News You May Have Missed this week continues to identify the costs of the pandemic for the most vulnerable people and to insist on the context of events–so that we are not simply bounced from outrage to outrage. We offer you resources toward clarity and options for action.
Though the news cycle produces a series of blinking alerts, we need to keep the short- and long-run pictures in focus. Among these: Can the Democrats retake the Senate? Read the fine print in Chrysostom’s elections roundup–and see what you think.
1. “Dreamers” ineligible for federal coronavirus assistance
Congress allocated $6 billion in coronavirus relief funding to colleges, who were then to release these funds to students to cover coronavirus-related educational expenses. Although the original legislation did not contain such restrictions, the Department of Education has barred any distribution of these monies to students who don’t qualify for federal aid., Politico points out. That might sound benign, but “do not qualify for federal aid” is bureaucratese for “undocumented.” This restriction will potentially make hundreds of thousands of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) ineligible for support, despite the fact that they have work authorizations and protections from deportation under existing law. S-HP
You can tell the Secretary of Education that our DACA students deserve our support during this pandemic: Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Department of Education, 7W301 LBJ Building, Mail Number 0100, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington DC 20202, (202) 401-3000.
2. ICE has DACA recipients’ personal information
One of the basic understandings of the current DACA Program is that applicants’ information will not be shared with other government agencies—particularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This policy was honored during the Obama administration and, despite its hostility to immigrants of all stripes, the Trump administration has claimed it is also honoring this policy. ProPublica now reports that emails obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the organization “Make the Road New York” show that those promises—which were made to Congress, as well as DACA recipients—were “incomplete or misleading.” In an internal memo written shortly before Trump announced his administration’s compliance with protections on the personal information of DACA applicants and recipients, an employee at the Department of Homeland Security noted that “ICE already has the information. There is no way to take that back.” Several weeks later, that fact was deliberately removed from talking points for ICE testimony before Congress, calling the information “not essential… and likely to generate considerable anxiety among DACA requestors.” S-HP
You can insist on a recommitment to safeguarding the information provided by DACA applicants and ask for Congressional information on the administration’s misrepresentation on this issue and any actions it has taken making use of DACA information. Addresses are here.
3. Court victories for detainees at risk from coronavirus
On April 20, a federal judge ordered ICE to evaluate all those it is holding in detention centers, taking into account their risk factors for COVID-19. The sweeping judgment, in response to a request for an injunction by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates, requires ICE either to put new precautions into place to protect detainees or to release them. The judge criticized what he called the deficiencies in the way asylum-seekers are housed, “many of which persist more than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. As he put it in his decision, “…the Court concludes Defendants have likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.”
Then on April 23, another federal judge ordered ICE to reduce the number of detainees at the Adelanto facility in California, where 1300 people are held, in order to make social distancing possible. In response to an ACLU lawsuit, the court found that the conditions in which asylum-seekers are held are “’inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency.” ICE must release 100 of the most vulnerable people by April 27 and another 150 by April 30, Newsweek reported.
The ACLU and the San Francisco Public Defender’s office have also sued ICE to release 400 asylum-seekers in other California facilities, arguing that because they are in such close proximity and lack cleaning materials, they are at acute risk from the coronavirus, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. RLS
You can write to your elected representatives demanding swift action in response to these rulings and requesting careful Congressional monitoring of that action and of conditions for detained immigrants as the pandemic continues. Addresses are here.
4. Trump’s ban on immigration challenged in court
On April 25, a coalition of immigration lawyers filed an emergency motion to stop Trump’s ban on immigration, arguing that it keeps families who have already qualified for visas from accessing consular offices, according to the Innovation Law Lab. The effect will be to keep families separated at a time when legal immigrants are among those essential to the pandemic response. Trump’s policy advisor, Stephen Miller, told supporters that the 60-day ban foreshadowed a long-term change in immigration policy, the Washington Post reported.
What are your Congressmembers doing to protect immigrants and asylum seekers? You can ask them–addresses are here.
5. Judge again orders children in detention released
The judge supervising the government’s response to children in detention has found that it has not met its legal obligations to them under the Flores agreement, given pandemic conditions. Judge Dolly M. Gee issued an injunction to promptly release those children to family members and to cease imposing unnecessary requirements, such as fingerprinting, when children’s safety is not at issue, according to the National Center for Youth Law. She will review on May 22 whether the government has complied. CBS News reported that there are still 2,100 children incarcerated without their parents and 342 in detention with their families, even though hundreds have been released due to coronavirus concerns. The judge cited medical expert Dr. Julie DeAun Graves, who said, “Postponing the release of children in facilities with known COVID-19 exposure is like leaving them in a burning house rather than going in to rescue them and take them to safety.” RLS
May 22 is almost a month away. You can ask your Congressmembers to investigate what progress has been made of releasing children in detention.
