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Oil Will Start Flowing Through the Dakota Pipeline Any Moment Now

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As of this week, Bakken oil is expected to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This development comes as court proceedings continue over the high-profile battle over the pipeline that drew thousands of protestors to North Dakota last year. As law enforcement officers and Indigenous activists faced off near the construction site, the conflict played out in real time on social media, capturing international attention.

A District of Columbia court has yet to rule on the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ claims that the Army Corps of Engineers violated environmental, historic-preservation and religious-freedom laws in its approval of the pipeline. A ruling is likely still several weeks away. The tribes have tried for temporary restraining orders to stop the flow of oil until the case is decided, but judges have rejected those as well. Dakota Access, LLC, is required to update the court weekly on whether the pipeline operations have begun; on March 20, the company said they expected oil to flow this week.

The fact that the pipeline’s backers, Energy Transfer Partners, appears to be prevailing is not surprising. Although the Obama administration had put DAPL on hold in December and called for further environmental review, then-President-elect Donald Trump vowed to push the project through once he took office. But national attention the protests brought to the flaws of the current consultation process—the federal government’s responsibilities to consult with tribes before approving major infrastructure projects that affect tribal lands—may still bear fruit on future disputes. And recent legal proceedings remind us how difficult it is for tribes to argue for religious freedom in court.

Following Trump’s late-January executive order to allow the pipeline to be finished, the Cheyenne River Sioux, located just south of the Standing Rock Reservation, filed a motion for a restraining order against the pipeline. Unlike the Standing Rock Sioux complaint based more around environmental and historic preservation violations, Cheyenne River’s argument claims the government violated the Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA). “The Lakota people believe that the mere existence of a crude oil pipeline under the waters of Lake Oahe will desecrate those waters and render them unsuitable for use in their religious sacraments,” court documents say.

RFRA has an unreliable track record for tribes in court. Congress created the law in 1993 in part as a response to two cases in which courts sided with the government. In 1988 Lyng vs. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association allowed the Forest Service to construct a logging road in California that would have disrupted an area sacred to several tribes. In 1990 Employment Division vs. Smith allowed two Native Americans in Oregon to be fired for failing a drug test because they had used peyote as an element of religious ceremony. But experts say RFRA’s original intention, to protect tribes from similar infringements, isn’t really bearing out in court. The most recent major failure was the case of the Snowbowl ski resort in Arizona in which reclaimed wastewater was being used to make snow on mountains sacred to several tribes. The tribes argued a violation of RFRA and ultimately lost.

RFRA has, however, worked for corporations such as Hobby Lobby. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled family-owned corporations should not be required to cover employees’ contraception because doing so may infringe on a company’s religious beliefs. Part of the challenge for tribes, says University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson, is one of translation. “Most Americans are not used to the nature of tribal religions, of having ceremonies on particular land areas as being significant to their religion,” Wilkinson says. Court documents show Cheyenne River’s attorneys explaining how the tribe views the pipeline:

“Although there can be no way of knowing when this prophesy emerged into the Lakota worldview, Lakota religious adherents now in their 50s and 60s were warned of the Black Snake by their elders as children. The Black Snake prophecy is a source of terror and existential threat in the Lakota worldview…. Lakota adherents believe that the Black Snake poses an existential threat because it will cause critical imbalance in an essential resource of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe: the natural, ritually pure waters of Lake Oahe.”

“You can kind of get that sense, there’s some question raised in opposing parties arguments of ‘Do they really believe this,'” says Monte Mills, a University of Montana law professor. In court in February, Judge James Boasberg reportedly questioned how a pipeline would desecrate the Missouri River if the oil itself never touched the water.

The most lasting impact of the Dakota Access battle might be greater federal attention to the process through which the U.S. government is supposed to consult tribal governments about proposed infrastructure projects that might impact those nations, says Wilkinson. “(Tribes) see consultation as almost a four-letter word,” Wilkinson says. “It’s so often just checking a box.” A 38-page memo from former Obama administration Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins in December described in detail the ways in which the government failed to consult tribes that may be affected by the pipeline. At one point, Tompkins notes that a draft Environmental Assessment for DAPL “failed to even identify the reservation on its maps and incorrectly said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had no issue with the project.” (The Trump administration suspended the memo and removed it from the Interior website in February.)

