News You May Have Missed: December 6, 2020

“Silent Night, Holy Night — Claremont United Methodist Church Nativity Scene, 2019” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

For some of you, it is the second Sunday in Advent, when Western Christians anticipate the birth of Christ and his second coming. It is perhaps fitting on this day to remember the families who did not find room at the inn.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a timeline of the family separation. Even if you have been reading the news daily, it is an unbelievable story.

1. Children at the Border: What can you do?

The 28 refugee children and their families who were scheduled to be deported without even having hearings for asylum have gotten a stay of removal; their attorneys, the People’s Justice Center (Aldea PJC), are waiting for a decision from the panel of judges. The parents were given the choice to be deported without their children and refused, according to NBC and MSN News. If the panel does not permit the families to stay until their hearings can be scheduled, no further appeals are possible. RLS

You can support their lawyers, ALDEA, a non-profit legal organization in Pennsylvania, or cover the costs of phone calls for detainees. Find their projects on Facebook. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has a letter-writing campaign asking that the families not be deported.

2. 1000 children in ICE custody have had COVID since March

More than 1000 children in ICE custody without their parents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus; 118 are still in medical isolation. Until a judge put a stop to it, COVID was used as an excuse to deport children without a hearing, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement claims that children are arriving at the border with COVID, according to CNN; however, they may very well be acquiring it in these facilities, where social distancing is a fiction. RLS

3. Pregnant women turned away at the border, required to give birth in shelters in Mexico

In a previous era, women who arrived seeking asylum at the border were permitted to give birth in American hospitals while they waited for their hearings. Now they are being sent back across the border, even in advanced stages of pregnancy. As the New York Times points out, women have already fled dangerous situations in Central America; they now must give birth in camps and shelters, where they cannot get prenatal care and where there have already been outbreaks of COVID-19. RLS

Witness at the Border offers a list of organizations working to assist children and families caught in the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols who are required to wait over the border in Mexico for hearings.

4. Data that would have helped find children’s parents only now released

Data that would have helped locate the parents of over 600 children has finally been released by the government–which has had it all along. About half the parents have probably been deported, while the other half are likely somewhere in the U.S. As Time magazine reported last week, this information includes phone numbers and addresses. A California judge has asked the government’s lawyers to account for their decision to withhold the data all this time; the families were separated in 2017 and 2018. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has been representing the children. Justice in Motion has called on President-Elect Biden–who has pledged to reunite the families–to find ways to grant them legal status. RLS

To help with legal fees, you can donate to KIND. Every.Last.One also works to get children released from detention and reconnected to families or sponsors; you can sign their petition at this link. You can get food to families waiting for hearings on the other side of the border; Team Brownsville is coordinating.

5. Presidential records: What did they keep and how did they keep it?

Following the legal seizure of Nixon’s presidential records during the unfolding of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which requires the preservation of all records of “the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the president’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties.” Any records or documents from a president’s administration are the property of the U.S. people, not the president or other members of that president’s administration.

In 2017, near the start of Trump’s term in office, an internal White House memo called for preservation of electronic records via screen shot—a practice that has been repeatedly challenged. Screen shots are problematic for at least two reasons. They do not include the actual text of any attachments transmitted with a particular electronic communication. Screen shots also make setting up the kind of metadata used to search presidential records much more difficult. These metadata categories include things like internal document citations, including citations of U.S. Statutes or U.S. Code. Despite the great noise made about Hilary Clinton’s use of private email, the Trump administration has made extensive use of non-official channels, such as WhatsApp, to engage in official business. Now the Washington Post reports on a suit filed by the American Historical Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Policy, the National Security Archive, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to require compliance with public records rules and to rescind the policy treating screen shots as sufficient records. Records preservation is of particular concern given the ways the administration may try to make inaccessible documents related to legal or financial disclosure regarding Trump. S-HP

You can call on your elected representatives to strengthen the Presidential Records Act and insist that screen shots are not adequate records of government communications and actions.

6. Hazard pay for health workers

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many (though certainly not all) retail workers received an increase in hourly wages as “hazard pay,” in recognition of the risks of their extended indoor work with significant public contact. However, as winter COVID-19 numbers begin to eclipse those of the spring, very few retail workers are receiving hazard pay. Some are receiving “flexible bonuses,” which can come in the form of store credit, rather than an actual cash payment. Brookings calculates that following the late-spring spike in COVID-19 cases, the average U.S. retail worker has gone 126 days without hazard pay.

At the same time, many large retail businesses have seen a significant increase in profits. The New York Times quotes a statement from the Kroger’s grocery chain: “2021 results [earnings] will be higher than we would have expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Amazon, which ended hazard pay early this summer and has not reinstated it, saw third quarter profits almost triple over last year. Walmart reports third quarter profits of $6.7 billion, with COVID-19 costs for the business totaling $0.6 billion. Kroger ended pandemic pay raises and bonuses in June, though it has just issued employees with $100 store credits as “holiday appreciation bonuses.” Kroger’s third quarter profits rose by 50% over last year’s. According to Brookings, profits at all of the top ten U.S. retail companies were up by more than 50% over last year in the first half of this year.

