News You May Have Missed: August 15, 2021

“Independence Day – Afghanistan” by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. After 20 years and 47,245 civilian deaths, the US leaves Afghanistan; the Taliban had secretly negotiated with cities to surrender.

 In a simultaneously precipitous and long-overdue move, President Biden affirmed former President Trump’s agreement to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, but now has had to deploy thousands more to deal with the chaos that has resulted, the BBC reports. The mainstream media has mostly forgotten that the original agreement was Trump’s, so Biden is being widely blamed for the inevitable consequences of withdrawal, with Republicans literally removing sections of the Republican National Committee website that touted Trump’s plans to withdraw, as Heather Cox Richardson points out. Indeed, his administration seems not to have anticipated the swift advance of the Taliban nor to have adequately planned for the protection of civilians who assisted US troops. ​Some failure of intelligence meant that the US apparently did not know that direct negotiations with the Taliban were taking place on the local level over the last year and a half, according to the Washington Post, with small municipalities and provincial capitals having made agreements with the Taliban to surrender. ​

Like the last 20 years, the first six months of 2021 have been deadly for civilians in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that civilian casualties have increased by 80 per cent over the first six months of 2020, with 1677 civilians killed and 3,644 injured. The Commission says that of the total casualties, “the Taliban is responsible for 56 percent, pro-government forces are responsible for 15 percent, Daesh is responsible for seven percent, and unknown perpetrators are responsible for 22 percent.”

The AP offers a calculation of the costs to the US of a war never declared by Congress. The US poured in as much as 2 trillion dollars, all funded by debt–and lost 2,488 American armed forces personnel, 3.846 contractors; countless veterans also cope with physical and mental injuries. Canada deployed 40,000 troops over 13 years in Afghanistan, where 150 Canadians died.

The Post analyzes some of the foreign policy errors that led to this moment, while Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, speaking to Democracy Now,  puts it more starkly: “There was not at that time [when the US attacked Afghanistan]—there is now not—a military solution to terrorism,” she said, “which was ostensibly the reason for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.”​ The failures are decades long; in 2008, Conn Hallinan wrote in Common Dream that “By any measure, a military “victory” in Afghanistan is simply not possible. The only viable alternative is to begin direct negotiations with the Taliban, and to draw in regional powers with a stake in the outcome: Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China, and India.​”​ ​​

Speaking to Democracy Now, ​Bennis goes on to point out that the enormous investment of money and troops in Afghanistan did not produce an army and a government capable of or inclined to resist the Taliban​; Mike Jason, a former US Army colonel writing in the Atlantic, analyzes the errors the US military made in its training missions there​. More ominously, Bennis cites​ evidence from Human Rights Watch and elsewhere is that CIA-trained death squads in Af​ghanistan will continue to kill civilians.

The speed of the Taliban’s advance is clearly catastrophic for certain groups of civilians. Aid groups have been desperately trying to get visas for their allies for a month, the Washington Post reported. The Intercept vividly describes the circumstances of people trying to leave. According to US News and World Report, sixty nations have called on Afghanistan to permit foreign nationals and Afghanistanis who wish to leave to do so.

Canada also did not arrange for those who had supported its mission there to be evacuated in time, and family members in Canada are frantic. Ottawa has closed its embassy and thousands of Afghanistanis are crowded in and around the airport in Kabul, hoping for flights out, according to the Toronto Star; the AP reports that Canada is sending troops in to evacuate embassy staff. Veterans and other volunteers have been trying for weeks to get interpreters and other diplomatic staff out, lodging them temporarily in safe houses, according to the Globe and Mail. “1,200 of those they were trying to evacuate are now stuck in Kandahar,​” the Globe and Mail writes, “​​and an additional 800 to 900​ are waiting in safe houses in Kabul for evacuation by the Canadian government.​” ​Canadian forces left Afghanistan in 2014. 

Particularly at risk are women and girls in Afghanistan, whose futures may now be truncated, as Nicolas Kristof, who covered Afghanistan for the New York Times, wrote on Facebook. ​He is particularly concerned about female educators, and suggests that the US should “fly in military planes, grant at-risk Afghans instant visas on the tarmac (even if they don’t have passports), get them out and sort it all out later. It’s not optimal, but it will save lives. And it would be the right thing to do.​”​ Women’s rights activists recognized by North America also told the Post that they are endangered; ““We were the ones who raised our voices for years,” one woman said of her fellow female activists. “Afghanistan is on fire. No one has a visa. No one has anything. Honestly, I am lost.” RLS

DOMESTIC NEWS

2. Staff in detention centers told to downplay COVID, per whistleblowers

According to two whistleblowers, Health and Human Services staff at the centers where asylum-seekers are imprisoned are mistreating children (see story below) and exposing those detained to COVID. NBC News quoted them as saying, “Covid was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees. Hundreds of children contracted COVID in the overcrowded conditions. Adequate masks were not consistently provided to children, nor was their use consistently enforced.” They allege they were required to downplay the effects of COVID by the HHS public affairs office, according to NBC.

According to the AP, 19,000 children unaccompanied by family were stopped at the border in July. Children coming to the border by themselves are exempt from Title 42, the CDC regulation that requires almost everyone else–including families with children–to be immediately deported on the grounds that they could bring COVID in. However, those who make it in–only children and particularly vulnerable adults–are more likely to acquire COVID when they get here rather than to bring it in, according to the AP. The percentage of detained people with COVID has gone up from 2% to 6%, according to NPR; detention centers do not observe distancing protocols and mix infected and uninfected people together. The Brennan Center has a detailed time-line and history of COVID infections and challenges to conditions in detention centers; the Center points out that at one facility–the Farmville ICE Detention Center in Virginia–almost 75% of those held there have tested positive for COVID. 

The program which allows vulnerable adults and families to enter–ordinarily those urgently in need of medical treatment–is likely to end next week, as the ACLU has decided to stop negotiating with the Biden administration over Title 42 and resume litigation. The AP quoted Neela Chakravartula, managing attorney for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, as saying: “We are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration has abandoned its promise of fair and humane treatment for families seeking safety, leaving us no choice but to resume litigation.” RLS

3. Abysmal conditions for children in detention–still

The New York Times has been reporting on problematic conditions at the Pecos and Ft. Bliss Emergency Intake Centers (EICs) that house unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. This spring the government established a dozen EICs, almost all run by outside contractors, to house the increasing number of unaccompanied children. At this point, only four of those EICs remain in operation, including Pecos and Ft. Bliss. These emergency shelters, which house approximately 30% of the unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody, have lower standards than licensed shelters, and the contactors running EICs have limited experience running facilities for children making issues like mental health, bullying, and assault particularly problematic. Neither facility was designed to house minors. Pecos is a former oil industry labor camp; Ft. Bliss is a military site, reportedly with significant toxic pollution.

The New York Times points out both that the Pecos contract has been extended through November and may be expanded to include “tender age” children, those between six and twelve years old and that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into conditions at Ft. Bliss. In June, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which runs the EICs, acknowledged to a judge that it lacked enough case managers to ensure that all children being held were released before the maximum legal stay of 20 days. In fact, the average stay at the moment is more than a month. RAICES, a nonprofit supporting refugee and immigrant children, is calling on Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to shut down Pecos. One of the organization’s lawyers, Jonathan Ryan, was quoted by the New York Times as observing that conditions at Pecos “are ‘among the harshest and most restrictive of any’ shelter he has visited.” S-HP

If you want these conditions to change, urge President Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to take increased, immediate action to improve conditions at Pecos and Ft. Bliss with a goal of ultimately ending the use of EICs. You can also ask your Congressmembers what they’re doing to monitor conditions at Pecos and Ft. Bliss. Contact information is here. You can also sign the RAICES petition calling for the closure of the Pecos EIC.

4. Unethical fundraising

One scam tactic that was used in political fundraising leading up to and following the 2020 election—though it’s not exclusive to this event—is the use of pre-checked boxes in emails. A solicitation email asks for a contribution; further down in the email and less visible is a pre-checked box saying the donation should be monthly or weekly, rather than-one time, or committing the contributor to an additional, larger contribution. Trump used this technique in raising funds for last year’s presidential election, which as the New York Times reports has resulted in $12.8 million in refunds during the first half of 2021 to contributors who unwillingly became monthly or weekly donors through the use of pre-checked boxes. A number of those contributors suddenly found their bank accounts emptied over a period of weeks. In fact, in 2020, U.S. courts upheld the legality of the use of such pre-checked boxes.

 This spring the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously recommended that Congress prohibit campaigns from prechecking boxes for recurring donations, and legislation to do so has been introduced in both the House and Senate. In the Senate that legislations is S.1786, “Rescuing Every Contributor from Unwanted Recurrences (RECUR) Act,” and it is with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. In the House that legislation, H.R.3832, goes by the less succinct title of “To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit the solicitation and acceptance of a recurring contribution or donation in a campaign for election for Federal office by any means that does not require the contributor or donor to give affirmative consent to making the contribution or donation on a recurring basis, and for other purposes,” and it is with the House Rules and Administration Committee. S-HP

If you’d like to put a stop to this tactic, urge the Federal Election Commission to continue looking for ways to end to the use of pre-checked boxes in political fundraising; in addition, you can encourage the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to take swift, positive action on S.1786 and the House Rules and Administration Committee on HB 3832. Contact information is here.

5. Tracking Congress

If you’re the kind of citizen who tries to track Congressional actions, including reports, you know how difficult it can be to locate a specific document, depending on the agency that created it and that agency’s methods of allowing public access. (And if you’re not that kind of citizen, maybe you should consider becoming one, at least on a set of topics that are of particular importance to you.)

H.R.2485, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, has the potential to make your work a bit easier. As the official summary of H.R.2485 explains, “This bill requires the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish and maintain a publicly available online portal containing copies of all congressionally mandated reports. A federal agency must submit a congressionally mandated report and specified information about the report to the GPO between 30 and 45 days after submission of the report to either chamber or to any congressional committee or subcommittee.” Under limited and very specific circumstances a report can be withheld from the online portal, but overall H.R.2485 will make it much easier to see the kind of information Congress is requiring and/or generating. H.R.2485 is currently with the House Homeland Security Committee. S-HP

If you want to get your hands on these reports, urge swift positive action on H.R.2485 by the House Homeland Security Committee: Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chair, House Homeland Security Committee, H2-176 Ford House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 226-2616. @BennieGThompson.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. Stopping the drug monopolies

Let’s take a moment to consider the use of “sham citizen petitions” and “product hopping” in enabling drug manufacturers to maintain monopolies on drugs and keep their prices high.

