News You May Have Missed: July 26, 2020

Portland, July 21, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Candace Millard

Heather Cox Richardson’s daily column is now a year old. See her July 24 commentary on how McConnell and co. are stalling on another relief bill, right when unemployment benefits are due to run out on Friday and eviction protections have expired. As she speculates, “But there is another brutal calculation in this catastrophic timing: evicted adults will be far less likely to vote.”

With 100 days +/- to go till the election, Chrysostom reports on House, Senate, state and local races, and vets various polls.

The National Lawyers Guild has launched a hotline for people to call if they are–just hypothetically–grabbed off the street by armed, unidentified federal agents or face other threats to their civil rights. Keep the number handy: 212-679-2811.

A medic who was injured in Portland recommends this organization, Don’t Shoot PDX, if you want to donate to support protesters.


1. Toddlers held in hotels without their parents, then deported

An unknown number of children as young as a year old have been held without their parents in hotels in Arizona and Texas before being deported, Forbes reported. Some have been held there for weeks, according to the AP. It is not clear who is caring for them in the hotels or what kind of credentials they have. A court settlement, the Flores agreement, and anti-trafficking laws require that children be placed with family members or sponsors as soon as possible, but the Trump administration has refused to do so. Over 2000 children have been deported since March. The Facebook group Witness at the Border says that no one knows where the children are being sent and to whom. The Texas Civil Rights Project along with the ACLU has filed a lawsuit, and the National Center for Youth Law is representing the children; as one of their attorneys told the AP, They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children.” RLS

The Texas Civil Rights Project is urging people to contact their Congressmembers, asking them to investigate the detention of children at unidentified hotels. You can send the letter at the above link–we recommend that you personalize it, as it will have more impact.

2. Trump plans to unleash armed federal agents on more cities

In a follow-up to last week’s coverage of the use of federal law enforcement officials grabbing protesters off the streets of Portland in unmarked vans, this week we have the Trump administration threatening to expand the use of the tactic to other cities; the President has said they are doing a “great job,” CBS reported. 

ABC News, along with several other outlets, reports that the President is expanding “Operation Legend,” sending federal agents into US cities to crackdown on violent crime, which started in June in Kansas City, MO; it is being expanded to Chicago and Albuquerque, NM, due to rises in violent crime. This is a separate action from the use of federal agents in Portland. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, after a phone call with President Trump, that she welcomed the presence of ATF, FBI, and DEA agents to help curtail the recent surge in violent crime in the city. She was adamant, however, that any action by federal law enforcement agencies would not be actions like those against the protesters in Portland. (Chicago Tribune) The recent rash of shootings in Chicago includes the widely politicized shooting in which 15 people were injured outside of a funeral home, where visitation was being held for the victim of a drive-by shooting, as CNN reported.

In Portland a variety of groups and individuals have stood up to protect protesters from the actions of federal agents. A group of moms, calling themselves “A Wall of Moms,” wearing yellow shirts, bicycle helmets, and goggles locked arms in front of the protestors to protect them from violence. Additionally veterans have joined the forces between the federal courthouse and protesters, as well as a group of dads, in orange shirts, many of whom have brought leaf blowers, used to disperse tear gas, as the New York Times  and Rolling Stone described the scene. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear gassed with protesters in the early hours of Thursday morning. Wheeler also faced jeers from protesters, who charge that he didn’t do enough to stop the Portland Police from using tear gas against protesters, prior to the federal government’s involvement, according to the AP

Two government watchdog agencies said on Thursday that they would investigate the response of federal agents to protests in Portland. The Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced he would be investigating the use of unmarked vans and agents in fatigues not wearing identification. The statement given by the Inspector General’s office said the investigation would include “examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement, and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force,” both Politico and the AP reported. On Thursday, a federal judge restricted the actions of both federal and local law enforcement, in a decision responding to a suit brought by the Oregon ACLU, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Additionally, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and  Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., have drafted legislation to halt what they call “paramilitary occupations” in cities, KDRV noted. J-ML

After being contacted by members of Congress concerned about the use of federal agents to attack and disperse protestors in Portland and Washington, DC, Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz has announced that he, along with Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security Joseph V. Cuffari will be investigation the legality of incidents of use of force in both locations. If you want to urge them to be thorough, their addresses are here.

Rogan’s list points out that “Senators Jeff Merkley Ron Wyden have introduced legislation to stop the Trump administration from using federal forces as a shadowy paramilitary against Americans. A vote could happen soon, so we can call our Senators and Representatives and ask them to vote YES, on the ‘Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act’ today.” We can also sign here: to show our support and then share this information on social media.

3. Mayors say Trump’s militia increases violence

The United States Conference of Mayors, an organization of mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more and which has bipartisan leadership, has issued a stern statement of their outrage and opposition in response to the Trump administration’s deployment of federal law enforcement to cities, uninvited and without coordination with State and local officials, saying that these “actions have exacerbated a situation that was calming down… [and] have increased violence in our streets.” The group goes on to explain “There are many things the federal government can do to help cities and support local efforts, but sending federal agents in without any coordination with mayors and governors is not among them… [and] federal actions are an unprecedented and dangerous threat to our democracy and to the future of our great country.” S-HP

You can thank the United States Conference of Mayors for speaking truth to power: U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1620 I St. NW, Washington DC 20006, (202) 293-7330.

4. New ban on asylum proposed

The Trump Republicans have proposed a ban on asylum for those who have come from or travelled through a country with “serious disease”–possibly one of the Latin American countries to which the U.S. has deported people with COVID-19. The ban would also eliminate the provision for “withholding of removal” which gives someone access to the country–though with fewer privileges than asylees–if they can show that they are likely to be persecuted if they return their home country. Previous incarnations of the Department of Justice agreed in court that it could not eliminate that provision without violating international law, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). This ban is in addition to the ban imposed by the CDC, which led to the immediate expulsion of all asylum seekers on the grounds that they would bring in COVID-19, as Stanford Law’s blog explained.  As the president of AILA said, “The United States has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates worldwide, so the real threat of COVID-19 is not outside our nation’s borders but within them.” RLS

Comments on the new ban will be accepted until August 10. The National Immigration Project (an arm of the National Lawyers Guild) is raising funds to assist detained immigrants.

5. Trump and DeVos advocate putting children, parents, grandparents, teachers, at risk

Apparently, the Trump administration is full of unrecognized medical savants. Trump himself has urged us to consider injecting bleach and providing ourselves protection from coronavirus by touting a chemical that has medical uses, but is also a component in fish-tank cleaners. Now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose highest degree is a B.A. in business economics, has assured us in an interview with Conservative Circus that children “don’t get it [Coronavirus] and don’t transmit it,” so we should happily and without worry send them back to in-person education for the 2020-21 school year. In fact, the Trump administration is now looking for ways to economically penalize schools that continue to provide remote instruction. Not surprisingly, DeVos’s claims are no more medically useful than Trump’s. In a fact-checker piece, the Washington Post examined the information De Vos was using to make her claim.

DeVos mentions several reports, but, as the Washington Post explains, her main piece of evidence is a German study that has not yet been peer reviewed and that, therefore, should not be used to guide clinical guidance. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker contacted the study’s authors, who said using it to justify reopening schools in the U.S. would be inappropriate. First, the researchers said that their study, which was based in Germany, was looking at a population in which the number of Coronavirus infections had remained low after an initial peak, unlike the U.S., whose case numbers continue to rise. Second, they explain while their report says children play a limited role in spreading the virus, this claim is made in the context of an earlier report that children spread the virus more easily than adults.        