6. Citizens married to non-citizens denied stimulus checks
Most Americans are receiving $1200 coronavirus stimulus payments, but some are finding it difficult or impossible to receive that payment. As the legislation including the stimulus payment was written, only those with a valid Social Security number (SSN) are eligible for payments. Thus, immigrants in the process of getting citizenship who have not been assigned SSNs are ineligible for a payment—even if they are documented, have been living in the U.S. for years, and have consistently paid taxes, Slate explains. The inequality doesn’t stop there, however. If a married couple, one a citizen with an SSN and the other a legal immigrant without an SSN have been filing their taxes jointly, neither of them will be eligible for a stimulus payment, as that couple is treated as a single, non-SSN holding entity. In other words, American citizens are being penalized for marrying immigrants.
News You May Have Missed has also received information from one citizen/immigrant couple, both of whom have SSNs. One half of this couple is a U.S. citizen with an SSN; the other is an asylum applicant whose case is still being settled and who has a valid SSN, but no green card. The second of these two individuals is being denied a stimulus payment based on the lack of a green card, despite holding an SSN. The second of these individuals has been told they are not eligible for a stimulus payment because of the status of their spouse. This situation suggests a) that checks are being refused for reasons other than not having an SSN and b) that a wider range of U.S. citizens is being denied coronavirus payments than the SSN-based explanation would lead us to believe. USA Today reports that a group of four Representatives, Lou Correa, Judy Chu, and Jimmy Panetta from California and Raúl Grijalva from Arizona have introduced the No Taxpayer Left Behind Act (no number yet), which would allow non-citizens who are legally in the U.S. and paying taxes to receive a Coronavirus stimulus payment Via their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). S-HP
To address this issue, you can urge your Representative to support the No Taxpayer Left Behind Act and tell your Senators you want to see similar legislation introduced in the Senate. Addresses are here.
7. Stimulus checks diverted to pay debts
Many Americans who anticipated receiving coronavirus stimulus payments instead found that money being redirected to banks and private debt collectors, depriving them of funds they need during this global crisis to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Forbes reports that a group of fourteen Democratic Senators and a separate pair of Republican Senators have both written to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking that the Treasury exempt conoravirus payments from private debt collection. S-HP
You can join these Senators in calling for coronavirus stimulus payments to be exempted from private debt collection. Write or call Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20220, (202) 622-2000
8. VA employees exposed to coronavirus required to come to work. Masks seized by FEMA.
A new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy requires coronavirus-exposed employees to continue coming into work, under threat of being found absent without leave (AWOL) and/or losing pay, Government Executive reports.. VA hospitals have been hard hit by the coronavirus. At least 5,000 patients in VA hospitals and over 1,600 VA facility staff have tested positive for COVID-19. More than three hundred patients and twelve staff members have died as a result of COVID-19. Employees at half a dozen VA facilities reported being denied access to masks and similar personal protective equipment either because it was being reserved for use by other groups of employees or because of fears that broad-scale wearing of masks would alarm patients and visitors. Five million masks ordered by the VA were recently seized by FEMA, according to the Daily Mail. Some facilities are requiring staff who worked with patients who would subsequently receive COVID-19 diagnoses to continue working until they display COVID-19 symptoms–at which point they can be tested for the disease. S-HP
You can call for better treatment of our veterans and the healthcare staff serving them, and object to the seizure of masks from the VA. Addresses are here.
9. Director of research fired for refusing to promote toxic drug
Dr. Richard Bright, who was summarily removed from his position as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has been frank in expressing his view that he was reassigned because he resisted political pressures to support widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a highly toxic, anti-malaria drug touted by Trump (who owns stock in the manufacturer) as a treatment for COVID-19, CNN reported.
In a statement cited by the New York Times, Dr. Bright asserted, “I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American people.” In fact, the most recent, and most stringent, studies of the effect of hydroxychloroquine show that COVID-19 patients treated with the drug fair more poorly that those not treated with it. A recent study of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment was ended early because of the drug’s toxic effects on those receiving it and its failure to improve disease outcomes, according to CNBC, which quoted the Journal of the American Medical Association as saying that the use of the drug had a “primary outcome” of death.
Many Congressional and healthcare figures are now calling for an investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal. Representative Frank Pallone, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was quoted by the New York Times: “Removing Dr. Bright in the midst of a pandemic would raise serious concerns under any circumstances, but his allegations that political considerations influenced this decision heighten those concerns and demand full accountability. Pallone has called for a Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal from his position at BARDA, which was created to counter bioterrorism and infectious diseases. S-HP
You can demand an investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal from his BARDA post by the Inspector General of HHS and the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with investigating complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers. Addresses are here.
10. Senator moves to protect Fauci and others against political firing
One of the things made clear by Trump’s endless coronavirus briefings is that the United States’ voice of reason during this pandemic is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci has been striking a delicate balance between signaling deference for the President, something Trump demands, with an insistence on challenging the President’s misstatements/lies. Dr. Fauci has insisted that the virus will not be disappearing, as Trump claims, but will continue to be a severe challenge as we move into the fall and winter months. He has corrected grandiose claims on the availability of protective equipment for healthcare workers and coronavirus tests for the public.
Not surprisingly, Fauci has been receiving a great deal of criticism from Trump loyalists, some of whom are calling on Trump to fire Fauci. In fact, Trump recently retweeted one such call. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts has now introduced the National Institutes of Health Director Protection Act, which would allow the firing of Fauci and others in similar positions only on the grounds of malfeasance, neglect of office, or incapacity—rather than on the grounds of having the audacity to provide accurate coronavirus information, which is the way things appear to be headed, according to The Hill. There is no bill number yet for this legislation, but we can still urge that it be enacted as quickly as possible for the health of the nation. S-HP
You can urge your Senators to support the National Institutes of Health Director Protection Act and ask your Representative to support similar legislation in the House. Addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
11. Is social distancing worth it?
There has been much national debate over the enormous financial costs that are imposed by restricting business operations in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A substantial number of people, mostly on the right wing, say that the burden exceeds the economic damage the virus would do were it simply allowed to spread. Setting aside any ethical or moral arguments, is this true from a pure economics perspective? A paper soon to be published by the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis says it’s worth it, to the tune of over five trillion dollars.
In order to make calculations of this nature, it is necessary to input a monetary cost for a human life. The federal government uses a figure of $10 million to represent lost productivity and costs associated with end of life, Ars Technica reports. The authors utilized this figure, then used an estimate of 1.2 million dead should we drop all safeguards and allow the virus to spread freely. In a scenario with that many lost lives, they then estimated the likely GDP drop versus the GDP drop we are estimated to have with social distancing costs. The result was a savings of 5.16 trillion dollars. To be sure, this is all based on things that are at this moment unknowable: We still do not have a good handle on the actual case fatality rate for covid-19 or the precise number of Americans now infected due to a lack of accurate testing. It’s worth remembering that every decision has costs, including the decision to open up for business. JC
12. Consumption of conservative media linked to COVID-19 misinformation.
A study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review has found a strong link between consumption of conservative media and misinformation regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The study was done using a survey of over 1000 adults and found that people who watched or listened to programming such as Fox News or Rush Limbaugh were more likely to believe in inaccurate information or outright conspiracy theories. Additionally, those who consumed news via social media posts or news aggregator sites were more likely to believe false information such as vitamin C being an effective treatment for the disease, Phys.org explains. Those who consumed news via traditional news outlets were generally more accurately informed on the relative danger of the virus as well as the need for hygiene and safety measures. JC
13. Deepwater disaster 10 years on: No lessons learned
This month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest ever in the U.S., which killed eleven people, released approximately five million barrels (or 210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating wildlife, local fisheries, and tourism along the coast. The spill was caused by the failure of a blowout protector that should have prevented such a spill. In 2016 the Obama administration created the Well Control Rule, which created three safety measures to prevent spills like Deepwater Horizon: additional backup mechanisms for equipment; increased testing of equipment; and the use of independent inspectors so oil companies could no longer police themselves. Since the start of the Trump administration, according to the Washington Post, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has granted 1,700 waivers to the Well Control Rule, claiming that its provisions unnecessarily burdened oil companies–despite the fact that such a spill has been demonstrated to be not just a possibility, but a reality.
You can demand an end to these dangerous BSEE waivers and urge your Congressmembers to stand up for appropriate safety measures on deep water drilling. Addresses are here.
- The Americans of Conscience Checklist is tracking its impact. See their site to note what they have accomplished and to find quick, straightforward actions you can take.
- Sarah-Hope’s list has a number of action items not listed above, including for some stories run previously on deportations and farmworker wages.
- Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record and has news you won’t find elsewhere, including National Science Foundation involvement in the Arctic, a plan to replace the words “foreign national” with the word “alien” in Citizen and Immigration Policy manuals, rollbacks of EPA regulations–read through the list. You’ll be astonished.
- Rogan’s list suggests ways to object to how big companies absconded with the money intended for small businesses, to insist that more funding go to support essential workers and to make it possible for everyone to vote by mail in November, among other actions you can take.