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Trump Rolls Out New Muslim Travel Ban

Reprinted with permission from the AlterNet.

On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an updated immigration executive order barring immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, all of which were included in the original order. The new version exempts Iraq and eliminates the rule that specifically protects religious minorities from the ban.

Iraq, according to officials who spoke to the New York Times, has agreed to improve the quality of travel documentation and share more information about Iraqis coming to the United States.

The initial order, which set off a series of protests at airports nationwide, was widely believed to be a Muslim ban in disguise, particularly with the addition of the religious minority exception, which allowed, for example, Syrian Christians, but not their Muslim neighbors, to enter the United States.

Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen remain in Trump’s crosshairs. Citizens of the six countries are subject to a 90-day freeze on visa processing, while as the Times reports, “the administration continues to analyze how to enhance vetting procedures.” The United States’ refugee program is also suspended for 120 days, and according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration.”

The administration, as the Post notes, “also attempted to lay out a more robust national security justification for the order, claiming that it was needed because 300 people who entered the country as refugees were the subject of counterterrorism investigations.” They declined to name the countries the 300 suspects are from or provide additional evidence for the accusations.

In a departure from the cameras and fanfare on display during the January 27 rollout, the new Executive Order was signed in private, and according to the Times, “In a break with standard practice, participants of the call didn’t give their names to reporters even though journalists had agreed to identify them only as unnamed officials as a condition of joining the briefing.” The rollout of the order will occur over two weeks, perhaps in an effort to avoid the chaos and confusion of—and fierce opposition to—the previous plan’s same-day implementation.

Immigration advocacy and civil liberties groups have vowed to fight the new ban. In a statement sent to reporters following Trump’s announcement, Matthew Segal, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said, “President Trump’s original executive order stranded travelers, upended families, disrupted businesses and institutions globally, and faced many federal lawsuits. The ACLU of Massachusetts will closely monitor this new Executive Order and assess its validity.”

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

IMAGE: Geoff Livingston / Flickr

Meet The Families Denied Entry To The U.S. Because Of Trump’s ‘Travel Ban’

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

President Donald Trump’s travel ban has torn apart Dr. Abubaker Hassan’s family.

A few months ago, his wife, Sara Hamad, took their infant daughter Alma from their Detroit home to visit relatives in Qatar. Hassan is in his second year of an internal medicine residency program at Detroit Medical Center, an inner-city hospital that serves a low-income and minority community. He and his wife are citizens of Sudan and they’re both in this country on visas — Hassan on a J-1 for work and study-based exchange visitor programs and his wife on a J-2 for dependents. Together, they came to Detroit, where Hamad gave birth in September, making Alma an American citizen.

When the baby was a month and a half old, Hamad took her to visit her family in Qatar, the country where Hamad was born and raised. It is traditional in Sudanese culture for a new mother to be surrounded by her own mother and family after giving birth. Hassan stayed behind to work.

On Monday, Hamad and Alma were supposed to land in Detroit after being away for three months. But on Sunday, even though the baby is a U.S. citizen and eligible to fly back, Hamad was stopped at the airport in Qatar and prevented from traveling under an executive order that bars foreigners from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria from entering the U.S. for 90 days. (Citizens and permanent residents are allowed in — but about 90,000 visa holders, including those with tourist visas, are not.)

“I cannot leave to join my family, and my family, they cannot come back to join me,” Hassan, 36, said. “It’s a really difficult situation. Frankly we don’t know what to do.”

The first reports about the executive order, signed by Trump on Friday, were about foreigners hoping to travel to the U.S. for job opportunities, including interpreters who had worked for American forces. Now, it is becoming clear that the order is separating families of ordinary people whose mistake was to pick the wrong dates to travel.

Since Friday, ProPublica has been chronicling the travel ban’s effects. As part of that effort, we’ve asked those impacted to get in touch. So far, nearly 150 people from all seven countries affected by the ban have written in. (We’ve already written a few stories from the submissions.) Even people outside of those seven countries — Mexico, Malaysia, and Pakistan, for example — wrote in to express worry that their visas or green cards would be challenged at some point in the future, though no such plan has been discussed publicly.

Submissions came from people here legally that were visiting their home countries and now are unable to return to the U.S.; people here legally that are now afraid to leave the U.S. and not be able to return; and dozens of stories in which families are being torn apart.

Among them was Shadi Darani, who had left Iran to pursue a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering in Michigan and hadn’t seen her 68-year-old mother for two years. Obtaining permission for her mother to travel to the U.S. had taken nine months.

Darani’s mother, Fatemeh Sheikhi, left Iran aboard a Qatar Airlines flight about 13 hours before Trump signed the order. When she reached her first destination, Doha, in Qatar, she texted Darani and her sister, who is studying for her doctorate at the University of Delaware, asking them to have a jacket ready for her when they met in Philadelphia.

