News You May Have Missed: June 28, 2020

“Declaration of Immigration” by swanksalot is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In case you missed the news that Russia paid the Taliban a bounty to kill American troops and that Trump (et al.) had been briefed on it in March–but not only kept silent about it but now denies having been briefed, read Heather Cox Richardson’s June 27 column.

Wonder which hand sanitizers are toxic? Wonder how to deal with your phone (that tracks you, FYI) during a protest? See our Resources section.

Also in the Resources section below are links to Martha, Sarah-Hope and Rogan’s lists, each of which has quick, focused actions you can take to intervene in the news.

Our colleague Chrysostom, who follows election news indefatigably, says that it was a good night for Black candidates and a good night for progressive candidates in the Virginia, Kentucky, and New York, despite the voting difficulties in Kentucky.  The progressive strategy of safe seat primaries appears to be bearing fruit. See also the wealth of information on state and local races he has catalogued.


1. Children are still being detained and deported–often alone

The judge who has for over three months been following the government’s (lack of) progress in releasing children from detention has ordered that they release them all–either with their parents or to family sponsors–by July 17, according to the LA Times. Judge Dolly Gee wrote that “The family detention centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.” However, since she did not order that their parents be released with them, their parents could be deported without their children and the families separated forever. 

At the same time, the U.S. has deported over 2000 unaccompanied children, many under 13, who have arrived at the border since March, reports the New York Times. Under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, they have either been sent over the bridge to Mexico or flown back to their countries of origin–from which they fled. And the Southern Poverty Law Centre says that the policy of separating asylum-seeking children who arrive with their families has never ended, despite claims that the policy had been rescinded in March of 2019; since then, some 1142 children have been taken from their families.  The ACLU has filed suit earlier in June to stop this policy, according to Buzzfeed, and the plaintiff’s deportation has been blocked by a federal judge.

The psychological cost of detaining children and separating children from their families is clear. A Canadian researcher studying conditions of children and families in immigrant detention in Canada published a report in 2015 documenting the severe psychiatric symptoms detained children suffered, according to a documentary aired last week on the CBC.

In February of 2020, a group of investigators from Physicians for Human Rights declared the separation of children from their families to be torture, the Intercept reported then, with consequent severe psychological symptoms. Families not only endured violence in the countries they were fleeing and the trauma of having their children taken from them, but harassment by immigration officials; the report notes that they were “taunted and mocked by U.S. immigration officials when they asked after their children.”

According to the Intercept, a mother from El Salvador “recounted asking a U.S. official why her daughter was being taken away from her. The official reportedly responded that her daughter ‘was going to be adopted by an American family and that [she] would be deported and that she would never see her daughter again,’ according to the report. Another mother whose daughter was taken from her was told she should ‘learn to deal with it.’” RLS

If you want to speak up for migrant children, some addresses are here. You can also sign Amnesty International’s petition.

2. No recourse for asylum-seekers

While the Supreme Court astonished many by ruling in favor of the Dreamers, young people who were brought to the U.S. under the age of 16, they showed no such mercy to asylum seekers, ruling last week that asylum-seekers could not appeal flawed decisions to the court system, the New York Times reported. Justices Bader Ginsberg and Breyer voted with the majority, with only Justices Kagen and Sotomajor dissenting. As Lee Gelernt, the attorney for the ACLU who brought the case on behalf of a Sri Lankan man–whose initial asylum claim was rejected because he could not identify the 12 men who blindfolded and savagely beat him–told the Times, “This ruling fails to live up to the Constitution’s bedrock principle that individuals deprived of their liberty have their day in court, and this includes asylum seekers. This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.” RLS

You can call for Congressional action to reaffirm the rights of asylum-seekers. In addition, you have until July 15 to comment for the public record on Trump’s new policy elimating asylum (See our story from June 14). Follow the instructions to the letter.

3. Bailout funds given to deportation airline

One significantly under-reported recent news item is the granting of $67 million in Coronavirus bailout funds to Omni Air, according to Yahoo News. This may not seem that significant: Congress earmarked $32 billion for airline bailouts. Omni, however, is a special case. Out of 427 airline grants distributed, Omni’s came in 20th in terms of overall amount—another way of putting it is that 407 airlines received smaller grants than Omni. And how big is Omni’s fleet? It owns 15 aircraft and employs 800 people.

