Note that the deadline is July 15 to comment on the Trump administration’s proposal to end asylum completely (see our fourth story in the June 14th issue). Comment for the public record at this link--follow all instructions so that your comment will be counted.
1. Asylum-seekers: Good news/bad news
Any good news around asylum is mitigated by bad news that undercuts it–and by the tragedy of the whole story. Here are some key issues:
- A federal judge blocked the Trump administration policy saying that asylum-seekers had to seek asylum first in any country they passed through. The policy was aimed especially at keeping Latin Americans out of the US. As the Washington Post reports, the judge said that the administration failed “to show it was in the public interest to stealthily implement the change and bypass the Administrative Procedure Act.” However, now that the Republican administration has effectively ended asylum entirely under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, it is not clear what the practical effect of the judge’s ruling will be.
- A judge told the Trump administration that they had to stop the practice of imprisoning detained immigrants in adult centers when they turned 18. According to Courthouse News, the judge said that ICE was required to find the least restrictive environment for these young people–for example, their parents or other relatives already settled in the U.S. As the judge put it, “ICE has acted in a manner that is ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion’ and—most clearly—‘otherwise not in accordance with law.’”
- As we reported last week, a judge has ordered that detained children be released by July 17. However, the judge did not have the authority to order that their families be released with them, and some observers believe that the government will not do so, thereby separating another group of families, according to Border Report. There are 138 parents and 139 children in the facilities covered by the order (861 additional children continue to be detained without their parents). Eighty members of Congress signed a letter asking that families be released together. RLS
You can sign this petition from RAICES calling for families to be released together, and you can insist to your Congressmembers and the current head of Homeland Security that families be released along with their children. Addresses are here.
Also, Witness at the Border and the ACLU are urging people to ask ICE to release the last three teenagers in Cowlitz County Washington, rather than waiting for them to turn 18 and then imprisoning them in an adult detention center.
2. Protesters injured by “rubber” bullets and tear gas
Rubber bullets and tear gas may no longer be exported by the UK to the US if 160 members of Parliament have their way, Buzzfeed reports. According to Kaiser Health News, a 2017 study demonstrated that rubber bullets (which can have a metal core) can result in disability or even death. During recent protests, police have been shooting them randomly into crowds, causing serious injury–a reporter was blinded and other protesters have been hospitalized. Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, a professor and expert in eye trauma at NYU Langone Health told Kaiser Health News that when fired at close range, “rubber bullets can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull and explode the eyeball.” The British army developed them to use in Northern Ireland fifty years ago, but they no longer use them. Teen Vogue has recommendations for what to do if you are hit by one.
Protesters are also endangered by tear gas, especially during the pandemic. As ProPublica explains, it can damage the mucous membranes in the lung and make the lungs more vulnerable to infection. The Centers for Disease Control say that tear gas in a closed setting–such as a prison or detention center–can lead to “Blindness, glaucoma (a serious eye condition that can lead to blindness), immediate death due to severe chemical burns to the throat and lungs, and respiratory failure possibly resulting in death.” They recommend that people exposed to tear gas leave the area if at all possible, carefully remove contaminated clothing and double-bag it in plastic, rinse their eyes for ten-fifteen minutes, leave contact lenses out, use asthma inhalers, and treat skin burns. RLS
You can insist on an end to law enforcement use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which can be life-threatening and are not “safe” options as many law enforcement groups claim, and call for Congressional action to prohibit the use of these dangerous “crowd control” measures. Addresses are here.