Darani’s sister was waiting with the jacket at the airport. But when her mother landed at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, it was too late.

“My sister was crying and begging the security to let her meet or call my mom so she could at least explain to her what is happening and calm her down,” Darani wrote in an email to ProPublica, explaining that her mother doesn’t understand English well. “But they didn’t allow it. Just feet away from one another, after years, after so many days and nights dreaming this moment.”

An airline employee told Darani’s sister that they would be returning her mother to Iran, but didn’t allow her to have any direct contact with her mother and didn’t disclose what flight her mother would be put back on.

“They took her phone, and we couldn’t even see her,” Darani said. The only thing airport officials did was to pass on a necklace their mother had brought as a gift. Darani said her sister has been wearing it every day since as a reminder of what happened and of her mom’s love

“She said that the moment that she was in Philadelphia and knew my sister is there to pick her up, but the security didn’t let them meet was the worst part. She said she felt heart broken, desperate and devastated,” Darani wrote in her email.

Darani’s mother’s visa was canceled. To come back, she would have to apply for a new one once the ban is lifted.

Batoul Elamin’s mother didn’t get as far as the U.S. For four years, Elamin, a Sudanese citizen, and her brother, now a U.S. citizen, worked to get a green card for their mother. Elamin has been in the U.S. studying since 2006 or 2007 — first preparing for examinations, then as a pediatrics resident in Oklahoma City, and then as a neonatology fellow at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Elamin is now as a neonatologist in Virginia, serving an area outside D.C. that doesn’t have enough doctors, in a program that enables her to remain in the country.

The visa for Elamin’s mother, Bumsur Zain, finally came through a few weeks ago and she was visiting Elamin’s other brother in Saudi Arabia before heading to the U.S. Now she can’t continue her planned trip. “It’s just very frustrating,” Elamin said. “She missed out on my wedding here in the United States” in 2015 because her visa application was pending.

Elamin said her mother’s visa is valid for three months but next month she will need another medical checkup, a prerequisite for receiving a green card. “A lot of things are in the air,” Elamin said. “Part of me believes that things will go away in a week or 10 days, and that people who already have a visa and have a lawful reason to come in can come in. Part of me thinks that it’s not going to get any better and she will lose her opportunity to come to the U.S., and I don’t know whether it will be safe for me to go back home. It’s really very upsetting.”

“I feel suffocated because I feel like I’m a prisoner. I can’t leave because if I leave there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to come back,” Elamin said.

For Hassan, the Detroit medical trainee whose wife is in Qatar, the problems are piling up. Since his daughter is an American and not a citizen of Qatar, she can only get a one-month visit visa, renewable once. As a result, Hamad and Alma have already had to travel to a neighboring country and come back to ensure the baby’s stay remains legal. They will have to do so again, Hassan said.

Hassan also notes that he’s missing important moments in his daughter’s life. He knew he would miss some with his wife away for three months, but he’s worried he will miss more.

“She’s passing through the milestones and I need to watch that. … The simple things: When you start to smile, first crawl, now she’s transitioning from formula to solid foods. These simple milestones, there’s no coming back.”

Hassan noted that he works at a federal hospital run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and his brother, now an American citizen, is in the U.S. Army reserves in basic training in Louisiana.

The whole situation is distressing, he said. “My mind is not clear,” Hassan said. “I’m very distracted. I’m thinking about taking time off to focus on trying to solve these issues and to be safe with my patients.”

IMAGE: Rosalie Gurna, 9, holds a sign in support of Muslim family members as people protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

Exclusive: Obama Administration Not Pursuing Executive Order To Shut Guantanamo – Sources

The Obama administration is not pursuing the use of an executive order to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison after officials concluded that it would not be a viable strategy, sources familiar with the deliberations said.

The conclusion, reached by administration officials, narrows the already slim chances that President Barack Obama can fulfill his pledge to close the notorious offshore prison before leaving office in January.

The White House has said repeatedly that Obama has not ruled out any options on the Guantanamo center, which has been used to house terrorism suspects since it was set up in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Obama is eager to fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge to close the prison and could still choose to use his commander-in-chief powers, but the option is not being actively pursued, the sources said.

Without executive action, the chances of closing the prison would hinge on convincing a resistant Congress to overturn a long-standing ban on bringing possibly dozens of remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States.

White House lawyers and other officials studied the option of overriding the ban but did not develop a strong legal position or an effective political sales pitch in an election year, a source familiar with the discussions said.

“It was just deemed too difficult to get through all of the hurdles that they would need to get through, and the level of support they were likely to receive on it was thought to be too low to generate such controversy, particularly at a sensitive (time) in an election cycle,” the source said.

Republicans in Congress are opposed to bringing Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons and have expressed opposition to transfers to other countries over concern that released prisoners will return to militant activities. They have vowed to challenge any potential Obama executive action in court.

