News You May Have Missed: May 16, 2021

A woman reacts while standing near the rubble of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on Saturday that housed The Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana). Used by permission.

According to the Toronto Star, by Monday, May 17 over 200 Palestinians, including 59 children, had been killed by Israeli attacks. Rockets from Gaza had killed eight people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy. Journalist Shaun King reported that in a single hour late Sunday night, Israel dropped 100 bombs. Gaza’s power station is almost out of fuel, the Star reported, and there is no clean drinking water. Governments in the region are urgently trying to broker a ceasefire, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Monday that the U.S. would not pressure the two sides for an immediate ceasefire, the AP reported. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for both sides to stand down, and one of Canada’s opposition parties, the NDP, has demanded that Canada stop arming one side in the conflict. On May 5, the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, according to the Washington Post.

On May 15, Israeli forces bombed the building that housed the AP, Al-Jazeera and other media organizations, saying that Hamas was using the space for military intelligence, but the U. S. Secretary of State said he had seen no evidence of this, the AP reported. Reporters Without Borders has called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the attack on 23 media outlets in the Gaza Strip as a war crime.

If you think the Secretary of State should press for a ceasefire, you can contact him at @ABlinken or via Amnesty International’s petition. J Street, which describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, has a petition you can click to ask Biden to call for a ceasefire in order to protect both Israelis and Palestinians. If you want to tell Justin Trudeau to stop arms sales to Israel, you can reach him here or at @JustinTrudeau. A UK organization, Medical Aid for Palestinians, is collecting funds for medical supplies for Gaza.


1. Teenagers held in indefinite ICE detention

An unknown number of teenagers have been held in ICE detention facilities for as long as several years, even though the Flores law forbids it, except in cases where the young person has committed a “chargeable offense.”  Recent revelations indicate that some of those being held have not committed such an offense, and ICE is not explaining why they are being held, according to the Nation. They are far from their families in the U.S. and they had not had legal representation until an attorney at the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights noticed teenagers otherwise unaccounted for were appearing on rosters and in hearings. A psychiatrist who was finally permitted to see them indicated that they were depressed, on medication that they didn’t know the name of, and were not receiving education to speak of. Small scuffles with other teenagers were used as evidence to keep them incarcerated, the Nation explains. Even with representation, involvement by the ACLU, and assistance from the immigration organization Every.Last.One., one young man was transferred to an adult facility anyway–and so he requested to be deported to Guatemala instead, having lost two years of his life to detention.

Teennagers are also at risk in a detention center in a Dallas emergency shelter, according to the Dallas Morning News, which reported that 2300 boys 13-17 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center “suffer from a lack of fresh air and sunlight, depression and limited access to phones to call their families.” While staff say the goal is to reunite them with family members within 7-10 days, the Dallas Morning News reported on one case where the teenager had been there for five weeks. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the Morning News that the teenagers stay there an average of 30 days before they are reunified with family. These emergency shelters were set up by Health and Human Services as a result of the influx of unaccompanied children and teenagers, as many as 19,000 seeking asylum without an adult family member in March. Still, the shelters are unlicensed, FBI checks have been waived, and the conditions there are distressing, with kids only allowed one ten-minute call a week to their parents. Some are hungry, imploring volunteers for food, according to the Daily Beast. Wendy Young, the lawyer who is president of the D.C.-based legal nonprofit KIND which is contracted to provide legal representation to  the teenagers, is concerned about their mental health: “These are kids who have obviously been traumatized in their own country, traumatized on the journey here and traumatized when they are taken into custody,” she said. RLS

You can write to appropriate officials–and to your senators and representatives–to ask them what they are doing about the teenagers who are being kept illegally, inexplicably, and secretly in long-term detention. You can also raise the issue of the conditions under which teenagers are being held before being released. Addresses are here. If you want to support KIND, you can do so at their site.

2. Biden picks Trump-era immigration judges

One of the things the Trump administration was quite effective at was the appointment of judges. His three Supreme Court appointments got plenty of media coverage, as did several appointments to the federal bench. What got very little coverage at the time was Trump’s effectiveness in placing conservative appointees in positions as immigration court judges.  Earlier this month, President Biden submitted his first slate of appointees to immigration judgeships, 17 individuals, all originally selected for those positions during the Trump administration, according to the Hill. The Hill characterizes the members of this group as “former prosecutors and counselors for Immigration and Customs Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as a few picks with little immigration experience,” noting that “Almost none have made their career representing migrants in court.” The Hill quotes Georgetown Law School Professor Paul Schmidt —who worked for 21 years as an immigration judge before moving to academia—expressing concern that, “No one on that list [of 17 nominees] is among the top 100 asylum authorities in the country, and that’s the kind of people they should be hiring—not prosecutorial re-treads.”

