1. Some asylum-seekers allowed to cross the border, while the search for deported parents continues
The Matamoros camp over the border from Brownsville, Texas, where so many asylum-seekers had been forced to wait for more than a year has emptied, with almost everyone released from the freezing, miserable conditions there and placed with family members or sponsors to wait for their hearings. Volunteers on the U.S. side of the border worked tirelessly to arrange transportation and services for those being admitted. Especially given the recent challenges with power outages in the area, the release is a great mercy. However, many people in other camps or who arrived at Matamoros more recently are stuck outside of it, with nowhere to stay and without support from Mexican authorities, who threatened to spray them with water if they did not leave, according to one report. Some families were separated in the process of admission to the U.S., according to NPR.
Teams of people continue to search Central American countries for the deported parents of children who were detained under the previous administration. It is an extraordinary challenge, as PRI explains; the parents may be in hiding from the same violent threats that drove them to the border or may have been displaced by weather or economic events.
In addition, increasing numbers of people seeking asylum and assistance are arriving at the border. President Biden reversed the policy under which asylum-seekers were immediately deported–ostensibly to reduce the spread of COVID-19. What this means is that many more people are requesting admission to the US, with 321 children unaccompanied by their parents arriving daily, according to Axios. Since only 174 children daily are being released to family members and sponsors, a leaked Health and Human Services report estimates that 20,000 shelter beds for children will eventually be needed. As we noted last week, the need for beds has led HHS to permit unsavory shelters to open. Josh Rubin of Witness at the Border offers some policy insights on this issue. RLS
One of the organizations trying to find deported parents is Justice in Motion; you can donate to support their work. You may also want to contact Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, telling him that you appreciate his efforts to restore the asylum process but that you urge him not to reproduce the devastating conditions under which immigrants have been detained. 202-282-8000, @AliMayorkas.
2. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders endure assaults, discrimination
Hate crimes against Asian Americans have intensified since the pandemic, leading to widespread anxiety in Asian communities, such as in California’s Bay Area, where there have been a number of assaults on elderly people, resulting in one death. Alameda County has established a special unit to deal with the problem, according to KCTV, and hundreds of people have offered to escort elderly Asian Americans who are in danger if they leave their homes, according to CNN.
The Los Angeles Times reports on vandalism and fire—probably hate-motivated—at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles: “A 12-foot-high glass window was destroyed by a lime-sized rock; two 6-foot wooden lantern stands were burned, causing the electrical lamps above them to melt and fray; and two 30-pound metallic lanterns were ripped off their concrete bases. The damage led to shock and despair among the few priests and staff at the temple, which has been closed to in-person services since March because of COVID-19 precautions.” Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple runs important social programs for the local community.
These crimes were initially fueled by the former president and his insistence on terms such as the “Wuhan Flu,” but they have also spiked in the Biden Administration. Asian-Americans have been assaulted in subways (New York), bakeries (Queens), and at bus stops (Southern California), according to PBS. Many incidents are going unreported, the LA Times reports, both because of language barriers and because Asian-Americans may feel they are safer if they stay silent.
President Biden produced a resolution condemning violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders a week after he was inaugurated. Now, H.Res.153, Condemning Recent Hate Crimes Committed Against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders has been introduced to address the current spate of hate crimes against Asian Americans. The resolution notes the increase in anti-Asian violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and condemns “expressions of racism, and anti-Asian and Pacific Islander or ethnic intolerance.” H.Res.153 also calls on all levels of law enforcement to “expeditiously and vigorously investigate all reports of Asian-American and Pacific Islander hate crimes and threats in the United States,” to encourage reporting of such crimes, and to hold the perpetrators of the acts to account. This legislation currently has only 10 cosponsors. RLS/S-HP
To address this issue, check this list to see whether your representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge as appropriate. You can also send expressions of support to the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple: 505 East Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013, (213) 626-4200. You can report an incident of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at Stop AAPI Hate; the organization received 2808 reports of racism and discrimination in 2020.
