It’s unlikely you will have missed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in the U.S., but it certainly is an occasion to reflect on how it brought inequality and political mendacity into sharp relief. Laurie Garrett, the science writer who has been expecting another pandemic since the SARS epidemic in 2003, shared a few choice words with Foreign Policy, which also reminds us of her prescient September 2019 piece in which she cites the many scientific bodies who warned that the pandemic was coming. Tom Dispatch calls our attention to a recent Guardian article on long COVID, which reminds us that 30% of people who have had COVID, even mild cases, have serious symptoms nine months later. So while we can celebrate those who are receiving the vaccine and with it their return to lives, their work, their connections to family, we need to prepare for a long reckoning–with the way any stress in a society exacerbates inequality and has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable people, with the impulse some Americans have to disregard basic science, with our citizens’ and our system’s susceptibility to political manipulation, and with those who are going to be disabled while others are celebrating a certain kind of spring.
1. The right-wing threatens trans kids, their doctors and their parents
Not satisfied with having terrorized thousands of children seeking refuge from violence and hunger at America’s borders, right-wingers are now trying to solidify their conservative base by destroying the lives of trans children, their parents and their doctors. A wave of similar legislation has swept through 17 Republican states, which are clearly counting on the Trump-packed Supreme Court to back them up. In Georgia, for example, gender-affirming health care would be a felony under provisions which have been proposed for two years in a row, according to a comprehensive article in Mother Jones. While the most recent bill was stopped on a technicality, it will surely be back. 18 states have launched “Vulnerable Child Protection” bills which would also criminalize the parents who support trans kids.
Mother Jones cites Injustice at Every Turn, a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, as pointing out that 19% of the 6,456 people they surveyed had been refused medical care for being transgender, and 50% had to explain transgender issues to their doctors. 41% had attempted suicide (the rate in the general population is 1.6%) Trans youth experience a high rate of homelessness (usually because they have been kicked out of their homes); one-sixth leave school because of harassment and assault. RLS
2. White youth more likely to be released from juvenile detention during the pandemic
Many thousands of young people spend time in juvenile detention each year: an average of 15,660 on any particular day. But fewer young people were in juvenile detention during 2020 and young people were also released at a greater rate than before the pandemic–24% more in the first month, as the Annie E. Casey Foundation noted in its monthly survey. However, white youth were released at a much higher rate than Black and Latinx youth, the Marshall Project ascertained, in research published by the Guardian. This disparity may occur because Black youth tend to be charged with more serious offenses, in part because of racism, and because both Black and Latinx young people tend to lack access to legal representation. Detention has been particularly damaging to youth during COVID-19; they not only endure the risk of infection but are deprived of visits from their families and of in-person courses due to COVID restrictions As the Marshall Project noted, juvenile detention is damaging to young people because “in these facilities, youths are exposed to a harsh, lifeless physical environment, solitary confinement, antisocial peers and high rates of violence and sexual abuse, stunting their ability to trust, engage, and learn.” RLS
3. Immigration roundup here
Border policy under Biden/Harris so far seems to be a collage of humane efforts to accommodate the thousands of desperate people arriving at the border and residual draconian efforts implemented by actors not working in good faith. Trumpist Republicans–and Trump himself–are seizing on what seems to be a certain amount of chaos to make political hay–once again–out of the immigration issue. Heather Cox Richardson details what is going on and what the history is of immigration to the U.S. in her March 13 letter.
Some number–at least 50–of asylum seekers were flown across Texas only to be deported from El Paso using the COVID excuse (the CDC’s article 42), according to the Dallas News. Among them was a seriously ill five year old who has since been admitted to the hospital. Volunteer organizations, including Annunciation House and Hope Border Institute in El Paso, had been poised to help them. Marisa Limon Garza, deputy director of Hope Border Institute, told the Dallas News, “I think the Biden administration has had a challenging time inheriting agencies and systems that were so deeply broken by the last administration, and even administrations prior to that and now, it’s a confluence of events that make it incredibly difficult to turn the tide and right some of those wrongs and so they’re having to do that in real time.”
In an effort to turn that tide, the Biden/Harris administration is bringing in FEMA for 90 days to help care for the thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, who need to be housed until they can be placed with family members or friends. Border Patrol stations and Health and Human Services shelters are overcrowded with children and teenagers waiting to be placed, the Washington Post explained. The Governor of Texas, who opposes Biden’s new immigration strategy, would have to agree to permit FEMA to access disaster funding and monitor COVID testing.
Advocates for immigrant children have grave concerns about the continuation of the model in which they are housed in massive facilities, staffed by people who may not understand the trauma they are trying to escape. One pediatrician told the Washington Post that rather than mass shelters in isolated areas, smaller community shelters in urban areas are very much preferable; there, “high-contact case management and provision of medical and social services to ensure children’s ongoing safety,” especially from traffickers, can be initiated.
