asylum, he could be stuck in Mexico much longer, depending on how long the process takes. Buzzfeed quoted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, as saying, “It is an exercise in cruelty to send people who win asylum back to Mexico, forcing them to wait months or years for an appeal to work its way through the system. Because the person has no future court dates, CBP just invents fake ones.” RLS

If you think successful asylum seekers should not face deportation and fake court dates, you can speak up to those at these addresses.

3. Less than 0.1% of applicants approved for asylum

Under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), very few individuals are being approved for asylum. How few? Less than 0.1% reports the Los Angeles Times. Some 47,000 individuals have been ordered to remain in Mexico under the MPP. 7,567 of those 47,000 cases had been resolved as of the December 15 publication of this story. 5,085 individuals have had asylum claims rejected. Another 4,471 have had their cases dismissed, generally on procedural grounds. Only eleven individuals have had their asylum claims granted. And, as noted above, individuals granted asylum are now expected to continue staying in Mexico while the government decides whether it will appeal those grants of asylum. Meanwhile, 636 cases of kidnapping, torture, and violence against asylum-seekers (including 138 cases of child-kidnapping) have been reported among those in Mexico as part of the MPP. S-HP

If it concerns you that the asylum process seems to be rigged and that asylum-seekers are placed in danger, you can say something to your elected officials.

4. 80 members of Congress have called on Stephen Miller to resign: His emails!

On December 17, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed that Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy advisor, sent 900 emails to a former Breitbart writer, making alarmist statements about Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Bahamians devastated by the hurricane and urging her to focus on crime by immigrants and people of color. 

His latest campaign, according to the Washington Post, is to use biometric data from adults who come to pick up children in ICE custody to investigate and deport the adults. Congress has said that they do not want to scare away adults who take custody of children, but according to the Post, ICE believes that “adults denied custody of children lose their status as ‘potential sponsors’ and are fair game for arrest.”

At the time he sent those emails, Miller was working for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (later to become Attorney General and then to be forced out by Trump), and his recommendations have had considerable impact on Trump policy. He is widely regarded as the architect of the Muslim ban and of family separation at the border; Bahamians were indeed denied TPS, Yahoo News reports. 80 members of Congress–all Democrats–have called on him to resign. RLS

5. Republicans planning voter intimidation

What’s the difference between election day ballot security monitoring and voter intimidation? As we may soon discover, this is a fine line, indeed. In 1982 a consent decree was put in place barring the Republican party from participating in “ballot security” activities at polling places. The decree originated after Republican National Committee (RNC) efforts to intimidate black voters during a New Jersey gubernatorial election, during which off-duty police officers wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” arm bands, some carrying guns, questioned individual’s qualifications to vote as they stood in line at polling sites in predominantly black areas. The RNC did not admit wrongdoing, but did agree to the consent decree. Now, that consent decree has been lifted and the Associated Press reports that Wisconsin Republican strategists are planning to add “ballot security monitoring” back into the arsenal of techniques it uses to encourage high Republican, and low Democratic, participation in elections in crucial districts. S-HP

If you are concerned about voting rights, you could insist on federal protection for them.

6. Printable, untracable guns would be blocked by legislation

In November, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration broke federal law and behaved in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it reversed Obama-era policy and allowed a gun-technology company to post digital blueprints for making weapons with a 3D printer. This case is being appealed, so we aren’t yet safe from the threat of untraceable firearms, Bloomberg explains. There is, however, pending Congressional legislation that would prohibit the publication of such materials—the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act of 2019. The House version of this legislation, H.R.3265, is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The Senate version of this legislation, S.1831, is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If you think we should be protected from untracable guns, write the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

7. Change in disability rules may put recipients at risk

The Social Security Administration is proposing a major change to the regulations regarding continuing receipt of disability payments, a proposal titled “Rules regarding the frequency and notice of continuing disability reviews, ” according to MSN. Qualifying for disability benefits is a challenging process, requiring extensive documentation and multiple hearings. Once an individual qualifies for disability benefits, they are placed into one of three “medical improvement categories”: not expected, possible, or expected. All recipients of disability payments face regular reviews—benefits are never granted for an individual’s lifetime. Depending on the category into which an individual is placed, they may be reviewed as often as every six months or as infrequently as every five to seven years.

The administration is now proposing a fourth category—“medical improvement likely”—into which individuals in the “possible” or “not expected” categories might be moved. The “likely” category will require reviews at least every two years, a more frequent rate of review than is currently required for many of these individuals. While this might seem to be simply an inconvenience, the change could be a matter of life or death for some disabled individuals. Disability rights advocates see this change as a cynical move, created because the more frequently an individual is reviewed the more likely that individual is apt to lose disability benefits through inadvertently failing to comply with some aspect of the complex review process. The Social Security Administration is accepting official comments on this proposed change through January 31. (S-HP)

If you want to comment on this issue for the public record, here are the instructions.


8. Royal Canadian Mounted Police planned to shoot Indigenous land defenders

In 2018, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were prepared to shoot protestors objecting to the gas pipeline planned by TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink, which would cross through Wet’suwet’en territory, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. Wet’suwet’en is unceded territory in British Columbia, meaning that it was never given over to the Canadian government via treaty, as affirmed by Canada’s Supreme Court in 1997.  The Indigenous people in the area are concerned about the pipeline because it would run under the Morice River, a critical water supply for several villages. Documents from the RCMP strategy session said that “lethal overwatch is req’d”–official-speak for the use of snipers–and that officers could “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that “…the terminology is entirely unacceptable,” the CBC reported. He did not comment on whether the intent was unacceptable as well. RLS


9. Pro-Trump publication linked to fake accounts

Facebook recently deactivated over six hundred accounts that were being run by AI programs managed by paid agents in Vietnam posing as Americans. The accounts were used to promote pro-Trump conspiracy theories and editorials and as a distributed means of advertising for the publication Epoch Times, which is also known for its aggressively pro-Trump slant, according to NBC. Almost ten million dollars were spent on advertising through these accounts, which were run from a company in Vietnam comprised of former Epoch Times employees, their families and associates. The Epoch Times is a publication staffed by practitioners of Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual group from China who believe the world is headed for an apocalyptic end where all communists will be sent to hell. Members of Falun Gong have gone on record as saying they believe President Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the Chinese Communist Party.  JC

10. Stinky molecule identified as an unmistakable biosignature

As the search for extrasolar planets expands to include teasing out details about the planets we discover orbiting distant stars, one key feature is top priority: life. We can with considerable effort and technology obtain information about the content of the atmospheres of some of these planets; what is needed is something we can look for the can only be produced by living organisms. A paper published in the journal Astrobiology now makes a compelling case to have found just such a chemical signature in a poisonous and nauseating compound produced by anaerobic bacteria here on earth called phosphine, explains. Phosphine is the molecule that gives swamp gas it’s disagreeable odor and after ten years of research scientists have found no other natural means for its production other than biological processes. The chemical is distinct and detectable enough that we should be able to identify it in planets up to sixteen light years away. If we do, that will be proof positive we are not the only abode of life in the universe. JC


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has clear, easy actions you can take.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s list is included above, but there are a few additional items.
  • Rogan’s list is on holiday, but the December 19 edition has numerous, quick opportunities to speak up.
  • Chrysostom has an excellent roundup of election news and gossip.