Congress has had opportunities to mandate hazard pay for retail workers since the start of the pandemic, but has never followed through. The March CARES Act, which Congress passed, did not include a hazard pay provision. The original version of the House’s HEROES Act included hazard pay, but this provision was dropped during unsuccessful negotiations with the White House in September. In May, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) proposed “Patriot Pay”: hourly wage increases with 75% funded by the government, 25% by employers. The Senate’s failed HEALS Act never included a hazard pay provision.

In Ontario, Loblaw’s and Metro decided to end the extra $2 per hour pandemic pay for their workers, despite skyrocketing profits, according to the Toronto Star. S-HP

In the US, you can advocate for ongoing hourly hazard pay for retail workers, rather than occasional bonuses—or no additional pay at all—and insist that this be part of the continuing U.S. COVID-19 response. You can find your elected representatives here. In Canada, you can sign North 99 ‘s petition to reinstate pandemic pay at Loblaw’s.

7. Pardon Reality Winner

Reality Leigh Winner has roughly one year left to serve of her 63-month sentence for leaking information about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Intercept. This past summer, she contracted COVID-19 in prison, from which she still suffers occasional difficulty breathing. Had Winner not leaked this information, the U.S. citizenry might never have learned of or might have learned much less about this election interference, which led to the impeachment of Trump by the House of Representatives. S-HP

You can ask President-elect Biden to consider pardoning Reality Winner for the “crime” of bringing the truth to light: President-Elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230


8. Provisional good news for DACA applicants

A judge told the Trump administration to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, accepting new applications and processing renewals for the some 700,000 people who were brought to the US as children. As we have been explaining (see our September 27 issue), because the limits on DAVA were imposed by someone who was not legitimately in the position (Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf), the limits themselves were illegitimate. However, DACA is still before the Supreme Court, and the last vote on it when Trump tried to end the program was 5-4, when Ruth Bader Ginsberg was on the court, Vox points out. RLS


9. Fatal consequences of climate change

“The overarching theme I stress to the incoming administration is making health central…. Climate action is a prescription for health.” Those are the words of Dr. Rene N. Salas, as cited in the New York Times. Salas is one of the authors of a recent Lancet report on health and climate change. The message of the report—which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention—is that climate change is already having a significant negative impact on human health and that we are on the cusp of a “pivotal” five-year period for stemming the worst effects of climate change: extreme heat, wildfires, and air pollution, according to he New York Times. In 2019, we lost an estimated 302 billion productive work hours globally due to climate change. The past 20 years have seen a global 50% increase in deaths among those older than 65. Crop yields have been dropping since 1981, due to climate-related factors. The warming brought by climate change favors the insect vectors of deadly diseases: for example, the mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever. The report also makes several key recommendations: an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, investment in public transportation and reduced use of nitrogen fertilizers in farming. S-HP

Call on your legislators to take action on climate change now, while there’s still time–and call for the three changes recommended above: no fossil fuel subsidies, increased investment in public transportation, and substantially reduced use of nitrogen fertilizers.

10. Evictions cause surge in coronavirus cases

Hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases were caused by evictions, according to CNBC, and millions more could result as eviction moratorium bans end, according to research just published in SSRN. Kathryn Leifheit, one of the authors of the study, told CNBC that “When people are evicted, they often move in with friends and family, and that increases your number of contacts. If people have to enter a homeless shelter, these are indoor places that can be quite crowded.” The CDC had called for evictions to stop until the end of 2020 but not all states agreed to do so; to avoid an explosion of cases, experts say that they need to be banned well into 2021. RLS

11. The Wall destroys butterfly habitat, also

We’ve repeatedly noted the damage caused by Trump’s determination to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which is being pushed into high gear as the end of Trump’s term in office approaches. The wall destroys habitat, pushes important plant and animal species closer to extinction, interferes with access to public water sources, destroys sacred Native American sites, and harms border communities. The National Butterfly Center is asking that we write president-elect Biden with a request that he “cancel all border wall contracts funded by and for Trump; declare an end to [Trump’s] fake state of emergency; and abandon property seizure proceedings against land owners.” You can use your own postcard or go to their web site (see article “Biden on Blast” on the homepage) to download a template for a preprinted “Mr. Biden, tear down this wall,” two-sided postcard template. S-HP

You can join the National Butterfly Center in asking Biden to immediately halt border wall construction, including land seizures: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230


The Americans of Conscience checklist offers quick, clear things you can do to feed hungry families this winter, advocate for COVID-19 relief for families and for prisoners, and volunteer to help with the Georgia runoff.

Heather Cox Richardson continues to make excellent, if grim sense. This week she tells us that the Trump administration has no plan for the distribution of vaccines and that Pentagon officials are refusing to cooperate with the Biden transition team.