3. Protecting women’s health
For the moment, women can breathe a bit easier thanks to the Supreme Court ruling supporting women’s right to access to abortion, but this gain truly may be momentary. Dozens of cases are working their way through the court system with intent of limiting or denying access to abortion, as NPR explains. Women will always be one court ruling away from losing access until their right to make their own health care decisions and health care workers’ right to provide a full range of reproductive healthcare services are confirmed under law. The Women’s Health Protection Act (S.1645 in the Senate; H.R.2975 in the House) does exactly this. It would bar regulations regarding the provision of abortion that do any of the following:
- delay access to abortion services
- directly or indirectly increase the cost of providing or obtaining an abortion
- decrease the availability of abortion services in a State or geographic region
- add medically unnecessary tests or procedures before, during, or after the provision of abortion services
- require presentation of medically inaccurate information
- limit the ability of abortion providers to prescribe medications
- subject medical providers of abortion to additional costs not borne by other health care providers
- ban specific pre-viability abortion procedures
- limit a woman’s rights to abortion services post-viability if her health or life are at risk
- place a limit on the reasons for which a woman may seek abortion services
Basically, The Women’s Health Protection Act eliminates all the many hoops women are often required to jump through before receiving an abortion. When this legislation is passed, women will not see their right to full reproductive health care threatened with each new court case. S.1645 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee; H.R.2975 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP
Consider protesting the limitations on women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions. Urge your senators to pass S.1645 through committee and on the Senate floor and your representative to pass H.R.2975 through committee and on the House floor.
4. Church and state become less separate
The wall separating church and state has lost a brick following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that state-funded scholarship programs could not exclude students from faith-based institutions. The ruling responded a decision by the state of Montana, which had begun providing tax credits to parents sending children to private schools, that those schools could not be religious in nature because of Montana’s legal prohibitions of state payment for religious education, the Deseret News explained. In the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “a state need not subsidize private education. But once it decides to do so it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” At least forty states have laws barring state funding of religious education and will likely be subject to the provisions of this ruling. S-HP
You can tell your Congressmembers that state funding of religious schools is unacceptable in any form and ask for Congressional legislation to keep the wall between church and state solid.
5. Child care is Essential: funding bills in the House and Senate
The costs of child care have increased with new restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The Child Care Is Essential Act (H.R.7027 in the House; S.3874 in the Senate) would create a $50 billion fund to cover increased costs to child care providers with the intention of avoiding increases in child care costs for working parents. These monies would be managed within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Childcare and Block Grant Development Program. In the House, this legislation is currently with the Appropriations and the Budget Committees. In the Senate, it is with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.7207 in the appropriate House Committees and on S.3874 in the Senate HELP Committee. Addresses are here.
6. House tries to mend the country
Recently, the House has passed a number of important pieces of legislation that will now move on to the Senate:
- H.R.2, the Investing in a new Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST Act), maintains funding for highway, transit, safety programs, provides programs specifically for isolated rural communities, and initiates a study of the best ways to respond to the damaging effects of climate change on the U.S. transportation system.
- H.R.1425, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, provides additional funds for medical payments and individuals’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
- H.R.5332, the Protecting Your Credit Score Act, calls for the creation of a single online site where consumers can request free credit reports and scores, dispute errors, and place or lift security freezes.
- H.R.7301, the Emergency Housing and Protections Relief Act, places limits on evictions, foreclosures, and unsafe conditions in housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- H.J.Res.90, Providing for Congressional Disapproval Under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Relating to “Community Reinvestment Act Regulations, objects to administration weakening of the Community Reinvestment Act that was designed to make banks respond to the credit needs of low- and moderate-income communities. S-HP
One strategy is to tell your representative how much you appreciate this legislation (regardless of whether that representative supported it) and tell your senators that you want to see swift, positive action as this legislation moves to the Senate. Addresses are here.
7. Senate Judiciary Committee votes to give Inspector General oversight over the Department of Justice. But…
In an unusual example of bipartisan pushback, in late June the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S.685, the Inspector General Access Act, 21 to 1, with the single dissenting vote being that of the committee’s chair, Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Similar legislation was passed by the House last year. This legislation would transfer responsibility for investigation of alleged misconduct by Department of Justice (DoJ) attorneys from the DoJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility to the D0J’s Office of the Inspector General, according to The Hill. This would allow someone independent from the Attorney General to make decisions about initiating ethics investigations. Opposition to this change is not new: similar legislation failed in the two previous administrations. Lindsey Graham opposed the legislation because it did not include his proposed amendment requiring that the Attorney General sign off on all such investigations before they begin—which would have undercut the clear intention that such investigations be undertaken by independent, non-political appointees. Attorney General William Barr also opposes the legislation. Given this opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not choose to bring S.685 to a vote of the full Senate, but the near-unanimous bipartisan agreement among the Judiciary Committee makes this choice more difficult. S-HP
You might urge your senators to support S.685 as one way of mitigating the politicization of the office of Attorney General.
