1. Deportations to Haiti
ICE is disproportionately targeting Black asylum seekers, according to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Daily Kos reported. As we noted last week, deportation flights were halted–but just briefly, resuming again last Monday. 22 children, including a two-month old baby, were among those deported, according to the Guardian. Haiti is beset by political turmoil; the president, whose term was to have ended February 7, has refused to step down, and journalists covering protests have been shot in the streets. The Caucus has written a letter to Biden asking that the deportations be stopped.
It is not clear why Biden seems to be unable to control ICE in this regard. Some of the deportees would have witnesses in the torture case against ICE, in which those detained were forced to sign their deportation orders, the Daily Kos reported last fall. The deportations also may be a function of the agreement Trump signed with the union representing ICE officers, one which allowed them essentially to over-rule immigration policies. The Caucus told Biden that to free his administration from these constraints, “you have until February 17, 2021 to exercise your authority under 5 U.S.C 7114(c) to disapprove this contract, thereby preventing it from taking effect, and restore the department’s power to set immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” RLS
If you want to support the Black Caucus as it tries to stop deportations, you might to send a message to @POTUS, and ask Biden to disprove the contract with ICE by February 17.
2. “Remain in Place” program being dismantled, but not quickly.
The Biden administration announced on February 14 that it was replacing the “Remain in Mexico” program that has caused so much hardship to the tens of thousands of people now waiting for hearings in cold, dangerous camps over the border. Biden said that he would open a new asylum system on February 19, NPR reported, and some border communities are preparing for an influx of asylum seekers. The mayor of El Paso and relief agencies are meeting bi-weekly to plan ways to absorb and assist those who come in, according to WANE.com.
However, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas implored new asylum seekers not to travel to the border now, as the asylum system has to be rebuilt “from scratch.” Immigration advocates worry that the new system will not work quickly enough, and indeed, the White House said on February 10 that most asylum-seekers will still be turned away at the border, BuzzFeed reported, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Even those asylum-seekers who make it out off MPP are still not being appropriately treated. Pointing out that in the first week of February 2021, a twenty-three year old mother from El Salvador and her newborn were detained in a freezing immigration cell for six days, Every.Last.One, an immigrant support organization, urges us to speak up about conditions at the border and tpdonate to help children get out of detention.
3. Over a thousand barriers to immigration reform in the fine print
In order to re-humanize the immigration and asylum system, Biden administration offices will have to fine-tooth comb through 1,064 policy changes made by the Trump administration, according to the New York Times. Apparently minor policy changes have meant that doctors certifying immigration applicants have to fill out forms that are twice as long as those previously used; immigrants from China have been turned away because of their membership in the Chinese Communist party, required in that country for many employment possibilities; service members have been prevented from obtaining the form they need certifying honorable service, required for them to apply for citizenship and avoid deportation, the Times noted. To keep track of all this, the ACLU developed an immigration policy tracker, documenting all the changes to immigration policy that the Trump administration had made, what the Times calls “land mines.” The person who developed the tracker, Lucas Guttentag, a law professor at Stanford and Yale, put it together with 70 of his students. He told the Times that “what goes on within the bureaucracy is often virtually buried. It’s knowable — as we demonstrate.” RLS
4. Reparations on the table
At long last, reparations are under discussion in the House Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, February 17, the Committee will be discussing H.R.40, which would establish a committee to study and develop reparations proposals in response to our nation’s history of slavery. A committee doesn’t guarantee action, but could be a productive step in the reparations effort. A thoughtful history of the discussions around reparations was recently posted in Conversation.Com by Political Science professor Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann from Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario; Ta-Nahesi Coates’ 2014 piece in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” is essential reading.
If you want to post about this, #Reparations Now has a press kit, with detailed messages you can use. S-HP
If you want to act on this issue, you can check to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.40 and thank or nudge as appropriate. You can find your representative here. You can also urge the four Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee that are not cosponsors to sign on. Addresses are here.
5. Legislative proposal to protect voting rights
Low-income voters and voters of color have been systematically disenfranchised in our election system. Finally there is a legislative remedy: H.R. 1, the For the People Act. The text of this legislation is now available online; a summary is still forthcoming. H.R.1 includes improved voter registration—online, same day, and automatic; voting rights protections—including limits on ID requirements and voter caging (the means by which voters are automatically removed from the rolls if material sent to them through the U.S. mail is returned as undeliverable). It provides for increased vote-by-mail and absentee balloting, and prohibits interference with voter registration; it also improves vote security—in the form of required paper ballots and guidelines for hand counts. It also addresses campaign finance and ethical rules for candidates. Not surprisingly, given its scope, it is currently before a number of House committees.
Meanwhile, Republican-led efforts continue on the state level to limit voting access to a narrow (and not representative) proportion of the citizenry through increased voter ID requirements, limitations on mail, absentee, and early voting, and more. SH-P
You can urge the appropriate committee chairs to take swift, positive action on H.R.1 while we have a Democratic Congress: addresses are here. You can also check if your Representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge them as appropriate.
6, You haven’t got mail–here’s why
Only 38% of non-local first-class mail arrived on time in December 2020, as reported by the Washington Post. In 2019, that figure was 92%. In fact, decreases in postal delivery reliability and timeliness have been cited in a number of voting-rights related court cases. The current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, has proposed geographic pricing for mail (a practice currently used by shippers like United Parcel Service) which could raise rates for those living on both the east and west coasts and for isolated rural customers. These newer troubles are complicated by the fact that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been required, via legislation, to prefund retiree health care—a huge liability given the costs of the U.S. healthcare system.
There are a number of ways in which the situation of the USPS could be improved. The composition of the USPS Governing Board could be changed via presidential appointments, as Biden has three upcoming appointments to make, as well as a possible fourth appointment in another year. Thus far, however, cabinet-level appointments have taken priority for the administration, which leaves any changes in the USPS Governing Board in limbo. Both the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and Action Network are running petitions urging quick action on these appointments. The USPS is supposed to be a nonpartisan body, but Trump appointees have a number of potential conflicts of interest, and a Congressional investigation of these might create more pressure to address USPS appointments. Congress could also remove the prefunding mandate for retiree health care, which would significantly change the bottom line at the USPS. The bipartisan S.145 would initiate this change; it is currently with the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. S-HP
Other ways to get this problem addressed are to ask President Biden. to prioritize USPS Governing Board appointments, @POTUS, and to urge Chair, Senate Homeland Security Chair Peters to take fast, positive committee action on S.145, @SenGaryPeters. You can also tell your Congressmembers that our postal system is a key component of our democracy and call on them to prioritize action to support the long-term health of the USPS. All addresses are here.
7. Racketeering law a strategy for the January 6 insurrection
Department of Justice (DoJ) arrests and some reporting indicate that they are looking at the attacks on the capitol and legislators (and the understaffing of protection) as racketeering, Reuters and other outlets report. Using The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, would allow prosecutors to charge those who instigated the attacks, not just the ordinary participants. That’s why many low-level folks have been arrested, but not charged at the highest level–since the RICO strategy is ordinarily to allow lower-level criminals to plea-bargain in exchange for testifying against higher-ups. You can expect superseding indictments for the low-level folks and efforts (which take time) to charge those who organized, enabled, or funded them. Those yet ti be charged would include people like Senators Hawley, Cruz, Biggs, Gosar and Representative Greene, but also potentially Ginni Thomas, wife of the Supreme Court justice (who promoted the protests) and possibly even another group of hooligans, equally incited by Trump as part of the long con: State GOP groups suddenly acting to “censure” members for the noncriminal act of disagreeing with or voting against Trump. KCB
If you want to encourage the DoJ to take this approach, ask your senator to refer the contents and supporting material from the impeachment trial to the DoJ. You can find your senators here.
8. Body cams for Capitol police
As we’ve been taught far too often in the last several years, requirements that law enforcement wear body cams can be the only way to ensure an accurate accounting of actions taken by officers, particularly in cases where allegations of unnecessary force and unethical behavior are involved. Two pieces of House legislation would expand requirements for body cam use: H.R.284 would require that body cams be worn by Capitol Police; H.R.531 would create body cam requirements for officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol. H.R.284 is with the House Administration Committee. H.R.531 is with the House Homeland Security and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP
If you would like to see these laws go through, you can ask for swift, positive action on H.R.284 by the House Administration Committee, chair Zoe Lofgren, @RepZoeLofgren. You can also urge the House Homeland Security and Ways and Means Committees to act on H.R.531–addresses are here.. You can also check if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.284 and of H.R.531 and thank or nudge as appropriate. You can find your representative here.
9. Thank the House impeachment managers
The House Impeachment Managers’ work was impeccable, creating a public record of both the events leading up to and on January 6 and of Republican refusal to acknowledge this unprecedented attack on our democracy. If you want to thank the Impeachment Managers and the seven Republicans with the courage to vote for conviction, the addresses are here.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
10. The US has commissioned new nuclear weapons. 600 of them.
At a cost of $100 billion, the US is producing a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles which would replace the current fleet of Minutemen missiles. $100 billion “could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The new weapons are intended to deter other nuclear powers from attacking the United States as well as to serve as a target, forcing an attacking country to use up its weapons over a widely dispersed area in the midwest. In this model, the scientists say, attacks would kill “10 million people and turn the area into a charred wasteland, unfarmable and uninhabitable for centuries to come.”
Given these risks, very real concerns about hacking, and the enormous budget demands on the country now–Biden’s COVID relief package would run $1.9 trillion–why is the US spending $600 billion on missiles? The answer, the Bulletin says, is that “in a country where safety net programs are limited and health insurance is a patchwork, and where unemployment remains at nearly double the pre-pandemic rate, many people in the states where the new missile will be built and based see it as a lifeline.” In short, the weapons program is a very expensive, very risky jobs plan. RLS
11. Medication for abortion
Among the many moves by the outgoing Trump administration to restrict women’s access to health care was to reinstate a Food and Drug Administration requirement that patients travel in person to pick up mifepristone–a safe and effective medication used for early abortion and miscarriage treatment. As the American Civil Liberties Union explains, because of the rule reinstatement, “patients must risk needless exposure to [COVID-19] to access care. This is particularly harmful for people of color and people with low incomes, who make up the majority of impacted patients and are also dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates due to centuries of structural racism and inequities.” S-HP
You can sign this petition to urge the Biden-Harris administration to suspend the in-person requirement for mifepristone during the COVID-19 pandemic and to order a review of all regulations regarding mifepristone. You can also tell the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services that you want a suspension of the in-person requirement for mifepristone and a review to identify an unnecessary restrictions on this medication.
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.
Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week focused on preserving Black maternal health and abolishing the death penalty.