1. Incarcerated people sent home during the pandemic required to go back to prison
At the height of the pandemic, thousands of non-violent incarcerated people were released to home confinement in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) points out, the rate of COVID-29 among incarcerated people was 5.5 times higher than in the general American population. Now, Biden’s legal team has apparently advised him that they will have to return to prison a month after the state of emergency is over, according to the New York Times. Their return to prison can only be stopped if Biden can be persuaded to offer clemency to those in home confinement–as he is being urged to do by a wide range of groups, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, or if Congress acts to empower the Justice Department to keep them home. All of the people affected were judged to be low-risk; many of them are older. RLS
FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) is urging people to sign the petition to ask President Biden to grant clemency to those released.
2. Program to help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate
Formerly incarcerated people face multiple barriers to social reentry, including challenges regarding housing, employment, transportation, and healthcare. The bipartisan One Stop Shop Community Reentry Program Act, H.R.3372, introduced by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), would establish a community grant program for the creation of “one-stop” reentry centers, where individuals would have access to multiple services. The grant program’s goals would be increasing access to and use of reentry services; reducing recidivism; increasing enrollment in educational programs ranging from GED certificates to university-level study; increasing the number of individuals obtaining and maintaining housing; increasing self-reported success in community living; and identifying state, local, and private funds available to further the work of one-stop reentry center grantees. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee and has 14 cosponsors, nine Democrats and four Republicans. S-HP
If you want to engage with this issue, urge swift, positive action on this legislation by the House Judiciary Committee and ask your representative to support this bipartisan effort. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. Find your Representative here.
3. Powder vs. Crack cocaine: Disparate sentences
Part of the fallout from the war on drugs is the disparate sentencing between those convicted of the use of powder cocaine versus those convicted of the use of crack cocaine. The nonpartisan site Govtrack points out that under the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the sentences for crack cocaine were 100 times higher than those for individuals with similar convictions for powder cocaine use, as a 2006 ACLU report explains. Under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, that ratio for crack v. powder convictions had been reduced from 100:1 to the still-substantial figure of 18:1. Given the demographics of the U.S. and the different profiles of communities with access to crack vs. powder cocaine, this sentencing disparity has contributed to the overrepresentation of people of color in the prison system.
The EQUAL Act (S.79 in the Senate; H.R.1693 in the House) would end those sentencing disparities. The EQUAL Act has bipartisan support. In the Senate, its five cosponsors include two Democrats and three Republicans; in the House, its 40 cosponsors are equally divided between Democrat and Republican. S.79 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R.1693 is with both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP
If you want to address unfair sentencing for people of color, you can urge quick, positive committee responses to the bipartisan EQUAL Act and emphasize the impact this change could have. Addresses are here.
4. Proposed new gun regulations
In a way, guns are like viruses. One reason viruses are so hard to stop once they get going is that their rate of mutation means the target for vaccines and treatment isn’t stable, so what may stop a virus at one point may be useless against it after a few mutations. Think about concerns over the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines in relation to the new delta variant. One reason firearms are difficult to regulate is that new ways of modifying or making them are always being developed and the specificity of firearms laws means that modifications with similar results may or may not be subject to regulation depending upon the ways different types of firearms are defined under law.
Right now, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is proposing changes to definitions of terms like “firearm,” “rifle,” and “short-barreled” rifles to ensure that they include weapons with modifications that were designed with the intent of excluding them from some definitions. For example, a ghost gun—a gun produced on a 3-D printer that has no serial number—functions as a gun, but does not necessarily fall under all firearm regulations because the legal definitions of terms were created before ghost guns had been developed. On regulations.gov, the explanations of these changes in definition are, quite frankly, arcane, but the point is that the ATF is rewriting regulations with the intention of making sure they include new types of guns or guns produced with new methods.
One proposal, “Definition of Frame or Receiver and Identification of Firearms” has the intent of defining ghost guns or gun kits that can be assembled after purchase as firearms, so that they are subject to rules regarding background checks and identifying serial numbers. If you want to support this rule change, but have difficulty wording your support, you can look at several scripts suggested by “Brady,” the gun control advocacy group named in honor of James Brady, who was badly injured during an attempt to assassinate Ronald Regan.
A second proposed rule change addresses “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces.” Braces and/or stocks can be added to guns for a number of reasons. Braces are sometimes added to guns to make their use easier for people with disabilities. But braces can also be added to increase the power and accuracy of small guns, making them function similarly to more powerful rifles, but adding that functionality in a way that means rules governing rifles do not apply to these modified handguns. The second set of redefinitions is intended to continue to allow the use of braces genuinely designed for those with disabilities without changing the classification of a gun and without subjecting it to additional regulation, but to make it clear that small guns with other types of add-ons or modifications are subject to regulations governing rifles. S-HP
You can comment on the need to make sure that ghost guns are regulated by going to https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/ATF-2021-0001-0001. You can comment on the need to ensure guns that are modified to function as rifles are treated as rifles by going to https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/ATF-2021-0002-0001. If you prefer to write a letter, addresses are here.
You can also tell your Congressmembers that you’re sick of “thoughts and prayers” that don’t result in life-saving changes to gun regulations and insist that gun regulation should be part of their agenda. Find your senators here and your representative here.