Immigration Impact notes that most of the 17 have backgrounds as either prosecutors or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees. And the only two who have experience working as defense attorneys have also worked for ICE. S-HP

If you want to make sure that Trump’s immigration policies are not enshrined into law, insist that the President and the Justice Department follow up on their promises to make our immigration system more fair and humane and emphasize that one way they can do that is by nominating individuals with backgrounds in immigration law who have worked previously defending immigrants, not those who were originally selected by the Trump administration. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW,Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave.NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000. @TheJusticeDept.

3. Preserving global family planning

In 1984 the Reagan administration issued the “Mexico City Policy,” which stipulated that all foreign nongovernmental agencies getting U.S. family planning assistance certify that they neither perform abortion nor provide counselling about abortion procedures. When Trump was in office, his administration expanded that ban to apply to pretty much all global health aid—HIV, malaria, and mother and child health—not just family planning.

 In late January, not long after taking office, President Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy and took additional steps to expand global family planning access, including access to abortion. Associated Press reporting on Biden’s moves cites a memorandum Biden sent to his cabinet: “These excessive conditions on foreign and development assistance undermine the United States’ efforts to advance gender equality globally by restricting our ability to support women’s health and programs that prevent and respond to gender-based violence…. The expansion of the policy has also affected all other areas of global health assistance, limiting the United States’ ability to work with local partners around the world…. Such restrictions on global health assistance are particularly harmful in light of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.” President Biden has also restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which was eliminated under Trump. Biden also withdrew the U.S. from the Geneva Consensus, signed while Trump was in office, which committed the U.S. “pro-family,” anti-abortion policies—the other 33 signatory governments were almost exclusively authoritarian or autocratic.  As long as U.S. policies on global health policy are being directed by the White House, they may swing wildly from one administration to the next, meaning Biden’s successor could reverse Biden’s policies as Biden did with Trump’s. The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, H.R.1670, would establish that U.S. global health policy—and the money provided for it—include comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion. H.R.1670 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. S-HP

To act on this issue, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1670 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and tell your Representative that you want to see active, vocal support for H.R.1670. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee. 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks. Find your Representative here.

4. Health care protections for transgender people restored

The Biden administration has revived health care protections for transgender people that were eliminated under Trump. These protections involve interpreting the word “sex” in anti-discrimination protections to include protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, so that gender identity (or the lack thereof) and affectional orientation cannot be used as pretexts for denying medical services. The Washington Post describes this move as “the latest step Biden officials are taking to reorient the federal government’s posture on health care, the environment and other policy areas away from the conservative cast of the Trump era, replacing it with a more liberal stance.” S-HP

You can thank President Biden and the Secretary of Health and Human Services for return to fairness and respect for all. President Joe Biden, @POTUS. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, @SecBecerra. Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, @HHS_ASH. Full addresses and phone numbers are here.


5. Protesters arrested, killed, disappeared in Colombia

In response to a draconian tax “reform,” which went into effect April 28 and which imposed a 19 per cent sales tax on essential products such as cereal, milk, and sugar, Colombians have been protesting in the streets. Protesters filled Cali, Bogota, Medellin, Pereira, and other cities. While President Duque rescinded these measures in the first week of May,  protests continued to rage, in part due to outrage over the government’s handling of the pandemic; fewer than 8 per cent of the population has received even one dose of the vaccine. The percentage of people living in poverty went up to 42.5 in 2020, seven per cent higher than in 2019. Even more inflammatory has been the police response, according to CounterPunch; police have used American-made weapons to terrorize protestors; The UN mission in the city of Cali was attacked as well. At least 24 people are dead and 168 are missing, according to the Toronto Star.  As a young nurse in Bogotá told the NY Times, “I am in pain for Colombia. I am in pain for my country,” she said. “All that we can do to make ourselves heard is to protest, and for that they are killing us.” RLS

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, along with other House members,  has called for the application of the Leahy Law to freeze U.S. assistance to Colombian security forces. You can use the link from the Colombia Scholars Network to ask your representative to invoke the Leahy Law in response to the situation in Colombia.

6. Legislation to protect Uyghurs in China

Chinese oppression of its Uyghur Muslim population, which begun in 2014 and expanded in 2017, continues. According to the Center for Foreign Relations, an estimated 800,000 to 2 million Chinese Uyghurs have been sent to detention camps during that period, most of them without any specific charges and with no means to challenge their detention. Another 11 million Chinese Uyghurs not under detention suffer under decades-long anti-Uyghur policies which can include surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labor, and forced sterilizations. The New Yorker had a remarkable article in April detailing these. The United States has labeled Chinese treatment of its Uyghur population genocide and crimes against humanity. Two pieces of legislation now being considered by the House would respond to Chinese abuses and attempt to provide protections for Uyghur Muslims.

