1.. Keep people breathing: Banning chokeholds and carotid restraints
As we watch the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, appalled by the level of brutality involved in the killing, Congress has an opportunity to take some actions that would begin to address the use of deadly and excessive force by law enforcement. The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Act H.R.1347 would ban the use of choke holds or other moves that apply pressure to the throat or windpipe, restrict blood oxygen flow to the brain, or carotid restraints that interfere with breathing—exactly the kind of excessive force that led to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd. H.R.1347 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee and has 79 cosponsors, all of them Democrats.
Presently, there is no national database of the use of deadly force by law enforcement, but H.R.1336, the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, would create one by requiring the Attorney General to issue rules regarding the collection and compilation of this data. This data would include race or ethnicity, gender, age, perceived or actual religious affiliations of both persons who are the target of deadly force and the law enforcement officers who use deadly force. These rules would also require written explanations for the use of deadly force, the deadly force guidelines under which any officer using deadly force was operating, and a description of all non-lethal efforts made to subdue an individual before the use of deadly force. States or localities that fail to comply with the rules for reporting use of deadly force data will have the Justice Department grants they receive reduced. H.R.1336 is with the House Judiciary Committee; it currently has no cosponsors. S-HP
If you want to make sure those suspected of a crime will survive to their trials and to make sure instances of deadly force are tracked, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1347 and H.R.1336 by the House Judiciary Committee: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler.
You can also check whether your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1347 and thank or nudge accordingly; you could also urge your Representative to become a cosponsor of H.R.1336: Find your representative here.
2. Child deported, kidnapped, released without his mother
If you want to grasp one element of the situation of children at the border, watch the video of ten-year-old Wilton Obregón explaining through sobs why he is walking alone through the desert. In March, Wilton and his mother Meylin left Nicaragua to apply for asylum in the U.S. Under Title 42, the Trump-era CDC rule requiring the deportation of asylum-seekers without due process on the pretext that they are a risk for COVID, they were immediately deported to Mexico, where both of them were kidnapped and held for ransom. Family members couldn’t gather the $10,000 ransom the kidnappers asked for, but did put together $5,000. So Wilton was released—on his own in a desert region of Texas. As of this writing (4/10) Wilton’s mother was still being held by the kidnappers.
Despite the fact that Title 42 disregards the U.S.’s Constitutional duty to provide asylum to those seeking refuge in our country, the Biden administration continues to use the rule to send vulnerable families to await hearings in dangerous border towns. S-HP
The most important thing you could do for families seeking asylum is to insist on an end to Rule 42. When you write, tweet or call, note that controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. does not require putting the lives of asylum-seekers at risk. Contact information is here. You can also sign the petition being circulated by Every.Last.One and support their work.
As we noted last week, the migrant “surge” along the U.S.’s southern border is the result of a number of factors: U.S. support for violent regimes in Central America, and a U.S. focus on military, rather than humanitarian aid; the increasing power of Central American gangs, whose growth reflects the increasing economic desperation of Central Americans; and changing and violent weather as a result of global climate change. Any humane, effective immigration policy in the U.S. will have to acknowledge and respond to these challenges in Central America—challenges for which the U.S. should take a significant part of the blame. H.R.1117, the U.S. Citizenship Act, attempts this sort of broad-based response by providing an earned pathway to U.S. citizenship; addressing the root causes of migration, responsibly managing the southern border, and reforming the immigrant visa system. This legislation includes:
◉ Protections for “Dreamers,” young, non-citizen Americans who were brought to the U.S. in infancy or childhood;
◉ A pathway to permanent resident status for those in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status, a status that can result from the devastation wrought by extreme weather;
◉ A lawful permanent resident status for agricultural workers and their families;
◉ Adjustments to immigration-related judicial procedures and elimination of immigration court backlogs
◉ A renewed commitment to aid for Central American nations that focuses on economic development, working around corrupt systems within Central American nations, and strengthening democracy in the region;
◉ Improved status for permanent partners, fiancés, spouses, and children of permanent residents:
◉ Elimination of visa backlogs.