5. Still no gun legislation…
Two weeks ago, we produced a database of the 38 pieces of gun legislation that have been sitting in committee since they were introduced. Thus far in the 117th Congress, no gun legislation has made it through both houses of Congress. One piece of legislation, H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, has made it through the House. In the two weeks since we reported on this legislation, none of it has budged. For a full discussion, see our July 11, 2021 issue. S-HP/RLS
For your voice to be heard, urge committees with gun legislation to take action on this legislation and insist that your Congressmembers call for gun legislation to be moved beyond committee and that they support this legislation when it comes to a full vote of the House or Senate. Addresses are here.
Moms Demand Action recommends a variety of actions you can take against gun violence. Moms Rising also has a gun safety campaign, focusing on confirming David Chipman as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, establishing universal background checks, banning military-type assault records, and various other points.
6. Racism in Facial Recognition
The unreliability of facial recognition software, particularly in the identification of non-white faces has been well documented. In a 2018 ACLU test of Amazon’s Rekognition, the program incorrectly identified members of Congress, most of them people of color, as people who had been arrested for a crime. 2019 reporting by the New York Times highlighted a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which found that Asian-American and Black faces were misidentified by facial recognition programs at a rate 10 to 100 times higher than the misidentification rate for whites. These kinds of misidentifications have real world consequences, ranging from missed airline flights to false arrest to deportation. Congress now has an opportunity to prevent abuses of biometric surveillance via H.R.9307, the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology, which would require statutory authorization for any federal use of biometric surveillance and would withhold some kinds of federal grants from States and local governments using biometric surveillance. This legislation is currently with two House Committees: Judiciary and Oversight and Reform. S-HP
If you want to have an influence on this issue, ask Congress to act swiftly on this legislation to protect individuals from the dangers of false identification and abusive surveillance. Call, write or tweet: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951, Representative Ro Khanna (D-NY), Chair, House Oversight and Reform Committee, 2308 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-7944.
7. New Protections for LGBTQI+ people proposed
The House of Representatives has the opportunity to act on several pieces of legislation that would protect the rights of LGBTQI+ people.
◉During the previous session of Congress, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney introduced the LGBTQ Essential Data Act (H.R.3280, 116th Congress) which would have required the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve its data collection regarding the sexual orientation and gender identity of deceased individuals via the National Violent Death Reporting System—data that’s essential to understand the scope of deadly attacks on LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. This legislation never moved beyond the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to which it was assigned in June 2019. Representative Maloney reintroduced this legislation in late June.
◉The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act, H.R.3488 (which also goes by a much longer descriptive title) would prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the provision of child welfare services, with the goal of improving safety, well-being, and permanency for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning foster youth. This legislation has been assigned to the House Ways and Means and the House Energy and Commerce Committees.
◉As he explained when introducing the legislation, Representative Jimmy Panetta’s (D-CA) Armed Forces Transgender Dependent Protection Act, H.R.3672, would “ensure that transgender dependents of active duty service members are able to receive the health care they need and deserve without discrimination. The bill would prevent service members being stationed in states or countries that deny their transgender dependents gender affirming healthcare and treatment.” H.R.3672 is with the House Armed Services Committee.
◉The Global Respect Act, H.R.3845, would make it possible to impose sanctions on foreign persons who are responsible for LGBTQI+ individuals being denied internationally recognized human rights. H.R.3485 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
You can engage with these issues by asking the House Energy and Commerce Committee to ask swiftly on H.R.3280 and H.R.3488 to assure better documentation of anti-LGBTQ violence and to assure that all kinds of families can provide homes for all kinds of kids currently in the foster care system. You can also urge the chair of the House Armed Services Committee to act quickly on H.R.3672 to protect the safety of LGBTQI+ members of military families; in addition you could ask the House Judiciary Committee to quickly address H.R.3845 to protect the rights of LGBTQI individuals around the world. Addresses are here.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
8. Sue–or file a complaint against Fox News for faux news
How many people have refused to get vaccinated–and become ill, even died–because of the false statements they heard on Fox News? Slate suggests that such people–or their heirs–could sue Fox on the grounds that “harm caused by deliberate misrepresentations is fraud.” Slate’s article traces the legal argument that would make a suit plausible. Another route was suggested by MSNBC columnist Dean Obeidallah, who writes that he is filing a complaint with “the Federal Trade Commission against Fox News for possible violations of the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act. That law, enacted in December 2020, makes it ‘unlawful’ for a corporation or individual ‘to engage in a deceptive act or practice in or affecting commerce associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19.’” RLS/S-HP
Tired of Fox News’ lies about the COVID-19 vaccine? You don’t have to launch a lawsuit, but you–yes you–can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission—and it takes just minutes. Express your concern at www.reportfraud.ftc.gov
9. Subsidizing fossil fuels costs taxpayers $16 billion
In 2019, a report from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute estimated that the U.S. government’s subsidizing of fossil fuel cost taxpayers $16 billion annually. Representative Katie Porter’s (D-CA) H.R.1517, Ending Taxpayer Welfare for Oil and Gas Companies would significantly increase the minimum per acre bid for companies hoping to lease U.S. lands for fossil fuel extraction and calls for that minimum to be adjusted for inflation every four years based on changes to the Consumer Price Index. It would also increase the royalties fossil fuels pay on any oil or gas they extract from government lands. These royalties would be reconsidered every three years through processes that specifically call for public comments and hearings. H.R.1517 has been “ordered reported” by the House Natural Resources, meaning it can now be brought to a vote of the full House. S-HP
If you support this legislation, tell the Speaker of the House that you want to see action on it. You also can ask your Representative to support it and to become a cosponsor if they haven’t done so yet [you can check the list of cosponsors here]. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, 1236 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4965. @SpeakerPelosi. Find your Representative here.
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.
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 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.