1) The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R.1115, would bar imports into the U.S. of goods produced in the area of China where Uyghurs are being detained unless Customs and Border protection (CBP) can certify that the goods were produced without the use of convict labor, forced labor, or penal labor. H.R.1115 would also require the President to regularly report to Congress on the foreign entities and individuals facilitating the forced labor of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups and to impose sanctions of these entities and individuals. H.R.1115 is currently with four House committees: Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, Judiciary, and Financial Services.

2) The Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act. H.R.1630 identifies Chinese Uyghur Muslims as “refugees of special concern,” prioritized for admission to the U.S. It would also require regular reports to Congress by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security regarding the number of Chinese Uyghur Muslim refugee applicants, the length of time spent processing these applications, and the number of applications rejected, along with the reasons for those rejections. H.R.1630 is currently with the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. S-HP

The most helpful thing you can do at this point is to urge swift, positive action on H.R.1115 and H.R.1630 by the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. Addresses are here.

7. Legislation to protect Saudi dissidents

As we noted then, on February 26, the U.S. published an intelligence report asserting that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had approved the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a legal resident of the U.S. At the time of this publication, the U.S. also denied visas to 76 Saudis it identified as connected to the murder, but did not place any sanctions directly against Mohammed bin Salman.

The Guardian reports that as a result, sentences given to Saudi political prisoners have increased in number and severity over the past few months; it cites findings by the UK-based human rights group Grant Liberty connecting that increase to the Saudi government’s perception of the limited sanctions as “weak.” According to Grant Liberty, the number of sentences that were imposed on prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia in April was more than double the total number of sentences for January, February, and March of this year. The Guardian quotes Lucy Rae of Grant Liberty as observing, “The international community must demonstrate that the only way the kingdom can improve its standing is through genuine reform. That means we need the tough action [presidential] candidate Biden talked about, not the weakness President Biden has so far shown.”

 If the U.S. is being perceived as weak, Congress could signal its opposition to Saudi human rights abuses through the passage of H.R.1392, the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act. This legislation would strictly curb U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia for three years. To have these curbs lifted, the President would be required to provide proof that the Saudis have not forcibly repatriated, intimidated, or killed Saudi dissidents in other countries, unjustly imprisoned U.S. citizens or legal residents, or tortured detainees. H.R.1392 was passed by the House last month and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

If you want to engage with this issue, point out the increasing number and severity of sentences being imposed on Saudi prisoners of conscience, tell the President and State Department that more needs to be done to sanction Mohammed bin Salman himself, and urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and your own Senators to support quick passage of H.R.1392. Addresses are here.


8. New legislation to protect mental health

In the last week, the House has passed eight pieces of mental health legislation, which now move to the Senate, where all have been assigned to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. This legislation addresses topics including youth/student mental health, law enforcement mental health, intimate partner violence, addiction, emergency services, and suicide awareness and prevention.

1) Pursuing Mental Health Equity, H.R.1475, would fund pilot programs and research directed at improving equity in mental health care for youth, particularly among youth of color.

2) The HERO (Helping Emergency Responders Overcome) Act, H.R.1480, is intended to “require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve the detection, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues among public safety officers,” as explained in the Act’s opening.

3) Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department, H.R.1324, “requires the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants to hospitals to improve their capacity to identify patients in emergency departments who are at risk of suicide and connect those patients with mental health treatments and services,” according to the official summary.

4) The Bipartisan Solution to Cyclical Violence Act, H.R.1260, would provide grants to trauma centers and nonprofits addressing violent trauma, particularly intimate partner violence.

5) Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department, H.R.1205, would provide grants to increase mental health follow-up treatment for individuals for individuals entering hospitals through the emergency department.

6) Mental Health Services for Students, H.R.721, would support school-based mental health services.

7) The Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention (STAND UP) Act, H.R.586, would provide a range of mental health grants to states, tribes, and educational agencies in order to establish and implement best practices for suicide awareness and prevention.8) Family Support Services for Addiction, H.R.433, would provide grants to “family community organizations that provide support for individuals struggling with substance use disorder and their families,” as explained in the legislation’s introduction. S-HP

If you want to support these initiatives, urge swift positive action on this body of legislation (H.R.1475, 1480, 1324, 1260, 1205, 721, 586, and 433 by the Senate HELP Committee: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, 428 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC20510, (202) 224-5375. @PattyMurray. You can also urge your Senators to support this legislation when it reaches the Senate floor. Find them here.


Read Heather Cox Richardson’s column for May 13 on how the Heritage Foundation is writing voter suppression laws. And actually, read her every day to see how today’s events live in yesterday’s context.

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 reminds you to file your taxes in order to take advantage of your child tax credit.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. This week’s list will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections in a few quick actions.

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.