Similarly, a 73-page report released in January by the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior about consultation—not limited to DAPL—highlighted flaws in the process, after seeking comment from 59 tribes across the country. The report includes problems with the way the federal government “tends to look at (infrastructure) projects in a segmented way…For example, in the Dakota Access Pipeline review, four different states, three separate districts of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Fish and Wildlife Service each looked at different parts of the project, but did not coordinate the impacts to Tribes.” That report requested further action from several federal agencies by April 2017, in establishing better consultation processes.

“Many federal statutes require consultations with states, counties and tribes,” Wilkinson says. “Maybe one way or another Standing Rock could be valuable as raising that issue.”

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Oil Will Start Flowing Through the Dakota Pipeline Any Moment Now

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Inside Trump’s Border Crackdown on Women and Kids

Mother Jones

Despite President Donald Trump’s dire warnings of “bad hombres” and drugs flooding into the United States from Mexico, the most urgent issue along the border has been the influx of Central American families and unaccompanied children, many of whom are fleeing gang-fueled violence in their home countries. And the latest statistics from the border show that one of the main goals of the White House’s immigration crackdown is being realized: targeting and deterring these asylum seekers from heading to the United States in the first place.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released new data on the number of migrants stopped at the US-Mexico border in February. Customs and Border Protection caught 18,762 people trying to enter the country, a 40 percent drop from January and the lowest monthly total since at least 2000 (the earliest year for which there are statistics). Of those migrants, just 27 percent were unaccompanied children or family groups, typically women traveling with kids—a huge dropoff from the last three months of 2016, when they made up 48 percent of apprehensions at the border.

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The administration was quick to celebrate the numbers. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly crowed, “The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact.” But immigration advocates caution that Trump’s border enforcement ramp-up—like earlier attempts by the Obama administration to stem the flow of Central American migrants—could be particularly devastating for thousands of women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras hoping to claim asylum in the United States.

“I think what we’ve seen over the past three years is that you can’t enforce away a refugee crisis,” says Jen Podkul, the director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a legal aid nonprofit for unaccompanied child migrants and refugees. “Unfortunately, these executive orders and memos are going to push everybody underground.”

Katharina Obser, a senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), says she’s interviewed countless women in family detention over the past few years. “When we ask them, ‘Knowing what you know and given what’s happened, would you make the decision to leave again?’ The answer is almost always, ‘Yes, I had no other choice…’ There continues to be a lack of recognition that these are asylum seekers who are fleeing very real harm and who should have access to a fair and just immigration system.”

Here are seven ways that the White House has gone about squeezing Central American refugees:

1. Shutting down a safe path for kids

In September 2014, after the huge numbers of Central Americans at the southern border became national news, the Obama administration approved a plan to allow a select group of kids from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras apply for refugee status from within their home countries. The initiative was meant to keep the most vulnerable people from embarking on the dangerous journey north. Though the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program was slow to get off the ground, the New York Times reported that 11,000-plus people have applied to the program, with a little more than 2,400 gaining admittance by late February—including 316 during Trump’s first month in office.

Trump’s revised travel ban, however, put the Central American Minors program on ice. In his March 6 executive order, the president suspended all refugee admissions for four months and cut the number of refugees the United States will admit annually to 50,000, down from 110,000 under Obama. And while a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order on the ban, the CAM program’s future remains cloudy. In his February executive order on border security, Trump pointed a finger at “the abuse of parole and asylum provisions” that can allow immigrants without valid asylum claims into the United States.

2. Turning away asylum seekers at the border

In mid-January, eight immigrant rights organizations sent a complaint to DHS claiming that Border Patrol agents were turning away immigrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. Under federal and international law, the United States must screen people asking for asylum to see if they have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. If they do, they can get a full hearing in front of an immigration judge. (If they don’t, they can be summarily deported.) According to the complaint, Border Patrol agents in Texas and California had told migrants that they weren’t accepting more people and wouldn’t allow them to meet with asylum officers to file claims.

The incidents mentioned in the complaint began last summer. In one case, a Mexican police officer in a wheelchair was allegedly denied entry several times near San Diego, despite claiming he had been targeted and beaten by a drug cartel. Advocates say the situation could become untenable. “These northern Mexican border towns are so dangerous as it is,” Podkul says. “If there are just vulnerable migrants sitting around, they’re just waiting for something to happen to them.”

3. Threatening to separate moms and children

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the Trump administration was considering separating migrant mothers from their children upon entry into the United States. Instead of detaining them together, or letting them go while they await a hearing in immigration court, federal agents could split them up—sending moms to detention and kids to government-run shelters.

