Tag Archives: politics

Scott Pruitt is making nice with EPA employees, but big changes are to come.

In December, when Musk got stuck in traffic, instead of leaning on the horn or flipping off the other drivers, he decided to build a new transportation system. An hour later, Max Chafkin writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “the project had a name and a marketing platform. ‘It shall be called The Boring Company,’” Musk wrote.

Musk told employees to grab some heavy machinery and they began digging a hole in the SpaceX parking lot. He bought one of those machines that bores out tunnels and lays down concrete walls as it goes. It’s named Nannie.

Musk is the grown-up version of the kid who decides to dig to China: He doesn’t pause to plan or ask what’s possible, he just grabs a stick and starts shoveling. Maybe that’s the approach we need. As Chafkin points out, “Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago.” And Bent Flyvbjerg, an academic who studies why big projects cost so much, says that the tunneling industry is ripe for someone with new ideas to shake things up.

Musk is a technical genius. But the things that make tunnels expensive tend to be political — they have to do with endless hearings before local government councils and concessions to satisfy concerned neighbors and politicians. For that stultifying process, at least, Musk’s new company is aptly named. If Musk figures out how disrupt local land-use politics, it would mean he’s smarter than anyone thinks.

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Scott Pruitt is making nice with EPA employees, but big changes are to come.

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

Mother Jones

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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.”

Trump’s statement on Tuesday comes 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.

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

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Here Are the Churches Fighting Back Against Trump’s Immigration Crackdown

Mother Jones

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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.”

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Here Are the Churches Fighting Back Against Trump’s Immigration Crackdown

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

Mother Jones

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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.”

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

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

Mother Jones

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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.

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

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