Not surprisingly, given its scope, H.R.1117 is currently with multiple House committees: Judiciary; Ways and Means; Armed Services; Education and Labor; House Administration; Financial Services; Natural Resources; Oversight and Reform; Foreign Affairs; Homeland Security; Intelligence; and Energy and Commerce. The Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta is a cosponsor of this legislation. S-HP
If you would like to urge these committee members to act on H.R. 1117 and provide pathways to citizenship, the addresses are here.
4. Hondurans temporarily protected by TPS
Under the Trump administration, on January 4 people from Honduras were scheduled to lose their Temporary Protected Status, which protects from deportation and allows them to work legally in the U.S., Vice reported in December. Under the Biden administration, their eligibility has been extended through October of 2021, while the hope is that that American Dream and Promise Act, which has already passed the House, and/or HR 1117, would enable them to regularize their status.
The Honduran Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act, S.388, attempts to address some of the same problems addressed by H.R.1117, but with a more limited focus. S.388 is intended to enable Hondurans to stay safely at home by addressing the conditions that lead them to flee. It would “suspend certain United States assistance for the Government of Honduras until corruption, impunity, and human rights violations are no longer systemic, and the perpetrators of these crimes are being brought to justice.” In addition to addressing corruption and governmental violence, S.388 would set up a partnership with the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights to document and respond to human rights violations in Honduras. This legislation is currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP
If you would like to help Hondurans stay home, you can urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move S. 388 forward. Call, write or tweet Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez.
5. Public housing repairs at last in sight
The Trump administration had wanted to eliminate the fund that pays for repairs of public housing in the United States, according to a 2019 NPR story. Families in public housing all over the country deal with black mold, overflowing sewers, electrical systems not up to code, and more; a series the Houston Chronicle ran in March detailed the long struggle of tenants to challenge their living conditions. Now, some legislation is in progress that would at last address these problems.
As the proposed legislation itself points out, as of October, 2019, the U.S. public housing repairs backlog was at $70 billion. These repairs would address problems like leaks and poor ventilation, which can lead to respiratory conditions, and lead paint, which harms the development of infants and children. The COVID-19 pandemic affects communities differentially, with communities with inadequate housing suffering higher illness and mortality rates than those with adequate housing. In response to these issues, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced S.598, the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, which would earmark $70 billion for upgrading public housing in the U.S. S.598 is currently with the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. S-HP
If you want to see these long-overdue repairs funded and finished, you could urge swift, positive action on S.598 by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair, Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, 534 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7391. @SenSherrodBrown.
6. Restoring the right to vote
69% of Americans agree that those convicted of felonies should regain their right to vote once they’ve completed their sentences; yet, in the majority of states, a felony conviction means permanently losing the right to vote. The Democracy Restoration Act, S.481 (DRA), would establish a nation-wide right to vote regardless of conviction, with a provision pausing that right for convicted felons while they serve their sentences and restoring it upon completion of sentences. S.481 has been endorsed by many civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations. As Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and elections programs explains, “The DRA is a critically important piece of civil rights legislation. The DRA makes our country more just, our democracy more inclusive, and our elections more participatory. The DRA makes space in the public square for second chances, for forgiveness, for redemption, and for love.” The Democracy Restoration Act is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S.481 currently has 23 cosponsors; the Senators from California are not among them. S-HP
If you’d like to see the right to vote restored for those convicted of felonies who have served their sentences, encourage swift, positive action on the Restoration of Democracy Act by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. @DickDurbin. If your senator is not a co-sponsor, encourage them to sign on. Find their contact information here.
7. First responders to mental health crises
One of the goals of the Defund the Police movement—which isn’t about ending all police funding, but is about having other, better-qualified professionals take on duties currently assigned to police—is to have mental health professionals, rather than law enforcement officers, dispatched as first responders in emergencies involving one or more persons with a mental illness or an intellectual or developmental disability. The Mental Health Justice Act, H.R.1368, introduced by Representative Katie Porter, would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, along with the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, to set up a program to fund training and employment of mental health first responders and to study the impact of such programs. We’ve repeatedly seen the deadly consequences of asking law enforcement to respond to situations involving those with mental illness or intellectual or developmental disabilities. H.R.1386 would give us a chance to see what safer, better alternatives are available. H.R.1386 is currently with two House Committees: Judiciary and Energy and Commerce; it has 78 cosponsors. S-HP
To make sure appropriate people show up in a mental health emergency, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1386 by the appropriate House committees. You might also thank Katie Porter for introducing this legislation. Addresses are here. You could also check whether your representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge accordingly.
