1. Plans for family reunification proceed–but slowly
More than 600 children still remain separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy, and the whereabouts of the families of many of them are unknown. President Biden is establishing a task force charged with reuniting these children and their families, but those reunions will not erase the damage done under Zero Tolerance. The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations are demanding that the U.S. do more than reunite these families. Lee Gelernt, the lead lawyer in an ACLU suit to end family separations, explains: “The incoming administration must reunite the separated families in the United States, but we cannot stop there. These families deserve citizenship, resources, care, and a commitment that family separation will never happen again.”
As Erika Pinheiro, the Litigation and Policy Director of Al Otro Lado, which provides legal services to people on the border , told the BBC, “The Biden administration is making this a lot more complicated than it is. We were able to reunify dozens of families under the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration could do the same for hundreds by just issuing visas for the parents to come back.” S-HP
Every.Last.One has a petition you can sign to ask the Biden administration to reunite families. You can join the call for appropriate reparations for separated families that include citizenship and support services • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden. • Find your senators here, and your representative here.
2. Refugee system broken under Trump
President Biden has committed to admitting many more refugees into the U.S., after the Trump administration fundamentally shut down the system, according to the New York Times, allowing fewer than a thousand desperate people into the country last year. Nearly a third of resettlement offices in the U.S. were shut and many immigration offices abroad have been closed or are short-staffed, in part due to the pandemic. Biden’s efforts to admit more refugees may be stalled by the lack of infrastructure. RLS
3. Border Patrol deliberately causes deaths of immigrants, according to new report
In 2015 alone, 1,200 people attempting to cross the border in Arizona disappeared. The Disappeared report series, produced by two organizations based in Tucson–La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths/No Más Muertes–looks at how the Border Patrol in Southern Arizona intentionally causes the deaths of those fleeing into the US. Border staff chase border crossers into dangerous terrain and over cliffs using low-flying helicopters, destroy containers of water left for them where it can easily be 112 degrees in the daytime, and refuse to respond to emergency calls, though 911 calls are routed to the border patrol. Some of the calls come from people who are lost and dying in the desert, or from family members who know where they are. The report describes logs of emergency calls received by the Coalición de Derechos Humanos 24-hour Missing Migrant Crisis Line, and notes that the Border Patrol responded to only 40 per cent of them, far fewer than to those calls regarding US citizens. This video offers a quick summary of the report. RLS
You can donate funds or supplies to No More Deaths/No Más Muertes to assist in their mission to save lives in the desert. (No More Deaths/No Más Muertes) is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.
4. 13,000 children arriving at the border without their parents were expelled last year
13,000 children came to the border asking for asylum between March and November of 2020 and were expelled, according to Buzzfeed, on the grounds that they might be bringing in the coronavirus. The policy was blocked by a federal judge and Biden has committed not to expel children. RLS
5. ICE gone rogue
Immigration legal teams and activists succeeded in getting deportation flights to Haiti stopped on February 5, according to the Guardian, and in particular were able to keep a flight intended to deport witnesses in an investigation regarding charges of abuse into ICE on the ground. ICE had been deporting people despite executive orders to the contrary, according to the Guardian. One man, who came with his American parents from Saint Martin when he was five, was deported to Haiti, where he is not a citizen and has never been. Like many others at the end of the Trump administration, he was caught in sweeps of black immigrants, the Guardian reports; two deportation flights a week took immigrations to Haiti, where they have no resources. Though that flight was stopped, Witness at the Border, which tracks deportation flights, points out that 102 other deportation flights took place last week, mostly to Guatemala and Honduras, despite new policies established by Biden. The New York Times notes that resistance to Biden’ agenda is embedded not only in ICE but in other government agencies. RLS
6. Temporary Protected Status extended to Syrians
President Biden has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 7,000 Syrians living in the U.S, according to the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). TPS allows individuals from a country affected by armed conflict or natural disaster to remain and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. President Biden has also used “re-designation” to make an additional 1,800 Syrians in the U.S. eligible to apply for TPS. S-HP
You can thank President Biden for extending and expanding TPS for Syrians whose nation has been engaged in a civil war since 2011 • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden
7. Restoring the Fairness Doctrine could rein in Fox
How does Fox News get away with it? (“It” being the large-scale dissemination of disinformation and its 24-hour-a-day unapologetically partisan “reporting.”) To answer this question fully, we have to go back to 1987 and the Reagan administration. From 1949 to 1987, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a policy requiring that broadcasters a) present controversial issues of public importance and b) do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. The doctrine required the presentation of opposing views, but did not dictate what form that presentation should take, and did not require that every perspective on a controversial topic be given equal time. (The Equal Time rule applied to political candidates’ access to purchase time for paid political advertising.) What the Fairness Doctrine did do is prevent broadcasters from presenting crucial material from a single point of view. In 1987, the FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine. In 2011, it removed the rule from the Federal Register.
Since 1987, and particularly in the last fifteen years or so, multiple unsuccessful efforts have been made to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine legislatively. A key argument in favor of the Fairness Doctrine is that informed decision-making requires exposure to multiple perspectives, preventing public discourse from being dominated by a single perspective. Opponents to the Fairness Doctrine argue that asking broadcasters to present a diversity of perspectives on controversial issues is unnecessary because, given the huge number of broadcasters, any individual can have access to multiple perspectives simply by changing the channel. But that changing of the channel isn’t happening as Americans on both sides of the political divide tend to “burrow into” the perspectives they favor and to deliberately avoid information that would challenge those comfortable views.
One example of a consequence of the end of the Fairness Doctrine is the rise of Fox News, with its highly partisan, highly charged “reporting” that often provides little or no evidence for its claims. Fox News was quick to join Trump’s claims of election fraud, including repeatedly disproven allegations of illegally cast ballots, corruption in vote counting, pro-Democrat programming in electronic voting systems, and even a claim that U.S.-based Dominion Voting Systems was actually controlled by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013). Fox only moderated its rhetoric when Dominion threatened to sue for libel.
Smartmatic, another company that makes voting machines, did sue Fox: for 2.7 billion dollars. Alleging defamation, the company said that Fox claimed that Smartmatic had participated in a fraudulent election, making “100 false statements and implications” that “damaged its business and future prospects,” according to the Poynter Institute.
Following the January 6 insurrection, Congress is again discussing restoration of the Fairness Doctrine. Any such legislation would likely be routed through the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Unfox My Cable Box is suggesting another means by which Fox News’ pervasive disinformation can be challenged. Approximately 65% of Fox News’ subscriber fees come not from individual subscribers, but via cable providers who include Fox News in their cable bundles. According to Unfox, “A typical household pays Fox News almost $2 per month—about $20 per year— via their cable or satellite provider, regardless of whether they actually watch the channel.” Since a number of large Fox news-cable provider contracts will be expiring in the next two years, Unfox is urging consumers to pressure cable providers not to include Fox News in their bundles. Media Matters for America is coordinating Drop Fox, an effort to reduce Fox News’ presence via pressure on advertisers and cable providers. S-HP
You can tell appropriate Congressional committee leadership and your Congressmembers that you want to see the Fairness Doctrine restored. You can also join efforts to reduce Fox News’ profits and pervasiveness by signing Unfox’s petition and by signing up for Media Matters for America’s Drop Fox campaign.
8. Right-wing extremism at home in America
On January 22, President Biden ordered a study of the threat of domestic violent extremism in the U.S. The Associated Press called the announcement of this move “a stark acknowledgment of the national security threat that officials see as posed by American extremists motivated to violence by radical ideology”—and the seriousness of this threat was underlined by the January 6 attack on the Capitol. This threat assessment is being coordinated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. A second, separate study will be undertaken by the National Security Council. Once the studies are complete, the Biden administration will use them to guide policy development. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that in developing new domestic antiterror policies and practices, the administration will assure “respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities.”
During the previous Congress, the House passed H.R.5736 (which was forwarded to the Senate but never made it out of committee), which would have directed “the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security to develop and disseminate a threat assessment regarding threats to the United States associated with foreign violent white supremacist extremist organizations.” A January 22 New York Times opinion piece notes the growing threat of trans-national cooperation among far-right groups and goes on to argue for similar legislation on the domestic front: “Designating domestic terrorism as a federal crime would provide federal departments and agencies with more tools and resources to combat the threat. It would make reporting requirements for bias-motivated and hate crimes mandatory, which would provide more comprehensive data about incidents that may upon closer examination be racially or ethnically motivated. Further, it would allow federal agencies to disrupt extremist networks by investigating ancillary crimes like providing material support.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual report on hate and extremism this week, which points out that while the number of Klan chapters have decreased, many emerging groups were able to organize and form coalitions through on-line platforms. The SPLC points out that with numerous conspiracy theories and disinformation promulgated by the former occupant of the White House, the “fight over the frame of reality has polarized American society further and fundamentally ruptured trust in institutions and information.” The years ahead will be complicated by ideologies that refuse to see white racism as a central problem.