Meanwhile, people in the MPP (the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols or the “Remain in Mexico” Program) are being admitted and having their cases processed, many thousands of other people who have been waiting at the border for months, even years, and who and are not in the program are at a loss, Reuters explains. They are crowded into unsafe border towns with no information about when or how they will be allowed to apply for asylum. Black asylum seekers from Haiti and from Africa in those towns are waiting as well, and face additional hurdles imposed by racism. About 1500 of them are in Tijuana, in limbo, as Reuters described it.
And Mexico itself is holding unaccompanied children outside the border, the Washington Post explained, and there appear to be no organized provisions to permit them to apply for asylum. While they wait in a center and take classes, they are permitted to call their parents in the US twice a week. As one Honduran sixteen year old, who was fleeing gang violence and hoping to join his uncle in the United States, told the Post, “They killed one of my uncles, then the other, then the other, and they were coming for me next. I know they’re coming for me next.” RLS
You may want to contact Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, telling him that you understand the pressures that the administration is under, with 100,000 asylum-seekers having been arrested by the Border Patrol in February, but that you urge him to regularize the asylum process for all asylum-seekers, especially children, whether they are inside or outside the U.S. 202-282-8000, @AliMayorkas.
4. The Muslim Ban has been repealed. Next steps.
The Biden Administration has ended the Trump era immigration “Muslim Ban.” ADD SENTENCE That’s good, but there’s more to be done. We can ask that immigration application fees be waived for those who were barred from the U.S. under the Trump ban. As Brittney Rezaei, Managing Attorney for the California’s branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations explains: “Asking impacted individuals denied prior to January 20, 2020, to pay fees again is disappointing given the expenses and heartache these individuals have already experienced being denied a visa based on these discriminatory bans.” S-HP
If you want to help right this injustice, you can call for fee waivers for those barred from the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim Ban and urge congressional action on the NO BAN Act: Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, 3801 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington DC 20016, (202) 282-8000. @AliMayorkas. Find your Senators here and your representative here.
5. Biden/Harris asked to decriminalize sex work while addressing human trafficking
Unequivocal data show that the criminalization of the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults places a particular burden on women, people of color, transgender people, non-binary workers, people with disabilities, and the economically marginalized. In fact, while perpetrating harm on the above communities, criminalization of sex work does not prevent or minimize human trafficking. Given these facts, the organizers of Scientists for Sex Worker rights and an additional 250 members of the international community of scientists studying sexual commerce have written a letter calling on the Biden/Harris administration to reconsider U.S. policies on sex work as part of criminal justice reform. Their policy asks for the decriminalization of sex work while promoting international interventions to address all types of human trafficking, a study of the effect of the 2018 law criminalizing online ads for sex work, and the creation of a commission charged with proposing “new policies to protect and support both survivors of trafficking and voluntary sex trade workers.” S-HP
You can join this community of scientists in calling on the Biden/Harris administration to reconsider U.S. policies on sex work as part of criminal justice reform. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Vice President Kamala Harris, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington D20500, (202) 456-1111. @VP
6. Corporations funding new laws against voter fraud that would disenfranchise voters
A number of states controlled by Republican legislatures are considering new limitations on voting access with the stated intent of preventing fraud. Given the complete lack of evidence for significant voting fraud in the U.S. and the declining popular approval of the Republican Party’s growing extremism and divisiveness, it’s not hard to see the new wave of restrictions on voting as an effort to marginalize people of color and low-income voters, making voting more difficult for these communities in particular.
Georgia seems to be leading the way in developing “voting security” laws that actually promote disenfranchisement. The State’s legislature is currently considering legislation that would restrict the use of ballot drop boxes; end no-excuse absentee voting; require additional identification for absentee voting; limit weekend early voting days; and make it illegal to deliver food or water to people standing in line at the polls. Corporations were quick to denounce the January 6th insurrection, and a number withdrew funding from politicians who supported the insurrection or promoted lies about voting fraud. Now we need to ask them to stand for the rights of the American people by refusing to support politicians attempting to limit access to the polls. Top donors to sponsors of these proposed changes in Georgia voting laws (and the amounts they’ve given) include AT&T ($99,000); Aetna/CVS/Caremark ($43,300); Delta ($41,600), Comcast )$40,600; Coca-Cola ($34,750); UPS ($34,500); Home Depot ($34,000); General Motors ($33,000); and Walmart ($23,100). S-HP
If you want to demand an end to corporate support of politicians seeking to disenfranchise voters, you can find contact information for key corporations here.
7. Foreign nationals are not aliens
Words matter. Recognizing that fact, H.R.467 would replace “alien” with “foreign national” and “illegal alien” with “undocumented foreign national” in materials from Congress and governmental agencies. While this won’t solve the immigration battle within the U.S., it will mean that, at least officially, human beings will be discussed in more human language. H.R.467 is currently with the House Judiciary and Oversight and Reform committees. S-HP
8. Protesters defying military coup in Myanmar arrested, killed
Tens of thousands of people protested the military coup in Myanmar last week, according to the Guardian; on February 1, the military claimed the November election was fraudulent and detained government officials, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, against whom they have brought charges. Governments with strong connections to Myanmar–Japan, India, Singapore and Indonesia–have refused to recognize the military government, an opinion piece in the Guardian reported. The military has imposed a reign of terror; the New York Times reports on the systematic rape of women and the use of civilians to walk through mine fields ahead of troops.
