News You May Have Missed: September 26, 2021

“Orange Shirt Day Across Delta” by deltaschools is licensed under CC BY 2.0


1. Truth and Reconciliation September 30

Gabby Petito, who disappeared while traveling in a van with her boyfriend and who later was found murdered in Wyoming, captured the heart of the Internet. But the intense interest in her story rings hollow to First Nations people, who point out that over the last 10 years, “710 Indigenous people were reported missing across Wyoming,” according to the Guardian. Indigenous people make up only three percent of Wyoming’s population, but over the last 20 years, 21% of all the people killed in Wyoming were Indigenous. A report from the University of Wyoming points out that “Only 30% of Indigenous homicide victims had newspaper media coverage, as compared to 51% of White homicide victims. Indigenous female homicide victims had the least amount of newspaper media coverage (18%).”

The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) is not particularly a rural problem. The Urban Indian Health Institute found that in 2016, there were 5,712 instances of missing Indigenous women and girls across the US. The cities with the highest number of MMIWG are Seattle, Albuquerque, Anchorage, Tucson, Billings, Gallup, Tacoma, Omaha, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. However, the Department of Justice missing persons department only had recorded 116 of those missing; the lack of data, as well as the lack of coverage, makes it difficult to address the issue. 

As we noted in May, Canada has also been grappling with the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Statistics Canada found that between 2000 and 2015, 25% of all homicide victims were Indigenous women and girls. The final report of an inquiry begun in 2016, “Reclaiming Power and Place,” found that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It includes 231 individual Calls for Justice, summarized here by the CBC.

September 30 is “Orange Shirt Day” in Canada–it is the first official Day of Truth and Reconciliation, commemorating all the Indigenous children who were taken away from their parents and forced to attend residential schools–places where they were stripped of their culture and sometimes their lives: thousands of children did not return home. The orange shirt refers to a story told by a residential school survivor, Phyllis Webstad, who at age 6 was given an orange shirt by her grandmother when she was sent away to school. When she got there, all her clothes were taken and she never saw the shirt again. The CBC tells Webstad’s story; if you search “Orange Shirt Day” and your area, you will find links to fundraisers for residential school survivors and ways to learn about and support them. RLS

2. Four land and environment defenders murdered every week worldwide

Every year since 2009, Global Witness has published a list of murdered land and environmental defenders. This year’s list is the longest ever, documenting 227 lethal attacks on environmental defenders—an average of more than four killings a week. Global Witness explains that “these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported.” Global Witness advocates for United Nations (UN) action: official UN recognition of the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment; the addition of human rights provisions to the Paris Agreement, the globe’s largest and best known multinational effort to slow climate change; and implementation of recommendations by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

 In an editorial in The Guardian, Bill McKibben emphasizes that the local activists being murdered are on the front lines of our struggle against catastrophic climate change. McKibben calls out corporations as a powerful, if insufficiently recognized, force behind these murders: “The demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation, seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. The blame rarely if ever makes its way back up to a corporation’s HQ. But it should.” He argues that one of the key measures of global success in fighting global climate change should be a decrease in such killings.

 One piece of pending U.S. legislation that acknowledges the killing of climate activists is the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, H.R.1574. H.R.1574 would prohibit U.S. military and police aid to Honduras until specific steps are taken to address the killing of climate activists, including:

◉The Honduran government has pursued all legal avenues to reach verdicts in the killings of Berta Cáceres and 100 small-farmer activists;

◉The Honduran government has investigated and prosecuted members of the military and police who have violated human rights;

◉The Honduran government has taken effective steps to ensure the rule of law.

This legislation is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. S-HP

If you want to take action on this issue, call on President Biden and UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to promote Global Witness’s recommendations for connecting the intersection of the climate crisis and global human rights via the United Nations. Ask your Congressmembers what they are doing to investigate and respond to the intersection of the climate crisis and global human rights, and urge swift, positive action on H.R.1574 by the appropriate House Committees. All addresses are here.