  Citizen petitions can be filed by anyone when the Food and Drug Administration is considering approving a generic or biosimilar version of an existing drug. The point of such petitions was to allow patients to advocate for themselves regarding drug approval, and the FDA is obligated to consider and respond to every citizen position regarding a generic or biosilmilar before that drug can be approved. The “sham” comes in when drug manufacturers who hold a monopoly on a specific medication file citizen petitions with the FDA with the purpose of slowing down approval of generics and biosimilars. Anyone can file such a petition, and each petition moves back the generic’s/biosimilar’s possible approval date.

  Many drug manufacturers whose monopoly rights on a drug are about to expire develop new formulations of that drug that have little or no therapeutic difference. The new formula can be patented, restarting the “monopoly clock” and preventing approval of generics or biosimilars.  The Senate now has the opportunity to vote on legislation that would significantly limit sham citizen petitions and product hopping. S.1425, the Stop STALLING Act, establishes rules to prevent the filing of sham citizen petitions. S.1435, the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, targets the use of minor formulation changes to avoid approvals for generics/biosimilars. Both pieces of legislation have made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring them to the floor of the Senate. S-HP

If you want to see this legislation go forward, urge the Senate Majority Leader to place S.1425 and S.1435 on the Senate calendar: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer. You can also check to see if your Senator is a cosponsor of S.1425 and a cosponsor of S.1435, thank or nudge them as appropriate and insist that they support these pieces of legislation that would limit cynical moves preventing approval of generics/biosimilars by pharmaceutical companies. Find your Senators here.

RESOURCES

The International Rescue Committee is working to assist refugees caught in the violence in Afghanistan.

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

Mom’s Rising  has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

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.

News You May Have Missed: August 8, 2021

“Wildfire” by USFWS/Southeast is marked with CC PDM 1.0

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has brought us news we should already know: The climate crisis is not in some future but is already here. The earth is set to arrive at or exceed the critical 1.5 C. increase over the next two decades; we are already at 1.1 degrees C. As the writers put it in the press release, “For every 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.” To even hold the increase at 2 degrees C will be impossible “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” Regional information can be found on their interactive atlas.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

1. Legislation to address wildfire smoke

Another of the health threats from the climate crisis is the smoke that accompanies wildfires. Smoke from the immense Dixie fire in California has reached Tennessee, and the fires in British Columbia have made the skies in Ontario hazy. Even those living far from the actual fire location can be breathing air with dangerously high particulate matter. An article in the journal Nature points out that 7.4 million children are affected by wildfire smoke annually; the smoke tends not to be caught in their noses and goes straight to their lungs, which are still developing and therefore are especially susceptible to long-term effects. Adults are also vulnerable to wildfire smoke, which has been shown to raise the death rate even in otherwise healthy adults, causing about 339,000 deaths per year worldwide, according to a 2012 study cited by WebMD–numbers for the more recent period are not available. And if a person already has respiratory issues, the threat from fine particulate matter–especially if toxic fuels are burning–is even greater. (The CDC suggests measures people can take to mitigate the threat to some degree.)

As a result of these hazards, Congress is beginning to consider legislation that would address the threat posed by smoke as well as by fire:

S.2423, the Wildfire Smoke Relief Act, would provide necessary medical equipment to those at risk from wildfire smoke or, if that is not available, temporary housing in an area not significantly affected by wildfire smoke. S.2423 was introduced by Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden. Currently its only cosponsor is Oregon’s other Senator Jeff Merkley. The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act is with the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee.

◉S.2421, the Smoke Research and Planning Act, requires EPA research on wildfire smoke and its mitigation. It would establish four Centers of Excellence for Wildfire Smoke at higher education institutions and would create a community grant program to support wildfire smoke mitigation projects. S.2421 was introduced by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, and its only cosponsors at the moment are Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden and California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. The Smoke Research and Planning Act is currentlywith the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

◉S.2419, the Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, would allow the President to declare a smoke emergency, including doing so in anticipation of such an event. Governors would also have the right to petition the President to declare a smoke emergency. It would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide assistance to those affected by a smoke emergency. S.2419 also creates Small Business Administration (SBA) grants for businesses impacted by a smoke emergency. The Smoke Emergency Declaration Act was introduced by Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and is cosponsored by Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden and California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. This legislation is with the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. S-HP/RLS

You can do something to save your own lungs here–as well as those of others. You can urge the Senate Homeland Security Committee to take swift, positive action on S.2423 and S.2419. You can also tell the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee to act quickly on S.2421. You also might suggest that your Senators (if you’re not from California or Oregon) become cosponsors of S.2423, S.2421 and S.2419 and thank Senators Feinstein and Padilla for cosponsoringS.2421 and S.2419; also ask that they also support S.2423 (if you are in California). Addresses are here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

2. Representatives Bush, Pressley, and Omar get some eviction protection restored

Eviction at any time is a catastrophe. Eviction during a pandemic compounds the danger, NPR points out, as evicted residents may stay with family members and friends, increasing exposure. The Eviction Lab, which points out that landlords attempt 3.7 million evictions annually, keeps a database on evictions. Small landlords, too, are at risk of defaulting on their mortgages, according to the Wall Street Journal, and in California, a number of them are suing the state to rescind the ban on evictions, even though landlords can be reimbursed for unpaid rent through a federal fund, the Mercury News points out. Homelessness in California, which has half of all unhoused people, rose by 6.8% between 2019 and 2020, and by 16.2% between 2007 and 2020, according to a HUD study quoted in State of Reform, a health policy thinktank. 

The House left for its summer recess without taking action to extend the eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was set to expire on July 31, despite the fact that distribution of these funds has been delayed repeatedly. To protest the House’s failure to act, Representatives Cori Bush (D-MO), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), chose to sleep outside the capitol to draw attention to the eviction moratorium’s expiration. Shortly after that, in order to ensure that all COVID-19 funds marked for rental assistance were distributed before the moratorium ended, the CDC extended the moratorium through October 3


Whether this move will benefit renters—or which renters it will benefit—is an open question. The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a ruling in June allowing the eviction moratorium to remain, but that ruling assumed that the eviction moratorium would expire on July 31. Shortly before the moratorium’s expiration, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CDC has acted beyond its powers in declaring the moratorium. As a result, the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan have no obligation to continue the moratorium. If you are facing eviction, CNBC has a list of steps you can take. S-HP/RLS

You can thank Representatives Bush, Pressley, and Omar for their protest, which shone a light on the crisis U.S. renters are facing. You might also express your disappointment at the House’s failure to extend the eviction moratorium. Addresses are here. In addition, Moms Rising has important information on the effect of eviction on families and a way to engage.

3. Funds for child care and early learning proposed

If we were to draw up a list of basic services that are assumed to be “rights” in other industrialized nations, childcare and early education would appear near the top of the list. Childcare costs more than the actual income of many working-class Americans. Some states offer universal preschool, but many don’t, and that presents another cost working-class parents can’t afford. The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act (S.1398 in the Senate; H.R.2886 in the House) could change all that. This legislation would provide the Department of Health and Human Services with funds for child care and early learning programs for children ages 6 weeks through school age that would be open to all regardless of family income, disability status, citizenship status, or employment of a family member. Most families would have to pay a subsidized fee for these services, but they would be waived for children from families with incomes below 200% of the poverty line, and would be capped at a maximum of 7% of family income regardless of income level. Our pessimistic selves may see the success of this legislation as a pipe dream, but to be ultimately successful we need to be making noise now, even if change will come slowly. S.1398 is with the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. H.R.2886 is with the House Education and Labor Committee. S-HP

If you want to send a message that early childhood education and childcare are priorities, you could urge swift, positive action on the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act by the appropriate committees. You could also see whether your Senators are co-sponsors of S.1398 and THANK/NUDGE as appropriate. You can also see whether your Representative is a co-sponsor of H.R.2886 and also thank/nudge as appropriate. Addresses are here.

4. New legislation would prohibit religion from being used to ban travel

Former President Trump’s ban on travel to the US by anyone from a group of Muslim-majority countries not only intensified Islamophobia in the US but derailed the lives of millions of people–include those who had already been approved to visit or immigrate. As the American Friends Service Committee explains, some of these were refugees, fleeing violence and/or living in refugee camps. Adding injury to injury, people from Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen already in the US also had their Temporary Protection Status revoked, leaving them stranded.

Others were trying to rejoin family members, go to universities, or obtain medical treatment unavailable elsewhere. Not only did those unable to travel suffer, but family members already in the US had to deal with a family divided. Muslims from Iran were especially impacted, as the sanctions against Iran cut off many options for them at home.

The NO BAN Act, H.R.1333, was written in response to the Trump administration’s sweeping ban on travel to the U.S. This legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion in immigration-related decisions. It also requires that any travel bans be narrowly defined; that Congress be consulted before such bans are issued; and that Congress must be notified within 48 hours of the administration issuing a travel ban or the ban becomes invalid. The NO BAN Act also allows those in the U.S. and harmed by such a restriction to sue in federal court. H.R.1333 was passed by the House on April 21 and has been with the Senate Judiciary Committee since May 27. S-HP/RLS

If you want to act on this, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1333 by the Senate Judiciary Committee to prevent the kinds of travel abuses put in place by the Trump administration from being used again. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. You can also tell your Senators you want them to advocate for H.R.1333 when it reaches the Senate floor.

5. California legislature acts on gun violence

Homicides in California increased by 31% last year, according to the AP; a third of the victims were Black.  The increase does not appear to be a function of the pandemic, the AP noted, but it pointed out that a third of these deaths were caused by a gun, and quoted Attorney General Rob Bonta as noting a “connection to a 65.5% increase in sales of handguns and 45.9% increase in long-gun sales last year. The 686,435 handguns sold was a record, while the 480,401 rifles and shotguns was second only to 2016.”

The California Legislature is currently on break and will be reconvening on August 16, and a number of gun safety and police accountability efforts should be coming up then. A quick run-down:

◉AB-1223 would tax the sale of firearms and ammunition in order to fund gun violence intervention and prevention programs.

◉AB-1057 would assure that police have the right to seize ghost guns from individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.

◉AB-988 would fund a crisis hotline that would dispatch mental health professionals, not police, with the intention of preventing suicides, including “suicide by cops.”

◉AB-490 would expand the ban on choke holds and use of positions likely to cause asphyxia.

◉SB-2 would end qualified immunity for police.

◉SB-715 would tighten gun regulations and would also allow the State Attorney Generalto investigate police violence resulting in death of an unarmed civilian, including cases where there is a dispute regarding whether that civilian was armed.

Both Senate bills have made it through the Senate, and these, along with AB-1223, are currently with the State Assembly. AB-490, AB-988, and AB-1057 have made it through the Assembly and are with the state Senate.

For information about federal gun legislation, see the bills in our database that originated in the House and that for the most part are still stalled there. 

