1. Racism as a public health crisis
The cases of 43 Black people killed by the police in the United States were investigated by an international team of experts, which found–unsurprisingly–that racism contributed to excessive force in policing. The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States has just released its report, in an extensive project developed in conjunction by the United Nations and produced with the National Lawyers Guild and other organizations. If you’re short on time, just read the Executive Summary: it is devastating. The Commission calls on the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity and urges the U.S. to be bound by the ICC’s findings.
The Commission found violations in the rights to: “life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, access to remedies for violations, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect.”
Racism has become a public health crisis in other ways as well, as the pandemic has made ruthlessly clear. As the Harvard Medical School noted last year, “Between March and June of 2020, Latinx and non-Hispanic Black people were hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate of up to four and a half times that of non-Hispanic white people. Indigenous people were hospitalized at five and a half times that of white people.” The reasons are structural: income inequality and job discrimination, which means in the U.S. an unequal access to health insurance; unsafe crowded housing; lack of access to education which relegates people of color to risky front-line jobs. The American Medical Association last year agreed, committing the organization to “…Recognize racism, in its systemic, cultural, interpersonal and other forms, as a serious threat to public health,” In April, the CDC made the same commitment.
In this context, H.Res.344 – Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis is relevant. It has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and to the Committee on the Judiciary. We ordinarily don’t follow resolutions, but this one deserves attention. RLS
2. Trump officials signed agreements preventing Biden from changing immigration policy
Among the many reasons that the situation at the border has been so complex since the Biden administration has taken office are the strategies Trump officials used to hamstring Biden’s efforts to change immigration policy, the Dallas Observer explains. Before leaving his position as Secretary of Homeland Security, Kenneth Cuccinelli signed “Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment” (SAFE) agreements with Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, West Virginia, and a sheriff’s office in North Carolina. These agreements “allow participating states to halt nationwide immigration policy for 180 days by requiring DHS to communicate with states before taking actions or making decisions ‘that could reduce immigration enforcement, increase the number of [undocumented immigrants] in the United States, or increase immigration benefits or eligibility for benefits for [undocumented immigrants].'” Texas, Arizona, and Montana have all sued the Biden administration to block changes to immigration policy under the Biden administration.
These agreements are illegal twice over. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the Government Accountability Office have both ruled that Cuccinelli was never properly appointed to his position, meaning he lacked authority to enter into agreements on behalf of the agency. Also, an outgoing administration “cannot agree to cede federal power to states, local jurisdictions, or other third parties before a new administration assumes office, because the executive branch cannot contract away the constitutional power of its successors. Such tactics are antithetical to the orderly transition of executive authority demanded by our Constitution,” as the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) explains. CREW has called for an Inspector General investigation of former Secretary of Homeland Security Kenneth Cuccinelli. S-HP
If you want to address this issue, you can support calls for an investigation of Cuccinelli’s illegal tenure in office and the last-minute agreements he signed in order to prevent the Biden administration from taking timely action in response to the arrival of undocumented immigrants. Joseph V. Cuffari, Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Dr., Building 410, Washington DC 20528, (202) 981-6000.
3. Some relief funds for Puerto Rico held up until last month, investigation quashed
$20 billion in hurricane aid to Puerto Rico following 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria was held up by the Trump administration, which then refused to cooperate with a Congressional investigation of the roadblocks it had put up. The Washington Post reports on a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Inspector General’s (IG) report on how the roadblocks were established under the aegis of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and appear to have been created in response to White House demands, as Trump made it clear he did not want to provide funds to Puerto Rico and instead wanted to increase funding to Texas and Florida. The OMB added new steps to the normal disaster-relief distribution process that significantly slowed release of the funds and prevented timely publication by HUD of a notice of the funding. The OMB also refused to allow HUD to issue a single funding notice that would have applied to all 16 jurisdictions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and instead required a separate funding notice for each jurisdiction. The White House demanded changes to Puerto Rico’s property-management records system and created a prerequisite for the release of funds to federal contractors that suspended federal minimum wage requirements. In fact, many restrictions were only removed in April, well after President Biden had been sworn into office. These requirements included incremental release of funds and oversight by several government boards that went beyond the oversight required under federal law.
The Inspector General’s report also documents Trump administration resistance to the Congressional investigation on the slow release of disaster relief funds. HUD officials refused to be interviewed by investigators. The Office of Management and Budget refused to provide information Congress requested regarding the ways decisions regarding the distribution of relief funds were made. In fact, the HUD IG Report noted “Delays and denials of access and refusals to cooperate negatively affected the ability of the [Office of Inspector General] to conduct this review.” As Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), who requested the inspector general’s investigation, put it, Trump’s roadblocks were “a way to prevent the people of Puerto Rico from access to so much needed money to prevent people from dying.” S-HP
To make sure disaster relief funds cannot be withheld, you can insist to your congressmembers that procedures be put in place to prevent executive branch interference. Find your Senators here and your representative here.
4, Crucial legislation heading for the Senate
As has been true in the past, the House is passing legislation at a faster rate than the Senate.
1) H.R.1333, the No BAN Act, narrows the reasons for which the President can announce a travel ban blocking individuals of a specific nation from entering the U.S. and specifically bars the use of religion as the justification for a travel ban. H.R.1333 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
2) H.R.1573, Access to Counsel, also with the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides protections for individuals entering the U.S., including U.S. nationals, lawful permanent residents, aliens in possession of a visa, returning asylees, and refugees, who are subject to secondary or deferred inspections. H.R.1573 would ensure that these individuals have access to counsel and others (such as family members already in the U.S.) within an hour of the initiation of any secondary inspection.
3) H.R.7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would, as explained in the Congressional summary, “addresses wage discrimination on the basis of sex, which is defined to include pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics…. [and] limits an employer’s defense that a pay differential is based on a factor other than sex to only bona fide job-related factors in wage discrimination claims, enhances nonretaliation prohibitions, and makes it unlawful to require an employee to sign a contract or waiver prohibiting the employee from disclosing information about the employee’s wages. The bill also increases civil penalties for violations of equal pay provisions.” H.R.7 has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.
4) H.R.51, the Washington, D.C., Admission Act, would, as the title indicates, make Washington D.C. the 51st state of the U.S., giving currently unavailable federal representation to residents of the district. H.R.51 has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee. S-HP
If you want to nudge the Senate to follow up on House legislation, you can write, call or tweet Dick Durbin, Chair or the Senate Judiciary Committee or Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. Addresses are here.
5. A few people to thank
As complicated and difficult as so many things are, the Biden administration has been chipping away at Trump policies and launching its own projects.
1) NBC reports that the Department of Homeland Security is placing limits on civil immigration arrests and other enforcement actions in or near courthouses, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday. Mayorkas explained that the Trump administration’s policy of using courthouses as arrest locations “had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement.”
2) Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has launched a new effort to uncover and eliminate right-wing extremism in the military, according to the New York Times.
3) The Department of Agriculture, reports Axios, is extending a pandemic program providing meals to children through the summer.
4) The New York Times reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is withdrawing a Trump-administration-proposed rule that would have allowed single-sex homeless shelters to turn away transgender individuals. HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge explains “We are taking a critical step in affirming HUD’s commitment that no person be denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity…. HUD is open for business for all.”
5) We have two items we can thank President Biden for—no doubt there are more. First, according to the New York Times, President Biden is creating a White House task force to promote labor organizing in hope of ending a steady decline in union membership. Second, as the Hill reports, President Biden has cancelled the Trump administration diversion of Department of Defense funds to pay for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Instead, the funds will be used as originally intended by Congress. S-HP
If you want to thank the people behind these initiatives, addresses are here.
6. How to help in India
You won’t have missed the catastrophic COVID situation in India; as we explained last week, with some 20 million cases, the country’s infrastructure is overwhelmed, with shortages of everything from oxygen to kindling to burn the dead. 218,959 people have died, according to Worldometer. The situation in India will have ripple effects; it will not be sending its AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada, which has counted on it, and it cannot contribute to COVAX, the world-wide vaccine-sharing mechanism sponsored by the WHO. At long last, the US is considering lifting patent restrictions on the vaccines in order to permit developing countries to make their own, the Washington Post reports. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has a devastating essay in the Guardian on what people in India are experiencing and what the political context is that made this surge of cases inevitable: “So here we are now, in the hell of their collective making, with every independent institution essential to the functioning of a democracy compromised and hollowed out, and a virus that is out of control.” RLS
Avaaz is collecting funds for oxygen and other supplies; Canada’s MacLean‘s magazine has a list of reliable organizations where you can contribute to oxygen, PPE, and food.
