1. Amidst continuous gun violence, the Senate still resists gun legislation
Two grandmothers were among the Sikh victims of the shooter at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, according to the BBC. Also killed were two nineteen-year-olds; each of the eight victims is being mourned by a circle of family, friends and co-workers. The New York Times also has pictures and bios of those who were shot. As the Times points out, the white nineteen-year-old man who ended their lives and then killed himself was able to purchase two rifles even after having had a gun taken away from him when his mother raised concerns that he was planning a “suicide by cop”; somehow, he was not thought dangerous enough to be covered by Indiana’s “Red Flag” law.
Even before the ghastly shootings of the last month, the House passed a bill, HR 1446, to require background checks for gun purchases, but it is widely expected to fail in the Senate, according to Vox. Still, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said at the end of March, “Don’t count us out,” the Washington Post reported, but even Murphy acknowledged that the House bill would have to be modified; among the points that Senate Republicans–and even some Democrats–resist is the extension of time that potential gun purchasers have to wait for the background check to be completed. Now, if it is not complete in three days, the purchaser can acquire the gun by default. This is precisely the situation that enabled the person who shot nine Black people during a service at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, according to the Giffords Law Center. The New York Times notes that the bankruptcy of the NRA may make it more possible for gun control legislation to be passed. RLS
If you want to let your senators know that their political future depends on them passing–not blocking–legislation requiring background checks in any context where guns are sold, you can find their contact information here.
2. Legislation would stop “ghost guns”
Over 40% of the guns seized by police in Los Angeles are “ghost guns”–unregistered firearms produced by 3D printers, according to the BBC. The Ghost Guns Are Guns Act, H.R.1454, does exactly what its title suggests: makes it clear that firearm assembly kits—that allow the assembly of a gun without any serial numbers—must be considered firearms. Biomed Central’s Injury Epidemiology lays out the current threat presented by ghost guns. An estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives indicates that in just a single year, 2019, law enforcement confiscated more than 10,000 ghost guns. A GhostGunner3, a desk-top laser three-dimensional printer which can be purchased for just over $2000, can produce “nearly finished” firearms frames at a rate of almost two a minute. These near-complete firearms are currently not regulated as firearms. The rise in armed extremist groups in the U.S. increases the already deadly possibilities offered by ghost guns. The Biden administration is exploring executive actions to deal with ghost guns, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. H.R.1454 currently has 88 cosponsors and is with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP
If you would like to see swift, positive action on H.R.1454 by the House Judiciary Committee, write, call or tweet 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 to see if your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1454 and praise or prod as appropriate. Find your representative here.
3. Police misconduct is costly–and untracked
As we await a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin and continue to see Black Americans killed by law enforcement, we can urge Congressional action that recognizes this deadly disparity in treatment of Americans. Even beyond equity and justice, huge sums are paid out of government bonds and tax revenues to compensate victims of police violence and corruption–when false confessions are coerced, for example, according to the Washington Post. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act, H.R.1481, would require that all federal law enforcement agencies report cases of alleged misconduct to the Department of Justice, and that rulings on those cases of alleged misconduct be made publicly available. A database would also include information on any settlements resulting from federal law enforcement misconduct. Failure to comply with the requirements of H.R.1481 could result in cuts to grants to law enforcement agencies. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has no cosponsors.
H.R.1470, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, would address changes in the interpretation of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the filing of lawsuits as a result of denial of federal and constitutional rights by state or local officials. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act granted qualified immunity to those violating rights if they were acting under “good faith.” Initially the ruling applied only to actions by law enforcement, but later rulings expanded qualified immunity to include a wide range of government officials. The opening to H.R.1470 goes on to explain that “This doctrine of qualified immunity has severely limited the ability of many plaintiffs to recover damages… when their rights have been violated by state and local officials. As a result, the intent of Congress in passing the law has been frustrated, and Americans’ rights secured by the Constitution have not been appropriately protected.” H.R.1470 would eliminate the use of qualified immunity by holding accused violators to a standard of being held liable for actions that violate federal and/or constitutional rights. H.R.1470 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has thirty-nine cosponsors. S-HP
If you would like to see these bills go forward, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1481 and H.R.1470 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 to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1470 and praise or prod them as appropriate; you might urge them to become a cosponsor of H.R.1481 as well. Find your Representative here.
4. Raising refugee caps, protecting women and girls against violence
After a public outcry over its announced intention to maintain the record low Trump administration refugee caps, the Biden administration is backpedaling from its initial announcement that the U.S. would take in only 15,000 refugees this year, according to the LA Times. Biden justified the low numbers by saying that the entire system for vetting and accepting refugees had been dismantled by the Trump administration. The administration has now stated that it will raise those caps by May 15, but has not given additional specifics beyond a statement that the new caps would probably be lower than those Biden proposed while campaigning for the presidency and in initial proposals to Congress: 62,000 this year and 125,000 next year.
Meanwhile, legislation is before both houses of Congress that could make conditions for refugees outside the U.S. more secure. The Refugee Sanitation Facility Act, H.R.1158, would add a new paragraph to the 1994/1995 Foreign Relations Authorization Act calling for “the provision of safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, with a special emphasis on women, girls, and vulnerable populations.” The Keeping Women and Girls Safe from the Start Act, S.765, is intended to “improve United States consideration of, and strategic support for, programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies and to build the capacity of humanitarian actors to address the immediate and long-term challenges resulting from such violence.” S.765 would commit the U.S. to systematically fighting gender-based violence in emergencies through support of U.S. and international assistance organizations, training assistance workers in preventing gender-based violence, establishing standards for prevention of gender-based violence, and provision of services for both survivors of and those at risk of gender-based violence. H.R.1158 is with the House Foreign Affairs Committee; S.765 if with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP
If you want to act on these issues, tell President Biden that at a minimum we want to see refugee caps expanded to 62,000 for this year and 125,000 for next year as he had earlier proposed. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.1158 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and ask your representative and senators to co-sponsor. All addresses are here.
5. Poultry processing speeds endanger workers
Could you process 140 chickens per minute? What about 175? Because meat and poultry plant employees who have been designated as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic have been working dangerous jobs at close quarters throughout the pandemic, high levels of work-to-worker transmission of COVID-19 have resulted. In January, the Trump administration allowed 15 plants to increase their line speeds, and moved swiftly to make this provision permanent and more widespread, according to the Washington Post. Plants with faster line speeds–in the range of 175 birds per minute–have 10 times the rate of COVID 19, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, which points out that “nearly 90,000 workers have contracted the virus and 378 have died.”
The Biden administration rolled back the increase in line speeds, according to Safety and Health Magazine, and S.713, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, would suspend any line speed increases that have been instituted during the pandemic, Politico notes. It would also require an examination of whether actions by the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Health and Human Services have been effective in protecting animal, food, and worker safety. S.713 is currently with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. It has twelve cosponsors. S-HP
To protect poultry and meat processing workers from COVID-19 and injuries from speed-up on the job, urge quick, positive action on S.713 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, 731 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4822. @stabenow. You can also check to see if your Senators are cosponsors of S.713 and praise or prod them as appropriate. Find your Senators here.
6. Biden negotiates with Guatemala and Honduras to use military force against asylum-seekers
People fleeing violence and starvation in Central America will find it harder to arrive at the U.S. border, under a deal that the Biden administration negotiated with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the Guardian. Mexico has 10,000 troops already deployed, while Guatemala has set up 12 checkpoints along migrant routes and sent 1,500 troops to its border. Honduras sent 7,000 police and military officers to its border. However, “Security forces in all three countries have been frequently accused of using excessive violence against migrants, and targeting them for extortion and robbery,” the Guardian explained, pointing out that half the people traveling from Honduras and Guatemala are families with children. When they arrive at the US border, these families are being summarily deported to Mexico, where they face further violence and lack resources. See this New York Times story for a snapshot of what it means to families to be sent to Mexico after a desperate trek from Central America. In March, as we noted, Biden made aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador conditional on reducing corruption and enhancing human rights, according to Bloomberg, but it is not clear how those conditions are being monitored. RLS
The Access to Counsel Act, HR 1573, would give those who have made it to the border access to a relative and to legal advice. The bill has made it out of the House Judiciary Committee; if you would like to see it go forward, tell your representatives to support it when it comes to the full House. Find your representative here.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
7. COVID “catastrophe” in Ontario, chaotic provincial response
Seniors in long-term care homes in Canada previously have borne the brunt of the pandemic, with almost 70% of the deaths so far occurring among that group. However, an unexpectedly slow roll-out of the vaccines, an explosion of COVID variants and provincial mismanagement have led to a sudden escalation of cases among the general population in some provinces. In Ontario, the pandemic is at crisis level, with ICUs full and doctors exhausted. Dr. Kali Barrett, a member of the provincial health council, describes the situation as catastrophic, according to the CBC, with what she calls a “triage scenario” impending.
While the federal government has offered to send health workers and aid of various kinds to Ontario, the premier’s response to the problem has been contentious. In announcing a provincial shutdown, Doug Ford at first declared that playgrounds would be closed and police would randomly stop people to ascertain why they were not staying home. Given that outdoor transmission is the least of the problem and that random police stops tend to be imposed unequally on Black drivers, the resulting outcry led Ford to withdraw those policies. In fact, 30 Ontario police forces said that they would refuse to use those powers, the Toronto Star reported. Next, the Ford government announced plans to shut down the legislature, and then denied doing so, according to the CBC. NDP leader Andrea Horwath criticized Ford for imposing ineffectual policies but not offering paid sick leave to workers, so that people who had COVID could stay home; she said she would refuse to allow the legislature to cease work: “We are not prepared to help Doug Ford go home, leaving a police-state in place while he allows COVID-19 to run rampant, overrun hospitals, and steal the lives of Ontarians who would otherwise make it through this,” she told the CBC. 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 this week focuses on justice for Daunte Wright, pointing out that “Black people deserve to live and breath in a world where skittles, air fresheners, toys, cell phones or sleeping in your bed or opening your front door does not make you a criminal or someone whose life can be taken with no recourse or accountability.”
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. They will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections and how to fight systemic racism, among other issues.
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.
Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.