If you want to see action on gun violence and police accountability, urge your Assemblymember to support SB-715, SB-2, and AB-1223 and your California Senator to support AB-490, AB-988, and AB-1057.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Mexico sues US gun manufacturers

In case we need more evidence that gun proliferation in the U.S. is out of control, note that 25 million guns crossed the border into Mexico last year, according to a Washington Post study last fall. American guns are being used to kill police officers in Mexico, and the number of homicides involving guns has risen precipitously, from fewer than 20% in 1997 to 69% in 2018, As a result,  Mexico is suing a group of U.S. gun manufacturers—including Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta USA, Glock, and Colt—and asking for damages of $10 billion, tighter controls on U.S. gun sales, and better security features on weapons.

 Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is quoted in the Washington Post explaining, “If we don’t file a suit like this and win it, [manufacturers] are never going to understand, they’re going to continue doing the same thing andwe will continue having deaths every day in our country.” The suit alleges that U.S. arms manufacturers are deliberately designing guns that will appeal to crime groups, citing the example of a Colt .38 engraved with the face of Mexico’s revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. The chances for this suit’s success are limited. In 2005 Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, whichprotects firearms manufacturers from civil liability. S-HP/RLS

If you want to address this issue, you might direct the President, the cabinet, and Congress’ attention to this lawsuit and emphasize that our failure to reasonably regulate weapons is not just killing Americans—it’s killing people outside of this country and generating international animus. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

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

Mom’s Rising  has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

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.

News You May Have Missed: August 1, 2021

“ATS_UNFPA_SL_015_Abbie Trayler-Smith_Panos_H4+_HR” by H6 Partners is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Black American women die in childbirth at three times the rate of White women; for every death, there are 70 “near misses,” which can have long-term effects on women’s health, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. Canada does not keep race-based data on maternal mortality, but Black women in Canada have almost double the rate of pre-term births compared to White women, though pre-term births were a third lower in Canada than in the US (likely due to universal government-funded health care). Women and infants of all races were more likely to die in rural areas, and rates are significantly increasing, likely due to closures of obstetric facilities, according to a study available on Pub Med. Legislation to address these and other disparities is pending; the week following the very first Emancipation Day (in Canada) would be a good time to nag those who represent you.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Legislation to address the needs of vulnerable mothers–Black, veteran, incarcerated

 In March, the number of Black women looking to give birth outside of a hospital setting rose, the New York Times reported. Why? The Times offers two primary reasons: racial inequities in health care and COVID-19—also related to racial inequities in health care. The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, largely as a result of racial inequities that permeate our medical system. Black women are four times more likely to die giving birth than white women. In New Jersey, Black women giving birth face a risk of mortality seven times greater than that faced by white women.     

The Black Maternal Momnibus Act (H.R.959 in the House; S.346 in the Senate) addresses discrepancies in healthcare for Black mothers. Among the provisions of the House version this ambitious piece of legislation are a housing for moms grant program; investments in community-based organizations addressing Black maternal outcomes and mental health; prenatal and postpartum childcare; support for veterans giving birth; grants to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce; protections for incarcerated moms; funding for data collection and analysis and studies to determine causes and solutions to the race-based differences in maternal outcomes. In the House, this legislation is with a number of committees and subcommittees: Energy and Commerce (and its Subcommittee on Health); Financial Services; Transportation and Infrastructure (and its subcommittees on Water Resources and Environment, Highways and Transit, and Coast Guard and Marine Transportation); Education and Labor; Judiciary (and its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security); Natural Resources (and its Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples); Agriculture (and its subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Regulations); and Veterans’ Affairs (and its subcommittee on Health). The provisions of the Senate legislation are essentially similar, though differently organized in places. The Senate version is with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. S.346 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. RLS/S-HP

To nudge this legislation forward, see the contact information here.

2. Legislation would support rural moms

Last November 19, to mark National Rural Health Day, the American Hospital Association (AHA) presented information on the lack of prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care for rural mothers and on some programs being developed in response. In fact, half of all U.S. rural counties do not offer obstetric services and difficulty in recruiting and retaining healthcare workers of all types has left many current rural healthcare providers short staffed. The Rural MOMS Act (H.R.769 in the House; S.1491 in the Senate) would establish rural obstetric networks, provide demonstration grants for healthcare training on maternal health in rural areas, and incorporate maternal health into some existing telehealth networks. It would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on maternal health topics, including health inequities. H.R.769 is with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it has been assigned to the Subcommittee on Health. S.1491 has made it through the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and can now be brought before the full Senate. S-HP

If you want rural moms to have this support, help push it through the Senate.

3. Legislation to protect nursing moms

Finally, working mothers could receive support through the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (H.R.3110 in the House; S.1658 in the Senate), which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide workplace breastfeeding accommodations. This legislation has made it through committee in both houses of Congress and can now move on to full votes by the House and Senate. S-HP

You can encourage your senators and representative to move this legislation forward–see how.

4. New legislation would protect documented immigrants’ access to health care

You may remember how the Trump administration tried to keep people who applied for any kind of public benefits from applying for permanent residency status, even though they were otherwise eligible. Called the “Public Charge Rule,” it was removed after much legal wrangling, but immigrant families endured much hardship in the process, including children who were US citizens but whose families were afraid to take them to the doctor for fear of losing the right to apply for permanent residency. The HEAL for Immigrant Families Act (H.R.3149 in the House; S.1660 in the Senate) would ensure that documented immigrant families and families in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of conflict or disaster in their country of origin have access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the various U.S. insurance “marketplaces.” Once enacted by Congress, such healthcare assistance would be more difficult to penalize or revoke. H.R.3149 is with two House committees: Energy and Commerce; and Ways and Means. S.1660 is with the Senate Finance Committee. S-HP

You can help ensure that documented immigrant families have access to health care. Information on contacting appropriate decision-makers is here.

5. Bill to pay farmworkers overtime is stalled

The National Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 instituted overtime pay for U.S. workers. However, this act was written to specifically exclude farm workers from overtime protections. Currently, no state provides overtime protections that acknowledge a 40 hour workweek for farmworkers, though California and Washington will begin doing so in 2022; even then, farmworkers will still lack protection against overtime beyond 40 hours a week in 48 states. The few states that do provide overtime protection assume a sixty-hour workweek, the Pew Trusts report. Working sixty hours a week and more impacts not only farm workers but their children, who are either home alone or are cared for by older children. The Pew Trusts note that growers say that paying overtime will bankrupt them; Maine state Rep. Thom Harnett described the situation this way, according to Pew: “There’s a great deal of empathy for that industry, and I share that,” he said. “I just don’t share putting it on the backs of the workers to be the ones who suffer the most. Because of these exceptions, we have farmworkers who have been stuck in poverty for generation after generation.”

The Fairness for Farmworkers Act, H.R.3194, would provide farm workers with overtime protections nationally, except for those on H-2A visas. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced this legislation on May 13, and it has been assigned to the House Education and Labor Committee. Unfortunately, that committee has not yet taken any action on H.R.3194. RLS/S-HP

If you think that the people who provide your food should receive overtime, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.3194 by the House Education and Labor Committee and ask your Representative to support the Fairness for Farmworkers Act. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chair, House Education and Labor Committee, 2176 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3725. @BobbyScott. Find your Representative here.

6. US is about to lose the opportunity to offer 100,000 green cards to legal residents

Green cards allow individuals to live and work in the U.S., but the requirements for getting them are stringent. The Citizenship and Immigration Services site which lists eligibility categories is instructive: it includes immediate family members of citizens, but also Afghan translators, people who have been trafficked, immigrant children who have been abused by their parents, diplomats who can’t go home–and others. 

The U.S. can issue 140,000 green cards each year, but in 2020 the Trump administration only issued 20,000 cards. The 120,000 unused green cards can be carried over and added to the next year’s maximum, but at the end of the extra year they are cancelled if they remain unused. As a result, this year the Biden administration had an opportunity to issue up to 260,000 green cards. However, as Cato Institue researcher David J. Bier pointed out in a Washington Post opinion piece, the administration has said it will fall short of that maximum. Because of slow processing, the U.S. will issue 100,000 fewer green cards than this year’s limit and carry-over would allow. On October 1, the carry-over will expire and those green cards will disappear.

The carry-over resulted from Trump administration policies, which barred most immigrants sponsored by family members from entering the U.S. and delayed the opening of the green card application period by six months, moving it back to October 2020 and creating a bottleneck that it left for the Biden administration to deal with. The U.S. does not have an online immigration application system, which means applications must be sent by U.S. mail, opened individually, and then have applicant data entered by hand into the system. After that part of the process is completed, the next step is fingerprinting. As Bier explains, for most individuals this fingerprinting is redundant because “nearly all employment-based applicants have lived and worked legally in the United States, many for a decade or more, with temporary residency status. This status they maintained by—you guessed it—repeatedly being fingerprinted and passing background checks.” This past year, the usual slowdown caused by the fingerprint requirement was exacerbated because Trump closed all government fingerprinting sites for months during the pandemic. S-HP

If you have looked at the eligibility requirements and think that the U.S. should not allow 100,000 green cards to expire, you can urge the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to modify green card application processes, perhaps through en masse granting of green cards before investigations are completed, with the proviso that once investigations are completed green cards could be revoked in individual cases when appropriate: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW,Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, 3801 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington DC 20016, (202) 282-8000. @SecMayorkas.

7. School lunches and food insecurity

As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. instituted a universal free school meal program, which the Biden administration extended through June 2022. Congress now has the opportunity to make this program permanent through the Universal School Meals Program Act (H.R.3155 in the House; S.1530 in the Senate). H.R.3155 is currently with three House Committees: Education and Labor; Science, Space, and Technology; and Agriculture; as well as the Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. S.1530 is with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. S-HP

If you think this program should be made permanent, urge these committees to act swiftly on this legislation, particularly in light of conditions for children living in the 13.9% of U.S. families that are food insecure.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Canada makes Emancipation Day official

The recognition of August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada came just this year after years of activism. Slavery was banned in all former British colonies on August 1, 1834, though enslaved people acquired their freedom only gradually, according to the Government of Canada site. Though many parts of Canada have celebrated Emancipation Day for years, only in March of 2021 did Parliament make it official, according to the CBC. Pointing out that marking a day was only a beginning Al Jazeera quoted the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s blog post this week: “For real progress to continue, we need more than just a tacit acknowledgement from Canadians and our government. Observing a shameful historical moment in our history is one thing. Doing something proactive to address its legacy is another.”