3. Addressing immigration by stabilizing Latin American economies
As we noted last week, people are seeking asylum at the border in part because of hunger in Latin America. As ReliefWeb points out, people in Latin America have felt the acute effects of climate change, as they are impacted not only by hurricanes but by drought and other weather extremes–all of which destroy basic food crops. Hunger, of course, leads to desperation and social instability.
Biden’s immigration proposals—and the legislation that would implement them if they are passed—are still in the works. One important provision the current plan includes is an investment of $4 billion in Central American economies with the goal of improving quality of life in the region. One truth of immigration is that as long as parents feel unable to provide their children with secure and reasonably prosperous lives in their home countries, they will continue to look for other locations where security and prosperity are possible. Until economic conditions in Central America change, the pressure to immigrate will continue. S-HP
If this issue is important to you, you might tell President Biden and your Congressmembers that you appreciate the economic component of Biden’s immigration proposal and want to see it maintained as the legislation takes its final form. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your representatives here and your senators here. In addition, the World Food Program will be trying to raise $47.3 million U.S. to feed 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 2021.
4. Legislation would preserve the right to organize
The percentage of workers who are members of unions has dropped from about 20% in 1983, the first year for which data were available, to 10.8% in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. In the private sector, union membership has dropped in part because industries which were heavily unionized have declined or been moved overseas, in part because of the resistance of employers. With less bargaining power, workers’ ability to challenge poor working conditions and low wages is reduced, leading to increased income inequality, CNN notes.
H.R.842, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, will be coming to the floor of the House this week. This legislation would:
• Establish clearly defined limits on identifying employees as “independent contractors”—a move that can be used to prevent unionization;
• Strengthen expectations for recusal by members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when certifying unions and investigating unfair labor practices;
• Prohibit lockouts and retaliation against striking workers;
• Set up timeline requirements for initial collective bargaining after a unionization vote is certified
• Give priority to LNRB investigation of allegations of unfair labor practices
• Provide civil penalties for failure to honor NLRB orders
This legislation is particularly timely given Amazon’s recent efforts to prevent what would be a first for the corporation–a vote to unionize at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. The drive to unionize came after increased workplace pressures and risks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the Black Lives Matter movement (more than 80% of warehouse workers at Bessemer are Black). The NLRB has certified the right of these workers to hold a unionization vote. Organizers allege that in response Amazon has begun holding “mandatory closed-door, captive-audience meetings during which managers spread lies about the benefits of unionizing [and]…. posting misinformation about unions in bathrooms, break rooms and across the internet.”
The New York Times cites recent remarks by Biden in a video statement supporting the Amazon workers in Bessemer: “Unions put power in the hands of workersThey level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and Brown workers. There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right.”
The New York Times goes on to point out that Biden can take a number of executive actions in support of unions including:
• raising the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $15 an hour;
• requiring contracts go to employers who remain neutral in union elections;
• barring contracts for employers who illegally oppose union organizing;
• filling vacancies on the five-member National Labor Relations Board, which sets rules for collective bargaining, conducts and certifies union elections, and adjudicates labor disputes (the nominees would require Senate confirmation).
You might want to encourage your representative to support H.R.842 and thank Biden for speaking out on behalf of workers’ unions, reminding him of the executive actions he can take in support of workers. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.
You might also tell Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that you support Amazon workers’ right to unionize, mentioning any union membership of your own and any purchasing you do via Amazon or Whole Foods (which is owned by Amazon)• Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon Corporation, 410 Terry Ave. North, Seattle, WA, 98109-5210, (206) 266-1000. @JeffBezos. Finally, you could sign this petition in support of Amazon workers’ right to unionize.
