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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Bipartisan Legislators Urge Biden To Evacuate Imperiled Afghan Allies

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A bipartisan coalition of House members that includes U.S. military veterans is continuing to call on the Biden administration to quickly evacuate Afghan allies ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan in September, writing in a follow-up letter to President Joe Biden that "[o]ur Afghan friends and allies are at greater risk than ever before."

"In the past month, we have been closely following your developing withdrawal plans," members of the Honoring Our Promises Working Group write. "We appreciate the complexity of ending the War in Afghanistan, but we are increasingly concerned that you have not yet directed the Department of Defense be mobilized as part of a concrete and workable whole of government plan to protect our Afghan partners."

While the working group was created earlier this year with a goal of expanding the special visa program benefiting Afghans who assisted U.S. military, they say the approaching withdrawal deadline necessitates immediate action from the Biden administration. "The current SIV process will not work. It takes an average of 800+ days, and we plan to withdraw in less than 100 days." That timeline threatens to leave behind thousands of applicants who put their lives at risk to aid our military, lawmakers say.

"After examining this situation through multiple hearings, briefings, and our own offices' research and outreach, our bipartisan working group has concluded that we must evacuate our Afghan friends and allies immediately," they write. "No U.S. entity—to include the Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, et al.—has the ability or authority to protect them in Afghanistan after our withdrawal. It would be a moral failure to transfer the responsibility to protect our Afghan partners onto the shoulders of the Afghan Government. The time is now to honor our promise and evacuate Afghan SIV applicants."

Like veterans groups and refugee resettlement groups, the working group noted the U.S. has evacuated a large number of vulnerable people in the past, and has the capability to do so again. "The United States has conducted evacuations at a far greater scale before," legislators write, including the evacuation of roughly 130,000 Vietnamese refugees during the Ford administration. Smaller evacuations also occurred during the Clinton administration, including 20,000 Kosovar Albanians in 1999. "We have experience with this type of evacuation in times of crisis, and the current environment in Afghanistan clearly merits such action," legislators said.

"If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan, it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation, which will then be a great detriment to our troops and the future of our national security," legislators tell the Biden administration. "Veterans in Congress understand this firsthand: when we recruited our Afghan friends, we promised to have their backs. The Honoring Our Promises Working Group stands ready to provide support and oversight for this critical mission." A full list of working group members is available here.

In its letter to the Biden administration last month, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) said "the U.S. must fulfill its commitments to our Afghan allies and work urgently to ensure their and their families' safety. Veterans' groups, national security experts, and legislators agree that we must honor this commitment. Our allies put their lives on the line to support our troops because they believed in the U.S. mission. We must show Afghans and the rest of the world that the U.S. will follow through on our word."

"Through their allegiance and faithful service, these wartime allies and their families have long been the targets of anti-American violence and persecution," LIRS President Krish O'Mara Vignarajah warned in her recent op-ed in The Washington Post. "The omnipresent threat of retribution, tragically, has only grown in the face of imminent U.S. withdrawal."

DHS Nominee Will Lead Task Force To Reunite Migrant Children With Families

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Biden administration is expected to announce on Tuesday its federal task force dedicated to reuniting families that were separated at the southern border by the previous administration, including hundreds of children who continue to remain apart nearly four years after the initial "piloting" of the barbaric "zero tolerance" policy.

NBC News initially reported that Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would be heading the interdepartmental task force. This was later confirmed by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "When the task force is announced," the report continued, "it is expected to be an inter-agency effort across the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the State Department."

Biden as a candidate pledged that he would authorize a federal task force to help reunite families on Day One, but as NBC News reported, this has been delayed for nearly two weeks. No official reason has been given by the Biden administration, but one likely reason is Senate Republicans blocking Mayorkas' quick confirmation. A second likely reason is the "extraordinarily complicated" nature of the separations, NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

"It's complicated not just because of the cruelty and the intentionality that went into this policy to separate 5,000 kids, over 5,000 kids from their parents, including Ms. L, who was separated and then detained, the namesake of the lawsuit that won the reunification of all the families right here in Otay Mesa," he said in the clip, reporting from the California city where many separated families were jailed. "But also because after the separations, there are so many different distinct groups of separated families, and how ultimately President Biden and his administration will deal with them. What is the relief that they will offer?"

Per early reporting on the task force from NBC News, "The task force announcement is not expected to include details on whether the families will be given special permission to come to the United States to reunite with their children." Advocate organizations that have already been tasked by the court with reuniting families, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have urged Biden to allow families to return to the U.S. and be given legal status. Lawmakers including Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro have also urged for U.S. reunification.

Castro had also called for the formation of a special commission to investigate this human rights disaster, telling Vox that it's "the right thing to do and also, in many ways, necessary for our country."

Two of the agencies that will work to reunite families were at the center of separations, with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general saying in a report last year that senior HHS officials paid no heed to concerns from Office of Refugee Resettlement staffers about forcibly separating children from their parents. That report described officials' intentional negligence regarding what ultimately became the family separation crisis, including superiors scolding staffers for putting concerns in writing.

Years after the "piloting" of family separation in 2017, hundreds of children separated from their parents by the previous administration have continued to remain separated, and new reporting from The Washington Post reveals that some families that have been reunited have faced separation all over again due to parents and children having separate immigration cases. "Even after families were reunited by the court, the Trump administration tried to re-separate them by deporting the parent," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told the Post. "Incredibly, one separation was not enough for the Trump administration."

In order to reverse the horrific, intentional damage inflicted by the previous administration, the Biden administration must start by returning these families, and giving them protections. It's the right, and just, thing to do.

Columbia Grad Becomes First Latino DACA Recipient To Win Rhodes Scholarship

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Columbia University graduate Santiago Tobar Potes told NPR's Morning Edition that he was initially cautious about applying for Rhodes Scholarship—not because he was unqualified, but because of his status as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. He knew there was a chance the Supreme Court would allow the Trump administration to strike it down, putting his future here at risk. But then everything changed this past summer.

When the Supreme Court ruled this past June that Trump administration officials has unlawfully ended the program, Potes went for his chance, and applied in August. Last month, he found out he'd been selected, becoming the first Latino DACA recipient to become a Rhodes scholar. "I just couldn't believe it," he told NPR. "I just thought that they were going to call me, and say 'Oh, we made a mistake. Sorry about that, we actually didn't choose you.'"

Jin Park made history as the first DACA recipient to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, but revealed that the administration's attacks on the Obama-era policy threatened his future. While lower courts had forced officials to partially reopen the program, a provision that allowed DACA recipients to apply for permission to study abroad was not. "If I leave," Park said last year, "there's a very real possibility that I won't be able to come back."

The administration defied the Supreme Court's decision for months but this month finally fully reopened the program after yet another court's order. Not only was the program reopened for new applications for the first time since last 2017, the the provision that allows international travel for some DACA recipients was also back.

"As one of the 2021 Rhodes Scholars, Potes will head to the University of Oxford in the UK this fall," NPR reported, where he plans to study for a Master's degree in international relations. "I wanna be a national security expert working at the Department of State or working as a counselor to a senator," he told NPR. "I want to use my academic research to help the United States, ultimately."

Trump Pardons Border Agents Who Shot Man Illegally

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Donald Trump's slew of Christmas pardons this month weren't reserved just for his fellow crooks and mob presidency loyalists deserving of only a lump of coal this year. The impeached president issued full pardons to not one, not two, but three former Border Patrol agents who were charged and found guilty of crimes against people at the southern border while on duty.

The Texas Tribune reports one of the three pardoned criminals was Gary Brugman, who served almost two years for violating a man's civil rights. The other two former agents were Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and civil rights violations after they shot a man in 2005 and then tried to cover it up, Think Immigration reported. But the pardons were also in no way a Trump aberration: Both outlets reported that top Republican elected officials and figures pushed for the pardons.

The Texas Tribune reports that Brugman had in his corner both of Texas' U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Also supporting him was the state's notoriously anti-immigrant lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick. Think Immigration reports that supporting Ramos and Compean was former Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, himself "recently convicted of stealing campaign funds." Oh, but in the spirit of the holidays, Trump made sure there were enough pardons to go to every criminal in his orbit, and Hunter got a pardon too. Merry Christmas.

Think Immigration writes that crimes committed by Ramos and Compean in particular were "but one of countless immigration-related abuses over the years, and one of the most notorious that continues to haunt the communities all along our southern border." A 2006 report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general details how Ramos and Compean chased a man, first trying to hit him in the head with the butt of a shotgun and then shooting him in the buttocks.

"Compeon and Ramos did not report the shooting as required by [Border Patrol] regulations," the inspector general report said, "and instead covered up the crime scene by removing the spent shell casings that were ejected from their pistols during the shooting." Both men were sentenced to over a decade in prison, but then had their sentences commuted by George W. Bush. Republicans have always been about that law and order, right? Trump's pardon now "wipes their records clean," Think Immigration said, "making it as though they were never guilty."

"Of particular note in the requests for the agents' pardons and in the final announcement itself is how they are devoid of any reference to remorse, request for forgiveness, or acceptance of responsibility," Think Immigration continued. "These pardons are beyond putting salt in the wound; it is salting the earth as the administration does what it can to leave the most lasting and damaging impact on its way out."

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had already been operating with impunity but during the Trump administration dropped any illusion or appearance of trying to operate within the law, and within its own rules. That includes illegally detaining migrant children, spending emergency humanitarian funds meant for food and medical care for detained migrants on dirt bikes, and helping implement state-sanctioned kidnappings at the border. Then for the first time in a decade, children died while in custody of the agency.

Yet there has been too little accountability when it comes to CBP (as well as sibling agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement). May 2021 will mark three years since Claudia Patricia Gómez González, an unarmed Indigenous woman from Guatemala, was shot and killed by a border agent. Just like in the cases of other people attacked by CBP, officials lied about the circumstances around her killing. But according to Spanish-language media, the investigation around her case remains ongoing three years later.

There's already so little justice when it comes to the abuses perpetrated by U.S. officials against people at the border. Now with the stroke of a pen, Trump has erased some of that justice, as he also intentionally decimates faith in American democracy because he lost the election fair and square, and continues to kill more Americans by not giving one shit about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

NBC News Report Finds Hate Groups Got $4.3M In PPP Loans

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that has promulgated anti-immigrant propaganda titled "The fiscal burden of illegal immigration on United States taxpayers" (I'm not going to link to it) received more than $680,000 in funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, an NBC News analysis has found (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and more than a dozen other designated hate groups in fact received a total of $4.3 million in funds—even as families have continued to remain without direct relief, aside from one lousy check. In FAIR's case, it received $683,680 in relief as its also advocated punishing immigrant families through policies like the "public charge" rule. Help for me, none for thee.

As my colleague Joan McCarter noted earlier this summer, there was clear "evidence that the aid didn't go where it was most needed and hasn't done the job for tens of thousand of businesses." From mom-and-pop shops to local restaurants, it's clear which businesses have been in desperate need of help. It's also clear which entities saw a financial opportunity, despite providing no public good.

"The groups that received funds also include American Family Association (AFA), a group that opposes what its leaders describe as the 'homosexual agenda,'" NBC News said. SPLC, which has designated the organization a hate group, said in a report that "[f]or years, until 2010, the AFA had a section on its website that supposedly exposed 'The Homosexual Agenda.'"

Various AFA propagandists have further claimed that "[h]omosexuality is not only harmful to homosexuals themselves, but also to children and to society," and that "[a]s with smoking, homosexual behavior's 'second hand' effects threaten public health." Per NBC News' report, AFA got $1,390,800 in PPP funds.

Another group that got funds was Church Militant, "an organization that runs a media operation that advocates for so-called gay conversion therapies and links homosexuality to pedophilia," NBC News continued. Per SPLC, "Church Militant focuses on homosexuality with an intensity and frequency bordering on obsessive." That group received just over $300,000 in funds.

"Extremist movements thrive in climates of political uncertainty," SPLC senior research analyst Cassie Miller explained to NBC News. "In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, far-right actors have exploited people's fears and grievances to promote their ideologies. But now the government is doing even more to help hate groups by handing them millions of dollars in forgivable loans."

New Polling Confirms Americans Welcome Immigrants More Than Ever

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Here's more of that other "Trump Effect" we've talked about before: new polling from Pew Research this week continues to confirm that Americans have only become more welcoming of immigrants and refugees since 2016 and Donald Trump's ensuing xenophobic presidency.

"In 2016 voters were about evenly divided in the share saying that the growing number of newcomers strengthens American society," Pew said, finding that 46 percent of all voters agreed with the statement. Four years later, that number has now surged to 60 percent. Americans "across the political spectrum have shifted in a more liberal direction in this domain," researchers said.

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SPLC Watchdogs Name Stephen Miller To ‘Extremist’ List

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has added Trump administration official and noted white supremacist Stephen Miller to its "Extremists Files" for his role in implementing some of the most inhumane and racist immigration policies in modern U.S. history, putting this taxpayer-paid official alongside notorious racists and bigots like former KKK grand wizard David Duke and dead homophobe Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

"Stephen Miller is the architect behind some of the most draconian anti-immigrant policies that we've seen from the Trump administration," SPLC senior investigative reporter Michael Edison Hayden said in a statement received by Daily Kos, stating that leaked communications with fellow racists from before he joined the White House "essentially provided a roadmap for the dehumanizing and hateful policies that we've seen enacted under this administration."

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Federal Judge Orders ICE To Release Florida Detainees

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A federal judge has ordered federal immigration officials to free hundreds of people detained at three Florida facilities, ruling "there is record evidence demonstrating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has failed in its duty to protect the safety and general well-being of the petitioners," and that social distancing while in detention "is not only practically impossible, the conditions are becoming worse every day," Miami Herald reports.

"In a strongly worded 12-page order filed late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has acted with 'deliberate indifference' to the condition of its detainees," Miami Herald continued, saying officials failed to provide them soap and other supplies to protect themselves. Officials are now ordered to immediately distribute masks to detainees, and to inform her of their plan to reduce population size—something they should have already done long ago.

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