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  • "Condescending and Hypocritical": An EPA Staffer Blasts Scott Pruitt's First Speech

    Scott Pruitt may have wanted to ease Environmental Protections Agency staffers' concerns about him Tuesday, but his first remarks as head of the agency hardly mentioned environmental protection at all.

    With Donald Trump's EPA transition staff sitting nearby, Pruitt delivered an 11-minute speech, in which he declared, "We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment." He also quoted famed conservationist John Muir: "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in." Pruitt did lament the "toxic environment" in the country, but it was a reference to the political climate—part of a call for a more civil discourse.

    The former Oklahoma attorney general never dwelled on the specifics of his or the White House's agenda for the EPA in the short address, which featured introductory remarks by recent acting administrator Catherine McCabe. Neither McCabe nor Pruitt mentioned the elephant in the room: the EPA's regulations on climate change and Pruitt's role in suing the agency for its climate work.

    "I know it's very difficult to capture in one speech the vision and direction of an agency," Pruitt said, while outlining a few of his core guiding principles for the new EPA. He said he wants to limit the scope of the agency's regulatory work and ensure stability for industry. "Regulations ought to make things regular," Pruitt said. "Regulators exist to give certainty to those they regulate…Process matters and we should respect that and focus on that, and try to avoid, do avoid, abuses that occur sometimes."

    Pruitt mentioned the need to follow "rule of law" and respect states' roles in enforcing environmental standards. "Congress has provided a very robust, important role of the states," Pruitt said. (Environmentalists, of course, are quick to point out that states are not always eager or financially equipped to protect air, water, or the climate on their own.)

    If Pruitt's address was meant to soothe staffers' concerns about their incoming administrator, they may have come up short.

    "Pruitt's talk [was] as bad as expected," said a current career EPA staffer of over 20 years, who requested anonymity, following the speech. "Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn't do EVERYTHING with the realization that it WILL end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical."

    Some former EPA officials shared that view. "Trump's team spent the entire campaign and the last few months railing against EPA's existence, its staff, and its purpose," Liz Purchia, an Obama-era communications staffer at the agency, said in an email. "Accomplishing agency priorities was no easy task when the administrator had staff's back and politicals and careers agreed the majority of the time, so let's see how well Trump's EPA does getting staff to follow them when they feel disrespected. These are professionals with years of experience, who have been made to feel like their leader doesn't trust their judgment. The American people are relying on them to defend the agency, protect its environmental statutes and stand up to Trump's team to ensure they uphold science and the law."

    Going by the EPA's press releases over the weekend, the agency now views industry and conservatives as its real constituency. No public health groups, environmentalists, or scientists appeared on the laundry list of "stakeholder" congratulations circulated by the EPA after Pruitt was sworn in.

    Outside the EPA on Tuesday, an administration official echoed Pruitt's pledge that he will listen to career staff. "He's a very good listener,” Don Benton, a White House senior adviser, told reporters after the address. "I don't expect him to be making any quick decisions."

    Benton didn't answer specifics on the timing of the presidential actions, saying that the matter is between Pruitt and Trump. But a slow transition based on input from current EPA staff isn't what news reports—nor Pruitt’s own words—have suggested. Various news outlets have reported that the White House intends to roll out a series of presidential actions targeting the EPA as early as this week.

    Pruitt didn't provide much clarity Tuesday on what comes first. But in an interview with a conservative Wall Street Journal columnist last week, Pruitt appeared to reverse himself on one key issue. At his confirmation hearing in January, he said that the EPA's official finding that climate change poses a health danger and is therefore subject to the Clean Air Act "needs to be enforced and respected." But according to the Journal, Pruitt now wants to conduct a "very careful review" of whether the agency can do anything at all about global warming. His remarks Tuesday appear to have done little to persuade his critics that such a review would be based on sound science.



  • New Documents Reveal How Trump's Deportation Plan Will Really Work

    In memos released to the media Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security detailed how it will implement President Donald Trump's controversial executive orders on immigration, laying out a blueprint for how immigration and border agents can detain and deport vastly more undocumented immigrants.

    The biggest shift from the Obama administration has to do with which undocumented immigrants are considered priorities for deportation. Under Obama, those who committed serious crimes were the main focus of immigration agents. The new memos instruct agents to remove any undocumented person with a criminal record, regardless of the offense.

    Senior agency officials told reporters Tuesday that the directives would not affect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrrivals (DACA) program, which protects the young people known as Dreamers from deportation and provides them work permits.