Following the border crisis in 2014, women traveling with children were detained in special family detention centers that were criticized by attorneys and immigrant rights groups for their poor conditions. Last December, around 400 women and children were released from family detention facilities in Texas after a judge denied the centers the necessary state licenses for detaining kids. Separating moms from their children could get around the problem of holding kids in substandard centers and needing to build more facilities to accommodate families.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 7, DHS Secretary Kelly confirmed the Reuters report: “Yes, I am considering it, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.” Kelly later said he thought parents who brought their children across the border are manipulating the system “because they know up till this point we will keep the families together.” “As this word gets out that we’re considering it and maybe we’ll implement it,” he said, “that will add again to this factor of people not coming.”

4. Making asylum screenings more difficult

Refugees who do manage to meet with an asylum officer may now face a tougher screening than they would have in the recent past. In mid-February, DHS updated the lesson plans it uses to train asylum officers on handling “credible-fear” interviews. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit group that provides legal services for women and girls fleeing gender-based violence, the changes include increasing the burden of proof on asylum seekers at a very early stage in the process—when many are particularly vulnerable and often do not have a lawyer.

The lesson plans have also dropped language emphasizing the low threshold for passing the credible-fear interview. For example, earlier lesson plans included passages reminding officers that when there was a reasonable doubt regarding an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution in her home country, “the applicant likely merits” a full hearing before a judge. “The credible-fear process was always intended to be an intentionally low threshold,” the WRC’s Obser says. “It was not meant to be a full-blown asylum hearing.”

5. Detaining asylum seekers awaiting their day in court

The feds used to have several options for dealing with asylum seekers who have passed their credible-fear interviews. They could release them on a written promise to appear at an immigration hearing, they could let them go with an ankle monitor, or they could detain them. Over the last several years, many immigrant families with pending asylum claims were set free, a policy that immigration hardliners have derisively called “catch and release.” During his campaign, Trump promised to end this practice, and his executive order on border security called for detaining every immigrant caught at the border.

To that end, ICE has suggested doubling the number of immigrants it can detain on a daily basis to 80,000. With detention facilities already near capacity, that could mean working with local governments to reopen empty state prisons or even renting beds in local jails. Meanwhile, a February memo from DHS Secretary Kelly says that asylum seekers may be released if they pass their credible-fear interviews and prove to ICE who they are and that they’re not a security risk. If not, they face prolonged detention—and, because it’s especially hard for them to find lawyers and make their cases while held by ICE, likely deportation.

6. Getting tough on unaccompanied kids

According to Kelly’s memo, some 155,000 unaccompanied child migrants have been apprehended at the border in the past three years. Those kids pass through shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services and are often then reunited with relatives living in the United States. Kelly wrote that 60 percent of them have been placed in the care of one or more undocumented parents. The memo suggests that the government will be taking a closer look at these cases and reclassifying unaccompanied kids as simply undocumented immigrants—and deporting them.

KIND’s Podkul argues this will simply keep parents from collecting their children from government shelters, which could put kids in precarious situations—and could keep the federal government from being able to know where kids are and make sure they’re living in safe environments. “You’re either going to have kids lingering in detention,” she says, “or you’re going to have a stranger or a family friend or a neighbor who comes forward to get the kid.”

7. Charging parents with human trafficking

Many of the unaccompanied children reuniting with their families in the United States arrive at the border with the help of smugglers hired by their parents or relatives. “Regardless of the desires for family reunion, or conditions in other countries,” Kelly wrote in his memo, “the smuggling or trafficking of alien children is intolerable.” To that end, Kelly states that anyone who contributes “directly or indirectly” to the smuggling of a child could face deportation or criminal prosecution.

To advocates, this move seems especially punitive. “No person is more concerned about the safety of a child than a parent,” Podkul says. “They’re doing the only thing they know how to do to save their child’s life. By going after them, that’s not going to stop any sort of problem. It’s not going to stop the problem in the home country. It’s not going to stop kids from needing to flee.”

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Inside Trump’s Border Crackdown on Women and Kids

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America Has a Lot to Learn From This Muslim Fashion Blogger

Mother Jones

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In sixth grade, Hoda Katebi decided she would start wearing the hijab.

It was a bold move. She’s American born, but her parents immigrated from Iran. Theirs was one of few minority families—let alone Iranian ones—in her small Oklahoma town. The September 11 attacks were only about five years in the rearview mirror, and her classmates were hitting the age when kids become more aware of the world—and of their parents’ political viewpoints, which in this case leaned pretty conservative.

