News You May Have Missed: June 27, 2021

“Gay Pride Flag” by sigmaration is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


1. Congress could support LGBTWI+ people abroad through diplomacy

In six countries (Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and in the northern states in Nigeria), participating in sexual activity with someone of the same gender is punishable by death, the BBC reports. Engaging in activities defined as “gay” is illegal in 71 countries, according to Forbes. (Equaldex lists the countries where it is illegal to be queer and what that means.) Legislation currently before Congress could improve the ways LGBTQI+ rights are supported diplomatically and increase diversity within the Department of State.

The International Human Rights Defense Act (H.R.1201 in the House; S.424 in the Senate) would create a permanent State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Peoples, who would advise the State Department regarding human rights for LGBTQI+ people, represent the United States in diplomatic matters relevant to the human rights of LGBTQI+ people, and provide Congress with a U.S. global strategy to prevent and respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI people. The Act would also require that the State Department issue annual country reports on human rights practices that include information on criminalization, discrimination, and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. H.R.1201 is with the House Foreign Affairs Committee; S.424 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The Represent America Abroad Act, H.R.1096, would establish the Represent America Mid-Career Foreign Service Entry Program to increase diversity in the Foreign Service by recruiting mid-career professionals who are from minority groups by establishing and publishing eligibility criteria for participation; carrying out recruitment efforts to attract highly qualified, mid-career professionals from minority groups; and providing appropriate mentorship and other career development opportunities for program participants. The goal of this legislation is to develop a State Department and diplomatic corps that reflects the diversity of the U.S. H.R.1096 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. RLS/S-HP

You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1201 and H.R.1096 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and on S.424 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Addresses are here.

2. At last–a chance to repeal provisions that cut teachers’ Social Security

If you are a K-12 teacher in one of 15 states, the Social Security benefits you earned in non-teaching work will be cut by half of your teacher’s pension–even when you paid into Social Security! In addition, you lose access to all spousal or survivor benefits as well. The provisions that created this inequity–the Windfall Elimination Program (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO)–also apply to city, county and state workers in 26 states and all federal workers who receive CSRS pensions, according to Social Security Fairness. As the organization explains, “If you earn even part of a public pension from a government job that doesn’t pay into Social Security (FICA), you can lose all or part of your earned Social Security retirement benefits.” RLS

The House Ways and Means Committee is putting together a bill which would at long last rectify this inequity–which hits women, people who started their careers as teachers or government workers later in life, and lower-income earners the hardest, as they are the least likely to have significant pensions to offset the loss of Social Security benefits. To do this, the Committee wants to hear your story. Guidelines are here. The catch? You need to write by Tuesday the 29th.

In April, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bill in the Senate which would also address this issue. You can check here to see whether your Senators co-sponsored the bill, S. 1302. If they did not, you can nudge them to support it. Find your Senators here

3. Child labor increasing along with economic disruptions, school closures

Among the many other disasters that beset 2020, child labor also increased. The Guardian reports that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 10% of the world’s children were engaged in child labor. Most of them are doing agricultural work, but 79 million of them are doing even more hazardous work, such as mining or operating heavy machinery. In the United States, a report from the American Federation of Teachers estimates that there are 500,000 children working as farmworkers, some as young as eight; many work 72 hours per week. The AFT cites a report by the Government Accountability Office which suggests that “100,000 child farmworkers are injured on the job every year and that children account for 20 percent of farming fatalities.” Farmworkers are exempt from the The United States’ Fair Labor Standards Act. Americans–and Canadians–consume food and purchase goods daily produced by children, according to a World Vision report cited by CTV.

A report jointly issued by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization cites an increase of 8.4 million children engaged in child labor over the four years from 2016 to 2020. Globally, over half of those children are between 5 and 11 years old. The report says that another 9 million children are at risk of being added to child labor numbers by the end of 2022. Many things are behind these increases–more severe family poverty, fewer social supports, school closures due to COVID, austerity measures.

To stop this growth, the report advocates adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits; increased spending globally on; improved work for adults, so that children aren’t forced to contribute to family incomes; an end to gender norms that support the continuance of child labor; and investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, and rural public services. S-HP, RLS

2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor—a good time to redouble our efforts to address the world’s child labor crisis. You can ask your Congressmembers to commit themselves to authoring and supporting legislation that can reduce child labor, both in the U.S. and abroad. Find your Senators here and your representative here.

4. Evidence obtained through torture can be used in Guantanamo trials

Detentions and trials continue for foreign nationals held at the U.S. military base in Guantánamo, Cuba—and for what appears to be the first time ever, a military judge, Colonel Lanny J. Acosta Jr., has ruled that information obtained during torture by CIA interrogators may be used as part of pre-trial proceedings. The defendant in this case, Abd al-Rahin al-Nashiri, is accused of orchestrating the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, which killed 17 sailors, and a 2002 attack on an oil tanker that killed one.

The New York Times explains that prosecutors have requested that information collected via torture be considered in the judge’s determination of whether defense attorneys may pursue a line of questioning regarding U.S. killings of or attacks on Abd al-Rahin al-Nashiri’s higher ups in Al Queda.

Given the severity of the charges against the defendant and the fact that information gathered under torture would be heard under initial proceedings and only by a judge, not the full jury Abd al-Rahin al-Nashiri will ultimately face, some might argue that this is a minor point of law. However, as Abd al-Rahin al-Nashiri’s defense attorneys have argued in a challenge to the ruling, “No [U.S.] court has ever sanctioned the use of torture in this way…. No court has ever approved the government’s use of torture as a tool in discovery litigation [or as] a legitimate means of facilitating a court’s interlocutory fact-finding.”  Torture is a notoriously unreliable method of gathering factual information. And the use of information obtained via torture calls into question the rights of any accused to receive a fair trial. S-HP

If this troubles you, you can voice your concerns about the use of information gathered via torture and the negative impact it will have on the U.S. justice system: President Joe Biden, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense, @SecDef. Find your Senators here and your representative here.

5. New provisions would end lower penalties for those convicted of marital rape

In California–as in many other states–a conviction for marital rape can carry a lesser sentence than rape by another perpetrator. As explained by Vice, marital rape can be punished by probation, rather than imprisonment, and those convicted of marital rape are able to avoid registering as sex offenders. AB-1171, Rape of a Spouse, would close this loophole. This legislation was passed without any opposing votes by the California Assembly, but is facing opposition in the California Senate. According to Action Network, “Senate Public Safety Chair Steven Bradford [where AB-1171 will receive initial consideration] refuses to commit that he will support the bill… or even respond to any of our phone calls or emails.” As a result, Action Network is urging Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins to ensure passage of AB-1171. S-HP

You can join Action Network in calling on the California Senate President Pro Tempore (@SenToniAtkins) and the Public Safety Committee Chair (@SteveBradford) to support AB-1171. Addresses are here.

6. Cash bail means that the poor pay more

While the U.S. justice system purports that we all have equal rights under the law, it’s understood that an individual with money is almost certainly going to have “more equal” rights than an individual with limited economic resources. This inequity plays out in the quality of legal representation different defendants have, on the pressure defendants may face to accept a plea bargain that may include admitting to a crime they didn’t commit, on the kind of apparel a defendant is able to wear while on trial. The reality of some individuals being “more equal than others” can also be seen within the cash-based bail system used in most states. Wealthy individuals are more likely to be able to post bail out-of-pocket than many others. Of course, an individual can borrow bail money from a bondsman, but most bondsmen charge 10% of the full cost of bail—so if bail is set at $50,000 and an individual cannot pay out of pocket, that individual is most likely going to have to work with a bondsman and will wind up with a debt of $5,000, regardless of the verdict in their case, and may well wind up repaying that debt at a significant rate of interest.

  In 2019, the Prison Policy Initiative estimated that approximately 460,000 people were being held pretrial (meaning they were still presumed innocent) on any given day—and approximately half of those individuals were parents of minor children. The Equal Justice Initiative points out that during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Americans in prison were five times more likely to contract the disease than those on the outside. Individuals held pretrial are significantly more at risk of violence than are those on the outside. 

Some states, including California, are developing alternatives to cash bail for low-income individuals accused of non-violent offenses. Now Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) is proposing something similar on the national level. H.R.2152, the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, would provide grants to states, localities, and Tribes to develop alternatives to cash bail that would allow those accused of a crime, but not convicted of one, to remain free until the time of their trial. Currently, this legislation has just one cosponsor, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). It has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

To help move this legislation forward, you can urge your Representative (unless that’s Lieu or Nadler) to cosponsor H.R.2152 to avoid unfairly penalizing—monetarily and in many other ways—individuals who have been charged with but not convicted of a crime. Find your Representative here.


7. 751 additional unmarked graves found near a residential school in Canada; the American Secretary of the Interior launches an investigation of US schools as well

More unmarked graves have been discovered near a residential school that First Nations children were required to attend. 751 graves were identified near Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in Saskatchewan, according to the CBC. The Cowessess First Nation had taken over the cemetery near the school from the Catholic Church, which is said to have removed the grave markers in the 1960s. Since 215 graves were discovered at a residential school in British Columbia, other First Nations communities have begun to look for graves; First Nations families have long known that some children never returned from the schools they were force to attend.

The Catholic Church, which operated schools in BC and Saskatchewan, finally agreed on Friday to open its records so that those buried on those sites could be identified. Previously, neither the Church nor the government of Canada would make their records available, the CBC noted, and in 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that accounts of residential school survivors could be destroyed in order to preserve their privacy, as another CBC article pointed out. Survivors’ stories were collected as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process.

In light of this news about residential schools in Canada, American Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, has ordered an investigation into American residential schools, Indian Country Today reported. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Haaland said that her grandparents were among those forced to attend residential schools; by 1926, she wrote, “nearly 83 percent of Native American school-age children were in the system.” RLS

Alexis Shotwell, a professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Carleton University has written a wide-ranging piece in the Conversation, suggesting how non-Indigenous people might function in solidarity with First Nations communities. In addition, the Truth and Reconciliation Report has 94 calls to action.


8. Legislation would improve healthcare options for marginalized communities

The U.S. House currently has a number of opportunities to ensure healthcare opportunities for several marginalized communities. All four are currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

H.R.2178, the Minority Diabetes Initiative Act, would provide grants for diabetes treatment programs in minority communities. Diabetes disproportionally affects communities of color, and this problem is exacerbated by inequities in healthcare for communities of color. H.R.2178 would help launch programs to provide much-needed diabetes care.

H.R.2035, the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for mental health services, making these services more easily accessible for individuals with limited incomes. This legislation is also with the House Ways and Means Committee.

H.R.1795, the Expanded Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act, would broaden the availability of Medicaid to former foster youth. Currently, Medicaid is available for a period of eight years for foster youth who age out of the foster care system when they turn eighteen. However, a loophole does not provide similar coverage for those who are emancipated before the age of eighteen or who are placed in a legal guardianship with a kinship caregiver—H.R.1795 would allow those youth to receive Medicaid for the same period od of time. H.R.1795 repeals the provision that requires former foster youth to have been enrolled in a state Medicaid program while in foster care in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage until the age of 26 and requires states to establish a Medicaid outreach program for foster youth and those who have left the foster care system.

H.R.1795, the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act, would provide grants for training and support services for families and unpaid caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

You can call for swift, positive action on all four of these pieces of legislation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chair @FrankPallone. Similarly, you can call on the House Ways and Means Committee to act quickly on H.R.2035. Chair @RepRichardNeal. Full address information is here.


This Week in Virology (TWIV) has Laurie Garrett as a guest–she explains what the patterns are in government responses to challenges from infectious diseases.

UNICEF data on child labor worldwide is available at this site.

Data on refugees in the US: Pew Research Center. Refugee statistics worldwide: UNHCR.

No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.

The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.

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.

Moms Rising has actions you can take to celebrate Juneteenth–specific ways to work against inequality.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.

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.