3. California families, others, still trapped in Afghanistan

As the news cycle marches implacably on, those still stuck in Afghanistan after the precipitous US withdrawal are in danger of being forgotten. Among those are 41 Sacramento-area students, who had gone to visit family members before the Taliban takeover or who were with their families there. Some were scheduled to take flights out but were caught in the chaos after the bombing of the airport in Kabul, according to the Sacramento Bee. Sacramento is home to a large number of people from Afghanistan–almost ten thousand. 

Some San Diego families had also been stuck in Afghanistan, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune; as of early September, all but one family had escaped in what the Union-Tribune described as a harrowing process.

Others, too, are stranded in Afghanistan. Some Afghans who worked for the US and who were on lists to be brought to the US have still not been gotten out, according to CNN, particularly those who had to leave the airport when it was bombed. About 200 Ukrainians have been unable to leave; they are out of money and some need medical care, but no provision for their departure seems to have been made by Ukraine, according to Al Jazeera. An evacuation flight was permitted to leave September 19 with nationals from various countries, according to ABC News, but the coverage of both American and Canadian Afghan allies and citizens of countries elsewhere who need to leave Afghanistan and cannot is spotty. One source says that family members of Canadians are being told that no more evacuation flights are planned.

Meanwhile, nearly ten thousand Afghan refugees are in camps in Germany, waiting to be flown to their final destinations in Canada and elsewhere, CTV reports. RLS

If you are concerned about Sacramento area families who are stuck in Afghanistan, you can call the local offices of Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, the Bee suggests.Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California) worked to get San Diego families and others out; the form on his website is very informative.

4. Discrimination against Haitians seeking asylum

People around the world have been appalled by images of U.S. Border Patrol horseback units rounding up Haitian refugees in one South Texas encampment. In response, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has suspended all use of Border Patrol horse patrols (which is not necessarily an entirely good thing, given that horse patrols—when not brutalizing asylum seekers—can perform certain kinds of rescues that are impossible on foot or by vehicle).

However, the history of relations between Haiti and the US has been problematic for centuries. In providing an outline of that history, the Associated Press points out the almost sixty-year struggle to get the US to recognize Haiti after its liberation, largely because of fears that the example of Haitian slaves rising up to fight for their freedom might inspire slaves within the U.S. After the assassination of the Haitian president in 1915, the US occupied Haiti and continued to control the country for nineteen years. Some 30,000 Haitian died during the brutal regime of Francois Duvalier, who was backed by the US. The country suffered a major earthquake in 2010 and another this year, destroying what infrastructure the country had.

  As The Guardian explains, many Haitians left to live in other countries following the 2010 earthquake, particularly in Chile and Brazil, and among those now struggling to enter the US are many who have not lived in Haiti in years and whose children born abroad don’t have Haitian citizenship. Some of these families are among the almost 2,000 people who were deported to Port-au-Prince last week. UNICEF has been tracking those deportations and estimates that 2/3 of deportees are women and children, and 40% of those deported are part of family units, reports the New York Times. The Hill reports that thousands of Haitians are being expelled from the US under Title 42, the controversial rule used extensively by the Trump administration, that grants sweeping powers to refuse entry to asylum seekers during a pandemic.

 Associated Press reporting also documents the higher rates of deportation of Haitian asylum seekers in comparison with other groups from Central America and the Caribbean. Only 4.62% percent of Haitian asylum seekers gain admittance to the US. For asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras, admittance rates range from 6.1% to 14.12%.

 An August piece from Reuters examines an increasing acknowledgement that many US immigration policies originate in racial bias and determination to keep the US “white.” In a ground-breaking ruling, a federal judge has determined that a policy categorizing initial undocumented entry into the US a misdemeanor, while reentry is categorized as a felony that can be punished by up to 20 years in prison was “enacted with a discriminatory purpose and… has a disparate impact on Latinx persons.” In fact, from 2008 to 2019, illegal entry and reentry have been the most prosecuted crimes in federal courts according to data from the Administrative Office of US Courts.

Reuters deems the August ruling as “a rare admission by the courts that the foundational elements of federal immigration machinery—enforcement policies we now take for granted—actually clash with Constitutional equal protection guarantees, and perpetuate a stigmatizing disparate impact on Latinos and Hispanic people.” The ruling is “a recognition that courts can and should strike down laws motivated by bias.”  In other legal news, Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and African Communities Together on Friday sent a letter of complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s head of Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, according to The Grio, demanding that those who have been victimized and those who witnessed the abuse at the border be protected from deportation.