While US history focuses on the 30,000 enslaved people who fled the US to find freedom in Canada, simultaneously some 3,000 people from Africa were enslaved in Canada, along with 50,000 Indigenous people captured from the United States in the 1600s, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia; their average age was 14, 57% of them women and girls. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Plan on a booster–now

Laurie Garrett, the science writer who won a Pulitzer for chronicling the Ebola virus, says that we should all be getting a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is possible. As she puts it in an article for Foreign Policy, “Sure enough, the United States is again awash in virus, with the incidence of new COVID-19 cases having soared 131 percent in the third week of July.” The big danger, she says, is that unvaccinated people–a fifth of the American population–will contribute to ever-more-dangerous mutations of the virus. A few areas in Alberta, Canada, have low vaccination rates–under 40 per cent–as well, according to the CBC. Garrett acknowledges the inequity of people in privileged countries receiving a third dose when those elsewhere have not yet been able to get even one, but she says that the accelerating risks of variants mean that “in the absence of fully effective vaccination of better than 75 percent of adults, a society may act as a herd of walking petri dishes, cultivating immune-escape mutant forms of SARS-CoV-2—that is, mutants that evade existing vaccine.”

An internal CDC document obtained by the Washington Post supports Garrett’s alarm, describing “a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.” The CDC is also unsettled by the as-yet-unpublished data which suggest that “vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated.” We should be back in masks, the CDC says–if we ever took them off.

Meanwhile, medical workers–already worn down from working at the precipice of danger and exhaustion for a year and a half–are exasperated and furious. The AP reports on conditions in Missouri, for example, where less than half the population is vaccinated and ICUs are flooded by unvaccinated people. Many doctors and nurses are appalled at some of their own colleagues, whose refusal to get the vaccine has led to the death of patients, according to the New York Times. In Ontario, Canada, health care workers who assist severely disabled patients are not yet required to be vaccinated, although measures to require the vaccine are being considered, according to the Toronto Star. Seven health care organizations released a consensus statement that health care workers must be vaccinated, according to Ars Technica, which quotes a number of medical experts as saying that vaccination for those in the medical field is an ethical issue, given the vulnerability of children and immunocompromised patients.

Lissa Rankin, a doctor and a blogger, expresses her outrage that people who are able to get the vaccine and refuse it based on misinformation are contributing to the continuing distortion of our world, in which children will again have to stay home from school, borders may close, and the collective events we have all missed become unviable again.  “I’ve about had it with my fellow country mates,” she writes, “who refuse to cooperate with solving problems that require global cooperation- not just Covid, but climate crisis, overconsumption and out of control capitalism, world hunger and lack of access to clean water, poverty, environmental issues, and equal rights for people of all races, genders, sexual orientation, disabilities, and any other way in which people get marginalized and oppressed, among other things.” RLS

RESOURCES

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

Mom’s Rising  has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

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.

News You May Have Missed: July 25, 2021

“Lady Justice mural” by ngawangchodron is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. The mural honors the work of the Victoria, BC, integrated court, an alternative court system. Participants were invited to add their own images

DOMESTIC NEWS

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.

RESOURCES


Mom’s Rising
  has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

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.

News You May Have Missed: July 18, 2021

“Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest” by BLM Oregon & Washington is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In light of the devastating fires all over North America, devastating drought in Western US and Canada, the heatwave that cooked a billion marine animals in their shells and fruit on the trees, the flooding in Europe which has left at least 125 people dead and many more homeless, this past week feels like a tipping point in terms of both the climate and our awareness of it. In her column for the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit illuminates the dimensions of this issue, and in the New Yorker, Bill McKibben argues that the Biden administration needs to invest itself unreservedly in the “whole of government” approach to which Biden committed himself.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. “Dreamers” once again at risk

Hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the US as children–known as Dreamers–have been shielded from deportation vis the DACA program. But on July 16, a federal judge declared the program illegal and while he did not threaten the status of Dreamers already in the program, he said that no more could apply, according to the New York Times. Immigration advocates point out that this decision illustrates the vulnerability of DACA, highlighting the urgency of legislation to stabilize the program, the LA Times noted. The House passed legislation in March that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but it is stuck in the Senate. Many Dreamers are by now parents themselves, the LA Times pointed out, citing figures from the  Center for American Progress saying that “roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA,” RLS


You can call on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act (HR6). Text GO DREAM to Resistbo at 50409. Only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve. Moms Rising also has a letter you can sign and send to your member of Congress.

2. More mass shootings–see our gun legislation database

Last week we described the spike in gun violence during the pandemic.  20,000 people were killed by guns in 2020, one of the deadliest years on record, according to the Washington Post. 24,000 additional people committed suicide with a gun in 2020, Forbes notes, pointing out that 12,342 have died by suicide with a gun so far in 2021. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of July 19, 11,117 people have been killed by guns so far in 20201; 171 of these were children under 11. Three people were wounded outside Nationals Park this weekend, according to CNN; the Gun Violence Archive lists all the deaths and injuries by guns for the past 72 hours. As we pointed out last week, 38 pieces of gun legislation have passed the House but are stuck in Senate committees; see our comprehensive database for a summary of pending gun legislation. RLS/S-HP

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.

3. Tennessee stops outreach on the COVID-19 shot–and all vaccines

Cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee have increased by 608.5% over the last two weeks, according to NPR, which drew on data from Johns Hopkins University. Only 38% of people in the state have been vaccinated. Despite this grim picture, Tennessee’s top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired without explanation July 12. According to the Tennessean, Dr. Fiscus has claimed she was fired to appease Republican state lawmakers who objected to what she called “routine vaccine outreach.”

The Tennessee Department of Health has also halted all vaccination outreach efforts, not only for COVID-19, but for all other vaccine-preventable illnesses as well; in a Monday email, the Tennessean reported, agency Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tim Jones told staff they should conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine,” the vaccine that prevents the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The battle over Dr. Fiscus’s outreach to teenagers began on May 12, when she issued a memo clarifying the state’s “mature minor doctrine,” which states that under legal precedents, children age 14 and older are able to make medical decisions for themselves if necessary. The memo clarifies that this doctrine extends to administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. After Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination was given emergency use authorization for minors between the ages of 12 and 15, the state department of health began producing ads which appeared in print and on social media that featured images of minors who appeared to have received their vaccinations with messages that those ages 12 and above were eligible to be vaccinated. The state Department of Health, which manages 90 of 95 county Health Departments in Tennessee, also hosted vaccination events for teens in schools. 

In June, the state legislature questioned Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state’s health commissioner about ads that they claimed targeted teens for vaccination, threatening to defund public health in the state. Although there was evidence that only 8 minors had been vaccinated without their parent’s consent (including Dr. Piercey’s 3 children when she was away at work), Republican legislators– some of whom are skeptical of the COVID vaccine– also shared anecdotes that students were getting pressure to be vaccinated from teachers at school. Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) claimed “A football coach or a band director or a drama teacher or whoever it is, ought not be to be telling kids, ‘Hey, just come and get done so you don’t have to sit out.’ We’re getting to the point we’re getting proactive, we’re meddling,” MSN reported. (All claims of pressure from school officials are to date anecdotal and unconfirmed.)

Dr. Piercey denied that the state Department of Health was trying to pressure teens or infringe on parent’s rights while also stating that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective and saying the mature minors doctrine was largely for teens whose parents could or would not be involved in their medical decisions. The Government Operations Committee nonetheless called her to appear before them in July, when they would discuss dissolving the department and its funding if the message was not toned down. 

In addition to the partisan pressure on Dr. Fiscus, several news outlets have connected Dr. Fiscus’s sacking with Dr. Piercey’s statements to the Tennessean in May that she has ambitions to run for public office in the future. Historian Heather Cox Richardson addressed the question professor Asha Rangappa and others have asked: Why is the GOP apparently willing to kill and disable its own voters by undermining the vaccine? Cox Richardson says that the most insightful response on Twitter “was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.” 

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has refused to comment on Dr. Fiscus’s firing. Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) has called on the Governor and Health Commissioner to explain Dr. Fiscus’s firing, and fears that the circumstances of her dismissal will make hiring a qualified replacement difficult. JM-L

4. Critical Race Theory hysteria funded by an obscure foundation

You won’t have missed that the Right has seized on Critical Race Theory (CRT), a basic approach to analyzing the way race is not biologically based but is constructed by society, and how racism is structural. But CRT is being made to mean whatever right-wing Republicans want to mean and then attacked. For example, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writing in the New York Post, alleged that schools”are pushing toxic racial theories onto children, teaching them that they should be judged on the basis of race and must atone for historical crimes committed by members of their racial group.” Senator Ted Cruz claimed that “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist,” as professor Ibram X. Kendi, writing in the Atlantic explained; he went on to point out that on Fox, Critical Race Theory was referred to “314 times in April, 589 times in May, and 737 times in just the first three weeks of June.” Kendi went on to quote Education Week as saying that “As of June 29, 26 states had introduced legislation or other state-level actions to “restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.” As with other multi-state legislative initiatives, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has hosted webinars and drafted legislation in an effort to build the conservative landslide of opinion on CRT. It is clear how redefining CRT would suit the interests of conservatives who want to shut down any discussion of race and racism altogether; however, the sudden emergence of anti-CRT vitriol left many scholars bemused.

But the anti-CRT panic did not emerge on its own. As Popular Info points out, it was a concerted effort funded by a nearly invisible foundation, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, which paid James Piereson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, $283,333 to work part-time. The Foundation, says Popular Info, “has donated more than $12.7 million to 21 organizations attacking Critical Race Theory”; a list of some of them is in their article. In a tweet, Rufo acknowledged what the strategy was: “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” Clearly, the agenda is to stop the discussion of race and racism that has called white conservatives’ positions of power into question and to keep the historical analysis of racism out of public schools and universities. As Popular Info put it, “The foundation funding much of the anti-CRT effort is run by a person who opposes all efforts to increase diversity at powerful institutions and laments the introduction of curriculum about the historical treatment of Black people. ” RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Mainstream media misrepresent Cuban protests, ignore effects of blockade

As FAIR points out, media outlets became quite excited about the protests in and about Cuba, most articles celebrated Cubans’ complaints against their government and ignored or understated the effects of the U.S. blockade against Cuba. The shortages of food and medicine are a direct consequences of the blockade, as well as of the pandemic that has kept tourists away, along with their contributions to the economy.  The Trump administration intensified the blockade, prohibiting Cuban-Americans from sending remittances back to their families.

The protests may have been part of a coordinated effort, according to the Progressive, which notes that the US funds dissident groups in Cuban and that a hashtag #SOSCuba  was circulating in Florida just days before the protests. Many news articles went so far as to describe pictures of pro-government supporters as anti-government protestors, an error which the Guardian, at least, acknowledged. As the Progressive points out, the embargo has for the last sixty years intended to cause suffering to the Cuban people; the Progressive quotes Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory in 1960, who advocatd “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” RLS

If you want to be heard on this issue, you could join the eighty House Democrats who have asked President Biden to rescind the ban on travel and remittances (Reuters has details). Tweet @Potus or find your Representative here.