The article goes on to provide other data and also discusses the current situation of the U.S. The Washington Post cites American Academy of Pediatrics data that, while acknowledging that Coronavirus is less life-threatening for children than adults, as of July 17, 241,904 school-age children had contracted Conronavirus and that those numbers had seen a 46% increase from July 2 through July 16. The Washington Post then goes on to point out an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation that finds some 3.3 million adults age 65 or older (the group most vulnerable to Coronavirus and who face the greatest risks if they contract the virus) live in households with school-age children. To put it simply, even if no children become sick from returning to in-person education, millions of vulnerable adults would be at greater risk.

Meanwhile, CNN has just reported on a nine-year-old with no pre-existing conditions who died of COVID. S-HP

You might want to tell Secretary DeVos that having a degree in business economics doesn’t qualify her to dispense medical advice and that medicine isn’t practiced by directing treatment using a small body of non-peer reviewed evidence that has been hand-picked to lead to a predetermined conclusion. You can also tell DeVos and Trump what you think of their efforts to penalize schools that prioritize student health over economic recovery. Their addresses are here. You may want to write to your local school board as well.

6. Trump orders undocumented residents to be omitted from the Census

The U.S. Census counts for any number of reasons, but a particularly significant one is that the population figures resulting from the Census are used to determine the distributions of the House of Representative’s 435 voting seats. The actual mechanisms in the Constitution determining Census counts include the President providing the Census data to Congress, Congress determining the official count.

The Constitution requires that all “persons” residing in the U.S. be counted in the Census—and therefore in the distribution of House seats. In the first Census of 1790 and in all subsequent Censuses, “persons” had been defined in the broadest possible sense as any human being, regardless of immigration status. (Until the Civil War, of course, enslaved people were counted as three-fifths of a person.)

However, there have been a number of moves to redefine “persons” to mean “citizens and legally documented non-citizen immigrants.” Given that immigrant communities (including both documented and undocumented individuals) are largest in major cities of primarily Democratic states—Los Angeles and New York City, for example—the move to exclude immigrants without documentation is a move to reduce the number of House seats assigned to those states. The current administration’s first attempt to pull the issue of citizenship into the Census, and therefore into the distribution of House seats, began with a proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which was definitively blocked by a 2019 Supreme Court ruling.

Shortly after that ruling, however, Trump issued an executive order calling on all federal agencies to provide to the Commerce Department, which is charged with running the Census, any “information permitting the President, to the extent practicable” to leave out unauthorized immigrants from the Census, as the Hill reported.. These might include visa and green card data from the Department of Homeland Security, passport and refugee records from the State Department, and social service records from a number of agencies. What Trump is aiming for, is a way of eliminating undocumented individuals from the Census data sent to Congress. Vox has characterized this move by the President as “a transparent bid to erode [immigrants’] political power and that of their communities.”

The House of Representatives, under Democratic leadership, is considering its own methods for ensuring that the “persons” counted in the census include both citizens and non-citizens, documented and undocumented. According to The Hill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has criticized the President’s “unconstitutional and unlawful attempt to impair the Census.” The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also launching emergency hearings regarding the Census, the data the President will provide to Congress, and how that data will be interpreted. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Attorneys General of California and New York, have all launched, or announced their intention of launching, legal challenges to any attempt to remove individuals from the Census count. Ultimately, it is most likely that “persons” will mean “everyone,” as US News points out, but if getting to that point requires multiple court cases and appeals, the U.S. might, meanwhile, be forced to function with incomplete results. S-HP

You could remind Trump that while he is assigned the responsibility of providing Census data to Congress, provide does not mean passing along only individual data units that suit his own agenda and leaving others out. You could thank Pelosi and the House Oversight and Reform Committee for their attention to these disingenuous moves by the administration. Addresses are here.

7. Meat-packing plant workers sue over unsafe conditions

Three meat-packing plant workers at Maid-Rite in Pennsylvania, two of whom have contracted COVID-19, have filed suit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia for failing to protect essential workers from dangerous conditions that could expose workers to Coronavirus, according to ProPublica. This suit is based on a provision in the Occupational Safety and Health Act that allows workers to sue the Secretary of Labor if imminent dangers are handled “arbitrarily or capriciously.” Among specific practices cited by the plaintiffs are a six-absences-and-you’re-out employment policy and the offering of attendance bonuses, which encourage sick individuals to continue reporting to work. The plaintiffs allege that their problems are not exclusive to Maid-Rite, but are prevalent across the meat-packing and poultry-processing industry, which has seen at least 33,000 Coronavirus cases and 132 deaths related to the pandemic. The meat-packing industry in general has been slow to adopt or accept COVID-19 protection practices. Workers at many plants report working elbow-to-elbow and washing their hands in dirty, overused bathrooms. OSHA does have guidelines for COVID-19 safety practices, but these are not mandates, and companies can choose whether to follow them. Smithfield, another one of the plants in question, is trying to block any data or photographs from being used in lawsuits, according to Meat & Poultry, a trade journal. The Maid-Rite workers are being represented by lawyers from Justice at Work, a non-profit focusing on workplace issues of workers in low-paying jobs.

You can write to Eugene Scalia, Secretary of Labor, to urge him to take immediate measures to require appropriate COVID-19 safety practices for meat-packing and poultry-processing workers and impose significant penalties for employers not in compliance: 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20210, (866) 4-USA-DOL

8. Releasing nursing homes from liability in California and Ontario

The California Senate will soon be voting on legislation that would indemnify nursing home operators and other owners of businesses with fewer that twenty-five employees from COVID-19-related liability claims. AB-1035, COVID-19 Emergency: Small Businesses: Immunity from Civil Liability, was passed unanimously by the California Assembly. The American Association of Retired People has been fighting this legislation, pointing out that those housed in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are among California’s most vulnerable populations and that these businesses should be held accountable for the health and safety of these populations. According to The California Health Care Foundation’s website (CHCF) more than 40% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. CHCF also cites the results of an analysis by CalMatters showing that there are 73 California nursing homes with 10 or more COVID-19 deaths that were rated by Medicare as “below average” or “much below average” in terms of quality of care and living conditions. Data.CMS, a website managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported that as of July 12, 2,458 nursing home residents in California had died as a result of COVID-19. S-HP

Most of the deaths from COVID-19 in Ontario, Canada have been in long-term care facilties, and as an investigation by the CBC demonstrated, most of those deaths–83 percent–have occurred in for-profit facilities. Though non-profit and for-profit facilities had the same infection rate, the cases in for-profit homes were more serious, the CBC noted last week. Chain companies had the worst outcomes, according to Global News; Sienna Senior Living and Revera Inc. had the highest number of deaths, with 525 residents dying. Nonetheless, Ontario is considering some form of immunity for those who spread COVID-19 while acting “in good faith,” a provision which could cover nursing homes, the CBC reports. COVID is not the only difficulty long-term care residents face; the CBC quoted the Ontario Health Coalition as saying that “95 per cent of staff in the province’s nursing homes reported the basic care needs of residents — such as bathing, oral care and emotional support — were going unmet due to staff shortages.” RLS

If you are a Californian, you can ask your Assemblymember to explain their reasoning in freeing these businesses from the results of their failure to adequately care for residents and tell your California Senator that you want to see accountability for nursing homes, which means voting “no” on AB-1035. Addresses are here.

9. What the Commission established to oversee elections is (not) doing

Reporting by ProPublica examines the current lack of leadership—and appropriate actions—by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a four-member, bipartisan group of appointees that was established in 2002 as a follow-up to the disputed Bush-Gore presidential election. The EAC’s stated responsibility is maintaining U.S. election integrity during emergencies—like, say, a pandemic. The reporting is detailed and not easily summarized, but includes items such as John Ashcroft’s focus on voter fraud during his time as Attorney General, which many feel originates from his failed run for the office of Governor of Missouri, when he lost to a dead man. (How could Ashcroft lose to a dead man? It must be fraud!) Three of the lawyers who worked on Ashcroft’s voter fraud investigations are now key players in the election fraud/deliberate disenfranchisement movement [the writer’s term]: Hans von Spakovsky, who moved on to work at the conservative Heritage Foundation; J. Christian Adams, who now runs the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing voter rolls through legal means with suits alleging “largely exaggerated” [ProPublica’s term] claims of bloated voting rolls ripe for fraud. Like much of the Republican party the Republican EAC Commissioners have become increasingly focused on purported voter fraud—rather than, say, planning for secure elections during emergencies. In 2007 the EAC hired researchers to study and report on voter fraud, but when their research found little evidence of such fraud, the EAC decided not to accept their report.

