Astonishingly, given the news week it has been, there has been some good news. In response to protests by hundreds of thousands of people, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong suspended (but did not scrap) a bill that would have permitted the extradition of those accused of crimes to mainland China. The head of the NIH has said he will no longer participate in panels with only male speakers. Nicaragua has released one hundred political prisoners. And no elephants have been poached in a protected African park for over a year (see below for how it has been possible). In short, collective action opens possibilities.
1. Challenges to restrictions on foster parents based on religion
A joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and USA Today has examined the impact of “Project Blitz,” a “religious freedom” program pursuing the right to be able to deny services and goods based on religious grounds, across several policy areas. The official title of the key Project Blitz document is “Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures Impacting Prayer and Faith in America,” and it outlines a plan for codifying a Christian (one very narrow type of Christian) nation. A particularly disturbing trend supported by Project Blitz is the creation of legislation allowing child placement agencies the right to turn away prospective foster and adoptive parents who don’t share their religious beliefs or moral convictions—Catholics, Jews, LGBTQ+ Americans, and many other groups.
The most recent active challenge to such legislation is taking place in South Carolina, where a Catholic prospective foster parent was rejected because Catholics do not consider the Bible the “only… authoritative Word of God.” The first bill allowing such religious freedoms was passed sixteen years ago in North Dakota. Similar laws have recently been passed in Texas, Alabama, Michigan, and South Dakota. CPI used its model legislation tracker to identify similar legislation and found language matching that original North Dakota bill in a total of sixty-six bills across twenty-one states and in the House of Representative. The Project Blitz playbook was first publicly released by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation—a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with members at all levels of state and national government—in 2017. S-HP
If you want to speak up about this legislation, here are some options.
2. Asylum-seekers kept outside in wire cages
Asylum seekers of all ages are being kept in untenable conditions.
–An NBC News analysis has determined that 24 asylum seekers have died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since Donald Trump took office. This number does not include deaths among asylum seekers held by other government agencies nor does it include deaths of asylum seekers following their release from ICE detention.
–Customs and Border Patrol has been holding hundreds of asylum seekers outdoors for weeks in El Paso, Texas, where the high temperature this month was 101. Those detained are using scraps, mylar blankets, and anything else they can find to create shade during the day. A university professor who observed these conditions was quoted in the Texas Monthly as calling the facility “a human dog pound.”
–Unannounced investigations in 2018 as well as this month have revealed unacceptable conditions at five detention centers: Adelanto, California; LaSalle, Louisiana; Aurora, Colorado; Essex, New Jersey; and a Border Patrol processing facility in El Paso, according to the Guardian. Each site inspection found at least some of the following at these five locations: expired and incorrectly stored perishable food, unsanitary condition, lack of required provisions, and dangerous overcrowding.
Legislation toward ending these practices includes the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act (H.R.1069 in the House; S.397) in the Senate and the Families Not Facilities Act (S.388). The Shut Down Child Prison Camps would, as the name suggest, prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from operating unlicensed temporary emergency shelters for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. In the House, this legislation is with the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. In the Senate, it is with the Judiciary Committee. S.388, Families not Facilities, introduced by Kamala Harris and cosponsored by Dianne Feinstein, is also with the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would “reduce the ability of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to engage in inappropriate civil immigration enforcement actions that harm unaccompanied alien children and to ensure the safety and welfare of unaccompanied alien children.” S-HP
If you want to speak up about the treatment of those seeking asylum (which, we need to remind each other, is not a crime) or to support one or more of these bills, here are some options.
3. 4 month old separated from his parents. Premature baby left untreated for a week in detention.
In a moving photo essay, The New York Times has identified the youngest child separated from his parents. Four-month-old Constantin Mutu, from Romania, was separated from his asylum-seeking father and spent five months in foster care. Because his father had a criminal record, he was advised that his asylum case would not proceed and was deported without his son. Constantin has been reunited with both his parents in Romania (his mother and four-year-old brother had become separated from his father in Mexico). At 20 months, Constantin still does not speak or walk on his own.
A teenager seeking asylum was found by an immigration advocate to have a premature baby under her sweatshirt, according to the AP. The baby should have been in a neonatal unit, the advocate said, but instead was kept with her mother for a week in the McAllen processing facility, known for its terribly cold “cages.” The baby’s mother, age 17, had had an emergency cesarean section in May and was in extreme pain, unable to walk unassisted. She said that people had carried her through the Rio Grande. RLS
4. Legislation to protect Indigenous women stalled
Native American and Alaskan Native women face levels of violence far above the average, according to CBS News. The data is uneven because of a lack of protocols for reporting but consider the following:
–the National Crime Information Center reports that 5,700 Native American and Alaskan Native women had gone missing as of 2016
– the National Institute of Justice reports that 84% of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime and that 97% of that violence is perpetrated by non-native individuals
– the Urban Indian Health Institute found 506 cases of missing and murdered Native American women in law enforcement records across 71 cities—and also found evidence of another 153 cases that did not appear in these law enforcement records. Savanna’s Act, S.227, would begin to create structures to make crimes against Native American women easier to investigate and to improve record-keeping regarding such crimes. S.227 would increase federal and tribal agency cooperation; improve tribal access to law enforcement databases; require the Justice Department to consult with tribes on further development of these databases; and create standardized guidelines for reporting cases of missing and murdered Native American women. It would also require the Justice Department to report annually to Congress on data regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women. This legislation has been sitting with the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee since late January. S-HP
As we reported June 2, Canada’s inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has finally been completed after two and a half years; the report came out June 3.
As the Globe and Mail reports, “The commissioners concluded that the thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared in Canada are part of a genocide against Indigenous Peoples, through actions and inaction by governments that are rooted in colonialism.”
If you want to urge legislators to act on S. 227, here’s how to do it.
5. Bills on election interference
You won’t have missed President Trump’s remarkable comments that he thinks the FBI director is wrong in saying that foreign offers of “oppo” research must be refused and reported to the FBI (see CNN’s explainer). We would not have to depend on Trump’s ethical standards if the following bills pass: H.R.2353, the Duty to Refuse and Report Interference in American Elections Act. H.R.2353 is currently with the House Administration Committee.
On the Senate side, the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, S.1562, would require candidates to report any attempted election interference by foreign entities and would require compliance systems to ensure accurate reporting of such events. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) attempted to have this legislation passed by unanimous consent on June 12, but that move was blocked by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn (TN) who claimed the reporting requirement would be unduly onerous for campaigns, Axios points out. For now, this legislation remains with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. It currently has no cosponsors. S-HP
If you want to urge your representatives to protect the integrity of elections, here is what to do.
6. Nuclear technology delivered to the Saudis
Last week, we reported on the Senators on both sides of the aisle who have promised to introduce extensive legislation to block the multi-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
What is just becoming clear, however, is that this deal is not just an arms sale. The deal allows the U.S. firm Raytheon to share technology with the Saudis—including technology that is used in Raytheon’s Paveway smart bombs, technology that had been closely guarded by Washington until now, Al Jazeera reports.
Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN) are using a provision in the Foreign Assistance Act to request a report from the administration on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. While doing this could eventually trigger a vote to halt billions in arms sales, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is moving forward despite congressional opposition. The Secretary of Energy has announced that so far this year the Energy Department has approved 37 sales of nuclear technology to foreign governments, seven of which have been to Saudi Arabia. S-HP
If you’d like to speak up about the spread of nuclear technology, here is a list of whom to write.
7. The Gulf of
On May 26, we reported on the apparent drive to war with Iran and the forces discouraging it; NPR had a good explainer. On June 13, two oil tankers–one Japanese, one Norwegian–were attacked in the Gulf of Oman; Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia insist that Iran is behind the attack. However, Japan, Germany and the EU express grave doubts, according to the Washington Post. The U.S. says that a blurry video shows Iranians removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships; Japanese officials say that the damage was caused not by a mine but by objects from above. RLS
8. Many chickens coming home to roost in Honduras
Over the past ten years, funding for public education and healthcare in Honduras has been significantly reduced. These cuts have occurred over a time when the cost of living in Honduras has been steadily rising. These facts are part of the impetus for the current rise in migration from Honduras to the U.S. They have also inspired civil protests, the most recent of which began this April. Honduran Security forces have responded violently to the protest, even firing live ammunition at protestors.
After denying Honduras aid, despite the protests of former military officials who say that cutting off Honduras will only encourage further asylum-seekers, the U.S. response has been to send Marines to Honduras to provide “training and security cooperation” with Honduran security forces—in other words to help sharpen their protest-quashing skills, according to a detailed analysis by the School of the Americas Watch. H.R.1945, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (named for a slain Honduran environmental activist), would suspend U.S. security aid to Honduras until security force assaults on civilians end and perpetrators are prosecuted. H.R.1945 is with the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees. S-HP
If you would like to encourage positive action on H.R. 1945, these are the legislators to write.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
9. Fracking is depleting the water supply
A study at Duke University has revealed that hydraulic fracking is having a catastrophic impact on U.S. water supplies. Apparently, fracking is using far much more water than before, and putting a huge dent in the amount of drinkable water available. This is particularly troubling because the water used for fracking is exposed to chemicals that make it is nearly impossible to treat. In other words, water lost to fracking will be water permanently lost for human use. S-HP
Here is where you can speak up about ruining aquifers for the sake of fossil fuel production.
10. Chinese-American researchers are being purged
Basic scientific research around the world has for decades been essentially borderless. Scientists routinely collaborate with colleagues working in other countries and results are published in journals that are available to anyone. This fruitful environment has led to astounding and rapid advances in every field one can think of– yet now, there appears to be official pressure from various federal agencies to commodify research, with rhetoric that supposes that basic research somehow belongs to our country as essential intellectual property. This is puzzling as this research is pre-patented and widely available so that the world can benefit, not just US corporations.
It is this avenue of thought that has led to sweeping and chilling surveillance, prosecution and distrust of Chinese-American scientists who seem to be under incredible scrutiny and suspicion simply for their national origin. In particular, the National Institutes of Health and the FBI are “cracking down” on supposedly unlawful collaboration with Chinese institutions resulting in several high profile resignations of accomplished researchers including the former director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Bloomberg reports. JC
11. No elephants poached in one year
No elephants have been poached in one of the largest protected parks in Africa for over a year now, a turnaround that gives elephants a chance to recover and a possible road map for other parks. Niassa reserve in northern Mozambique is enormous, the size of Switzerland, and had seen its elephant population plunge from 12,000 to 3,600 in the years up to 2015. Now, aggressive rapid response patrols and air surveillance has reduced the losses to the extent that the last known poaching took place in May of 2017. Members of the rapid response units are empowered to make arrests, are more heavily armed than park rangers and can have charges in front of a prosecutor in just 72 hours. Simply being caught with a firearm in the park is considered intent to poach. Elephant losses in nearby Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania which connects to Niassa have also plunged as a result of similar techniques, Phys.org reports. While this is a hopeful development, losses still exceed births and elephants face tremendous pressure from habitat loss and human encroachment. JC
Arts & Culture
The Thrown Out (Gay Pride) Flag
40% of teens who come out to their parents are made to leave their homes. Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and Calvary-St. George’s Parish in Chelsea created the “Thrown Out Flag” campaign to support “thrown-youth.” The church runs an outreach program that helps LGBTQ+ homeless youth find housing, counseling, and healthcare.
The sobbing of detained children pervades New York City
Twenty-four art installations depicting migrant children in cages popped up in New York City. Actually audio of children sobbing for their parents–and Border agents laughing in the background–was broadcast through speakers. The project was conceived by the ad agency Badger & Winters in support of RAICES, which provides support and legal advice to asylum seekers on the border.
“Tiny Pricks Project” immortalizes Trump’s quotes in needlepoint
Starting with “I am a very stable genius,” needlepoint artist Diana Weymar began embroidering Trump’s memorable sayings but could not keep up; as friends stepped up to help, she ended up with hundreds of needlepointers rendering the quotes, with the hope of having 2020 pieces by the election. The project is supported by the Lingua Franca boutique.
“The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Through Food”
After losing the “Top Chef” competition, Ghanaian-American chef Eric Adjepong presented a four-course meal illustrating the African diaspora through its food. The head “Top Chef” judge offered Adjepong his restaurant to present the entire dinner.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter empowerment for the month of June. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
- Sarah-Hope’s list takes up many of the issues above, along with gun control, farmworker wages, health care and more.
- Martha reminds us that two Alaska drilling/mining proposals are closing soon, and that an opportunity to comment on one of the LGBTQ/abortion rights healthcare attack proposals was posted. See her full list for opportunities to get your voice on the record. And they’re taking nominations for Nominations: National Environmental Justice Advisory Council–you can nominate.