The New York Times this week nodded at the long history of extreme right-wing activities, referring to some of Sara Diamond’s work on the Christian right in the 1980s; her book, Roads to Dominion, clearly maps how we got here. S-HP
You can urge the Biden administration, chairs of the House and Senate Homeland Security Commitees and your Congressmembers to treat domestic terrorism with the seriousness it deserves and ask for federal action, including the possibility of legislation as well as studies
9. Anti-vax protestors block mass vaccination site
Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has been turned into a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site, a space where health care workers are able to vaccinate large numbers of people efficiently. Unless, of course, thirty or so anti-vaxxers block access to the site, delaying vaccinations—for people who wanted to receive them—for a full hour. Police ultimately cleared the protestors. No arrests were made, and no citations were issued. Days later, Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore told those present at a Police Commission meeting “Going forward, people that are walking in roadways around or confronting individuals attempting to get a vaccine, it’s my expectation and direction, that enforcement will be swift and certain,” according to ABC-7 News. S-HP.
If you find this threat to people’s right to choose health care dismaying, you can suggest to Chief Moore and Governor Newsom that anyone who blocks access to vaccines for willing individuals should be subject to immediate arrest. • Chief Michael Moore, Los Angeles Police Headquarters, 100 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 . @LAPDChiefMoore • Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom.
10. Myanmar’s military coup lethal to Rohingya
On February 1, Myanmar’s military launched a coup that ended any pretense of democracy for the nation. The New York Times reports that the coup was probably spurred by the National League for Democracy’s (the country’s leading civilian party) success in Myanmar’s November election, where they won 83% of the seats in Parliament, and prevented the current Parliament from endorsing the election results and approving the new government, which would have happened in March. NBC has a detailed history of how the military was allowed to rise and the multiple failures, both internally and internationally, that made it possible.
The story of the coup ties to the story of Myanmar’s civilian leader Ang San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a hero in Myanmar’s fight for independence, as the BBC recently noted. She spent fifteen years under house arrest and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to build democracy in Myanmar. Her international reputation has since become tarnished because of compromises she made with the nation’s military. These include her acceptance of ongoing genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population. Under military leadership the Rohingya have been subject to extrajudicial killings, summary executions, gang rapes, arson, and infanticide. The estimated death toll is over 24,000; more than 18,000 Rohingya women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, and at least 116,000 Rohingya have been beaten. Since 2017 over one million Rohingya have fled Myanmar, becoming refugees in several neighboring countries with a particularly large proportion in Bangladesh. The coup will almost certainly worsen the already deadly situation faced by the Rohingya.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is urging President Biden and the Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, to “prioritize the safety and security of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities.” President Biden has threatened to “take action against those responsible” if the coup is not reversed. The Diplomat reports that during confirmation hearings, Secretary Blinken affirmed that he would oversee a review process to determine whether the U.S. would officially recognize the violence against the Rohingya as genocide. The Diplomat goes on to observe that “A genocide review would… present Biden State Department with a choice between conflicting moral and strategic ends” as the U.S. has attempted to maintain relations with Myanmar in order to limit Chinese influence in the region. Not surprisingly, the steps that might follow such a recognition are unclear. S-HP
If you want to be heard on this issue, you can thank Biden and Blinken for their attention to the situation of the Rohingya Muslims and urge them to follow this attention with significant actions to protect the Rohingya in Myanmar and Rohingya refugees outside of that country. You can also urge the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims. Information on how to write, call or tweet them is here.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
11. Indigenous people are dying of COVID–double the number of white Americans
Native Americans and Indigenous Alaskans are dying of COVID at twice the rate of white Americans, according to a study by the APM research lab–and the rates are rising. Reporting on the study, the Guardian wrote that “Nationwide one in every 475 Native Americans has died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans.” The largest number of deaths have occurred in the Navajo Nation. Overcrowded housing, hard-to-access medical care, and lack of running water are among the reasons Native Americans are at particular risk. The Indian Health Services has never been fully funded, so activists are calling on Biden and Harris to do so.
Case numbers are climbing among Indigenous communities in Canada as well, with the rate 40 per cent higher among those living on reserve, where health care can be difficult to access and Indigenous people face racism as well. According to CTV, Ottawa expects to devote $1.2 billion to Indigenous communities across Canada, particularly aimed at providing more PPE and home-health care for elders. Across North America, the losses not only add more grief to already suffering communities, but they also risk the loss of languages in areas where there are only a few elderly speakers. RLS
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a table of Biden’s actions in immigration, updated daily. It’s an extraordinary resource.
Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context.
The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections.