News You May Have Missed: October 11, 2020

“Shredded Paper” by RLHyde is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You might have thought we were indulging in hyperbole when we ran a picture from The Handmaid’s Tale in this space last week. But it turns out that Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court nominee who is likely to get rushed through confirmation hearings, actually was a “handmaid” in the Christian group she is part of, according to the Washington Post. People of Praise changed the name of women in that leadership position once the web series based on Atwood’s book came out, and of course “handmaids” in the movie had a rather different role than those in Barrett’s organization. Still, the group’s position on the subservience of women is alarming, as is the fact that Coney Barrett apparently concealed her membership in the sect when she was nominated to serve in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Daily Mail.


1. Destruction of records by Homeland Security, ICE, Border Protection

During Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, and Washington DC, the administration made legally questionable use of federal officers—including agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—to pursue administration purposes that excluded local leadership and conflicted with local policy. Now DHS, ICE, and CBP want to destroy the records that would show how they distorted their own missions to serve the Trump administration

ACLU News and Commentary reports on its efforts, in cooperation with other organizations, to ensure that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintain full records from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to be accessed for future study. This really shouldn’t be an issue. NARA maintains inactive federal agency records expressly so they can be available for legal researchers, academics, and journalists in the future. CBP, however, has asked permission to destroy a number of records, rather than passing them on to NARA. As the Intercept points out, if they succeed, records of forced hysterectomies, coronavirus infections, allegations of sexual abuse in detention will all be gone. According to the ACLU, these include “‘records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties’; ‘records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody’; and records and reports of Prison Rape Elimination Act allegations.”

In arguing against the destruction of these records, the ACLU cites a Cato Institute study of records dating from 2006 to 2016 showing that CBP’s “misconduct and disciplinary infractions outstripped all other federal law enforcement” and “it is virtually impossible to assess the extent of corruption or misconduct… because most publicly available information is incomplete or inconsistent.”

The ACLU points out that ICE has already received permission for a similar destruction of its records. The destruction of these records could make it impossible to ever accurately track ICE and CBP actions—particularly those in violation of civil right and civil liberties and those against detainees—under the Trump administration. In June, George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis Police Office Derek Chauvin, was buried in Pearland, Texas, a Houston suburb. After receiving records via a freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU discovered that not only mourners, but a great many others—including sixty-six paramilitary agents and six snipers provided by CBP, 100 Texas National Guard members, DHS drone operators, and FBI surveillance plane crews—were present at Floyd’s burial. The ACLU reports that, “federal agents were given instructions to escalate use of force should there be protests against racial injustice and police brutality at the burial service. The plan included authorized use of gas munitions… against the crowd if the people went beyond “verbal aggressive language” or threw objects more dangerous than empty water bottles, and authorized ‘use of deadly force anytime under [the] Texas Penal Code’ if people went beyond throwing full water bottles or bricks.” ACLU federal immigration policy lawyer Madhuri Grewal observed that “It is not lost on us that CBP deployed snipers and federal agents to surveil and potentially use military-style force against people mourning George Floyd, who died because police officers killed him.” Without these records, we would never have known. S-HP

You might object to the use of CBP agents against US citizens in a role well outside their legal mandate and to the deliberate effort to erase ICE and CBP abuses from the historical record. You might also call for legislation to limit this kind of interference in domestic affairs and insist that records be maintained so that ICE, CBP and their employees can be held responsible for their actions. Addresses are here.

2. Trump wants documents declassified

An October 6 tweet from the Tweeter-in-Chief announced “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to… the Russia hoax.” (Actually, he didn’t just call it the Russia hoax, he called it “the single greatest political CRIME in American history.”) Later that night, another Trump tweet claimed “All Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!” Two days later, Buzzfeed took Trump at his word and filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge to order the declassification and release of all documents related to the investigation of Russian election interference and allegations that Trump tried to impede the investigation. S-HP

You could go on record as insisting that the Tweeter-in Chief make good on his claims and take executive action to ensure that all Russia-related documents are released immediately—unredacted. Donald Trump, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111