    The memos' other notable policies include:

    • The expansion of expedited removal, which allows immigration officials to deport people more quickly. Under the Obama administration, this policy was used for immigrants who'd been in the country for less than two weeks and who'd been caught within 100 miles of the border. Under Trump, expedited removal is being expanded to include people who've been in the country for up to two years and who've been apprehended anywhere.
    • The return of the 287(g) program, which deputizes local police to act as de facto immigration agents. As The Marshall Project pointed out, the program led to the deportation of 175,000 immigrants from 2006 to 2013. It was later scaled back by the Obama administration.
    • The implementation of a deport-first, ask-questions-later policy that would send people caught crossing the US-Mexico border back "to the foreign territory from which they came" if they didn't seem like they would try to once again enter illegally. ProPublica reports that the plan, meant as a partial solution to the huge backlog in US immigration courts, could also mean sending Central Americans to Mexico.
    • The hiring of 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

    Read the full memos, which were issued Monday and signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, here:

     
     


  • Anne Frank Center Unimpressed by Trump's "Band-Aid on the Cancer of Anti-Semitism" Statement

    Following a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks, including more than a dozen bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers around the country on Monday alone, President Donald Trump condemned such acts as "horrible" and promised these kinds of actions would end soon.

    "The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil," Trump told reporters during a visit to the National Museum of African-American History on Tuesday.

    The president's comments come amid increased pressure for him to directly denounce anti-Semitic incidents, which have surged since he won the election. In addition to bomb threats on Monday, dozens of tombstones at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis were pushed over in an apparent act of vandalism.

    But Jewish groups, including the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which addresses civil rights issues in the US, called Trump's brief remarks on Tuesday insufficient and are demanding the president do more than place a "Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism" that has affected his administration.

    "When President Trump responds to anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that's when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner," a statement from the center on Tuesday said. "This is not that moment."

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer expressed disappointment in the center's statement, saying he wished the organization would instead "praise" the president for his leadership. Shortly after, the Anne Frank Center fired back on social media:

    Trump's remarks on Tuesday come less than a week after his chaotic press conference, in which he angrily dismissed a Jewish reporter's question concerning the uptick in anti-Semitic attacks.

    "Not a fair question," Trump responded, before ordering the reporter from Ami Magazine, Jake Turx, to take his seat. He then defended himself as the "least anti-Semitic" and "least racist person."

    In addition to Trump's unwillingness to speak out against anti-Semitism, the administration also came under fire last month for releasing a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that conspicuously failed to mention Jews. Critics, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), slammed the White House statement by comparing it to Holocaust denial.

    This post has been updated to include the Anne Frank Center's responses on social media.



  • Here Are the Churches Fighting Back Against Trump's Immigration Crackdown

    For the past eight years, Jeanette Vizguerra had shown up for every one of her required check-ins with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Though Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had been issued a deportation order for two misdemeanors in 2011, ICE officials had previously granted her requests for a stay of removal and allowed her to remain in the country with her four children.

    But last week, Vizguerra took a different route. Fearing deportation, she took refuge in the First Unitarian Society in Denver and declared sanctuary. The decision proved prescient: The day of Vizguerra's scheduled check-in, ICE officials told her attorney that Vizguerra's request to remain in the country had been denied.

    Because ICE has a longstanding policy to not enter churches and schools, Vizguerra will be shielded from deportation. But that means that she’ll have to stay in the church indefinitely. "I did not make this decision lightly," Vizguerra said through an interpreter, according to NPR. "I was thinking about it for weeks. But I think that I made the right decision in coming here."

    Vizguerra may be one of the first undocumented immigrants to seek this kind of refuge since Donald Trump's election but, for months, churches have been preparing for exactly this possibility. Since the election, faith-based organizers and leaders have ramped up their work as part of the sanctuary church movement, a campaign among organizers and clergy to help undocumented immigrants facing deportation. More than 700 congregations have signed on to a sanctuary pledge, with the number of participating congregations doubling since the election, says Noel Andersen, a national grassroots coordinator at Church World Service, an international faith-based organization. New sanctuary coalitions have popped up in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

    In many ways, this has all happened before. Churches played a huge role in sheltering Central American migrants in the 1980s, when civil wars brought an influx of border crossings. They reached out to immigrants again in 2007, when workplace raids were a common tactic among ICE officers. During the Central American child migrant surge in 2014, congregations revived the movement, opening up their doors to children and families fleeing violence. Churches were able to offer a safe haven to immigrants facing deportation and, in some cases, help individuals win temporary relief from removal.

    Now, organizers say, Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have spurred leaders to continue that movement and expand it to other communities targeted by the administration, such as Muslim and LGBQT communities. They're also looking toward other types of community organizing, such as rapid-response and know-your-rights trainings.

    Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, has focused his efforts on a "sanctuary in the streets" campaign, a rapid-response network of volunteers who are trained to peacefully disrupt ICE raids. In a raid in Philadelphia last week, Pedemonti says 70 people showed up outside an ICE office within 20 minutes of being notified. "The broader strategy is to shine a light on what ICE is doing," he says. "We want ICE to know that if they come into our neighborhoods and try to drag away our friends and neighbors, we are going to be there to slow it down and disrupt it."  

    In Los Angeles, Guillermo Torres, an organizer with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, says that the group's congregations have been working with the National Immigration Law Center to develop rapid-response trainings. They want to train people to film encounters, interview witnesses, and build prayer walls around ICE officers. CLUE is also trying to enlist faith leaders who would be willing to go to detention centers after raids to talk to ICE officers or to serve as a source of spiritual support to detainees.

    Torres says he's seen a "surge" in clergy leaders expressing interest in the movement, many of whom he'd never met before. "The darkness that's coming out of the president and his administration has created a lot of pain and sadness in in the faith community," says Torres, "and that pain is compelling leaders to move to a level they've not moved before."



  • Does Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Believe the Constitution Is God's Law?

    During his confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin March 20, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will face a thorough grilling about his legal philosophy. Among the topics likely to come up are his views on "natural law" and his relationship with John Finnis, the Oxford University professor who advised Gorsuch on his Ph.D. thesis and one the world's leading proponents of this arcane legal theory.

    Natural law is a loosely defined term, but to many of its conservative US adherents it is essentially seen as God's law—a set of moral absolutes underpinning society itself. In recent years, natural law believers have invoked this legal theory to defend a range of anti-gay policies.

    Natural law has been a source of controversy for at least two previous Supreme Court nominees in recent decades—for dramatically different reasons. In 1991, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe wrote a New York Times op-ed opposing the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas because he would be the "first Supreme Court nominee in 50 years to maintain that natural law should be readily consulted in constitutional interpretation." Reagan nominee Robert Bork, on the other hand, was criticized for not believing in natural law by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), no less. Biden told Bork at his confirmation hearing, "As a child of God, I believe my rights are not derived from the Constitution…They were given to me and each of my fellow citizens by our creator."

    Bork, who was ultimately rejected by the Senate, had scoffed at the idea that judges could know God's law and implement it. Later, in a 1992 essay, he warned that if natural law proponents "persuade judges that natural law is their domain, the theorists will find that they have merely given judges rein to lay down their own moral and political predilections as the law of the Constitution. Once that happens, the moral reasoning of the rest of us is made irrelevant."

    Natural law theory dates back to Thomas Aquinas and the Greeks before him. It isn't necessarily liberal or conservative. Lawyers from the natural-law legal camp helped formulate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, a seminal document in which 48 countries committed to pursuing progressive measures that would protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    In the United States, natural law has taken on a variety of interpretations. One proponent was David Lane, a white supremacist implicated in the murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish radio talk show host in Gorsuch's hometown of Denver. Lane's followers gunned down Berg in his driveway in 1984. Lane, who died in 2007, claimed that natural law justified any act, however heinous, that preserved the perpetuation of a race—in his case, the white race.

    American conservatives, including Justice Thomas, use the term "natural law" to suggest that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now the president of the conservative Heritage Institute think tank, explained in an essay last summer, "Our rights as Americans are considered unalienable only because they were inherent in the natural order of life established by the laws of nature and nature's God."

    Where does Gorsuch fit into all this? In the 1990s, he studied legal philosophy at Oxford under Finnis. Gorsuch, who received his doctorate in 2004, has remained close to his former mentor, whom he credits in the 2006 book that grew out of his Oxford thesis, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. In a 2011 speech at Notre Dame law school honoring the Australian-born academic, Gorsuch fondly recalled the "red ink he poured so carefully—and generously—over the papers we produced." He declared, "I have encountered few such patient, kind and generous teachers in my life." (Finnis did not respond for a request for comment. He has publicly declined to discuss Gorsuch, telling the Guardian earlier this month, "I have resolved not to say anything to anyone at all.")

    Finnis, who is 76, is considered a brilliant and influential legal philosopher. In 1980, he published a definitive text on natural-law legal theory, Natural Law and Natural Rights, in which he identified seven "basic goods" that are central to human well-being: life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability of friendship, practical reasonableness, and religion. From there, he sought to outline an ethical framework for viewing law and justice. He believes all human life is innately valuable and intrinsically good, and not because it might be useful to others, as some utilitarian philosophers might argue.