To some of her schoolmates, Islam seemed scary, freakish. The hijab made Katebi a target for taunts, and worse. One middle-school student, after calling her “terrorist” all day at school, punched her in the face. A few years later, in high school, a peer pulled off her hijab, demanding to see her hair. Katebi never reported the assaults. She was convinced her teachers would look the other way rather than try and defend her. It was up to her to convince people around her that she was not to be feared, and that she largely shared their values.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries (including Iran), Katebi, now 22, finds herself in the position of having to explain her culture to people all over again. Indeed, it’s part of her job. A year out of college, she heads up communications for the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which says Trump’s immigration order targets Muslims directly—despite the administration’s claims to the contrary. CAIR is working with lawyers and other civil rights organizations to help people who have been detained in airports or stranded overseas as a result of the ban.

But Katebi was working to bridge the gap between America and the Middle East long before CAIR hired her. In her hometown, people were always looking to her to speak on behalf of all Middle Easterners—on everything from the history of Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Their questions compelled her to study up on Muslim history and culture so she could push back against her peers’ misguided views.

Continuing discrimination led her to develop a “don’t give a shit attitude” that later gave way to a healthier outlet for her frustrations. Recognizing the power of the hijab to dictate how people viewed her, Katebi became interested in the use of clothing as a political statement. So, the summer after her freshman year at the University of Chicago, she launched a fashion blog, calling it JooJoo Azad (“Free Bird” in Farsi). “Fashion is inherently and deeply political,” Katebi writes, and not many Americans understand just how complex and diverse fashion for Muslim women can be. She told me she wanted to “yell in a productive way” and tackle the nexus of clothing, Islam, and feminism—a topic she now lectures on.

From Tehran Streetstyle Hoda Katebi

For her undergraduate thesis, Katebi chose Iran’s underground fashion scene, and she traveled to Tehran during the summer of 2015 to research the topic. The Iranian designers she met were trending toward traditional motifs and designs, but also creating pieces that technically violated the country’s Islamic dress code. Iranian law requires women to cover their heads and to dress modestly, usually keeping their torsos, waist area, and a good part of their legs covered with large, loose garments. Rules on acceptable colors fluctuate depending on who is in charge, as does the zeal of the Gashte Ershad (morality police), who enforce the rules. Punishments can range from a warning or a ticket to arrest, in extreme cases.

During her trip, as many Iranian women do, Katebi tested the limits of the dress codes. She found that the Gashte Ershad rarely enforced it, and that violations are common. One officer saw her wearing a tight crop-top shirt that didn’t cover her waist area. He simply yelled that she should “cover up,” and then he drove away, she recalls.

Alongside her thesis work, Katebi collected material for her 2016 book, Tehran Streetstyle. The designers wanted Katebi to expose their art to the rest of the world, and her Western blog audience was clamoring for a window into Iranian fashion. The result was a collection of images of a sort Americans seldom see—Iranian women clad in vibrant colors, with creative designs and trendy accessories. While Katebi and most of the designers she spoke with dislike the dress codes, their feelings are complicated. “There’s a level of resisting the hijab law, but also wanting to resist Western cultural hegemony that exists globally,” Katebi explains.

From Tehran Streetstyle. Hoda Katebi

At a time when the US government is projecting a sinister view of Islam to the public, Katebi’s work pushes in the opposite direction, helping open-minded Americans appreciate the nuances and diversity in Muslim culture. It’s been a constant tug of war, and the fact that few Americans even bother to learn the basics of Islam before forming an opinion has not made her job easier.

In fact, the rhetoric of the 2016 campaign and beyond, combined with the recent attacks in Europe and the United States, have contributed to a notable resurgence of Islamophobia here. Hate crimes against Muslims spiked 67 percent in 2015, according to FBI data, and there have been many troubling incidents since the election. In late January, as the White House issued its immigration ban, a mosque in Texas was burned down and a gunman attacked the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center in Canada, leaving six people dead and five hospitalized. President Trump, Katebi says, continues to use the same divisive rhetoric against Muslims in the name of national security that leaders employed after 9/11. “Muslims are just recovering,” she says, “from the effects of what happened in 2002.”