The Federal Reserve Board has frozen about $1 billion US of Myanmar’s assets, Reuters reported, following the military coup there and the military’s treatment of protesters. 59 people have been killed and 1,700 arrested. The death rate could have been even higher, according to Reuters: seven police officers were ordered to fire into a crowd of protesters with submarine guns, but refused, later fleeing into India. Journalists, too, have been arrested and the offices of a major media outlet raided, the Guardian notes. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
9. Racism as a public health emergency
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Brown University public health researcher Abdullah Shihipar declares that it’s time to call racism in the U.S. a public health emergency. He points out the COVID-19 data illustrating the deadly differences in healthcare for Black people, Latinx people and Native Americans. Together, Black and Latinx people represent 31% of the U.S. population, but they account for more than 50% of COVID-19 deaths. Native Americans are being killed by COVID-19 at rates nearly twice as high as white people. This disproportionate impact of COVID-19 offers glaring proof of the inequities resulting from structural racism in U.S. healthcare. Shihipar explains: “a declaration by H.H.S. that racism is a public health emergency would have immediate impact. Under the Public Health Service Act, the declaration would allow H.H.S. to allocate resources and personnel to tackle the issue, much as it has for the pandemic as a whole and for the opioid crisis. For instance, it could allow workers from hard-hit communities of color who lost their jobs because they had to take time off after becoming ill to use National Health Emergency Demonstration Grants to find employment.” Because public health emergency declarations must be reviewed every 90 days, the disparate impact of COVID-19 would be kept in the public eye—and in the eyes of our government. S-HP
10. Disparate access to vaccines
To address the disparate access to COVID-19 vaccines, California has earmarked 40% of its COVID-19 supply for communities scoring in the bottom 25% of its Healthy Places Index (HPI)—communities that represent 40% of California’s COVID-19 cases and deaths. The HPI ranks communities using measures like education, income, and health–and defines the boundaries of communities using census tracts. However, the Watsonville Pajaronian reports that California’s system for distributing the vaccine doses is organized via zip code. Because zip code areas are significantly larger than census tracts, this means that a community with a very low HPI index that shares a zip code with wealthier communities may not receive the doses it should qualify for. This inconsistency means that at the moment only 2% of the equity doses are directed to communities within the broadly defined “Bay Area,” which is home to 20% of the state’s population.
The impact of the differences between census tract HPIs and zip code HPIs puts some already disadvantaged communities at a greater disadvantage. In Watsonville, California, for example, three census tracts fall into the bottom 25% of the HPI ratings, but the zip code they are located in has not been scheduled to receive equity vaccines because of incomes in surrounding census tracts. This discrepancy has been brought to the attention of state leadership, which has the power to fine-tune equity vaccine distribution, but it may take some pushing if this is to happen. S-HP
If you are a Californian, you might point out to Governor Newsom that zip code boundaries leave many low HPI census tracts without access to equity vaccines and insist that the distribution plan be adjusted to reflect HPI ratings for census tracts. Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom.
11. Indigenous opposition to pipelines
President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline received ample media attention at the start of his administration. The status of other pipeline projects remains unclear. Protests against the Dakota Access pipeline continue, with one recent protest involving Indigenous activists, tribal government leaders, and environmental groups as documented in the Daily Northwestern. Work on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline continues, despite resistance—including resistance from a group of seven Minnesota Ojibwe bands whose land the pipeline crosses. The Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact assessment for Line 3 has been questioned and Line 3 is endangering wetlands associated with wild rice, which contributes to tribal economic security, and distresses sandhill crane populations. Lakota Law is assembling a petition in opposition to Dakota Access. The website Change offers several petitions challenging Dakota Access. Stop Line 3 is looking for supporters to add their names to a petition calling for a halt to the project. An additional line of resistance is calling on Chase, which is bankrolling Line 3, to stop funding the project. Chase, like a number of other lenders, is making commitments to fight climate change and funding of Line 3 belies that commitment. S-HP
To take action, sign these petitions against continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3: Lakota Law and Stop Line 3.
12. Legislation to protect wilderness
The House has passed H.R.803, Protecting Wilderness and Public Lands, which grants significant tracts of land in Colorado protected statuses of different kinds—with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, or wilderness areas. H.R.803 is now with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
To make your voice heard, urge swift, positive action on H.R.803 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chair, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 306 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-3954. @Sen_JoeManchin.
Heather Cox Richardson continues to be an essential resource. Friday’s column mapped where we are politically, one year into the pandemic, and future columns will almost certainly orient us to unfolding political events.
The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, shuttering private prisons, closing immigrant detention centers, and supporting the right to self-identify. The checklist also include a long list of good news!
Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week including advocating for food security for families and paid leave for all in the pandemic.