8. Life in Hong Kong changes overnight
As soon as Hong Kong’s new security law was passed, Hong Kong became a different place, according to the New York Times. The banners and slogans that were previously common suddenly became illegal, with those convicted under the security law at risk of life imprisonment. “Subversive” books have been removed from libraries and people have deleted their social media accounts, as speech ceased to be protected. Britain has offered to receive some three million Hong Kong residents, according to the Times. The Nation has a strong piece explaining the stakes of the security law–among many issues, Hong Kong had been a place of refugee for Chinese dissidents–and the history of how Hong Kong became vulnerable to it. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
9. Coronavirus round-up
You likely haven’t missed the news about the explosion of coronavirus cases in Texas, Florida, Georgia, California and elsewhere, as states discover the terrible costs of reopening too early. NPR has a useful graphic which shows where cases are rising and by how much. Other coronavirus news might be under the radar:
- Among the things that makes the coronavirus so deadly is the way it short-circuits the immune system, depleting the T-cells in the way HIV does, according to the New York Times. One study, yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the cells in charge of releasing T-cells overreact, causing a chaotic immune reaction in the body.
- The White House cancelled the funding for a long-standing research project into how bat viruses jump to people–because the project had become the target of a conspiracy theory that the virus had been released by Chinese researchers in Wuhan, according to Ars Technica. The organization that wrote the grant, EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., works with a Chinese researcher who studies bat coronaviruses–and the project was the only one collaborating with Chinese scientists. It was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, who finally told a Congressional hearing at the end of June who had cancelled the project.
- Canada, which has kept its border with the US closed, has seen the number of new cases and new deaths fall in July, according to the New York Times. However, Indigeous communities have been impacted by the virus, and the travel time to medical care is significant. Of greatest concern is the risk to Elders, the National Post reports, whose historical memory is irreplaceable. Migrant workers, too, are at risk not only from the virus but from the lack of income supports that have sustained other workers. Protests in several cities on July 4 decried their lack of access to medical care, wage top-ups, and unemployment payments, according to CP 24. RLS
10. Comment to preserve clean air–and other environmental regulations
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changes to the Clean Air Act that are open to public comment though August 3. Under Obama regulations, cost-benefit analyses for pollution reduction regulations could consider all potential benefits of proposed regulations. If, for example, a measure designed to reduce carbon pollution also happened to reduce ozone and particulate pollution, all three of those impacts could be included in the cost-benefit analysis of that measure. Under the proposed rule change, if the rule were written to reduce carbon pollution, any additional reductions in pollution could not be included in the cost-benefit analysis, according to Energy and Environment (E&E) News.
The EPA is presenting its proposed changes as “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rule Process,” but the actual impact of the change won’t so much increase consistency and transparency as it will make calculations more industry-friendly and environmental regulations more difficult to put in place, jeopardizing the ability of future administrations to fight climate change, according to E&E. The Union of Concerned Scientists and many other scientific and environmental groups have come out against this rule change. Hayden Hashimoto, a legal fellow at the Clean Air Task Force, sums up the proposed rule change as an “attempt [by the EPA] to tie its own hands…in a transparent effort to benefit industry at the expense of the American people, RollCall.com reported.The EPA is only accepting electronic comments on this proposal. You can use the link below to access the comment site. S-HP
You can object to this faux effort at “consistency and transparency” here (follow the letter of the instructions) and urge your Congressmembers to fight this and other regulatory sleights-of-hand by the current administration.
- The Americans of Conscience Checklist tracks the impact of their suggested actions–quick, clear things you can do.
- Martha’s list offers ways to comment for the public record on many crucial items, in particular a new rule closing homeless shelters to trans youth. She notes that the whole regulatory process is in chaos, as Trump will issue executive orders while the process is still underway: this is why the Supreme Court struck down the ban on LGBTQ+ employment rights.
- Rogan’s list explains how to speak up for public health officials, seek justice for Breonna Taylor, challenge policing in schools, push for the election of people who will advocate for racial justice–and more.
- Most of Sarah-Hope’s list is woven into the stories above, but if you would like to see all of it in one place, click the link above.
- Chrysostom has interesting news from the Oklahoma, Utah, and Colorado primaries.