At its peak, the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba housed nearly 800 prisoners, becoming a symbol of the excesses of the “war on terror” and synonymous with criticism of detention without trial and accusations of torture. Obama has called it a recruitment tool for terrorists.

 

OPTIONS NARROW

The number of Guantanamo detainees has fallen to 80 now, the lowest since it was opened.

The administration is focusing on getting the number of detainees at the prison down to such a low number, perhaps 20, that the cost of keeping it open could prove unpalatable to Congress. Republican lawmakers remain unswayed.

The Guantanamo prison and associated military commissions cost $445 million in fiscal year 2015. That works out to more than $5.5 million a year for each of the 80 remaining prisoners.

Thirty of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo have been approved for transfer to foreign countries and the State Department says it will move all of them out this summer. Those who would be left include 10 being prosecuted in military commissions, and other detainees deemed too dangerous to release or transfer.

“The administration’s goal is to work with Congress to find a solution to close Guantanamo,” said Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

He said the government had made “substantial progress” moving prisoners to foreign countries and was working to identify more countries for additional transfers. Reviews to determine whether certain prisoners need to remain detained to prevent a threat to U.S. security had been accelerated and would be completed in the coming months, he said.

Obama, who issued an order to shut the prison within a year on his first day in office, released his latest plan to close it to Congress in February, but it has not gained traction.

The White House has not publicly ruled out the executive order option in part to keep pressure on the Pentagon to move prisoners who have been cleared for release to other countries, one of the sources said.

“If Congress … would finally say no to the president’s plan and the executive order option wasn’t on the table, there was a concern that the wheels could grind to a halt,” said the source familiar with discussions at the White House.

Gregory Craig, who served as Obama’s first White House counsel, said that without an executive order, Obama would likely need the cooperation of Congress to shut down the prison.

“I think the odds are probably challenging,” Craig said.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

The United States flag decorates the side of a guard tower inside of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Camp VI at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba March 22, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Obama Administration Puts Out Fracking Rules For Federal Lands

By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration issued its first major fracking rules Friday with standards for wells on federal and Indian lands, requiring disclosure of chemicals and covered storage of waste.

While the vast majority of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, happens on state and private lands, there are more than 90,000 oil and gas wells fracked on federally managed lands.

“Many of the regulations on the books today haven’t kept pace with advances in technology,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters. “In fact, some are the same ones from when I was working on drilling and fracking operations in Oklahoma over 30 years ago.”

Fracking created an American energy boom but remains controversial, with concerns ranging from earthquakes to the possibility of groundwater contamination. New York state has banned fracking altogether.

The regulations for federal lands, which go into effect in 90 days, will require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used for fracking, in which high-pressure water and chemicals are pumped deep underground to break shale rock and release the oil and gas trapped inside.

Companies also will have to use covered storage tanks for fracking waste rather than open pits, a requirement that was made in order to give “greater confidence that we are in fact protecting groundwater,” said Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

The rules also include requirements for companies to test the durability of a well and for the construction of strong cement barriers between the wellbore — the hole that forms the well — and groundwater. The oil and gas industry and environmentalists both declared themselves to be disappointed with the new rules.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main lobbying group, called them a “barrier to growth.”

“A duplicative layer of new federal regulation is unnecessary, and we urge the BLM to work carefully with the states to minimize costs and delays created by the new rule to ensure that public lands can still be a source of job creation and economic growth,” Erik Milito, the group’s director of industry operations, said in an email.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance immediately filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Wyoming seeking to block the new rules.

The chairman of the Senate’s environment committee, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), said he and other senators have introduced legislation seeking to prevent the federal government from regulating fracking.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), said President Barack Obama is working to “appease radical environmentalists.

Environmental groups called the new rules an improvement but said they wanted a ban on fracking on public lands, or at least stronger protections.

“These rules put the interests of big oil and gas above people’s health and America’s natural heritage,” said Amy Mall, senior fracking policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Among the environmentalists’ complaints is that the rules don’t require disclosure of fracking chemicals until 30 days after a well is drilled, and that the disclosure then is to appear on an industry-run website.

The Interior Department defended its decision not to demand disclosure before the well is drilled. Companies often don’t know which chemicals are going to work before they start the fracking job, said Janet Schneider, assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

“What we think is most important and what the public is going to be most interested in is actually what went down the hole rather than what a company thought they might potentially use but didn’t,” she said.

Interior Secretary Jewell said that while some states have strong fracking rules, others have none, and the federal rules could be a model. Brian Deese, special climate and energy adviser to the president, told reporters that the industry also can use the rules to help ease public concerns.

“Ultimately this is an issue that is going to be decided in state capitals and localities as well within the industry,” Deese said.
___

Kevin G. Hall of the Washington bureau contributed.

Photo: Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons