National News Roundup: Week 11 (April 2–8)

This past week was really rough — quite bluntly, we were due for a bad news cycle, and we absolutely got one. (In fact, a particularly keen observer might notice that these write-ups only ever issue on Mondays during rough news cycles, because I need the extra day to wrack my brain for that spoonful of sugar to help the horridness go down). The news sucked, and as of Monday afternoon, it still is sucking. It is my fervent hope that this will pass.

Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I generally only summarize news in my area of expertise. This week involves a bit less news outside my expertise, which also means fewer off-road adventures, but those that exist are still signaled with asterisks. Also, I am cognizant of the fact that this news review is going out on the first night of Passover, which is a holiday I usually observe; I will re-release the summary mid-week for those who are at seders tonight. Okay, caveats over, and now I give you a moment for the Ceremonial Retrieval of Comfort Food.




Okay, are we ready to roll? Let’s get this show on the road…

The Weird:

  • Susan Rice Dreams.* Okay that title is admittedly because it amuses me, but a vivid hallucination would certainly explain this past week’s middle-of-the-week attempt to distract the free press — Trump decided that the wiretapping from Obama really did happen, and it was Susan Rice’s fault. This was pretty summarily dismissed by most outlets as the attempted distraction that it was, because there’s nothing to suggest illegal wiretapping at all. It’s pretty clear that the administration quickly understood the strategy wasn’t working — more on that below.
  • Bannon Conundrum.* Bannon has officially been removed from the National Security Council as of this week. “Why isn’t this good news?” I hear you asking, to which I respond: It’s the very fact that we’re not sure it’s good news that makes it weird news instead. I’ve heard people speculating that as a top adviser, Bannon maintains all the clearance of the NSC with none of the oversight. But that said, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Bannon’s star is waning while Kushner’s is rising — which is presumably what prompted this hilarious outburst — so I’m honestly not sure if he’s about to goose-step on out of the White House or not. One can dare to hope, though.
  • Blackwater Basics.* Just in case you forgot how bizarrely incestuous the entire Trump administration is, surprise, Betsy DeVos’s brother turns out to be the Blackwater guy! Oh, and he created a back-door channel to Russian staff for the Trump administration in January, because of course he did. Though by the end of the week, I think this story was mostly forgotten, given how the rest of the week went…
  • Repeal-and-Replace Rodeo. Even I had a hard time tracking the half-baked attempts to make repealing the ACA relevant again this week. I think this CAHC summary says it best: “The smash hit adventure epic The Quest For 216 (votes) continues, and Congress did not manage to get any kind of ACA repeal/replace bill to the finish line before all getting the heck out of Dodge yesterday and today. But . . . the idea now is that if they hit on the magic formula to get the votes (and, more importantly, get the commitments before putting a bill on the floor), Speaker Ryan could call the House back into session during the break to vote on something.” So there you have it.
  • Pepsi in Politics. In what I (and apparently some news outlets) can only describe as a stunningly off-base attempt to monetize Black Lives Matter, Pepsi released an ad this week for a hot second featuring What’s-Her-Name Babyface Jenner and The Deescalating Power of Pepsi. Or, more accurately, The Deescalating Power of Being A White Girl In Front of a Police Officer. As you can imagine, the Internet had a lot to say about this, and the ad was pulled very quickly — the real mystery here is who approved such an obviously ill-advised ad in the first place.

The Bad:

  • Nuclear Gorsuch.* We’re leading with the heavy hitters this week — folks, in my opinion this headline is the single biggest and most important thing to know happened in the past seven days. Note that I’m saying that on a week when we also bombed Syria (and more on the latter below, but stay with me here). The order of operations went something like this: The Democrats filibustered the Gorsuch vote. The Republicans didn’t have 60 votes, which have always been needed to overcome a filibuster and vote in a nominee to the Supreme Court. The Republicans responded by changing the rules so that only a simple majority was needed — a change colloquially known as “the nuclear option,” which was already done for Cabinet appointees in 2013 (and we are reaping the oh-so-fun results of that with cabinet members like Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, who would not have been confirmed under the old rules). Gorsuch was, of course, confirmed under the new rules, but that’s not the important thing here (and liberals in the back, let go of your pearls long enough to let me explain). Using the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees was an incredibly foolhardy decision that could literally wreak havoc for generations — it’s so serious, in fact, that an op-ed in the Washington Post this week sincerely called Mitch McConnell, who pulled the trigger, “the man who broke America.” You know how much fun we are having with Sessions and DeVos? (If not, let me tell you about the party that’s been happening on both of those fronts below.) They serve “at the pleasure of the President,” which means the very next President can (and probably will) kick them right out the door. Supreme Court Justices, in contrast, serve for life, and their decisions frequently outlast them — one the Supreme Court decides something, it’s the law until a subsequent Supreme Court overturns them, and that can take decades. And now any incompetent muppet can be rammed through the Senate without bipartisan support, which previously wasn’t possible. Gorsuch is conservative but competent, if you ignore the plagiarism allegations; the next nominee could be a judicial Betsy DeVos. It’s a brave new world of eroded checks and balances.
  • Oh Also, We Bombed Syria.* Trump abruptly announced that chemical weapons were a step too far on Thursday, noting that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror,” and launched fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles at the country. Since it was a pretty severe about-face for a dude who wanted to ban all Syrian refugees indefinitely to suddenly bomb said refugees because they were dying, and also he didn’t consult with Congress (although he did warn Russia), both his actions and his words made a lot of people very nervous. I personally suspect The Onion has the right of it, and this is military theater in the style of Clinton’s Somalia bombing during the Lewinsky scandal. If so, it appears to have worked, so bully for him I guess; watch this space for more updates.
  • All’s Fair In Pay and the Workplace. Though it’s not quite as earth-shattering, Trump also revoked the Fair Pay order put in place by the Obama administration, which, as this Independent headline so succinctly put it, “mak[es] it easier for men to sexually harass women at work and get away with it” (though it also makes it easier to pay women a lower wage). Raise your hand if you’re surprised by this point.
  • Blue Livelihoods Matter Y’all. Sessions ordered federal review with dozens of law enforcement agencies noted for particular police abuses, noting that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the remaining police force. In what’s apparently signature Sessions fashion, he requested a 90-day delay on finalizing changes to police procedure in Baltimore that were supposed to be heard by a judge 3 days later, which I might characterize in strictly legal terms as “a total jerk move.” So, that’s what Sessions has been up to, per my reference above.
  • Let Them Eat Debt. His lovely education counterpoint, Betsy DeVos, meanwhile, has been issuing guidance about student loans permitting loan companies to charge rates so exorbitant that some companies are hastening to note that they won’t do it, and clarifying that the Department of Education doesn’t really have to honor loan forgiveness programs put in place ten years ago for public service. So that’s what she’s been up to, and it’s equally charming.
  • Your Weekly Authoritarian recap. Amy Siskind has a lot to say this week, surprising nobody, and I recommend reading it.

The Good:

  • 7th Circuit Civil Rights. The main good news of the week was a case that came out of the 7th Circuit, holding that discriminating against lesbians was a form of discriminating against women — an idea that may seem obvious, but from a legal perspective is a new and extremely promising line of precedent for further suits. I’m really curious to see what happens on this case from here, and I will definitely keep folks posted.
  • What’s Cooking in Special Elections. Surprisingly, both Kansas and Georgia are showing signs of potentially going blue in special elections, according to The Cook Political Report — though Georgia is of course more of a possibility than Kansas. In fact, they are calling the Georgia special election “a toss up,” which is pretty awesome for a county that has been Republican since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Kansas election is tomorrow, though, so hopefully we’ll know more soon! (The Georgia election is not until April 18, so there’s more time on that one either way.)
  • Major Deportation Public Defense Landmark! This past week, New York set up the country’s first public defense program for deportation proceedings. This is an incredibly big deal, and I’m really excited about it — we’ve never before had any jurisdiction that guaranteed representation for anyone facing deportation from the country. I would love to see other locations follow suit, and I’ll definitely keep folks posted on this.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print — thank everything; half that amount of bad news would have been enough! Catch you all next week, hopefully with better tidings.

Didn’t We Do This Already? An Early Analysis of the Replacement “Travel Ban” Executive Order

(This is the umpteenth installment of a series of articles unpacking the many executive orders issued by the Trump administration. Click here to read the installment on this order’s predecessor, issued in late January. Though I am not an immigration specialist, I am a legal generalist working with indigent populations professionally full-time. This article is not intended to form an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice, though it is my hope that it will help people understand what is going on.)

Hello from my lunch break! The administration put out a new version of January’s “travel ban” executive order yesterday, as well as a fact sheet that reads more like a form template responding to expected interrogatories than anything else. To save you some antacid, and because I’m preparing summaries on this topic anyway, I figured I’d let you know what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Same Garbage, Different Day…

Here are the provisions that look exactly the same, in all their still-terrible splendor:

  • Three Months without Travel. There is still a three-month travel ban for nonimmigrants from six Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). You’ll note this is one fewer than the old one, and more about that below.
  • Refugees Still Not Welcome. There is still a four-month cessation of refugee acceptance from all countries. It’s still unprecedented and longer than the one after 9/11, and they are still limiting refugee entry in fiscal year 2017 to 50,000 (which is less than half the amount set by the Obama Administration for the year).
  • Fuhrer Exception Still in Place. You can still get an exception to the ban for “the national interest,” which is just as vague as it was the first time.
  • Fingerprints and Photographs. The enhanced screening, including biometric screening on entry and exit, is still in place.

…But they added some Febreeze to mask the stench.

Here are the major changes made in the new version, which make it slightly more palatable but don’t change the biggest underpinnings:

  • Six is the New Magic Number. Iraq is no longer included in the list of countries banned from entry. They explain this in the executive order, in way more detail than you probably care to read, but it basically comes down to saying that Iraq is a “special case.”
  • There’s a Set Start Date. The new provisions go into effect March 16, which is presumably as much to avoid an embarrassing repeat of January’s confusion as anything else.
  • Syria No Longer Singled Out. There’s no indefinite prohibition of Syrian refugees, who presumably can reapply with everybody else after the four-month window passes. Unofficially, there may still be a prohibition in place for most refugees until FY 2018, though, because we had already cleared half the new 50,000 cap set for FY 2017 by December 2016.
  • Legal Status Apparently Means Something Again. Folks who have U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residence, or a previously-issued legal visa now are supposed to be exempt from enforcement (though, of course, it remains to be seen if CBP will comply with the provision).
  • “Religious persecution” priority has been removed. There’s nothing to say this won’t still happen unofficially, but it’s no longer an explicit part of the executive order.

For more reading on this topic, I recommend this article put out by the New York Times, which contains a good compare-and-contrast summary. And on that note, it’s back to the law mines for me. I’m hoping to draft another essay about detainee free labor in the near future though, so watch this space.

Stakes on a Plane: An Early Analysis of the “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry…

(This is the third installment of a series of articles unpacking the many executive orders issued in Donald Trump’s first week of office. Click here to read the first installment (on the Border Security Executive Order), and here to read the second installment (on the Enhanced Public Safety Executive Order). Though I am not an immigration specialist, I am a legal generalist working with indigent populations professionally full-time. This article is not intended to form an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice, though it is my hope that it will help people understand what is going on.)

After nearly two full days of blissfully executive-order-free existence, this one (which was signed at 4:50 PM on a Friday, which just so happened to also be Holocaust Remembrance Day, and is still not up on the White House website) is a real blow to morale. The EO is a significant break from decades of humanitarian effort, and places the lives of many traumatized and suffering people in further peril. I’ll do my best to unpack what the executive order is actually saying, to help families prepare and to inform the average citizen what we can expect on this front. I’m also going to close this post with suggestions for how to support our immigrant communities, because at the end of this week I’m sure many of us are wondering how to help.

Here’s what is new and clearly articulated as of today, January 28:

  • For the next 90 days, entry to the country is suspended for immigrants and nonimmigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. As several writings have noted, this is already being implemented against people touching down in U.S. airports, including people who are legal permanent residents. Now is therefore a very bad time to travel at all if you are an immigrant of any non-citizen status from those seven countries. These countries are widely believed to be targeted due to their predominantly Muslim demographics, though several countries with also predominantly Muslim demographics (such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia) have been left off the list. Since the provision outlining this requires several reports from government officials, we may see some flux in which countries remain on (or are added to) this list long-term. The EO contains an exemption clause “on a case-by-case basis,” when entry “is in the nation’s interest,” which we can probably assume refers to how much various people in the current government already like you.
  • Heart-wrenching changes are being made to the United States Refugee Admissions Program, which this executive order refers to as “realignment”. These changes include a four-month bar of entry for all refugees from all countries — the longest bar in our history, and nearly twice the length of the bar put in place after 9/11 — and indefinite suspension of any accepted refugees from Syria. During that four-month bar, the Department of Homeland Security will make currently-vague determinations about which countries will have reinstated refugee programs after the bar has lifted, though presumably this would not include anyone from the seven countries listed above. The executive order also limits the total number of refugees that may be admitted to 50,000 in fiscal year 2017, which is less than half the number in place before this order was issued (and the lowest number cited in over a decade). Once the USRAP is resumed, priority will be given to people who are religious minorities in their home country, which Donald Trump has clarified publicly to mean Christian applicants. The executive order also contains the same general exemption “on a case-by-case basis,” when it is “in the national interest” (which probably means Our Fuhrer’s interest, though the executive order does mention potential exemptions for people already in transit). I’ll talk more about what these provisions mean, and how they change life for people fleeing traumatic and dangerous circumstance, in a section below.
  • Many, many more reports more reports are being ordered from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, as well as a few more from the Secretary of State. The executive order requires reports every 30 days pursuant to Section 3, reports within 60 and 100 days pursuant to Section 4, reports within 100 and 200 days pursuant to Section 5, reports within 100, 200, and 365 days pursuant to Section 7, and reports every 180 days pursuant to Section 10. This is, keep in mind, in addition to all those reports ordered by the other two executive orders. Only the reports about terrorist acts will be available to the public (because keeping all of America terrified seems to be an actual goal of this administration), but I honestly don’t see how all of the other reports are even going to get done — Trump did, after all, order a hiring freeze, and several reports also involve a State department which has been famously vacated this past week. I would feel bad for these officials, except for the part where the writing on the border wall was about nine feet high on this; constant reports are a known favored technique in this type of government regime.
  • Screening is being made more rigorous on a number of immigration-related fronts, and will include more biometric measures such as fingerprinting for entry and exit from the country. Though it’s not clear what all of those measures will be — we already have a pretty robust set of measures in place for screening — it’s clear that these measures will mean much more work for immigration staff and much longer wait times overall. The executive order does specifically call out interviews for every single visa applicant, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association has put out a pretty good summary list of other changes mentioned in the executive order:

o Uniform screening standards and procedures (such as in-person interviews);

o The creation of a database of identity documents;

o Amended application forms with questions “aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent”;

o A mechanism to ensure that individuals are who they claim to be;

o A process to evaluate the person’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest”; and

o A mechanism to assess whether the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.

Some reality-checking about these policies:

  • Refugee vetting is already very, very vigorous. The previous administration put out a very good infographic of exactly how the vetting process worked prior to this week, and I urge you to read it. I also recommend this ProPublica twitter thread, which provides many, many resources for understanding the general process.
  • The United States Refugee Admission Program is a humanitarian effort designed to help people fleeing unimaginable trauma and horrific circumstance. By definition, in order to qualify for the program, an applicant has to show credible fear for their personal safety in their home country. Refusing all admission for four months is tantamount to that moment in a horror movie when all the doors slam shut and lock themselves, leaving terrified victims trapped in the house to die. And since the rest of the executive order contextualizes this act as aimed at Muslim populations, that will have a very real impact on the radicalization of Islam on a national stage.
  • Many of the provisions limiting entry generally are very likely to be illegal. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has already filed a constitutional suit against this executive order, and complaints have also been filed by the ACLU and other immigration law organizations. These suits cite due process violation and equal protection violation. The New York Times also put out a decent article about why nationality-based discrimination of this magnitude may be illegal under prior legislation, which I recommend reading. Expect many, many organizations to challenge this executive order swiftly with the fury of a thousand suns. And on a related note…

Here’s how you can help advocate against these orders:

  • Now is an excellent time to donate to CAIR, the ACLU, and other immigration-based advocacy organizations. Both CAIR and the ACLU are poised to become embroiled in lengthy and expensive suits to defend people’s rights, and that means they will greatly benefit from both time and money.
  • Pay attention to local and national advocacy efforts. Many organizations are already leading efforts to educate and assist people experiencing immigration-based discrimination. As noted above, both CAIR and the ACLU have already brought suits about this executive order. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has also been putting out excellent press releases. The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project has been putting forward a Know Your Rights initiative to educate people on the ground level, including topics like safe travel in their information. If you live in Massachusetts, like I do, the MIRA Coalition puts out regular news about immigration-related efforts and is a great place to find links helping people on day-to-day immigration issues. Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker have also put out some statements in the past week that indicate their general posture on the topic of sanctuary, giving us a clear picture of where and how advocacy may be next directed.
  • Consider assisting with protests and other on-the-ground efforts. Protests can be particularly dangerous for immigrant populations, because arrest can lead to deportation. This means that joining protests (such as the CAIR rally happening at Copley Square tomorrow) can be an excellent way to assist and show support, and also potentially can be a way to learn of other future efforts.
  • Stay informed about changes on the national stage. You’re already doing this one if you have gotten this far into this article, and I’m just going to take a moment to sincerely say: Yay for you! I encourage you to keep it up. It’s hard, but incredibly helpful, to know what is going on.

And that’s about all I got on this particular executive order, though I’m sure we’ll be hearing more in the weeks and months to come — and while I wish this were the last summary in this series, I know that it won’t be. Stay tuned for more awful, folks, and thank you for your diligence.