Omni Air, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), is the airline that handles deportation flights for the Trump administration. In 2018 these flights included one taking 110 Kenyan, Somali, and South Sudanese immigrant-hopefuls to Nairobi, Kenya and another that returned 46 Cambodians to their country of origin. In 2019, Omni deportation flights included one flight of 167 Indian-immigrant hopefuls and another that carried 163 deportees to an unspecified Asian location. MSN reported. Omni charged the U.S. government $1.8 million for the second of those two flights, which represents a cost of over $11,000 per deportee. Business has been good for Omni both before and during the Coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Omni received a $77.7 million contract from the Pentagon for “aircraft services.” This year, it received a government contract worth $77.65 million for “international charter airlift services.” In fact, profits for ATSG were up 12% during the first quarter of this year due in large part to profits from its Omni Air subsidiary. Kyle Herrig, president of AccountableUS, which has been tracking the distribution of Coronavirus bailout monies, observed that “The Trump administration’s idea of saving the economy is giving tens of millions of free tax money to a private airline [Omni] that already profits massively from doing [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] ICE’s dirty work. Every dollar wasted like this is a dollar not being spent to help small businesses and workers struggling to make ends meet.”

Omni and other airlines have made some 350 flights carrying deported asylum seekers since late February, according to the Intercept. Most of these flights have gone to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador–and many have carried people who have tested positive for the coronavirus–or who have been contagious but have not been tested. These are countries with fragile health care systems, not equipped to handle the pandemic. As Dr. Lucrecia Hernández Mack told the Intercept, “They’re capturing migrants in the United States, then putting them in detention where they get infected, and sending them back to us. And our hospitals can barely cope from day to day, let alone with the situation we are in now.” S-HP

If you want to object to this use of Coronavirus bailout funds to underwrite the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies, addresses are here.

4. He can’t use military funding for the wall.

The ruling that the Trump Administration does not have legal authority to divert $2.5 billion in military funding to a U.S.-Mexico border wall, first handed down in June 2019, has been upheld in a 2-1 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling, as cited by NBC News, notes that that the administration, “lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds.” The suit to block the transfer of funds was brought by the attorneys general of sixteen states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra observed that “Today, the court reminded the president—once again—that no one is above the law.” No doubt there will be an appeal, but today’s news represents a victory for those concerned with constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government. S-HP

Thank the attorneys general for pursuing this case, particularly if one of them serves your state.

5. Facial recognition technology dangerous for people of color

Research studies have repeatedly shown that facial recognition technology (FRT) is discriminatory, with a pattern of false identifications, particularly among people of color, young people, and women. As an example, one study cited by Wired found that a false identification was ten times more likely with a Black woman than with a white woman. In fact, errors are least common with white men and most common with black women. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good explainer on how FRT works.) The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit on behalf of Robert Williams, who was falsely identified using FRT as having stolen several watches. Police arrested Williams in his driveway in front of his family. He was held for thirty hours before the police themselves acknowledged that he did not, in fact, look like the individual in surveillance video of the thefts. It was later revealed that the identification of Williams as the thief had been “confirmed” by a store guard who had not witnessed the theft, but who had been shown the surveillance video, after which he agreed that a photo of Williams depicted the man in the video.

 Growing public concern about the use of FRT is beginning to be echoed by those actually engineering the technology. The Verge recently reported that in letter to a group of five Congressmembers, Arwind Krishna, Chief Executive Officer of IBM, announced that IBM would no longer be selling or developing FRT. Krishna’s letter explains that IBM “opposes and will not condone [use of FRT] for mass surveillance, racial profiling, [and] violations of basic human rights and freedoms….[N]ow is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”  Congress has an opportunity to address this injustice via the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, S.3284, which would halt warrantless federal use of FRT until a Congressional committee had been established and developed recommended rule for the use of and limitations on FRT. S.3284 would allow those “aggrieved” by the use of FRT to ask for a cease and desist order or other remedy in federal courts. This legislation is currently with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee; it has only two sponsors: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. S-HP

You can thank IBM CEO Krishna for making this commitment to ending his company’s production of a discriminatory technology and explain to your Senators how crucial you think S.3284 is to basic civil rights. Ask them to become cosponsors of this legislation. Addresses are here.