    Melissa Moschella, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America who knows Finnis, says natural law is "a theory about what's right and wrong, and it's based on what, through reason, we can know about what's good and bad for human beings, so that we act in ways that are always respectful of the well being of ourselves and others."

    On many levels, Finnis' philosophy is profoundly humane. It led him to oppose the death penalty and to become an outspoken advocate for nuclear disarmament in the 1980s. He believed that even threatening to use nuclear weapons was immoral because it indicated a willingness to kill innocent civilians indiscriminately. Natural law also made him a foe of abortion and assisted suicide. While his work doesn't invoke the divine, as DeMint and others have, Finnis' views square with his Catholic faith: He converted to Catholicism in 1962 and has advised the Vatican on Catholic social teaching.

    Not long after his conversion, Finnis discovered Germain Grisez, a French American natural-law philosopher and a prominent defender of the Church's opposition to contraception. Griesz and Finnis began to collaborate, and Finnis' work grew both more conservative and more focused on sex, particularly gay sex.

    In 1993, Finnis testified for the state of Colorado in a case challenging Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that would have banned local governments from passing human rights ordinances or other anti-discrimination laws that would protect LGBT people. State Solicitor General Timothy Tymkovich, who now serves alongside Gorsuch on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, brought Finnis in to explain the allegedly classical roots of anti-gay prohibitions going back to Socrates. In his trial testimony, Finnis compared gay sex to bestiality "because it is divorced from the expressing of an intelligible common good," according to part of his deposition published by The New Republic.

    Martha Nussbaum, a prominent professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, served as an expert for the other side, suggesting that Finnis was misinterpreting the Greeks, who clearly had some acceptance of homosexuality in their culture. Nussbaum's side ultimately prevailed at trial and at the US Supreme Court in its landmark decision in Romer v. Evans.

    Nussbaum says Finnis "is a very fine moral philosopher" and "author of important books that I admire." But she notes that his work on sexual orientation has less going for it. "Finnis's book Natural Law and Natural Rights is entirely different from the 'new natural law' work inspired by Germain Grisez that he got into later," Nussbaum writes in an email. "The former is excellent philosophy, the latter arcane and strange conservative argument. In England Finnis on the whole focused on philosophy, and people were shocked by some of the things he published beginning in 1994."

    That year, he authored an article titled "Law, Morality, and 'Sexual Orientation.'" In it, Finnis insisted that "homosexual orientation" was a "deliberate willingness to promote and engage in homosexual acts—a state of mind, will, and character whose self-interpretation came to be expressed in the deplorable but helpfully revealing name 'gay.'"

    Finnis' students have deployed his legal theories to battle same-sex marriage in the United States. Among his best-known acolytes is Princeton professor Robert George, who co-founded the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. George filed a brief in the 2013 Supreme Court case over the same-sex marriage ballot initiative in California, Proposition 8, and he also testified for the state of Colorado in the 1993 anti-discrimination case along with his former teacher.

    Gorsuch's long relationship with Finnis has put him in close company with George and other anti-gay figures. When Gorsuch spoke at Notre Dame in 2011, he shared the stage with anti-gay theorists including George and Germain Grisez. Gorsuch has also worked with George on academic projects, including his tome on assisted suicide, which was part of a series of books George edited at Princeton University Press. George recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post supporting Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination.

    Whether Gorsuch adheres to the same natural law philosophy as George and Finnis about the alleged societal harm of homosexuality is hard to know. His book on assisted suicide mentions Supreme Court cases involving gay rights, but only as reference points for analyzing the court's thinking, not his own, and its relevance to euthanasia. He's hired openly gay clerks and attends a liberal Episcopal church in very liberal Boulder, Colorado, and gay friends attested to his openness in a recent New York Times story.

    But he also voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, the craft store whose owners sued the Obama administration, alleging that the company's religious freedom rights were violated by the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraception. That decision might square with a natural-law view respecting the exercise of religion as a critical human right, but it also may have led to more persecution of LGBT people. The Supreme Court decision upholding that ruling has since been used to defend businesses that have discriminated against LGBT people—a view some lower courts have upheld. The Hobby Lobby case was brought by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, a religious nonprofit law firm on whose board George serves.

    Catholic University's Moschella says Finnis makes a distinction in his work between morality and the law. He believes that what a judge does on the bench is not determined by natural law but rather by the laws of that nation. So if Gorsuch really does endorse Finnis' philosophy, Moschella says, his moral views on abortion, gay rights, and other hot-button issues and what natural law says about them is irrelevant. She says, "What is relevant to his work as a judge is his commitment, which is also a moral commitment, to upholding the law of the land."



  • The Private Prison Industry Is Licking Its Chops Over Trump's Deportation Plans

    Immigration agents sparked panic across the country last week, when a series of high-profile operations made it clear that a new era of crackdowns on undocumented immigrants had begun. Coming on the heels of a couple of major executive orders on immigration, the arrests and deportations were a very public reminder of President Donald Trump's promise to deport upwards of 2 million immigrants upon taking office.

    But given that America's detention system for immigrants has been running at full capacity for some time now, where is the president going to put all of these people before deporting them?

    In new jails, for starters. In the same executive order that called for the construction of a southern border wall, Trump instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to build out its sprawling network of immigration detention centers. Starting "immediately," his order said, ICE should construct new facilities, lease space for immigrants alongside inmates in existing local jails, and sign new contracts—likely with private prison companies. The scale of that expansion became clearer on February 5, when the Los Angeles Times reported on a memo handed down in late January from White House immigration experts to top Homeland Security officials. The document called for raising the number of immigrants ICE incarcerates daily, nationwide, to 80,000 people.

    Last year, ICE detained more than 352,000 people. The number of detainees held each day, typically between 31,000 and 34,000, reached a historic high of about 41,000 people in the fall, as Customs and Border Protection apprehended more people on the southwest border while seeing a simultaneous rise in asylum seekers. But doubling the daily capacity to 80,000 "would require ICE to sprint to add more capacity than the agency has ever added in its entire history," says Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project. It would also take an extra $2 billion in government funding per year, detention experts interviewed by Mother Jones estimated. And, Takei warned, "we don't know if 80,000 is where he'll stop."

    Yet even if ICE does not adopt an 80,000-person detention quota, other changes laid out in Trump's executive orders suggest that vastly more people will be detained in the coming months and years. For example, Trump ordered ICE to prioritize deporting not only immigrants who been convicted or charged with crimes, but also those who had "committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense"—a category that could include entering the country illegally and driving without a license. Trump also ordered Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who oversees ICE, to take "all appropriate actions" to detain undocumented immigrants while their cases are pending.

    Beyond that, ICE could stop granting parole to asylum seekers, explains Margo Schlanger, a former Obama administration official who served as Homeland Security's top authority on civil rights. With ICE taking enforcement action against more categories of immigration offenders and releasing fewer of them, Schlanger says, "we could get to a very large sum of people in detention very quickly."

    It's not difficult to guess who profits. In an earnings call last week, the private prison giant CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) announced that it saw the ICE detention expansion as a business opportunity. "When coupled with the above average rate of crossings along the southwest border, these executive orders appear likely to significantly increase the need for safe, humane, and appropriate detention bed capacity that we have available," CoreCivic President and CEO Damon Hininger said.

    As of November, a whopping 65 percent of ICE detainees were held in facilities run by private prison companies, which typically earn a fee per detainee per night and whose business model depends upon minimizing costs to return profits to their shareholders. Since Trump's election, private prison stocks have soared, and two new, for-profit detention centers are opening in Georgia and Texas.

    Another private prison company, Management & Training Corp., is reportedly seeking a contract with ICE to reopen the Willacy County Correctional Institution, a troubled detention camp that held up to 2,000 ICE detainees in Kevlar tents between 2006 and 2011. "Historically, ICE has relied heavily on the private prison industry every time the detention system has expanded," Takei says. "There's little doubt in my mind that they will continue to rely on the private prison industry in what's going to be the biggest expansion of the agency in history."

    The first new detention center contracts will likely take the form of arrangements between ICE and local governments to reopen empty prison facilities as detention centers or rent beds in existing local jails, Takei says. The arrangements, known intergovernmental service agreements, allow ICE to cut deals with local governments and private prison companies while avoiding a lengthy public bidding process. Occasionally, the local government agrees to hold ICE detainees alongside inmates in their publicly run jail—an arrangement a Department of Homeland Security subcommittee recently called "the most problematic" option for holding detainees. But most of the time, local governments simply act as middlemen in deals between ICE and private prison companies.

    The opaque nature of the process allows all parties to avoid public outcry before the deals are signed, explains Silky Shah, co-director of the Detention Watch Network, an immigrant rights advocacy group. So far, immigration advocates haven't gotten wind of many new contracts being negotiated or signed since Trump's inauguration. "But that doesn't mean contracting activity is not taking place," Takei says. "I suspect there are closed-door meetings taking place across the country right now."

    Expanding detention quickly could have a high human cost. Schlanger is worried that conditions inside detention facilities could deteriorate without proper oversight from the Department of Homeland Security. "There are a lot of bad things that happen if the number of beds is ramped up fast, without appropriate controls, monitoring, supervision, and care," she says, pointing to the potential overuse of solitary confinement, inadequate safety measures, poor nutrition, and insufficient medical care. "That means detainees could die." Asylum seekers, she warns, will have a harder time fighting their immigration cases from inside detention centers, where it's difficult to access lawyers and gather evidence. More could be coerced into voluntary deportation: "You're vulnerable to the government saying to you, 'Look, we'll let you out from detention, but you have to give up your immigration case.'"

    We don't have to look far in the past to see the danger of rushing to open new detention facilities. Last year, as several thousand Haitian immigrants arrived on the southern border, fleeing natural disasters and poverty, the Department of Homeland Security began seeking contracts for new detention facilities to accommodate the surge. In their scramble to secure space for the new arrivals, ICE officials reportedly considered ignoring quality standards for the facilities—"scraping the bottom looking for beds," as one official told the Wall Street Journal.

    The bottom of the barrel, in this case, included a prison in Cibola County, New Mexico, owned by CoreCivic. Last summer, after an investigation by The Nation revealed a pattern of severe, longtime medical neglect in the 1,100-bed facility—which had gone months without a doctor—the US Bureau of Prisons decided to pull its inmates out and cancel its contract with CoreCivic. Yet less than a month after the last federal prisoner was transferred out, ICE was already negotiating an agreement with the county and CoreCivic to detain immigrants in the newly vacant facility. Four hundred immigrants are currently detained there. Takei notes that ICE contracted with the same company, for the same prison: "There weren’t any substantive changes."

    Shah expects to see familiar problems like poor medical care worsen as new deals for detention facilities are finalized. "One of the concerns we hear most often is that when people complain about ailments, [officers] will come back and just say, 'Well, drink more water, or take an Advil and you'll be fine,'" she says. "It's a really harsh system already. If you're going to expand at this level, it's just going to become that much harsher."



  • Milo Yiannopoulos Is Having a Very Bad Day

    After CPAC invited Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at this year's gathering, video surfaced appearing to show the alt-right leader endorsing pederasty. The conservative conference was eventually forced to rescind the English internet troll's invitation and they're not the only organizations severing ties.

    Yiannopoulos, who had received a $250,000 advance for the book, is reportedly also facing an uprising at home:



  • Noveller's Trippy Vignettes

    Noveller
    A Pink Sunset for No One
    Fire

    Courtesy of Fire Records

    Noveller, aka inveterate electric guitar tinkerer Sarah Lipstate, creates intriguing, immersive environments, subjecting her multi-layered sounds to crafty alterations, topped off by a dollop of synths—or is that just more guitar? Any number of terms could be applied to her lovely eighth studio album, from ambient and tender to psychedelic and unpredictable, but no simple description fully captures the elegant charm of her trippy vignettes. At first glance, A Pink Sunset for No One feels gentler and more meditative than Lipstate's previous efforts, although the rumbling title track suggests the overture to an extravagant Sci-Fi film. Best of all, Noveller's subtle textures reveal new wrinkles with each listen, making this an endlessly renewable source of stimulation.



  • From Tech Workers to College Kids, Trump is Also Taking on Legal Immigrants

    President Donald Trump's opposition to illegal immigration is well known. But since his inauguration, he has also attempted to overhaul legal immigration, most notably with his executive order barring travel and immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Speculation about other ways the president could restrict legal immigration have been fueled by his statements as well as leaked draft memos. Additionally, there are concerns surrounding potential conflicts of interest between the president's businesses and his immigration policy, since some of the Trump's companies rely upon visas that he now controls.

    Few people understand the United States' notoriously labyrinthine immigration system. The confusion is understandable. The State Department lists 76 visa categories that fall under two umbrellas: non-immigrant visas, for those seeking to come to the country for a fixed period, and immigrant visas, for those seeking a path to citizenship. 

    Here are some of the visas issued by the US government and what we know about Trump's plans for them: 

    EB-5: The "millionaire" or "investor" visa
    EB-5 holders are required to make a minimum business investment of $1 million (or $500,000 in a "high unemployment" or rural area), creating at least 10 jobs. This visa is controversial: Some argue that it allows foreigners to buy citizenship. Others suggest that these visas are processed too quickly, potentially opening the door to money laundering and other security risks. Earlier this month, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) cosponsored a bill to end the program. 

    As Bloomberg reported, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, owns an apartment complex that has taken $50 million in EB-5 funds, mostly from Chinese investors. Trump has not commented on this visa program.

     

    H-1B: Highly Skilled worker visa
    H-1Bs allow foreigners who work in a "specialty occupation," such as technology, engineering, mathematics, or business, to work in the country for three years. (They may renew their visas an additional three years so long as they remain employed.) The worker must have an employment agreement with an American company. The number of H-1Bs is capped at 85,000.

     

    Trump's stance on H-1Bs has varied. He used harsh language about them on his website, but then in a campaign debate said, "I'm softening the position [on his website] because we have to have talented people in this country." He then hardened his position again in a press release, stating that "I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions." In his inauguration speech, Trump said, "We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American." This has raised questions about how a "hire American" requirement might impact American businesses that rely on skilled foreign employees, particularly Silicon Valley.

    According to a draft executive order obtained by Bloomberg, Trump has plans to overhaul this visa program. The draft order sparked a wave of panic in India's technology sector, whose workers are the top recipients of H-1Bs. According to executive order drafts leaked to Vox, one of the ways Trump could alter this visa would be to stop the spouses of H-1B holders from working in the United States and restricting these visas to companies that are "the best and the brightest," which presumably means only largest and most successful American companies. 

     

    H-1B3: The "model visa" 
    This visa is a subset of the "highly skilled workers" visa. When the immigration system was reformed in the 1990s, the modeling industry expressed concern that while supermodels were covered by the O-1 visa (see below), non-supermodels were left out. The "model visa" was created. 

    First Lady Melania Trump originally worked in the United States on such a visa, and has cited it as proof that she immigrated legally and that others should follow her example. Trump's modeling agency, Trump Model Management, has benefited from hiring foreign models using this visa. However, as Mother Jones reported last year, some of the company's models say they came to the United States on tourist visas, which did not allow them to work legally. A Trump Organization executive did not deny the claims. 

     

    H2: Seasonal worker visa
    H2s allow companies to temporarily hire agricultural workers or other workers without advanced degrees, such as waiters and housekeepers, provided that employers prove that they could not fill these position with citizens. 

    According to the Washington Post, Trump's vineyard in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently applied for six H-2A visas. As BuzzFeed reported last week, the vineyard applied for nearly two dozen more earlier this month. Similarly, Trump's Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago resort requested 78 H2B visas for foreign servers, housekeepers, and cooks. When asked about this at a debate last March, Trump said, "It's very, very hard to get people. But other hotels do the exact same thing…There's nothing wrong with it. We have no choice." Perhaps that was a signal that he'll leave this visa alone.

     

    F-1: Student visas
    These visas allow students to travel to the United States to study at high schools, universities, seminaries, and other educational institutions. 

    Many students with F visas have been affected by the travel ban. As Mother Jones has reported, many college students were stranded by the ban while returning from winter break. Four thousand Iranian students will be affected should the ban remain in place. Fortune estimates that US colleges could lose $700 million annually if these students' tuition money dries up. Though Trump hasn't spoken specifically about changes to student visas, during his campaign, he has called for ending the J-1 visa program for visiting scholars and professors.

     

    O-1: The "artist" or "genius" visa
    This visa allows "individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement" to come to the United States to work in their field of expertise. This visa covers everyone from athletes and musicians to famous authors and Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Athletes who are entering for a specific competition may enter on a P-1 "athlete's visa.")

    If Trump's travel ban is upheld, celebrities from the seven specified countries could be affected. International disapproval of the ban could affect major events, such as  Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Olympics, which will be decided in September. According to ESPN, international soccer officials' disapproval of the president's travel ban could affect the United States's chances of hosting the World Cup in 2026. 



  • Gutting Obamacare Would Leave 3 Million Americans Without Drug Treatment

    There's no denying that America is experiencing the largest drug epidemic in its history: Around 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers. Last week, Alaska became the latest state to declare the opioid epidemic a public health disaster.

    President Donald Trump has particularly strong support in areas that have been hit hard by the crisis. Yet if Obamacare is repealed, as Trump has repeatedly promised, thousands of Americans would lose access to their daily or weekly treatment for opioid addiction.

    Here's what gutting Obamacare would mean for the people who depend on it to fight America's opioid epidemic:

    What's the connection between the opioid epidemic and Trump?