8. Children, poets, journalists killed by Myanmar military
Aye Myat Thu, an eleven-year-old in Myanmar, was shot while her father was handing her a piece of coconut on his own land,. She was buried on March 28 with her drawing of Hello Kitty. You can read more about her in this Times story.
She was one of 700 civilians who have been killed since the coup in Myanmar, according to NPR, 100 of them in the week of March 29. Seven of them were children under 16, the Washington Post reports. Thirty-five children have been killed in the last two months, according to UNICEF.
The military junta has tried to keep information about its atrocities out of view. Journalists were told by the Myanmar Ministry of Information to stop referring to the “State Administration Council” as a junta, according to Myanmar Now. Security forces began arresting and imprisoning journalists, and shutting down the country’s independent press, until no newspapers remained. At least 30 journalists face lengthy prison sentences, Columbia Journalism Review reports. Citizen journalists are trying to fill in; as one told CJR,“I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.”
If you are appalled by the deaths of civilians and by the threats to free information and to democracy in Myanmar, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1112 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You can also insist to Congress and the Administration that we want them to keep finding and acting on ways to support democracy in Myanmar. Addresses are here. You can also donate if you’re able to Myanmar Now so that it can continue to publish outside the country.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
Many of us are quite desperate to have the pandemic restrictions and fears ease, to return to a world which–with all its profound flaws–permitted smiles and hugs outside the household, in-person work and school, more economic options, cross-generational visits, and a brief break from contemplating death or disability.
However, according to an article in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), “the public and health systems need to plan for the possibility that COVID-19 will persist and become a recurrent seasonal disease.” Partly because “herd immunity” is unlikely (since a quarter of people in the US are likely to refuse vaccination) and partly because of the variants, the virus is not about to go down in defeat. Indeed, Canada–where the vaccination roll-out is far behind the US–is in the middle of a third wave of cases driven primarily by the UK variant, the CBC reports. ICUs are full and Ontario is under a stay-at-home order.
In addition, mainly wealthy countries have received the vaccine, as the United Nations points out; 75% of all vaccines have been delivered by just 10 countries. “130 countries have not received a single dose,” the secretary-general of the UN said: “If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will mutate again and again,” he warned. As Bloomberg points out, the virus could mutate to become less virulent but more contagious, or just as contagious but less severe. RLS
10. And the next virus is…
Meanwhile, an article to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on April 13 makes it clear that variants of COVID-19 are not the only challenge ahead. The authors have developed a risk-assessment tool that can evaluate viruses originating from animals in terms of how likely they are to move to human populations–in scientific terms, their “zoonotic spillover and spread potential.” Originally developed at the University of California Davis, the tool–called SpillOver–”can help advance our understanding of viral health threats and enable us to act to reduce the risk of spillover before pandemics can catch fire,” as one of the authors–Jonna Mazet, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine–told EurekaAlert, which is put out by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. High on the list of viruses to worry about is a new coronavirus, provisionally named PREDICT_CoV-35.
The theory is, of course, that if we are forewarned, we are forearmed. However, in September 2019, science writer Laurie Garret alerted the world about a United Nations report, “A World At Risk,” compiled by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which raised an alarm about the likelihood of “a rapidly spreading, lethal respiratory pathogen pandemic.” The World Health Organization launched many initiatives in response, but noted that various countries’ research and health care infrastructure was not nearly prepared to deal with it. RLS
A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.
The Moms Rising site is packed with information about how to access benefits from the American Rescue Plan, quick actions you can take to address COVID relief and to encourage Congress to pass tax cuts for families, not corporations–and more.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly.
Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.