6. Congress needs to act on DACA

For the moment the Dream Act for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but that ruling was based on the fact that the Trump administration did not provide appropriate justification for its decision to end the DACA program. Implicit in this ruling is the possibility that if the administration attempted to end DACA based on “better” reasons, the termination of that program might be upheld by the Supreme Court. Trump has said he will terminate the program using reasoning likely to survive a court test, according to the Hill. To defend the Dreamers, Congress needs to act. Protecting DACA would also support the views of the 74% of Americans who support the program, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that you are among the 74% who want to see lasting protections for our Dreamers.

7. Truth and Reconciliation in the U.S.

Over forty nations have instituted Truth and Reconciliation Commissions or their equivalent as part of a process of restorative justice in response to violations of civil rights and/or genocide. Some of the better known of these commissions include South Africa’s, addressing apartheid; Rwanda’s, addressing genocide; and Chile and Argentina’s, addressing the desaparecidos (or disappeared), those illegally killed by the two nations’ militaries. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which completed its work in 2015, uncovered the heartbreaking story of residential schools which separated Indigenous children from their families and their cultures. Barbara Lee’s H.Con.Res.100, “Urging the Establishment of a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation,” would call for a similar commission in the U.S. to address the nation’s history of slavery and racial injustice. The actual text of the resolution is brief and powerful. After citing eighteen examples of slavery and racial injustice in the U.S. in “whereas clauses,” the resolution “affirms on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slave ship [in what would become the U.S.], the United States’ long-overdue debt of remembrance not only for those who lived through the egregious injustices [listed in the whereas clauses] but also to their descendants; and proposes a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation to properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequalities.” H.Con.Res.100 has 132 co-sponsors, including the Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta. It is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

Consider thanking Barbara Lee for this much-needed resolution and urging support for it from the House Judiciary Committee and your own representative. Addresses are here.


8. FDA knew it was allowing flawed antibody tests on the market

In our April 19 issue (story 10), we told you about how the FDA had allowed some 90+ antibody tests to go on the market unvetted. Now it turns out the FDA knew that some of those tests were flawed–and permitted them to be sold anyway, according to a CBS news investigation. Various countries and even municipalities–such as Laredo, Texas–paid tens of millions of dollars for antibody tests which were proven not to work. Hundreds of thousands of these tests were distributed–so incalcuable numbers of people made decisions on what kinds of safety precautions to take based on flawed tests. As Dr. Alex Marson, an immunology researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, told CBS, “anyone with a positive antibody test should have a second or third test to confirm it. And even then the results should be viewed cautiously because scientists still don’t know what antibody levels are required to give immunity or how long it lasts.” RLS 

9. Masks–and lockdowns–save lives

The second–and third–surge in the coronavirus could be mitigated by a combination of lockdowns and masks, according to a new study from Cambridge and Greenwich universities, which found that masks were even more important than previously thought. Periods of lockdown plus universal wearing of masks–even homemade face coverings–could suppress the pandemic’s surge for 18 months. But in some communities, there has been a near hysterical reaction to wearing masks. A security guard, the father of eight, in Michigan was killed for not permitting a customer to enter a Family Dollar store without a mask, ABC News reported in May. ABC lists a number of other incidents in which people were harassed or assaulted for wearing masks, pointing out that men of color face a particular dilemma–to not wear a mask and be unsafe, or to wear a mask and be thought of as dangerous. At least 24 public health officials have resigned or been fired due to conflicts over coronavirus policy and threats against their lives, the Washington Post reported. Just today, Hugh’s Tacos in Southern California, was forced to close over the issue, SF Gate reported. “Our taco stands are exhausted by the constant conflicts,'” Hugh’s statement read. “Staff have been harassed, called names, and had objects and liquids thrown at them. A mask isn’t symbolic of anything other than our desire to keep our staff healthy.” RLS


  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a list of quick, effective things you can do if you are troubled by how things are.
  • Sarah-Hope’s full list includes some items particular to California. Everything else follows the stories above.
  • Martha’s list has news about the executive orders all but banning immigraton altogether – legal and undocumented, with the new visa ban and credible-fear asylum restrictions. She also calls our attention to the proposal from the Bureau of Land Management to drill 2/3 of Arctic reserve and an excellent article from Bloomberg Law on why BLM is anything but transparent with regard to proposals or posting comments .
  • Rogan’s list reminds us that we only have until July 15 to comment on Trump’s proposal to end asylum entirely and tells us how we can support public health officials who are being harassed out of their jobs. She also gives us a list of things we can do in the 131 days until the November election.
  • The FDA has found methanol in some hand sanitizers. You want to avoid these.
  • Several safety apps are worth considering if you plan to attend a protest.