3. Administration’s own documents acknowledge the threat of white supremacists

Which domestic terrorists are the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland?” According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that would be white supremacists. And what nation is the primary threat to the U.S. via use of disinformation? According to DHS, that would be Russia. As reported by the New York Times, a long-delayed DHS annual threat assessment has drawn these conclusions, which contrast with administration fear-mongering over groups ranging from anti-fa to Black Lives Matter protesters. In fact, a DHS whistleblower who worked on that assessment claims to have been pressured to downplay the threats posed by white supremacists and Russia and instead to emphasize possible dangers presented by left-wing groups and by China and Iran in order to make DHS findings align with claims made by Donald Trump. The White House has denied that any such pressures were exerted. Bottom line, the assessment has now been released, and even Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and a Trump loyalist, acknowledged in the report’s introduction, “I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years.” S-HP

You could insist that Congress consider legislation responding to the threat represented by white supremacists and ask your Congressmembers to stop supporting and/or to criticize misleading statements by the administration downplaying the real threat of white supremacist violence. Addresses are here.

4. Black girls much more likely to be disciplined in schools than white girls

Earlier this year in Orlando, a six-year-old Black girl had her wrists zip-tied behind her back by police because she had a tantrum earlier in the day, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Vox posted a video pf her arrest on charges of misdemeanor battery taken from an officer’s body cam. Another Black six-year-old girl’s hands and feet were cuffed in an Ontario school; as the CBC reported in March, an investigation found that police officers actions were based on race. A study by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies in 2015 showed that Black children were 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white children; because of these disparities and others,  the Common Application for post-secondary education has stopped asking students to report their disciplinary history, which can be a barrier to admission. 

That Black boys face harsher discipline than white boys has been widely discussed, but as the New York Times reported last week, the disparities in the way Black girls are disciplined are less well known but equally damaging. A study by researchers at Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” found that “adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5–14.” In school, Black girls are penalized for clothing that white girls wear with impunity; they are said to be loud, disrespectful and mature for their ages, the New York Times article reported. The effects on their well-being and their educational opportunities are catastrophic. RLS

5. Administrative arm-twisting resulted in border closure that resulted in 8,800 children turned away

In March, the Trump administration was urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use its emergency pandemic powers to close both the northern and southern US borders to asylum-seekers. A CBS News report catalogs the results of that “pandemic emergency” border closing. Previously, unaccompanied minors who arrived at the border, were housed at state-licensed Health and Human Services facilities before being placed with relatives. As of September, more than 8,800 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum have been denied asylum hearings and expelled from the U.S. The numbers, provided by the Trump administration in a petition seeking to continue parts of its immigration policy, show that an additional 7,600 members of families with children were peremptorily expelled during that period as part of a total of 159,000 asylum-seekers who were not admitted to the U.S.

 More recent reporting by the Associated Press (AP) spells out the process by which that pandemic emergency closure was put in place. Originally, Dr. Martin Cetron, who leads the CDC’s Division of Migration and Quarantine, refused to issue such an order because there was no valid health reason for closure. Following this refusal, administration figures—particularly Trump aide Stephen Miller and Vice-President Pence looked for ways to accomplish this goal by working around the Division of Migration and Quarantine. The ultimate result, reports AP, was that a Health and Human Services (HHS) lawyer wrote the order the administration wanted and that order was subsequently sent directly to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who signed it in mid-March, closing our borders to asylum seekers.        

When the order was first issued, many physicians, medical organizations, and public health organizations objected. AP shared an excerpt from a letter written by Dr. Anthony So of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to Redfield arguing that “The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science. This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.” S-HP

If you wish to object to the ‘pandemic emergency’ border closings that as of September had resulted in 159,000 asylum seekers being denied the due process they sought when fleeing violence to come to the U.S., and to insist that Congress institute a COVID-safe asylum process that ends the preemptory denial of the rights of asylum-seekers, addresses are here.

6. Biden’s platform would support asylum-seekers

Since the mainstream press continues to favor soundbites and Trumpian tantrums over political reporting that looks carefully at the policy proposals of the two presidential candidates, we’re continuing to look each week at a particular aspect of Biden’s policy proposals. For the most part, Trump’s Central American policy has been combative: tighten our borders to keep “them” out, portray asylum seekers as criminals, and create inhumane asylum processes that rely on the use of punitive detention facilities and the abrogation of the rights of asylum-seekers. The “Biden Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America” contains elements that won’t sit well with many (including this writer) such as continuing support of police to fight corruption, which one could argue can actually serve authoritarian regimes. But many of Biden’s proposals compare positively with current initiatives like “build the wall,” “zero tolerance,” and a “pandemic emergency plan” that essentially ends all access to the asylum process.

         Biden proposes a retargeting of Department of Homeland Security funds to mobilize private investment in Central America through programs developed in cooperation with multi-lateral development banks (such as the Inter-American Development Bank); to bolster microfinance, prioritizing programs that empower women; and to modernize shipping, transportation, and power infrastructure.

         Biden proposes pairing violence reduction measures with job training programs and broader access to service for victims of violence, including domestic violence—including a promise to restore domestic violence as one of the grounds on which asylum may be sought.

 Biden also proposes addressing food insecurity, conditions for returning migrants, and the climate crisis through programs developed with national governments. S-HP

You might thank Joe Biden for any of these proposals you find particularly valuable, object to any you find problematic, and suggest to your Congressmembers that you’d like them to work toward the similar goals, regardless of who is elected in November. Addresses are here.


7. Couple indicted for pointing weapons at Black Lives Matter protestors.

In the now-famous photo, Mark McCloskey (in a pink polo shirt) pointed an AR-15 rifle and Patricia McCloskey pointed a handgun at peaceful Black Lives Matters protestors in St. Louis. Trump subsequently invited them to speak at the Republican National Convention. A grand jury has now indicted them on charges of exhibiting a weapon and tampering with evidence, according to the Hill. RLS

8. In California, immigrants who endured maltreatment in detention centers can sue

Immigrants detained in California’s immigrant detention centers can now sue the companies that run the centers if their treatment did not meet “minimum standards of care,” according to a bill Governor Gavin Newsom signed last week, according to the American Immigration Council. A report released at the end of September by the House Oversight and Reform Committee detailed the mismanagement of medical care in detention centers–from ordinary chronic medical issues to “grossly negligent” responses to contagious illnesses to severely inadequate medical care, the Texarkana Gazette reported. Some of this negligence may have contributed to immigrant deaths. RLS


9. Pence will not consider requiring masks on public transportation

One in 1550 people have died from COVID-19. But last month, when the CDC wanted to make masks mandatory on public transportation, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, refused to discuss it, the New York Times reported. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said “It’s especially outrageous because the science is so clear: masks save lives.” This was not the first time the Trump administration over-ruled the CDC. Church-reopenings, cruise ship launchings, and guidelines on seniors flying all were deleted or delayed by the White House, which also had a hand in removing the description of COVID-19 as being transmitted through airborne particles, a phenomenon described by the BMJ (British Journal of Medicine); the reference to aerosols appears to have been restored, per the CDC website. RLS

10. A vaccine is on the horizon–but will there be syringes to deliver it?

A coronavirus vaccine could arrive as early as January of 2121–but not by election day–according to an AP story which quoted Robert Kadlec, the Department of Health and Human Services  assistant secretary of preparedness and response. However, shortages in the supply chain–vials, syringes, needles–could set that date back. As the AP  pointed out last week, in a story produced cooperatively with Frontline and the Global Reporting Centre, the lack of PPE is likely responsible for the high death rate in the U.S. Their story weaves together the heartbreaking narrative of a nurse who had inadequate PPE dying of COVID with a meticulous analysis of the flaws in the supply chain. As they explain it, then-Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt raised the alarm state by state about preparedness for a potential pandemic in 2005. From the Bush administration forward, it was not a priority. A 2019 pandemic simulation revealed the lack of preparedness, but nothing was done despite frantic warnings to the Trump administration.  Now, the country faces a shortage of materials it will desperately need once a vaccine becomes available. As the AP writers wrote, “ Last week, the department of Health and Human Services refused to say if — or how many — needles and syringes have been delivered, claiming that information is ‘business sensitive.’” RLS


Rogan’s list offers concrete ways you can insist that Congress pass a coronavirus stimulus bill, advocate for the safety of White House staff, argue for vaccine safety guidelines–and more.

◉ The Americans of Conscience Checklist this week offers clear, useful things you can do to ensure the viability of the election.

◉ Cox Richardson’s nightly letters make sense out of a world that sometimes seems surreal at best.