6. Canada denied twice as many immigrants the right to stay during the pandemic

Immigrants inside Canada who have fallen out of status–workers or visitors whose permits have expired or refugees whose claims were denied–can request to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds if they can show that they are established in Canada or that it would be a hardship for them to leave. However, the refusal rate of humanitarian and compassionate applications doubled over the course of the pandemic, from 35 per cent in 2019 to 70 per cent during the period January-March of 2021, according to the Toronto Star. It is not clear why more immigrants’ applications were refused, but the costs are clear: immigrants at risk of deportation are more vulnerable to exploitation in their workplaces, which already tend to be under-regulated (as in domestic or farm work). And those who are deported may return to unsafe or unsustainable conditions. Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network calls for the status of immigrants already in the country to be regularized through permanent residency: “It is not a gift or a privilege,” Hussan said. “It is the only existing mechanism for migrants to access the same rights as other residents of the country.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Anti-vaccination mythology originated with just 12 people

Have you heard that the COVID-19 vaccine makes women infertile? That it has killed more people than the virus itself? Two-thirds of this disinformation can be attributed to just 12 people who originated it, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) called “The Disinformation Dozen.” Low vaccination rates in parts of the US–which have led to a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths–have resulted in part from this siege of false information.

The Center analyzed 812,000 posts to social media between February and March to identify the patterns in how these falsehoods were distributed. McGill University in Canada points out who the 12 people are, among them Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic doctor who has 3.6 million followers on social media, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Two of these 12 are particularly troubling; Rizza Islam and Kevin Jenkins have convinced many members of the Black community–who are already especially vulnerable to COVID–that the vaccine is equivalent to the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black people were allowed to die of untreated syphilis. While Islam and two others have been removed from social media, the other nine have been allowed to post unimpeded. The CCDH notes that social media platforms decline to act 95% of the reports of false information.

Likely as a result of disinformation, “There seemingly are two Americas: the better vaccinated states and those states less well-vaccinated,” as Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, explained. The highest number of cases are in states with the lowest vaccination rates, according to CNN and Rolling Stone. The number of deaths from COVID and the number of new cases both went up by 44 per cent this last week, according to Healthline, while the number of daily vaccinations went down. RLS

RESOURCES

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.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.

Mom’s Rising also has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

News You May Have Missed: July 11, 2021

“Day One hundred and thirty-one: BANG BANG!” by Insulinde is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Gun ownership rose over the last year, from 32 percent of Americans owning guns to 39 percent, the Washington Post just reported, drawing on University of Chicago survey data. New gun owners represented 40 percent of gun sales.

An article in the journal Nature illuminates the stark reality of gun ownership. While people in general own guns because they are afraid, historically the people most likely to own a gun are those least likely to have reason to be afraid: white men in rural areas with incomes above $100,000 per year. It is worth considering who they are afraid of. Gun ownership correlates with racism; as one study cited in Nature put it, “for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism, there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home and a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns.” However, owning a gun does not seem to reduce the fear, which is why gun owners buy multiples.

The Post article, however, suggests that new gun owners are increasingly likely to be women and people of color, who feel unsafe on many levels–they no longer trust the police to protect them and they feel endangered by others of all kinds, from police to protesters to right-wingers to irrational people on the street.

A suicide or homicide (against a family member, not a stranger) is three times as likely in homes with guns, according to a study by Johns Hopkins. Guns are the second leading cause of death of children aged 1-17, second only to automobile accidents, the journal Pediatrics reports. In 2019, 211 people died in mass shootings in the US, according to the AP. All together, in the US, 14,400 people died from gun violence in 2019, the BBC reports. In Canada, where guns are much more carefully regulated, a total of 263 people in 2019 died from being shot.(Canada’s population is about 11% of the US, but it has 1.8% of the number of gun deaths.) The Gun Violence Archive is a good source of information about the consequences of guns in the US; see our comprehensive database for a summary of pending gun legislation.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Gun legislation of all kinds stalled in committees

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. There are, however, at least 38 pieces of gun legislation that have been sitting in committee since they were introduced. Please see our database of this legislation; it includes:

Gun Access (including limits on access for stalkers, domestic abusers, and those convicted of hate crimes): H.R.137, H.R.545, H.R.882, H.R.1441, H.R.1494, H.R.1923, H.R.3929, S.527.

Background Checks (including timelines and sales requiring background checks): H.R.135, H.R.1446, S.529, S.591

Tracing and Ghost Guns: H.R.1454, H.R.3088, S.1558.

Liability Insurance for Gun Owners: H.R.1004.

Records (including types of records to be maintained and time limits on records retention): H.R.2282, H.R.3536, S.974, S.1801.

Sales, Transfers, and Distribution (including gun show rules, private transfers of fire arms, and trafficking regulations): H.R.30, H.R.125, H.R.167, H.R.225, H.R.647, H.R.1006, H.R.1007, H.R.2280.

Storage (including Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines on storage equipment and residential storage): H.R.130, H.R.478, H.R.3509, S.190, S.1825.

Research (including guns and public health and which federal offices can fund/conduct research): H.R.825, H.R.881, H.R.1576, S.281.

The vast majority of these pieces of legislation in committee are with the Judiciary Committees of both houses of Congress. Other Committees that have been assigned gun legislation include House Energy and Commerce, House Transportation and Infrastructure, House Space, Science, and Technology, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. S-HP

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.

2. Union organizers blocked from farms by the Supreme Court

Union organizers will no longer be able to go onto growers’ property to meet with farmworkers, according to a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which cited property rights in its 6-3 decision. Since 1975, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act has permitted organizers to go on farmland during lunch hours and at breaks, a right fought for and won by Cesar Chavez and other leaders of the United Farm Workers, according to Cal Matters; it is difficult otherwise for them to speak with workers, who often live in housing provided by the employer and travel to work in the employer’s buses, the Monterey Herald pointed out. Growers argued that allowing organizers on their property amounted to “government taking of private property without compensation,” according to the New York Times. Justices said that in the age of smart phones, these provisions were no longer necessary, but the United Farm Workers, the union that represents farm workers, noted that some farmworkers lack phones. What’s more, these days many farmworkers are Indigenous and do not speak either Spanish or English, so organizers who speak Indigenous languages need to be there in person. Writing in the Nation, journalist David Bacon explains the stakes of this decision–that it deprives workers of access to the people who represent them. RLS

With this doorway closed to assist farmworkers, you could consider writing your Senators and urging them to get the Farm Work Modernization Act, H.R. 1603, off the ground; it has passed the House. The bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers. You could also ask your Senators and your Representative to support legislation which would provide a national heat stress standard monitored by OSHA; it would protect farmworkers from extreme heat by requiring growers to provide breaks in shade, water, and emergency procedures.

3. Children in detention are still dealing with deplorable conditions

In order to keep children from being held by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for long periods, the Biden administration opened emergency intake and influx sites which were supposed to keep children safe while they were reunited with family or friends in the U.S. However, conditions in these places quickly deteriorated; Ft. Bliss, which holds some 5,000 children, is particularly notorious, according to the El Paso Times. The contractor running the facility has no experience with youth care, and inside sources told the newspaper that there were “soccer field-sized tents where up to 1,000 children were sleeping in bunks lined up 62 rows deep, eight rows across, three feet apart.” Whistleblowers said that medical care was inadequate, few activities were provided for children and that the children were frantic about their situation. Many staff members spoke neither Spanish nor Indigenous languages so could not respond to the children’s needs, the whistleblowers–staff members who had worked in the facility–said. Children later released said that the food was spoiled, water was scarce, and that some children wanted to harm themselves because of the anxiety and stress, according to Reuters.There are 15 sites like Ft. Bliss, Democracy Now reports. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

4. Deaths from heat and fires

In terms of the climate crisis, we seem suddenly to be living in the world we predicted and feared. On June 30, most of the homes and the entire downtown of Lytton, British Columbia, were burnt to the ground in a wildfire. Residents had only minutes to flee their homes, according to the CBC. 300 fires are now burning in the province. The temperature in Lytton just before the fire was over 49 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit). In the U.S., the west and northwest have been besieged by extreme heat and fires; Death Valley reached 130 degrees over the weekend, a milestone which was bizarrely celebrated by “heat tourists,” according to the Washington Post.

In the Northwest, the huge Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon was burning nearly 144,000 acres as of July 11, the Salem Statesman reported. Drought and high temperatures are making it difficult to contain the fire. The Statesman quoted fire incident commander Al Lawson as saying that “The fire behavior we are seeing on the Bootleg Fire is among the most extreme you can find and firefighters are seeing conditions they have never seen before.”

The Bootleg fire is threatening California’s electrical grid as it moves closer to power lines, KQED reported. In California itself, the Beckwourth Complex  fire, north of Lake Tahoe, has burned some 86 square miles as of July 10,  according to the Press Democrat. Mercifully, the Lava fire, which has burned some 27,000 acres near Mt. Shasta, is 70% contained, but four other fires are burning in Siskiyou County.

Hundreds of people in the Pacific Northwest have died from the heat, particularly those who work outside and older people who live alone without air conditioning, according to the New York Times. And KQED noted that heat-related deaths could equal those of infectious diseases, reminding us of the 70,000 people who died in the European heat wave of 2003 and noting that the European Environmental Agency says that episodes of extreme heat in Europe are increasing. Researchers from HealthDay say that the climate crisis has already led to five million extra deaths annually, worldwide.

In a new report, climate researchers said that the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest “was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change,” according to a study cited by Axios. Some of the people affected by the extreme weather are already climate refugees, having fled flooding in the Marshall Islands, CNN reports. One such refugee told reporters that “the most vulnerable to climate change will always be the most vulnerable, no matter if they can migrate or not,” he said. “When a storm flattens your island and you have to take a job farming in Oregon, you are not any less vulnerable, since climate change is inescapable.” RLS

RESOURCES

Mom’s Rising has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

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.

News You May Have Missed: July 4, 2021

“Western Hemisphere with California Fires” by sjrankin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

If you’re ambivalent about celebrating Independence Day, you might celebrate Interdependence Day instead, as a friend of News You May Have Missed suggests. All the news reminds us of how we are connected, from the climate-crisis related issues such as the 171 fires in Western Canada and the five big fires in Northern California, to the condo collapse in Florida, where rising sea levels may have weakened the foundation and will certainly threaten many such buildings in the years to come. One way or another, we are in this together.

Independence Day is good day to review the extraordinary video compilation that the New York Times put together of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As Haley Willis, one of the producers, explained, “Our Visual Investigations team synchronized and mapped thousands of videos of the U.S. Capitol riot to provide the most complete picture to date of what happened on Jan. 6 — and why. This was a massive team effort over six months, involving resources from across the Times newsroom. We went to court to unseal police body camera footage, scoured law enforcement radio communications and interviewed witnesses.”