Now, let’s move ahead 17 years to ProPublica’s reporting on the current iteration of the EAC. ProPublica begins the present-day material with a mid-March conference call to the EAC, involving a number of State election commissioners and others involved in running U.S. elections. The callers wanted information on how to quickly establish large-scale mail balloting, since the pandemic might well make in-person voting risky. Apparently only one of the four commissioners spoke during that call, Ben Hovland, who chairs the commission, and one participant described his responses to questions as “striking” in their lack of direction. A second call resulted in the EAC essentially telling State election commissioners, “check with Washington State. They’ve had mail-only voting for ages and will know how to do it.” Unfortunately, Washington had spent years developing its system—the documentation for which consisted of thousands of pages of material—and had never been in the start-mail-voting-quick-we’re-in-an-emergency business.

 Ultimately, Washington’s enormous body of information was boiled down into two shorter documents focused on creating election timelines and a how-to guide. These documents were not created by the EAC, but by an informal group consisting of representatives from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, two different associations of State election officials, and a group of election-related vendors and nonprofit agency employees. The EAC initially balked at vetting and posting these new materials because one Commissioner objected that they included no information on in-person voting and felt mail voting should not be promoted over in-person voting—note that these materials were specifically intended to be material regarding mail voting, not multiple forms of voting. By late April, the EAC had agreed to post the new materials, and most State election commissioners and other similar individuals have gone on to develop mail voting plans alone or with small groups of colleagues. 

This brings us up to the present, when we have the EAC offering support for mail voting that it should have developed itself, but didn’t, and administration figures regularly firing off Tweets with unsubstantiated claims of rampant election fraud.

If you want to remind the EAC and the administration that the goal of elections should be to allow maximum participation with minimum individual risk and propose that they begin immediate efforts to make secure, efficient nationwide mail voting possible before the November 3 election, their addresses are here.


10. PPE Shortage still, again

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. healthcare workers lacked access to Personal Protective Equipment (masks, gloves, shields, and the like) and were dying as a result. Adequate amounts of PPE were never produced, and healthcare workers continue to contract COVID-19 (and die) as a result of these shortages, according to ABC News. As the New York Times has reported, even when the federal government has provided PPE for healthcare workers, it is often defective or unusable: expired surgical masks, isolation gowns that look more like trash bags, and extra-small gloves that fit only a limited minority of those providing healthcare to COVID-19 patients and those vulnerable to the disease.

The National Nurses Union has called for Senate support of the establishment of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set of standards to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic and for the creation of a comprehensive and transparent medical supply chain system—including full use of the Defense Production Act—to rapidly scale up domestic production of PPE. These could be accomplished by passing the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in mid-May and has still not been the subject of debate or a vote by the Senate. Whatever form the next stimulus package takes, we can tell our Senators that we want it to include healthcare worker protections and adequate production of PPE. S-HP

The National Nurses Union has provided an online site that will quickly connect you with your Senators’ offices so you can discuss the importance of PPE.


  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has clear explanations and easy actions you can take around voting and other rights.
  • If you send postcards, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s list, designed for exactly that.
  • Martha’s list this week gives you an opportunity to comment on the HUD effort to allow community housing organizations (read homeless shelters) to turn away transgender people. See also the call for nominations for two Census Advisory Committees–closing soon.
  • Rogan’s list has other actions you can take to prevent the administration from unleashing armed agents in cities (with Democratic mayors), ways to learn non-violent tactics online, recommendations for whom to call to save the Post Office, and more.