    Kathleen Frydl, a historian and the author of The Drug Wars in America, recently found that in nearly every Ohio and Pennsylvania county with high drug overdose rates, Trump's share of the 2016 vote was 10 points higher than Romney's in 2012, Clinton's share was 10 points lower than Obama's in 2012, or both. While the link between the drug epidemic and Trump's popularity is circumstantial, "When you're dealing with counties that have overflowing hospital parking lots, the message that America is already great doesn't resonate with people," Frydl says.

    It's not just overdoses: Trump overperformed in counties with high rates of "deaths of despair," or deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide, according to research by Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat. Counties with high despair death rates and high Trump turnout weren't necessarily the poorest, but they were, generally speaking, financially worse off than they were a generation ago. "They're places that have been experiencing economic downturn for at least the last three decades," Monnat says. "There's been a heavy loss in manufacturing jobs, natural resource extraction jobs—there's a sense in these places that there's been a dismantling of the American dream."

    Where are people most reliant on Obamacare for addiction treatment?

    What has health advocates particularly worried is that the states with the highest overdose rates also rely the most on Obamacare. West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Massachusetts, have the first, second, third, and seventh highest overdose rates in the country, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of uninsured residents in those four states would roughly triple if the ACA were repealed.

    These maps from the Department of Health and Human Services show this overlap. In the first map, red states have the highest overdose rates; in the second, red states have the most residents per capita who would lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed.

    What would repealing Obamacare mean for addiction treatment?

    If Obamacare disappears, nearly 3 million Americans with addiction disorders would lose some or all of their health insurance coverage, according to recent research by Richard Frank and Sherry Glied, professors of health economics at Harvard and public service at New York University, respectively. Of those, about 222,000 would lose opioid addiction treatment.

    Last December, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act, which will allocate $1 billion over the next two years to expand access to opioid addiction treatment. But Frank and Glied estimate that repealing the ACA provisions that address substance abuse and mental disorders would take away at least $5.5 billion annually from the treatment of low-income Americans with mental health and addiction disorders. A one-time $1-billion increase in spending would "not even serve as much of a bandage," they write.

    Why is Obamacare a big deal for opioid treatment?

    The ACA has been particularly important for those seeking addiction treatment, says Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who advised the Obama administration on drug policy. "It was designed to be very broad, but at the same time we knew that if there was anything that this would help a lot for, it's addiction," he says.

    Before the ACA went into effect, a third of individual market insurance policies didn't cover substance abuse treatment, including medications like buprenorphine that have proven critical to keeping former opioid users off of drugs. The ACA deemed substance abuse and mental health treatment to be essential health benefits, and now insurance plans are required to cover them. In states that expanded Medicaid, 20 percent of hospital admissions for substance abuse and mental health disorders were uninsured in 2013, before the bulk of the expansion provisions kicked in. By the middle of 2015, the uninsured rate had fallen to five percent.

    In addition, Obamacare covers Americans who are are most at risk of becoming addicted to opioids: People with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line have a 50 percent higher risk of having an opioid problem than people with higher incomes. Humphreys adds that most users start using heroin or pain-killers when they're young. Since the ACA lets children stay on their parents' health insurance until they're 26, it's easier for young users to access treatment.

    Without the ACA, says Humphreys, "We're back where we were before: bad access, low quality of care, and a lot of patients being turned away."

    What could Obamacare do better?

    The ACA hasn't fixed everything. While it's increased the number of people with coverage, there's still not nearly enough treatment capacity, leading to big gap between the number of people who have treatment and those who need it. About 420,000 people who suffer from opioid addiction don't have access treatment. Frank and Glied estimate that repealing the ACA would widen this treatment gap by 50 percent, bringing the number Americans who can't get opioid treatment to 640,000.

    Apart from the ACA, there's the more general issue that federal funding for addiction treatment and services has flatlined over the past decade, says Andrew Kessler, founder of health policy consulting firm Slingshot Solutions. Overall, states get about two thirds of their funding for addiction prevention from Department of Health and Human Services block grants—and given the rate of inflation, those grants have lost about a quarter of their purchasing power. Under Mick Mulvaney, the former representative from South Carolina who was confirmed as Trump's budget director last week, "we're bracing for a very austere budget," says Kessler.

    What will come after Obamacare?

    Congressional Republicans have long promised to repeal Obamacare. Many proposals that Republicans have put forward, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's "A Better Way," would eliminate the requirement for insurance policies to cover essential benefits, including substance abuse and mental health treatment.

    This has some GOP leaders worried. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose state has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, warned fellow Republicans in January about the implications of Obamacare repeal. "What happens to drug treatment, what happens to mental health counseling?" he asked. As Humphreys puts it, Republicans "ought to realize that they will really harm their own constituents pretty substantially if they took this away."




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