At least 18 people were detained at O’Hare International Airport thanks to Trump’s executive order. Protesters—including Katebi and others from CAIR—flooded the airport with signs and chants demanding that detainees be allowed access to lawyers and that they be admitted into the country. A judge issued a stay to Trump’s order, but that injunction is temporary. Organizers are still scrambling to protect people left in limbo, including a friend of Katebi’s, a Stanford doctoral student who had to cancel his flight to the United States and now can’t get back to school. For Katebi, the past week has been a nonstop work frenzy. As she put it, she’s been running on “water and Starbursts.”

While she’s encouraged by the crowds showing up at the airport to protest Trump’s immigration move, Katebi has taken to her blog to challenge misconceptions even among Americans who support Muslim immigration. Consider the viral image of the woman clad in a stars-and-stripes hijab. The artwork was intended as a show of solidarity, but Katebi pointed out that it was the work of a white (non-Muslim) man—Shepard Fairey, the same artist who did the Barack Obama “Hope” poster—and noted that the woman who modeled for the poster does not normally wear the hijab.

She also made the point that, given the fraught history of American military actions in the Middle East, the image sends a decidedly mixed message. “I understand the good intentions,” Katebi wrote, “but my liberation will not come from framing my body with a flag that has flown every time my people have fallen. And I hope yours will not either.”

As the Trump regime ramps up, Katebi is dreading the prospect of having to play teacher all over again. “Educating people on the very basics, like ‘Islam is a religion of peace; this is what I believe,’ it’s incredibly emotionally taxing!” she says. “Having to deal with all of that and be able to respond in a very polite, educational manner is harder than people think.”

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America Has a Lot to Learn From This Muslim Fashion Blogger

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State Department Reverses Visa Ban, Allows Travelers With Visas Into US: Official

Mother Jones

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department will allow people with valid visas into the United States, a department official said on Saturday, in order to comply with an opinion from a federal judge in Seattle barring President Donald Trump’s executive action.

“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas,” the State Department official said in a statement. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Bill Trott)

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State Department Reverses Visa Ban, Allows Travelers With Visas Into US: Official

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Students With Valid Visas Are Trapped in Limbo Abroad

Mother Jones

On Saturday morning, Niki Mossafer Rahmati got off her flight from Tehran in Doha, Qatar to board a connecting flight to Boston, when she got caught up in the chaos set off by President Trump’s immigration order.

Rahmati, an MIT junior studying mechanical engineering, had been home with her family for winter break when she received word Wednesday morning of the pending executive order. She changed her flight to return to Boston right away, only to find that order had gone into effect in the middle of her connecting flight to Doha. She and some 30 other Iranians with legal visas were blocked from boarding the plane and sent back to Tehran. Among them, Rahmati says, were two women traveling to their pregnant daughters to help them through their last trimester.

“Do any of the people sound like illegal immigrants?” Rahmati asked in a public Facebook post after arriving back home in Tehran. “This will not secure the borders from terrorism and illegal immigrants. It will only increase racism in the American society. The president is trying to make Islamophobia a norm and policy by which he wants to lead the country.”

“My inbox is flooded with messages and emails of love and support,” she also wrote. “But I cannot believe all this love is coming from the same country that banned me from entering its borders just a couple of hours ago.”

Rahmati is just one among many students from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who have been barred from returning to school. MIT alone has 38 students from Iran, 1 from Iraq, 5 from Syria, 2 from Sudan, and 1 from Somalia; two, including Rahmati, were reportedly unable to board flights back to Boston. According to the New York Times, students from Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, among other universities, have also been affected.

Yesterday, after thousands of protesters stormed US airports to fight for the release of people detained upon arrival, a federal judge in Brooklyn blocked part of President Trump’s order by temporarily allowing valid visa holders who had landed in the US to stay. Federal judges in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington quickly followed suit, with the Massachusetts order additionally restraining enforcement of the order for visa holders traveling back to the US in the next seven days.

In response, MIT issued an statement urging students and staff to “fly back to Boston—directly to Logan Airport—as soon as possible, and before February 4.” Whether or not the court order will be respected by Custom and Border Protection officials abroad is unknown.

Rahmati is a member of the sorority Sigma Kappa and counselor for the MIT chapter of Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit that operates free summer camps for children whose parents have had cancer. For weeks before heading home for break, Rahmati had been fundraising for this summer’s camp. After the election, Rahmati encouraged her friends to keep an open mind to Trump supporters, according to her roommate.

As news of her situation has spread, the MIT community sprang into action, calling elected officials and circulating a White House petition. At this writing, her ability to return to MIT to finish her undergraduate remains uncertain.

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Students With Valid Visas Are Trapped in Limbo Abroad

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