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Members of the Saudi team that murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi were trained in the U.S.

Foreign military and security access to U.S. arms and military-style training, often provided by private firms, requires a license that must be issued by the State Department. The State Department, reports the New York Times, issues tens of thousands such licenses each year. Among those admitted to the U.S. for training in 2014-15 and 2017 were members of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal security team, the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF). Two of the RIF members receiving training during 2017 and another two who received training in both 2014-15 and 2017 were members of the team that murdered and dismembered journalist and U.S.-resident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. In fact, one of the factors confirming that bin Salman’s directed the Khashoggi murder was the participation of the RIF. A U.S. intelligence report on the murder noted that “Members of the RIF would not have participated” without bin Salman’s consent because the RIF “exists to defend the Crown Prince [and] answers only to him.”

  Note that this training occurred during both the Obama and the Trump administrations, illustrating the willingness of national leaders of both of the U.S.’s main political parties to allow repressive, authoritarian regimes to strengthen themselves using U.S.-based training. There are, of course, the arguments about Saudi Arabia being a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, limiting Iranian aggression and acknowledging the existence of the state of Israel. And those political benefits are accompanied by significant profits for U.S. weapons manufacturers and security training companies. Those were the reasons then-President Trump cited for not sanctioning Saudis after Khashoggi’s murder. The Biden administration has instituted sanctions on some of those involved, but those being sanctioned do not include bin Salman. S-HP

You can share your disgust at the role played by our government and U.S. businesses in supporting authoritarian regimes through the process of State Department licensing and call for limits on State Department licensing to confirm that regimes whose representatives receive training in the U.S. have a clean human rights record. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW,Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111, @POTUS, and Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, Department of State, 2201 St. NW, Washington DC 20520, (202) 647-4000. @ABlinken. Find your Senators here and find your Representative here.

2. Immigration news–some of it good

The Biden administration has been a disappointment for many who oppose immigrant detention and would like to see a more humane approach to those entering the country without documentation. However, some of the administration’s moves have been positive and might be starting places from which to push for additional changes.

◉ICE urged to drop cases: At a time when the U.S. has a backlog of 1.3 million deportation cases to address, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys have been issued new guidelines encouraging them to use their discretion “at the earliest point possible” to drop deportation cases—a contrast from the Trump administration’s determination to maximize deportations. According to the Hill, ICE attorneys are encouraged to take into consideration an individual’s time in the U.S., ties to community, and humanitarian concerns—which certainly could apply to Dreamers. Unfortunately, this policy will primarily benefit those who can afford immigration attorneys, who should know of the policy shift and be able to negotiate a better outcome for clients. Unrepresented individuals will have a much more difficult time arguing that their cases be dropped. The policy also specifically excludes anyone who entered the country after November 1, 2020. Greg Chen, of the American Immigration Lawyers Associations suggests a broader move that could easily be made using database information in order drop proceedings against two groups: those who have subsequently begun the process of applying for citizenship through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and those whose cases have been backlogged for five or more years. Doing this could reduce the backlog by half.

◉Biden promoting naturalization:The Hill reports that Biden administration is promoting a goal that Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas described as “promoting naturalization to all who are eligible.” The administration has suggested immigration judges to inform eligible individuals about naturalization procedures. Government-issued U.S. Citizenship test prep materials will be offered in a great range of languages. One step the Biden administration has not taken is cutting increases in the cost of applying for citizenship. Under Obama, the cost to apply was $640; under Trump that cost was raised to $1,100 or more.

 ◉Biden bringing back deported veterans: One of the many disturbing aspects of the Trump administration immigration policy was its willingness to deport U.S. military veterans. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a new effort to halt and undo the damage caused by those deportations, reports the Washington Post. A new DHS “Military Resource Center” will be available online and via telephone to assist current and former members of the military and their families with immigration applications. Deportation of veterans and their families preceded Trump’s time as president, but his administration pursued this policy with particular aggressiveness. The government did not screen veterans before deportation, so there is no specific data available on the number of individuals affected, but the Washington Post cites estimates that hundreds of veterans and thousands of their family members have likely been deported. In addition to offering eligible veterans and family members pathways to citizenship, DHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs have announced that they will work together to ensure that all veterans are receiving the healthcare they have a right to under their terms of service.

◉Those fleeing gang or domestic violence allowed to seek asylum: As we noted earlier, Attorney General Merrick Garland ended the Trump administration’s refusal to accept asylum-seekers who were fleeing domestic or gang violence, as NPR reported in June. However, new rules have yet to be drafted, and advocates for immigrants are concerned that asylum-seekers will be deported until new rules are in place. Still, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, this is an important first step: “We look forward to further action by Attorney General Garland to undo the enormous damage wrought by the Trump administration and finally protect the rights afforded to individuals seeking asylum,” the Center said in a statement.

Biden possibly ending Title 42–but not soon enough: The Biden Administration is also considering ending its use of Title 42 to unilaterally expel those entering the U.S. without documentation. Title 42 was activated purportedly as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that the Biden administration points to its success against COVID-19 adds pressure to end Title 42. Axios reports that the administration may end use of Title 42 as early as July 31, but unless and until that happens, summary expulsions will continue. In the last four months, according to Axios, more than 350,000 adults have been expelled under Title 42. S-HP/RLS

You can thank the administration for these positive steps, and urge that they be taken further by not deporting asylum-seekers fleeing gang or domestic violence, dropping significant numbers of backlogged deportation cases, including those of Dreamers, and returning citizenship application fees to their pre-Trump cost. You can urge the administration to stop deportations under Title 42 as well. Addresses are here.

GOOD NEWS

3. Finally! Good news on Bears Ears, other monuments

We’ve had some heartening news in the past few weeks that offer us opportunities to thank those responsible.

◉Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has recommended that full protections be restored to national monuments that were reduced during the Trump administration, including Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments, according to a story first reported by the Washington Post. Under the Trump administration, the acreage protected at Bears Ears was reduced by 85% and the acreage at Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50%. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was opened to commercial fishing, essentially ending its protections.

◉The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be reconstituting an advisory panel that was disbanded by Trump-era EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler. The Hill reports that the EPA’s science advisory board will soon issue a call for nominations to the Particulate Matter Review Panel. The panel is charged with advising the EPA on safe levels for particulate matter, which comes from sources like power plant, industry, and automobiles and which has been linked to heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature death. The EPA desperately needs good advice–see our story below.

CNN was the first to report an announcement by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough that Veterans Affair health coverage will be expanded to cover gender confirmation surgery for transgendered veterans, along with its existing provision of mental health services and hormone therapy. According to the Center for Transgender Equity, there are some 134,000 transgender U.S. veterans. In making his announcement, McDonough explained the decision to add gender confirmation surgery was based on the “recommendation of our clinicians, so this is a health care decision that has very real physical health care impacts as well as significant mental health impacts.” S-HP

You can find addresses for appropriate people to thank at this link and you can urge President Biden to follow through on Secretary Haaland’s recommendations: @POTUS.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. What we can do to help protect Uyghur Muslims in China

According to NPR, Uyghur Muslims in China have been subjected to various kinds of persecution, ranging from torture to imprisonment; women in particular have endured sexual abuse and rape, according to the BBC. A recent Amnesty International report details the suffering of the Uyghurs. An earlier report noted that families are being separated and children put into orphanages. There are two very different ways in which we can act in opposition to Chinese genocide of Uyghur Muslims.

– On the legislative front, we can urge our Senators to support S.65, the Uyghur Forced Labor Act, which has made it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and can now move on to a vote of the full Senate. S.65 imposes importation limits on goods produced using forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China and imposes and expands sanctions related to such forced labor.

– In the private sector, we can join the Congress on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in opposing construction of a Hilton Hotel as part of a development being built on the site of a bulldozed Uyghur mosque. As CAIR points out, “The United States government formally recognizes that the government of China is committing ‘genocide and crimes against humanity’ against Uyghur Muslim and other Turkic minorities in the Xinjiang region…. Hilton has a unique opportunity to take a clear stance against China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims and set an example for other prominent corporations…. by announcing it will cancel this project and cease any operations in the Uyghur region of China until its government ends its persecution of millions of innocent people.” S-HP

If you want to take action on this issue, ask your Senators to support S.65 and join calls for Hilton to cancel plans to build a luxury hotel in the site of a razed Uyghur mosque. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Scientists at the EPA said their assessments of toxic chemicals were rewritten to favor industry

Four scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency were repeatedly pressured to modify their risk assessments of various chemicals—including carcinogens—in favor of industry, according to a story in the Intercept. When they refused, three of them were transferred out of the office. One who was transferred says that her assessments continue to be rewritten so that they understate the risks to human health and fetal development. Another who was transferred described the changes to his assessments this way: “So it went from being over 15,000 times over the safe dose to you just need to wear a dust mask and you’ll be fine.” One scientist is still there, but says that the pressure to change assessments continues—well post-Trump. The four sent a statement to Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, is supporting the whistleblowers and has filed a complaint with the EPA Inspector General, and Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. RLS

If you are concerned about the impact of the EPA’s manipulation of environmental assessments, you could urge a prompt investigation of these allegations of political pressures and misleading rewrites at the EPA. Addresses are here.

6. Danger of the Delta Variant

If you’ve had just one shot, you should be quite concerned about the Delta variant of COVID. 15 million people in the US have missed their second dose, according to the Washington Post, and only 37% of Canadians have had both shots, according to CTV. One shot is only 33% effect against the variant (50% against the primary version), and the variant is sweeping multiple countries leading to surges of COVID in areas that previously appeared to have it under control, according to an article in Nature, which explains that in the UK, where it accounts for 99% of cases, people with Delta are twice as likely to be hospitalized. The biggest risk is to African countries, which still have not received adequate supplies of the vaccine. Delta is the most transmissible of the variants. Follow Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding’s Twitter thread for more on this story. Feigl-Ding is a senior scientist with the Federation of American Scientists. RLS

7. Women’s access to health care could improve in pending legislation

A number of pieces of legislation protecting women’s access—globally and within the U.S.—to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, are currently with the House and Senate.

◉The EACH (Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance; H.R.2234) Act’s official summary explains that “This bill requires federal health care programs to provide coverage for abortion services and requires federal facilities to provide access to those services. The bill also permits qualified health plans to use funds attributable to premium tax credits and reduced cost sharing assistance to pay for abortion services.” This legislation is currently with eight House committees: Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; Natural Resources; Armed Services; Veterans’ Affairs; Judiciary; Oversight and Reform; and Foreign Affairs.

S.1975 and H.R.3755, the Women’s Health Protections Act, would “prohibit laws that impose burdensome requirements on access to reproductive health services such as requiring doctors to perform tests and procedures that doctors have deemed unnecessary or preventing doctors from prescribing and dispensing medication as is medically appropriate. Other examples of laws that make it more difficult for a woman to access an abortion include: restrictions on medical training for future abortion providers, requirements concerning the physical layout of clinics where abortions are performed, and forced waiting periods for patients,” as explained in a press release announcing the introduction of this legislation. Text is available online for S.1975. Text is not yet available online for H.R.3755, but should be identical to the text of S.1975. S.1975 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R.3755 is with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

◉H.R.1670, Abortion Is Healthcare Everywhere, “authorizes the use of certain foreign assistance funds to provide comprehensive reproductive health care services in developing countries, including abortion services, training, and equipment,” ending what has been called the “global gag rule,” which prohibits the use of foreign aid funds to support any organization that provides or offers information on abortions. H.R.1670 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

◉The official summary for H.R.556, the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act, explains that it “establishes that a foreign nongovernmental organization shall not be disqualified from receiving certain U.S. international development assistance solely because the organization provides medical services using non-U.S. government funds if the medical services are legal in both the United States and the country in which they are being provided.” Although the summary does not explicitly identify abortion as one of these medical services that is, in fact, one of the legal services it is written to protect. H.R.556 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. S-HP

If you want to help nudge this legislation forward, addresses for appropriate people to write–including your Senators and Representative–are listed here.

RESOURCES

You can see here how vulnerable rebar is to corroding and failing if it isn’t properly surrounded by cement. Condos in Florida tend to mix cement with beach sand because it is cheaper, but of course it is also salty, corroding the rebar supporting the building.

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.

News You May Have Missed: June 27, 2021

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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.

RESOURCES

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.

News You May Have Missed: June 20, 2021

“No more deaths” by benketaro is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Father’s Day this year is also World Refugee Day–and both are in the middle of a climate-crisis driven heat wave. As we write, it is 115 degrees in Phoenix. Increasing militarization on the border drives asylum-seekers to try more obscure desert routes, which can be lethal in the heat, Newsweek points out. And while volunteers from No More Deaths/No Más Muertes try to find and assist people lost in the desert, the Border Patrol undermines them at every turn, from slashing water bottles to refusing 911 calls. While we often write about asylum-seeking children, refugee organizations are suggesting we remember fathers as well. See the Resources section if you want to do so concretely, and see the environment and international sections for more on the heat waves, the drought in the Western US, and refugees.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum seekers no longer barred for fleeing domestic or gang violence

There is some good—and potentially good—news to report on the immigration/asylum front, even if a great deal of work remains to be done. First, Attorney General Merrick Garland has reversed a Trump policy that barred asylum claims based on credible fears of domestic abuse or gang violence. As the New York Times explains, this decision may provide hope for thousands of asylum seekers.

 Second, the House has the opportunity to consider legislation that would establish standards for immigration detention facilities. The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, H.R.2222, establishes detailed standards for all facilities, both federal and private, at which the Department of Homeland Security detains immigrants/asylum seekers and requires an end to the use of private facilities within 3 years. These standards would be based on the American Bar Association’s Civil Immigration Detention Standards. H.R.2222 requires biannual reporting on all detention facilities, along with annual, unannounced Inspector General inspections of all detention facilities, with consequences (transfer of all detainees, fines, and the possibility of civil actions) for any facility not in compliance. H.R.2222 requires updating of the online detainee database within 12 hours of the detention/release/transfer/ or removal of any detainee. Congress must be notified within 24 hours of any deaths in detention regardless of their cause. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees; it has 78 cosponsors, all Democrats. S-HP

You can thank the Attorney General for returning to a broader set of credible fear criteria and urge swift, positive committee action on H.R.2222. Addresses are here. You can also check to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.2222 and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your representative here.

2. Legislative assaults on transgender people

Pride month calls for an update on civil rights and treatment of LGBTQI+ persons in the U.S. with an emphasis on the T. The Guardian offers a map-based listing of this year’s anti-trans laws enacted through June 9.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign noted “unprecedented legislative assaults aimed at trans people that have swept state houses this year, officially making 2021 the worst year for anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in recent history.” By early June of this year, 20 state laws had been passed taking aim at transgender individuals—more than double the number passed in the period from 2018 through 2020. David warns us that “L.G.B.T.Q. Americans—and particularly transgender and nonbinary people—are not simply living in a state of emergency; we are living in many states of imminent danger. The usual calls to action aren’t enough against these threats; we are now firmly in the territory of needing those in positions of authority to actively defy these laws—especially those enforcement agencies and leaders tasked with carrying out the unconstitutional and un-American assaults on the civil rights of millions of L.G.B.T.Q. people.”

As an example of such defiance, David points to Nashville’s District Attorney General Glenn Funk who is refusing to enforce a new state law requiring businesses and government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multi-person bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity. Nashville Mayor John Cooper has also spoken out against the law on both civil rights and economic grounds, predicting that the state will lose tourist and business dollars as a result of hate-based legislation.

 A piece in the magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), Church & State, observes that “a huge number of these [anti-transgender] laws–and arguably the most damaging–seek to prohibit and/or criminalize gender-affirming health care for youth. Transgender, nonbinary and intersex youth make up a small fraction of the population, and receiving gender-affirming care is not just beneficial, but often life-saving for them from a psychological standpoint.” Gender-affirming healthcare eases gender dysphoria—the sense that one’s physical body and gender identity conflict. Given that, such legislation represents a deliberate to further isolate already-vulnerable transgender youth. AU cites materials from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the body that sets widely accepted standards of care for gender-affirming health care: “The preponderance of scientific evidence indicates that gender-affirming health care can greatly help transgender people … these laws will prevent young people from receiving beneficial, often life-saving services that have strong evidence of success and are supported by mainstream healthcare professional associations.”

One piece of hopeful news is that the Department of Education has affirmed that Title IX gender protections extend to transgender students, a reversal of Trump administration policy that actively opposed such protections. The New York Times quotes Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona, who says “Students cannot be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity” and goes on to add that schools should “not wait for complaints to come to address these issues…. We need to make sure we are supporting all students in our schools.”

 H.R.5, The Equality Act, which has been passed by the House would prohibit discrimination based on “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.” This legislation is now with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP

You can point out to your Congressmembers that these state-by-state infringements on the rights of transexual individuals demonstrate the critical need for federal-level protections barring any kind of gender-based discrimination. Urge your Senators in particular to support H.R.5: find them here. Find your representative here.

And urge swift, positive action on H.R.5 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. @SenatorDurbin.

3. Citizenship provisions for international adoptees

Currently, children adopted internationally by a U.S. citizen have a right to automatic citizenship, but that wasn’t the case before the passage of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. And while the Child Citizenship Act was written to include many adoptees in the U.S. at the time of its passage, it did not include international adoptees who reached the age of 18 prior to February 27, 2001. As is the case with “Dreamers,” those brought to the U.S. as young children without documentation, this group of pre-2001 adoptees are in a position of unexpectedly discovering they don’t have citizenship in the nation they have always considered home. The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021 (H.R.1593 in the House; S.967 in the Senate) would close this gap, granting citizenship to international adoptees who came of age before February 27, 2001. H.R.1593 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. S.967 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both pieces of legislation have bipartisan co-sponsorship. S-HP

To get this important legislation through, you can urge quick, positive action on H.R.1953 by the House Judiciary Committee and its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee and on on S.967 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Addresses are here. You could also encourage your Representative to vocally support H.R.1953 and your Senators to vocally support S.967.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Refugee numbers soaring. Few arrive in North America.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on movement, in 2020 nearly 3 million people left their homelands to become refugees, reports the Associated Press. This is the ninth consecutive year to see an increase in the number of forcibly displaced people. The causes of this increase include war, human rights violations, famine, ethnic “cleansing,” and climate disasters. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) documents the steady growth in displacement around the globe. Globally, there are currently more than 82 million forcibly displaced people. Between 2018 and 2020, an estimated 1 million children were born as refugees. Over two-thirds of refugees come from just five countries, according to the UNHCR: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. And 40% are hosted in five countries: Turkey (which hosts 3.7 million refugees), Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Germany. Canada accepted only about 50,000 refugees in 2019, 40% of whom were privately sponsored, according to Statistics Canada. The US capped refugee admissions at 30,000 in fiscal 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. S-HP/RLS

A Canadian professor has established the Refugee Story Bank of Canada, where refugees in Canada can submit their stories. Another site of refugee stories, 1000 Dreams, was just launched by Witness Change.

Miles4Migrants, which arranges transportation for people released from ICE detention–often with no money and no ability to get to family members–suggests that you might want to contribute your frequent flyer miles to help them enable refugees to reach home.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Heat, drought, and heat illnesses in workers

A few days before the start of summer, the West Coast and Southwest–already in a mega-drought–are seeing record-breaking temperatures. According to the New York Times, a number of cities—including Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Billings, Montana—are experiencing triple-digit temperatures and some 50 million Americans face heat-related warnings. Some scientists believe that drought in the Southwest–and all that follows–is here to stay, according to the Guardian. NPR reports that, as of June 17, there were 33 active large fires across the West. The largest of these, east of Phoenix, involves more than 175,000 acres and is 73% contained. A 24,000-acre fire is burning northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Another major fire is burning outside of Helena, Montana.  Still another, the Willow Fire, is burning in California near Tassajara, and the Backbone Fire, near Payson, Arizona, has just grown to 17,126 acres.

These conditions drive home the importance of the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, H.R.2193, which requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set safety standards to prevent exposure to excessive heat, both indoors and outdoors. H.R.2193 defines excessive heat as “levels that exceed the capacities of the body to maintain normal body functions and may cause heat-related injury, illness, or fatality.” The text of this legislation explains that “Asuncion Valdivia was a California farmworker who died of heat stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in 105-degree temperatures. Instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told his son to drive Mr. Valdivia home. On his way home, he started foaming at the mouth and died.” H.R.2193 is currently with the House Education and Labor Committee; it has 14 cosponsors. RLS/S-HP

To address this issue, urge quick, positive—and life-saving—action on H.R.2193 by the House Education and Labor Committee: Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chair, House Education and Labor Committee, 2176 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3725. @BobbyScott. You can check whether your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.2193 and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your representative here.

RESOURCES

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.

News You May Have Missed: June 6, 2021

“grassy narrows” by howlmontreal is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Legislation would address sexual assault in the military

Every year the U.S. military releases a report on sexual assaults in the armed services; every two years, that report is accompanied by an anonymous survey of service members asking whether they have experienced sexual assault in the armed services, reporting by the Associated Press explains. In 2018, the last year for which both a report and survey data are available, over 20,000 service members reported being sexually assaulted (a 37% increase over the 2016 survey), but only one-third of them filed a formal report. Men who have been assaulted are even less likely to report than women, according to the Military Times. A likely explanation for this discrepancy between the number of assaults and the number reported is armed services members’ lack of faith in the efficacy of current procedures for investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual assault. Currently, such allegations fall under the purview of military commanders, a practice that would change if a proposed bill becomes law, according to NPR

 For years, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and other members of Congress have fought to have sexual assault allegations adjudicated by independent judge advocates, rather than commanding officers. Senator Gillibrand and others are concerned that in order to maintain unit cohesion, commanding officers often are reluctant to pursue charges, reduce charges, or overrule recommendations for courts martial in response to allegations of sexual assault, reporting in The Hill makes clear. In response, Congress has regularly considered legislation that would change the process by which allegations of sexual assault in the military are investigated and prosecuted, but this legislation has never passed.

 At last, however, GIllibrand’s proposed legislation has new support in the Senate, NPR notes, in part because of Iowa Republican senator Joni Ernst, who is a combat veteran. An advisory panel appointed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin shortly after he was confirmed has recommended an approach similar to that advocated for by Gillibrand and others. The Hill now reports that Austin is days away from making a decision on whether to follow these recommendations. At the same time, legislation recently introduced in Congress could mandate that changes such as those recommended by the panel be initiated. In addition to sexual assault, crimes such as murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography and negligent homicide would be addressed by military prosecutors, not commanding officers. 

S.1520, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, has 64 cosponsors: 20 Republicans, 2 Independents, and 42 Democrats. H.R.3224, To Improve the Responses of the Department of Defense to Sex-Related Offenses, is supported by 185 cosponsors, all of the Democrats. Text is not yet available for this legislation, but it is likely to be similar to that of last year’s I Am Vanessa Guillén Act (S.4600 in the Senate; H.R.8270 in the House), which was introduced, but never made it out of committee in either house of Congress. This legislation had three main provisions:

◉ A listing of sexual harassment as a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (currently rape and sexual assault are listed, but not sexual harassment);

◉ A requirement that the Secretary of Defense establish a process that allows service members to confidentially lodge complaints of sex-related offenses;

◉ A reassignment of such cases away from the chain of command to an Office of the Special Prosecutor in each service branch (if a branch does not have such an office, one would be established). S-HP

In the Canadian military, there were 581 incidents of sexual assault and 221 of sexual harrasment over the five year period in which there were supposed to be concerted efforts to address the problem, according to the CBC. Activists trying to address the problem note that sexual assault is drastically under-reported, since those assaulted have to report first to their commanding officer–who may have been their assailant–and since perpetrators can easily “plead down” to get only administrative sanctions. RLS/S-HP

To have a voice on this issue, you can urge not only the Secretary of Defense, the Armed Services Committees of both houses of Congress, and your Congressmembers to act now to create an independent system to address sex-related offenses in the military. Addresses are here. In addition, you can ask your Senators to vote for S.1520 when it comes to them.

2. American democracy at risk

“Is America heading to a place where it can no longer call itself a democracy?” This is the unnerving question that opened a recent piece in the Guardian. The writer references what has become, unfortunately, the “usual” round of concerns: legislation limiting voting, moves making it easier to replace the results of an election with an outcome chosen by a few officials, continuing false claims of election fraud, Senate Republican’s refusal to allow a bipartisan investigation of the events of January 6, and ill-informed, ill-run recounts of balloting in the 2020 presidential election. One hundred political theorists signed a letter arguing that “Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. Hence, our entire democracy is now at risk.”

The effects that changes to voting laws will have are clear in a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the disparate impact of legislation in Georgia. Their findings include the following:

◉ Over 272,000 registered voters in the state don’t have a driver’s license or other ID or, if they have ID, they do not have it on file with election officials, which means they will either have to provide such ID in advance of the state’s next election or find themselves disenfranchised.

◉ Those who registered to vote before 2016, when Georgia began automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices, may be erroneously listed as not having ID, and this may continue to be the case with voters who register via mail, rather than through driver licensing

◉More than 55% of those without ID meeting the new requirements are Black, although just 30% of all voters in the state are Black.

◉The majority of the voters at risk of becoming disenfranchised live in urban areas, where Democratic voters predominate.

Recent changes to voting laws vary by state, but will have similar impacts for voters within those states.

Here is what’s desperately needed: A federal guarantee of voting-rights, more accessible and expanded voting opportunities, reasonable ID requirements, nonpartisan districting, limits on campaign contributions, and much stronger protection against international interference in elections. As we explained last week, the For the People Act would enact all of these—at least for federal elections, which would make it more difficult for states to justify limiting voting opportunities and fairness in smaller electoral contests. Unfortunately, with a 50-50 Senate and a 60-vote requirement for overturning a filibuster, the chances of the For the People Act becoming law are slim–especially since Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote in an op/ed on Sunday that he would not support it. And Manchin, along with Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) is unwilling to consider eliminating the filibuster–meaning that, as the New York Times puts it, “the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair.” S-HP

You can urge the Senate Majority Leader to continue to bring voting rights legislation before Senate, forcing Republicans, and certain Democrats, to publicly cast votes opposing basic electoral protections. You might also remind Manchin and Sinema that a “democracy’ without full voting rights is not a democracy and insist that allowing the Republican party to disenfranchise low income, urban, and Black voters, and other voters of color, is not the kind of bipartisanship they should be supporting. Addresses are here.

3. Policing: Failure to protect

“Bias in criminal justice takes another form besides excessive force: failure to protect,” as Jane Manning, the Director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, observes in a Washington Post op-ed. As the Justice Department begins its investigations of police departments accused of racially motivated violence—as with Minneapolis and Louisville, for example—Manning also calls for the investigation of “how departments respond to sexual assault and other gender-based crimes, whose survivors encounter rampant misogyny, homophobia and neglect from law enforcement agencies throughout the country.” Manning cites investigative reporting revealing that both Minneapolis and Louisville have poor records of working with victims of sexual assault: botched investigations, failure to retain evidence and to interview witnesses, and demeaning treatment of victims. Over-policing is a problem; so is selective under-policing. S-HP

To address this issue, urge the Attorney General to be sure that investigations of police violence also examine the handling of sexual assault cases to identify disparate treatment based on gender and or ethnicity. Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave.NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.

4. Refugee assistance organizations to vet refugee admissions

A group of six refugee organizations have been selected to choose the refugees to be admitted to the US. While they have not been publicly named, sources say they are the International Rescue Committee, along with the London-based Save the Children; two U.S.-based organizations, HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense; and two Mexico-based organizations, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women in Migration, according to NBC News. Operating out of Nogales, Arizona, the IRC is prioritizing those who have been in “Mexico a long time, are in need of acute medical attention or who have disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ community or are non-Spanish speakers.” This effort, which is scheduled to continue only until the end of July, is intended to be a transition from the deeply problematic use of Title 42, under which asylum seekers are summarily deported under the guise of COVID precautions. The number of refugees who can be admitted to the US this fiscal year (which ends in October) was finally raised to 62,500 in May, after the Biden administration received fierce criticism for trying to hold it to 15,000, the Guardian explained. 


 We now have a way to avoid the kinds of draconian cuts to refugee admissions used by the Trump administration and temporarily continued under President Biden. The Lady Liberty Act, H.R.977, would require the U.S. to admit a minimum of 125,000 refugees each fiscal year. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. It currently has 58 cosponsors. RLS/S-HP

To increase the number of refugees admitted, urge swift, positive action on H.R.977 by the House Judiciary Committee and its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Finally, legislation takes on environmental racism

Since the 1970s, researchers and residents have known that communities of color are more likely to have toxic waste dumps situated near them, so that they bear the health consequences of PCBs and other industrial wastes leaching into their water and air. Indigenous communities have been devastated by nuclear and mining waste deposited on their lands. Fracking sites, toxins in water, and air pollution are more likely to affect. communities of color. And, as that radical rag National Geographic reports, communities of color that are also low-income are especially hard-hit. All of this results in more premature babies, lower birth weight babies, higher rates of lung cancer, and more heart disease–exacerbated by lack of access to nutritious food and good medical care. These health vulnerabilities contributed to the higher rates of COVID in communities of colour, as the journal Nature reported last year. Indigenous and Latinx people were 2.4 and 2.3 times as likely to die from COVID as white people, while Black people were nearly twice as likely to die from the disease, the CDC noted last week.

At last, this situation will begin to be addressed legislatively. The Environmental Justice for All Act is a ground-breaking and sweeping piece of legislation intended to address the historical inequity in negative health and environmental effects in communities of color and low-income communities. This legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress: in the Senate by Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), where it is listed as S.872, and in the House by Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), where it is listed as H.R.2021

The Environmental Justice for All Act would:

◉Prohibit disparate health and environmental impacts of federal laws and programs on the basis of race, color, national origin—and protect communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal or indigenous communities;

◉Give those affected by disparate health and environmental impacts to seek legal remedies;

◉Add environmental justice impact reports for major projects;

◉Expand the current requirements for ingredient listing and warning labeling on a range of products;

◉Establish grants for identifying alternatives to chemicals currently in use in consumer, cleaning, toy, and baby products;

◉Fund programs to increase parks and recreational opportunities in urban areas;

◉Create a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council responsible for creating environmental justice strategies and guidelines.

The Natural Resources Committee has a veritable library of resources on the bill and on environmental justice issues at their site. And Science Direct has a bibliography of solid information.

S.872 currently has 12 cosponsors—all Democrats— and is with the Environment and Public Works Committee. H.R.2021 currently has 55 cosponsors—again, all Democrats—and is with five committees: Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture; and Education and Labor. RLS/SHP

To bring about real change for communities of color, urge quick, positive action on S.872 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and on H.R.2021 by the appropriate House Committees. Addresses are here. Also at this link you can see whether your Senators and Representative are co-sponsors of these bills, and thank or nudge as appropriate.

6. Meanwhile, in Canada…


The impact of environmental injustice is also finally being addressed by the Canadian government, as the Toronto Star reported yesterday. Bill C-230 in the House of Commons would launch a national strategy to address environmental racism, including the documentation of environmental hazards in communities of colour and the enforcement of environmental laws. Many Indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water due to toxic waste such as mercury in the Grassy Narrows First Nations community, a contaminant which has led to three generations of people with neurological difficulties, the CBC reports. This is a pattern all over Canada, according to “Clean Water, Broken Promises, an investigative report from Concordia University that was published this year; the research team also publishes a series of blogs and scientific articles about specific instances. RLS

RESOURCES

Among the causes of forced migration is gender-based migration. A webinar from the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on June 8 will detail these issues.

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 preserve paid leave, unemployment, and access to child care..

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.