News You May Have Missed: February 9, 2020

Trump is lashing out like a blinded basilisk at those who have attempted to hold him to Constitutional norms. Two people who deserve thanks: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose leadership has been crucial during the impeachment process, and Mitt Romney, the sole Republican to vote to convict Trump on either of the two articles of impeachment. Whether or not we generally share his political viewpoint, he was unique among Republicans in his willingness to hold the President to account. Their addresses are in the links if you want to send your thanks. Common Cause is also suggesting that we speak up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who has been dismissed from the National Security Council for testifying truthfully about Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine.

Once again, Heather Cox Richardson explains the impeachment debacle and urges us to listen closely to Trump’s budget speech tomorrow, when he is expected to propose deep cuts to Medicaid.

Justice Gavel
“Justice Gavel” by Tori Rector is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 


1. Asylum seekers killed on return to El Salvador

Human Rights Watch has been tracking the fates of asylum-seekers deported to El Salvador. The organization reports that between 2013 and 2019, two hundred of these deportees were killed, raped, or tortured upon return to El Salvador. 138 of these deportees were killed by “gang members, police, soldiers, U.S.-trained death squads, or ex-partners” (in the case of those fleeing domestic abuse)–in other words, ” the same perpetrators the asylum seekers had fled from,” according to Democracy Now. Human Rights Watch identified these cases through news accounts, court records, and interviews with family members; since no official data is kept on the fate of deportees the actual number of those affected is probably higher.

You can speak up about the practice of returning asylum-seekers to the country they fled and ask the House Homeland Security Committee to begin monitoring this situation. Addresses are here.

2. Trump trolls hacked Iowa caucus phone lines

All sorts of lessons can be drawn from the debacle that was the Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus, but let’s focus on two. First: We. Need. Paper. Ballots. Yes, a ballot box can be stuffed, but the parts of our election systems that are most vulnerable are electronic. In 2018, we saw how easily eleven- and twelve-year-old children could hack U.S. voting systems. We need secure operating systems and secure machines. Second: We have to identify and combat new forms of election interference as they arise. Bloomberg first reported that one of the problems the Iowa caucus had to contend with was deliberate clogging of the phone lines used to tally results. When the tallying phone app failed, caucus leaders had to phone in results to a central number. Unfortunately, as NBC reported, the phone number to which results were reported was easily found via Goggle search—and had been shared on right-wing message boards in advance of the caucus. Those answering the phones on caucus night found themselves fielding calls excoriating the Democratic party and touting Donald Trump, rather than calls with caucus results. S-HP

If you want to recommend legislation to make our elections secure, including legislation that requires paper ballots and that penalizes deliberate attempts to interrupt voting and tallying procedures, you can find addresses for your Members of Congress here.

3. Southern states propose to criminalize gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender kids

A House committee in South Dakota passed a bill which would impose fines of up to $2000 and jail sentences of up to a year on doctors who prescribe puberty-blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgery to transgender teens under 16, according to the Washington Post. Other states are proposing these bills as well, among them South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, where providing puberty-blocking hormones to children would be defined as child abuse, the Tennessean reports. The bill in Georgia would make the provisions of gender-affirming care a felony; the legislator who is proposing it refers to it as “child abuse,” according to the Marietta Daily Journal. Legislators argue against allowing transgender youth to make permanent changes to their bodies when they may merely be “experimenting with their identity,” the Post reports. The Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization of medical professionals in the South, has spoken out against these bills, saying that “gender-affirming care is linked to significantly reduced rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.” The risk is that young transgender teens will take puberty-blocking hormones without medical supervision and will be at higher risk for mental health challenges and suicide. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 25% to 30% of transgender adolescents report attempting suicide at some point during their lives; the risk for female-male transgender adolescents is especially high, 62.5%. RLS

If you are a doctor in the South, you can sign the Campaign for Southern Equality’s letter. Otherwise, you can remind your Congressmembers that we need national-level protections for LGBTQ+ rights—including the rights of minors. Addresses here.

4. DNA samples to be collected from asylum-seekers

The Center for Public Integrity has reported on a Republican administration plan to collect DNA samples from nearly one hundred thousand individuals, some of them minors, being held in immigration detention. This would likely be the U.S.’s largest ever law enforcement collection of DNA from individuals not accused of a crime (it is important to remember that those in immigration detention are in civil, not criminal, detention). The plan, announced in early January, would begin with DNA collection at two migrant detention centers, one in Michigan and the other in Texas. Civil rights advocates have raised concerns that DNA collected could be used to link immigrants to family members who might then be targeted as well. While those charged with a crime can request that their DNA samples be destroyed if they are found innocent, no such provision is included in administration plans. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has signed a $5.2 million contract with Bode Cellmark Forensics for supplies and services. The contract will expire in April. S-HP

If you want to suggest that Bode Cellmark Forensics honor civil rights by refusing to extend or reapply for this contract and to ask the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees to investigate this large-scale collection of DNA from individuals not charged with any crime, addresses are here.

5. National archives are being purged

Let’s add a small corollary to Santayana’s warning that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” and note “Corrupt governments will encourage that forgetting when they find it expedient.” A New York Times opinion piece by professor of history Matthew Connelly warns that “vital information [held by the National Archives] is actually being deleted or destroyed, so that no one—neither the press and government watchdogs today, nor historians tomorrow—will have a chance to see it.” In 2017, it was revealed that the National Archives had authorized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) delete or destroy documents detailing the sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants. After thousands of critical comments were received from individuals, Congressmembers, and organizations that plan was given minor changes, but last month the National Archives gave ICE permission to begin destroying documents from the first year of Trump’s presidency.

The opinion piece goes on to identify other documents being destroyed with Archives approval: Department of the Interior files on endangered species, offshore drilling, safe drinking water, and management of Native American lands; Department of State papers of the under-secretary for economic growth, energy, and environment, which include everything from aviation safety to foreign takeovers of American firms. As Connelly notes, “All this is happening without so much as a congressional hearing—Congress has not called [National Archives Director] Mr. Ferriero to appear for almost five years.” Part of Congress’s lack of action may be that maintaining and running archives is an expensive business, and one that the nation has repeatedly underfunded. S-HP

You can tell the Director of the National Archives and your Congressmembers that you want to see the preservation of documents currently being or slated to be destroyed–which will require better funding of the Archives. Addresses here.

6. House supports union organizing, Republican administration undercuts it

On February 7, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would allow the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to fine employers who fire employees for union organizing, allow contract (“gig”) workers to unionize, and ease “Right to Work” provisions in various states that undermine union organizing, according to the Washington Post. Central Coast representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) described the bill as “the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor law in 80 years…a direct response to the struggle that many hardworking families are facing to keep pace with the rising costs of education, child care, housing, and other basic essentials.” The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate, as it is opposed by right-wing and industry forces. Why launch it, given it will not become law anytime soon? According to In These Times, the point is to announce the Democratic agenda and map the future should Democrats be in a position to enact it.

A staple of collective bargaining agreements is the carry-over principle, which is that the provisions of an agreement stay in force even if it expires while a new one is being negotiated. The Republican administration has proposed a rule which would undermine this long-standing way of preserving continuity. A “General Statement of Policy or Guidance: Agency-Head Review of Agreements that Continue in Force Until New Agreements Are Reached” would allow heads of federal agencies to review expiring agreements and decline to continue any provision whose legality they question. Not only will workers’ rights under their contracts take a hit, but unions will be under pressure to settle contracts more quickly, perhaps accepting retrograde agreements. RLS

If you want to preserve the continuity of workplace regulations and the rights of workers, you can comment on this rule by 2/24/2020. In addition, you might want to advise your senator to urge that the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, H.R.2474, be brought to the floor of the Senate. It has already been passed by the House.

7. State of disunion

Trump’s “fanciful” State of the Union Address has left our country’s fact-checkers grossly overworked, but let’s focus for a moment on two legislative issues. First, Trump urged Congress “to pass bipartisan legislation to “dramatically” lower the cost of prescription drugs,” as the Hill reports. If you were listening, you may have heard the chants of “H.R.3! H.R.3!” coming from the Democratic side of the aisle, Vox notes. H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, was passed by the House in December and received in the Senate that same month, but has not yet been assigned to a Committee by Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

You may also have noted the lack of Democratic enthusiasm when Trump called for paid family leave. The legislation to which Trump was referring is S.2976, the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. S.2976 does offer working families a new means for covering family leave, but it does not actually include any paid family leave, via either the government or employers. Instead, it allows families to collect a portion of future child tax credits early to “pay” for the leave. In other words, families would be borrowing from their future selves in order to cover family leave offered by S.2976. Additionally, S.2976 only applies to family leave for babies or adopted children under age six and includes no provisions to care for sick family members or to cover an individual’s own health emergencies. S.2976 also does not provide any job protection for individuals covering family leave by this method, according to the New York Times. S-HP

It would be a good time to remind your Senators that the drug-price legislation Trump called for is sitting idle in the Senate and that real paid family leave is paid family leave, not a juggling of the books that can threaten a family’s future financial security.

8. Immigration judges appointed with no experience

We’ve reported before on the pressures—both workload demands and political interference—immigration judges are forced to deal with, but there’s another threat to our immigration justice system that hasn’t been getting the notice it deserves. The Trump administration has been hiring immigration judges who have no experience in immigration law, according to the Hill. The experience requirement for immigration judges doesn’t mention immigration law experience, but only that applicants must have seven years of “post-bar experience as a licensed attorney preparing for, participating in, and/or appealing formal hearings or trials.” Of the 28 new immigration judges recently sworn in by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, 11 of them had no immigration law experience. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has been speaking out on this issue. S-HP

You can thank Representative Lee for reminding us that immigration judges should have immigration law experience and urge your Congressmembers to join her in bringing attention to this problem. Addresses are here.

9. Asylum seekers on hunger strike

In a story that has received virtually no attention in the U.S., five men in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention have been engaging in a hunger strike that is now beginning its fourth month. The organization Freedom for Immigrants has filed a complaint against ICE for refusing to release the medical records of two of these men for independent review, a right that should be available to anyone in ICE custody, the Guardian reports. ICE has been force feeding two of the men, leaving nasal feeding tubes in for up to three weeks at a time. Because it can be both violent and painful, force-feeding is only allowed under a judge’s orders. The five men are from South Asia and are filing asylum claims based on fear of religious or political persecution

You can ask the House Homeland Security Committee to initiate a Congressional investigation of hunger strikes among ICE detainees and ICE’s treatment of these individuals.


10. RCMP arrest First Nations people defending land in Canada

The RCMP tore down tents and arrested six First Nations people who are trying to keep a pipeline out of traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. In support of those objecting to the pipeline, protestors in Vancouver stopped traffic; a car drove through the protest group, though no one was hurt, Global News reported. Protesters in Ontario blocked the rail service between Toronto and Montreal, stopping 62 trains, according to the Toronto Star. Organizers from the group No One is Illegal told the Star that they were blocking the trains because “the RCMP has sent militarized police to evict Wet’suwet’en people from their unceded territory, to support a dangerous and disruptive pipeline project.”

“Unceded” means that the land was never surrended nor sold to Canada. Na’Moks, a hereditary chief with the Wet’suwet’en Nation who also goes by John Risdale, told the Star that “They came in with armed forces to remove peaceful people that are doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. We’re protecting the land, the air, the water.” RLS

To follow this issue or to look for ways to support the Wet’suwet’en people, see their website.


11. US Navy discontinues climate change task force

The United States Navy has long understood the need for ascertaining the impact climate change would have on the world in order to fulfill its mission, if for no other reason than the Navy has the vast majority of its assets (naturally) located in coastal areas that are due to see sea level rises. To this end, the Navy created a climate change task force in 2009 that issued a number of important reports outlining the dangers of climate change to world stability and naval assets as well as estimating the costs involved in mitigating the damage. It’s puzzling, then, why the Navy quietly shut down the task force back in March of 2019 without a press release or public comment period and scrubbed all data and information regarding the task force from the internet, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. One can only assume the Trump administration’s ongoing purge of everything climate related from federal agencies is to blame, though the Navy says its mission was “duplicative.” However, there is no other identifiable group or command in charge of climate change issues.  JC

12. Cost to make California net carbon neutral? 8 billion a year

A report issued by Lawrence Livermore National Labs estimated the costs and means by which California can achieve the goal set by former governor Jerry Brown in 2018 to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. In order to do that, the state will need to not only drastically reduce its overall carbon emissions but also pay for carbon capture to offset the emissions that cannot easily be eliminated. Among the methods are some relatively easy and inexpensive things such as restoring wetlands, changes in forestry, soil improvement and revisions in agricultural crops. Beyond that, there will need to be some relatively costly technologies employed. One option is to convert bio-waste to hydrogen fuels and store the carbon in underground repositories and another is simply to suck the CO2 directly from the air and inject it underground where there is geological capacity for 100 years of storage. The cost for all of this is estimated at eight billion a year, a large sum, but it represents .4% of state GDP or 5% of current state tax revenues, Ars Technica reports. Given the extraordinary costs of climate change impacts, the costs seem very reasonable. JC


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist focuses on easy actions you can take in the areas of democracy, voting access, equality for all Americans, basic respect for aspiring Americans.
  • Rogan’s list this week focuses on Black Lives Matter at school, nominating Adam Schiff for a Profiles in Courage award, battleground seats in the Senate, and much more.
  • Sarah-Hope’s full list is here.
  • Martha’s list offers many opportunities to comment for the public record. She notes that the opportunity to comment on high fees for immigrants, asylum seekers, and citizenship petitions has been extended till tomorrow. She gives you links for commenting on the many proposed regulations in support of faith-based organizatios. And there’s a new posting asking for general comment on their regulations process.