7. Women and Children Last
Women and children are especially vulnerable to policy shifts, and in three areas of the world this dynamic is especially pressing. In a much delayed move, President Biden has declared that the U.S. will withdraw from Afghanistan by the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, when the U.S. retaliated for the attacks on the Twin Towers by commencing a bombing campaign in October of 2001. Among the weapons used were cluster bombs, leading to substantial civilian casualties both in the moment and as a result of unexploded ordnance; according to Human Rights Watch, in the first week alone, “the US dropped fifty CBU-87s (cluster bomb units), containing 10,100 bomblets, in five missions.”
Successive US administrations believed that the Taliban, which had held off foreign invaders since at least 1979, could be defeated and that a Western-friendly government could be installed. As the BBC explains, however, the Taliban seems likely to inherit that earth, and the concern is whether gains in women’s education and employment will be sustained. In none of the peace talks have women’s rights been central to the discussion and Biden has not made the withdrawal of troops contingent in any way. Girls in Afghanistan told the Guardian that they are scrambling to finish their academic programs, as they fear they will not be allowed to do so if the Taliban takes power again. Fatima Ayub, an eloquent policy analyst who is herself a refugee from Afghanistan, writes in the Conversationalist that the American decision is an “acknowledgement of absolute failure.” that the entire war in/against Afghanistan was “a carnival of bad faith, bad choices, bad actors, and death.”
Women’s gains in employment and education are at risk in Iran as well, as a result of sanctions the US has imposed on that country. As Azadeh Moaveni and Sussan Tamhasemi wrote recently in the New York Times, though the US has been full of rhetoric around women’s rights in Iran, the way that sanctions have demolished the economy has made it increasingly difficult for women to make a living; during the pandemic, women lost 100,000 more jobs than men did, although only 17.5% of them participate in the workforce. Young women who had been able to live independently, with rising rents and inflation–30% at this writing–now have had to move back home. Women in abusive situations have been unable to leave. The Times writers quote Faezeh Tavakoli, a historian with the Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies in Tehran, as saying, “The pressure on women, on the middle class, is utterly oppressive. I just don’t find the justifications for sanctions at all persuasive, certainly not from a feminist perspective. You can’t tell people, ‘Starve and then seek freedom.’”
Elsewhere, as a video posted by Vice illustrates, the battle against Isis in Iraq continues. You need only to look at the first few minutes to see how vulnerable women and children are in these conditions. Tens of thousands of women and children once connected to Isis are in refugee camps in Syria, according to the Guardian, camps which are fraught with political tension and risk. Small groups of women and children have been repatriated to their home countries, although the women in one group sent to Tunisia were interrogated and beaten when they got there, according to Human Rights Watch. To understand why women might have affiliated with Isis–voluntarily and not–in the first place, you can watch an interview with Azadeh Moaveni, or read her book Guest House for Young Widows. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
8. Environmental legislation to watch
The Trump administration rolled back around a hundred pieces of environmental policy, with devastating effects, as the New York Times noted on Biden’s inauguration day. Now, a number of pieces of environmental legislation are working their way through Congress and will begin to reverse the damage.
1) H.R.241, the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act, would extend a program that allows countries with debts owing to the U.S. to participate in “debt-for-nature swaps” to promote conservation in those nations. Analogous legislation, S.335, also titled the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act, has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meaning that it can be brought to a vote of the full Senate.
2) H.R.1144, the Puget Sound SOS Act, would support restoration and protection of Puget Sound, an environmentally important estuary off the coast of Washington. H.R.1144 has been approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and can now be brought to a vote of the full House.
3) H.R.6479, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex Establishment Act, would direct the Secretary of the Interior to create such a complex and to announce its establishment in the Federal Register. H.R.6479 is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife.
4) S.806, the MPH (Monarch Pollinator Highway) Act, would create grants through the Department of Transportation to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roads and highways, including the planting and seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses, wildflowers, and milkweed. S.809, the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act, would establish a fund for the protection of Monarch butterflies. Monarchs are currently under consideration for endangered species status as their population has been dropping precipitously in recent years. Both S.806 and S.809 are with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. You can also sign a National Wildlife Federation petition to governors in Monarch regions calling for increased creation of and support for Monarch habitats. S-HP
If you are inclined to take action on these items, addresses of appropriate people whom you can call, write or tweet are here.
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 paid leave, trans rights, support for immigrants, and the needs of breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The site has varied important actions that you can take quickly.
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.
The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.
The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.