5. A 51st State: D.C.
If Washington D.C. were a state, the District would gain significant autonomy. The lack of state status affects the lives of those in D.C. in a number of ways. Though residents pay significant federal taxes, they lack voting representation in Congress: D.C. does have non-voting representation in the House, but has no representation in the Senate, which effectively denies residents a voice in all cabinet confirmations and ambassadorial appointments. In a year like this one when the Senate is split 50-50, statehood for D.C. would solidify Democratic control, as voters there are predominately Black and Democratic. We saw the complexities of non-statehood at play during the January 6 insurgency. Because D.C. is not a state, it could not mobilize its own national guard forces and instead had to wait hours while that decision worked its way through the Pentagon’s recalcitrant chain of command.
The S.51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, would grant statehood to most of what is currently Washington D.C., with the exception of a clearly defined central area that houses the majority of federal buildings and national monuments, which would retain status as the nation’s capital. In a 2016 referendum in D.C., 86% of those voting supported statehood. If D.C. became a state, it would be more populous than Vermont and Wyoming and similar in population to Delaware and Alaska. H.R.51 is currently with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. S-HP
If you favor the concept of statehood for D.C., you can urge quick, positive action on S.51 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Check here to see if your Senator is a cosponsor of S.51 and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your senators here.
6. Universal background checks save lives
Despite the fulminating of the NRA, universal background checks for those who wish to buy guns are supported by over 85 percent of voters–79 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2015. Nonetheless, the Trump administration eliminated an Obama-era law restricting gun purchases by people “deemed by the Social Security Administration to be mentally unable to manage their affairs,” the LA Times reported during the recent election campaign. States with background checks have a homicide rate of 3.3. per 100,000 people, while those that do not have a rate of 5.2 homicides per 100,000, according to recent research by Boston University.
Two pieces of legislation that would strengthen background checks will be coming to the floor of the House this week. H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would require a background check for almost all gun purchases—there are exceptions for law enforcement, security personnel, and gifts between spouses. This bill has 131 cosponsors: 128 Democrats and 3 Republicans. H.R.1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, strengthens existing background check laws. The 91 House members cosponsoring this bill are all Democrats. RLS/S-HP
Use the above links to check the lists of cosponsors, then call, text, email or tweet your representative to thank them for cosponsoring or to ask them to support these important pieces of legislation.
7. Protecting insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions
Pre-existing conditions–that is, a health condition that a person has before their insurance came into effect–likely affected some 54 million people before the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2019. Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, people were routinely denied insurance or required to pay higher rates because they had such conditions as asthma, diabetes, cancer (even if in remission), and so forth, the New York Times reminded us in February. Now, with tens of thousands of people suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19, according to the Harvard Medical School blog, the issue of pre-existing conditions is even more acute. A decision from the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act is pending, the New York Times notes, and if they strike down the law altogether, millions of people with pre-existing conditions could lose their coverage or find it unaffordable.
The Continuing Coverage for Preexisting Conditions Act, H.R.145, would separate the preexisting conditions protection provided by the Affordable Care Act if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional or unenforceable. Basically, it’s a bit of future planning to see that those with preexisting conditions won’t lose the availability and renewability of coverage and to maintain prohibitions against discriminatory coverage practices based on preexisting conditions or health status. This legislation is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. RLS/S-HP
To keep this legislation moving, you might urge the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.145 and share stories you have about coverage for preexisting conditions: • Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Chair, House Energy and Commerce Committee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4671. @FrankPallone.
8. Fracking under any other name…
Does the term “well stimulation treatment” mean anything to you? Well stimulation treatment is the insertion of materials into oil or gas well to increase the wells’ output—in other words, fracking. Other kinds of well stimulation treatment include acid well stimulation and cyclic steaming. Scientists have recently discovered why and how fracking releases compounds that are dangerous to people and the environment, but they do not yet know how this can be prevented.