If you are interested in donating to support earthquake relief efforts, New York Magazine’s the Strategist reminds us that reporting from NPR and ProPublica found that the Red Cross—for many people a “go-to” relief organization—mismanaged aid donated after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. They urge donating to organizations already on the ground in Haiti, who have strong relationships with local communities and offer a list of suggested organizations to donate to. Charity Navigator gives the organization Hope for Haiti a four-star evaluation. S-HP

Other actions you can take include these (relevant addresses are here):

◉ Urging Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been charged with addressing US immigration policy, to speak out on the treatment of Haitian asylum seekers and calling for actions that can make a real difference in the treatment of those from the Caribbean and Central America.

◉Thanking Secretary Mayorkas for speaking out after the violence by Border Control horse patrols, but pointing that cancelling such patrols will not have the impact that investigating those responsible for them would have and urging him to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing abuse of asylum-seekers and migrants, particularly for those from regions or communities that have been subject to unfair bias in the past.

◉ Asking your Congressmembers what they are doing to address both the current treatment of Haitians seeking asylum and the racist underpinnings of present-day immigration law.

5. Benefits for those caught in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

On September 20, the 10th anniversary of the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) announced a policy providing benefits to those who had been discharged under DADT and under previous, even more restrictive rules. In a piece for the VA blog, Kayla Williams, VA Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, writes “Today, we are… taking steps to clarify VA policy for Veterans who were given other than honorable discharges based on homosexual conduct, gender identity or HIV status. Under this newly-issued guidance, VA adjudicators shall find that all discharged service members whose separation was due to sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status are considered ‘Veterans’ who may be eligible for VA benefits, like VR&E (Veteran Readiness and Employment), home loan guaranty, compensation and pension, health care, homeless program and/or burial benefits, so long as the record does not implicate a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits.” Williams acknowledges being bisexual and having presented as straight during the battle to repeal DADT and acknowledged that “It took many years for me to shed the toxic legacy of having served under DADT.” Williams’ blog contribution ends with a call for veterans dishonorably discharged under DADT or other homophobic rules to apply for a discharge upgrade. S-HP

You can thank President Biden and the Veterans’ Affairs Secretary for these changes in policy, President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, 1722 I Street NW, Washington DC20006, (800) 827-1000. And thank Kayla Williams for her articulate presentation of these policy changes and her personal testimony. Kayla Williams, Assistant Secretary, Veterans’ Administration Office for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington DC 20420


6. Protecting Women’s Health

On September 24, the House passed H.R.3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which confirms that “Abortion services are essential to health care and access to these services is central to people’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States.” H.R.3755 affirms that heath care providers have a right to provide abortion services. It also prohibits many limitations on the provision of abortion services, including requirements for specific tests or procedures that are not required for medically comparable procedures, requirements for medically unnecessary in-person visits to an abortion provider or to any entity that does not provide abortion services, and prohibitions on abortions after fetal viability if the health care provider determines that delaying the procedure poses a risk to the patient’s health. H.R.3755 empowers the Attorney General to commence civil action against any state or government official that violates the provisions of the law,  The vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act was 218-211. All 218 aye votes were cast by Democrats. 210 of the 211 nay votes were cast by Republicans, with the additional nay vote being cast by Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas. This legislation was introduced by Representative Judy Chu of California. Identical legislation, S.1975, is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If this issue is important to you, you can check how your Representative voted on H.R.3755 and thank or excoriate as appropriate. Find your Representative here. You could also tell your Senator that you are heartened by the passage of H.R.3755 and urge their support of S.1975. Call for swift, positive action on S.1975 by the Senate Judiciary Committee: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224cDirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. @SenatorDurbin.


Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change. Note in particular their suggestion to tell your Governor to stop playing politics with kids’ health. Apropos of which, note the CDC report from May that describes how masks and vaccines reduce transmission in schools.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has relaunched! They offer 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.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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.