California’s SB-647 would broaden the definition of well stimulation treatment to include both steam flooding and water flooding, injection methods currently not included in the definition. SB-647 would prohibit the renewal of or issuance of new permits for well stimulation treatments beginning January 1, 2022. It would bar all such well stimulation treatments as of January 1, 2027. SB-647 affirms the right of local governments to prohibit well stimulation treatments in their jurisdiction in advance of the timeline established by the legislation. SB-647 also includes incentives for the hiring of any workers who lose jobs because of the reduction in and elimination of well stimulation treatment. SB-647 is currently with the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and is also scheduled for consideration by the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee. S-HP
To engage with this issue, urge the leadership of the appropriate California Senate committees to take swift, positive action on SB-647; if you don’t live in California, you can let them know you look to California for leadership on “well stimulation treatment.” Senator Henry I. Stern (D-27), Chair, California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, State Capitol, Room 5046, Sacramento, CA 95814, (915) 651-4116. @SenHenryStern. Senator Ben Allen (D-26), Chair, California Senate Environmental Quality Committee, State Capitol, Room 2205, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 651-4108. @BenAllenCA.
9. Moratorium on oil and gas leases on California’s central coast
Overruling intense public opposition, the former administration insisted on allowing oil and gas drilling–including fracking–on public lands in California. The Bureau of Land Management received 35,000 comments opposing the first auction in Kern County, according to the Sierra Club. The leases the Trump administration insisted on auctioning in California brought in exactly $46,148.64 for taxpayers, Reuters reported–averaging out to $11 per acre.
Now, H.R.479, the California Central Coast Conservation Act, would place a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on public lands along California’s Central Coast. The legislation cites several ongoing factors justifying this action: air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and the climate, groundwater and surface water quality and availability, seismicity, threatened and endangered wildlife and plant species, and the impact of oil and gas leasing on low-income communities. Already existing leases would remain in force. This legislation is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee. S-HP
This legislation is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee. To protect the beauty and biological diversity of California’s Central Coast, you can urge the leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.479: Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Chair, House Natural Resources Committee, 1511 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-2435. @RepRaulGrijalva. You can also thank Representative Jimmy Panetta for introducing H.R.479: Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), 212 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2861. @JimmyPanetta.
10. Biden asked to release federal funds for abortion
The prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortions in the U.S. is a particular hardship for young and low-income as well as for women of color–those women who are most likely to need abortions, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released last week. 72% of abortions are obtained by young adults and teenagers, and 75% were obtained by low-income women–women who are more likely to obtain their medical care through Medicaid or Affordable Care Act plans. In 2014, an abortion cost between $500 (at 10 weeks) and $1195 (at 20 weeks). Unless a low-income woman lives in a state that covers abortion, she must raise or save funds for the procedure–often delaying it so that it is less safe and more costly. In addition, some prenatal tests that would reveal that a fetus has severe anomalies such that it will not survive are not available until after 12 weeks–so an abortion at this stage is again more costly.
The Hill reports that on Tuesday, a group of 27 Congressmembers, including the leaders of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus, sent a letter to President Biden asking him to remove restrictions on federal funding of abortion from the fiscal 2022 budget. There are currently three sets of abortion funding restrictions on the U.S. budget: the Hyde Amendment bars federal funding of abortions; the Helms Amendment prohibits the use of foreign assistance funds to provide abortions; and the Weldon Amendment bars the use of federal money to penalize healthcare providers who do not provide abortions for reasons of conscience. The letter points out the systematic efforts by the Trump administration to undermine both national and global sexual and reproductive health care and calls for “ensuring all people can access reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter how much money they make, where they were born or live, their age, their immigration status, their race, or their sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity).” RLS/S-HP
You can join these members of Congress in asking President Biden to remove abortion restrictions from the 2022 fiscal budget by writing President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.
Heather Cox Richardson continues to be an essential resource. Sunday’s column provides the history of the Voting Rights Act, while Saturday’s analyzes the American Rescue Plan.
The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, shuttering private prisons, closing immigrant detention centers, and supporting the right to self-identify. The checklist also include a long list of good news!
Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week including advocating for fair immigration laws and supporting the re-opening of the Affordable Care Act to applications.